What makes someone the perfect travel partner? Always up for anything, willing to try any and all things, and does not stress/panic over getting lost in another country. Also must love dogs, dancing and wine. When I played in Italy, I was fortunate enough to meet one such individual – my best friend and the ultimate travel companion, Anthi Vasilantonaki (does that sounds Greek enough?). Our love for traveling made us inseparable from the start of the season last year and we schemed up new trips anytime we had a free day. Greece has always been on my bucket list, and luckily for me, Anthi’s hometown is Athens, Greece!
Our trip began in Florence, which wasn’t easy to get to, but we were looking for something budget friendly since we had just finished a game in nearby Sandicci, Italy.
Our travel from Sandicci, Italy to Athens, Greece:
From Florence to Athens:
Firenze to Rome – 6-hour overnight train
[They allow you to stay places longer or arrive places earlier; however, sleeping on a train isn’t easy so you usually arrive exhausted. Thank goodness for strong coffee!]
Roma Termine to Rome Airport – 35-minute taxi
Rome to Athens – 1 hour and 45-minute flight
We arrived at the Athens airport around 11 a.m. with the whole day of exploring awaiting! Overnight trains can be both a blessing and a curse. Anthi’s home is located just outside the city center with an incredible view of the Parthenon and all of downtown Athens.
We got our tourist stops out of the way first. Make sure to check off the Acropolis and the Parthenon, the Acropolis Museum. The main attraction in the city, while it isn’t a local pick, it is worth a visit if it’s your first time. The city is home to so much history that it’s hard not to be super nerdy when sightseeing – I mean it is basically where civilization began!
I’m a big fan of eating. And when you have a personal tour guide bringing you to the best local spots, well, you go along with it. We headed to the Monastiraki Square where one can find a plethora of restaurants and street vendors. We headed to Thanasis for a Souvlaki (or gyro/kebab). I ordered the mouthwatering steak souvlaki with French fries, smothered in tzatziki sauce and served to me by a man with a fireeeeee unibrow. Food Heaven. From there, we walked down the pastel building covered streets where vendors crowded every corner with handmade jewelry, rugs, clothes, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Tip: While you might be distracted by all the charm, just make sure you have an eye on your bag/wallet for pickpocketing. I find a cross-body bag that zips up is the best way to carry your stuff.
We headed to Anafiotika Street, which is a street lined with cafes to help you get over you gyro food coma. Grab a seat or a cushion, order a frappe and a couple of small dishes, and enjoy good conversation and people watching (the Greek way). If you really want to do it the local way, slowly sip on your frappe for one to two hours. I chugged mine in a couple minutes and got a major caffeine rush. The Greeks may be on to something.
We headed back to Anthi’s childhood home and dinner was cooking. Meatballs and Gemista, or stuffed peppers, and Greek salad with the freshest feta and kebabs. Not to mention one loving family and four best friends. The meal was enough to make me want to come back 1,000 more times.
If you’re venturing to Greece, one way to really live like a local is to stay in an Airbnb or in a private room where you may get to experience some home cooking!
After dinner and a nap, we prepared to go out. The great thing about Greece is that the nights start late and go till early in the morning. Some nights, you might even find yourself watching the sun come up.
It was Carninval (or Patras Carnival) while we were there. The festival is one of the biggest in Europe and is nearly 180 years old. On Saturday night, join the crowds of people in the streets as they watch an illuminated parade roll past. After the parade, we headed to Beer on Us Bar in Vironas, which is about 20 minutes outside the city center. A small, family-owned bar that doubles as a club at night. We spent the night dancing to Greek music and learning the traditional Sirtaki dance, which requires a lot of hip movement!
Sunday afternoon came and it was a day to celebrate! Her family took us to a spot located in Kaisarianni (a small drive from the center) filled with the freshest seafood. We shared some mussels and lobster, and and handful of other mouthwatering dishes! Afterwards, we checked out a cafe/restaurant called Nalu located in Glyfada, which is seaside. During the summer, it’s home to beach parties that last 24 hours.
This trip to Greece was mostly about experiencing the local country, but it’s always nice to mix in some touring. It’s even better when you can combine the two. In Athens, it’s imperative that you find a rooftop bar near the Monastiraki square. Here you will find some of the best views of the city and the Parthenon (history!). Last stop on the itinerary was at the old Olympic grounds. Being an athlete and having gone to the Olympics, I get a little nerdy checking out old historic stadiums. Finally, to cap off the trip we spent the evening at Color Locale. A couple glasses of wine later, we were on our way home.
Next time I come to Athens, I’ll spend time taking in the history but sometimes it’s nice to enjoy traveling and take in your surroundings like a local.