ΕΛΛΑΣ – Back on Dry Land

I forgot to mention yesterday that the Shore Excursion office never got back to me about the post-cruise excursion. I had to go back during their evening working hour, re-explain what I wanted to do, and re-authorize them to charge us $55 per person for the tour. Looking back, we could have done it differently. We did it the right way because 1) we’re honest and 2) we wanted to guarantee that we’d be with Ted and Joelle. Purely for information purposes I can tell you that we could have put Joelle and Ted’s extra bag tags on our luggage to have it carried to their room at the Divani Caravel and then slipped on to the tour–more on that later.
We got up at 7 so that we could vacate the room before 8. Luckily the standard breakfast was still being served, so we took full advantage of the cereals, fresh fruits, and omelet station. Our bag tag color was called at about 8:30, and then the fun began. We were crammed into a people mover for the short ride to the terminal where we were alternately told to wait, start identifying luggage, and move out because the luggage had already been transferred. #3 turned out out to be correct, so we tried to follow one of the 30 or so Greek tour reps wearing Orient uniforms and waving around clipboards with no identification. Shortly after exiting the terminal we entered the madhouse of a bus parking lot where busses from at least 4 cruise ships were trying to load people for their different tours. I would estimate that there were at least 40 busses in the lot. We quickly lost any hope of following anyone and instead started searching for a ‘Burgundy’ bus (our bag tag color). We had no luck and eventually asked one of the Orient reps what to do. In my favorite “aren’t you an idiot” tone of voice, she told us that we should know that Orange and Burgundy are the same and that we needed to get on an Orange bus. How stupid of us not to realize that those 2 colors were the same, especially after Orient went through the expense to print out different colored tags for us!
I quickly realized that with no Shore Excursion tickets you could walk into that pandemonium and do any tour you wanted–at least on Orient Lines! If you used the bag tag trick from before, all you’d need to do is say you were orange or blue or whatever color matches the hotel you want to end up in. Again, we paid for it, but I almost wish we hadn’t. Big regret of the day: the other orange bus had 4 seats left, but we didn’t go there because we wanted to be sure to sit across from Ted and Joelle. I regret it because we got a tour guide who was monotonous, repetitive, and really didn’t like tourists. She apparently got paid by the word, because she talked non-stop during the entire 1-hour drive to the Acropolis. I would have preferred short bursts of interesting commentary separated by minutes of silence to the never ending stream-of-consciousness drivel we got. We finally got to the Acropolis after a brief drive through the city which included the 1896 Olympic Stadium and some other sights. The tour guide gave us our tickets, and we followed her through to the steps. Incidentally, the tour guide didn’t bother to share with us that the €12 ticket (part of the excursion fee) is good for one week at the Agora, Dionysos Theater, and other ancient sites. The walk up to the Acropolis was surprisingly short given the fact that the 87 steps were highly emphasized. The steps were wide, easy to climb, and separated by inclined landings at regular intervals. The Acropolis is incredible, but we would rather have done it alone than stay with our guide. She stopped in front of the most famous building–the Parthenon–and talked for about 20 minutes with several dog-related interruptions. Yep, there are dogs guarding the Parthenon as well, but unlike Rome and Pompeii these are actually trained guard dogs, not just strays that happen to live there. Apparently there’s a new worker in the restoration area that tourists aren’t supposed to enter, so the dog thinks he’s an intruder and keeps barking at him. We thought it was funny, but one of our fellow cruisers was very unhappy and couldn’t believe that the dog had the nerve to ruin his vacation by barking.
I should point out that the coming Olympic Games has caused the Greek government to spend millions if not billions of euros refurbishing everything in sight. So, instead of seeing just the 2500 year-old Parthenon, you get it covered in scaffolding, which takes something away from the experience. All of the sites are guarded by people with whistles who will blow a foul if you try to enter the roped off areas, walk around with your shirt open, or try to take a sample of the ancient marble, something no one in our party was despicable enough to do. It’s a little like being at the beach when the lifeguard blows his whistle. Everyone–including those not doing anything wrong–stops what they’re doing to see what the whistling is for and to be sure that they aren’t getting in trouble. I’m proud to report that at least 1/2 of the Anderson clan was able to avoid infraction-related whistles during the Acropolis visit.
We spent the rest of the time looking at the ruins on the Acropolis and the view down to the city. Athens is not a pretty looking city by any stretch of the imagination, but it is cool to see the Agora, Jupiter’s temple, and 1896 stadium scattered among the normal buildings.
After the Acropolis, we drove through Athens some more, seeing the monument to Aristotle Onassis’s last wife among many other things. Despite the tour guide’s drone, I was able to get in a 5 minute nap before Ellen woke me up at the hotel.
Since we didn’t book our room through Orient it wasn’t ready at 1300, and when we finally got a room at 1330 it wasn’t a superior double with a view but a 2nd floor 2 twin that looked out over the hotel driveway. The only advantage to being independent is that breakfast was included in our €136 rate (€150 with taxes). The Divani Caravel calls itself 5 star, but for those 5 stars you get one ice machine in the building, no ice buckets in the rooms, and €5 Cokes in the mini bar. We quickly found the local supermarket (left out of the hotel, 1st left, 2 blocks down on the left) and got some supplies. So, in a few short hours we went from the ship’s abundance to PB&J in the hotel room! (That PB&J was good, though!)
One of the great things about the Caravel is the rooftop pool. Don’t forget to check out the fitness room below with underwater views of the pool. We went up to the pool for a swim and then back to the room for a nap before dinner. We met up at 20:30, and Ellen asked the hotel for a recommendation. We left with a dot on the map but not the restaurant’s name, which wound up causing us problems. We made a left out of the hotel and a right on Michalokopoulou (say that 3 times fast!). When we got to the dot, we found a closed restaurant, and in front of us it looked like houses, so we turned back towards the Caravel. When we came across the Holiday Inn, Ted #1 ran in and got directions, the name, and even a phone call to be sure the place was open. Yay Holiday Inn! The restaurant was good, we ate too much, and it was fun! We can’t believe there’s only one day until Ted and Joelle leave for the US! (On the way out of town I tried to copy the restaurant’s name, but we didn’t pass close enough to it. I’d say it’s no more than 4 blocks from the Holiday Inn on the right side going away from the Caravel. It’s the place that obviously converted its porch into part of the air conditioned restaurant.)