There are currently 196 countries in the world today, and I am happy to say I have now visited a total of four. Naturally, I do not count the United States, because I have lived there my entire life. A brief overview of my travel includes: border of Mexico when I was a child, the United Kingdom in the summer of 2008 and currently, Japan in winter of 2008, and just this last week Greece. My good friend Gregory and I embarked on an adventure through Greece for a total of 5 days and we enjoyed every minute of it.
First, I must dispel any notions of danger when traveling to Athens during the debates of austerity measures. Gregory and I were not at any point in danger during the riots and strikes. In fact, from what I could see, the riots and strikes were peaceful and planned. Even though we took measures to avoid rioters and police, we did walk through streets with heavily armed police and loud protesters. To be honest, this is proof that things are magnified in the media and can deter many people from traveling to other places due to negative cultural observations.
We arrived in the evening at 18:00 and were able to take a bus directly from the airport to Athens city centre. The bus had to drop us off about three stops sooner in order to avoid the protesters and closed streets. We walked swiftly past parliament to Syntagma Square then to Plaka where our hotel was located. The hotel was perfectly situated between the Acropolis, Plaka, Syntagma, and Monastiraki. Hotel Kimon had a informative and welcoming 24 hour staff, as well as comforting accommodation.
Our first day was spent hunting down the the tourist information centre. Apparently there isn’t one, well at least during the time in which we visited. We gave up and bought a ticket on a city touring bus which gave us 48 hrs. of free travel to all the historical sites, as well as a map, discounts, and a headset for a recorded tour guide. It was very pleasant and allowed us to see the entire city. We visited the Temple of Zeus, the Arch of Hadrian, the National Archaeological Museum, and the Panathenaic Stadium on day one. My favorite was the stadium (being a runner and all), and was very interactive because you could touch and climb and run. I could not help myself but to take a victory lap around the stadium track where the first modern Olympics was held in 1896 and where the marathon finished in 2004.
The second day we spent on the Acropolis to see the Parthenon and around Parliament to see the changing of the guards. The New Acropolis Museum was incredible and housed all of the friezes and statues. Unfortunately this meant all of the friezes outside were fake and they were also doing a lot of construction on the structure (taking it apart), so it had lost most of its magic.
The third day was spent in Delphi, home to the oracle, and spiritual centre of Greece. Again, there were ruins, a museum, and a town. Honestly, by this time I was weary of ruins, broken statues, and pieces of pottery. Though the stories and history still intrigued me, after a while it starts to look the same:old rocks, old statues and broken buildings. I appreciate the history and still did my best to absorb it, but the magic and the enchantment were missing. I had felt like I had spent most of my time leaning about a culture of the past and not enough about the present culture. The ruins and statues were untouchable or replaced with a replica. I strongly believe that things have a time and place in which they exist and it is natural for them to perish. It is important to preserve, but much more important to understand and record and then put those things back in their natural place.
Just as I was losing faith in the mystic of Greece, we went to Hydra, a island off the coast on our fourth full day. I was in heaven. Not only was I in heaven but I was also in shorts and a tee. It was 65 degrees, sunny with a slight breeze, and not a cloud in the sky. The island has no cars or motorbikes. It is walking, biking, or donkey. For the first time I sunk my toes into the Mediterranean sea and I could see down to the bottom on the sea (well mostly). The water was clear and blue and as cold as Lake Travis during the spring. Gregory and I ventured around the island and enjoyed the day and the culture as it was, untampered.
Our last full day was spent in Athens. The goal of this day was to immerse ourselves into the living culture and to do so each in our individualistic manner. Gregory decided to wonder around and go up to the Acropolis again (I was a bit of a bugger when we went up the first time due to the cold and the wind). He also visited Hadrian’s Library and the Ancient Roman Agora. I decided to take a 6 mile run around Athens. I went through the Sunday market, the gardens, and visited Hadrian’s Library and the Agora. The run was peaceful and fun except for the fact every set of eyes I passed stared me down until I was out of sight. I could only imagine a combination of three things could warrant me such a nasty look: I am woman, I am a woman running, and/or I am a woman running in shorts. I got over it quickly and just pranced around as I normally would. The rest of the day was spent around the city, particularly the market (bazaar). It went on for blocks and had a variety of knick-knacks, trinkets, and bric-a-brac. You could buy a shower head, a cell phone charger, an ancient coin, clothes, artwork, pipes, or a chair. Anything and everything you might ever need was found at this market. The best part was bargaining and bartering. I was able to talk a man down to 5 euros for something he had priced for 9 euros.Gregory purchased three coins (he bought two –if he got one for free) that were from the late 1800s. We ended the day with the First Cemetery of Athens and a two euro gyro. It was a wonderful day to go home.
Cultural observations and tips:
- There are several tavernas and restaurants on each street to choose from. Most of them present a menu on a pedestal and the owner of the taverna will be standing closely to influence your choice. Gregory informed me that the tip is not as important as thanking the owner of the restaurant for the food and service.
- It saddens my heart, but it is apparently normal for dogs and cats to be sitting out in the middle of the street. Everywhere we went we saw a stray dog sitting in the door of a clothing store or on the side of the road barking at passing cars. They are friendly and incredibly intelligent.
- Bargaining at the market is common practice, but not at the stores in Athens. It is considered quite rude to bargain with someone at a convenience store or restaurant. Most of the time they offer you discount, especially in the non-tourist season, so leave the bartering at the market.
- The city is not one to rise early, but they do party hard into the night. When waking up at 6 to catch the earliest bus at 7:30, there were only a handful of people on the street. But at one in the morning the streets were crowded and alive. This also meant that their dining times were different. They eat at 11:00 for breakfast, 3:00 for lunch, and 9:00 for dinner.
- Students get into museums and grounds for free! Well EU students do, so bring your abroad ID everywhere you go and you can save a bit over 30 euros. The only place that only gave a discount was the stadium (1.50).
- “No posy”. This was said to us several times as we tried to take pictures of us and the artifacts (yes, some were attempts to take goofy photos). The curators at the museum get upset when someone tries to “pose” with a statue. My advice, be sneaky about it.
Other than that, that is the story and the advice I have to offer. Please feel free to leave a comment and I will respond as quickly as possible. I am here to help and inform.