tom911 goes to Dublin and Athens

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  1. tom911
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    I'm on a paid $550 AA ticket for the round trip to Dublin, and a separate UA award to/from Athens which zeros out my UA account after 24 years with them. Long list of reasons I'm not flying UA but won't go into them here.

    Departed SFO at 2:40pm on Tuesday for DFW. Flight time was 3 hours and I watched a movie on my tablet on the way down (12 O’Clock High with Gregory Peck). My lunch choice was a very good cheese tortellini.

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    After about an hour in the Admiral's Club lounge, off to the gate in the D terminal at DFW for the 9:55pm departure. The business class cabin was half-empty earlier in the day, but apparently a British Airways flight at LAX was cancelled and some passengers were rerouted on AA via DFW. Business was sold out.

    My dinner choice was blackened salmon and for dessert a raspberry torte. Tablets and Bose headsets were handed out and I listened to CDs by Boston and America. About 2 hours after departure, I was asleep and probably slept 5 hours.

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    Woke up about 90 mins before arrival at London Heathrow and had scrambled eggs over buttermilk biscuits for breakfast.

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    Flight time was 9 hours and we landed at 1p.m. local time. Had to transfer from T3 to T5 bus bus. Enough time for a 45 min BA lounge visit for cold drinks, then a 3:30pm departure on British Airways to Dublin, landing at 4:50p m. After clearing passport control and baggage claim, I caught the express airport bus down to O’Connell Street and was at my hotel about 6:30pm. I'm at the Maldron Hotel off Parnell Square on a 56 euro rate ($63.50). On check in I was offered the option to pay in dollars or euros and was presented a quote for dollars which was about 3-4% higher than the euro bank rate. Needless to say, I never pay in dollars when traveling as I have a credit card with no foreign exchange and this is something I'm always on the alert for.

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    Last edited: Feb 12, 2015
  2. tom911
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    High temp in Dublin on Wed was 7C/45F. Didn’t feel that cold. Headed out just before 8 for dinner on O’Connell Street at a cafe that always has dinner specials. Tonight they had shepherd’s pie and a soft drink for 8.5 euros ($9.65). There was a fish and chips place a few doors down with similar prices. Dollar is strongest it’s been in 13 years.

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    Walked around Temple Bar. My favorite place there, Porterhouse Brewing Company, was sparsely occupied, though it may be that music wasn’t ready to start at 9. Whole area seemed pretty quiet tonight. I was back at my hotel just after 10 and called it a night.

    GPO on O'Connell Street (General Post Office) which has a lot of history attached to it relating to Irish independence:

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    In Temple Bar:

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  3. tom911
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  4. tom911
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    Have safely arrived in Athens on Friday night, checking into my hotel just after 6:15pm. There is a two hour time zone change. The day was not without some drama in my quest to get here, and I’ll share that information at the very end of this report. It will likely make some of you go to sleep.

    THURSDAY

    After the 9 euro ($10) hotel breakfast, set off about 10:45 down O’Connell Street to the River Liffey. I wanted to check out the Gibson Hotel where I have a future stay planned. It’s the very last stop on the Luas (tram) line out to the Docklands area where the ferries to Wales depart. I walked down from O’Connell Street and it was 27 minutes and a lot of traffic lights. Won’t be doing that again.

    Along the way down to the river:

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    Dublin Spire:

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    Gibson Hotel:

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  5. tom911
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    View of the area around the hotel (still needs some work, and one tall building frame on the right has been like that for years now since the building bust here):

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    Bought an all day Luas pass down there for 6.8 euros ($7.75), hopped on the tram, and went to the National Museum of Ireland at Michael Collins Barracks. Collins was one of 90 executed after the 1916 Irish Rising. The barracks housed British soldiers from the 1700s, when first built, until Ireland was granted independence in 1922. They have displays inside showing details of the defense of positions in Dublin by Irish soldiers and the surrender letter given to a British general. Pretty interesting material. There is also a display covering WWI and Irish participation.

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  6. tom911
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    Irish rocket factory for WWI:

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    Back on the tram a couple stations further out to take a look, passing the Guinness Brewery.

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    Turned back around and got off at Smithfield, a place I’ve always meant to check out, and home to Jamesons Distillery, as well as another Maldron hotel (chain I frequently stay with). You’d need a daily tram pass to make this location work. Rain started coming down around 2pm and had some light rain on and off the rest of the day (so much for rain due in late at night on the morning news).

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  7. tom911
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    This side of the Jamesons building has been converted to cafes and a hostel:

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    Tram ride again to Jervis Street, where I got off and walked across the River Liffey to the Grafton Street shopping area, then St Stephens Green, a prominent park.

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  8. tom911
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    A different tram line, now, and off to Dundrum which has a deli I like inside Ireland’s largest shopping mall. My lunch there was 11 euros ($12.50) and had to be one of the biggest carved turkey sandwiches I’ve ever had. You don’t see these in the U.S. This one was topped with stuffing, cole slaw, and salami. Not sure they really needed the salami.

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    Back into Dublin and a walk to my hotel, arriving after 6pm. After lunch not much of an appetite for dinner, so just ran down to a nearby Tesco around 8pm for some milk and snacks and went to bed early. Had to be up at 5:30 in the morning for my flights to Athens.

    New Dublin photos start here: http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Ireland/2015-Dublin-Ireland/i-sfkV54G
     
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  9. tom911
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    And now, about that trip to Athens today:

    This morning I checked in at kiosk in front of the Aer Lingus counters at the Dublin Airport for my UA-issued award trip to Athens via London Gatwick. The first segment was on Aer Lingus, and I was able to print a boarding pass for that. No boarding pass printed for London Gatwick-Athens on Aegean, so off to the counter to speak with an agent.

    Aer Lingus agent advised me that they do not have an interline agreement with Aegean and could not check my bag all the way through, nor could they print a boarding pass for me. I would have to go to baggage claim and retrieve the bag at Gatwick and then check in at the Aegean counters. I only had an 80 minute connection and she pretty much told me I was just not going to make the connection with the hoops I would need to go through before the flight to Athens. She said the options were to call my “travel agent” , who she said should never have allowed this booking to begin with, and make alternate arrangements with them (“them” being UA) or go ahead with the checked bag to Gatwick. I opted to check the bag to Gatwick, went through security, and started looking at flight options of my own before calling UA. Figured I’d have better options from any of the London airports than hanging around in Dublin and not taking the first flight to Gatwick. There was always the possibility the Aegean flight could be delayed from Gatwick, or a miracle that I would make the connection. I wasn’t counting on any miracles this morning.

    Called UA via Skype to sort out options if I misconnected and dealt with the first agent for 23 minutes, the majority of that on hold while she checked with the support desk after she could not find any same-day options from any London airport. Line dropped at this point and I called back. Spoke to the second agent and she also could not find anything same-day. There were no award seats on the Aegean nonstop from London Heathrow at 4pm (there were some paid seats), though she did suggest I could use more miles and get an F seat. I don’t have the spare miles to do that. She moved onto flights the next day (Saturday) and found an 8pm departure to Munich with arrival there at 11pm, and flight to Athens on Sunday morning. No Aegean award availability from London airports on Saturday, either. The second agent also said 75 mins was the minimum connecting time at Gatwick, but I reminded her that MCT does not account for having to reclaim bags, exit the secure area, and check back in. It would have to be much longer with that scenario.

    My feeling was that this booking was due to IT issues at UA and should never been allowed. Now I’m looking at arriving in Athens two days late because that’s where the economy award seats are.

    This trip reminded me of AA award travel to Athens for the Olympics in 2004. When I misconnected due to NYC weather and airport closures, they rerouted me to London Heathrow and bought me a revenue ticket on Olympic Airways to London. Didn’t hear anyone at UA say they would do that.

    So….boarded the 0850 London Gatwick flight and landed at 1008. Door opened at 1015. Claimed my bag at 1031. To my surprise after some searching about, the Aegean counters were in the same terminal Aer Lingus arrived in, so no train connection to a different terminal, though a little but of a search to find check-in counters. Walked up to the Aegean counter about 1045, after a brisk walk that had me sweating, and they sent me to a shared kiosk to a couple windows down to check-in. Wasn’t able to complete that as the kiosk would not recognize my passport after three tries, so back to the Aegean agent. She was able to complete check-in and then asked for 30 pounds ($46) to check a bag. As I was handing over my credit card I asked about taking my winter coat out of the checked bag and trying to do carry-on instead, and she was fine with that. Worst case, she said, was that I would pay at the gate. Looking at my UA itinerary, though, it says first bag on both segments is free. I had forgot all about that in the fine print.

    Went through a metal detector at security and was sent to secondary, shoe removal and rescreening through a radio wave detector. Things were not progressing well. Gatwick has a huge duty free area you have to maneuver through to get to the gate, and I made it into line at the gate at 11:05. At 11:10 I spoke with the gate agent who wanted to weigh my rollaboard carry-on. Scale was not working. She tagged it through and did not charge me. I was in my seat at 11:15 for an 11:30 departure. Too close for comfort with an international flight and the most frazzled I’ve been in 24 years of international travel.

    Won't be booking these types of awards again, even though the UA web site features them. Just too much risk.
     
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  10. tom911
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    SATURDAY

    Late start today and wasn’t out the hotel door until about 10:30. Didn't sleep well last night. Hotel breakfast was 19 euros ($22) so passed on that.

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    Looks like I’m only two Metro stations away from Parliament and Syntagma (Constitution) Square, so decided a morning walk was in order. Dark clouds overhead and not sure the good weather would hold, so not planning the Acropolis today. Along the walk in passed a sign for the Athens Classic Marathon Course.

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    Arrived at Parliament and the ceremonial guard was in place and went though a slow-motion routine involving a variety of steps. One thing they allow is for tourists to stand next to the guards and take photos. One young woman mimicked kissing the guard for a photo. A army officer in fatigues came and took her camera.


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  11. tom911
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    Walked through the shopping area nearby and saw the Acropolis from several vantage points.

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    Hadrian’s Library was down at street level, a very large complex with columns and ruins:

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    Popped into Monastiraki Metro station where I purchased a 5 day Metro pass for 10 euros ($11.40). The 30 minute airport trip at 8 euros ($9) is not included in it.

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    Last edited: Feb 18, 2015
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  12. tom911
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    Some dancers were entertaining to Gangnam Style and one of them lept over the group:

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    I would not be able to perform this maneuver from a running start:

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    Rain started coming down right after this so I retreated to a gyros shop for a pork gyros for lunch:

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  13. tom911
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    Walked through some of the shopping streets nearby:

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    I was approached by one person who may have been a shop owner who said he liked my shoes (actually hiking boots from Columbia) and asked where they were from. He said California (good guess - I did purchase them in Vacaville). I kept on walking. Tonight I was approached by another person in the Placa, an area I went for dinner, and he asked where I was from. He said he worked in Saudi Arabia with Americans from Denver. He wanted me to come into his bar so he could give me a card. Time to keep on walking again.


    Stopped in a very small church with lots of silver artwork:

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    Last edited: Feb 14, 2015
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  14. tom911
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    [​IMG]

    I found myself in Omonia Square. This is where the hotel I stayed at during the Olympics in 2004 with Natalie Coughlin’s family is located. At that time it was the Omonia Grand and was very likely a 4-5* hotel. Today the building has turned blue, has a new name, and is closed up. They had entertainment every night in the adjoining square during the Olympics.


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    A good time to insert some Olympics pool photos from Athens in 2004 and a younger Natalie’s first gold medal (of 12 Olympic medals now). My first digital camera in 2004 had very limited features so no great 60X optical zoom like the current one and it was very slow to process the image which limited taking multiple photos. That was my first trip to Athens and the current one is only my second.

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    Last edited: Feb 14, 2015
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  15. tom911
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    Started the trip back to the hotel from the Omonia Metro station:

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    After arrival at the Metro station near my hotel (Megaro Mousikis Metro), I did head up a block to get a photo of the U.S. Embassy.

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    Back at my hotel for a break and went back out at 7 for dinner. Will cover Saturday night onward in the next installment.

    Athens photos are here:

    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Europe/2015-Athens-Greece/
     
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  16. tom911
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    SATURDAY NIGHT

    Set off by train around 7pm to the Acropolis train station. Walked by the Acropolis museum and through some park area below the Acropolis.

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    From there a wander about the Placa area. These are mostly narrow streets, some pedestrian-only, where there are cafes, shops and restaurants, as well as a lot of homes. It’s easy to lose your bearings and have to sort out where you may be in relation to the Acropolis train station. I made it out to a multi-lane road last night and the only thing that saved me was a road sign pointing towards the Acropolis and eventually found the street with the Metro station. I really had no idea where I had ended up before then and seemed to be walking in circles. One of many shops:

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    Was raining on and off all evening. Found a nice dinner spot with tables inside a sealed outdoor seating area. My meal was a tomato and cucumber salad, moussaka (made of lamb and eggplant) and ice cream. Added on a half-liter of Greek beer. Total bill just under 15 euros ($17). Wandered around some more after dinner and wasn’t back to the hotel until 10:30pm.

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  17. tom911
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    [​IMG]

    SUNDAY


    Out about 10:30 for the train out to the Olympic grounds which I last visited during the Olympics in 2004. Time has taken its toll. The event pool (the one with the stands) and the training pool look in good shape with bright blue water. Looking at the stands at the event pool, some of the flooring is falling apart, and the media seats (the ones in dark blue) that have some woodwork/tables around them look like they’re falling apart. Doesn’t look like the seats have been used in years and there’s visible rust on railings. It's all fenced off so this is the best photo I could take.

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    Compare that to 2004:

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    The grounds, which they never got around to landscaping in 2004, remain that way. I recall dust clouds back in 2004 when the hot afternoon winds came in. Lots of weeds about.

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    The park itself it getting a lot of use from dog-walkers, runners, and those training their children to ride bicycles (loved listening to a parent yelling driving instructions at a bicycling child in Greek). Not a single event being held there on Sunday, The stadium seems to have corporate suites in place (saw Fujitsu and Carrefour), so it must be getting some use. They sure do have a lot of empty land out there as you’ll see by the photos. Maybe change will come as the Greek economy improves.

    So, let’s start with some photos.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2015
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  18. tom911
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    Olympic torch in 2004:

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    Olympic torch in 2015:

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    Stadium in 2004:

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    Stadium in 2015:

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    Last edited: Feb 15, 2015
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  19. tom911
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    Stadium interior in 2004 (can’t get inside today):

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    Big screen TV at end of pool in 2004 (another Gold medal):

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    Big screen TV in 2015:

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    Last edited: Feb 15, 2015
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  20. tom911
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    Some photos of the pavilions and grounds today:

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    Velodrome:

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    Exhibition Hall:

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    Not sure what this building was for and no sign in sight - biggest one on the grounds:

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    And one of the park users:

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    My 2004 Olympics photos are still on-line here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/2004-Olympic-Games-Athens
     
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  21. tom911
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    After the Olympic grounds visit, back on the train a couple stops where I saw a Goody’s for lunch. They feature hamburgers and chicken sandwiches and advertise Philadelphia brand cream cheese on several of their items (not mine). I ordered an Extreme Club Sandwich for 7 euros ($8) and realized what the “extreme” part meant when they called my name. Apparently there is a smaller version but mine was already delivered before I saw that.

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    Another 35 mins or so by train out to the Port of Pireaus, 7 miles from the city center of Athens. This is the largest passenger port in Europe and handles 20 million passengers a year. Plenty of ferries in different sizes about. Good time to mention this city is full of graffiti and the trains are not immune.

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    The first ferry did a 180 degree turn in the harbour to back in:

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  22. tom911
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    [​IMG]

    Back to the train station where I spotted this resting patron:

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    Train back into the city center to Monastiraki. A lot more people about there compared to Saturday. There were some musicians out of sight in this photo.

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    Walked uphill to the Roman Agora for some photos, and then through the Placa area on different streets than the night before looking at lots of folks drinking and dining.

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    Wrote most of this on Turkish Airlines today between Istanbul and Dublin. Deleted a bunch of photos but probably still have too many for this segment. Reminder that the right arrow key helps to go through the photo galleries on my website very quickly (or you can use the slideshow feature).

    MONDAY

    Lots of cloud cover today but my only full day left to visit the Acropolis. The south slope, near the Acropolis Museum, is only two trains and three stations from my hotel, but I was in the mood to walk so set off from the hotel about 11 on the trek over. Along the way I walked behind Parliament which had a heavy police
    presence along some official looking buildings/homes, and came out at the old Olympic Stadium which is nearby.

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    Not far from there, archaeological grounds and the Temple of Zeus (that photo from the day before). Nice view up to the south side of the Acropolis from there.

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    Entry is 12 euros (about $14) and there isn’t an escalator or elevator, so a bit of an uphill walk. Back in 2004 we approached from the other side, so the hike up from this side was new to me.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2015
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  25. tom911
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    Along the way up:

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    original water system:

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    entry gate at the top:

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