July 22, 2012
We were supposed to arrive at Piraeus, the port city closest to Athens, at 8:00 a.m., but we think it was actually closer to 6:00 a.m. The sound of the azipod thrusters (used to park the ship in the right berth) woke us up. Looking out of the window was like looking in the mirror: We were berthed next to another HAL ship, ms Noordam. Noordam was the ship we were on last year, so all great memories came back. Nice start to an early day.
We took a taxi to the city. The taxi driver said he could not understand that we wanted to walk in this hot weather. He probably wanted to make more money by driving us around the city. Last year we visited the Akropolis, so that was on our “seen it, done it” list. Therefore, we planned a different walk through Athens. We asked the driver to drop us off at the highest hill in Athens (way higher than the Akropolis hill): Lykavittos Hill (pronounced Lykabet). On the north side of the hill there’s a road leading uphill to the Lykavittos theater. From there it is a short climb to the top of the hill where the beautiful white chapel of Agios Georgios is. We had a super view of Athens and the Akropolis. We recognized many areas where we had walked last year.
From there we took the Teleferik (cable car) down and walked in the direction of Syntagma Square. We hoped to see some Efzone soldiers, the soldiers guarding the Monument of the Unknown Soldier at Syntagma Square, at their barracks. Close to 11:00 a.m., the road was closed and out of the barracks came out, not just some, but lots of soldiers accompanied by a brass band. It was Sunday, so it time for the weekly changing of the guard ceremony. If you are in Athens on a Sunday this is a must see!
After Syntagma Square, we walked through the National Gardens and the Záppion Park, past the Záppeion monument, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch (which marks the line between the ancient and the new Roman city). We walked along the foot of Akropolis Hill. We could see the crowds up on the hill. The three large cruise ships in Piraeus port probably contributed to this.
Instead of joining the crowds, we hiked up Mouseion Hill, just opposite Akropolis hill. Although we were in the heart of Athens, it was really quiet there. We were four of the about 10 people there. Yet with the temperature well over 35 degrees celcius, it was quite a strenuous climb. On top of Mouseion Hill is the Philopappos Monument. From there, the four of us enjoyed a great view of Akropolis and the thousands of people visiting it.
On the way down we passed the church of Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris. Further down was the Pnyx, a debating spot in ancient times. We passed the beautiful church of Agia Marína on our way down to Apostolou Pavlou which runs along a park and terraces. On one of the terraces we cooled down with some ice water and a coke. We decided to take the subway back as we were close to Thisiou Station.
In Piraeus, we walked to the pier, we knew the route as we walked the same way back last year. There’s no way to get lost here. Just walk towards the two large Dam ships, Nieuw Amsterdam and Noordam.
For the sailing out of Piraeus port we were on the top deck of Nieuw Amsterdam. Great view but a bit loud. Traditionally, two HAL ships sound their horns when they leave. So our ship and Noordam did, with Nieuw Amsterdam’s horn just a couple of meters from our ears. This evening, we went to a meeting for all Dutch guests and afterward to the musical “It Takes Two.” After that we just hung around the ship and ate some ice cream and pizza.
Joost and Jolanda van Driessen, together with their daughters Kim and Rhodé, cruised the Mediterranean aboard Nieuw Amsterdam in July and chronicled their journey for us.