Greece Trip (Part 2) – Athens (long post)



I arrived home from my trip to Greece 10 days ago. I’ve had lots of time to blog about it since then, and really had no excuse for not posting anything. Except that I’ve been depressed and melancholy since coming home to Canada. I’ve been sulking around the apartment and at the office, wanting so desperately to go back.  Today is the first day I’ve truly felt happy and productive since my return. Finally.

I spent the first two days of my trip on my own before meeting up with my friends. Since I was only going to be in Athens for a total of about 30 hours, I really needed a clear plan in order to maximize what little time I had there. The morning I arrived, I was already wiped with exhaustion (I suffer from severe motion sickness, which tends to drain me of all energy when I travel), but I made an effort to stay awake. After a quick shower, I set out to discover the Monastiraki, Syntagma and Plaka districts.

What a charming (if touristy) area! It was so much fun to walk along the narrow streets, peeking into shops that sold anything and everything: leather sandals, sea sponges, food, t-shirts, jewelery, pottery, kitschy souvenirs… If I happened to glance up down one of the side streets, I sometimes got a peek of the Acropolis, which sent shivers down my spine. To think that just ahead was THE ACROPOLIS. Incredible. I wanted to save my visit to the Acropolis for the following day, when I wasn’t so tired. Oh, the urge to go at that moment was so very strong, but I resisted.

I stopped at a small restaurant late in the afternoon and sat alone on the terrace. The waiter came and took my order, and soon thereafter an older man came to greet me. He may have been the owner of the restaurant, but he didn’t look Greek (he was much taller and thinner than the Greek men I’d seen, and his hair was completely white). This was the gist of our conversation:

Him (with thick accent): Where are you from, my dear?

Me: Canada.

Him: Canada? I LOVE CANADA! And you are here in Athens alone?

Me: Yes.

Him: Ah. Let me give you some advice: When it comes to Greek men, you have to be FIRM. You have to know in your head what you want, and you have to be FIRM. Otherwise, they will take advantage of you. Ok? BE FIRM.

Me (trying my best not to burst out laughing): Ok. Be firm.

Him: Yes.

And then he left. But then he came back.

Him: When is your birthday?

Me (confused): Pardon?

Him: What month were you born?

Me: Uh, January.

Him (almost violently): I KNEW IT! Me too – I am born in January! It is like WE ARE BROTHERS!

Indeed. Just like brothers.

After this most amusing dinner, I spent over an hour in Monastiraki Square, just people watching. It was fascinating to hear the numerous languages and accents all around me. When darkness fell, I walked back to my hotel room and went to bed early. I slept for 12 hours straight.

The next morning, I had a quick breakfast at the hotel, then headed out. My first stop: to buy leather sandals from this guy. Actually, his son sold me the sandals – regardless, the pair I bought is so incredibly comfortable, I’ve been wearing the sandals non-stop.

Next on the agenda – the Acropolis. Now, I’ll blame it on the jet lag, but for some reason it never occurred to me that the Acropolis was at the top of a hill (it looked really flat on the map!) and that I would have to actually climb the hill in order to reach it. Mentally, I was NOT prepared for the uphill hike in 30c+ weather. In fact, I thought I was going to die. But I made it – along with about 20,000 other people (or so it felt). If this is the off-peak season, I cannot even begin to imagine what the busy season looks like…

Walking through the gates of the Propylaea and arriving face-to-face with the Parthenon was one of the most awesome experiences of my life. I remember being frozen in awe and disbelief as the monumental building stood there before me. I can’t even put my feelings at that moment into words. I decided to sketch the Parthenon in my travel journal, to better to savour the moment and remember every detail. Of course, the drawing doesn’t do the original justice, but I’m glad I took the time to sketch it nonetheless – it’s now engrained in my mind. (More on my travel journal in another post).

After spending some time walking through the rest of the Acropolis and seeing the Erechtheion, the Theatre of Dionysus and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, I headed back down the slope and stopped for lunch near Monastiraki Square. Since I only had a few hours left in Athens, I knew I couldn’t visit the numerous museums and archeological sites within the city. I therefore decided to focus on one more site: the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Walking through the narrow streets of Plake, I was once again rendered completely awestruck and speechless by the sheer magnitude of the ruins as I arrived at the site. There seemed something inherently wrong about cars being allowed to zoom by just a few feet from the temple – it was a strange mix of modern and ancient civilizations. Walking back to the hotel, I was amazed (and amused) to come across the ruins of a Roman bathhouse, smack dab in the middle of one of the busiest streets in Athens! Incredible!

I soon thereafter took a bus to the airport, and that evening flew to Rhodes Island (Rodos), where I remained for the rest of the trip. More on that soon…


Greece Trip (Part 1) – Newark Airport

This conversation really happened at Newark International Airport (New Jersey), when I stopped at a shop to buy a bottle of water –

Cashier: What’s them strange coins you got in your hands – what country are they from?

Me: Uh, Canada. That’s our one-dollar coin.

Cashier: Right – them’s strange coins. And they have a strange name, too, like “duck” or something.

Me (trying really hard not to laugh): Uh, actually they’re called loonies.

Cashier: Right, right. And you have something like a double-loonie too.

Me: Uh, yeah – they’re called toonies.

Cashier: Right, right. Man, them’s strange coins you have.

And thus the adventure began…

It’s a Heartache…

Yes, the song by Bonnie Tyler. Except this version is by the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra – and highly addictive:

I’ve been listening to it ALL DAY. I can’t get enough of it. Help!

While you’re at it, check out their live cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” – way cool!

If you look closely, you might notice that the second guy from the left is Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords fame. No wonder they’re so damn cool.

And The Countdown Begins…

It’s finally starting to dawn on me that in 9 dodos (French for “sleeps”), I’ll be on a big plane heading to Greece. Until now it seemed like an abstract notion, something casually mentioned during conversations, but not quite real. Today I spent the whole day plotting my itinerary – since I’ll only be spending about 30 hours in Athens before heading to Rhodes Island, I want to make the most of my time there. I discovered that the hotel where I’d initially booked a room (several weeks ago) is in a not-so-great part of the city. I hadn’t much time to  investigate and booked one of less expensive rooms I could find (now I know why it was so cheap!). I’ve managed to find a better hotel, closer to the Acropolis and the Athens market, two attractions I so desperately want to visit.

My question for anyone who knows Athens:

Can you recommend any good stationery / paper / art supply stores in Athens – ideally in the Plaka, Syntagma or Monastiraki quarters? Any must-see shops or restaurants I should visit while I’m there?

Although almost every minute of my time in Athens will be plotted out in advance, I’m mindful of keeping my days on Rhodes Island wide open. After all, my mission will be to spend several days relaxing and hanging out with dear friends and eating and drinking wine in the lovely village of Lindos. Here’s proof of its loveliness:

(Source: Pellos Travel)

Yah, my life sucks. Cough.

I am sad to admit that my attempts to learn Greek have been quite disastrous,although many people have told me that I will likely pick it up in Greece, once I’m surrounded by it. At least I can read the alphabet and pronounce words correctly – but I still have no idea what they mean! It’ll be interesting to see how much I really am able to pick up once I’m in Greece…