Good morning dear friends! I am beginning today the series of posts about our last family trip to Athens and Belgrade, and, since the Summer holidays are almost upon us, I will take this opportunity to share with you all my tips and tricks for travelling with children of different ages.
But first things first, so today I will tell ALL about our one day in Athens with kids!
We had always wanted to visit Athens but, for one reason or another, we had never been able to until last April. I must confess, though, that we had not originally planned to do so in this occasion and that the Universe lent us a hand for making this this micro visit finally happen. You see, whenever we travel to Belgrade, we normally use the Serbian Airline Jat, because they have a 2 1/2 hour direct flight from Larnaca and, up until this year, a schedule that suited us. But in 2013 they started flying in the middle of the night, leaving Cyprus at 2 am in the morning and, while I wouldn’t mind that too much as an adult, we believe that children are a different story. Leaving so late means disturbing our children’s sleep (they are bound to wake up during the several security check ups) and, as a consequence, having to deal with two cranky kids once in Belgrade, and risking a jet lagged sort of change in their normal waking hours, so we started looking for options. And we found them.
Two months before travelling, we booked our tickets to travel through Athens and, since we were already passing by, we decided to make a short stopover in Greece and try to see the Acropolis, at least!. We booked a family room at a nice hotel near Syntagma Square and waited happily for the date of the trip to arrive. We couldn’t wait!
Then, three days before travelling Luka and Zoe got ill with tonsillitis and a ear infection, respectively, and we knew our expectations for the trip had to change.
Travelling with small kids, in general, is very different than travelling alone, with friends, or as a couple. And the key to a happy trip is, in our modest opinion, equal doses of planning and flexibility (and a good deal of patience).
What I mean by equal doses of planning and flexibility is this: We plan the basics carefully: make sure that plane tickets, hotel reservations and documents are up to date and easy to access with one hand. We book hotels that are close to the main attractions of have easy access to them. For stays longer than two nights, we chose to stay in apartments where we can take care of the cooking, w pack with care, making sure that we put extra clothes in our luggage, tons of entertainment, snacks and water (to account for unexpected delays or cancellations), we prepare the children as much as possible by talking about what will happen, where we are going, what we will see.We pack extra money in case there are long delays, research airport websites to know what services are available in the waiting and boarding areas, learn where to get transportation out of the airport fast, how much it should cost to go to our hotel and we save spare cash for this purpose. We even ask our children’s pediatrician for advice on medicines we should bring with us “just in case” (we always carry paracetamol and ibuprofen with us, for example). We are thorough and meticulous in our planning before we leave.
But once we are at the airport/train station/bus station, we know that unexpected things happen all the time and we try to go with the flow.
So,when we found out that Luka and Zoe were ill, we knew that we would need to travel with antibiotics and that they were not going to be feeling at the top of their game. And we knew that this meant quickly lowering our expectations about what we could do in Athens with our kids.
We love travelling and we want our children to learn to love it too. We want them to become globe trotters like ourselves and we believe that the key for this to happen is for us to make sure that the travelling experience is one that is adapted to their developmental age, to what they can do and to what they like. We try to mix activities that we would love to do, with child oriented experiences. We walk a lot but have money ready for a quick taxi in case they are too tired. We know the times of the day when our children are in a better mood and plan more activities during those hours. We mix cultural activities with time in parks and playgrounds where they can relax and spend their abundant energy. And when they are ill, we prioritize making them feel at ease and comfortable and we don’t push for anything at all. During our trip to Athens, this meant not walking much, not climbing to the Acropolis, and seeing the main monuments from the deck of a tourist bus.
And it was the best decision we made.
We arrived in Athens on a Sunday, around noon, after a short but nice trip from Larnaca. We went through immigration control pretty fast and found a taxi to take us to our hotel, in a beautiful ride that took us through the hills that surround the ancient city. The streets were quiet, with just a few people strolling quietly, sitting in parks, and many of them meditating and practicing yoga. From the windows of the car, we could spot a few dogs and cats here and there, a few open shops and some groups of tourists like us. But the most surprising thing of all was how at home my husband and I felt there, as if we had lived there before even though it was our first time in the city.
We checked into our hotel, left our luggage in the room and promptly climbed to the restaurant situated on the last floor, from where we knew we would be able to see the Acropolis.
It was stunning.
We had a few drinks, our jaws dropped at its beauty, and then went down to the hotel’s reception to see how far it was and how easily accessible it was to evaluate the feasibility of going with our children.
It turned out that it was pretty close by, and that the path to get there was a beautiful one, full of little shops and cafés, so we decided to give it a try. It was almost lunch time already by the time we left the hotel, so we figured that, if Luka and Zoe got too tired on the way there, we could always stop at one of the cute little restaurants, grab a bite and then continue. Or, if they were not feeling well by the time we finished lunch, we could always go back to the hotel and let them rest watching cartoons, or take a nap. In the end, this is what we ended up doing.
After they had taken a nap, we started looking for things to do, for a way to take at least a brief look at the city, but that wouldn’t push Luka and Zoe beyond their point of comfort. We wanted them to enjoy the sightseeing, not to struggle!
We were brainstorming ideas in our room, when I remembered seeing the double-deck tourist buses around Syntagma square. I went down to the reception and found a brochure with all stops, packed snacks and water for the children, and we left.
The bus stop was barely 200 meters from our hotel and, by the time we arrived, there was a bus there already. Luka and Zoe were very excited about travelling on the upper side, getting their headphones in their ears and being able to touch the tallest branches of the trees and the streets from above.
A few minutes after the bus began moving, however, the fell soundly asleep again!
The afternoon was sunny, and there was a lovely breeze that prevented the weather from getting too hot. The city felt quiet and relaxed, and it was really nice to be able to, at least, get a glimpse of it.
During the 90 minutes that the itinerary lasted, we saw Melina Merkouri, Plaka, the New Acropolis Museum, the Acropolis and Parthenon, the Temple of Zeus, the National Gardens, the Benaki Museum, Panathenaic Stadium, the National Library), the National Archaeological Museum, Omonoia Square, Karaiskaki Square, Thession Station, and Kotzia Square. We took pictures trying to avoid the heads of other passengers (a difficult task!), we chatted and we planned future trips.
By the time the bus tour was finished, we had already fell in love with the city, and decided to go back one day, to walk and walk and walk.
We took off the bus, treated Luka, Zoe and ourselves to a few scoops of delicious ice cream and went back to the hotel, where we later had dinner, watching the sun set over the city.
Early the following morning, we took our flight to Belgrade…but I’ll tell you about it in my next post!
Have you ever been to Athens? Would you like to?
I would love to go to Athens (and Crete, as well). Greece is one of our ever-pending trips (was supposed to be our honeymoon, but we road-tripped in the Mexican pacific instead). I have always felt a very strong connection with Greece.
I have only “passed” it, as the only time I have been in Greece I was with an aunt and cousin in Koroni, a small sea-town in the Peleponesse.
I absolutely love your tips for traveling with children, I might reread it for future reference.
I hope to visit Greece in the future! It’s so true that the key to success with kids is adapting to their rythm… A few days ago I went to do some shopping with the two little ones… And we spent 2 hours in the cafeteria and 10 minutes shopping : )
hehe sounds totally familiar.
The great thing, though, is that the more you go out, the more you travel, the easier it gets. We found that, this time, there was no struggle and they went through airport security, immigration controls, and even waiting times at the airport with total ease and they enjoyed every part of the trip 🙂
We also want to go back, and I would love to go back when the kids are around 10, to do the cultural routes and, of course, the islands.
The full trips are coming after the Belgrade post, and they will include a downloadable checklist as well as a list of recommended gear, divided by age group, so stay tuned! 🙂