Istanbul to Athens

This post is written by Katie, about her solo trip to Turkey and Greece.

I woke at 6:30am to catch the 7:30am Havatas bus to the airport. Check out from Bunk Taksim was easy, and I was even offered tea or coffee! I had to decline though, as I needed to go catch the airport bus.

Bunk Taksim was great for both my group and as a solo traveller.  The large lockers (with electronic locks) in the dorms and cubbies in the wall at each bed (each with two outlets) more than made up for it.  Bunk Taksim had very nicely laid out rooms and beds (although they did indeed fit as much as possible into the space).  The roof top bar had awesome views, and pretty decent prices (10 lira for a Efes, 10 lira for chicken tenders and fries, 14 lira for chicken wrap and fries).  My group really enjoyed the Wednesday night Jazz and Pizza (unlimited Jazz, pizza and wine for 35 lira).  The washers and dryers on site were convenient and not too expensive (15 lira per load).  The front desk staff was friendly and helpful (although not too helpful on restaurant recommendations).

Comments on each type of room I experienced at Bunk Taksim:
6-bed shared bath dorm (5 nights during the conference): A bit tight, especially if you were sharing with people you did not know.
6-bed women’s dorm with ensuite bathroom (2 night after the conference): Much more spacious, beds were laid out such that you could not see any other bed from your bed, the ensuite bathroom was not clean so I opted to use the common ones in the hall instead, electronic lockers in the bathroom area worked well.
Private twin with ensuite bathroom (Piyush and Jake shared for one night after the conference): Bunk beds, a tight somewhat awkward ensuite bathroom, overpriced for what you got.

I got to the bus with 12 minutes to spare, stowed my big backpack, and settled in. The bus is just 11L, runs every 30 minutes for most of the day, takes about 40 minutes, and has a pick-up point near Taksim Square (actually between Bunk Taksim and Taksim Square). The metro would have been a bit cheaper, but would have been more crowded and more difficult to reimburse. All in all, the bus worked out nicely.

During the drive I enjoyed looking out the window. Since my arrival in Istanbul, many political flags have been hung. We started noticing these on the Asian side on Saturday, but now they were very visible from the bus.

The bus arrived at the international terminal at 8:05am. It was not clear where the Aegean check-in counter was, so I had to wander around carrying my hiking backpack until I found it.

At check-in, I found that I will have to claim my checked bag in Athens, go through customs, and then recheck the bag in Athens since Naxos does not have customs.

Once through passport check and security, I went to the food court for breakfast. I opted for Popeyes – but the biscuit (which I am usually the most excited about) was the saddest biscuit ever – very dry and burnt.  After finishing my breakfast, I waited near my gate, watching all the Turkish planes come and go.  As a side note, I could find no free wifi in Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.

The 10:35am Aegean flight to Athens was completely full. The plane was SX-DGN. My 12F exit row was nice and spacious! We sat at the gate for a long time, and then on the tarmac for even longer – we did not actually take off until 11:20am.

My plane from Istanbul to Athens

The flight was uneventful. The views of Istanbul were nice on take off, but we were too high to see anything in detail. My window fogged up about half was through the flight, and never unfogged, so I was unable to see anything during the second half of the flight. We received a simple meal of drink, cheese pastry, and fig bar. It was okay, but not great.

The snack box on the Istanbul to Athens flight

We landed at 12:15pm and parked at 12:19pm. We had to take a bus to baggage claim and customs. I got through customs in a breeze (going into the EU is always easy). Then I dropped my big backpack at the luggage drop off in the arrivals area of the Athens airport (13 euros for <24 hours) and headed for the trains. I bought a round-trip airport ticket (14 euro) and caught the 1:30pm blue train. It was pretty full, with no seats left, so I had to stand for the long 42 minute trip to Syntagma (arrived at 2:12pm). At Syntagma I transferred to the 2:20pm red line towards Ellinko. I exited at the first stop (‘Acropoli’) and followed the directions Athens Backpackers hostel had provided in my hostelworld booking email confirmation. I had no issues finding the hostel using these directions – it is actually really close to the metro station.

Check-in was slow because there were three other people also checking in. But I was given a six-bed dorm on the fourth floor. I was not assigned a bed, so I took what seemed to be the one remaining bed. The dorm is not designed and set up nearly as well as Bunk Taksim (the set up provides no privacy, there is no storage near the beds, each bed does not have a power outlet), but it will do for one night.

I bought a 1.5L water from reception for 1 euro and headed for the Acropolis.  I showed my UT ID and got the discounted 6 euro ‘non-EU student’ entrance rate to the Acropolis. I entered from the ‘south slope’ and followed to signs to the Acropolis. The climb up was gradual, but the view at the top was awesome! Athens is so large, and completely surrounds the ruins. The actual ruins themselves – especially the Parthenon – were also spectacular. The site did a good job of discussing their reconstruction and conservation efforts, including the harm that some previous attempts did. I had planned to be at the Acropolis and look out at the city until it closed (at 8pm, I believe), but the weather got windy and seemed to threaten rain, so I started down. It began raining as I was about half way down, so I hurried back to the hostel.

Structure by the South Slope entrance

Structure at the top of the Acropolis

Huge Greek flag at the top of the Acropolis

Athens sprawls like crazy! 


Me in front of the Parthenon

A cat chilling next to an old cannon

I looked at TripAdvisor once at the hostel and found a good looking place for dinner: To Kati Alto. It is a family restaurant, although I only interacted with Jennifer, the daughter-in-law of the owners. She grew up in Iowa and went to college at the University of Arkansas before attempting a post-grad degree at Minnesota and deciding to move to Greece before finishing it. The restaurant has no menu – Jennifer told me and showed me what was on offer today, and I chose Greek salad, beer, and spinach crepes. They were all wonderful, and a lot of food.  I probably would have been fine with just the beer and salad. I would recommend this restaurant with no reservations.

A Greek beer…

…and a Greek salad.

After dinner I went back to the hostel and up to the rooftop bar. It was happy hour, so I bought a 2 euro beer and joined a group of about 5 that were talking. They were from all over, and most were long-term travellers. I also enjoyed my welcome shot of Greek orzo, which was very similar to Turkish raki.

Rooftop bar at Athens Backpackers

I went down to my dorm, showered (after renting a towel for 1 euro), and got in bed to get on the Internet and figure out what to do in Naxos. However, the Internet was down, and another girl said she had been told it would be down until at least tomorrow. Well, that’s frustrating…

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