June 28, 2015

Acclimating to Athens

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.

Have you been to Athens? What were your first impressions?

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  1. You probably visited at the right time! Not sure it is going to be such a smart idea to go there within the next month or so (we'll see what happens on Sunday)...

    1. Unfortunately, it looks like it will be more hard times for Greece. Once the Grexit has happened and the euro is replaced, it will probably be very cheap for travelers, but difficult for people actually living there.

  2. You got a pretty nice weather for May. June has been more rainy than usual!! The comparison with the Middle East is a valid one...after all Greece was occupied by the Ottomas until 1830! As for chainsaws in Athinas street, well in this street you can find many hardware stores. Every little street or nook of Athens is known for a particular type of shops. For example Perikleous street (also known as Athinaidos and Agias Eirinis) is full of stores selling fabrics and sewing utilities!

    1. Ahhh, so it just happened to have a lot of shops like that. We were amused by how we could find more chainsaws than groceries on that street! :) We did have great weather for the trip, and it was a wonderful first experience with Athens. We really enjoyed our time there, but unfortunately were not able to visit any of the museums. That'll have to wait until our return trip!

  3. I would love to visit Greece one day! My friend who now lives in England goes there with her family every Spring and I get totally jealous lol. Beautiful beaches, lots of history... my kind of country!

  4. I'm glad you guys had such a great trip!! Greece is so intense, right? I haven't been yet, but I'm pretty sure you saw my husband's blog about it! The chain saws thing is hilarious...and a little bizarre!

  5. I arrived in Athens after a beautifully problem-free experience in Santorini. I was told to beware Greece when planning my travels due to their economic troubles. I guess the islands were not affected because I was completely oblivious to any trouble. Arriving to Athens I realized that it is much worse for wear. While I've heard wonderful stories about Athens I was honestly a bit worried. The city looked rough but maybe it was just in comparison to Santorini's white-housed cliffs. We did not stay in Athens long.

    Perhaps the right thing to do is start in Athens so that it does not have to compete with the picture-perfect Santorini! Lesson learned. I would like to give Athens another chance in the future. I love the food and culture and history!

  6. I can't wait until we get to experience all that first hand! Looks like you guys had a blast


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