Athens re-cap, one month later

Tracy,

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The trend continues, having my final blog post always delayed. Because returning home and getting back into the rhythms of real life and work take over. So here now, finally, are my musings from my 2 days in Athens.

The massive ferry boat from Paros to Athens was a trip. Total insanity. Happily Aimee’s skills at online research before the trip served us well. She’d been warned that this was often jammed full of people (to the point of not having seats for everyone on board sometimes). Her research also found that renting one of the small cabin rooms was only an additional 20 euro each, so we decided that was an indulgence worth taking. And it was. It was the standard chaos of boarding (yet it somehow always works) then you have to go find the concierge area to check in, where they issue you cabin keycards. Having never been on a cruise before, I imagine this is maybe similar. It had two bunk beds and a tiny toilet area, with one small porthole window. I was a bit worried about motion sickness, as that’s often an issue for me in any case, and the winds/rough seas of the last few days were continuing. But I camped out in the corner of my small bunk, facing out the tiny window at the horizon (and took my dramamine, of course) and it worked out well. I’d get queasy when lying down, but I managed to sleep a bit sitting up/lounging like that. And I had my podcasts to keep my company. *smile*

Landed at the port that afternoon. Our hotel had arranged for a driver to pick us up for the long-ish drive into Athens, and he was wonderful. Very gregarious and welcoming to his city, telling stories in a booming voice with expansive hand gestures (but always one hand on the steering wheel!). Finally into the city and checked in to our rooms. Great location, near Syntagma Square, so easy 1-2 mile walks/wanders to lots of the big sights. Weather was lovely. And, in a fun bit of happenstance, Aimee’s parents were in Athens at the same time. (They’d booked a package tour of mainland Greece, but one of our Athens evenings overlapped). So we made plans to meet them for dinner. Wandered around the area that afternoon. Encountered several of the aggressive street sellers (scammers?) who try to force “free” bracelets or roses or CDs on you, and then demand payment. Even though I knew better, this guy was so insistent that I take his bracelet of “harmony and love from Jaimaca” that I said, “I do not have any money on me. I cannot pay you for this, but if it’s genuinely free, than alright.” After they tied it on our wrists, the demand for a “donation” came. I repeated, “as I told you, I don’t have any money on me so cannot give you money” and then he instructed his buddy to take our bracelets back, which we were fine allowing. It’s just frustrating when you know it’s a scam but somehow want ones clearly stated words to actually be honored, and they’re not (because, again, it’s a scam). It did help us dissuade the other guys who kept trying this. “Your friends already gave us bracelets and then took them back when we didn’t have any money.” They’d shake their heads, “oh, they shouldn’t do that. This is supposed to be about harmony and love.” (But you’ll notice they didn’t give us a “free” bracelet either. Not that we needed one). The area was vibrant and lovely, with lots to see and do. And with so many centuries of history, there are ruins everywhere and architecture from so many different styles. And some great graffiti and modern stuff, too. So cool to look all around.

  

Google Maps showed “Hadrian’s Arch” was nearby, so I dragged my pals over to see that. Which was very cool, as looking through the arch shows the Acropolis on the hill, and the sun was in that “golden hour” time.

Then we were off to meet Aimee’s parents for dinner. The restaurant had a great view of the Acropolis and nearby hills. Athens is huge and striking, with these giant hills everywhere. Great sunset during a meal of laughter and shared stories, as we were re-capping our trip and her folks were just beginning theirs.

Back at our rooms that evening, and the hotel provides a selection of fresh fruit daily (we were gifted some watermelon slices upon check-in). I was beyond delighted to find a pomegranate on offer. Not only do I love them, but there was something so extra wonderful about getting to eat one IN ATHENS! Even if they are a bit tricky/messy at times.

The next morning was my only full day in the city, so the others graciously let me set the itinerary (as they had another 1.5 days after I flew home). I’ve never taken a “Food Tour” before on my travels, but at dinner, Aimee’s folks mentioned one of their fellow travelers had done a “beyond feta” tour and raved about it. That company was booked, but thanks to TripAdvisor, we found “Athens Walking Tours” offered a small group food tour for the following morning. So I was able to book it that evening for the following morning. That morning, we wisely skipped breakfast and walked over to the meeting space. While waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, our lovely guide Georgia pointed out a Starbucks nearby. I’m always fascinated at the difference between global chains when traveling. (For example, while in Greece we saw several Starbucks’ advertising their new cheesecake bliss drinks). But this was our first time going inside. Loved seeing the different types of foods on offer. And it was hilarious to receive drinks with their names written in the Greek alphabet…except for Amy, because apparently they knew how to spell Amy in the roman alphabet, but not Liv? Liv got her cup first, so Amy was super excited, and then understandably dissappointed to just see “Amy” on the cup.

The food tour was very cool, and we got to try so many different things. By the end we were stuffed and unable to finish it all. I particularly loved all the information we were given. Georgia, as a lifelong Athenian, really loves her city, and loved explaining the cultural and historical influences and meaning behind the different dishes, etc. We wandered through farmer’s markets, and tiny tiny shops that only specialize in making one thing. We stopped in a great local place for a wonderful selection of mezze plates.

And the others in our group (maximum group size is 14) were also lovely. Loved learning people’s stories, and many exchanged contact info afterwards. Alix has always wanted to go cage diving with Great White Sharks in South Africa, and the couple from Capetown had such great advice and gave her their email. The women from Australia kept going back for more of the flavored alcohol shots (at 9:30am). It was just lots of fun, and took us into parts of the city we wouldn’t have explored (or even known to explore) on our own.

Our guide also took us into the Church of Ayioi Theodoroi. We’ve been in several Greek Orthodox churches on our trip, and they’re amazing. Chandeliers and gorgeous icons and these small metal tags attached to shrines.

But most have had a “no photos” policy, which we’ve respected. So it was delightful to learn that we were allowed to take photos in this church. It was amazing to respectfully wander the aisles and see everything. And we learned that the metal tags each have a specific image (eyes, leg, baby, etc) as that’s the specific item the person is praying for/hoping for the saint’s intercession on their behalf. I learned a lot. Also, man, that incense smell is such a wonderful nostalgia catholic mass memory.

Then, on our own, we wandered through several of the shopping markets (I bought a “genuine designer leather” small backpack for only 8 euro, to be my carry-on, so I could check my backpack on the way home. You’ll all be SHOCKED to learn that the zipper started to break the second time I unzipped it. Ha. But it did the trick for my flight at least). Then we wandered over towards the Acropolis Museum, intending to do the museum first and then climb the hill to the site itself. But I remembered that several of the other sites throughout Greece had actually closed much earlier than the closing time listed online. So we asked the museum employee, and she told us that the Acropolis itself was indeed closing sooner than it said online but the museum was open later, so with 1.5 hr until it closed, we took off for a sweaty fast walk. Stood in the long line for tickets. And then began the climb up up up. Tragically (for me) we couldn’t explore the theatre, because they had a concert scheduled for that evening. So that was a bummer, not getting to be in that space. Still, I did get to look down into from atop the hill. I may have said a few quotes from Antigone: “All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” and “There is no greater evil than men’s failure to consult and to consider.” felt particularly apt. And more hopefully: “It is my nature to join in love, not hate.”

Then more climbing. All the marble steps everywhere (and not just at the Acropolis site, which makes sense). The sidewalks of modern streets in Athens have marble curbs. Is it so abundant it’s actually cheaper than concrete here? Or is the city choosing the extra expense to make a statement? In either case, it was very cool. (Although some of the marble pathways up/down hill were a bit too slippery for my tastes). Seeing the parthenon was amazing, but I was more struck by the views from atop this hill. I hadn’t quite realized how MASSIVE Athens is. The city just unfolds in all directions. It’s truly impressive (I guess that’s what millenia of being a city will do to urban sprawl). And approaching sunset, it was particularly striking.

I’d been considering skipping this site in favor of seeing something else, but I’m so glad that I changed my mind and actually went. It was very cool. And then we found ourselves (along with a few hundred others) being shoo’ed out and back down the hillside, as they were closing. Then we had another brisk walk back to the museum, which was closing in an hour. So there wasn’t time for a “read all the signs” exploration, but it was still super cool. And the new design of the museum is great. Portions of the floor are glass and one can look down through 3 stories to the excavated ruins beneath the building. The informative video had useful information, but dear god do they need a better copy writer. It was the most dry awful way to deliver this information. Made me itchy with how bad it was. One doesn’t need 3 minutes of just listing the dimensions and number of columns, for fuck’s sake. Ugh. Let’s get a new script, with some sparkling adjectives and vibrant details, and a better voice actor, and this thing would be so much better. Still, the history of the space was great to learn. I didn’t know that much, and hadn’t realized how many times it’s been attacked and destroyed and rebuilt and looted. Again, millenia of wars and empires taking over and changing religions, etc.

Now it’s my final hours in Athens (for real. It’s 9pm and I leave hotel at 3am for my flight). We stop at a place for a cocktail “farewell to Athens” toast. Then a stop in this very popular asian stir fried noodle place. Pick your noodles. Pick your sauce. Pick your veggies. And then wait in this chaos of hip people for them to call your number. But it was the perfect final meal. Fast and tasty and spicy, and portable, in a folded paper container with chopsticks. Then back to the hotel room to pack up, and to try to get 4 hours of sleep (I managed 2.5 hr. Couldn’t turn my brain off to get to sleep). Ugh. My taxi driver to the airport was a sweet old man, but holy crap he was falling asleep at the wheel and I wasn’t sure I’d make it. Super scary. I kept trying to cough or make some noise to try to wake him up. Eek! When we finally got to the airport, he asked me a question or two and I responded with my few words of Greek and he LIT UP. Honestly, so excited about it. Darn, I should’ve asked him a question in greek at the beginning of the 45 min drive and maybe he’d have stayed awake. Ah well. Checked in for Turkish Airlines flight from Athens to Istanbul. Then 5 hr layover at the Istanbul airport, which was very cool. If it’d been 6 hr apparently the airline will provide a free day tour of the city. But I had to stay in the airport (I could’ve paid for a visa and taken a taxi to the Blue Mosque and then rushed back, but that seemed to stressful to attempt by myself, on 2 hr sleep). The airport was actually super cool. So much amazing people watching (being a major hub, a connection point between Africa, Europe, and Asia). So many sights and sounds and wonderful foods to try. They’re scheduled to be opening a new airport soon, because this serves too many flights for its size.

Oh, waiting to board the 14 hr flight to San Fransisco, we had to pass the second security screening at the gate (I’m thinking this is a US requirement, but might be a Turkish choice). Then I notice some hullabaloo. Turns out a passenger had unplugged the giant industrial power cord that serviced all the security screening computers and metal detectors at the gate, so he could plug in his phone. Like, what?!? I’d get using an available plug, but to UNPLUG something that’s already there, especially when it’s this super thick industrial cord, that’s crazy to me. The security guy was just so frustrated and disappointed in the man who’d done this. “Why would you do this?!? Now we have to re-boot the whole system. The flight is going to be delayed now.” Ugh. We were only about 25 minutes late, thankfully. The air crew on Turkish Airlines were amazing. They took very good care of us, and the food was pretty great (for airplane food). I was sat next to THE WORST MAN in the world, but the flight itself was fine. Honestly, he was just this loud drunken boorish old man, sexually harassing the flight staff, being loud and rude, he spilled his drink, he kep throwing/dropping things that would then roll around the cabin floor, he kept poking me to try to ask me questions (as I’m wearing giant headphones watching a movie). Then, because he’s the type of old white guy who won’t get hearing aids but needs them, when I’d respond, he’d loudly exclaim, “Huh?!? I can’t hear you.” He passed out halfway through dinner (yay!) but with a toothpick still in his mouth (boo!!). I kept having visions of him aspirating the tooth pick and we’d have to make an emergency landing somewhere. So when he jolted himself awake from his snores, I told him to remove the toothpick. Sheesh. Oh, and he kept offering me his sleeping pills. And with all of his gross unwanted harassment, etc, those offers sure seemed like, “Here, would you please roofie yourself?” No thank you! And I was most upset that others might think we were traveling together, as he kept talking to me. Barf. I’m the kind of person who spent 30 minutes watching Youtube videos at the airport so I could say “thank you” in Turkish, so being incorrectly associated with such a rude entitled gross asshole…yuck! Still, the flight staff were great. And they offered this amazing non-alocholic raspberry drink. Super refreshing. And I managed to get about 4 hours sleep. And then the flight staff let me stand in the galley area for about 2 hours, writing on my phone. I just can’t be seated for 14 hr straight.

Then a few hours at SFO (one of my favorite airports). I was able to get a decent (but pricey) pork banh mi sandwich (yay for good airport food). Then the final flight to get home. My September 20th had 34 hours in it and I was awake for 28 of them. Ugh! It was really really good to be home. I told my dad that I wanted to honor his birthday SO MUCH that I arranged to have an extra ten hours of it. Ha.

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