Travel: Athens, Greece

Temple of Olympian Zeus and Lycabettus. Photo: Y. Skoulas, visitgreece.gr
Temple of Olympian Zeus and Lycabettus. Photo: Y. Skoulas, visitgreece.gr

Travel for me is all about the the incredible kindness strangers always seem to show you when they realise you are exploring their territory.

Greece is going through bad times financially at the moment so it would have been unsurprising if all had been doom and gloom when we visited the capital Athens.

Acropolis. Photo by Athens CVB

Acropolis. Photo by Athens CVB

But guess what? The place was vibrant, the people upbeat and the atmosphere fun and friendly and we simply had a ball!

Athens is the ideal place for a short break. There are cheap flights available, good and fair priced links into the city and an abundance of places to stay and things to do.

The magnificent Acropolis is probably the greatest symbol of Greece and imagine our delight when we arrived at our base for our four day stay, The Radisson Blu Park and headed for the top floor and a wonderful view of the ancient site all lit up.

The hotel is not half bad too! It’s in easy walking distance of the underground and the rooms are well appointed and spacious, with all the mod cons you would expect from Wi Fi to the add bonus of a Jacuzzi style bath, which kept Ruaridh (10) and Flossie (7) amused at night.

Panathinaiko Stadium. Photo by Stian Rekdal, visitgreece.gr

Panathinaiko Stadium. Photo by Stian Rekdal, visitgreece.gr

But the best bit of the hotel for us, apart from the St’ Astra rooftop restaurant where the views of the city are wonderful and in the summer, you can enjoy the outdoor pool, was the sumptuous breakfasts served in the downstairs Gallo Nero restaurant with its ever changing coloured ceiling. You were spoilt for choice every morning with the array of food from cold and hot buffets and dishes ordered straight from the kitchen. We couldn’t tear the children away from the banana smoothies and freshly cooked pancakes and the meal really set you up for the day.

With a fitness centre, sauna and steam room, we had no excuse not to work off those extra breakfast pounds and ever helpful staff were on hand to give us directions and tips on the best way to reach the sights.

It’s always good when you first arrive to test out the official sight-seeing tours and we opted for the rather fun Happy Train. The red choo choo which ran on tyres rather than wheelshad see through carriages which enabled us to go on a whistle stop tour of all the major sights in and around the city centre. It’s a hop on and hop off service with an onboard commentary and it was great to travel in style as we had our first glimpse up close of the historical sites and old neighbourhoods.

From train to feet, once we hopped off at Syntagma Square, we used our handy Garmin eTrex® Touch 25 GPS system to help us find our way. This model is really designed for the rugged hills, but we found it great when exploring the back streets of Athens to see where and how people live.

The Radisson Blu Park Hotel, Athens.

The Radisson Blu Park Hotel, Athens.

Syntagma Square is home to the Greek Parliament and its good to watch the changing of the guards, with Ruaridh and Flossie having great fun watching the pom pom wearing soldiers strut their stuff!

We then used the GPS to follow the route of The Happy Train and take in Athen’s jewel in the crown, the Acropolis and all its ancient extras.

Our first stop was the Panathenaic Stadium where the first official Olympic Games were said to have taken place. This 70,000 seater stadium is an impressive site and will have you dreaming of going for gold!

Nearby is The Temple of Olympian Zeus which was my favourite as it seemed to dominate the skyline and sat neatly surrounded by modern Athens. It can be reached via Hadrian’s Arch, made of Pentelic marble and was put up to commemorate the consecration of the temple.

From here we meandered our way through the old streets and made our way up to the Acropolis and the world famous Parthenon, via an array of temples. Dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the goddess embodying the power and prestige of the city, it is the largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece and its pretty impressive!

Nearby is the modern Acropolis Museum which houses the monument's surviving treasures, with great fact finding activities for the children to enjoy as you immerse yourself in history.

After drinking all that history in, it was time to head for the Monastiraki district which houses the Ancient Agora , the administrative headquarters of the 6thcentury and also a wonderful street which is crammed full of restaurants serving the best souvlaki (kebab to you and me) in town and boy was it good after all that walking.

For a spot more culture we headed for the Foundation of the Hellenic World museum which houses special exhibitions from around the world, with the current one focussing on ancient Egypt and also a virtual reality dome which we all enjoyed as it 3D us around ancient Greece.

Athens has so much to offer a traveller with its mixture of old which sits so well with modern life. It’s just wonderful to wander around and spot a temple, take a peek at the locals as they shop in the central market full of pigs heads and raw fish, climb Lycabettus Hill and get the best views ever or sit in a taverna and enjoy the special dishes and drinks with the friendly locals who are only too happy to share a tale or help you find your way round, proving that, in the end, kindness always pays off and will entice you back to this wonderful city!

Factfile: Athens is a relatively compact city and easy to find your way round, especially if you have handy GPS technology like the Garmin eTrex® Touch 25 to help you. This nifty device is fun for all the family and is aimed at encouraging you to head outdoors, it’s ideal for hiking, but we thought we would test it out as we tried to find the tourist attractions of this top city. And it proved invaluable, for more information on this device and similar products, check outwww.garmin.com

Accommodation: When you only have a short stay, it is important to chose a central location, but a top hotel too and The Radisson Blu Park Athens Hotel ticked all the boxes, it was close to good transport links, had well appointed and comfy rooms with all the mod cons including Wi Fi, tea and coffee making facilities and a fitness centre. The scrumptious breakfasts were wonderful and kept you going for the whole day. Check out www.rbathenspark.com for special offers.

Things to do: Athens is steeped in history and there is so much to see and do from the famous Acropolis site and Museum (www.theacropolismuseum.gr) to The Happy Train sightseeing icon (www.athenshappytrain.com) which provides a great way of seeing the sights during a fun packed journey. And then there is the Foundation of the Hellenic World (www.ime.gr), which is a wonderful museum jam packed with special exhibitions featuring Greece’s culture and from across the world, with a special virtual reality dome so you can see the country and its history in 3D.

Information: The Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) has an excellent Pocket Athens guide with a pull out map (7.99) and The Visit Greece website (www.visitgreece.gr) has a wealth of information and you can keep up to date via its VisitGreecegr Twitter account.