Category Archives: Greece

Things to do in Greece; attractions in Greece and the best places to visit in Greece.

Review of Mayor Capo Di Corfu in Greece

We stayed at the Mayor Capo Di Corfu, formerly the Aquis Capo Di Corfu) for a week in early October 2015, It was part of a dynamic package holiday from Travel Interaction, which was featured in the Travelzoo weekly newsletter.

We paid a total of £688 for the holiday: £371 for an all inclusive seven night stay at the four star Mayor Capo Di Corfu, the easyJet flights from Newcastle to Corfu cost £314 and there was a £3 debit card payment charge.

I had been on the lookout for a reasonably priced package holiday at a hotel on the beach with good reviews for some time. The Capo Di Corfu fitted the bill perfectly.

We picked up our hire car at Corfu Airport. It took us around the best part of two hours to get to the Mayor Capo Di Corfu.

Although we were on the main road to the south of the island, the road was windy in parts and went though many villages. I was using  Google Maps to find the hotel, but we missed a turn and ended up in the one way system of Lefkimmi. It turned out that the Google Maps directions were wrong. It should have been relatively straightforward, merely follow the road to Lefkimmi Port and turn right towards Kavos at the crossroads.

Official check in time at the Mayor Capo Di Corfu is 3pm, our room was ready when we arrived around 2pm.

The lobby at the Mayor Capo Di Corfu was large and airy, with plenty of seating.

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We went straight to the restaurant for lunch. I was impressed with the views from the restaurant over to the mountains on the Greek mainland. The food was pretty good too. All the meals were buffet style with a wide selection of hot and cold food. There was indoor and outdoor seating.

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After lunch we went for a coffee at the Amos pool bar.

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The Mayor Capo Di Corfu is laid out in village style in pretty gardens.

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We were in a standard garden view room. The view from the terrace of our ground floor room was spoilt by some construction work which was surrounded in green netting.

I could have gone back to reception to request another room. But I felt that as the accommodation had been excellent value at £371 for one week, that I shouldn’t expect one of the best rooms. Plus. I wasn’t planning on spending much time in terrace. I was happy that the room was far from the bar areas, so it would be quiet in the evening..

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The room was comfortable. There were tea and coffee making facilities in the room, which is usual in hotels abroad (it’s pretty standard in UK hotels). There was also a fridge which was handy to keep water cool.

mayor-capo-di-corfu-standard-room

It was pretty noisy on grass cutting days, even inside the room. The lawn mowers and strimmers seemed to be operational for hours.

The hotel has a private beach. We swan in the sea a couple of times most days.

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My favourite spot in Mayor Capo Di Corfu was Il Pirata beach bar. We could sit in the shade there close to the sea.

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The smaller of the two swimming pools was located there.

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The larger swimming pool was close to the restaurant and the Amos pool bar.

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There’s a third bar above the restaurant. It was a good spot for me to do some work during the day, as it was quiet and had great sea views due to the elevation.

The hotel provides beach towels. You need to pick them up from the Amos pool  bar. You can change them every day.

Due to a strike by Greek air traffic controllers leading easyJet to cancel our return flight to Newcastle, we ended up staying for an additional week at the Mayor Capo Di Corfu.

I felt that the hotel did profiteer out of this situation. They quoted over 960 Euro (around £873) for a week on an all inclusive basis, and 738 Euro (around £666) for half board. We had paid £371 all inclusive for the original week. I appreciate that I have to factor in the drop in the value of the pound to the Euro since booking in April 2016. However, there was commission to Travelzoo and the Broadway Travel to be paid from the original payment of £371 for a one week all inclusive stay.

As I had to pay for the additional week’s accommodatin upfront, and then reclaim from easyJet. I thought that I’d better stick to half board, as I didn’t know how long it would take easyJet to reimburse me. It says on the easyJet site that you can claim reasonable expenses after a flight cancellation, with no definition of reasonable.

Now while it wasn’t exactly hardship to spend another week in Corfu, I did have plans for the following week.

We had a hire car for the first week, enabling us to do some trips to nearby beaches. As I was pretty sure that easyJet wouldn’t pay for another week’s car hire. the car had be returned to the airport on the original date of the return flight. As as the resort is in the far south east of Corfu, we felt a bit stuck there. Plus, there were two consecutive days of thundery, wet weather during the second week.

Initially, the WiFi was excellent everywhere in the resort. I thought that with the dispersed layout that the WiFi might only be good in the main building. However in the bad weather during the second week, there was a power cut and the WiFi was down for four hours.

In summary, I enjoyed my stay at the Mayor Capo Di Corfu. The original week on all inclusive was excellent value for money. I loved the location on the beach, the accommodation was comfortable, the food was good and the staff were all friendly and helpful. For the majority of my two week stay the WiFi was very good in our room and all over the hotel grounds.

Click here to check availability at the Mayor Capo Di Corfu

Feeling Hung Out to Dry in Greece After easyJet Flight Cancellation

We were due to fly home from Corfu to Newcastle with easyJet on Sunday 9 October 2016. On Saturday morning when I checked my emails, I noticed an email from easyJet informing me that our flight had been cancelled due to a strike by Greek air traffic controllers.

easyjet plane

At that stage, the strike was due to last until Monday 10 October, with the possibility of another two day strike on Wednesday 12 and Thursday 13 October.

As I had booked the easyJet flight and our accommodation at the Mayor Capo Di Corfu through Broadway Travel, I thought that I’d better phone them once I received the cancellation email.  When you have not booked your own flight directly with on the easyJet website, you can’t manage your booking online.

After three attempts to call, the final taking more than one hour, Broadway Travel informed that as I had purchased a dynamic package, versus a package holiday, the could only look into alternative flights for me. I would have to arrange and pay for our accommodation and then reclaim it from easyJet.

I asked when I would hear back from Broadway Travel regarding flight options. There was no time given, just that customers with flights the following day were a priority.

When I hadn’t heard back from Broadway Travel by 5pm, I thought that I’d better phone easyJet. The options of departing from a different airport in Greece and/or flying back to different airport to the UK or getting a refund for our flights were discussed. But with the possible virtual back to back strikes by Greek air traffic controllers, the best option appeared to be to get booked on the next Corfu to Newcastle flight on Sunday 16 October.

Once the easyJet customer service rep had re-booked the flights, I asked her for confirmation that easyJet would refund our accommodation costs for the additional seven days. I told her that my intention was to stay on at the Mayor Capo Di Corfu, assuming that they had availability. She told me that I would be reimbursed for the accommodation.

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In fact, the strike was called off on the evening of Saturday 8 October, but it was too late for easyJet to reinstate the flight the following day.

On the Sunday morning, I went the hotel reception to check if they had availability for the week.

Our original stay at the Capo Di Corfu was on an all-inclusive basis. However, as I wasn’t sure if easyJet would cover this, as it states on their website that reasonable expenses including accommodation, meals and refreshments (excluding alcohol) will be refunded.

Now as I’m a teetotaler, I wouldn’t have been drinking any alcohol. My husband drinks the odd glass of wine or beer. Personally, I did feel that it was reasonable to continue on the same board basis.

There was also the issue of the cost, as I was going to have to pay for the accommodation upfront. I had no idea how long it would take for easyJet to refund me.

The hotel did have availability for the week They quoted 960 Euro for a seven night all inclusive stay. The cost for half board was 738 Euro.

I decided that, on balance, I had better go for the half board option, I felt that easyJet would be less likely to contest this, and I didn’t want to be even more out of pocket for an undefined period.

We had a hire car, which had to be returned to Corfu Airport on Sunday 9 October. I doubt if easyJet would have refunded another week of car rental. Returning the hire car to the airport was very inconvenient, as it’s a minimum one hour drive from the resort to Corfu Airport.

I will have to pay 70 Euro for a taxi to the airport on Sunday 16 October, assuming that there are no further changes to our flight. I will have to pay this in cash. As I was coming on an all inclusive holiday, I only brought a few Euro in cash with me. I will have to ask the taxi driver to stop at a  cash machine enroute to the airport.

In my opinion, it is really bewildering to be left in this situation.

Now I’m not blaming easyJet. That strike by Greek air traffic controllers was outwith their control. The pay upfront for your expenses and then reclaim procedure, is standard under EU regulation.

What I’d like to see is a change in the EU legislation.

There should be a detailed explanation of reasonable expenses on the website of every airline covered by EU legislation. How on earth can I judge what the airline will consider to be a reasonable expense?

The airline should be obliged to pay the accommodation supplier directly in a situation like ours.

Now while being in Corfu for another week is not exactly a hardship, especially with me being able to work online, the £666 which I have had to pay for our accommodation is weighing on my mind.

My credit card statement is due on 16 October. So I will have to pay the balance around three weeks later. I am not convinced that I will have received the refund from easyJet by then.

There is also the issue of currency fluctuations. If the UK pound keeps falling, a refund of Euro converted a lower rate will leave me out of pocket. To try to avoid this, I have taken a photo of my credit card statement, which shows the amount paid for the accommodation in UK pounds. But the receipt from the hotel is quoted in Euro.

I really feel left hung out to dry. Dealing with the flight cancellation took hours and spoilt the holiday. Now I am concerned if easyJet will fully reimburse me, and when I will receive the cash from them.

 

Batis Meat Restaurant at New Perama by Kavala, Greece

The very pretty seaside city of Kavala in Northern Greece can be reached from Thessaloniki in about 2.5 hours on major roads. At the western end of Kavala lie several beautiful seaside villages, one of which at a 14km distance is New Perama.

view of sea from nea peramos restaurant near kavala

View from New Perama beach

The New Perama sea front is beautiful as it overlooks the sheltered bay and has views over the nearby in habited and uninhabited islands, as well as more distant views over to the mainland. Several understated cafes, restaurants and bars offer shaded seating right over the beach and there is free parking as you enter the village from the Kavala direction.

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Suvlaki

I was showing one of our sons and his cousin the area and we (they) opted for a meat restaurant.

main course at nea peramos restarant near kavalaGiros

The Batis had seats available and a meal of 3 meat dishes with chips (souvlaki, lukaniko – sausage and giros), a Greek salad to share, a litre of cold bottled water and extra pita bread cost a very reasonable 28 euro (approximately £20 at the time) in total.

luukaniko sausages at nea peramos restaurant near kavala

Lukaniko

The food was delicious, the service courteous and prompt and the ambience as one would hope when on a Greek holiday.

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Greek salad

The Batis is most highly recommended!

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Pitta bread

Alexandroupolis, North-Eastern Greece by the Turkish Border

Alexandroupolis is a Greek city close to the North-Eastern Turkish border. The city is a remnant of the Ottoman (Turkish) empire and started life as a fishing village. Old Turkish houses can still be seen amongst newer buildings in the newer part of the city.

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A modern port caters for large cruise and commercial ships. The attached marina is developed in such a way that it forms an important part of the city’s trendy cafe culture and nightlife scene.

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A large, centrally posistioned lighthouse, is a prominent landmark of Alexandroupolis.

Alexandroupolis6Alexandroupolis city and lighthouse

There is quality and interesting shopping within the city proper and traditional as well as modern restaurants do a brisk trade, mainly with the locals. At some restaurants, an eating mode that’s emerging in popularity is the ‘lathokola (or lathoharto)’ plate-free style, where the food, usually chips, kebabs, suvlakis etc are brought to the table together, on a piece of strong greaseproof paper (lathoharto) and placed on the middle of the table for everyone to tuck into. It’s a real success, as it encourages socializing even more. It also makes local sense, as it follows from the Greek style of salad eating, which is usually brought in a large soup plate that everyone tucks into with their forks.

The nearby Evros river delta is a very important biodiversity area, with sizeable flocks of permanently resident and migratory birds such as duck, cormorant, goose, flamingo, swan, pelican and several types of reed warbler. The birds visit to take advantage of the rich sources of food such as fish, grains and insects.

The Evros River Delta near Alexandroupolis

On a recent visit to Greece, I was invited by my cousin George to spend sometime visiting the Evros river delta, an extensive semi-wild area which forms the border between Greece and Turkey in the North of Greece.

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Evros river delta where it joins the northern Aegean sea

George lives with his wife Eleni and young daughter Artemis by Alexandroupolis and has access to a 10-bed fully equipped riverside ‘hut’ which he shares with three pals, all dedicated to countryside pursuits like nature watching, fishing and hunting.

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Wild horses at rough ground by the the Evros river delta

I visited at the start of November and it was unusually mild for the time of year. George took us in his 4-wheel drive Suzuki out of Alexandroupolis heading East, and about 15 miles later turned onto an unmade road. A few miles down he entered a military/conservation/unprotected zone system, denoted by massive man-made land uplifts forming a series of cirular unmade roads snaking through protected and unprotected bird habitats. Some areas were enclosed (salt lakes), while others were mixed river/north Aegean sea domains, all rich in reeds and many types of bird life.

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Flock of cormorants taking off in front of our boat

The area is a real maze of waterways, separated by great sheaths of reeds. Huge flocks of swans, peewees, flamingoes, pelicans, cormorants, various species of duck and many other bird types, including herons, egrets and reed warblers were in rich abundance. We also spotted a couple of wild horses. We tried fishing from his home-made river delta/sea boat, but only caught a couple of small bass.

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Morning view from George’s hut towards the riverside and small church

We spent the night in the cabin cooking rough-cut chips and home-made wild boar sausages over a gas stove, also eating various types of local cheeses and salads, while drinking locally produced red wine and chipouro (a kind of strong ouzo, sometimes an aniseed drink) and recounting stories from our shared youth. Sleep came pretty easily, we turned the generator off and enjoyed the light of a lantern consisting a wick in the centre of a round piece of cork floating over a glassful of water and olive oil. Breakfast was George’s friends’ home produced honey over rough-cut wholemal bread with strong Greek coffee.

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Home-made Evros river delta boats

This type of excursion is not readily available commercially, however my cousin said that several other hut owners organise such events for gun shell/fishing hook-and-bait money.

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My smiling cousin George by his boat

Needless to say we eventually had to get back to civilisation, when his accommodating wife kindly let us use the shower facilities in exchange for our poor catch. Still, the sightings and experience were pretty unique, at least in my experience.

Ithaki Restaurant by Syntagma Square, Athens

During a recent visit to Greece, I gave our 26 year old sons a whistle-stop tour of central Athens. We started late in the morning  and visited Monastiraki, the Acropolis and various other locations such as Hadrian’s Arch and the Zappion building. By the time we got to Syntagma Square we felt like a decent meal and we opted for going Greek.

A short walk from the Square and down Mitropoleos St, we came upon the Ithaki restaurant, which seemed to be in a relatively decent spot, central but relatively quiet, and served a variety of Greek-style meals.

We ordered a large mixed tomato/cucumber/feta cheese Greek salad as a starter to share, which we ate during the time it took to prepare our main meals.

One of our sons ordered Giaurtlu, which consists meat with Greek yoghurt cooked in a rich cumin/tomato sauce.

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Giaurtlu

My other son plumped for Exohiko, lamb-stuffed Phyllo pastry with extra virgin olive oil, oregano, fresh thyme, onions and garlic.

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Exohiko

I went for the staple Greek meal Moussaka, consisting of layered potatoes, eggplant (aubergine) and spiced minced-meat, all topped with creamy bechamel sauce.

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Moussaka

The food was freshly cooked and regularly tasty, the portions adequate, but we felt the experience was slightly expensive as everything, including bread which is usually included free at Greek restaurants, was charged for. The meal, which cost 42 Euro (around £36), was probably quite good value by comparison with the competition and also considering the central location, so we gave the restaurant an overall rating of 7/10.

Ithaki Restaurant AthensKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

Wooden Cafe at Lake Kerkini in Greece

We went to the ‘Xilino’ (Wooden) cafe for coffees with panoramic views over lake Kerkini, when visiting the area near Serrai in the North of Greece during Autumn 2013.

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“Wooden” cafe entrance

The lake is visited by a variety of migratory birds including pelicans. It’s also a favourite for local fishermen and a place to visit for a family meal during a public holiday and/or celebration.

The Wooden cafe can be found at Lithotopos, the South end of Lake Kerkini at the junction with the river Strimon; it’s approximately an 1h 20min drive from Thessaloniki heading East towards Serrai. About 10 miles before you reach Serrai, there’s a road to the left (i.e. heading North) towards Lithotopos, Cheimarros and Kerkini, just before the new major bridge crossing the River Strimon (which Kerkini lake feeds). This exit is also before the road towards the pretty village of Strimonikon, which is about 500m to your right. Once on the way to Lake Kerkini, you simply drive for about 10 miles until you reach the head of the lake and the Wooden cafe at Lithotopos; a pretty promontory and various tourist attractions are also in front of you.

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 Lake view from the cafe

A scenic, semi-circular drive can also be had around the lake, either taking the road to the right or left; leave about 1 hour 30 minutes for getting back to this same point. This drive is particularly pleasant and colourful during Autumn.

Review of the Stanley Hotel in Athens

I booked a triple room at the Stanley Hotel in Athens through booking.com, for a visit to Athens with our twin sons in late October 2013. It cost 80 Euro (€) (about £67) for one night including breakfast.

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 Stanley hotel entrance

The hotel was chosen for its location, both central to Athens’ major tourist attractions like the Acropolis and its Museum, the Flea Market (at Monastiraki), Omonia and Syntagma Squares, the Zappion Building and Hadrian’s Arch.

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Triple room at the Stanley Hotel

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Stanley hotel bathroom

The hotel was very easily accessible directly from Athens airport via the most excellent Metro system, with a single change at Syntagma Square. At the station, the hotel’s entrance was at the side street behind the Metro exit (Odysseo’s St), meaning we did not have to cross any roads with our luggage.

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Stanley hotel statue by lift

We were initially given a room on the fifth floor, however upon inspection we requested an alternative as the 3rd bed was a made-up double settee, too short for any of us, but possibly quite adequate for a younger person. The new room on the 3rd floor was adequate, clean, quiet, with ample towels and complimentary toiletries. A free-to-use safe and a small fridge were also provided. There was a nice balcony with views of Athens and the hills.

A few minutes after we entered our room, a knock on the door announced the arrival of a complimentary tray with wine and fresh fruit, presumably as a good will gesture/apology for the initial mix-up. It was a wonderful welcome to Athens and set our mood for the evening outing and the next day’s Athens sightseeing.

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Stanley hotel breakfast room and breakfast

The next morning’s buffert breakfast, described as ‘American’ was in a large, sunny room on the 1st floor with views of Karaiskaki Square. The breakfast was excellent, both in quality and quantity, and included fresh fruit, bread, croissants and pastries as well as cooked items. Breakfast was available 7-10.30am.

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Stanley Hotel rooftop pool, cafe and view of city and Athens hills

As we had a late check-in the previous night, planned to tour Athens for the day and then catch an overnight train to Thessaloniki, and since we did not have to leave the room until 12.00, we decided to spend sometime at the hotel’s roof terrace. This provided exceptional views of Athens and its surrounding hills, as well as a reasonably sized swimming pool by a characterful bar with comfortable seating (roof terrace only available after 10am).

The hotel kept our luggage until 10.30pm free of charge, when we collected it after our day’s touring of Athens, in order to take the Metro for 1 stop to the central Larissa train station for our overnight train journey to Thessaloniki.

Overall, we felt that we had a great stay and that the Stanley hotel was excellent value for money. It is described as 4 star, which in many respects it is. Although the rooms are not more than 3 star and rather dated, the level of service, the breakfast and the location are hard to beat.

Click here to check availability and prices for the Stanley Hotel Athens.

Review of Stanley Hotel AthensKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

Greek Train Travel: A Cheap and Nasty Experience

I recently had the opportunity to test the Greek national train operating company Trainose. My sons and I were traveling from the capital Athens to Thessaloniki overnight, then changing trains for getting to Serres in the north-east where my parents live.

I booked my tickets online through the Trainose website’s route finder which is in Greek but can be translated into English by clicking an icon (top left). The tickets were pretty cheap, around £25 each. We were able to pay online and then print out tickets at home. We had booked well in advance as I had a pretty nasty experience in the past, when I saw several people standing during the overnight journey, possibly due to double-booked seats.

trainose site

Trainose website

When we got to the main train station Larissa in Central Athens, which was accessible via the excellent Athens Metro, we received our first nasty surprise: our tickets did not match the list at the platform’s entry point, where a regular member of staff was checking them while being overseen by a private security guard (which seemed pretty incongruous). However, our tickets were checked at the office and pronounced valid – although both the train number (500) and seat numbers did not officially exist.

We got on the train with some trepidation and 30 min post-departure I had to tell the same story to the ticket inspector – just as well I spoke Greek – who took the veracity of my words for granted saying ‘well, if they said so at the station I guess it’s OK, but I cannot guarantee your overnight seats’.

So, I was concerned that history would repat itself, we’d find ouselves standing and did not sleep a wink. I did see people standing as well as sleeping on the floor between carriages, but we were left unmolested. The train stopped at many stations and the lights were on/off all the time during the night.

When we got to Thessaloniki (on time) the train was split in half and we were told that the rear half would depart for Serres in an hour. It was unclear which new carriage was which, there were no rail workers in uniform to ask and someone apparently acting officially informed me that the train supervisor would turn up 5 min before the train departed to re-verify our tickets. The lights then went out and people were boarding in the dark.

Five minutes before departure said person did arrive, was in uniform and sent us to a carriage at the front of the train saying we could take any seat we wanted. However, once the train got going, a group of about 20 scouts came over and demanded that we quit our seats, showing us their tickets which they’d purchased just prior to departure.

At that stage I was not prepared to move, my sons were asleep after the awful overnight journey, and I nearly had a punch-up with the scout master. Fortunately the train supervisor appeared at the nick of time and somehow persuaded the scouts to leave us in peace. We arrived at our destination on time, feeling rather knackered. The two trains had taken a combined time of 10 hours to travel about 360 miles.

None the wiser by my experience, a couple of days later I booked a return train ticket from Serres to Alexandroupolis to visit my cousin near the North-East border with Turkey.

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Train ticket and the Greek countryside en route to Alexandroupolis

The return journey cost about £13 and were both during the day. There is a lovely scenic stretch of about 50 miles between Drama and Komotini, sometimes running parallel to the river Nestos (which rises in the Bulgarian Rila Mountains and flows into the Greek Aegean Sea), which can only be appeciated via train travel. These journeys were uneventful and the trains half-empty, however there were smokers onboard that clearly defied the smoking ban and the guard did nothing to deter them. As an aside, the smoking ban cannot be very effective in Greece, as at a restaurant we visited in Alexandroupolis there were quite a few customers, as well as one of the owners, smoking indoors.

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Smoker on train to Alexandroupolis

The Greek railway system’s pretty run down, probably due to the country’s economic situation, and currently in the process of being privatised. In the future we can probably expect slightly higher standards for much higher prices.

A Walk through the Historic Part of Central Athens, Greece

I was in Athens during late November 2012, on my way back from visiting my parents near Thessaloniki and Serres in the North of Greece. The overnight train was pretty cheap and relatively clean and quiet. I arrived at Athens Larissa central station at 5am and had several hours to kill before my evening flight back to Edinburgh. I waited at the station till daylight (around 7.30am) before walking to the centre, but I wouldn’t recommend their toilets. There were a lot of smokers on the platform, but none in the waiting room.

Zappeion, Athens, Greece

The walk from the station to the very central Omonia (harmony) Square took about 30min through a pretty built-up area. But, as it was Sunday morning, the traffic was quite light. The square is surrounded by a mixture of old, preserved buildings and a few modern ones, some of which are hotels. The traffic can be quite dense, but it’s a great central point to other parts of Athens. I opted to head in the direction of Monastiraki for its famous flea market, which also leads to the ancient centre of Athens and to Acropolis.

Greek Central Bank (Ethniki Trapeza tis Elladas)

The walk to the flea market took me past the civic centre (Thimarhion), opposite which is a newly excavated antiquities area from the 3/4th century AD and some of the most beautiful old buidings in Athens, currently occupied by the central bank.

Accumulation

The flea market itself is a chaotic, colourful experience and you can buy almost anything, from tradtitional furniture and clothes to rare records and cigarette lighters. It can get quite busy, so watch out for pickpockets.

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