Tag Archives: Hop on hop off bus tours

Γεια σαυ Αθήνα

It could appear that I’ve been keeping our final summer holiday destination close to my chest, but hopefully the title of this post will have given you some idea of where we headed to get a healthy dose of natural vitamin D and a much-needed complete break from it all. We decided to head somewhere that the children had never been and a country that Mike and I had last visited close to 17 years ago: Greece.

For those of you not yet fluent in the Greek alphabet and language, the above words say “Hello Athens” and that was how we chose to top and tail our trip to this beautiful Mediterranean country, with a few days spent soaking up the history in the capital city. Our early flight from Gatwick meant that we had reached our hotel by mid-morning and were soon ready to get started on our explorations. We stayed at the centrally located Athens Backpackers hostel, which was only a few minutes walk from both the Acropolis and the Plaka. The double set of bunk beds in the bedroom might not be every family’s idea of a great start to a holiday, but we wanted something that gave us easy access to all we were hoping to see in Athens and were delighted with our choice. With a spacious living area, small, but well equipped kitchen and the all-important air-conditioning, this family studio apartment was everything we could have wanted to start off our holiday.

Following in the tried and tested footsteps of previous holidays, our first destination was to buy tickets for the Athens City Sightseeing bus tour and having stopped to grab a quick lunch, with mediocre success meeting the allergy needs of G and M, we set off around this ancient city to pinpoint exactly where we wanted to visit over the next couple of days. One of the highlights of our city stay was, without a doubt, the Panathenaic Stadium, site of a simple racetrack for the original Panathenaic games and latterly home of the first modern Olympics in 1896. It somehow felt fitting to visit this Olympic stadium following so shortly after our trip to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London for the 2017 IAAF World Championships and M in particular was keen to soak up the history by listening to their comprehensive audio tour. One of the hidden gems there for me was the small museum that housed a number of posters, artefacts and torches from several Olympic Games over the last 120 years. G and I took our time walking around this single room housing numerous treasures and delighted in spotting the posters and torches from all 3 London Olympics Games: 1908, 1948 and 2012.

The children also enjoyed our stop at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in Syntagma Square, where we watched the changing of the Hellenic parliament guard, who are known as the Evzones. This ceremony is impressive to watch, not only for the incredible historic costume, but also the slow, careful and measured movements that the soldiers make as they take up their official posts for the next 60 minutes.

Travelling to Greece in August had its advantages. Not only did we enjoy constant sunshine and temperatures that could sometimes be stifling in the city, but most Athenians have also gone on holiday and so the queues and crowds were not as big as they might otherwise have been. The one downside was that our holiday coincided with the Feast of the Assumption on August 15 and we were warned that many shops would be closed on the day. However, we planned our day carefully by having a good supply of food in our apartment for lunch and fulfilled M’s desire to visit a local playground, which we found quietly hidden in the beautiful National Gardens located just behind the Parliament buildings.

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City Adventures in Lisbon

The first few days of our Portuguese adventures were spent in the capital city, Lisbon, where we enjoyed some great days out in what was a first visit for us, even though we know parts of the Algarve extremely well. For anyone wondering where to go on a family break, Lisbon has a huge variety of choices to suit just about every age and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. We weren’t staying in Old Lisbon itself, but rather in one of its suburbs and it was extremely easy to travel in and out of the main centre by train using their Via Viagem travel card system, something akin to London’s Oyster cards.

My Mum had lent me her Lisbon guide-book before we went, which I had just about had time to skim through and highlight some things which I thought might appeal to us all, given our ages ranged from 10 to somewhere in the 60s, and I knew she had a list of ‘must-sees’ to hand too. Her Berlitz Pocket Guide also proved to be a welcome distraction for an unexpectedly nervous M, who was surprisingly anxious about our 2 hour flight as he hasn’t flown since before having his tube and spent the time studying the guide pinpointing attractions he really wanted to visit whilst we were there. IMG_0957[1]With a list as long as our arm to work our way through, we narrowed down our choices to the top few that appealed the most to us all and set off to see just how much ground we could cover in our 3 full days in the city.

Our main choice for the first day was to jump on to a “Hop-on, hop-off” bus, a firm favourite in our family as a way of exploring a new place as it not only helps orientate ourselves, but also serves as a great way of seeing some sights that we might otherwise not get to visit due to time constraints. We used the familiar City Sightseeing tours as a company we’ve used around the world with great success, but have to say that this time we were left a little disappointed. The bus-stops were poorly signed and we frequently found ourselves walking miles in an attempt to work out exactly where we needed to be to catch the bus back to wherever we next wanted to be. On one occasion, we even gave up completely having spied the bus heading away from us after a good 20 minutes standing in the blazing sun at a marked bus-stop on what we knew had to be the wrong side of the road for the direction we wanted and instead negotiated a great rate with one of the Tuk Tuk drivers, much to the children’s delight.

We took the bus and travelled out to the area of Belém, where M had identified the impressive Torre de Belém as a necessary sightseeing stop. He was particularly intrigued by the stone rhino that graces the base of one of the Tower’s turrets and insisted we explored until we found it whilst the older members of our group held a place in the queue. We waited for well over an hour in the soaring heat and it was just about worth the wait. IMG_0914[1]Both children enjoyed exploring the different levels of the Tower, honing their photography skills amongst the cannons in the artillery as well as in the dungeons and of the stunning panoramic views of the River Tagus from the top. The tower is climbed via a steep spiral staircase and a series of sequenced traffic lights indicated when it was time to climb up, down, or pause for breath in one of the rooms off the main staircase.

Having exhausted all that the Torre de Belém had to offer, my Mum was keen for us to head towards the infamous Padrão dos Descobrimentos, perhaps one of the most well-known sights in Lisbon. Sadly, the monument that depicts a number of important Portuguese historical figures including explorers Magellan and Vasco da Gama, was hidden by scaffolding, but we enjoyed the walk along the river before wearily trekking on to our ever-elusive next bus-stop. Our travels also took us past the impressive Cristo Rei statue – M’s “…like Christ the Redeemer, but not..” – the beautiful Moorish-inspired Campo Pequeno Bullring and the awe-inspiring Águas Livres Aqueduct, all of which give us great reason to visit this beautiful city again.

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