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It's All Greek To Me

Athens, Greece

The first thing I saw of mainland Greece was Starbucks. A good omen, I thought to myself. I felt awful: neck ache, headache, very little sleep, and on at least half a dozen occassions throughout the night I had woken to find I had no sensation in one of my limbs due to my awkward sleeping position, draped as I was over my backpack and curled around the arms of a chair. My mood had not been improved by the ferry failing to serve breakfast and charging me 5 euros for a coke and a packet of crisps. So I made for Starbucks, praising the deity that had brought two of my favourite things to me: coffee and WiFi.

Finally I decided I had to get to Athens proper. The ferries arrive into Piraeus, some kilometres outside of the city centre and fairly uninteresting. The route to the centre, however, is less than obviously pointed out. But with the help of a local businesswoman I managed to get a bus and then the metro, and she even insisted on paying for my ticket. I was in the centre by midday.

When in Athens, head to the Acropolis. So I did. The heat was overpowering, and limited the sort of walking you could do seriously, but I am not one to complain. I spent the day exploring Hadrian's Library, the Roman Agora and the Acropolis. The latter was obviously the highlight, though the Parthenon is itself a dissappointment in one respect due to its continual state of scaffolding-clad repair. When you step back, however, and consider the age of the buildings, the significance of the sight and the civilisation that grew from here you begin to really appreciate it. The setting, as well, is incredible. I had been warned that I would not like Athens because of its ugly modern buildings, the smell of sewage that pervades the atmosphere and the notorious and equally ubiquitous 'women of the night'. Somehow, however, all these lend the city something of authenticity: it is alive, in all its ugliness and sin, and it was probably equally sordid and even more foul-smelling two and a half thousand years ago. From the hills overlooking the city, you also have the benefit of seeing the city buzz beneath you, without the scents and sights you would rather miss. For me, this didn't ruin the ancient buildings; it just put them in a different context.

In the evening I went out with three others from the hostel: an Australian, a South African and an American. So, naturally, rather than taking on the nickname of 'Britain' as is common in such gatherings, I became 'Europe', as we realised we represented four different continents. And whilst I resented the pressure that comes with representing over 700 million people, there is something special about sitting around four corners of a table, having come from four corners of the globe. We went to a wine bar in the centre, then took a ridiculously cheap taxi to a club playing something like remixed ska, and walked back past the Acropolis as the dawn was breaking over it.

On day two after getting a much-needed haircut, which was pleasantly unsurprising, I headed back down to the ruins aiming to spend the day exploring those parts I had not yet seen, namely the Agora and the surrounding area. I did, but having forgotten my camera, I knew I would be back the next day. The sun was again bright overhead, so I relaxed, read, and treated myself to a (relatively) expensive lunch. That evening we stayed in the hostel, which had a friendly and relaxed bar area, and played cards. The hostel seemed to attract really interesting and fun young people from all over the world and was big enough that there was variety in company but small enough that you could find people again.

The next two days passed similarly. I had got into a pattern of exploring the fascinating areas around the main hills, which stretch further than is at first obvious, and which are constantly opening up new paths to walk down, new pillars, inscriptions or monuments to investigate. On the final day I climbed the big hill opposite the Acropolis with a guy from the hostel, and was amazed at the views of the sprawling city, stretching from the coast and the port, past the ancient city, and up to the mountains in the distance.

Nightlife remained fairly relaxed over the final two nights. One interesting occurence happened, however, after two of us had gone to get food. We noticed, as we were walking, that the streets were empty, cordened off by the police who were showing a big presence. This was because of demonstrations, fairly small, but potentially violent as they seemed to included both right-wing nationalists and left-wing anarchists. Many of the shops were closed, but due to the banishing of the usually terrifying traffic, the city actually felt safer than normal. That was until we were on the street on which the hostel was located. Extraordinarily, of all the places to choose, about 50 protesters and perhaps 20 armed riot police were standing just yards from the hostel door. At first we planned to walk through them; 'they don't look very violent' I said. Famous last words: I fight broke out at that very moment. So we managed to navigate a back street, sneak behind the protestors and police, and reach the hostel before they started using tear gass. The hostel was locked, but the receptionist let us in, and the other guests who had been on the balconies watching the fighting, came back in as the tear gas got to them.

Later that night, however, the violence had cleared, so four of us walked back down to the Acropolis, climbed the hill next to it and sat to watch the lit-up ruins with the full moon behind them as some Greek men played folk music on a guitar beside us. It was one of those atmospheric 'gap-year' moments you know you will never forget.

permalink written by  BenWH on May 7, 2009 from Athens, Greece
from the travel blog: Gap Year Odyssey
tagged Greece

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Great post! These shots is truly amazing, I loved them. I've always wanted to visit Greece, still hoping that one day I may have the chance to go there and feel and see the wonderful things in Athens and not just in photos or videos anymore.

permalink written by  Sandy Allain on December 3, 2013

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