The bus had dropped us off at a cafe and, though I normally don’t just drink coffee, not having slept for two night necessitated it. We got more wifi and were overcharged for two cappuccinos, but we wre alive (albeit extremely gross-smelling) and we had a couchsurfing host lined up for that night that would be available at one o’clock that afternoon. Using that map application thing I mentioned before, I was able to look up where all the ruins and the most popular sites were located. I found a random train station that was near where all the Ancient Greek stuff was clustered and, after exploring the docks a bit, went out to explore.
Stereotypical blue and white building; you’ll see them in Athens, but mostly in small residential areas and places that aren’t very developed. Fort the most part, Athens looks like any other huge city, except with significantly more graffiti, a smaller homeless population, and random bits of “classical” Greek art spread out all over.
Totally by chance, we ran into a street vendor with a bunch of bread things and sandwiches. Since I hang eaten anything since 3:30, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask how much a sandwich was. I looked at a couple more words on my word list and braved it out. “Sorry, how much? πόσο κάνει αφτό?”
“Ένα Έβρο τριάντα. One euro thirty.” I could manage that. I got one for both of us and we agree; best sandwich ever.
Bread, feta and goat cheese, tomato, some kind of meat. It doesn’t look like it has anything on it in this picture, by it was SO good, huge, and cheap as hell. I’m thinking street vendors are the way to go from now on.
We walked past a market place which is evidently very famous in Greece because of the hugeness of the pedestrian walkway. We were there too early, but normally the street is buzzing with life and full of gypsy shops, farmers with produce, and street vendors with cheap jewelry and accessories.
We could see the acropolis up on a hill nearby, so we kept heading in that general direction until we found streets that moved farther up toward it. Like I said, Athens is pretty thick with graffiti. Especially in residential areas, it’s hard to find a pristine wall. I’m not sure that it was more pristine before the economic collapse, but I’m going to bet that it was.
The are also cats. Everywhere. They’re breeding like flies around here and are nearly as common as stray dogs.
Finally, we made it to the pretty white and blue houses! Not that Athens is too ugly to take, but this was refreshing…
We followed streets that continually got smaller and smaller, weaving through clean, white and blue dwellings connected to each other by walls. It reminded me of Hobbiton a great deal, except with walls instead of hills, and humans instead of hobbits. It’s hard to describe… Anyway, the walls overlooking the residential area and separating it from the acropolis have nails and glass shards embedded on the top so people don’t climb or sit on them. Yikes.
Then we finally made it to the acropolis. It’s cheaper to get in if you’re a student (free if you study in Europe, €3 for non-EU students), but you have to tell then where you study and give them your student ID, and subsequently be prepared for several questions about your origins. They take it a little too seriously, if you ask me. I was thinking about jumping the gate, but Teresa was with me and I didn’t want to make a habit out of doing illegal things.
TOURISTS. I can’t imagine what this is like during the summer. We’re supposed to be here during the off season! Jeez!
The Parthenon has unfortunately been destroyed several times. First, in the fifth century BCE (I think… Once again, I remind you I’m bad at dates and history even after having read the signs), after which many of the statues and fragments of the old acropolis were buried in caves and stuff by the Greeks to preserve them (which were discovered in the late nineteenth century and are a critical resource for its reconstruction). Afterwards it was rebuilt and then suffered under the hands of various other groups of people, including the Romans, the Turks, and the Christians. The temple of Athena has been used as a place of worship, a harem (under Turkish rule), a church (Christians), and something else I forget. Unfortunately, a Turkish attack laid waste to much of the acropolis, and it has been under reconstruction now for something like forty years.
I think old written things are the coolest.
The acropolis and a couple other things took up just enough time to keep us busy until we could meet our host, Christos, a 35 year old programmer from one of the smaller islands of Greece but living in Athens since 2004. He was extremely gracious, taking us to a beach an hour away in his car (the beach at Marathonas) where we snorkeled in crystal clear water and fell asleep on the beach. Finally, he took us home by driving us through the mountains so we could overlook the countryside and smaller cities surrounding Athens.
Later, we went to a supermarket to get ‘lunch’ food (it was after 4pm by the time we got back) to tide us over until dinner. He had found a coupon for σουβλάκι/souvlaki, one of the most popular Greek dishes, which can be served as meat on stick or in pita bread (essentially what we call a gyro) on a Groupon-like website. We got SIX of them for only €6, and they were huge. We were all in enormous pain from all the food afterwards, so took a walk around the city before heading back home.
In the US, Greek food seemingly tends to be all lamb. Traditionally, though, real Greek souvlaki is actually chicken or pork. According to a local, lamb is only used for large family meals on Sundays.
Christos had to work early the next morning and didn’t feel comfortable with us being in the house while he was gone, so we opted just to check out in the morning before he left for work at 6:30 instead of leaving our stuff there and coming back to get it later. After something like six hours of sleep (although I woke up in the middle of the night coughing from allergies or sickness or something), we headed out on the metro back to Syntagma station where we had met him the previous day. We walked back to the acropolis area and used our tickets to get into some of the places we hadn’t seen the previous day, like the theater of Dionysus and some other old stuff. We were actually looking for the “first cemetery of Athens” but got distracted and really enjoyed ourselves touring the area surrounding the acropolis.
We also stumbled upon the Museum of the Acropolis, which now houses a great deal of the stuff that was found (that had been buried by the Greeks after the first destruction of the Parthenon). It was about on par with the Montmartre cemetery in terms of coolness. The elaborate sculptures depicting mythological stories, the ancient writings’ busts of old Greek gods and mythical beings scattered over three full floors… It was amazing. I love mythology, and seeing all of these things, made by human hands hundreds of years ago, was breathtaking. By far my favorite piece was Hercules wrestling with the triton (have man half fish). I had to sneak a picture of it from far far away though, because you’re not allowed to take pictures in most of the museum.
Stupid security guard, how do you like that? I got a picture of the statue AND you. Pfft.
Teresa had been in contact with another couchsurfer who was from Athens for a couple days, and we had sent her a message letting her know we were available most of the day. We had already bought a ticket from Athens to Santorini (one of the Cyclades islands) which left at 6pm, so we had a few hours to kill after finishing at the museum. Back to Syntagma again, and we began walking around looking at all the shops and seeing if we could find a SIM card for my phone and some cheap headphones, both of which we managed to succeed. We happened upon a guy from Wind, an Italian phone company with a branch in Greece, who was selling SIM cards. It sounds sketch, but these people are literally all over the city, and my SIM card works so… Whatevs. He mentioned wanting to travel and not having had the chance because jobs were hard to come by in Greece and he was living on €350 a month in Athens, so I gave him our couchsurfing information and told him he had a place to come to in the US if he ever wanted to visit. I love making random friends! Secondly, we found a super sketchy electronics store with lots of headphones, chargers, phone cases, and the like for really cheap prices. We bought a couple pairs and went on our merry way.
As if the day weren’t already pleasant enough, Christina turned out to be basically the nicest and most fun 19 year old I’ve ever met. She greeted us with her thick Greek accent, which she said was on purpose, having seen people react more positively to foreign accents than to her British accent which she was capable of reproducing. How strange!
She greeted us with a LOT of enthusiasm and even came with a gift for Teresa, an origami rose she had made at home with the words “Greece 2013” written on it.
But seriously, how cute is that?
Christina showed us all around the area by pointing out the bars that were frequented by which type of people (bars are separate by type of music and one of crowd basically everywhere in Europe, as opposed to Kirksville, which has one club and one actual bar…). She couldn’t come up with an English equivalent, but explained to us the idea of ζερζελο/zerzelo, which is basically what happens when a lot of people get together and have a good time by dancing and drinking and talking. Maybe a good word would be ‘the haps.’
She brought us to one bar to see if her friend was there, but ran into the owner instead (this friend supposedly hung out there often, regardless of wether it was a drinking hour or not). Turns out it was the owner’s birthday on Thursday, and Teresa’s is on Friday, so we figured out how to say happy birthday in Greek while he and Christina were talking. When we were leaving, we both told him happy birthday and he invited us in for a shot! He gave us homemade raiki that his friend had made for him. We got a random guy from a table outside to take the photo for us!
Unfortunately we ran out of time after touring only a few other places and made our way back to the train station that would take us to the port to catch our boat to Santorini. This was one of the most depressing goodbyes ever, because we were having so much fun together and Christina seemed really sad to see us go. But we made a new friend, and of course we hope to see her again! She saw us off and made sure to give us her best wiggly hugs. Hah!
We jumped on our boat an hour before it set sail and stayed up on deck until the sun went down. The view was incredible, the temperature was perfect, and we even got to do the stereotypical standing at the front of boat and reenacting that scene from Titanic. Oh, and we sang “My Heart Will Go On” really loudly.
Is this real life?
Reading about this and seeing it in a photo is not going to do it justice.
Also, there’s something indescribable about watching the silhouette of an island pass by on the horizon at nighttime, in relief against the sea, which you can only see because of the water’s surface shimmering under the moonlight. This, guys, is something you have to do before you die.
Our ferry takes until 1:20 in the morning to reach Santorini, at which point the owner of our hostel is going to pick us up and drive us a few km to his hostel, where we have a private room booked for two nights. The cost for all of this? €8 per person per night. How awesome is that??
Anyway, things to know about ferries before I finish this post:
Most of the staff are pains in the butt. Sometimes they will let people sleep, sometimes they will just wake you up and tell you you can’t sleep.
Everything is expensive on board. Bring groceries. Luckily, we had a bag full of Gouda, bread, Nutella, and apples.
Air of the sea is incredibly humid. You will be sticky.
Free wifi only happens if you buy something else.
Phone signals only work if you’re next to an island.
Very few things that I have seen beat the beauty of the Greek islands. Those few things include gofres, Greek frappés, and Hugh Jackman.