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GREECE Fall 1997 (2)

Athens (2)
Athens1 | Skiathos | Athens2 | Delphi | Arahova | Galaxidi |
Chrisso | Athens3 | Thessaloniki | Edessa and Naoussa

We were back in Athens at 16:30 and went to our favorite hotel, The Electra Palace. We had reservations there for October 3-6 but had not reserved for these two nights as we hadn't been sure how long we would want to stay in Skiathos. They were 100% booked for this night, but managed to get us the last room at the Olympic Palace Hotel nearby at 16 Filelinon, and said they would have a room for us for the following night.

The Olympic Palace Hotel is a solid three-star property in the Plaka area. The reception, lounge and bar are modest in size and decor. Our room was large and newly decorated with basic but nice furnishings. The marble and tile bathroom was large and well appointed. The price is about the same as the Athenian Inn and a much better value.

We decided to try a taverna in the Plaka, Byzantino, at Plaza Kidathineon, which is frequently mentioned on the internet as having good food at reasonable prices, excellent service and as an ideal spot for people watching. Well, it is a good spot for people watching. This busy square, a sort of crossroads in the Plaka, is surrounded by tavernas. Like the others lining this square, this place is geared for tourists.

The food was tasteless, greasy and of poor quality ingredients and preparation - Greek fast food - the service was surly and the prices were what one would expect to pay for good food. We did a nocturnal walk through the Plaka to find that nothing much had changed during the last few years.

After a fair breakfast at the Olympic Palace, we packed up and checked into the Electra Palace, at Nikodimou 18. This hotel and its sister in Thessaloniki are our favorite hotels in Greece. They ooze Euro-Greek charm and comfort. The hotel is in the Plaka area and within easy walking distance of most places of interest. There are stunning views of the Acropolis from the rooms at the front on the upper floors.

We were greeted at the reception by Fofi, a young woman who has been there for eleven years. We immediately saw that the ground floor and the mezzanine had been beautifully remodeled since our last visit, but that the appealing Grecian ambiance had been retained. The mezzanine is now devoted to meeting and conference rooms and the main floor has a lovely dining room and comfortable bar and lounge as well as the reception area. The place was humming - check-outs, check-ins - tourism and business are good in Athens.

The rooms and bathrooms are modest in size and nicely furnished. Our room on the sixth floor had a nice balcony and the view of the Acropolis was magnificent. As a bonus, we were treated to daily entertainment by an attractive woman doing her exercises and yoga on the rooftop of the building across the way. The roof garden at the Electra Palace was always spectacular for its incredible views of the city, but now that it has been refurbished, it is really wonderful. An attractive bar, tables and lounging area lead to a good size pool. It's kind of nice to finish off a day of sightseeing with a dip in a lovely rooftop pool then relaxing on a chaise sipping your favorite drink while gazing up at the Parthenon in all her glory.

We headed out of the hotel, turned right and then right again on Adrianou into the Monastiraki market area. The narrow streets are lined with shops and street vendors. All kinds of music blared from loudspeakers simultaneously from shops and vendors selling tapes, c.d.'s and records. Tourists and locals filled the streets while aggressive salespeople hustled them into their respective shops. Along with the tapes, there were prospective buyers trying out bouzoukia and toumberlekia.

In another section, one is greeted by the smell of varnish and old wood from the antique furniture stores; along sections of Adrianou there are numerous shoe stores; in Astigos and Theseiou Streets there are many second hand book stores where one can find beautiful, leather-bound books; Pandrosou and Hephaistou Streets have everything you could want - shoes, clothes, old and new furniture, souvenirs, jewelry, hats, tools, bronze items - all in all a fun experience and that was just the beginning!

Athenas Street runs from the Monastiraki area to Omonia Square. Starting at the Monastiraki end you'll find tools and machinery, followed by shops offering household items, and then clothing and accessories and finally, just before Omonia, there is the central meat and fish market of Athens and opposite it is the vegetable and fruit market. The streets all around the main market are filled with all kinds of food products, spices, herbs and condiments. Everything is freshly killed, caught or picked. If eating as you walk is your thing, there's no shortage of eat-as-you-go delights.

Hard as it is to believe, we were not yet ready to succumb to the call and aroma of these wonderful offerings. We turned from Omonia Square onto Stadiou toward Syntagma Square. This street is lined with numerous fashion stores all the way to Syntagma, the main square in Athens. There is major metro construction happening here and an already busy area is bursting with vehicles and people - not bad until a few women on motor scooters came zooming along the sidewalk and challenged our space and our safety.

This is the place where the famous Parliament building stands with its changing-of-the-guards ritual, a perennial tourist favorite. Tall, handsome blank-faced guards in wooden shoes, leggings and short skirts go through scripted movements in lock-step with one another regardless of the weather. It's a treat to behold.

After a brief stop at the hotel we were back on the streets. Walking along Voulis Street, we saw many people coming out of #10 eating gorgeous Greek pies. Linda and I exchanged knowing glances, it was time! The sign outside reads Ariston, since 1910. It is a small place which bakes a huge assortment of pies right on the premises. They also have a limited selection of pastries. Linda chose spanakopita (spinach) and I prasopita (leek) - perfect filo filled with delicious, fresh ingredients. Large size portions for 400 dr. apiece. No wonder there is a continuous line-up. We strolled along the busy streets enjoying the treat.

The Kolonaki area was our next destination. This area runs from Vasilissis Sofias north to the foot of Lycavittos Hill. Take the funicular to the top of Lycavittos for the most gorgeous views of the Athens area. The center of Kolonaki is Philikis Etairias Square, better known as Kolonaki Square. As I mentioned before, this is the trendiest part of the city and a great place to view the fashion of Greece both in the boutiques and strolling the streets. We found the merchandise to be more world class than ever before and the pricing much more reasonable - in many cases extremely reasonable - particularly the footwear values. Nothing moves swiftly in this country but it appears that entry into the EU has had a positive affect most noteworthy in the two largest cities, Athens and Thessaloniki.

This is such a nice area; the embassies and consulates line Vasilissis Sofias and on the interior streets beside the boutiques, cafes, restaurants and food shops there are prestigious condo buildings and homes with flower-laden balconies and smart architecture. Those of you who've read our Portugal travelogue may remember the Ola name - the brand that dominates the ice cream market in Portugal - with its chocolate-covered Magnum to which we became addicted. Well, we discovered Algida, the Ola of Greece, and its chocolate-covered is called Magic. It is very much the same as Magnum and our addiction continues.

We did a bit of "roof-gardening" back at the Electra Palace until heading for the only taverna in the Plaka area that we have ever been to that is truly superb. Athenian friends took us there years ago, and as with Delphi, we always return. The tourists have found it - but no matter, it's still consistently great.

Located at 4 Agelou Geronta Street, Xinos is a bit difficult to find because it is off the street. There is a path beside the cafe on the corner that leads to a high fence and the door. Most of the seating is outdoors in a lovely garden environment. Nothing had changed; the same chain-smoking owner hovered to make sure all was well, the same two gentlemen played bouzoukia and sung, and the same men in the kitchen prepared the same dishes, the same way. We chose dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) avgolemeno (egg lemon sauce), moussaka (these two are all time super-stars here!), veal with orzo and cucumber/tomato salad (naturally).

We chatted with Madeleine and Raymond from Belgium at the next table as the lamb chops they ordered were served. They loved them! We ordered a portion of the same and they were indeed very delicious. Of course you can't eat at Xinos without having their retsina from the barrel. As far as we're concerned, if you like retsina, this is the place!

The evening ended on a glorious note. Our younger daughter, Lori, and our son-in-law, Jordan, called to tell us we'll have a new grandchild next May. No spring trip for us in '98 - we're expecting a baby!

The buffet breakfast at the Electra Palace is always plentiful and superb. The staff here welcomes you and does whatever it can to be helpful. We departed, looking forward to our next stay three day's hence.go to top of page
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or JUMP to any city on the trip:
Athens1 | Skiathos | Athens2 | Delphi | Arahova | Galaxidi |
Chrisso | Athens3 | Thessaloniki | Edessa and Naoussa

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