Three days in Athens…Day 3

Day 3

This was a Sunday and we had already planned to be at the Parliament Square (Syntagma) to watch the Change of Guard ceremony. Reached the spot at 10.30 am; the ceremony began around 10.45 and ended by 11.30 am. Interesting spectacle watching the Evzones and their royal gear!!

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Went around the Parliament building and walked through the National Garden to reach Zappeion a landmark building, which is currently used for conferences and exhibitions. Spent some time looking around the building and a week-end market inside the halls.

IMG_8997aCame out and hailed a taxi to make our way to the planned lunch at Avacado restaurant at Nikis, highly recommended by TA members. We had to wait for about 20 minutes as the place is popular and the number of tables is also limited. True to its status the restaurant’s menu was very unique with several signature dishes. We ordered a mix of Asian and Mediterranean- Spicy Thai soup, Falafel, Mushroom forest burger, Om Shanthi -a delicious creamy curry and rice- and a Carrot Cake total cost Euro 23 for three pax). The food was very delicious!! Not to be missed. Unfortunately they don’t take reservations so you have to reach and wait until you are seated.

After a relaxed lunch took a taxi to reach Lycabettus hill. Took the cable car to the top and enjoyed the panoramic views of the sprawling city as we waited for the sunset. As the sun went down and the lights went up, it was spectacular to see the Acropolis lit up against the backdrop of Aegean Sea afar. There is a small but beautiful church atop.

Getting a taxi on return may be tricky. A couple of taxi guys waiting at the gate wouldn’t switch on the meter and were demanding a fixed (higher) fare. We waited a while and soon there was a taxi which we jumped in and reached our apartment early, as we had to pack up and leave for Santorini by the next morning flight.

Three days in Athens-A heady mix of ancient and modern

Day 1

We had a great 4 nights 3 days stay at Athens and our experience was mixed; on one side you have the classical Athens, once the cradle of western civilisation and birthplace of democracy with impressive architecture, most of which are in ruins leaving it all to our imagination and on the other side the modern Athens – a  sprawling mega city teaming with people everywhere and nightmare traffic in narrow roads.

Day 1. Reached Acropolis entrance around 10 am. Not many visitors and the weather was pleasant. First stop was Theater of Dionysus and then walked up via the Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre (much better preserved than Theater of Dionysus and reached the grand edifice The Parthenon grounds. The area around main Parthenon Temple is cordoned off due to renovation work so we had to just go around the temple amid ruins and renovation debris. You can also see the Lycabettus hill and the modern Athens city jungle from the Acropolis.  Spent little more than an hour and walked down to Roman Agora through winding lanes.

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Theater of Dionysus

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Passed the Athens University Museum and stopped at a cute little café Klepsydra(?) for some Baklawa and coffee. Reached Roman Agora and were put off by the aggressive hawkers (looked like Africans?) at the gate trying to sell some color threads. The Roman Agora was a disappointment as there was practically nothing except a few pillars.

TRG_7504aMoved on to Adrianou Street to reach Ancient Agora. We were hungry by now, partly due to the mixed aroma of food from the restaurants lining up the street.  Had a quick lunch at a corner restaurant with a local beer Mythos. Just realized that it was past 3 pm and the Ancient Agora was closed for the day.

Walked in to the by lanes visiting the several colourful shops selling souvenirs, knickknacks, clothes etc.  Bought ice cream at the Hans &Gretel themed confectionery shop and walked further to realize we were already into the thick of Monstiraki Flea Market! The market was teaming with people locals as wells tourists. Spent a couple of hours in the area and then took the metro from the Monastiraki Station and reached our accommodation close to Acropolis Museum station.

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Hans and Gretel!!!

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Delightful Dubrovnik! Part 1 of 3

Exploring the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, Days 1 and 2

Day 1. Arrived Dubrovnik by Croatia Airlines from Zagreb by 4 pm. Checkout and baggage collection took around 30 minutes. Our pre-arranged mini-van with a driver was waiting for us. The airport itself is perched on a mountain top and our excitement started as exit the airport and drove to the city on the winding road along the cliff … the views are stunning!

Sitting majestically at the strategic edge of the Adriatic overlooking the calm blue waters on one side and protected by lofty mountains on the other side, Dubrovnik is justifiably one of the world’s most magnificent walled cities and you will only understand when you have been there yourself. Now a Unesco world heritage site, the city is also Croatia’s upmarket tourist destination as it offers best of the both worlds- a historic old, walled town with this well preserved massive long and winding walls as well as a modern city with all the paraphernalia of entertainment and refined luxury.

Checked into our apartment in the city’s leafy neighbourhood Lapad, rested a while and got out for a stroll along the harbour waterfront – a great place to people-watch as well as the many tiny boats and fancy yachts of all sizes pass by.DSC_6195a

Spotted Croatia’s popular supermarket Konzum- (its everywhere!), bought some food stuff and a Dubrovnik day pass that allows you limitless travel on buses and trams and returned to retire for the day.

Day 2: We began the day with a sumptuous breakfast at Peppers Eatery – one of the waterfront cafes we noticed the previous evening.DSC_6201a

Took a leisurely walk to the old town along the leafy streets, marvelling at old stone buildings and classic Croatian villas. (You can also take bus no 4).DSC_6192a

Our first stop was the Museum of Modern Art housed in an amazingly beautiful villa converted in to nice museum. Spread over three floors, this excellent gallery showcases Croatian artists’ works of art, paintings and sculptures. Its lunch time and you are literally spoiled for choice with eateries in the old town area serving Croatian, Mediterranean, Italian and many more. And …don’t forget to grab a chilled Croatian Karlovačko beer.IMG-5389

Our next stop was Srd Hill. Took the Swiss-built cable car to reach the top and… the views were stunning! This IS the place from where you can get the best views of the walled city, the vast and mighty Adriatic dotted with islands such as Lokrum and Elaphiti.

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There is an upmarket restaurant Panorama at the top. Menu is pricy but its worth the quality and the views you get! It was a bit cloudy, windy and cold. As we spent the time taking in the scenery around with snacks and coffee at the restaurant, the sun was slowly going down and we were treated to a dramatic sunset!

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(If you are an early diner, Panorama restaurant is also a good choice as you have a double whammy of watching Dubrovnik glowing at night against the backdrop of moonlit ocean! Or choose a restaurant by the cliff (yes there are a few like the Buza Bar or Restaurant Levanant) or one of the several eateries along the beach for an al fresco dining.)

Off the beaten track – Hotel Stanica Ravno

A day-trip to the outback in Bosnia to Hotel Stanica Ravno

After a wonderful but exhausting tour inside the cold and wet Vjetrnica Caves, We were already feeling hungry and Bojo had already planned our lunch at Hotel Stanica Ravno — a 15 minute drive from the cave and…. we never knew that we were in for another great experience!

Sitting in the middle of the vast Bosnia-Herzegovina wilderness, Stanica Ravno (Ravno Station) has a unique history behind it. The century-old stone building used to be a busy train station during WWW II with a railway that carried passengers, soldiers and prisoners all the way between Vienna and Dubrovnik! The route has fallen into disuse long back but we were told it still offers a scenic cycling route for the adventurous.

The building has been beautifully converted into a boutique hotel with a nice bar and a restaurant. The restoration has been carefully and tastefully done; the main hall of the erstwhile station has been turned into reception and a bar, the station master’s, his  deputies’ and a few work rooms are now rooms to stay, its basement has become a wine cellar. The station even had two small prison cells – now converted into storerooms!!DSC_6601aIMG_4026a

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We chose to have an al fresco lunch as the weather was salubrious and spacious vine-shaded terrace was inviting. The food was amazing! Some fantastic, perfectly grilled vegetables and meat from the local farm (they call it Peka meat). The local wine under their own label was simply delicious! After a hearty meal,we were shown the wine cellar and the hams that were curing in the dry cupboards. We bought a couple of 15 years old wine and bid good bye to the place reluctantly as we had to drive along to our next destination….Mostar!

Madrid Musings:Mercado de San Miguel

Vibrant, colourful, exotic, noisy and a bit chaotic,…these words came to my mind when we entered Mercado de San Miguel food market, Madrid.

One of Madrid’s oldest, well-known and not-to-be-missed landmarks in Madrid, just a couple of hundred meters from Madrid Royal Palace, the San Miguel market has been a favourite rendezvous for Madrilenos (or Madridians or Madridans?) for a few centuries and until now.DSC_0507a

Once inside the large, beautifully carved iron and glass structure, rows of stalls welcome you with an indescribable concoction of strange flavours floating in the air. Benches and stools (yes) were crammed with locals and visitors while many more were hovering around trying to find a place to squeeze in and enjoy the exhilarating atmosphere.. Joining the happy-go-lucky crowd, we squeezed our way through to scan the culinary fare on show.DSC_9141a

An exotic variety of dishes were on display – from the most popular Spanish Paellas and Tapas to mouth-watering Calamari fries (neatly packed in designer cones), bizarre-looking Gulas on bread slices to spiky Sea Urchins(cooked and top open), from cooked bi-valve molluscs to steamed Octopus (in full and just the arms) …..indeed quite exotic!

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Gulas on bread

The quick-serve bars were doing brisk business serving a range of Spanish cocktails – the ubiquitous Sangria to colourful Mojitos and Bajitos and a range of Spanish and Port wines – to customers who just stood at the stall counter drinking and chatting unmindful of the world behind. A walking bar (yes!) – a tall Spanish guy was doing his rounds selling (yelling!) wine by the glass, served from his cleverly designed large tray that held a number of wines and glasses.

It was well over 2 pm and having done a half day walking tour of Madrid, we were hungry and the whole market atmosphere was so invigorating that we felt even hungrier!

I settled for plate of seafood Paella and a large glass of Sangria to wash it down. Though never tried to be adventurous with food, the sea-urchins somehow caught the fancy of my daughter and me and we decided to bet on it for 4 Euros. Mustering up my guts, I took a small scoop of the yellowish meat inside the shell and tasted….Far from getting repulsive, we actually started liking it and finished it in no time! It tasted like a dish made of mashed potato with a stash of ground fish.

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Bi Valve Mollusc

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The lunch was complete with another famous Spanish Churros dessert.

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Churros in chocolate sauce 

One thing that I observed during our stay in Madrid…. Madrilenos just love life…. 24X7.. From the cream-da-la crème to the commonalty, I could feel a jolly good bonhomie in every place- squares, restaurants, Al fresco dining places along the picture-postcard boulevards, bars you name it…. Mercado San Miguel is a typical example.