Greece Trip 2016 Part 1: Athens

As some of you may know from my previous post, I went to Greece over March Break.

As someone who, until two weeks ago, hadn’t left continental North America (and only been to the States a handful of times), it was kind of insane. So, for those of you who want a rundown, here it is—split into two parts for brevity.

DAY ONE: TORONTO & TAKEOFF

I’d packed most of my stuff the night before, so when I woke up that Saturday (six AM bright and early; thanks a lot, overexcited brain), there wasn’t much left to do except get ready and pack away my toiletries. Mostly, I just sent my friends annoying morning Snapchats and texted my trip buddies in all caps. I also double/triple-checked everything because I’m that kind of person when nervous.

The bus to the Toronto Pearson Airport left at 11 am. The ride lasted a couple hours—most of which was spent lip-synching Disney songs with my friend and making up characters for a story about old lady hackers—long, long story—and by the time we finally arrived, everyone was excited as all hell.

Finally, around 6, we boarded our plane. I’ll admit I had a brief panic because I couldn’t find my seat and then when I did, I didn’t know how to do up my seatbelt and started panicking. (Cue mass oh, Alex. Yes, I’m an idiot.) Thankfully, seatbelt issues were resolved just before the plane took off.

The plane ride was about ten hours long. Though I’d planned to spend most of that sleeping, I ended up only being able to sleep for a couple hours due to an excess of noise and annoying people behind me. I did, however, manage to watch Big Hero 6 again, so that was a plus.

 DAY 2: AIRPLANE, FRANKFURT AIRPORT & ATHENS

After my few hours of sleep, I woke up just in time just to see the sunrise at 30,000 feet in the air, which was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. The colours are even prettier that high up in the sky. Also, just before we landed, I got to watch part of Aladdin over breakfast, which was cool but not nearly as awesome.

An hour later, we landed at the Frankfurt airport. Because I’d forgotten to pack face wipes and I didn’t have time to brush my teeth (and we’re not even doing to talk about the frizz cloud I call hair), I was a huge mess, which was pretty unfortunate considering that it seemed like everyone there was superbly attractive. There was, however, time for a cappuccino and a granola bar, for which I’m very thankful.

We boarded the second plane to Athens just after quarter to ten; this time I had a window seat, so even though it was incredibly bright, I could doze off a little and look out at the tiny cities and huge oceans below the rest of the time. Another bonus: we got to fly through a haze of clouds and fog, and for a solid ten minutes, I couldn’t see anything but white. It was pretty magical.

plane ride to athens
Apres clouds.

Finally: GREECE.

We arrived at Athens International Airport around 1:30 local time. Once we got our bags, we didn’t have much time to admire the airport before we were whisked on a bus and taken to our hotel.

My first impressions of Greece were that it was a lot like Canada, except the plants and trees were different and (duh) all the signs were in a different language. Also, there was a lot more blue. The fact that we passed a huge IKEA five minutes into our bus ride didn’t help matters. Of course, this was just the more Westernized part of Athens, so it was a pretty narrow impression of a whole country.

By the time we arrived at the hotel and got settled in, it was already pretty late (2:30/3-ish), and so we just decided to browse the streets a little bit.

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First walk in Greece!

The more I walked through the streets, the more my first impression of Greece was proved wrong. First things first: I’m a Greek mythology nerd. I got hooked on the Percy Jackson books when I was in 7th grade and it all went down from there. My favourite unit in History was Ancient Greece. In English, it was a close tie between Greek Mythology and Creative Writing. It’s a serious problem. So seeing all the architecture I’ve read about in books was like a dream come true. Man, I was in love.

buildings in Athens
Buildings during the walk

Finally, we got to the Plaka, where we got our first look at the Parthenon. It was also where we were turned loose and allowed free time to browse. I didn’t really buy anything that first day, just did a lot of browsing through the flea market, but it was insane—both in a good way and a bad way.

the Plaka, Athens
To the Plaka!

The Plaka was where I got my first taste of Greece. All the handmade jewelry, the figurines, the food… everything was so amazing. In most touristy places, the souvenirs are cheap. And while you can find some of that stuff in the Plaka, most of it was really good quality.

The downside was that for most of that hour and a half of free time, I was scared of getting pick-pocketed. Because I’ve read into different pick-pocketing schemes and tourist traps (read: anxiety), I was on high alert and low-key freaking out. And the guys didn’t help either. Man, some of them were creepy. Maybe I’ve just never noticed in Canada, but in Greece, the guys don’t bother to hide the looks. Keep in mind that these were usually middle-aged men, and most in our group were underage. Walking past them was the worst part of Athens for me.

So in all, from the first day: Athens is so pretty. It’s scary and whirlwind busy, but it’s also amazingly gorgeous.

nighttime in Athens
Nighttime

DAY THREE: ATHENS & THE ACROPOLIS

Wake-up was seven the next morning. Thankfully, there was a great selection of food to eat, and I discovered my great love for Greek yogurt and honey and Greek coffee (thank God for Greek coffee).

As it was raining that day, our first item of the day was a bus tour around Athens. Along the way, we stopped at the Panathenaic Stadium, the reconstructed stadium that hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

Next stop: the Acropolis!

acropolis, athens
The Acropolis
parthenon, acropolis, athens
The Parthenon
view from the Acropolis, Athens
View from the Acropolis

Unfortunately, I forgot my jacket that day and as it was raining too, I was cold as heck. Yet the promise of Athena’s famous temple was enough to keep going.

We stayed there for about an hour, looking around the ruins. The upside of it being rainy was that virtually no one was there. Sure, there were a couple tourist groups, but there weren’t the scores of people websites had promised.

Walking into the Acropolis, near the Parthenon in Athens, Greece
Walking into the Acropolis

Another thing our tour guide of the day mentioned was about all the stray dogs. If you’ve ever been, you might have noticed how many stray dogs are around Athens. So here’s the thing: Athens and the rest of Greece have a really great program for their stray dogs; most of them are collared, have had their shots and have been spayed/neutered. They’re actually treated pretty well considering their circumstances—some people even consider them citizens of Athens—which I think is pretty darn cool (read: I took pictures of all the stray dogs I could see).

Next, after briefly stopping at a gift shop on the way, we went to the Acropolis museum. This is where all the surviving statues and artwork is housed, and as the daughter of an art nerd—sorry, Art History major—I was in heaven.

The Acropolis Museum, Athens

The Acropolis Museum, Athens
The Acropolis Museum, Athens

I also got to buy a copy of THE ODYSSEY from the gift shop for under 7€, which made me pretty proud of myself.

After lunch and free time in the Plaka again, the tour company had planned a Greek Evening for us. This basically meant us dressing up to go eat at a fancy place with live entertainment. In my (heavily unbiased) opinion, us ladies all looked hella rad, as the kids say. After dinner, there was a lady singing on stage. A couple of times, she invited us kids up onstage to dance along to songs like “Mamma Mia” and “You’re The One That I Want” from Grease, so that made my inner fangirl ridiculously happy.

Day 4: FREE DAY IN ATHENS

Day four of our trip to Greece was what was billed as a free day. In reality, it was just a day without a tour guide where our group was given a small amount of choice in where we ate and what we did. But it was also one of my best friends’ birthdays, so I started off the day by going to her room to sing her “Happy Birthday”, one of the first of about five singings of that day. Then, after breakfast, we went to the National Archeological Museum of Athens.

The National Archaeological Museum of Athens
The National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Most of the time, all I could think was man, I’m a nerd. I took a ton of pictures—way too many to post here—and tried to caption as few of them as possible.

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Clearly, I couldn’t completely control myself.

After the museum, we went walking around Athens, passing by the Academy of Athens and the University of Athens. The architecture on the Academy of Athens was beautiful, and the statues of some of my favourite Ancient Greeks (Plato, Socrates, Athena and Apollo) certainly didn’t hurt my love for it.

The Academy of Athens from a distance
The Academy of Athens from a distance
Statue of Socrates outside the Academy of Athens
Statue of Socrates outside the Academy of Athens
The Academy of Athens
The Academy of Athens

After lunch (where we sang “Happy Birthday” to my friend yet again), we climbed up a hill near the restaurant to see the skyline of Athens and just… oh my God. I can’t describe the view to you, not in words and probably not in discombobulated syllables, either. All I can say is that there’s something about looking over the whole of a beautiful city thousands of miles away from home that just wrecks you. On top of that hill, I felt like I was on top of the world. Two people in my group cried at the view alone, because it had changed them just as it had changed me. I’m not embarrassed to say I was almost the third.

View from a hill in Athens
View from a hill in Athens

Part 2 of this trip—Epidaurus, Mycenae, Nauplia, Olympia, Delphi and Athens again—phew!—will be up next week. 🙂

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