Friday, March 17, 2023

Greece 2022 ✈ Athens

Thank you 2022 for allowing us to travel and see the world again. We are thankful for the opportunity to check off a few bucket list this year, including Northern Lights in Finland, Maldives, Bora Bora, and now Santorini. Post-pandemic revenge travel is! 

Trip Planning
Greece was one of the first few countries that opened its border in 2021 and we originally planned to visit in Oct 2021, However, when Canada opened its borders, we decided to travel to Canada first. The planning for this Greece trip started in Apr 2022 when I was randomly searching for Santorini hotels on IHG's app and found availability for 4 nights in October 2022. As for our flights, I booked our flight to Athens for 35,000 Delta miles per person, and our return flight from Santorini for 30,000 AA miles per person. For our flight from Athens to Santorini, we used 7,424 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per person. More details on our trip expenses here.

14-15 Oct 2022 (Fri-Sat): Huntsville - Atlanta - Amsterdam - Athens

Flight 1...Our short 1-hour flight from Huntsville to Atlanta on Delta was delayed from 6.13pm to 7.35pm. Fortunately, we had a 2.5 hours transit in Atlanta before our long flight. P.S. Masks were optional but we wore our masks coz we didn't wanna risk getting sick. =P

After a quick transit in Atlanta, we boarded our 8-hour flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam on KLM at 10.40pm. This flight was also delayed by 45 minutes. The flight was pretty full but we managed to get a row of 4 to ourselves with my seat selection strategy. As usual, I made myself comfortable with my economy 'lie-flat' seat. =) Food onboard was decent.

Arrived Amsterdam at 1.30pm, 40 minutes behind schedule. We had originally planned to take a train into the city to do some sightseeing since we had 8-hours transit before our next flight at 9.20pm. However, considering the delay and gloomy/rainy weather, we decided to cancel our sightseeing plan and just chill and hangout in the airport. Besides, Schipol airport had been a mess all summer and we didn't want to risk being stuck at security and missing our flight to Athens.

The area around Gate E was spacious and quiet so we chose to 'camp' here for a few hours before going to the lounge.

We wanted to go to the Aspire lounge (Lounge 41) at the non-Schengen terminal but the staff at the lounge asked us to go to the lounge at the Schengen terminal as that's where our next flight would depart from. We had to go through passport control as this is our first point of entry into the EU. 

Visited the Aspire lounge (Lounge 26) at the Schengen terminal with my Priority Pass. The lounge was pretty crowded and I was actually surprised they still let us in. The food options were also quite limited. We had some pasta, salad, coleslaw, soup, and chips.

We didn't stay in the lounge for long as wanted to be 'anti-social'! Withdrew some Euros from the ATM with my Charles Schwab debit card with no fees.

Boarded our 3rd and last flight from Amsterdam to Athens on KLM at 9.20pm. I'm surprised they served a sandwich for this short 3-hour flight. I've been used to low expectations with US airlines.

After traveling for 24 hours, we finally arrived Athens airport at 1.15am. I was surprised the airport was quite busy at this hour. We were glad our backpacks made it especially after seeing news about the baggage mess around Europe airports throughout summer.

We were not done traveling more bus ride to get to the city center. Bought the airport express bus ticket (X95) for EUR 5.50/pax from the ticket kiosk outside of the airport. It was easy and we were able to pay with our credit card. The X95 bus departs from the airport every 15-20 minutes. We boarded the 2am bus and the journey took about 45 minutes. Hubby was busy keeping up with the Alabama football scores along the way.

Arrived Syntagma Square at 2.45am and was surprised there were still quite a lot of cars and people on the streets. I guess these people are out partying on Saturday night. Our hotel was a short 5 minutes walk from the Syntagma Square, very convenient.

Our hotel for the 1st night in Athens...New Hotel. This hotel is a Design Hotel under Marriott so we were able to book it with the free night (worth 35,000 points) from hubby's Marriott credit card. I called the hotel to inform them of our late arrival to make sure they didn't consider us as no-show. 

Our standard room was quite interesting, especially the gold sink and shower. Guess this is the reason why it's a 'design hotel'. Anyway, it was good enough for a few hours of sleep and the best part of this hotel was definitely it's location. This hotel is conveniently located close to Syntagma Square and is within walking distance to the Acropolis and all the sights in the city.

16 Oct 2022 (Sun): Athens

Started our day at 8am in attempt to beat the crowd at the Acropolis. Our short 10 minutes walk from the hotel to Acropolis took us through Plaka, which was quiet on Sunday morning.

We bought our tickets online via the official website in advance and chose the Combo ticket for EUR30/pax, which includes one entry to the Acropolis, as well as six of the other main archaeological sites in Athens: Hadrian’s Library, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, Archaeological Site of Lykeion, Kerameikos and the Olympieion. We received the e-ticket in our email, and was able to use the QR code on the e-ticket to get into all the sites.

Another tip to avoid crowd (apart from being early) is to use the side entrance on the southeast side of the site, also known as the as the Dionysus Theater entrance. There was no line when we arrived and we were able to get through the entrance very quickly with our QR code. 

After entering the side entrance, the first site we passed by is the Dionysus Theater, which is the most significant theater of Europe as this is the theater where the first performance was held and it is considered the birth place of theater. We then walked uphill past the viewpoint over Odean of Herodes Atticus, the ancient theater built by Herodes Atticus.

A short walk from the viewpoint is Propylaea, the monumental gateway to the Acropolis.

First glipmse of the Parthenon, the most prominent temple on the hill of Acropolis.

Ongoing preservation works to maintain this historical building.

Took way too many photos with Parthenon from many angles, putting our tripod to good!!

More photos of the Parthenon, tried using long exposure to 'hide' the people.

Across the Parthenon is the Temple of Athena Nike. This temple is dedicated to goddesses Athena and Nike. People used to worship these goddesses for succeding in war.

Located at the other end of the Acropolis is an elevated viewpoint with great view across the city of Athens. The weather was cloudy but it was actually nice and cool to walk around.

Our matchy outfit matches the Greek flag!! Hubby had his earphones because he downloaded and was listening to Rick Steve's free Acropolis audio guide during the visit.

View of the city from the side of the Parthenon.

We saw a lot more people entering as we were leaving at 9.40am, so we were glad we came early and avoided the crowd. We also spotted a filming crew filming in the Acropolis as we were heading out.

Our next stop was just a short walk from the Acropolis. We walked through Hadrian's Arch to get to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest temple of the ancient ruins in Athens. I'm not a history person so these are just random ruins and collapsed columns to me. =P

Random sights and observations as we were walking on the streets of Athens.... This guy with his ridiculous Trojan hat on a trikke (electric tricycle). Side parking in Athens require some!

Walked back through the Plaka around 10.30am and the stores were starting to open. There are many cute sidewalk cafes in this area.

We had early lunch around 11am at The Greco's Project, which was about a 5 minute walk from our hotel. The restaurant serves greek mediterannean food and we ordered the pork souvlaki, chicken gyros, Alfa draught and Weiss beer. This meal cost $42 but the food and drinks were so good! After lunch, we walked back to the hotel to take a nap and pack up our stuffs as we were switching hotel for our 2nd night in Athens. We checked-out of New Hotel around 1pm and walked to Perianth Hotel to check in but was told our room wasn't ready yet so we continued our sightseeing.

Our first stop in the afternoon was Ancient Agora, and it took awhile for us to find the entrance to this site. This archaeological site is littered with ruins of buildings, which was used as a marketplace, gathering place, and residential area. P.S. Lots of imagination required to picture!!

In the same area as Ancient Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus, the best preserved temple in Athens. It was like a mini version of the Parthenon.

Next stop was Roman Agora and Hadrian's Library. At this point, we both had enough of 'ruins' coz they all look same same but!

Walked by Monastiraki Square, Tzisdarakis Mosque, Church of Panagia Kapnikarea, and Pittaki Street on our walk back to Perianth Hotel.

Plaka was definitely a lot more busy at 4pm on Sunday.

Went back to Perianth Hotel at 4.15pm and our room was finally ready! I've been looking forward to this stay as we had booked the 2-Bedroom Penthouse Suite for our 2nd night in Athens. Perianth Hotel is a Mr & Mrs. Smith hotel, part of IHG. The Penthouse Suite is on the 6th floor, with a private elevator, and is the most expensive room in this hotel. Yes, we're living it up in! =D

Welcome snacks and Smith Extra perks for this hotel...Free 2-course meal and a bottle of wine. I don't mind being "Mr. Shing Tang Khai" for this fancy suite and perks...haha!

Welcome to our Penthouse Suite in Athens with unobstructed view of the Acropolis.

Large living and dining area, king bed with view of the Acropolis,  Marshall bluetooth speaker in the room, Nespresso coffee machine and mini-bar.

Luxurious bathroom with a bathtub, walk-in shower, soft bathrobes and slippers.

2nd bedroom and bathroom.

Best part of the Penthouse is this huge terrace offering 360-degree view of Athens, with a bar overlooking the Acropolis...

Private pool...but the pool was too cold.

Private jacuzzi....this was heated but we didn't use it.

We were obviously very excited with this amazing room and beautiful view... putting our tripod to good use!

The staff brought our complimentary bottle of Chardonnay wine just in time for sunset. 

Best sunset view in Athens. Toast to a wonderful vacation!

Side story... 
There were a lot of stress and uncertainties leading up to this trip as I wasn't sure if I was gonna make it for this trip. My passport was stuck at the India Consulate in Atlanta (for my India employment visa application), and I had to drive all the way to Atlanta to pick up my passport just 2 days before this trip, with the risk of having to restart my entire India visa application all over again. My India work trip was already postponed by 3 weeks due to the visa delay, resulting in a pretty significant 'financial loss', and I would have been a lot more pissed if the delay cost me this trip as well. Despite some setbacks, I'm thankful that everything worked out and I certainly count my blessing for this wonderful experience!

Night view of the city and the Acropolis from the terrace.

After enjoying the beautiful sunset, we went down to the hotel's restaurant, Perianth Cafe, at 7.45pm to enjoy our free 2-course dinner. We ordered the Green salad with avocado, cherry tomatoes, chives, radish and dressing from thyme honey and white vinegar, Risotto with cream of tomator and pepper, raisins, pine nuts and grated feta, Chicken breast (sous vide) with green salad, and 'Mosaico' sandwich with ice cream and sweet-sour cherry. Our total cost for this meal was $5 for the beer. =)

17 Oct 2022 (Mon): Athens - Santorini

Had our complimentary breakfast at 10am the next morning at Perianth Cafe. The buffet options were quite limited but we get to order 1 item from the ala carte menu for free. We ordered the Pancakes with maple syrup and banana, and Eggs Benedict with bacon and butter cream.

Last few photos with this amazing Penthouse Suite and the Acropolis before checking out at 12pm and continuing our 'backpacking' journey.

The Penthouse Suite costs EUR1,360 per night, but our total cost was $0 thanks to the partnership between IHG and Mr & Mrs. Smith, and of course some luck. I was able to redeem the Free Night Certificate (worth 40,000 points) from my IHG credit credit card for this stay. Usually the free night certificate can only be used to redeem a standard room but when this hotel was newly added to IHG's app, all rooms were redeemable with the certificate so of course I went for the best one. =P

Enough of our penthouse dream back to reality with a 10 min walk to Syntagma Square. The hotel reception (who knew we were staying at the Penthouse Suite) asked if we needed a cab, but we told her that we were gonna walk to the bus stop...hahaha!!

Hopped on the airport bus (X95) back to the airport. The bus ticket costs EUR5.50/pax.

Made it back to the airport at 1.20pm after a 50-min bus ride with 4 hours to spare before our flight.

Visited the Goldair Holding lounge with my Priority Pass. The lounge was full and we were turned away the first time but was able to get in after 30 minutes. Food and drink options were decent.

Time to board our 5.15pm flight on Aegean airlines to Santorini!

Goodbye Athens, Hello Santorini! To be continued in the next post...

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