Sunday, May 9, 2010

Athens Part 1

Sarah Elizabeth, Dan, and I all took different flights to Athens because we all had different plans for the 2nd week of break, so we would not be returning from the same place. My flight left from Paris 1:05 pm Friday.

I had scheduled to leave Montpellier on the first train out to Paris at 5:39 am, so I booked it to the station early in the am only to find out that my train had been cancelled due to the grève (strike). I booked the earliest train on the event of exactly this situation, so I told myself that I shouldn’t stress, because I had allotted enough time. I was still stressed, but I still had to GET ON THE NEXT TRAIN and the crowd in the station kept growing and growing. The great majority of these people were also trying to get to Paris. I ran into my friend Elyse who was freaking out because she was trying to catch her flight in Marseille, and her train was cancelled. As soon as they announced the platform for my train, I bolted to it. Each train has a certain # of assigned seats and then in the room with the luggage racks, there is also an unassigned 2 seater padded bench. I chucked my suitcase onto the shelf and claimed my spot. Eventually, the whole luggage room was packed with people with unassigned seats (they had PAID for seats, mind you). This means all the seats in the train are full, and I’m sure every train car’s luggage room was as packed as mine. There were about 20 of us packed into the luggage room! I shared the bench with a disheveled hippie Frenchwoman, but we were the only ones with seats. About 5-6 people stood and the rest sat crammed on the ground, or since it was an upper level car, sat on the stairs. I was feeling lucky to be on the way to Paris and to sort of have a seat for the 3-½ journey, but honestly, I’ve had it with French trains!

I was crankers upon arrival to Charles de Gaulle, due to lack of sleep, an uncomfortable train ride, and having to rush. My mood instantly improved at the realization that I was flying a legitimate airline and at legit airport (not one that’s an hour out of town). No more Ryan Air, the Chinatown bus of the sky for me! Economy class: what an upgrade! They didn’t even charge me to check a bag! Ho ho! My lucky day! I had an assigned seat and didn’t have to scramble onto the plane! (Ryanair doesn’t have assigned seats. It’s a big free for all.)

I swear Olympic Airlines must have some strict try-outs for their flight attendants. The 3 on my plane looked like they just walked off the stage at the Miss Greek Isles pageant. Their ancestors must have been the inspiration for the Greek statues, or even the Trois Grâces in Montpellier.

Flying over the Alps, and then some islands off the cost of Italy, Mamma Mia songs ran through my head. I could care less if that’s cheesy!

As soon as I made it to Athens, I realized just how much I am getting from my education at Penn State. Because Penn State has such a prominent Greek community, I’ve picked up a lot on the Greek alphabet. I was reading the signs in Greek on my way to the hostel and checking them in the Latin alphabet that’s also posted on every sign. I may not know what the sign says, but I can say it! Thanks Penn State frats and sororites!

After checking into the hostel, I went out to explore Athens for a bit. After exploring a shop that creates custom sandals and has designed leather footwear for the likes of Jackie O, Sophia Loren, and Bob Saget (which of these is not like the others), I turn my first corner and run into Sarah Elizabeth and Dan.

Dinner that night was exciting because we realized we’d be eating LOTS of Greek food for the next week. I had eggplant stuffed with beef, tomatoes, mushroom, and lots of cheese. The lovely weather made sitting outside the obvious option, however the street vendors selling flowers and people playing the accordion swarmed us.

After a LONG day of travelling, we were lucky that our hostel had a rooftop terrace bar. Our hostel was also in prime location, really close to the Acropolis, so the views of everything lit up at night were awesome.

The next day was our socks and sandals, camera around the neck, touristy day in Athens. First stop: of course, the Acropolis. Our walk to the entrance was a cobblestone pedestrian promenade lined with cafés and restaurants. A friendly, collar wearing dog started following us. We thought he belonged to the owner of one of the cafés, but he followed us the rest of the 5-10 minute walk to the entrance. As soon as we got to the entrance, a bunch of dogs started approaching our new friend, whom we named Nick. All of a sudden, all of those strays that live and roam the Acropolis started viciously attacking Nick until some Greek guy shooed them away. Nick, who already had a limp, limped off. I only hope that he made it away ok! Rough morning!

Anyway, the benefits of coming in the off-season and getting up early are that you pretty much get the place to yourself. Even though the Acropolis has been photographed 5 billion times, it’s nice to take your time taking pics without a bunch of people in the background.

All the restaurants by the Acropolis are gorgeous because they sit on pedestrian heavy streets (not a lot of cars). Perfect spot to eat feta baked in tomatoes and peppers. And lamb souvlaki with lots of paprika.

Athens contains a surprising amount of wilderness for being such a big city. We hiked up a path lined with olive trees, poppies, dandelions, and violets. Greece is full of poppies which really pop. We were at some more ruins on a hill right across from the Acropolis. We sat down to take in the view, but ended up accidentally taking a nap.

After that quick little siesta, SE’s wilderness adventure spirit kicked in and she led us on a hike around the rocky hills. We all later agreed that this was the best part of Athens.

The trail forged by SE plopped us onto the main souvenir shop road in Athens. Along that road, we stopped in a bakery where SE and I tried a sweet cream pastry. It’s all the flaky goodness of baklavas, but filled with a light cream instead of nuts. We made more than one return trip to that bakery.

As we scouted places for dinner, we spotted Siobhan, a girl on the Montpellier program who was vacationing with her mom. The world keeps getting smaller and smaller!

The next day, we had planned to take a day trip to Delphi or something, but everything we wanted was too far away. So, we stayed in Athens, saw more ruins, ate more gyros and pastries, and went to the beach for a bit. That night, we took an overnight ferry to Santorini. Not the most comfortable way to sleep, but still more comfortable than the train from Barça. Also, travelling + a night’s accommodation = check plus.

1 comment:

  1. Glad the frats could be of some use to you. We didn't have them at my school. I learned the Greek alphabet the hard way. By taking upper level math classes.