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Athens, Greece – A Surprising Beauty

July 13, 2016

Athens – a great combination of culture, excitement and a little grunge, all of which combines to creates an intriguing city. I’m not quite sure what we expected from Europe’s oldest city, but we were pleasantly surprised. We payed a visit to the Acropolis and spent the afternoon meandering through the old town of Plaka in what was a fantastic day (if a little warm at this time of year!)

Athens graffiti

Sightseeing around Athens

The Acropolis

The Acropolis and it’s surrounding slopes and the home to one of the great wonders of the world; it was the birthplace of democracy and Western civilisation we know it. These structures, including the infamous Parthenon, were built at the height of ancient Greece’s Golden Age, in the 5th century BC and no visit to Athens is complete without paying homage to these incredibly historic sites.

The castle of Athens is the most precious jewel in the world – Peter IV of Aragon, 11 September 1380

Tickets to the Acropolis and it’s surrounding slopes will set an adult back €20 each. If you’d like to take an additional structures in the area, full access is granted for €30 each. We settled on the cheaper tickets and came away with a great sense of the area. The Parthenon and the other ancient buildings built high on the hill were by far the most impressive and the expansive views over Athens were the icing on the cake.

Athens Acropolis

It’s hard to imagine exactly how the ancient Greeks would have gone about the practicality of building with such heavy materials, perched high atop the city. Not only though, did they manage to do so, but they built structures of beauty that would stand the test of time.

Athens Acropolis

Athens Acropolis

With that said, work is currently underway to preserve and rebuild damaged areas of these structures of future generations to enjoy.

We recently visited ancient Olympia to see the origin of the Olympic Games, but found the Acropolis (in particular, the Parthenon) to be significantly more impressive – by comparison, Olympia was not much more than rubble.

Athens Acropolis

Athen’s Old Town: Plaka

One of the oldest parts of Athens, Plaka is found on the northern slopes of the Acropolis. The narrow cobblestoned streets felt more like France than we’d ever imagined Greece would, lined by gorgeous big trees, Greek flags flittered about in the breeze. As we wandered in and out of shops we enjoyed a number of street performers and munched on the most delicious gelato and sorbet. The area houses many different cafes and tavernas, so there is no shortage of places to stop for lunch – we decided on Greek slovakis (chicken in Greek pita) which cost €8 (for two pitas and two cans of fizzy) and were delicious!

Athens food

Plaka is strikingly beautiful but retains a touch of edge, making Athens all the more enjoyable. We had a fantastic days in this historic city and would highly recommend it to those of you looking to plan a trip – it’s definitely a city worth seeing for yourself.

How do I get from the port to Athens?

The cruises dock about 25 minutes from the city and though there are a few ways to get into the city, the metro is the cheapest option. It’s straight-forward (whereas the buses are only signposted in Greek), and much cheaper than a taxi or hop-on hop-off bus (which was quoted to us at €60 each). To get to the metro from the port, turn to the left and follow the road around as it skirts the ocean. The tracks are about a 15 minute walk and found opposite gate 7.

Jump on the metro at Piraeus (the green line, M1), ride it until you get to Omonia and then transfer at that station onto the red line (M2) and ride the few stops to Akropoli.  Once you’re finished at the Acropolis, you can walk around Plaka and then carry out this same journey in reverse to get back to the port.

Athens metro map

Single tickets are €1.30 each or you can buy a full day pass for all public transport for €4.50 per adult. As it turned out, we would have only needed two single tickets each, so didn’t need the full day passes that we purchased – save yourself the money and get singles unless you’re planning a massive day of exploration.

Athens metro

 

Antigua Barbados Caribbean Cruising Holidays St. Croix St. Lucia St. Maarten

Cruising – Is it for me?

February 5, 2016

If you asked me two years ago, I’d have been surprised at my answer, but now?  Absolutely, cruising could be the perfect choice for you!

We spent a long time time intentionally avoiding cruises… maybe it was the cliched images of elderly people hobbling along the decks (not that we have a problem with older people!), or it could have been the sub-par cruise ships that have graced Australasian shores in the past (P&O anyone?).

We’ve always liked travelling at our own pace, and as an ex-flight consultant, I really enjoy researching and planning our trips – the idea of taking the control out of our hands and having to skip from place to place, regardless of whether we were ready to move on didn’t sit quite right with me.

We’ve come across plenty of people that are anti-cruising but interestingly enough, almost none of them have actually set foot aboard one of these beauties.

Regardless of our hesitations, we decided it was time to give this cruising business a go, and man are we pleased we did!

We decided to book our first cruise for a number of reasons; we’d decided we were keen to hit the Caribbean and a cruise genuinely seemed to be the most affordable way to do so, and at the end of 3 weeks of backpacking through Central America, we thought we’d be looking forward to taking it easy for a week.

The cruise itself cost us NZD900 each (approx USD600 each) which included all of our food, transport, of course accomodation and onboard activities.  I elected to purchase a soft drink package (“Hi I’m Sarah and I am addicted to Coke Zero”) whilst Nathan made do with the free cordial onboard which he supplemented with the occasional (paid) coffee.

Initially we’d looked at leaving from Florida on one of the larger boats but as we didn’t have time to explore the theme parks there, we made the decision to instead venture further South on this occasion.  After flying to Puetro Rico and enjoying a few days exploring the island, we set sail, had a day at sea and then spent a day at each of the designated ports – Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Maarten and St. Croix (in the US Virgin Islands).

From the moment we boarded the ship, we were welcomed aboard with open arms.  The crew was waveringly professional and friendly and the passengers aboard were much more diverse than I’d expected.  We were left to our own devices to wander the ship as we pleased, but also enjoyed seeing familiar faces at dinner each night.  We really enjoyed getting to know some of our fellow passengers, but at the same time, there was no pressure to buddy up.

After riding around in the back of pickup trucks and on bumpy mini-buses, whilst (at times) struggling with language differences through Guatemala, it was such a treat to be able to settle into a comfortable room and know that would become our home for the next week.

Ohhh and the food, so much glorious food!  Pizza and cake at 11pm?  No problem!  Room service at 1am?  Sure!  After travelling on a bit of a budget, it was nice not to have to question the cost of things (included) or the quality (always better than we needed).

 

Our ship was kitted out with a few different swimming pools (though in January they were pretty chilly), rock climbing, a mini movie theatre, ice skating shows, comedy acts, game shows and more.  Again, you can involve yourself as much or as little as you like but having these options on offer again added to the value for us – the week just raced by!  When we boarded, we were most excited to get our sea day out of the way, but by the time we disembarked, we both reflected that another sea day to further explore the ship wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

Our cruise included two formal nights; the first of which we ducked out of, in favour of an all-you-could-eat night at Johny Rockets (which we paid a small supplement for) where we had a fantastic chat with one of the staff. The second formal night we pulled out our nicest clothes (easier said than done when you’ve been pack packing with 7kg of baggage each!) so Nathan could enjoy lobster night.

 

Our stops were, for the most part, fabulous and surprisingly, the only island we felt we really could have done with more time at was St. Maarten, but even that was an awesome taster.  We researched the different options at each port and organised our own excursions, both to save money and to allow us to move at our own pace.

In Barbados, we jumped in a taxi to a beach where we swam out and spent a couple of hours swimming with turtles (with our own snorkels).

 

In St. Lucia, we jumped on a water taxi and  explored the town (where we got Nathan a hair cut.)  Having been on the road for a while at that stage, he was well overdue, and we always find it a great way to chat to the locals!

 

Antigua saw us get on a local ‘bus’ (which was really a van) and head to the other side of the island to ride (and swim) horses.

 

In St. Maarten we taxied to the most spectacular beach then walked to Maho where we watched the planes come in overhead.

   

Finally in St. Croix we arranged a taxi to take us out to the other side of the island (and pick us up again at an arranged time), where we enjoyed the rainforest and snorkelled again.

 Our cruise ended up being fantastic value for money and one of our real travel highlights!  Excellent food, comfortable accomodation, always something to do – what more could one want?

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