After Turkey I went to Italy, via Greece! I had a 28hr layover in Athens, so I spent the night in the city and visited a few places. Athens was far and away my favorite place to visit, and I’m quite upset I only had a short time there. I can’t wait to return to Greece. A big thank you to Danae Paparis and Yannos Michailidis for their advice! They were awesome and helped me get the most out of a short trip.
After a gorgeous flight in, I took an hour bus ride winding its way to Syntagma Square in the heart of Athens. I had a few hours to kill before meeting my airbnb hosts, so I walked around the National Garden and the square. I saw a small zoo, plenty of colorful flowers in full bloom, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier guarded by the Evzones soldiers. Inside the National Garden, the city sound is filtered out by nature, and it has almost a lonely feel. As I stepped back out into the street, the city life engulfed me again.
Syntagma is a busy place with a multiple transportation stops and people heading in every direction. I watched a few performers setting up a concert stage while others just strummed away on guitars. I had 2 delicious gyros at a restaurant specializing in different meats, and then I roamed the square for an hour. I found a cool cafe, bought some socks at the Nike store, and had a great conversation with a pharmacist about the tourism industry in Greece. Then I was off to meet my hosts. After about an hour delay (no phone service!), we found each other and headed off to the airbnb. I’ll talk more about my host family in my next blog post featuring the people I met, but let me say this: These people are incredible humans. They were some of the most kind and inviting people I’ve ever met, and went above and beyond for a stranger. Ariadni brought me to their house, a gorgeous vintage home overlooking part of the city and the Acropolis. I took some great pictures from their back terrace, and I’ll get them off my hard drive Insha’Allah!
I hustled off to get to the Acropolis museum before closing. It was an easy downhill walk through some side streets, and I enjoyed the restaurant smells and peaceful Spring air.The museum sits below the Acropolis (which is on the hill overlooking the entire city) and hosts many artifacts and replicas of the temple. I saw some artifacts that are thousands of years old, and partial sculptures that somehow have withstood the test of time. Athens lost many pieces over time, but the remaining masterpieces are breathtaking. I wish I had touched up on my Greek history, but I got a few lessons reading the descriptions!
I hiked up the hill to see the Acropolis but it had closed early for the day. I was able to get pretty close however, and I got great pictures of Athens. (check my instagram! @tjmurray56) I spent most of sunset near Acropolis then started the trek back to the airbnb. I stopped at a neat store for a beer and had to apologize to the owner when he was offended I was only staying in Greece for one night! I told him I will return, and he promised to remember me.
Back home, I met the rest of the family! I was offered tea and dinner, and enjoyed some evening conversation over Chai. We talked about the current state of Greece, my background and history, what brought me to Greece, and why in the world I would only spend one night in Athens. I’ve started to realize I was insane for trying to do Greece in a day! I felt so welcome in their home, and really enjoyed the conversations we had. Then, an added bonus, I got to meet Ariadni’s 90yr old grandmother. She, like the rest of her family, has a beautiful voice and loves to sing. The family was actually performing at a restaurant that evening, so their band was filing in to warm up. Unfortunately, their grandmother didn’t attend, but we did get to have an interesting conversation alone in the kitchen. She speaks almost no English, and I speak even less Greek… After about 20 minutes, I was able to decipher she was asking me how long I was staying in Greece! Thankfully, I don’t think she quite understood my answer! I was then invited to the family’s performance, and happily joined along (minus my singing skills of course).
We went to a small restaurant near the Panathinaikos F.C. stadium. Imagine an alleyway behind Fenway Park in Boston, full of local die-hard fans. Now insert than into Athens, but it’s all soccer fans and there is a folk band playing live music until the early morning! It was an awesome time! There was a ton of meat being grilled, great cold beer, and plenty of people who wanted to meet the random kid (me!) who was tagging along. I met a man at the bar who explained to me his love affair with Panathinaikos, which seemed stronger than a Penn State alum’s allegiance! I was introduced to another new liquor, similar to the Turkish Raki, as I had more delicious food. I was well taken care of, and enjoyed Greek songs past midnight.
My night in Athens was incredibly authentic and a unique experience. My host family helped me fall in love with Greece- the people, the food, and the atmosphere. I look forward to returning to Athens, and hopefully visiting the neighboring islands as well!