Oh, Greece. I miss you.
If you know me, you know that my birthday is my favourite holiday (besides Christmas), and I always go all out for it and force my friends and family to give me extra attention because I’m an extravagant birthday queen. This year was my 24th birthday, and it was a little weird for me because I didn’t have my friends and family from back home surrounding me and ready to participate in whatever shenanigans I came up with. For this year, I really embodied the whole “go big, or go home” mantra, and I ended up booking a trip to Greece for Nick and I took explore Athens and relax in Santorini for a few days to celebrate my birthday! We stopped in Athens first, and stayed there for two days to check out the sights and the ancient ruins. Our accommodation was located in the Monastriaki district in Athens, and we stayed at the Epidavros Hotel. When booking this accommodation, I booked a place in the Monastriaki district because it’s supposed to be a really lively place, with lots of easily accessible restaurants, shopping and within walking distance to the top tourist locations. Unfortunately, the part of the district that we were staying in did not represent what I thought Monastriaki district was supposed to be. Obviously, Greece has been through some shit in the last few years, and I felt that was very apparent where we were staying; there was an obvious case of overcrowding, dilapidated buildings and homelessness. As a female traveller, if this was an all-girls trip, or if I was doing some solo-travelling, I wouldn’t recommend this area of Monastriaki to another female traveller, simply because of the sketchy stuff (I.E: people breaking into cars, and people shooting up in the street) that I saw when I was staying there. If I wasn’t with Nick, I probably wouldn’t go out at night by myself, and I know that sounds SO dramatic, but I was so aware and uncomfortable with how much attention I got when I was with another guy, I can’t imagine I’d feel remotely safe by myself after dark. As far as our accommodation goes, the Epidavros is a budget-friendly, basic hotel with nice front-desk staff! It was super affordable for the two nights we were there, and while the rooms aren’t the most comfortable or cute, you get everything you need. The space is clean, the A/C works, and the shower has hot water. This hotel also offered a complimentary breakfast with cereals, croissants and fruit. With ALL that being said, the location of the hotel was within walking distance to everything we wanted to check-out in Athens; we were able to walk to the ruins and tourist areas in 20-30 minutes. Once we were out of the area our hotel was located in, and were bopping around the touristy parts of Athens, it was an entirely different vibe and I felt very comfortable in those areas.
We arrived in Athens around dinner time, so once we got to the hotel and got ourselves settled, we quickly got changed and headed out for the evening to find something to eat. As we weren’t super comfortable in our end of town, we walked for about 20 minutes until we hit the Old Plaka District; this historical neighborhood is nestled under the Acropolis and it’s winding streets offer views of the city in every direction. We walked around this neighborhood for a while and were approached by many restaurant employees that were trying to reel us in for the night to get our business. We probably turned down half a dozen restaurants until we ran into this one guy, who welcomed us by saying, “Welcome to my home.”; that might not seem like a big deal, but when you’ve been propositioned by six other people who gave you similar renditions of the same speech, this guy stood out to us. We talked to him for a few minutes, he went over the menu with us and offered us a table on his rooftop patio. I’m a sucker for a good rooftop patio, so we agreed and walked up the endless stairs until we reached the cutest patio with the best views of the city, and Acropolis! It was insane! Once he seated us at one of the best tables we could’ve asked for, he introduced us to our server and told him to give us free dessert at the end of our meal. Our meal started off with complimentary bread and olives — I wasn’t a big olive person before Greece, but this place changed my mind entirely. We then ordered zucchini cakes to share, Nick had a gyro plate and I had fresh fish. Per Nick’s request, we also ordered a bottle of Raki to split; Raki is an unsweetened, alcoholic drink that is popular in Albania and Greece. This restaurant served it with tall shot glasses and ice cubes, so you would pour a little over ice and sip on it throughout your meal. Everything about this meal was great; the food was delicious, the servers were wonderful and the view was absolutely nuts. At the end of our meal, our server brought out our free dessert which was vanilla ice-cream with honey and candied blueberries on top; super simple ingredients, but it was so good! Once we settled our bill, we made our way back to the hotel for an early night as we had a full day of hiking and exploring the ancient ruins of Athens.
Like I said before, our hotel did offer a complimentary breakfast, but what was offered wasn’t enough to sustain us while we hiked up the Acropolis hill all day. So, on our way to the ruins we stopped off at this cute cafe for a little bit of brunch. I had my first Greek coffee, and a Crete inspired salad. Crete is an island in Greece, and the base of my salad was this crusty, crunchy bread that’s really popular in Crete. The bread was topped with an almost bruschetta-type mixture; tomatoes, onions, olives, feta and drizzled with olive oil; it tasted so incredibly fresh! Nick is a creature of habit, and he will eat gyros in any shape or form, so he had another gyro plate while we were here. Afterwards, we walked to the Acropolis Hill, we entered at the side entrance and bought the version of the ticket that allowed us entrance to pretty much all of the ancient ruins, including Ancient Agora, Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library. After entering, it is basically set up like an open-air museum; there are ruins, statues and buildings scattered all throughout the grounds leading up to the top of the hill. We were able to see a lot on our day here; we saw the Temple of Hephaestus, Theatre of Dionysus, The Slopes, Acropolis, Parthenon and all the little bits of history that are sprinkled throughout the grounds. We took our time going through the grounds before heading up to Acropolis Hill, but once we made it to the top I felt very accomplished and sweaty. Seeing these structures in person is so surreal, they’re these GIANT marble buildings that were constructed by hand thousands of years ago, and parts of them are still standing. We then had to climb alllll the way back down Acropolis Hill, and check out the other sites around Athens that our tickets gave us access too. We walked around the Ancient Agora, Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library for the remainder of the afternoon before officially becoming hiked-out. We ended up spending some time in the Monastriaki Square and the Flea Market afterwards. This area is filled with tons of side streets and independent vendors selling everything from snacks to clothes! We walked through the market for a couple of hours before heading back to the hotel to freshen up before grabbing dinner. Nick was looking on TripAdvisor and came across a bunch of really good reviews for a restaurant called All The Jatz; based off of what we saw online, we decided to try this place out. We walked for about 20 minutes before reaching the restaurant, and we were welcomed by the owner of the establishment who went through the menu with us. The menu was filled with lots of authentic and traditional Greek cuisine, including Mousakka. I’m a big fan of trying authentic, traditional cuisine from wherever I’m traveling and I’d been wanting to try this dish, but Mousakka is traditionally made with ground beef. I asked them if they’d be able to make a vegetarian version for me and they were more than happy to comply and swap out the real meat for a mock meat substitute! I had a some Greek beer, and Nick had a glass of wine to start us off. Then we ordered Dolmades to share, and Nick got a gyros plate — again! Everything was super delicious, and very homemade tasting at this place! Nick thinks that out of all the gyros he had, All That Jatz made the best one. At the end of our meal, the owner of the restaurant gave us a complimentary glass of wine and wished us well before we were on our merry way. I’d totally recommend coming to All That Jatz if you’re in the Monastriaki area when visiting Athens! Afterwards, we spent the evening walking around the market again and aimlessly exploring before calling it a night.
All in all, Athens was a really cool place to check out and I’m glad I got to explore this city as the kickstarter for my birthday trip! My next post will be all about that Santorini sunshine!