September 16, 2017 – Traveling from Sorrento to Athens wasn’t the earliest morning of our trip, but it was still a rough one. Our flight to Athens wasn’t until 10:35 am, but in order to get through security, have time for some breakfast at the lounge, and find our gate (we had no idea how big the airport was) we wanted to get there as early as we could.
As I mentioned before, there was a really convenient and relatively cheap way to get to/from the airport in Naples to/from Sorrento. It was €10 per person each way on a coach bus. This bus only made a couple stops and the first one to leave Sorrento was at 6:00 am. The day before we left, we went over to the bus station to ask how it all worked. There was a great tourism info desk right at the station and they were extremely helpful. Basically, we just had to pay cash to the bus driver directly. It was really that simple and that’s exactly what we did. We thought we would be the only ones waiting there that early, but the bus was about half full by the time we left the station.
As we passed through the little towns along the coast, the sun started to rise. It was breathtaking. I wish I could have taken some better pictures, but my iPhone photos through the bus window will have to do.
We arrived at the Naples airport around 7:00 am and went to check in. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous about this flight. It was our first flight on one of the European discount airlines, easyJet. Even with paying extra for assigned seats and checked bags ahead of time, we paid less than $150 TOTAL for both of our tickets.
I had heard horror stories about people flying these discounted airlines. Flights delayed for hours, missing bags, hidden fees, etc. So I was prepared for the worst. Check-in, although long, was a breeze and our bags were already paid for ahead of time so no hidden fees.
Tip: if you are flying on a discount airline in Europe and you know you’re going to check a bag, pay for it when you buy a ticket. EasyJet charges more to check a bag at the check-in counter than they do if you just buy it with your ticket. Also, their bag allowances are much different than the US, so make sure you know if you can bring your bag with you on the plane or not. If you’re unsure, just check it to save yourself the stress. Looking back, we might have been able to bring our packs with us on board, but honestly, it was a nice break from lugging them around.
After we checked our bags, it was off to find the lounge. We have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card which allows access to all Priority Pass lounges around the world. This meant free breakfast in all the airports we’d be flying through! The lounge was easy to find and we had about an hour to relax there before the flight. At this point, the only other lounge we had been to was at the Atlanta airport. The Naples airport lounge was TINY. It was a single room with seating for 30 at most. Luckily, there were only a few people in there with us, so it didn’t feel crowded. The food was pretty light as well, just a few pastries and yogurt. They did have a really fancy coffee machine so that was nice.
Our boarding time was quickly approaching, so I snagged a couple pastries to-go (shhh!) and we were off to find our gate.
The gates at this airport were different than we were used to. There were no jet bridges to walk down in order to get on the plane.
We all lined up for the gate agents to check our tickets. There was a separate line for some sort of VIP access that we could have paid extra for. Those people got to get on the plane first. Although, it was worthless because the VIP people didn’t get in the right line so they ended up boarding with the rest of us plebeians.
Boarding was interesting. We all walked out the door as a group and they escorted us to our plane that was a few hundred feet away from the door.
We took our seats. It was 3 on each side, so Eric had someone next to him. Luckily it was a nice quiet guy so no issues there.
Our flight went smoothly. We left on time, the ride was uneventful, and everyone we encountered from easyJet was so nice. After expecting the worst, I was pleasantly surprised!
The view from above as we approached Greece was gorgeous. There were so many islands; I was dying to know which ones we were flying over!
We landed, got off the plane, and headed towards passport control. We were the only plane that had just landed and we didn’t really see anyone else around. This was my first time flying from one European country to another, so I didn’t really know what to expect.
When flying to another country from the US, you always go through passport control; there are no exceptions. In Europe, there are Schengen countries. These are countries where once you get your passport checked in one, you don’t have to get it checked again unless you fly to a non-Schengen country. I didn’t do enough research about this ahead of time because honestly I just thought flying to another country meant getting our passports checked.
Apparently, we were not the only ones. We got to passport control and there was no one there. It looked like it was closed. Our whole plane was waiting there because common sense says you don’t just walk through passport control without someone either checking your passport or telling you it’s fine to walk through. There were no airport employees anywhere so it’s not like we could ask.
All the Europeans on our flight were telling the others to just walk through, but for about 5 minutes everyone just kind of stood there wondering if doing that would get us in trouble. At this point, I still didn’t know about the Schengen thing so I was panicking thinking if something were to happen to us over there and we didn’t have proof of entering the country then what would happen.
Eventually, we all just walked through. Knowing what I know now, it was totally legal, but the way it all happened felt very wrong. Fast forwarding a bit, on our way home when we went through Brussels there were passport control areas that were clearly marked for those flying in from Schengen countries and those flying from elsewhere.
When we were all struggling with what to do when we got to Athens, there were zero signs and absolutely no one around. We had to go through the employee exit in order to get past that area. So moral of the story, if you’re hopping around Schengen countries via planes, you only have to have your passport checked once. I guess coming from the US where airport security is extremely tight, we just felt like we were going to get in trouble for passing through an area that looked like it was supposed to be secure even though no one was there. In fact, we didn’t see any airport employees until we reached baggage claim.
Speaking of baggage claim, this was the first time we had checked our big packs. As we were waiting, we watched a girl with a similar pack pull her mangled bag from the conveyor belt. It looked like her straps got caught in something. I was so nervous! But our bags came around without a scratch; I was so relieved.
We made our way to the train. We would be taking the train from the airport to Syntagma Square and then changing to the metro to get to the Acropolis station. It would take an hour to get there.
Like Naples, we heard the Athens metro was not the safest. We were on high alert the whole time, but we never felt unsafe. The Paris metro was way worse than Athens. We were expecting dirty and dark train/metro cars with poor ventilation. We were shocked when the train to the city was almost entirely outside, clean, had AC, and was a very smooth ride. The metro, while underground, was very well lit, clean, and didn’t smell like a dirty armpit like Paris. The stations were all very safe as well. Not to say you shouldn’t be on high alert at all times because of pickpockets, but you don’t need to have your mace at the ready.
We made it to the Acropolis station and walked out to the street. This was a very touristy area with lots of street vendors and restaurant hosts trying to pull tourists in. It was a bit obnoxious. They would stand on the other side of the street from the restaurant and approach you almost pulling you into their restaurant. Luckily, we walked out of the station right as a big group of Royal Caribbean travelers were walking by, so they got the brunt of the harassment.
Our hotel, the Divani Palace Acropolis, was less than a quarter mile from the station, so it wasn’t a long walk at all. We originally were going to stay in an Airbnb, but a few months before we left, we decided to use some of our credit card points to book a nicer hotel. Athens was probably the least safe city we traveled to on our trip (although, we felt safer than I thought we would). While we had good luck with Airbnb in other cities, we decided we would take the mystery out of our accommodations and book a safe bet. Our hotel had security in the front and a very nice concierge.
We checked in and settled into our room. The only bad thing we experienced was the overwhelming mothball smell in our room. After about 5 minutes, we got used to it. But every time we went back to our room it would hit us like a wall. We were in the part of the hotel that hadn’t been renovated yet. There was a renovated side that was much more expensive (we’re talking double the cost per night and our room wasn’t cheap). While we decided to upgrade our accommodations, we still had a budget. The smell was annoying, but not a deal breaker.
Our first plan of action was to find a grocery store to get water and breakfast items. We found one near our hotel, although the Google reviews said it was overpriced. We needed water though, so we went.
The grocery store was tiny! We found a 6 pack of the giant waters we had been getting in other countries and it was only €1. Well if this is was what people thought was overpriced, I guess bottled water was free at other grocery stores. Eric grabbed some Greek beers and we got some yogurts for breakfast. We had to have Greek yogurt in Greece!
I think the reviews were talking about the toiletries being overpriced because that I would agree with. It was around €6 for a travel sized deodorant.
The total for everything we got was less than €10. The same stuff we bought there would have been double or triple the price in Switzerland! It’s crazy how much the prices for simple grocery items differed from place to place.
When we got back to our hotel, we stopped at the concierge to ask about some good options for dinner. She asked if we’d be interested in a less touristy place with really authentic food. We both love Greek food so we said absolutely! She told us about a place called Ambrosia and showed us where it was on a map. We also went ahead and booked dinner for the next night at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant.
After heading back to our room to drop off the groceries, we looked up the restaurant she recommended. We noticed the reviews were mixed, but not about the food. All the bad reviews were about the owners smoking right at the entrance. We we were going for great food, not ambiance, so we decided to give it a shot anyway.
It was only 6:00 pm, but we were starving so we decided to just go ahead to the restaurant. Most people know Europeans eat later than Americans. The Greeks eat even later than that! A typical Greek dinner starts at around 9:00 or 10:00 pm. Needless to say, there weren’t many people at the restaurant with us. They seated us in a courtyard far from the smoking owners at the entrance (which was totally true by the way). There were a couple other Americans eating there and a group of Greeks having drinks behind us.
I ordered a Greek salad, Eric got a pork gyro, and we got a side of tzaziki sauce with pita bread. I had seen the table of Greeks order water and were brought a carafe of tap. When I asked our waiter for water, he brought us a bottle. I thought we got scammed because we were Americans. The Greeks got tap but the Americans get bottled because they won’t mind paying for it. It wasn’t a huge deal, but I was a little annoyed.
Our food came out and it was incredible. My salad tasted so fresh like everything just came from a garden and was served with a giant block of feta. Eric’s gyro was HUGE and delicious. The pita bread was hot and tasted freshly baked. We were in Greek heaven!
When the check came, I realized they didn’t charge us for the water. We found out later that the tap water in Greece isn’t great. The locals can drink it without issue, but foreigners shouldn’t just to be safe. I felt bad for assuming the worst! They were just looking out for us.
We finished up our meal and decided to go check out the Acropolis at night since we hadn’t seen it at all yet. Right as we left the restaurant, we saw 2 teenagers running full force at us. They came at us so fast we had no idea what was going on until we walked a little further and realized they had stolen a lady’s purse. The lady was sitting at a table outside at a restaurant when the teens grabbed her purse off her chair and ran. It was a little unsettling, but we tried to not let it ruin our evening.
We reached the Acropolis and walked around for a bit. It was so beautiful all lit up!
We didn’t have anything else planned, so we just decided to call it a night. We would be visiting the beautiful mountain town of Delphi the next day.
Continue reading the Travel Diary here: Day 19: Ruins of Delphi, Greece and Hosios Loukas Monastery