Author Topic: Athens Riviera - A 3 Day Trip, Off the Beaten Path  (Read 1937 times)

Offline JuryDuty

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Athens Riviera - A 3 Day Trip, Off the Beaten Path
« on: July 29, 2019, 10:14:39 PM »
Athens is a great city to visit on a stopover to or from Israel.

My wife and I were going to Israel for Pesach and we wanted to find a city to see on the way. Luckily, Dan posted the Delta One flash sale to Europe just about the time we were going to book. We were going to be travelling to Israel in style!
The only two cities that had availability were Athens and Frankfurt, both of which were unfortunately serviced by A330s, not A350s. The next day, the Frankfurt flight was gone, so the decision was made.
I discovered (with help from Kayak) that Delta bills an open jaw as a round trip, so we booked our "round trip" JFK-ATH and TLV-JFK on Delta, purchasing a one way ATH-TLV for cheap from El Al. The flight home to JFK wasn't eligible for the Delta One sale, but all in all, we got tickets for Yom Tov for about 100k Delta skymiles plus $130 for the El Al flight.

Delta flies once daily to Athens. Yom Tov started Friday night, so we booked a Tuesday evening (landing Wednesday morning) flight to Athens and a Thursday night (bedikas chametz night) flight to Tel Aviv. We thought two days would be perfect, but Delta later cancelled our Tuesday flight, so we had to go a day early. (They refused to compensate, as it was just a "schedule change".)
We contacted Chabad beforehand and they said that the grocery would have limited stock and the restaurant would have a limited menu due to it being right before Pesach. They recommended placing an order for any essentials so we were guaranteed they weren't sold out. Most of the basics were already out of stock, so our order was small and we had to pack a little more than expected.
We brought along Pomegranate meals, which were good even though they were kosher l'pesach. My wife wasn't so into the Chabad restaurant menu so we planned on eating there only one night. I emailed the hotel about warming up kosher food, and they said it would not be a problem.

The Athens flight leaves at 5:05PM. This was the first trip we've had that we didn't have to worry about baggage weight, and boy, was it a relief not to have to weigh the bags, repack, weigh again, and end up going to the airport seven pounds overweight. Check-in was super smooth, because that's what happens when you fly first class! We made sure to come early enough to stop by the lounge. It was pretty cool, although it was mostly full of businesspeople speaking loudly on their phones as if it was their private office. In the lounge, we ate dinner from Crawford's that we had brought along. Soon enough, it was time for the flight.
I had expected to be among the first to board, but I soon discovered that there was one group that had priority: wheelchairs. I've never seen so many wheelchairs on a single flight my entire life. I would say about half the flight needed assistance. There were only three or four employees assisting, so this took quite a bit of time. I'm only exaggerating a little bit. It truly was one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen.
Finally, it was our turn to board. We settled in to our middle seats, loving every second. Even when the flight was delayed due to heavy winds and a closed runway, we didn't care. I watched an entire movie before takeoff. There is no place better to be delayed than in first class.
The food was the same nastiness they serve in economy except it's served on real plates. I loved the Tumi bag that had a toothbrush and toothpaste, among other things. I slept a full night of sleep on the lay-flat bed, though my wife twisted and turned the whole night. She said it felt more like sleeping on a couch.

Exiting the airplane in Athens, we were greeted by an army of wheelchair assist people. They literally had ninety employees, each standing by his or her own wheelchair. That's how you to do it, JFK.
We sped through passport control and reached baggage within five minutes. The bags, however, took forever to arrive.
Once we had our bags, we ordered a Beat Taxi, the equivalent of Uber in Athens. They're just regular cabs, but it lets you pay with credit card. It's probably more like Gett. We used Beat throughout the whole trip, which was quite a help. Overall, we used credit card basically everywhere, and only took out 50 Euro in cash.
I had bought a Pixel with the Fi Gift Card deal, and had previously planned on selling it, but by the time April came around, I decided to keep it. Fi was super helpful in Greece and Israel, and the total bill was 13 dollars. Because we had Fi, we could use Beat Taxi without an issue. As an added perk, the pictures came out amazing.
Taxis between Athens and the airport are set at 38 Euro. On the way to the hotel, we called ahead to see if they could have a room ready for us at 12, to which they were happy to oblige.
We stayed in the NJV Athens Plaza Hotel, paying $220 a night for a deluxe room and a Syntagma Square view. The hotel is part of a strip of three connected hotels facing Syntagma Square. The first, the Grand Bretagne, is the nicest. The King George is the second. The third is the Plaza, and is the worst of the three. The King George and Grand Bretagne are both Marriot Bonvoy Hotels (Category 7).
The hotel is certainly nice, but nothing special. It was perfect for what we needed.

View from the Hotel of Syntagma Square

After settling into the room and eating lunch, we were ready to go. The front desk offered us a map of the city and helped us plan our day. We ordered a Beat to our starting point, Hadrianís Arch.
Going around Athens, you see an odd mix of grandiose archaeological sites and run-down buildings in desperate need of a face lift. The first thought I had coming into the city was, "Wow, this place is disgusting!" Most buildings are old and in obvious states of disrepair. The streets are a mess. Mopeds rule the road. Homeless people and dogs are everywhere. But the historic sites are well maintained and are quite impressive.
We arrived at Hadrianís Arch after a short taxi ride. We were approached by a tour guide who said he was about to start his free tour of the city, but we declined. We were not interested in listening to a tour guide ramble all afternoon. As it is, we really arenít too interested in history. Museums really arenít our thing. We visited the sights, but didnít stay long. It seemed kind of funny, as history is basically everything in Athens, but we were able to appreciate the beauty, if not the backstory.
Behind Hadrianís Arch is Temple of Zues. We paid 30 Euro for entry for 7 sights in the city. We wouldíve saved money if we paid for each sight individually, because the only other sight we ended up visiting was the Acropolis. However, it sure was worth 4 Euro not to wait in the Acropolis ticket line.

Temple of Zues

We then walked to the South Entrance of the Acropolis. On the way, people tried stuffing roses into our hands and telling me how beautiful my wife is. Donít take the roses and keep on walking, and yes, I know 😊. It was a nice hike up to the Parthenon, and we were sweating by the time we reached the top. There were really stunning views from the top. There seems to be some sort of restoration project going on. Again, we werenít so interested in the history, so we just spent some time there walking around and enjoying the views.

View from the Acropolis (Can you spot the Temple of Zues?)

We went down on the North side. We needed a bathroom, and even there were signs for one, we couldnít find it. As we left the Acropolis and the houses start again, we were met by an even more aggressive group of tourist chasers pushing necklaces and beads on us. They told us to come that night to the Monastiraki, where they would be performing. Moving on, the next group tried offering us weed. We sure were passing up on their goods. We continued down the hill until we reached the Monastiraki, an open-air market. Fresh fruit vendors set up right in the middle, outside a train station. Numerous narrow side streets lined with other vendors lead away from the main square.
We followed one of the streets, making our way towards Chabad. Gostijo is the name of the attached restaurant and grocery store. The grocery could not find our order, so we just shopped around what they had. We picked up instant soups, snacks, and drinks. We met Rabbi Mendel Hendel, the Chabad Rabbi who El Al made famous, and then headed out. On the way back, we passed by the equivalent of Machane Yehuda. On the street, there were vendors selling spices. On the inside, there was one section selling fish and one section selling meat. All I could manage was a quick peek to take a picture. Then we headed back to the hotel.

Right across from Syntagma Square is the Old Royal Palace and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Every hour, on the hour, there is a changing of the guard. On Sundays, the guards are more dressed up and perform more elaborately. Even though it wasnít Sunday when we went, it was still enjoyable. It's definitely worth the visit, especially since it's in great location and it's so often.

Changing of the Guards

Right next door to the palace is the Botanical Gardens. We had a little more energy before retiring for the night, so we walked around in the gardens. Itís pretty but definitely not a required attraction. The only place we wanted to go but we didnít have time was Lycabettus Hill, which has cable car access and the best views of the city.
Arriving back in the hotel, we stopped at the front desk to inquire about heating up our meals. They said that whenever we were ready, room service would pick it up from our room. My wife went back to the room, and I took a cab to mincha. It was about a fifteen minute walk, but I was exhausted. It turned out to be a bad idea, as traffic was at a standstill. I caught the tail end of mincha, which took place upstairs from the restaurant. They said maariv would be another fifteen minutes later, but after waiting for a half hour and nothing was happening, I went back to the hotel.
We called room service and gave them very specific instructions not to open up the food. Five minutes later, the chef called us to find out what temperature and how long the food should be heated for. ďAre you sure,Ē he asked. ďThatíll burn the food!Ē We shortened it a little, but we learned for the next night to cook it less. The food was very solid, even though it was kosher for Pesach. After a long day, we were exhausted, and we fell asleep quickly.

We woke up late the next day. We had booked a Volkswagen Polo for $30 on (despite the bad reviews) through Keddy by Europcar. I called Europcar to let them know that we were still coming and took a quick cab over. When we arrived, to our dismay, the agent informed us that they had just returned the car to their other location. They claimed that they had held it for too long, despite the fact that I gave them ample notice of the new time. We had to wait for them to return the car, an extra half hour, which we spent in a nearby supermarket. Finally, the car came, and it was a Nissan Micra. Bummer. I didnít think it was in the same class as a Volkswagen Polo, which I ordered, but I wasnít going to complain at that point. To add insult to injury, however, the car came with an 1/8 tank of gas, and they said I should fill it up and leave it with the same amount of gas. I didnít really have a choice at this point, so I had to scramble to fill up gas (and of course I ended up paying for too much gas).
Driving in Athens was at first scary, even for a New Yorker like me. Mopeds rule the road and many drivers bribe their way to get driving licenses. One website I read recommended assuming that no one else on the road besides for you knows how to drive. I had driven in Israel before, so this was only slightly worse. Just mind your own way, and the mopeds will take care of themselves.
Todayís plan was to drive the Athens Riviera coastal highway. After driving Croatiaís coastal highway on our trip last year, I knew I wanted to do many more coastal drives. We first stopped in Lake Vouliagmeni, a lake-turned-spa with naturally warm year-round waters, the fish that nibble on feet, and leads into a huge underwater cave system which divers frequent. The area has a 12 Euro entrance fee and has bathrooms, showers, and changing rooms. We actually found the water to be slightly chilly, but it was stunning nonetheless.

The Margi, a Small Luxury Hotel which has recently begun accepting World of Hyatt points, is in the immediate area. (We almost stayed there but instead opted to stay in the city of Athens.) There was a nearby hike with beautiful views which we couldnít find. Instead, after swimming in the lake, we found a boardwalk along the ocean just across the main road. We then drove south to the southernmost tip of the Athens Riviera, Cape Sounion, home of the Temple of Poseidon. (Sounio also has a nice luxury hotel.) We paid the small entrance fee to see the ruins and enjoy the incredible views. At the bar/gift shop, we found Arizona tea with an OU!

View from the temple, photo credits to my wife

We then drove back up the same road. On the way back, it started pouring. Apparently, afternoon rain is common on a Greek April day. On the way back, I saw signs for the old airport. The old Athens airport was abandoned in 2004 after the new one opened for the Olympics. A number of planes have been left to rot in the airport. Researching before the trip, I had no luck finding out if there was a way to visit the airport or if it was locked up. Recent articles of the airportís sale to a developer implied that it is especially hard to explore. Nevertheless, I was curious to check it out.
I put the old airport in the GPS and followed signs. Nearing the airport, we saw many building projects that had been started and then abandoned after the financial crash. One building frame had been converted into a skateboard park. Itís truly amazing to see the impact of the bankruptcy that followed the Olympics.

Old Athens Airport

Arriving at the airport, we encountered an unlocked gate. A whole line of vehicles were parked in front of the airport. In the pouring rain, I opened the front door to the airport. It was basically a huge empty room, kind of impressive when you know what was there. Walking around a little, I saw two men at the opposite end of the hall. Thinking they were developers, I quickly went back to the car. It was a really cool site, but I was kind of disappointed that I didnít get to see any airplanes. When trying to leave the airport, we ran into overgrown bushes and roadblocks everywhere we went. After many failed attempts to leave, we finally turned around and left the way we came.
We took the road north along the perimeter of the airport. As we neared the end, we finally saw the airplanes! I jumped out of the car to look. There they were, quite a few planes, just sitting there. There was even an Olympics Air 747! It truly was a site. We went around the corner so I could get another view. Finally satisfied, I went back to the car sopping wet.

The 747. Note the flat tires

That evening, we returned the car and went back to the hotel. This time, I walked to mincha, yet by the time I got there, they had finished. Apparently, they had started 15 minutes earlier. This time, there was a group of ten waiting around for maariv and we started exactly on time. Before I started walking, I told my wife to call room service to get our food ready. This time, the food was less burned, and again it was really solid.
After eating, we walked two doors down to the Grand Bretagne. I wanted to go to the rooftop bar with views of the acropolis, which had been highly recommended. Sadly, they did not have any available outdoor seating. Instead, we toured the hotel. In the gift shop, we stumbled across quite an interesting find. There was a silver case, about the size of an esrog case, which had engraved in it the bracha for eating matza. We asked about it, but the store owner couldnít really give us much information about it.

That night, we packed up, as we had to check out of the hotel room before leaving for our trip the next day.
The next morning, Chabad didn't have a minyan, so I went to daven by the local shul. I had to bring my passport to enter. It was a sfardi davening, had no mechitza (yes, there were women), and they skipped laining.

Today's activity was a boat snorkeling tour with Extreme Divers Greece ( We had wanted to do scuba diving, but my wife was expecting. George picked us up from the hotel, and right from the start, we knew we were going to have a great day. He was super friendly and double checked that we had everything we needed before leaving. Driving to his store at the edge of the city, George was our acting tour guide. He knew all about the history and the economy, and even offered to take us to the old airport when I mentioned it. He had petitioned the government to sink a plane in the sea for diving, but they denied his request. My wife expressed concern about snorkeling while pregnant (her doctor said no, for some reason), but George was quick to calm her fears. He even told us about all the benefits of pregnant woman and young babies being in the water. Whatever topic we discussed, he seemed to know everything about it.
We stopped briefly at the store to swap cars (only one of them was legal to drive in the city), pay, and sign some forms. We then drove to a dock where the boat and skipper, also named George, were waiting. He had brought along fruits and vegetables because he knew about kosher. He even ran to wash them well with soap, because he said that it was important for pregnant women.
He knew all the nice snorkeling spots in the area, even teaching us how to spot a hidden octopus. As an expert boater, he was continually tracking the weather, and brought us back a few minutes early when he sensed the impending thunderstorm. We made it back to shore right before the rainfall. On the way back, he recommended a nice seafood restaurant with beautiful views, to which we politely declined. Overall, George went above and beyond, seizing every opportunity to please his customers. It was a little pricey, and the snorkeling was not necessarily better than anywhere else in the world. But I would recommend it for diving, and spending a day with George is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The hotel wanted to charge us 60 Euro to use a room to shower, so we passed. The flight from Athens to Tel Aviv is short, and we were willing to endure the discomfort. We changed in a bathroom and hung out in the lobby. We ate dinner at Gostijo, where I ate from the buffet while my wife took an instant soup. It was finally time to say good-bye to Athens. We walked back to the hotel and tried to call a Beat Taxi, but every time we tried, there was no one available. I asked the hotel if they could try and find me a taxi to the airport that I could use a credit card to pay, but even they had trouble finding someone to stop for us. At that point, we were getting a little nervous, but after a little more perseverance, we got a Beat. After hearing about all the troubles we went through until we found him, the taxi driver remarked, ďItís because you had to get me!Ē He hit 160 km/hr on the highway, and in no time, we were in the airport.

The El Al security in Athens was even more tight than in New York. The agent asked us quite interesting questions, although I wonder if she was more curious about our culture more than anything. She asked us why I wasnít wearing a ring while my wife was. She asked what we each did in Israel while we were there in school for so long studying Judaic studies. She then cornered us directly into revealing that we had left our bags with the hotel for the day and then made us go through every bag in front of her. After a grueling interrogation and search, we finally proceeded to check in our bags.
The El Al website did not let us pay for the bags before we got to the airport, so they wanted us to pay the airport rate, double the price. I argued with them, even showing the confirmation request (I had requested a bag but was never able to pay for it), but nothing worked. I asked for the supervisor, and then another supervisor, until there was no one of higher rank in the airport. The final answer was: We cannot do anything for you, so pay now and complain to customer service. Right, El AL customer service. (To my great astonishment, they actually ended up reimbursing us!)
To close the trip, of course the flight was delayed a few hours and the plane was over 20 years old and super cramped. There was a sign at the front of the airplane that the plane was checked for chametz, although after taking off at 1 am, they turned the lights on and began serving pastrami sandwiches. You really canít make these things up.
In the end of the day, it was a classic Welcome to Israel.
Jury Duty: A time with nothing to do but chill and write a TR. Kinda like the beach without a view and an ocean breeze.

Offline shmelive

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Re: Athens Riviera - A 3 Day Trip, Off the Beaten Path
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2019, 11:38:57 PM »
Great trip report!! Bshaa tova!

Online jose34

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Re: Athens Riviera - A 3 Day Trip, Off the Beaten Path
« Reply #2 on: July 31, 2019, 06:19:55 PM »
Nice. Thanks but...
 She then cornered us directly into revealing that we had left our bags with the hotel for the day;


Offline JuryDuty

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Re: Athens Riviera - A 3 Day Trip, Off the Beaten Path
« Reply #3 on: July 31, 2019, 06:35:43 PM »
Nice. Thanks but...
 She then cornered us directly into revealing that we had left our bags with the hotel for the day;


She wanted to know if our bags were with us at all times. If they were not, El Al policy is to open up the bags and check everything to make sure nobody put anything inside.
So she asked us very specific questions about our day until it was clear that we left our bags with the hotel. Once we revealed that piece of information, she took us to the side to go through our suitcases.
Jury Duty: A time with nothing to do but chill and write a TR. Kinda like the beach without a view and an ocean breeze.