Greece? Yes Please!
When I think of Athens Greece, a few notable facts come to mind:
- One of the birthplaces of modern civilization
- Homeland of many mathematical geniuses and philosophers
- Greek mythology
- Olives… lots and lots of olives!
Since I was ten years old I’ve had a love for Greek mythology. What I especially enjoyed was the world of fantasy and tragedy they created while still depicting the ideologies and religious beliefs of the ancient Greeks. Therefore, without a doubt, when the topic of selecting somewhere to spend summer vacation my first suggestion was “Greece!”.
There were many places on my checklist to see in Greece. We would first begin with a stay in Athens, the mainland, then travel to three different islands Mykonos, Paros and Santorini. Our trip would be an adventure filled two weeks of sight seeing and island hopping.
Our trip began late at night as we dragged our suitcases through the streets of St. Gallen to catch the last bus to the train station. Despite having to leave home so late, I was very excited to finally get into holiday mode!Our flight from Zurich would leave at 8 am in the morning and would last 5 hours. Our first touch down in Greece would be the island of Heraklion before taking off again to land in our final destination, the capital city of Athens.
Welcome to Athens!
Despite being physically exhausted, the adrenaline rush I felt being in Athens was overwhelming. The airport in Athens gave me a strange feeling of being at home in Jamaica because of its it less modern and more laid-back vibe. The temperature and humidity was also similar to Jamaica (30 Grad).
We left the airport and followed the directions we had received from our Air BnB host to an area of the city called “Omonia”. Omonia is located right in the city’s center, close to many local attractions, with the most significant being the Acropolis. On arrival in the city I was immediately reminded of being in Jamaica. Omonia had a similar architectural style to that of Downtown Kingston, Jamaica. There was a common use of arcades under which pedestrians could walk to escape the heat of the sun. Similarly in Jamaica, possibly because of the similar climate, arcades are often used to help provide shade for pedestrians.
What was also quite familiar was the presence of many wholesale and haberdashery shops as well as clothes and jewelry stores.
Expectations vs. Reality
Athens was a lot different from the image I had created in my mind. Initially I had imagined a city with grand buildings, but instead the present city seemed neglected. Similar to most cities, the streets were dirty, however what was most notable was the large amount of homeless people and drug addicts living in the streets. Many of us know that Greece has been facing economic struggles as well as dealing with a refugee crisis. Throughout the streets of Omonia these issues were blatantly obvious. People were sleeping on the streets in front of stores while others were sitting on cardboard boxes begging for money.
It was also hard to distinguish the features of the typical Greek by simply looking at the people on the streets. Many residents of the area seemed to be immigrants that came in search of a better life in Greece. were clearly immigrants. I would learn later on in my trip that many refugees, despite suggestion from refugee camps, would move to Athens and later fall victim to really bad circumstances. I must admit it was a bit surprising to see the city in this state.
Where Should We Eat?
When we finally found the BnB, we were welcomed by the very friendly staff. They showed us to our cozy room and walked us through the various tourist attractions available in the city. Jerry and I had two full days to explore, but for now we were just exhausted and hungry. Night came quickly as we made ourselves ready for our first real meal in Athens (Yay Greek cuisine!). Our only problem was finding the best restaurant. Luckily for us, our friendly hotel receptionist was about to head home and offered to show us a popular area for great Greek meals. The area was named Psiri and was about a 15 minute travel by walk and metro (the underground train system in Greece).
The streets seemed much scarier in the night than they did in the daytime. Earlier in our introduction to the city, we were warned against pickpockets and given tips on how to be more cautious while walking through the city. As we walked through the streets, I observed the level of caution our receptionist took. She walked only on busy streets and always in areas where the street was well lit. I became anxious as I realized the streets weren’t the safest to travel at nighttime.We walked briskly until we made it to the Metro and after a few train stops we arrived in Psiri.
Psiri: The Center of Nightlife
Psiri is a very lively and seemingly popular spot in town for both locals and tourists alike. Bars and restaurants were alive with people laughing and chatting. What was particularly special about this area was its artsy and very laid back feel. There were tables from the various restaurants outside that lined the streets while live bands played their music. The light-hearted nature of Psiri was certainly contagious as I felt myself beginning to relax and enjoy a bit if the cultural scene in Athens.
Our evening continued as we enjoyed the cheerful atmosphere with its festive music. The food was absolutely amazing(cue the beginning of countless Greek salads, Souvlakis and Tztatziki meals we would have throughout our Greek trip).
During our meal I had rested my cellphone on the table, however, our waiter saw this and was quick to warn me against it. Apparently it was common for persons to grab valuables from tables while guests ate. Needless to say this warning made me quite uncomfortable and only made my worries about going home alone even worse.
That night we chose to take a taxi home for the added measure of safety. On our way home we spoke with the taxi driver to get tips about the area and, in keeping with what we had heard, Omonia was not the safest of areas for tourists.
Plaka: Neighbourhood of the Gods
Our plans for our first day in Athens were not quite set because we wanted to have a flexible schedule. After waking up at midday and realizing the sun would be far too hot to see the Acropolis (guides recommend seeing the Acropolis in the early morning or evening to avoid the scorching heat) we settled on exploring the streets of Plaka.
Plaka is a historical neighborhood located on the slopes below the Acropolis and due to this proximity has inherited the name “Neighborhood of the Gods”. The area seemed to be a hot spot for tourists as a result of its many cafes, souvenir shops and small restaurants.
However, we soon discovered that the number of tourists became less once we started to explore the maze-like streets. The neighborhood had both business and residential buildings, all built in a neoclassical style of architecture.
Graffiti in the Streets
We came across a few very interesting spots in this neighborhood. While exploring we discovered abandoned buildings that artists turned into their personal canvases. Street art stretched across the walls of these buildings. They were big, beautiful, colorful murals that, overall, added to the culture and new identity of the old neighborhood. I actually recognized that graffiti was a defining feature of the entire city of Athens. These displays of artwork, to me, highlight the old city’s transformation into a new urban landscape because they show Athens’ cultural relevance in modern society.
Anafiotikia was another interesting place in Plaka. This area, unlike the rest of its surroundings, featured architecture similar to that of the Grecian islands. This, we found out, was due to the settlement of Anafiotikia by stone masons who came from the island of Anafi. It seemed to be the pride and joy of the locals as they bragged about their island style village.
The walk through Plaka was an uphill one, but finally our end goal was in sight, “The Acropolis”. While there are many Acropolises throughout Greece (an Acropolis is a citadel built on a hill), we all know the Athenian Acropolis as THE Acropolis. After many years of learning so much about the famous Athenian Acropolis, it felt great to finally be able to see these ancient ruins.
The entrance was lined with massive columns that towered above us as we walked between them. A magnificent view awaited us as we entered the site. The Acropolis sits high above the city of Athens and as a result we were able to see the vast urban landscape and even the ocean. Various architectural structures were also visible, with the most notable being the Parthenon. We took our time visiting each structure and reading about their particular architectural features and history. It was certainly a pleasure for me to not only learn about these buildings but also be able to experience them in real life. Imagine how grand they were during the times they had been built! It was amazing to be basking in the presence of such history.
The Suburbs of Varkiza
Dusk soon approached so we made our way back to our BnB. We wanted to catch the sunset in a nice area of town, so once more we asked our friendly receptionist. She gave us different options (who better to ask than a local right?) but the place that stood out the most was called Varkiza because of its ocean promenade.
Unfortunately, the ride to Varkiza turned out to be much longer than we expected so we ended up missing the ocean front sunset. After taking the metro, waiting over 20 minutes for a bus and finally a bus ride of over 45 minutes we finally arrived in Varkiza (this doesn’t include the unscheduled 10 minute stop our bus driver made in order to watch fireworks.. Yes really, I kid you not!).
The town had a very different feel from Omonia. While Omonia was a grungy city and had a high density of residents, Varkiza on the other hand was a clean, posh suburb. It lay next to the coast and had a long ocean promenade where locals and tourists alike could enjoy the view of the ocean. Scattered too, along the promenade, were multiple bars and restaurants.
Nightlife in Varkiza
The nighttime scene in Varkiza was quite relaxing as music floated through the air. We strolled along the promenade enjoying the welcome change from city life, as well as some of the local street food (the roasted corn was great!). Eventually we visited one of the bars along the promenade. Music from the 80’s was playing loudly as patrons enjoyed the beach setting as well as each other’s company. After a while Jerry and I made our way to the seashore and sat on the sand to simply enjoy both the music and a few drinks. At last it was the perfect way to end our first day in Greece.
Day Trip to Delphi
The next day we woke up early in order to catch a shuttle that would take us out on a day excursion to the Ruins of Delphi. Delphi, according to the Greeks, is the center of the known world. Greek mythology says Zeus released two eagles in opposite directions and wherever these eagles crossed paths would be the center of the earth. It was also the center of worship for the god Apollo, the son of Zeus. Our bus ride to Delphi was, although long, a beautiful one.
Urban vs. Natural Landscape
We got to experience the gradual change from urban landscape to wide open land and mountains. It was interesting to observe the Greek countryside since all we were able to experience so far in Greece was man made infrastructure. Seeing the mountains and lakes gave me a better idea of the different sides of Greece.The land was quite dry and rocky and had plants that seemed more like pines. Small bush-like plants grew on the open land rather than grass which was quite different for me to see.
In Europe I was used to seeing fields of soft grass and properly trimmed hedges, however the landscape in the countryside of Athens was more rugged and rocky. Another notable feature was the aroma of the nature. It was a scent of various herbs such as thyme, rosemary and oregano. I enjoyed this earthy herbal scent and is consequently now one of the most dominant memories of my trip to Greece.
The Ruins of Delphi
After around 3 hours of driving we finally arrived at Delphi. The site is located on the slope of Mount Parnassus and overlooks a valley. Due to the nature of the site it was certainly an uphill climb to see the various historical sights on location. Our guide walked us along, stopping at each to tell us about its historical significance. The most memorable structures to me were the theater as well as the Temple of Apollo.
The Museum of Delphi
The midday sun was scorching hot by the end of our tour of the ancient grounds, therefore it came as a relief when we finally made our way to the archaeological museum. The museum held many historical relics that were found on site. Many of them ranged from jewelry to ceramics, however, the most interesting were the sculptures. Particularly interesting was the statue of the Naxian Sphinx. Overall it was an informative and interesting tour.
Before leaving the ancient site of Delphi we ate lunch at a modest restaurant in the newly developed part of town. By the end of our trip we were exhausted from both the heat of the sun and the amount of walking we had done. It was great to retire in bed that evening to watch the final match of the EUFA Champions League.
Mykonos Here We Come!
While it was great to experience much of the history that I had only been able to read in books, I was very excited for the next part of our Greek trip to begin. Between worrying about the area in which we stayed and seeing too much city life, it felt rather stressful being in Athens. I was eager to see what island life in Greece would be like. We had heard that the islanders were more laid back and that it would feel more like a vacation once we arrived in the islands.
We left out early that morning to catch the ferry to Mykonos. The beginning of the next leg of our Greek adventure was about to begin!