Athens Travel Info
We've been back from Greece for a week and a half now, and it's pretty much taken me this long to feel settled back into my normal routine again. Being gone for 18 days meant lots of cleaning, laundry, and errands needed to be done upon my arrival back home...OH, and most importantly, I needed to make up for lots of missed snuggles with my hubs and doggies, because it was just my sister, mom, and I on the travel adventures this time! BUT, I am back in business and ready to finally post some travel info for you all incase you ever travel to Greece yourselves. Honestly, I have felt like I've had a bit of a travel hangover- you know when you have SO much fun, and then the next day you seem a bit disoriented- YUP, that was me for like a week! Being 100% Greek, and being raised VERY Greek growing up (Greek food, Greek language, Greek church, Greek music- our house was pretty much ALL GREEK, ALL THE TIME), I had been beyond anticipating this trip for a LOOOOONG time. I was worried that it wouldn't live up to all the hype I had created in my mind, BUT HOLY CRAP, it was so much more. Let's just say, I definitely left a part of my heart in Greece.
Greeks have this certain infectious zest for life, a zest that makes you just fall in love with the place- there's even a word for it in Greek- KEFI (κέφι). This is an extremely hard word to define because it's not a concrete thing, but instead it's an emotion or feeling...kefi basically is the joy that you feel when you are electrified by life itself... AND, let me tell you, this electrifying feeling is palpable everywhere you go in Greece- it makes your experience in this country like no other.
Kefi (also commonly spelled kephi) has been described by various Greeks as meaning the spirit of joy, passion, enthusiasm, high spirits, overpowering emotion, or frenzy. Kefi takes many forms and is usually, but not always, associated with the expression of positive emotion or fun.
The custom of smashing plates is considered an expression of kefi when the soul and body are so overwhelmed with an exuberance that you must find an outlet, and so is dancing with a glass of water balanced on the head.
Over the years, the citizens of Greece have adopted a number of different expressions and uses of this popular little word.
Whether they realize it or not, many tourists to Greece are looking for their own spirit of kefi, which may be found on a friendly beach or in a Greek taverna. If you're planning a trip to Greece this year, don't be afraid to get infected with "the spirit of Greece," the nearly indefinable concept of kefi during your stay.
Uses of Kefi in Greek Culture
In ancient times, the frenzied maenads (matrons) following Dionysus could be considered to be expressing a bloodier version of this concept of overwhelming passion and enthusiasm. In modern times, you might think of the iconic image of Zorba dancing on the beach in Crete in the film "Zorba the Greek," although that, too, carries an undertone of sorrow.
The fact is, some Greeks say that kefi is not just something you experience in times of happiness, but it is an energy you maintain even when things are tough.
It's dancing in the rain, so to speak. It's a culturally embedded idea to stay positive, and you'll likely hear it casually in conversation when friends are getting ready to go out dancing or just had a really great day at work.
While kefi can roughly be translated to "fun" or "joviality," many Greek people consider kefi to be a uniquely Greek characteristic, a magical element of being in Greece, enjoying the culture, and having fun like no one else in the world can.
SOOO, you are probably wondering what we all got to experience, aside from kefi, in our 18 days in Greece. I think the easiest way to do this for you guys is to break this down into four different posts, because we got to travel to four different areas in the country. Today I will share with you all of our Athens travel info, and in the next week or so I will share about the islands of Paros, Santorini, and Crete. Here goes nothing...
ATHENS- Stayed 5 days, and I don't think you can do the city justice if you stay for much less time. There's just SOOO much to do and see!
Where We Stayed: The Hermes Hotel
We stayed right in the heart of the Plaka District in a cute little boutique hotel. The rooms were cute, clean, and perfect for what we needed. We didn't spend too much time obviously in the hotel because we were out exploring, so we didn't need anything super crazy fancy, but we were very pleased with our hotel accommodations. We were especially pleased with the location because the Plaka District is honestly one of the BEST parts of Athens. This hotel is also super close to the center of the city, Syntagma Square, and the metro station if you are wanting to travel to other neighborhoods within Athens quickly. We did not rent a car- if you do plan on renting a car, head's up, you need your international license, BUT I do not recommend driving in Athens. The roads are SUPER narrow, and they drive kind of crazy, lol! YES, we did pay for taxis if we needed too, which can add up. BUT, luckily we had our wonderful cousins who live in Athens to show us around, AND if they weren't able to take us somewhere we were more than willing to pay a little extra so we didn't have to face the task of driving! However, don't let the taxi drivers over quote you on the cost-ask at your hotel how much they think the taxi ride should cost, for the distance you are going. BE INFORMED- otherwise they will take advantage of you!!! My favorite thing was when people thought we didn't speak Greek, and they'd be saying something under their breath and they'd suddenly realize OOOOH these Americans do speak Greek- maybe I can't pull the wool over their eyes now! SO FUNNY! But even if you don't speak the language, don't get duped!
Best Neighborhood To Check Out: The Plaka
OOOKKK, The Plaka is the oldest district in Athens, AND the location and activities here are absolutely perfect!! The Plaka is literally located right beneath the Acropolis, so you always have the AMAZING view of the Acropolis sitting up on its peak. There are TONS of quaint little tavernas and outdoor cafes/restaurants. There are slews of awesome little shops to peruse.
AND, if you seriously only have a few days in Athens, I would highly recommend you spend one of those days in this district! I just couldn't get enough of this place!
Best Restaurants: (Top 3 only or we'll be here forever- there are that many good ones!)
- Orizontes: We ate at Orizontes actually on my birthday, and the view was seriously magical!! From our hotel, we walked over two miles uphill to get to this location- I suggest taking a cab, if you are staying near The Plaka district- and then we had to take a cable car up to the top of a huge peak to get to the actual restaurant. AND, seriously when you walk into the restaurant, and they walk you out to your table on the terrace, you almost lose your breath looking at this view. IT'S ABSOLUTELY INSANE! The icing on the cake was that the food was actually really good too- I had the sea bass- YUM! If you plan on eating here, I definitely recommend making a reservation (and make sure to ask for a table with a view) very early. If you already have a trip booked to Athens, I would call NOW because they said they book up quickly.
- In Town: We happened upon this cute, little outdoor cafe on one of our walks. It's really close to The Plaka district and Syntagma Square, right in the center of Athens- so definitely within a comfortable walking distance if you stay in the city center. Growing up Greek means I LOVE my Greek food, and I am a pretty harsh critic because I compare everything to my yiayia's (grandma's) homemade Greek meals....This place definitely delivered on the authentic Greek food. I would definitely recommend the traditional Greek pasticcio, which is kind of like a Greek lasagna. DELISH!
- Karyatis Cafe-Meze Restaurant: This restaurant was another last minute find, that ended up having really great traditional Greek dishes as well. This was probably the most convenient restaurant to get to for us because it was literally right around the bend from the Hermes Hotel. I just absolutely loved getting to sit outside for almost every meal (especially coming from cold Wisconsin where we don't get that chance very often), and this place was no different with it's cute outdoor taverna style set up. I had the yemista, Greek stuffed tomatoes, and they were amazing. They even had raisins mixed in the stuffing, which I had never had before in yemista, BUT it ended up being really yummy! My mom had the keftedes, Greek meatballs, which she also said was two thumbs up.
*A Few Foodie Sidenotes: 1) Most Europeans don't tip- which we thought was NUTS! These people are busting their butts, and making minimal wages, so we definitely still tipped! 2) If you stop at any of the little local cafes/shops their spanakopita (spinach pies) and tiropita (cheese pies) are usually savory, and the best place for loukoumades (little Greek donuts with honey) we heard is actually the little restaurant in the New Acropolis Museum! 3) My sister is a coffee lover (I actually hate coffee, yuck), and she loved all the frappes she got in Greece- especially the frappes from Grigoris, which seems to be a small Greek coffee shop chain. So keep those quick little stops in mind, if you need a little snack along the way! 4) Also check out TripAdvisor for more restaurant suggestions, because TripAdvisor didn't steer us wrong once on the trip! If you aren't a lover of traditional Greek food, there are plenty of other options out there in Athens as well!
Best Sites To See: (Top 3, again, because the list could go on forever!)
- Acropolis/Parthenon: If you go to Athens, I feel like it's a given that you MUST see the Acropolis and Parthenon. We took a tour because we wanted to be as educated on the history of every part of the Acropolis/Parthenon as possible. If you check out the above link, we decided to do the "Athens Sightseeing with Acropolis" tour, which ended up being a good choice because we got to drive through a lot of different areas of Athens as well- AND, it was only a half day tour, so we still had a good chunk of the day to do some exploring on our own. We got to stop at the Olympic Stadium, Temple of Zeus, and pass by many other sites. We also got to go through the New Acropolis Museum (which was really neat to see), and then we ended with a tour through the actual Acropolis. Our tour guide was a former archaeologist, which was AWESOME, because he shared a TON of really interesting facts along the way. I would definitely recommend this tour- standing at the top of the peak, next to such an ancient marvel gave me goosebumps. I kept thinking, WOW, all those thousands of years ago people stood in this exact spot, building this insanely amazing piece of history!
- Changing of the Evzones: This was such a neat part of the Greek culture to see. Just like many other places have a changing of the guards ceremony, so too does Athens. The Evzones, who are a part of the Greek military, stand guard in front of The Monument of the Unknown Soldier (which is located in Syntagma Square- if you stay near The Plaka, again this is in walking distance, which is why I keep suggesting staying in that district because of its central location) in front of The Hellenic Parliament Building and Presidential Mansion. Every hour, on the hour, they have a changing of the Evzones ceremony daily. However, if you are in Athens on a Sunday, you MUST make it a point to go to the 11 A.M. ceremony because they have a special parade, along with many Greek military personnel present, and they wear their special white uniforms (Let me repeat, the special ceremony and costumes are Sunday only, hah. We almost missed it!). It was such a neat, symbolic ceremony to watch, AND you can see the pride in their country just oozing out of everyone involved!
- Delphi: Have you heard the story of the Oracle of Delphi? I have always been obsessed with the history of Delphi, so I really wanted to take a tour of this area. I was definitely not disappointed! We took another tour with the Chat Tours group, which is the same company we used for our tour to the Acropolis. Delphi is about a three hour drive from Athens, so you definitely need to have a whole day dedicated to this tour alone. I am usually not a fan of all day tours as they can be a little exhausting, BUT, it was such a fantastic experience to drive WAAAAAAY up into the mountains to get up to Delphi in all its glory. The mountain views and scenery were breathtaking and mystical all at once. There was fog rolling in as we approached the Temple of Apollo, where down below the Oracle used to tell/predict people's future in her trance like state. SO COOL! The weather was just so fitting with the mysterious past of the Oracle! I just stood there looking at the elevation and how far into the mountains we really were, and I was flabbergasted at how people in ancient times could build these huge temples with no cranes or machinery or ANYTHING. My mom was telling me that they used to bring things up the mountains with a rope and a basket! SO CRAZY! We also got to go into the Delphi museum where we saw and heard a lot more of the history of Delphi. This is definitely high on my recommendation list if you are a history buff!
*A Few Travel Sidenotes: 1) I mentioned TripAdvisor above, and I am mentioning it again because my brother-in-law actually researched and booked our girls trip for us months and months in advance with the help of TripAdvisor and Yelp, and travel sites alike. He is like the trip planning master, so I am very thankful he took the time to really check everything out for us! I highly suggest doing your research prior to leaving, so you don't get to a foreign country and feel confused and lost. 2) Another suggestion I have- get a cellphone that has an international plan...because if we did want to Google directions to different places while walking or look on TripAdvisor for suggestions on restaurants or any other places really while we were there, we needed someone with cell service. Thankfully my sister had an international plan, and we were good to go. We could even make phone calls if needed, otherwise we would have been a bit out of luck at certain points on the trip. 3) Lastly, make sure you exchange enough money for Euros (if you are coming from someplace outside of Europe). Most places in Athens will give you a discount if you pay them with cash instead of using your card because they don't want to pay the credit card transaction fees. Another thing to check is if your credit card has a foreign transaction fee on your end, because you could really rack up a lot of fees that way constantly using your card over there. I didn't bring a credit card, I actually only brought my debit card to pull out more Euros if need be from ATMs (which there are ATMs everywhere), so I could keep paying with cash. Obviously you have to contact your bank prior to leaving so they know it's YOU using your debit card there, BUT it definitely was the easiest way for me to pay for things. Keep in mind the conversion rates as well, so you don't freak out when you get back, LOL!
Well there you have it folks! I tried to give you my favorite bites and sites and everything in between in the city. I absolutely fell in love with Athens- it was just so impressive to see how they have preserved so much of the ancient parts of the city, but have modernized at the same time. It has so many fun things to do during the day, and if you are looking for a little night life, you can of course climb up the narrow hills and staircases in The Plaka district to listen to a little bouzouki music, while you sip on some wine! Honestly this city has it all! If you have any other questions about Athens, leave me a comment below or DM me on Instagram (lrenzy.land). My sincere hope for any of you out there that get to travel to Greece is to experience as much of the Greek KEFI as possible. It's hard to experience that feeling anywhere else on the planet...