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Today was Athens, and we had a private excursion arranged someone in our Cruisecritic contact group. The plan was to meet around 8 o’clock and get into Athens before the crowds.

It was bit after 8 am by the time We all met up in the car park at Piraeus. Some confusion was caused by the fact that the itinerary said that our arrival time in Athens was 8am whereas in fact we docked sometime before 6am – we were already docked when we woke at that time. Also there was some confusion amongst the crew – Guest Relations suggestd at about 7:30 that the ship would be cleared and passengers could go ashore at 8 am; but down on deck 2, at the gangway, the crewmembers there were happy to allow people ashore immediately. So we could have got away before 8am.

In any case, we got going by about 8:15 and drove into Athens. I had assumed that we would be going straight to the Acropolis (to beat the crowds) but that wasn’t the case – we went to other sites first, then we had a drive round central Athens, then a brief visit to the Acropolis Museum to give us the context, and then the Acropolis itself. All of which was good, but had the effect of delaying our arrival at the Acropolis until 11:30 by which time it was heaving with visitors. It took us 30 minutes to reach the actual platform on top, at which point Val & I decided that this simpple wasn’t the rewarding experience that we’d been looking for, so we headed straight back down and waited for the minibus.

Of course, it’s also possible that our actual experience of the Acropolis would never equal our expectations, whatever time we visited it; that we will not, in fact, learn anything more meaningful about it than we already know from books and films. The English writer & philosopher Alain de Botton would certainly agree with this – ‘it is often best not to travel’ is his thesis.

After this experience we drove to the Plaka where we had a couple of hours. We had lunch in a taverna, walked around a bit and took some pictures, and then bumped into a couple with whom we’ve become very friendly on the cruise, Fred & Maureen from New Jersey, and had a quick chat with them. Then back to the bus, and a scenic drive by the sea in a different part of Athens, and then back to the ship by about 4pm.

The morals of all this are:- a) make sure you fully understand what a tour will consist of, and what the itinerary is: b) that on the 11-night cruises Solstice is likely to dock in Athens quite a while before the advertised docking time.

I must make it clear that this is not in any way meant as a criticism of Dave who organised the excursion; I applaud what he did, and truthfully we enjoyed it overall.

Final tip (drawn from experience from other people): do NOT expect taxi drivers at Piraeus to be at all reasonable. There are taxi prices published at the terminal, on a big board. The fare into central Athens is shown as 12 euros. Fred & Maureen got into a taxi at the terminal expecting to pay 12 euros, and just as the taxi was leaving decided they’d better check. 12 euros per person, was the taxi driver’s view, in fact it could even reach 30 euros…. They demanded that he stop the taxi and they got out. I understand they then got a bus into Athens; just 1 euro, but it did go all round the houses.

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