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 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.
I was showing one of our sons and his cousin the area and we (they) opted for a meat restaurant.
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.
The food was delicious, the service courteous and prompt and the ambience as one would hope when on a Greek holiday.
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.
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.
A large, centrally posistioned lighthouse, is a prominent landmark of Alexandroupolis.
Alexandroupolis 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 morningÂ 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.
My other son plumped for Exohiko, lamb-stuffed Phyllo pastry with extra virgin olive oil, oregano, fresh thyme, onions and garlic.
I went for the staple Greek meal Moussaka, consisting of layered potatoes, eggplant (aubergine) and spiced minced-meat, all topped with creamy bechamel sauce.
The food was freshly cooked andÂ 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 Â£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.
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.
“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.
Â 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.
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 (â‚¬) (about Â£67) for one night including breakfast.
Â 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.
Triple room at the Stanley Hotel
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.
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.
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. TheÂ 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.
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 hereto check availability and prices for the Stanley Hotel Athens.
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 Â£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.
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.
Train ticket and the Greek countryside en route to Alexandroupolis
The return journey cost about Â£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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Delphi features a modern town, as well as the ruins site of the Oracle of Delphi in Greek mythology.Â Marcus has painted a wonderful picture of the ruins in his post. The new part of the town is home to the Delphi Archaeological Museum. If you’re a fan of Greek mythology and architecture, do not miss this museum.
â€œMamma mia, here I go again
My my, how can I resist ya
Mamma mia, does it show again
My my, just how much I’ve missed yaâ€
Nope, I am not an ABBA fan. Iâ€™m just not into the 70s pop (or the fashion), but to my surprise, I fell in love with the 2008 movie Mamma Mia, an extremely entertaining musical featuring ABBA songs. Of course, my love for the movie had a lot to do with the starring actors Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth, as well as the gorgeous locations where the movie was shot, on the islandsÂ Skopelos and Skiathos (which is also on our list).
Many people visit Athens briefly on the way to a Greek island cruise, but the Greek capital itself has plenty of attractions to keep you entertained for much longer. Athens is featured in our best cities to visit in Europe post. Here are a few of the most popular things to do in Athens:
Probably the most well-known sight of Athens, you really can’t leave without visiting the Acropolis and the other famous buildings it includes, such as the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena. Just a couple of years ago they opened the long-awaited Acropolis Museum nearby, in a modern but somehow suitable building, and combining the two gives you a better understanding of the importance of these ruins.
I’m pretty sure most people go to Athens expecting to see a few ancient things, so what better place to check out than the National Archaeological Museum? It’s a world-standard museum featuring Greek artifacts ranging from the prehistoric era through to late antiquity.
The Ancient Agora
Yes, more very old stuff, the Ancient Agora is a collection of of ruins of buildings from ancient times and includes Temple of Hephaestus which they say is one of the best examples of an ancient Greek temple. The Agora was, long long ago, the heart of Athens and these days it’s a particularly pleasant outing because there’s plenty of greenery scattered throughout the ruins.
Right in the middle of Athens, the Syntagma Square might already be quite familiar to you from the TV news when protests take place in Greece; it’s home to the Greek parliament house as well as the occasional protest, and you can watch a changing of the guard outside parliament every hour. One nice bonus at Syntagma Square is that there is high-speed free wireless internet access for everyone there!
Speaking of squares, you can’t miss the Plaka either. Close to the Acropolis, the Plaka area is the historical part of Athens with narrow winding streets and plenty of old buildings, and heaps of atmosphere. This is a great place to go for a meal or a drink, especially at a typical Greek taverna.
You can reach the top of Lycabettus Hill, the highest part of the city of Athens, either by funicular railway or taking an interesting, rambling walk. The views over Athens and to the Parthenon – complete with the sea in the background – are definitely photo-worthy.
Think of Athens and you can’t help but think of the Olympics, and Panathinaiko Stadium is a big part of where it all began. It’s built entirely of white marble and is really an impressive sight, and still gets used to day – but sometimes for events that the 1896 Olympians certainly wouldn’t have imagined like Metallica concerts!