Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hotel Grande Bretagne Athens

Hotel Details
Hotel: Hotel Grande Bretagne
Dates: July 22-23, 2014
Rate Paid: $129 + 6,000 SPG points/night
Regular Room Rate: $404/night
Upgrade: Used Suite Night Awards
Suite Room Rate: $650/night
Point Redemption Value: 4.6 cent/pt
Upgrade Award Value: $246/night

After our amazing luxury stay at the St Regis Grande in Rome, we were in for another treat the following night in Athens. We flew into ATH airport in the evening, so we decided to overnight downtown before driving 4 hours to the western coast of Greece.

A part of the Luxury Collection brand, the Hotel Grande Bretagne is one of Athen's most prestigious hotels where world political leaders often frequent. Fortunately there were no high profile dignitaries there during our one night stay as I've heard the extra security measures become quite cumbersome for regular hotel guests.

My father elected to save some money and have us take the metro from ATH airport into Syntagma Square where the Grande Bretagne was located. While the M3 metro train was the much cheaper option (€14 for two people), it did take a good 45 minutes on what was basically a subway train making all the 15 local stops along the way.

Somewhere around Stop #6, the train started to get very crowded. In fact, my mother and I became separated from my father who was on the other side of the train car by our luggage. Given I was in my stroller in a packed car, we weren't able to maneuver to him, so we just endured being packed in like sardines. And at every stop, more people would force themselves into the train car like it was the last one for the night. Needless to say, my father wasn't able to take photos of us, but I'm sure you New Yorkers can imagine exactly what I'm talking about.

We finally made it to Syntagma Square where we followed the signs to the closest exit to the Grand Bretagne. Unfortunately, we arrived around 9PM and there weren't any doormen posted outside to help us carry our bags. We carried them into the elegant lobby (sweating profusely of course) and went to the check in desk. For Starwood elites, you have the option of checking in upstairs in the 6th floor, but that option closes during normal business hours, so we just checked in normally in the far end of the lobby.

Upon check in, we were informed we had been upgraded to a suite (thanks to using a Starwood Suite Night Award, rather than the generosity of the Grande Bretagne), but we didn't press the issue. We were introduced to our personal butler George who escorted us up to our beautiful two-room suite.

We were also given a nice welcome gift - a bottle of the local Greek spirit, ouzo. Of course, my parents were still on antibiotics and I was still about 16 years away from legally drinking in Europe, so we weren't able to partake. The air conditioning was refreshing after our crowded train ride and the Athenian humidity.

We then walked into the bathroom, which was almost as big as the bedroom. Classically styled but still pretty unremarkable, it was far from my mother's dream bathroom. However, she did fall in love with the Grande Bretagne branded bathroom shampoos and body washes.

Of course, we didn't trek all the way into central Athens for a hotel room, so my father went out in search of some late night Greek food. The butler suggested we take a table at the hotel restaurant downstairs or next door at the sister Starwood property, the King George Hotel, but my father decided to forego fine dining in favor of Greek street food, Souvlaki. After asking the Concierge downstairs, they directed him to walk a few blocks west.

At first, my father was a bit unsure about meandering around a foreign city known for its rip off artists, especially down a small one-way street without much foot traffic...wondering if that was the last time he would see my mother and me, clutching his Blackberry phone as if he had someone to call if he needed emergency help.

He continued to walk, passing by a few blocks of closed shops, graffiti covered buildings and a desolate alleys...

But then he heard a lot of activity - crowds of people talking and light music playing. The street opened up into a small square full of young Athenians enjoying a Tuesday night out. Every building lining the square seemed to be a hip restaurant/bar with outdoor seating. It was the kind of place my father would have loved to bring my mother back in the days before I came into their lives, but these days, my father just wanted to find some greasy souvlaki.

Before my father came back to the room to sleep, he wanted to check out the stunning hotel rooftop view of the Parthenon lit up atop the Acropolis. Truly, it was a sight that a simple point & click camera could not do proper justice.

After a good night's sleep, my parents woke me up early the next morning at 6AM because we wanted to enjoy a leisurely 6:30AM breakfast at the Grand Bretagne's famous rooftop restaurant and then get to the Acropolis before they opened at 8AM. After a few pretty standard American style breakfasts at the otherwise grandiose St Regis Grande Rome, we were very impressed with the bounty of local Greek items (yogurts, pastries, nuts) at the Grande Bretagne's breakfast (free for SPG Platinum members).

And of course, you can't visit the rooftop without taking another look at the amazing Acropolis...which we were about to go visit up close!

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