Piraeus is a major port for Greece and the closest one to Athens. It is very busy, with ferries that sail to all the Greek Islands, three separate docks for cruise lines, commercial operations and military ships. If you like ships, you can see just about any kind here. But few cruisers spend a day in Piraeus, especially with Athens so close. And most cruise lines will arrange various excursions to help you see the most of the highlights of Athens. But, if you’ve been there before, or if you want to go it on your own, it is very easy to get to Athens from Piraeus. From most of the cruise docks, it is about a twenty-minute walk to the train station to catch a train to Monastiraki Plaza. The train will take about the same time as a cab — and the cost will be much less!
Sights on my walk to the train station in Piraeus
Just like in Toronto!
My walking companioins
Monastiraki Plaza which is a great place to start your journey in Athens. It is at the heart of the Plaka — with the flea market on one side, a collection of restaurants on the other with lead to the shops of the Plaka. It is also below the Acropolis, near the Agora and, if you get there before 10 AM, you can easily walk down the pedestrian street to the Parliament buildings to see the Changing of the Guards.
Changing of the Guards in Athens
Monastriaki Plaza before the crowds
View of the Acropolis form the New Acropolis Museum
Of course, you can spend an interesting day in Piraeus and miss all the crowds in Athens! At the Archaeological Museum of Piraeus you will find a collection of sculptures that include grave monuments and dedicated reliefs, pottery and a bronze statues of Apollo from the 6th century BC. There are plenty of tavernas — the better ones are a bit farther from the port.
Here are links to some of my past posts about Athens:
Katakalon, Greece is a very small port and resembles a sleepy town, until a cruise ship enters the port and can more than triple the number of people. Why do cruise ships call into this port? It is the closest one to Olympia — the site of the original Olympic games. Of course, there are ship excursions to the site. There is also a train the runs from the port to Olympia. How you go, is up to you — the trip is worth it.
Olympia is a large archaeological site. Next to it is a museum and the town of Olympia that has shops and restaurants catering to the tourists.
One of my favorite ports to visit is Rhodes, Greece. I visited it on my first cruise and I decided to forgo a group tour and explore Old Town Rhodes on my own. I had prepared and studied the maps of this port and yet, I learned an important lesson. I can get lost in a walled city, but I can also find my way back.
Cruise ships dock very close the one of the gates in the wall that surrounds Rhodes. From there, it is very easy to wander your way through this charming, ancient Greek city.
Ship docked near the walls
The walls were originally built by the Knights of St. John who made this their headquarters until they were defeated and forced to relocate and ending up in Malta. There is the Palace of the Grand Master and the Avenue of Knights that tells their story.
There is also a Archaeological Museum and, at the base of the Avenue of Knights, are the ruins of the Temple of Aphrodite.
And, of course, there are cafes where you can sit and watch the world go by. Of course, I had to get my usual cup of espresso (with a thanks to my waiter who took the photo.
Rhodes is a place I enjoy visiting and would love to spend more time there.
In 2009, I was in Athens with a friend and we decided to visit the Acropolis, of course. Since I had been there once, I also wanted to check out the New Acropolis Museum. Fortunately for us, the day started with rain, so heading the the museum first was a perfect way to begin.
The museum is built at the base of the Acropolis, near the main entrance and where most tours will drop you off. The museum is built on ruins of a workers’ village. As you enter, you will see these ruins under the glass floors.
Inside, the building is very spacious and open, with windows along one wall so you can see the Acropolis. While there were a lot of people, it never felt crowded.
There is, of course, a section that is setup for the Parthenon Marbles. While these are still in the British Museum, there is still a very impressive collection of statuary. My favourite room has a large collection of Kore — marble statues depicting the Maiden Goddess. I was drawn to one that was a little different from the rest. She was holding a pomegranate and there were still signs that she had been painted red.
Old town Rhodes is an old, walled city first built in the 11th Century by the Knights of St. John’s (the same ones responsible for many of the sights to see in Malta). The city is a tapestry of winding streets, shops and restaurants, churches and mosques, and even an ancient temple to Aphrodite. For people arriving on a cruise, it is an easy walk off the ship and into the city, making this one of my favourite places to explore. You can even walk along the beach! I feel like I stepped back in time – a truly magical experience.
The Palace of the Grandmasters is not as polished as the one in Malta. You get a sense that this was built to protect and keep the city safe from the canons on the battlements to the thick stone walls and plain interiors. I love the feel of this place and can “sense” a time when it was filled with activity. I could almost hear conversations from old.
Leading to the palace is the Avenue of the Knights. This street has the houses for the 8 languages that made up the Order of St. John – the points on the cross represent each of these languages.
At the base of the avenue, there is the remains of the Temple of Aphrodite. There are a lot of cats the roam the city, however on multiple visits, there seems to be one that has taken residence at the temple – a black and white cat that looks like my new kitten, Lola.
Close to the temple is the Museum of Archaeology. In one room, there is a large collection of grave markers for the knights. These are reminiscent of the decorated marble floor in the co-Cathedral of St. John in Valletta, Malta. These, however, are carved sandstone and have no colours.The symbols are the same, though.
As I always seem to do, I wander through towns – thinking that I know where I am going. It was in Rhodes that I discovered that I can get lost even in a walled city. So, after walking around the city, and getting lost, it is always nice to enjoy a nice cup of espresso.
There is a lot to see on the island of Rhodes, which is why it is on my long list of places to return to, but if you have a day – get lost in the old city.
The ancient site of Olympus sits near the western coast of Greece. Cruise ships dock at Katakalon, a nice fishing village about 40 minutes from the site. While most ships do plan excursions to the site, it is also easy to take a taxi or a train to get to Olympus. Unlike many archaeological sites, this one feels like a park, with lots of trees, flowers and other vegetation. The day I went started out with rain, but once I got to Olympus, the clouds opened and it was a very nice, clear day.
The museum close to the site contains some of the statues found in Olympus, including an amazing statue of the Greek God, Hermes. This is also the museum where my friend left her camera (the story is part of the Excursions post).
Definitely worth a visit – you can even try running a race using the marble starting blocks!
J = Jewelry shopping in Santorini … or how I found myself walking down a very long flight of stairs
I like jewelry – but I rarely buy any, so how did I end up with a very special piece of jewelry from Santorini? The same way I find myself in many strange situations when I travel – I got lost!
The village of Fira, on the island of Santorini, lies atop a steep cliff that plunges into the sea. At the bottom of this cliff is a pier where the cruise ship tenders dock. There are several ways up the cliff – cable car, steps, or donkeys (walking the steps). The village is not very big – and there are maps when you get off the cable cars. I am usually good at reading and understanding maps. That does not mean I will not get lost!
On of the things I wanted to do was go to the archaeology museum. According to the map, it appeared to be a few blocks away. Reality? It was RIGHT BEHIND THE MAP! The museum is small, but you can get very close to some amazing pieces statues and artifacts from the area. There is also a particular church that I wanted to see, yet somehow I walked right past it! Regardless of all these missteps, I did enjoy the narrow streets and the views of the sea. It was through my wandering that I found myself on Gold Street – and guess what is here. That’s right, jewelry – shop after shop of jewelry! Gold, shiny, gem encrusted, gleaming…. It was all there. So, did I walk past the shops? No, something caught my eye. It was a beautiful gold bracelet with red, green and blue stones in it. Did someone notice me staring at the bracelet? Of course! That is how I found myself in the shop, trying on the bracelet in all its shiny glory. Did it fit? Perfectly! Sometimes the universe just puts things into your path. I had a beautiful discussion with the designer and his wife. She explained to me the symbols on the bracelet and the meanings behind the three colours — health, wealth and love (who doesn’t want that!). She also told me that I would be the first sale of the day — and this would bring good luck to both of us. I am a firm believer of sharing good energy, so I was sold. Soon, I was walking out of the store with my shiny new bracelet. So what should I do now? I needed to calm down form my spending spree and I thought drinking a nice wine would be a way to celebrate this beautiful, if confusing, day. Truly, I am NOT used to buying jewelry like this! I found a taverna, and ordered some red wine and stared at the spectacular view. Directly below where I was sitting were the stairs that lead from the top of Fira to the pier. It appeared to me that the steps looked to be wide and low – easy to walk on. Or maybe that was the wine talking…
Fortified with wine, I decided to walk down the 580 steps from the top of Fira to the pier. I forgot a few things: my knee, the donkeys, and 580 stairs. Sometimes my knee hurts going down stairs. So walking down that many steps, no matter how “easy” might not be in my best interest. but I forgot about my knee and headed off!
Then there is donkeys – lots of donkeys. Donkeys standing in the sun with blankets and saddles do not smell nice. Donkeys do not use a “litter box”, so, while the steps are generally easy, you had to watch where you stepped to miss the “presents” left behind! Donkeys also have the right of way. They will not walk around you; they will walk right up to you, expecting you to move. They are not timid or shy!
And lastly, there are the steps – 580 of them – and I was a little tipsy form the wine and my purchase. Once you start down this path, you really do have to finish it — there is no way off when you reach the half-way mark. I walked down the stairs, watching where I stepped and dodging the occasional donkey. I stopped a few times to rest and take photos I would not have gotten any other way (a bonus!). 580 steps … and I finally reached the pier, new bracelet in hand and a story to tell.
Moral of this story is that sometimes you need to get lost, make interesting decisions and see where the paths lead. That and I can walk down 580 steps, wearing a shiny new piece of jewelry and live to tell the tale!