3 Things You Must See in Athens

 

So it took me a while to narrow this down – I absolutely love Athens and think everything is essential! However, these are my three absolute MUST see things in Athens, Greece ❤

  1. New Acropolis Museum

This is a wonderful place – it is an air-conditioned, beautifully planned, and exceptional example of Greek history on show. Yes there are other museums which cover more, but the sheer extent of the collection in the NAM and the knowledge you can gain from a visit there is worth a visit.

The statue gallery and the view from the top floor are worth the visit all on their own.

It is 5 Euro for general admission (3 Euros reduced and free for a range of people including students from EU Countries. Details http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en/content/reduced-free-admission-acropolis-museum)

  1. The Athenian Agora

A sprawling gorgeousness in the centre of ancient Athens, this was the spot for all of the important things – politics, markets, worship. It sits under the acropolis, you can look up and see the fortifications built after the Persian Wars. The Agora houses some lovely inscriptions and two gorgeous buildings. The Stoa of Attalos was built in the Second Century BC, and reconstructed in the early 1950’s by the American School in Athens as faithfully as archaeology would allow. It is a beautiful building and fronts the Agora Museum. Also in the Agora is the Temple to Hephaestus, its amazing condition is thanks to its varied and continued use from its construction in 415 BC until 1934 when it stopped being a museum and became an archaeological site.

Open Daily 08.00-20.00 Last Admission: 19.45 (However I have heard that it closes at 3pm so CHECK LOCALLY before planning your visit! Admission is 8 Euros, Reduced: 4 Euros (details at http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh355.jsp?obj_id=2485 )

  1. Psyrri

Psyrri is my favourite neighbourhood in Athens, you can find almost anything here. Amazing local restaurants? Yes. Cool stores? Yes. Cheap but good accommodation? Yes Actual local life? Yes. Plus – markets, street art, and an amazing atmosphere. You can spend hours wandering around this little area of Athens, if you stay here you can see it and have easy access to the rest of Athens.

Notice how I haven’t mentioned the biggest, most famous attraction? You know, that big temple thing on the big hill? The acropolis is incredible, I have lost count of how many times I have been up there. The acropolis and the Parthenon are on MY OWN PERSONAL absolute must do list, but I am not everyone. If you are not in Athens for a long time, don’t like the heat, have a problem with crowds (hello anxiety friends, you are not alone) or don’t have the physical ability to climb a big hill** – then you don’t need to go up to the acropolis. Obviously you get a more vivid experience of the place if you climb the steps, face up to the sheer size of the Parthenon, and see the incredible sprawl of Athens. But I believe that if you choose not to go, and go to the New Acropolis Museum instead you won’t have done the Parthenon – or yourself – a disservice.

The museum houses all the wonderful things found on the acropolis and they are displayed beautifully, with accompanying information as well as a kid’s challenge. There is a restaurant, which is the first place I had baked feta and for that alone I am grateful, from which you can look up at the Parthenon and wonder at the sight. The floor which showcases the Parthenon frieze (controversy in a different post perhaps) is laid out so you can follow the procession as you would walking around the Parthenon itself.  For an ancient site other than the acropolis I suggest the Athenian Agora for a few reasons: it is shady – not everywhere but considerably more so than the acropolis, it is more accessible (more does not equal completely unfortunately), and it has some gorgeous ancient ruins.

This is my absolute must do in Athens, it may be different from yours – what would you say is an absolute necessity in this amazing city?

** I mean this in a sprained ankle/severe asthma kind of physically unable, there is a lift for access to wheelchair users installed a few years ago. For a much fuller treatment than I can give on disabled access to the acropolis please see http://www.sagetraveling.com/Disabled-Access-at-the-Acropolis

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3 Reasons Why You Should Travel With Friends – At Least Once

So Part 2 of my ‘At Least Once’ series is about travelling with your mates. A lot of people in my experience only travel one way, alone/on tours/with SO. But a format which seems to be oddly neglected post-university/collage years is the friends trip.

Actually completing the friends trip that is. Every group of friends has had The Plan. It goes something like this:

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However, grab three or four of your most awesome friends and actually GO on the trip, because….

1. While I will generally travel solo to any destination heading to Turkey a few years ago I had a few concerns. However, Turkey fitted in nicely with the plans I had to go visit my Swedish friends and four of us decided on a two week Turkish adventure. Having been to Turkey I would not hesitate to go back solo, and this experience is still one of the best I have had. Travelling with a group of friends is probably the best way to explore a destination you aren’t quite confident enough to venture to on your own. It’s kinda like an organised tour but with people you already like!

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2. It’s a totally different experience. Walking around bazars on your own is awesome, you find amazing things and spend as long as you like there. With a group though you go looking for things that you wouldn’t have yourself. When it comes to food there’s no shame in eating alone, but with a group you can eat family style aka the best style– and eat a small amount of all of the things. You can travel by taxi, depending on the size of your group, for an affordable amount rather than having to take out a personal loan. And you can go out without the half-thought of ‘what if I end up the weirdo loner at the bar’ because you got your crew.

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3. Travelling with your friends can actually be REALLY fun. Everyone had heard horror stories of ‘that time a girl I know had a fight with all the people she was travelling with and ended up stranded in Thailand’ or ‘he was the only one who didn’t want to spend every night in bars popping MDMA and had a terrible time’. Lesson here is – choose the friends you go away with. When you pick right, you are in an awesome destination with some of your favourite people.

3* Bonus point – you can get photos of yourself travelling that aren’t selfies for once!

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The pros of group travel, when done right, are immense. So make the effort, make The Plan work, and go somewhere awesome with you nearest and dearest.

4 Reasons to Take Off Solo – At Least Once

So, the thought of travelling on your own somewhere could easily fill you with dread. I’m here to tell you why that’s kinda the reason you should go….

1. Solo Exclusive Experiences

Travel is not just ticking off all the things to do in a place. It’s the experience of being there. And honestly there are some experiences that you just don’t get when you’re in a group. It is very easy to do all the things AS a group; you go to the bar together, dinner together, dancing together and suddenly you realise it’s been two weeks and you haven’t spoken to anyone other than your group and waiters. Travelling by yourself you sit in bars alone – for about ten minutes. I made more flash friends in the three months when I lived in a hostel in Greece than I have in my life total. I have partied on the beach with South Africans, gone dancing with groups of local girls, learnt the rudest words in Spanish, Swedish, Greek, Russian – all because I was on my own and started talking to people around me.


2.Friendships

Because I was on my own on Santorini I had to talk to people. I made friends with the barmaid. Because I made friends with the bar maid, I travelled to Naples with her. Because we went to Naples together and I met her (now) boyfriend. Because we all got along so well we travelled together through Sweden, Turkey, and Greece for over 6 weeks. I consider these two people some of my closest friends, while revisiting Greece together last year we met a solo traveller at our hostel and she became one of our best friends –there hasn’t been a day since where our group chat hasn’t been active. Honestly if an amazing friendship is the only thing (it won’t be) that you get out of travelling solo – isn’t that worth it?


3. Other people’s problems, aren’t your problems

 There are very few times in life where acting in a selfish way isn’t selfish. When you travel in a group, everyone gets a vote on what you do. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you find yourself going into the twelfth designer store and for the twelfth time – you don’t care. You put up with it – and so you should, it’s not just your trip. However, when you’re on your own, your priorities are the only priorities. If you want to go to the tenth museum in ten days – go. If you want to eat four meals a day and sit in parks drinking coffee – you can. If you find a once in a lifetime opportunity – like 20 Euro flight somewhere random – you can take it and the only person you need to convince is yourself. You’re also restricted in your choice when you have to factor in other people’s proclivities. I have a friend who won’t stay in a hostel with less than a 95% rating online, in a no more than 4-person dorm, and only within a 20-minute walk from her favourite attraction – this meant her cheapest acceptable option for Paris was over 60 Euros a night (we did not end up going to Paris together, thankfully for my bank account). Times when your decisions are yours alone are incredibly rare in life, grab them where you can.


4. Self-Reliance

So many people don’t want to start travelling solo because ‘what if… I get lost’ or ‘what if there’s a problem and they don’t speak English’. These were my concerns when I started travelling. These things happen, you do get lost you do hit language barriers, but learning to deal with these things on my own is the single most empowering thing I’ve experienced. Yes. The earthshattering realisation that I could write what I want to say in Google Translate and show my grumpy, elderly, Greek receptionist what I meant was a massive victory for me in 2012. Booking hotel rooms on the go thanks to a particularly slow off season, massive victory. Putting feet on the ground for the first time in a new country and taking the metro instead of a taxi, massive victory. These relatively tiny achievements added up over time and now equates to an unwavering self-reliance and confidence. I can manage, I may not excel in every situation, but I can manage.
That fear you feel when you think about travelling by yourself, that is the reason to give it a go. You don’t have to go somewhere extreme for your first trip; pop to a country that speaks your language, take a weekend in another province, or jump in feet first and book a trip to your dream destination. The point is – do it, go, be on your own and find your own feet. Travelling with groups is in NO way inferior to solo travel and I will talk about why you should travel with a group (at least once) next week- Happy Travels!


 

 

European Trip – Should I take an organised tour, or jump in independently?

Organised tours are a popular option for many people, as many people believe that it is their only option. But there is contention about the type of travel promoted by tour companies. You will find evangelists (and some aggressive ones at that) on either side of this discussion – those indie travellers who think all organised tours are useless money making schemes designed to part 18 year olds from their daddy’s money, and those who think that the whole ‘independent travel thing’ is too hard, too scary, or simply overwhelming. But ignore those guys, this is about what YOU want from YOUR holiday.

Bus Tours et al.

Are you under 30(ish)?

Are you looking to get as much as possible in to the time you have?

Do you like busses?

Pros:

  1. Organisation, you don’t have to worry about anything. I mean anything. These bus tours take you to your hotel/hostel/campsite and tell you when dinner is, where the bar is, and what time you have to be up in the morning.
  2. You get a lot in.  Seriously, a lot. If you just want to say you’ve seen Europe, this is the tour option for you. It would be difficult, and expensive, to see everything that you see on one of these bus tours while doing it yourself.
  3. You are guaranteed to meet people, usually from your own country. The companies that are easily accessible to westerners are aimed directly at westerners – you’ll get Aussies, Kiwis, Brits, Americans, and Canadians. Occasionally you will find a European or other nationality in there somewhere – we had a Swedish couple, and a girl from South Africa.

Cons:

    1. Lack of independence. I’m an adult, don’t tell me when to eat breakfast. I don’t want to go to THIS monument I want to go to THAT monument. Naturally, you can always separate from the tour and do your own thing. But not having organised anything yourself, you aren’t versed in the ways of the Italian train system, or maybe Berlin seems a bit daunting alone (especially when you’ve spent two weeks being told when to eat breakfast).
  • My tour counted a night in Vienna. We were there for maybe 15 hours. Overnight. We got in after sunset, did a bus tour in the dark, had dinner, slept, and had hostel breakfast. Then we got on the bus. I do not count myself as having gone to Vienna. With so much to see in a very short time, it can feel very rushed.
  • Because you are in a big group of westerners, you tend to stick with them. This can wind up with you sitting in a bar in Poland with nobody but your group in it. I don’t know about you but if I’m going to be flying all the way to Europe – I’d like to spend at least some of my time with Europeans.
  • The price. These tours are showing you these places through AT BEST one middle man, sometimes two middle men. Three groups of people need to make money off of you – the service (hotel, museum, etc), your guide/driver/porter, and the tour company. This means there are three profit margins to take into account instead of just the service. Tours are usually around $150/$200 a day. Sometimes you find a tour for $90-$100 a day and those are few and far between. Independently, Europe can generally be done for as little as $75 a day (in my experience, and other people I know have spent much less). Remember – you’re not paying for the places, you’re paying for the convenience.

My Experience: I came into my bus tour by accident – my plans in Turkey had fallen through and, as a first time solo traveller, I didn’t know how to get from Athens to Amsterdam over the two weeks left before my flight home. This tour was perfectly timed, and only required a short hop to Italy to start. I came off of ten days independent travel in Greece and from the get go I was not a fan of the heavily organised structure. I don’t like being told what to do at the best of times, let alone when I’m being told to get on a coach for an 8 hour drive, when actually I would rather have liked to have stayed in Venice, instead of going to Austria just then. I feel like I haven’t actually been to a lot of places my tour visited, read above comment on Vienna. On my tour there were 52 people including myself, I will admit now that I cannot remember all of their names, and I’m reasonably sure there were a few that I didn’t say in single word to in 18 days.

Conclusion:

Bus tours are ok, if you are a confident young person who is looking for the group experience – you are guaranteed to meet people, you see Europe, and you have some awesome stories to tell back home, (This one time, in the Czech Republic…).

But the idea that Europe is too hard to navigate, or that it’s scary, or that it’s unsafe – is at most flat out wrong, and at least contentious. Western Europe is very accommodating to tourism, almost everything has an English translation, there are several tourist points in big cities, and people in tourist spots are used to helping befuddled foreigners. Central Europe I would say in much the same, especially in the north. Eastern Europe you may begin to run into a few problems, language barriers, and transport systems not optimised for previously mentioned befuddled foreigners.

As for safety (I’ll be talking more about this in a post soon), you know what? The world is dangerous. THE WHOLE WORLD. Which essentially means you’re no safer out in the world than you are at home. Conversely, you’re no more at risk out there in the world than you are at home. I have felt safer walking around in developing countries, as a female, alone, at night, than I have walking around alone in the day in some parts of my home city. The same rules apply for all big cities – use your head.

The most important thing is that you choose the option that’s right for you. If you are as independent as I am, an organised tour may induce high blood pressure and rage spasms. But if you are looking for the quintessential twenty-something European holiday experience then go for your life, sign up to a Contiki, Busabout, TopDeck, etcetera etcetera! You’ll have a great time, but remember – it is not your only option. There are enough resources on line for you to jump into Europe feet first, have a whale of a time, and get to brag about how you did it all yourself

In this post I have spoken purely about tours in Europe. While these points do apply to most group tours, I will be writing a separate post on tours in developing countries, countries with more challenges, and why a tour might be the answer to your third world problems.

So, What are your opinions on group tours in Europe?