Athens

Highlights:

Hiking up Lycabettus Hill to see fantastic 360° views of Athens and the sweet little ‘Saint-Georges’ chapel perched on the top. Running a cheeky lap, standing on the podium and holding a real Olympic Torch at the Panathenaic Stadium. Strolling the suburbs of AnofiatikaPlaka and Monastiraki. Discovering Dionysus’ Theatre and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus Theatre on the Southern Slope of the Acropolis, and the Parthenon and Temple of Athena Nike at the summit. Exploring the Ancient Agora, the Temple of Hephaistos and Hadrian’s Library. Perusing the Monastiraki Flea Markets – you’ll find both treasures and trash here. Sipping a ‘Parthenon Pash’ cocktail at the rooftop bar of our hostel with a gorgeous view of the sunset behind the beautifully lit-up Acropolis. 

Travel Tips:

I would recommend hiking Lycabettus Hill as the first activity on your to do list in Athens. From the top you get a really good idea of the lay out of the city and can make out the locations of all of the major archaeological sites that you may want to visit. It only takes a maximum of 20 minutes to get from the base to the top of the hill so it’s not even a major hike, and the views from the top are so worth it.

If you decide to go to the Panathenaic Stadium (recommended), then definitely grab yourself an audio tape to tour around with. It’s a total bargain at 3 euro for entry AND audio tape and the commentary makes sure you don’t miss out on any of the interesting (and sometimes not so obvious) features of the stadium. Interestingly, the Olympic Torch that travels to the city hosting the Olympic Games every 4 years is lit at the Panathenaic Stadium.

To visit all of incredible archaeological sites in the central Athens area you’d be a fool not to get the 12 euro ‘special package ticket’ produced by the Ministry of Culture. This ticket allows you entry into the Acropolis (which is a 12 euro entry fee on its own anyway) plus 6 other archaeological sites, including; the Northern and Southern Slopes of the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library, the Roman Agora, Kerameikos (ancient cemetary), and the Olympieon (where you’ll find the colossal Temple of Olympian Zeus). You can buy the ticket at any of the entrances to the 7 participating sites and it is valid for 4 days – easy peasy!

When visiting the Acropolis, go as early in the morning as you can to beat the heat and the throngs of tourists.

Curious Cuisine:

If you’re after a tasty snack on the go in Greece, your go-to meal is a ‘Gyros‘ – a traditional Greek sandwich made with slices of spiced meat cooked on a spit, served with salad in pita bread. They’re usually the cheapest thing on the menu which is a bonus and are served up super quick with a slathering of scrummy sauces. Apparently a lot of the world is already familiar with gyros, but little old me, from little old New Zealand, had never heard of them before and I absolutely butchered the pronunciation making my first order for one. So, just in case you didn’t know, like me, it’s pronounced ‘hear-oss’, NOT ‘jai-rose’ (doh!).

Another popular and traditional Greek fast food is ‘Souvlaki‘ – a meal of small tender cuts of meat, most often served on a skewer (sometimes with vegetables) for eating with your hands, or in a pita bread sandwich with garnishes and sauces (so pretty much a gyros), or with fried potatoes on a dinner plate. A tasty and inexpensive lunch or dinner option.

Apparently the specialty dish of the region is goat (or kid really) meat served with potatoes fried in olive oil and sprinkled in sea salt, all drizzled in a zesty lemon sauce – I can’t tell you if it’s true, but I can tell you that it’s delicious!!

Archaeology in Abundance

Archaeology in Abundance

Monastiraki Flea Market Treasures

Monastiraki Flea Market Treasures

Dionysus' Theatre on the Southern Slopes of the Acropolis

Dionysus’ Theatre on the Southern Slopes of the Acropolis

Ancient Beauty in Athens

Ancient Beauty in Athens

Greek Flag at the Summit of Lycabettus Hill

Greek Flag at the Summit of Lycabettus Hill

The Parthenon atop the Acroplis

The Parthenon atop the Acroplis

Feeling Sporty at the Panathenaic Stadium

Feeling Sporty at the Panathenaic Stadium

Fab Views of Athens from Lycabettus Hill

Fab Views of Athens from Lycabettus Hill

Paris is always a good idea – Audrey Hepburn

London

Highlights:

Admiring the masterpieces housed in the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. Geeking out over animals, rocks and dinosaurs galore at the Natural History Museum. Being enthralled by the fabulous vintage fashions and stage costumes at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Oogling the famous exhibition windows and luxurious homeware and clothing of department store Harrods. Monkeying around at infamous Kiwi/Aussie backpacker sunday session institution ‘The Church‘. Strolling through bustling Trafalgar Square and beautiful St. James’s Park. Having a laugh at the giant dancing M&Ms at M&M World (where you can find every type of M&M merchandise imaginable). Touring the Tower of London guided by a very entertaining and informative real-life Beefeater (well worth paying the extra pounds on top of the entry ticket price for the Beefeater tour) and checking out probably the world’s most insane bling collection, i.e., the Crown Jewels, housed inside – think heavily bejeweled crowns, swords, orbs, scepters and solid gold feasting utensils! Applauding a fantastic performance of the Billy Elliot Musical at the Victoria Theatre. Finding my inner child through the wonder of toys at Hamleys – ‘the Finest Toy Shop in the World’.

Lowlights:

Talk about raining on my parade! I was so excited about going to see the ‘Changing the Guard’ ceremony at Buckingham Palace, but unfortunately Mother Nature had other ideas – it rained cats and dogs and the event was canceled (booooo!). A ‘wet change’ was undertaken however, so at least I was still able to see the guards march past in their fabulous tall black fluffy bearskin hats and catch a glimpse of their scarlet uniforms from underneath their raincoats.

Travel Tips:

For riding the tube, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services in London you are going to need an ‘Oyster Card‘ – a smart card which holds pay-as-you-go credit to pay for your travel on these transport services. I was able to purchase a £40 Oyster Card that gave me unlimited travel for 7 days (even though I was only there for 5). The best idea is to ask an attendant at one of the tube station information desks when you arrive – they will advise you of the best option for your needs, or you can visit www.tfl.gov.uk for all the info before your trip.

Always have an umbrella or ‘brolly’ handy when exploring London!

A Passion for Fashion:

It was such a delight getting to feast my eyes on the most beautiful collection of fashions and styles from different eras at the Victoria and Albert Museuman absolute must-visit for anyone interested in art and design.  A selection of famous stage costumes and make-up was being exhibited when I visited, including an entire recreation of one of Kylie Minogue‘s dressing rooms – amazing! Until March 2015 there is also a special exhibit at the V&C showcasing the development of the ‘wedding dress’ and it’s take by various big name designers (think Vivienne Westwood, Vera Wang, etc.) – gorgeous! Visit http://www.vam.ac.uk for all the details on current and upcoming exhibitions.

If you’re a fan of Italian design powerhouse PRADA then my goodness you are in for a treat on the fourth floor of department store Harrods, as here you will find yourself in the PRADASPHERE – an incredibly exuberant exhibition of the fashion house’s historic collections and special collaborations and projects, a.k.a PRADA heaven!!

Curious Cuisine:

For a fun and trendy dining experience head on down to Brixton Village – a funky set of covered arcades lined with a great selection of rave-reviewed eateries in Brixton, South London. Here you will find cafes and restaurants pumping out flavours to tantalize your tastebuds from every corner of the globe – Europe, India, Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean.

I chowed down on some seriously delicious Chinese food at ‘Dumplings Legend‘ in the heart of London’s Chinatown. Crispy-skin chicken, chicken stir fry with chinese broccoli, and pork and vege dumplings washed down with traditional Chinese tea was the order of the day, and my oh my did it go down a treat!

Ok, Ok, Ok, so I know that it’s French, but there is the most beautiful Ladurée tea salon in Covent Garden’s iconic Market Building where I treated myself to a simply scrumptious serving of rose hip and strawberry gelato, four of the store’s signature macarons, and the most divine fruit tea named ‘Marie Antoinette’. I would just sit among all those pastel tones and gold trimmed edges scoffing their delicious desserts forever if I could!

Billy Elliot the Musical

Billy Elliot the Musical

St. Jame's Park Cottage

St. James’s Park Cottage

A Wet Change of Guard at Buckingham Palace

A Wet Change of Guard at Buckingham Palace

PRADASPHERE Exhibition Case

PRADASPHERE Exhibition Case

Playing with Giant Puppies at Hamleys Toystore

Playing with Giant Puppies at Hamleys Toystore

Oh just your regular homeware from Harrods

Oh just your regular homeware from Harrods

Trafalgar Square Lion

Trafalgar Square Lion

M&M World

M&M World

A Real-life Tower of London Beefeater

A Real-life Tower of London Beefeater

And we’re off! All of the saving and planning has finally come together and today is the day my sister and I start our big Overseas Adventure! Oh the anticipation! Oh the excitement! Two girls from little old New Zealand with Kathmandu backpacks packed and last kiwi pies stomached ready to explore the wonders of the world. The Grand Plan: visit Hong Kong, London, Paris, Athens, the Greek Islands, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Tomorrowland, Morocco and Italy ALL in the next four months… (then reassess the bank balances, eeek, and hopefully plan for some more destinations).

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