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Old May 6th, 2007, 04:51 PM
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Default Revisit my May 5-19 Virtual Cruise on NCL Jewel

Pre Cruise - Athens

Getting There Isn’t Half The Fun:
You really DON'T want to fly with me!! My trials and tribulations, getting anywhere continues.... each time there's a new twist.

It was raining in Calgary, and then it turned to a very light snow on Thurs. afternoon. No big deal I thought; the snow wasn't even sticking on the ground.

We loaded the car and headed to the airport 2 1/2 hrs before our flight.. for a 20-25 minute drive. EVERY major roadway was a parking lot. I had never seen our city traffic in such a mess... and couldn't figure out why (the light snow and rain seemed to be minimal). Which ever route I tried wasn't moving any faster than the last. After an hour and half we finally made it to the airport, ran to check in, and they told us the flight was CLOSED (we missed the closing time by 3 minutes).

I went just a wee bit ballistic... told them I had already printed out my boarding passes.... and begged them, and they must have seen tears welling in my eyes, as they reneged, and checked our bags, and notified the airplane. (I almost felt like I was in The Amazing Race).

The lines at security were HUGE, so Mrs. Kuki and I bypassed everyone, and begged the people at the front of the line to let us butt in, as an airplane was being held for us, and they were very kind to let us through.
We ran to the gate ala old OJ ads, only to find they hadn't even started boarding the airplane yet. I was angry and relieved at the same time. And once we did board, they said they were holding the airplane due to unexpected delays at security. And with a short layover in Frankfurt, I began to think we had to start worrying about making our connection to Athens.

The good news... we made our connection, flights were relatively smooth, our prearranged driver met us at the airport... and we made it to our hotel.

It's a lovely hotel, with a view of the Acropolis, called the Electra Palace. It was 288 Euro a night, but for a 4 star hotel in Europe, it’s truly not that expensive, and in an excellent location in the Plaka neighborhood.

It began to get dark as we checked in, so we decided to have dinner (even though it was our lunch time) an the roof top garden restaurant of the hotel, staring over to the Acropolis... and turn in early (or try), so hopefully we'll be on Athens time when we wake up.

Athens is an enormous city (well over 4 Million residents now), and most guide books you’d have read in the past would tell you it was a city that many people avoided, with a reputations for being dirty, and difficult to get around. A huge turning point came when Athens hosted the 2004 Olympic Games. The government and the people made a huge commitment, and spend huge amounts of money upgrading the infrastructure, the attitude and the ambiance that reflects Athens to those visiting the city.

Most everything you want to see is in the center of the city, and it’s truly a walking area. If you have the energy, your feet can carry you to most of the important tourist sites. If you desire to visit some of the sites built for the Olympics your hotel desk or concierge can arrange reasonably priced tours.

After getting a very good nights sleep, we awoke to our first full day in Athens, and the Acropolis hadn’t moved; still an amazingly beautiful site outside our window. The Electra Palace featured a very nice buffet breakfast, with freshly squeezed orange juice, “american��? coffee, and quite an extensive selection of breakfast foods; fresh breads and pastries, eggs prepared several ways, breakfast meats, potatoes, fruits, cheeses, etc.

Following breakfast we took our Lonely Planet Guide Book, and a map (a good map is essential), and set out on our walking tour of the area. As we had more CruiseMates meeting us in Athens this evening, we decided we’d save the Acropolis for the next day, to visit together, rather than do it twice. Instead we just set out to explore, using the suggested walking tour from Lonely Planet as a bit of guide.

I, of course, can’t resist adding an extra turn or twist to the recommended route every now and again, and of course that never fails to get us slightly lost; but that’s part of the fun. With the Acropolis high above you it’s pretty difficult to get totally lost for too long.

We managed to find Syntagma Square and the Parliament Building, the lovely central park area just to the east of it, and marched down past Hadrian’s Arch. From there we walked off the beaten path for awhile, just enjoying the warm temperatures and the new sites; eventually stumbling across the Athens Flea Market. After some time in the sizeable flea market, we made our way slowly back in the direction of the hotel. There’s numerous “tavernas“, shops, and bakeries, lining the streets of this area to stop for a drink, classic Greek lunch and desserts, or take away suvlaki stands.

As we’d returned up the pedestrian promenade and found ourselves back in Syntagma Square by late afternoon, we had lunch at an outdoor café right in the square. I thought $14 Euro, for lunch for two including soft drinks and bottled water, was quite a reasonable price…and the location made for excellent people watching.

After enjoying our people watching and lunch, and being a bit acclimatized to the neighborhood, we walked the 5 minutes back to our hotel to have an afternoon nap, and await the arrival of two of our CruiseMates.

Once they arrived safely, we made arrangements to meet in the lobby, at 8 P.M and go strolling, and just stumble across a choice from one of the local taverna to enjoy dinner. We examined some menus as we went, and found one with a large menu selection, and pricing not at all too costly, and we enjoyed a very tasty meal for $35 Euro per couple… but with no wine.

Day 2 - Athens

Another very pleasant breakfast this morning, in the hotel’s dining room, and then the 4 of us headed off on foot to wander, and make our way up to the Acropolis. After about an hour walking we came across the walkway to climb up to visit the Acropolis. It’s a fairly steep walk up to the top, and not an easy task for anyone with walking difficulties (though apparently on the other side than we used they do have a handicap entrance… some sort of elevator I assume).

Interestingly, as we made our way to the top, we saw staff talking to visitors on the pathway explaining that sitting to rest on historic rocks along the pathway was not allowed, only bottled water (no soft drinks) are allowed, and…. No smoking is allowed on the site (it’s about the ONLY place in all of Greece that smoking isn’t allowed. Greek’s are huge smokers, and smoking is allowed almost everywhere, including indoor restaurants and bars).

The views from above are quite spectacular, as is the history of the Acropolis itself. There’s currently significant restoration work being done around the site. We spent several hours just wandering around, while reading our guide book, before working our way down to street level again, on the opposite side of where we’d entered. We also found out that on Sunday’s entrance to the site was free, rather than the normal $12 Euro fee.

From there we explored more the city squares and a few of the shops that were open, even though most were closed because it was Sunday. Along the way we stopped for a drink at an outdoor café, and checked out menus and settings at others, looking for somewhere to have dinner tonight.

After returning to the hotel for a rest, and to clean up, we headed out for dinner at the Café we’d chosen; a very authentic Greek venue, with a guitar/singer soloist entertaining all evening… but not with traditional Greek songs… which would have been nice. Following dinner we returned to the Electra Palace Hotel, and sat outdoors, in the garden area, just off the lobby, talking, and enjoying our last evening in Athens.

Pictures of our visit are available in the CruiseMates Photo Galleries here:
http://www.cruisemates.com/gallery/view.php?id=3413

We’ve pre-arranged a driver for pick up tomorrow morning at 11:15 A.M. for our transport to the Port of Pireus, to board the Jewel for our newest adventure. Hopefully, if the ship’s internet cooperates we’ll start reporting back daily from the ship. Hoping you’ll join us to cruise along!
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Kuki
CruiseMates' Staff Writer
- The Kuki Side of Cruising-
A new Blog post every Wednesday
http://www.cruisemates.com/blog/author/kuki/
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