Tag Archives: solo travel

Street art in Athens

This is something I really didn’t expect. Isn’t Athens supposed to be all about the ancient Greek ruins and some Orthodox churches?!

No, I quickly found out, while wandering around the streets in the city centre. Street art, graffiti, tagging. Everywhere. Is this just the new version of the wall paintings of ancient times?

I spent hours turning into every corner of the narrow streets up the Acropolis hill, as well as the Psiri neighbourhood. No wall seemed to have been forgotten by the unknown (to me) graffiti artists. It was like walking into an open air gallery!

Admittedly there is a huge amount of tagging that is of little artistic value, yet some graffiti/murals were incredibly beautiful.

I will leave you with some images, best placed to describe the variety of art available. All credit goes to the respective authors, even though I don’t know who they are!

Athens Day 2

My top tip for Athens is: base yourself in the Monastiraki area! This is THE hub. Excellent transport connections to the rest of the city, reasonable walking distance to most tourist sites (I walked pretty much everywhere), plenty of restaurants and eateries of all sorts, plenty of bars for a good night out. And I just loved walking around in the evening, enjoying the view of the Acropolis from below and of the streets full of people. Yes, there are a few dodgy individuals around the train station but, as long as you are not there on your own in the middle of the night, concern should be minimal.

So my second day in Athens started by exploring the area further, and here are some photos.

#Psiri
Next I explored the Psiri district. I spent a lot of time there, fascinated by the rundown buildings, the huge amount of street art (more in another post) and the flea markets.

#Ancient Agora
This is the best known example of an ancient Greek agora, and it remained in use either as an assembly, as a commercial, or as a residential area for about 5000 years. Restoration of this area has been minimal. The highlights are the Temple of Hephaestus,  the best preserved ancient Greek temple from the Classical era, and the Stoa of Attalos, a building of the Hellenistic period that was rebuilt from the ground up based on its ancient appearance.

#Kerameikos
This is the ancient cemetery of Athens and is one of the least visited sites in the city, despite its importance and beauty. Archaeological excavations in Kerameikos started in 1870 and so far archaeologists have found columns of temples, marble statues, remains of public buildings, funeral offerings and thousands of tombs. I spent well over an hour wandering around the area and I definitely recommend a visit.

#Syntagma Square and Parliament
Syntagma Square is the most important square of modern Athens from both a historical and social point of view. In recent years (2010-2012) this square became the site of mass protests related to the economic situation of the Greek government-debt.
At the top of Syntagma Square you’ll find the Parliament building. Crowds gather outside every day to watch the Evzones, the elite soldiers who guard the tomb of the unknown soldier as well as the Presidential palace. While the main ceremony of the changing of the guard is held on a Sunday morning (this is when the traditional white kilts are worn), hourly changing of the guards occur every day on weekdays too. I watched these a couple of times and found them quite entertaining.

 

Athens Day 1

My first day of Athens sightseeing covered quite a lot (I walked around 15Km!) and here is some information and photos on what I saw.

#Acropolis
I couldn’t miss it. Yes I had been there before but 25 years can make a huge difference from the viewer’s end. The Acropolis wouldn’t have changed much but my way of looking at things would have.
To reach the Acropolis you walk up the steps on the hill, enjoying the narrow streets, the small restaurants and cafes along the way, the graffiti murals that seem to cover every wall, the panoramic views of the Athens. The route isn’t really well signposted (there are various routes anyway) and more than once I bumped into other tourists who appeared lost on their way up.

The entrance ticket to the Acropolis is Euro 20 (it drops to  Euro 10 in low season). I walked around the area for a few hours, enjoying the views despite the strong wind of the summit of the hill. A lot of restoration work is going on and sadly the Parthenon was largely covered in scaffolding. Yet just being able to be there in the presence of such majestic monuments of the ancient times was incredible.
The Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Theatre of Dyonisus, the Temple of Athena Nike, and more. You could easily spend half a day there. And the views of Athens from above are pretty stunning too.

#Acropolis Museum
Not tired of archeology yet, I then spent some more time wandering around the Acropolis Museum, which displays a lot of remains that were found in the area. The museum is located by the southeastern slope of the Acropolis hill and the building itself is quite beautiful.

Traditional souvenirs

#Plaka district
If instead you are tired of sightseeing, the Plaka district, just by the Acropolis hill, has plenty of cafes and shops (mainly souvenirs) for anyone’s entertainment.

#Philopappou hill
My first sightseeing day ended with a walk up Philopappou hill to see the Philopappou Monument and enjoy a panoramic view of the Acropolis and of Athens as a whole. Again it was very windy but the view from the top was really nice.

Return to Athens – 25 years later

I had been to Athens before. I had ticked Greece off my list already. It was a long 25 years ago. It was a family holiday. All I remembered of Athens was walking around the Acropolis in the excruciating  heat. And a major public transport strike that made us travel around town in army vans. The latter sounded incredibly cool.

Then suddenly I found myself booking a flight to Athens. Ready to re-discover the city and see how much it had changed. I don’t often go back to a place where I have been before, more eager as I am to explore new countries. But this time was different. Certainly the Acropolis would still be there, but how about the city that had been re-modernised thanks to the 2004 Olympics? How about the impact of the economic crisis?

A desire to escape the UK in search of another connection with my Mediterranean roots was the final push I needed. Not that getting me on a plane needs much convincing…

Keep reading my next posts to see what I discovered in my 4 days in Athens!

A photo from my archives: Umeå

Umeå, Sweden, 2004.

This is another shot from my trip to Sweden several years ago. Umeå was my last stop before returning home. After 2 weeks in semi-remote areas in Lapland, I was invited to spend a couple of days in this city and I had the opportunity to visit the lake nearby at sunset. As you can see it looked so peaceful  and the colours were amazing!

A photo from my archives: Abisko

Abisko, Sweden, 2004.

My trip to Swedish Lapland came to mind yesterday.

Abisko – a small village about 250Km within the Artic circle – was the northernmost point I reached during my trip, and the most isolated one.

Travelling, as I did, at the end of the summer tourist season brought a different perspective to the area. Apart from the locals there was hardly anyone around, I was the only guest at the hostel on one of my nights there, the large convenience store at the end of town had almost a surreal feeling.

What I loved the most there was the lake. I walked down to the shore on my first evening in Abisko, it was very cold (around 4C, I had to buy gloves and hat) but the peaceful and serene atmosphere was what I wanted. When I look at this photo, with the red wooden hut by the shore and the mountains behind, I still find it very calming and it reminds me of my short stay there.

A visit to Echternach, Luxembourg

Just over an hour by bus from Luxembourg City lies Echternach, the oldest town in Luxembourg.

I picked it over Vianden Castle (another popular destination for short trips from Luxembourg City) for no particular reason. Except that I was curious about crossing the border into Germany – just a walk across the bridge over the river Sauer – and back…

Yet the main attractions here are the Abbey of Echternach, which was founded in the 7th century, and the Roman Basilica, rebuilt after World War II. The museum of the Abbey is only open during the summer, though, so I couldn’t visit.

The town itself retains a medieval feel, with its narrow streets, old churches, town walls, towers and a marketplace with a Gothic townhouse. This makes a stroll around very enjoyable.

Echternach has also been recognised at European level for its cultural value: in 2008 it was rewarded by the European Commission as “European destination of excellence”. In 2010, the famous Dancing Procession that always takes place on Whit Tuesday became part of UNESCO’s Intangible World Cultural Heritage.

For the summer, there is also a lake and lots of opportunities for outdoor activities. Unfortunately a cold day wasn’t too suitable for that.

A lot going on for such a small place – really worth adding it to your to-do list for Luxembourg!

Discovering Luxembourg City

The capital city of the small landlocked country of Luxembourg (the only Grand Duchy in the world!) is a mix of old and new. Easy to walk around and with enough to keep you busy for a day or so, it is a good destination for a European city break.

I certainly didn’t expect I would find it so interesting!

My visit wasn’t blessed with good weather, though. Heavy rain and freezing temperatures were my companions during my discovery of the city. Less than ideal but that didn’t stop me!

The UNESCO-listed Old Town (especially the part called the Grund) is the most picturesque area of Luxembourg City. You could wander around for hours exploring the alleys, walking along the corniche – by the riverside – and discovering the old fortress. I must admit that, because of the weather, I quite enjoyed adding cosy pubs to my sightseeing list!

Unfortunately the Casemates, underground galleries used as refuge during military attacks in the past centuries and one of the main attractions of the city, are closed in winter so I couldn’t visit them.

The medieval town core of Luxembourg City is in the Ville Haute. This part of town is home to many historic buildings such as the Palais Grand Ducal and Notre-Dame Cathedral, as well as famous squares like Place d’Armes and Place Guillame II.

There are also some interesting museums. I spent almost two hours wandering around the National Museum of History and Arts, which is spread over several floors and dedicated to displaying artwork and artifacts from all times of Luxembourg history. Another museum hosted an unusual exhibition about football seen as a religion of modern times (“Football Hallelujah!“). Although unrelated to Luxemborg itself, it was quite good to visit.

Tired of sightseeing? Why not stopping at Chocolate House for some sweet treats?

Luxembourg "Ville Haute" "chocolate house"
Chocolate House

A visit to the country of Luxembourg would not be complete without heading out to the countryside and the villages. Look out for my next post for this!

Luxembourg here I am!

How did I get here? Luxembourg had never been anywhere near my top 20 countries to visit…

But when my Emirates airmiles where converted into an EasyJet flight, all I could reach from London was Luxembourg. So I thought: why not?!

And one Friday evening I found myself on a bus from the airport to Luxembourg City, listening to announcements in French and wondering what to expect from the city.

It didn’t take me long to get excited at the idea of a new destination to discover, though! And with the help of a map, a travel app and an ice cream – while relaxing at my hostel – I quickly set my itinerary for the following day.

A new adventure was about to start!

Travelling on long distance buses in Mexico

I have travelled around Mexico a few times and always catching long distance buses. I find it easy, cheap and a good way to travel.

ADO, the largest bus company in Mexico, covers the whole country – some parts more than others – and you can even buy tickets online in advance. I used www.ado.com.mx/ado2 to check travel times and www.clickbus.com.mx to buy my tickets. In one occasion I decided to change my date of travel and changing ticket at the ADO station was a quick and smooth process.

Long distance ADO buses are very comfortable, with wide seats, lots of leg room, TV, a/c and toilets on board. They are also reasonably priced: a first class ticket from Cancun to Chetumal (6hrs) cost me less than MEX$400 (around £14)!

I caught ADO also from Cancun airport to the main bus terminal in town. The airport bus service runs every half hour and takes around 35min to town. For MEX$70 it’s a much better deal than any form of private transport (taxi or hotel shuttle).

When I was in Bacalar I then discovered another bus company, called Mayab. It is part of the ADO group, serving mainly the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo, and provides cheaper service than the main ADO. The downside is that buses are not as good and travel times are longer due to the higher number of stops, yet they offer a valid and cheaper alternative to ADO. Tickets can be bought online using the ADO website or at bus stations themselves.

And how about the experience of travelling with lots of local people and discovering the country at a slower pace?!