Warm. Historic. Struggling. These were the only preconceived notions and adjectives that I packed for our first visit to Greece this past spring. And as we stepped off the plane and onto the efficient metro line from the airport to the capitol city of Athens, we were introduced to all three aspects in quick succession from the scenery flashing by the metro-car windows.
We selected Greece to be our new country of 2015 for several reasons: its warm climate (important for an early May visit to Europe), its multitude of historic sites to visit, its tendency to frequent the headlines for all the most dire economic reasons lately, and because it's been on my international bucket list for years.
|A crowded Monastiraki Square with the Acropolis in the background|
Arriving in Athens was... exhilarating. Seeing the highway signs indicating Corinth and Thessaloniki gave me goosebumps as the realization that we were really here finally sank in, and even the prolific graffiti in downtown Athens filled me with excitement. There's nothing like viewing in person what you've been studying through photographs for forever!
After a quick shower and stowing our luggage at our comfortable, no-frills-but-killer-view hotel room near Monastiraki Square, we set out to wander. And wonder.
The vibe from Athinas Street made Danny feel like he was back in the Middle East. First-floor shops sold footware, hygiene products, and chainsaws (who needs a chainsaw in the middle of Athens?!) all in one place, while apartments and hotels occupied the floors above. The items spilled out from the shops themselves into neatly-organized arrangements on carpeted sidewalks, necessitating careful footwork.
We followed the street south towards the Acropolis, which stands proudly above the city and provides a great compass for when the twistier streets leave you disoriented, and took a quick gyro meal just off the main square before continuing towards the historic sites. Although it was already nearing the evening hours, it was quite warm, and I was thankful to use a street map as a fan while we huffed and puffed our way upward.
Once we reached the halfway point of the Acropolis (at the "backdoor" entrance), we purchased our tickets for the next day and then enjoyed the view of the city below us before taking an evening stroll through the Agora.
There's no better way to acclimate and orient yourself to a new city than by taking a few hours to wander around with no agenda in mind. Just note any possible dodgy areas of town to avoid prior to arrival (sticking to the tourist areas in Athens is a safe bet) and soak up the atmosphere. And maybe some good Greek beer.