Greece – 4. Vouliagmeni Lake and Cine Paris, Athens

Post 4 of a series you can read my other Greece posts here.

Our final day in the Greek capital was one of relaxation. By day we swam in the fish-filled, natural spa waters of Vouliagmeni Lake, and by night watched a film on a rooftop, besides the Acropolis and under the stars.

But first came breakfast – and we’d saved the best ’til last. We’d been handed a menu for Meliartos when walking past the other day, and found its breakfast combinations impossible to resist. The combined café and deli is small but bright and airy, and although it was busy we managed to find a two-person table at the back.

We both ordered the ‘Kayanas’ breakfast, billed as the traditional Greek option. It comprised three eggs scrambled with tomato sauce, feta cheese and onion, served with bread and salad; rice pudding or yoghurt with honey; fresh orange juice; and coffee or tea. Unsurprisingly, this was a huge breakfast and well worth the 10 euros each. The scrambled eggs and yoghurt were especially delicious.

Lake Vouliagmeni, 16 September 2015 001
Lake Vouliagmeni, 16 September 2015 002

Our next destination was Vouliagmeni Lake, about 21 kilometres south of Athens. Having read about the lake’s beautiful setting and ‘natural spa’ water – filled with the tiny skin-nibbling fish used in foot spas! – I couldn’t miss it. For Steve, the fish were a deterrent rather than an attraction; but being the great boyfriend he is, he agreed to go anyway. To get to the lake we had to take the Metro to Ellinikon station, and from there catch the 122 bus. The bus took a while to arrive, and when it did it was already packed. We were paranoid about missing our stop, so it helped that there were several other tourists who shared our plan. We squeezed off the bus as they did, and it was only a short walk across the road to the lake’s entrance.

Lake Vouliagmeni, 16 September 2015 034
Lake Vouliagmeni, 16 September 2015 037

The lake was much larger than I expected. It is surrounded by tall yellow cliffs (said to contain a network of underwater caves, one of which no-one’s ever found the end of) and reached via a platform of decking covered in sun loungers. We found two loungers next to each other under a parasol and settled there for the day.

Entrance to the lake is pretty steep at 14 euros, but the facilities are good. Behind the sun loungers there’s an open-air area with toilets, showers and changing rooms, as well as a café bar selling expensive food and drinks. However, when we tried to order drinks at the bar we were told a waiter would come to us; and this never happened. We figured out that the only way to get served was for one of us to sit and wait at a café table, and then order the drinks to our loungers. Thankfully it worked, and the waiter brought over to our loungers a tray holding two giant Alfa beers and a bowl of the most moreish nuts and crackers you can imagine.

Lake Vouliagmeni, 16 September 2015 029

Lake Vouliagmeni, 16 September 2015 033

Swimming in the lake was a… unique experience! The lake bottom is carpeted in thick, soft seaweed, which caresses the soles of your feet and encircles your ankles with thousands of hair-like strands. The turquoise-green water is filled with the tiny black ‘foot spa’ fish, which you collide with as you swim. Stay in one place for 20 seconds and the fish begin to swarm around you, before starting to nibble at your skin! Ropes strung between the steps into the lake provide something to hold onto, to allow the fish to properly get to work.

Lake Vouliagmeni, 16 September 2015 022

There were several people lined up at the edge of the pool, being nibbled, so coming back from a swim I decided to give it a try myself. Within a minute, my feet were covered in a squirming black shroud that soon spread upwards to my legs and arms. The nibbling sensation was so strange – it didn’t hurt at all – but unfortunately I found it extremely ticklish, and couldn’t bear it for more than a minute without impulsively shaking them off. I thought this was a shame, because I quite fancied having all my dry skin eaten off! I tried and failed to encourage Steve to give it a go.

Lake Vouliagmeni, 16 September 2015 008

Once we’d had our fill of swimming with the fishes and lounging in the sun, we caught the bus back to the Elliniko Metro station. This was another fraught affair of staring out the window desperately looking for the station (which is considerably more difficult when most signs use an alphabet you can’t pronounce), but thankfully we managed to spot it in time and follow the rest of the day trippers off.

Back in Athens, we went in search of an early dinner, planning to end the night at a rooftop cinema called Cine Paris. I used Tripadvisor to find one that sounded good and close by – I think it was the one called Anafiotika– and were a bit disappointed when the very enthusiastic restaurant owner sat us at a table by the side of the thoroughfare, rather than on the pretty patio. But the tempting menu made up for it. Feeling like we wanted to eat everything, we decided to go for a selection of mezze. Typically, Steve ensured we ordered a lot more than I thought we needed, including two dishes revolving around cheese!

One of the first plates to arrive held three giant hunks of grilled halloumi, seemingly suffocating three thin pieces of pitta bread. One of these could have been a starter on its own! The second cheese-based dish – feta wrapped in thin slices of aubergine, then wrapped in filo pastry and deep fried – was sinfully good. These were followed by about six other dishes, which included a large plate of various grilled vegetables and grilled pork in lemon sauce. Some dishes were really delicious, others were not quite as good, but it was certainly a filling and good-value meal. By the time we’d eaten just about all we could manage, it was nearly time for our film at Cine Paris. We turned down the waiter’s offer of free fruit for dessert (!) but still managed to gulp down more free shots of Greek liquor before rushing off.

Lake Vouliagmeni, 16 September 2015 040-1
Lake Vouliagmeni, 16 September 2015 041-1
Lake Vouliagmeni, 16 September 2015 042
Lake Vouliagmeni, 16 September 2015 044

We ended up reaching Cine Paris quite early after all, so once we’d climbed the many stairs to the rooftop we had our pick of seats. If we hadn’t been so full from dinner, we definitely would have taken advantage of the cinema’s fully stocked bar that was selling drinks, hot dogs and different flavours of ice cream! Instead we just sat and waited for the film to start, nursing our full bellies.

The film was The Man from U.N.C.L.E., in English with Greek subtitles. Unfortunately, being a film about spies, it had some parts spoken in languages other than English and no English subtitles were provided! So we ended up missing a few significant plot points, although we figured out what was going on eventually. Nevertheless, it was a really enjoyable experience: the night was warm, the atmosphere charming, the film fun and our view of the Acropolis – gloriously illuminated right next to us – stunning.

Lake Vouliagmeni, 16 September 2015 055
Lake Vouliagmeni, 16 September 2015 053

After the film, we walked through Plaka back to our apartment enjoying the colourfully lit streets and buzzing air, finally feeling that we’d learnt our way through these winding, unpronounceable streets. Athens had been amazing, edifying and a lot of fun – but with our cruise to Santorini booked for tomorrow, we felt that our Greek holiday was only going to get better.

All photos and text (c) Juliet Langton, 2015. All rights reserved.

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