Athens: Agora and museums

Since the Athens segment of our trip consisted of only two half days and one full day, we woke up bright and early to take full advantage of our one complete day in the city. Breakfast at Economy Hotel was definitely a step down from breakfast at the Mistral Hotel, but it filled us up and had some thick and delicious greek yogurt!

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After breakfast, we headed right away to the National Archaeological Museum. My guidebook listed this museum as the top museum to visit and said that the museum boasted one of the most famous and influential collections in the world.

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The museum is fairly large, so we couldn’t look at everything in great detail, but we spent a bit of time looking at the Mycenaean Collection (from the 16-11th centuries BC, featuring lots of gold), the Egyptian collection, and lots of statues:

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After the Archaeological Museum, we stopped by the Central Market. The Central Market is somewhat similar to the shuk but with an emphasis on meat and fish. SO MUCH MEAT!!

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You can tell we’re not in Israel anymore*….

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*octopus is NOT kosher.

The Central Market also has some spice stands around the outskirts, so that might be a better place to walk around for the more squeamish:

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After the Central Market, we made our way to the Agora and stopped for a coffee. Greece had a few types of unique coffee drinks. Greek coffee is a very thick and grainy drink – somewhat similar to Turkish coffee in Israel. An espresso freddo is espresso over ice. The espresso, however, is frothed with cold water making a very foamy drink. A cappuccino freddo is the same thing except with additional frothed milk on top. Lastly, nescafe is frothed instant coffee, often served with milk and sugar (be careful – if you get with sugar they are extremely sweet!). This is an espresso freddo:

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While we finished our drinks we sat under the Stoa of Attalos which used to be a 2nd century BC shopping mall and now serves as home to the Agora Museum.

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Selfies. Obviously.

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Caffeinated and refreshed, we went to check out the Agora.

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The Agora was once Athen’s central market and the main area of the city for about 1,200 years. It was built in the 6th century BC and was the spot for political discourse and the birthplace of democracy. Today, not much remains in the area, but there are ruins indicating where great buildings once stood.

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Although most of the Agora is now in ruins, the Temple of Hephaestus still remains and is, in fact, the best preserved Classical temple in all of Greece:

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When in use, the temple was devoted to both Hephaestus and Athena. After walking through the Agora, we took a break for lunch at a nearby restaurant called To Kouti. We chose a table outside and shared some bread with a yogurt spread while waiting for our meal.

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We shared a salad with hard cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, grilled halloumi cheese, and a zuchinni souffle.

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I wasn’t wowed by the meal, but it did its job! Once refueled, we headed back to the Agora to go to the Agora Museum. The museum is fairly small but has a lot of really interesting artifacts that reflect both the styles of the time period and the developing democracy. My favorite artifact was the Athenian Law for Democracy inscribed on this tablet after the citizens of Athens voted for a new-fangled system giving every (male) citizen an equal vote:

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The Roman Forum is right next to the Agora and better preserved, so we swung by there for a quick walk-through on our way out of the area. The gate pictured below is called the Gate of Athena Archegetis and serves as the primary entrance to the forum, built in 11 BC by Julius Caesar and Augustus and dedicated – you guessed it! – to Athena.

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By this point, it was late afternoon and we were totally exhausted from walking around all day, so we relaxed at another cafe for a bit…

nescafe with milk and sugar on the left, tea on the right

nescafe with milk and sugar on the left, tea on the right

…and then walked back to the hotel for a little down time before dinner.

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Side note: graffiti is literally everywhere in Athens.

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After an hour or so at the hotel, we decided to go to a restaurant called Mani-Mani, recommended by both Trip Advisor and our guide book.

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The restaurant has a Greek and American inspired menu, and we ordered several dishes to share: a bean dip (sort of like hummus!), a salad with Greek cream cheese (which tasted a lot like creamy goat cheese to me) and figs, and a fish dish served with spinach and some sort of root vegetable puree.

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By the end of the meal, it was late so we headed straight back to the hotel to get some sleep. The next morning we slept in a little bit and met some friends to visit the Jewish Museum in Athens.

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The group we met up with are fellow Americans in Jerusalem for the year (including our good friend, Avi, from college!), and we were all on the same return flight to Tel Aviv.

The 4 nights in Greece flew by, but when I got back to Jerusalem it also felt as though I had been gone forever…funny how vacations work!

Other Greece posts

1. Getting There
2. Hydra: arrival and Mistral Hotel
3. Hydra: exploring
4. Hydra: food
5. Athens: arrival and Acropolis

Athens: arrival and Acropolis

We left Hydra on Sunday at about noon and just over an hour later we were arriving to Piraeus Port…ready to start the Athens segment of the trip!

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We took the metro from the port to our hotel which was near the Omonia metro stop. This hotel was definitely a different flavor from Mistral Hotel on Hydra.

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The name says it all.

But, the rooms were clean, the lobby was nice, the receptionists were very friendly, and breakfast was included. So, nothing to complain about. :)

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After dropping our stuff off at the room, we headed out right away to start seeing the sights. Unlike the total sense of relaxation on Hydra, Athens came with a certain feeling of pressure to ‘get stuff done.’ With so many famous places and museums, we wanted to make the most of our two days. On the way to the Acropolis, we walked through Monastiraki Square – one of the main shopping and pedestrian areas in Athens.

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At the square, we grabbed sandwiches at Everest, a Greek sandwich chain.

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With restored energy from the food, we continued on our way towards the Acropolis:

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The Acropolis sits on a hill at the highest part of Athens. Due to its height, Acropolis Rock, sometimes called the “Sacred Rock,” was used for sacred purposes since neolithic times. The ancient Greeks built several temples on Acropolis Rock, most of them honoring the city’s namesake, the goddess Athena. The temples built here continue to appear incredible and majestic, and the architectural designs found at the Acropolis have played a big role on architecture within the Western world. To enter the Acropolis, we climbed the hill, snaked through a park, and finally approached the front entrance, called the Propylaia:

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Since the Acropolis sits on such a high point of the city, there are some pretty incredible views looking down…

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…including a neat view of the Temple of Olympian Zeus:

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We especially enjoyed spotting Lykavittos Hill which we planned to go up later that day:

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After entering the main area of the Acropolis, we headed straight to the Parthenon.

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The Parthenon served as a temple to the goddess Athena, and in ancient times a huge gold statue of Athena was housed inside. The sheer size of the temple and columns were really impressive to see. There’s currently a restoration project going on, hence some of the scaffolding you can see in the pictures.

After the Parthenon, we crossed the pathway to look at the Erechtheion. According to myth, Poseidon and Athena battled to rule the city that would become Athens. Athena was selected for the position because she produced the first olive tree to represent what she could offer the city (hinting to the later significance of olives in Greece). The Erechtheion is built on the spot where this battle was said to occur, and within the building are two separate temples: one to Athena and one to Poseidon. Caryatids (sculptures of women, acting as columns) support one side of the temple (the left side in the picture below). The caryatids on display at the Acropolis are actually copies of the originals. Of the six real ones, 5 are in the New Acropolis museum and 1 remains in the British Museum.

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After our fill of sightseeing, we made our way to the New Acropolis Museum.

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This museum opened in 2009 and has really interesting architecture. The floors are made of glass, and looking down you can see excavations of an old Christian village. The museum itself houses many of the original marbles from the Acropolis. While at the museum, we learned that Greece has reclaimed many of these marbles as the result of political pressure being placed on Britain to return the artifacts to their rightful owners.

After the museum it was already dark outside, so we decided to alter our original plan for the evening. We had been planning to hike up Lykavittos Hill and then enjoy dinner at the top. Since it was darker and later than ideal, we decided to take the funicular to the top instead of walking:

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Views from the top were amazing!

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We enjoyed a light dinner at a restaurant on top of the hill before walking back – exhausted! – to the hotel for bed.

 

Other Greece posts

1. Getting There
2. Hydra: arrival and Mistral Hotel
3. Hydra: exploring
4. Hydra: food

Hydra: food

After our big hike, it was more-than-time for lunch when we finally made it back to the town center. We quickly located a souvlaki restaurant that looked perfect for lunch.

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Souvlaki is a popular Greek fast food of sorts that involves meat on skewers or with pita. Generally, meat options are pork, lamb, or chicken. Essentially all of the restaurants on Hydra had large outdoor seating areas looking out on the water, and after ordering, we found a nice table outside to enjoy the breeze and wait for our food.

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I ordered lamb kebabs and Noah ordered a Greek beer and chicken souvlaki:

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Lunch tasted great, but we were both in a bit of a meat-induced coma afterwards.

Following lunch, we strolled around the island streets a bit more and had a good laugh when we discovered this sign:

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After much speculation about what sort of conference the mules and donkeys were headed to, we saw this sign later in the day:

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Turns out the meeting was for mule and donkey owners to discuss problems facing their “traditional profession.” Maybe it had something to do with another poster we saw which seemed to be from some animal rights group protesting the treatment of mules and donkeys! I guess even the cutest of islands has their own crazy politics. :)

Besides learning about the mule and donkey drama of Hydra, we did some boat watching around the port:

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There were a couple ENORMOUS private yachts in the port…our guide book mentioned that celebrities often visit Hydra, so we had a good time guessing who might be inside!

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Eventually, it was time for a pick-me-up, so we found another cafe where we could relax and drink coffee as the sun set:

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For dinner Saturday night, we went to Psaropoula, a restaurant recommended by our guide book.

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The restaurant was near the water in the main town area, but it was unique because it wasn’t on street level. Getting to the restaurant required going up a flight of stairs to the rooftop level, and we sat outside on a rooftop balcony with great views out to the water:

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Like dinner the night before, we decided to order a few dishes and share. We ordered Greek salad again, eggplant rolls stuffed with halloumi cheese, and a feta cheese dish that consisted of feta wrapped in filo dough and drizzled with honey and sesame seeds:

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The meal also came with a bread basket, croutons, and dip:

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Yum!

Sunday morning we had our last eats on Hydra. Breakfast was from the Mistral Hotel again, and it was even more delicious than the first day’s breakfast. This time around, there was tomato soup followed by fruit, coffee, tea, bread, jam, olives, tomatoes, bruschetta, rice pudding, a sweet-cream filled danish, frittata, and a vegetable omelette.

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After making a pretty good dent in the breakfast food, we gathered our things and headed to catch a ferry back to Piraeus Port. Stay tuned for more about the Athens segment of the trip coming soon! :)

Other Greece posts

1. Getting There
2. Hydra: arrival and Mistral Hotel
3. Hydra: exploring

Hydra: exploring

On Saturday morning we woke up bright and early to greet our first full day in Hydra! Arriving after dark the night before, we were eager to see what the town looked like in the daylight and enjoy some of the beautiful views we read were so ubiquitous on the island.

Before heading out, we fueled up on the amazing breakfast offered by Mistral Hotel. The breakfast is included for all guests and was home-cooked and served each morning. Breakfast was served in the outdoor courtyard, and we received quite a spread.

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As soon, as we were seated we were brought small glasses of pea soup, shortly followed by bread, fruit, coffee, juice, cereal, breakfast pudding, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes/cheese, sweet bread, a noodle/cheese bake, and cheese sandwiches:

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WOW! We did not come anywhere close to finishing all the food. Once fully sated, we headed out to get a better look around Hydra:

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No cars are allowed on Hydra, so everything is very close and walkable. The walkways are primarily cobblestone and the houses are almost all white stucco with ceramic roof tiles:

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Because cars aren’t allowed, mules and donkeys are used to transport supplies, and we saw lots of food loaded onto flat crates and placed on wheels for transport:

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The town center is the port where there seemed to be a constant flow of business and pleasure boats and ferries, and the dock was lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes:

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The water was amazingly clear:

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After checking out the town center and marveling at how adorable the island was, we got started on our primary activity for the day: a hike up Mt. Eros. Before the trip, Noah looked up some information about hiking during the vacation, and we thought this would be the perfect activity to fill a day on an island. The information Noah found said that hiking Mt. Eros would lead to a gorgeous view of all of Hydra (and more!). The trail would also bring us past two monasteries.

Excited and sunscreened…ready to make the climb:

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The first part of the hike was through cobblestoned neighborhoods, but after awhile it transitioned to forested and rocky trails:

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Higher and higher…

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After about two hours of climbing, we finally reached the top.

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Holy cow – the views were AMAZING!

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There was even a bell at the top to ring. :)

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Other Greece posts

Getting There
Hydra: arrival and Mistral Hotel

 

 

Hydra: arrival and Mistral Hotel

After an eventful travel day, we were excited to finally arrive to Hydra! We stayed at Mistral Hotel, which we found through trip advisor, and it was a great find! *Most of these pictures of the outside of the hotel (below) are from the morning after our original arrival, hence why it is light outside. 

The hotel was just over a 5 minute walk from the port area, tucked cutely behind a courtyard.

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The outdoor courtyard had some cozy seating areas and was used for breakfast (homemade and served by the innkeeper each morning):

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Inside, there was a small lounge area with additional seating and a welcome desk.

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The hallways were decorated with Greece-themed art:

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And the room was clean and comfortable. Our room had a nice view looking down onto the garden!

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The night of our arrival, by the time we unloaded all our stuff at the hotel, it was past 9:00 and we still needed dinner. We made our way to a nearby taverna recommended by the innkeeper.

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Tavernas are a popular sort of eatery in Greece, and guests seem to generally share salads, mezes, wine, and an entree or two. We were excited to try some of the Greek cuisine, so we may have been a bit overzealous when ordering.

From the salad/mezes part of the menu, we ordered a greek salad (normally I don’t love Greek salad because I typically don’t like feta cheese, but the feta in Greece tasted great!!), fried cheese (we think it was halloumi), and zucchini balls. Some bread with olive oil also came with the food:

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For entrees, we shared fish and eggplant imam which is roasted eggplant, onions, tomato, and cheese:

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Everything was delicious! We knew the fish was super fresh too because we selected it ourselves from an ice display outside the restaurant:

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We weren’t quite sure how to debone it, but I think we managed pretty well. :)

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To drink, we shared a small bottle of the house white wine:

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During the meal, a fellow group of diners started playing music and singing, and we enjoyed listening to the music and seeing the group have so much fun:

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Prior to arriving to Greece, Noah and I read in the guide book that there a lot of stray cats in Greece (like in Israel). Unlike in Israel, however, the Greece cats like to cozy up to people and often go right next to cafe tables and shops. The book said that it can be hard to resist giving the cats food but that it’s important to restrain the temptation because restaurant owners don’t like it if their guests end up feeding the cats. We didn’t know what was so hard to resist about feeding the cats until this fellow showed up next to Noah and looked at him like this…

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…the whole meal! 

Nonetheless, the meal was great and we had a really fun evening. When we finished, the waiter brought us a small free dessert as well (some sort of cinnamon pudding maybe?).

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Other Greece posts:

1. Getting There

 

 

Getting there is half the fun

During Sukkot hol hamoed (the intermediate days of the holiday), Noah and I took a four-night, five-day vacation to Greece! Being in Israel, there are so many amazing countries only a short distance away – and getting there is a whole lot cheaper than it would be from the USA! I had a break from classes for the Sukkot holiday, so a couple months ago we started talking about planning a trip to take advantage of our geographical location. Greece became the destination because we hadn’t been there before (technically I went in junior high, but I didn’t really remember anything) and there were good options for both city exploration and island relaxation. We left last Friday bright and early. The sherut (shared taxi) picked us up for the airport at 3:40am! Of course…we ended up not packing until the night before.

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Okapi-i got some sleep even when we couldn’t:

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When we made it through security (always an ordeal at the Tel Aviv airport), there was some time to walk around and explore before our flight.

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There’s something so lovely about kosher burger joints and an Aroma over the standard airport food!

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We had a layover in the Istanbul airport for about 4 hours. As soon as we got off the plane in Istanbul, we saw that we were in an ENORMOUS internationals terminal.

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There were American-brand stores everywhere:

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And massive duty free shops selling everything in supersize:

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Noah and I had a lot of fun looking at all the goofy stuff at duty free, such as this Angry Birds perfume pack…

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…and the sample shots of whiskey (at 10am??):

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After sufficient exploration, we settled comfortably down with Starbucks and looked at our Athens guidebook until it was time for the flight:

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When we arrived in Athens after another quick 90 minute flight, we immediately were on our way to Piraeus Port to catch a ferry to the small island, Hydra. While in Greece, Noah and I wanted to spend a couple days in Athens seeing the big sites and a couple days on an island chillaxingAt first, we were looking at some of the larger and more iconic islands – like Santorini – but quickly decided that it would be better to go somewhere nearer to Athens to reduce the amount of time we needed to spend on a ferry. Plus, there are no shortage of amazing islands in Greece, so we didn’t feel like we were missing out at all! We settled on Hydra because it was supposed to be beautiful and we were attracted to the fact that it is a no-car island.

It took about an hour by public bus to get from the Athens airport to Piraeus (we passed an Ikea!):

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After getting to the port, there was some extra time to walk around and check out all of the super-sized boats:

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We were also lucky to be there just as the sun was setting:

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Our boat was a high-speed hydrofoil ferry that was a lot smaller than some of the monsters around the dock but still seated around 100 people.

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Noah and I were seated in the very front of the ferry and it sure was bumpy! Our seats seemed to be right over the foil lifts, and it led to an extremely crazy ride. I felt a little nauseous at the beginning, but luckily the feeling lessened slightly as we got further into the ride (the transport time was about 2 hours). About halfway through journey, we had some terror excitement. Out of nowhere, we heard an explosion and smoke started to fill the boat! Some of the Greek men sitting near us jumped up and were congregating in the center area of the ferry. Needless to say, Noah and I were totally freaked out and readying ourselves to make a quick escape from the boat and swim to shore. As we were frantically looking around, we saw what appeared to be a fireball outside the window next to the ferry. AHH! Eventually our panic started to subside a bit when we noticed no one else was jumping out of the boat or making tearful last phone calls to friends and family, but we still had no idea what was going on. 

Eventually, some of the people near us returned to their seats, and they must have noticed we looked totally freaked out because they explained that a flare had fallen off the wall and gone off inside the ferry which caused the explosion sound and smoke. The flare had then been held outside to prevent more smoke from getting into the ferry (this was the fireball). Luckily, we were able to see the humor in the situation at this point…

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but it was seriously freaky when we thought we were going to have to jump out of the boat and swim to safety!!

 

Jerusalem Cafes: Round 3

Continuing my series of posts about Jerusalem cafes (see here and here), Noah and I went to a couple more places in the recent weeks.

For dinner, we went to Focaccia Bar Hamoshava – a meat restaurant on Emek Refaim.

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As the name implies, Focaccia’s specialty menu item is focaccia. The menu offers a range of uniquely Israeli focaccia varieties (such as eggplant/egg/tahini), as well as pastas, meat entrees, and a small collection of salads and sandwiches. The restaurant was very nice with an extremely friendly waiter! To start, Noah and I shared the basic focaccia with spreads (it came with egg salad, tapenade, eggplant, sun-dried tomato paste, and something vaguely resembling non-spicy salsa).

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Look at their beautiful ceramic plates:

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The focaccia reminded me more of a flat bread than the thick focaccia I am used to in the US…I liked this version a lot better!

For our main dishes we ordered salmon fettuccine and eggplant mousaka (fried eggplant with ground beef and lamb) to share. Everything was delicious, but it was a lot of food and we couldn’t finish everything!

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After the meal, our very friendly waiter treated us to coffees (I ordered decaf, Noah got Turkish coffee). I would definitely go back here again!

The other new place we tried in the past couple weeks was Caffit. In fact, we went there twice! The first time was after a slightly disastrous morning buying Rav Kavs (Israeli bus passes). Noah and I had intended to get bus passes and then treat ourselves to an Israeli breakfast.

Rav Kavs are only available at the Jerusalem central bus station and a smaller station called Davidka (which we believed to be closed on Fridays). So, we headed out to the Central bus station in the morning. The Central Station is ENORMOUS! In fact, it is practically an indoor shopping mall combined with a transportation hub:

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After getting our bearings, it was a little bit of a treasure hunt to find where we were supposed to buy the Rav Kavs – we were directed from one window to another until we finally ended up in a back room of the station devoted specifically to the production of new Rav Kavs. We had to take a number and wait about 20 minutes until it was our turn. Once inside, it went pretty quickly, but by the time we were done and leaving it was already past 11:00am. We started to take the bus home but got stuck in a big traffic back-up that eventually led us to get out and walk.

Originally, we planned to go to the Scottish Guest House for breakfast. The Scottish Guest House is located near the intersection of King David and Emek Refaim and is a beautiful bed and breakfast up on a hill, overlooking Jerusalem’s old city. I stayed there my first time in Jerusalem about five years ago, and I still remember the great breakfast spread they serve each morning! According to their website, breakfast is available to the public from 11-3 on Friday and Saturday. Since it was Friday, we thought this was a perfect opportunity to go! Unfortunately, their website appears not to have been updated in a while because when we finally arrived we were informed that they actually stop serving breakfast at 9:30….NOOO! At least we got some pretty views out of the detour:

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By this point, we had been thwarted by Rav Kavs, public transport, and the Scottish Guest House, so when we finally reached Caffit on Emek Refaim and learned they were no longer serving breakfast, we were too tired/hungry to be all that disappointed. Despite the day’s mishaps, we enjoyed a delicious lunch (I ordered the signature oreganato salad with fried zucchini and Noah ordered a pizza):

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We also ordered a fresh squeezed apple juice and iced chocolate milk:

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Caffit is a Jersualem favorite amongst both restaurant reviewers and locals and our lunch was great, so we were eager to return again for breakfast.

When we came back for breakfast, we made sure to get there when it was still breakfast time! Noah and I both ordered variations of the standard Israeli breakfast: bread, eggs, spreads, tuna, cheese, hot drink, cold drink.

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So much food deliciousness. This was amazing. If you find yourself in Jerusalem, go here soon. :)