Friday, May 30, 2014

Big Trip Diary: Athens

Because I had a kidney transplant, Ben and I had to post-pone our honeymoon.  Instead of jet-setting immediately after our wedding, we ended up going to Greece for ten days in May.
I'm sharing a few pictures and our daily observations from this amazing trip!

Well, Athens is definitely a city. According to our driver, Jim, who picked us up from the airport once we arrived, some five million people live in the country's capital city. And you can tell. There are lots of narrow streets lined with residences stacked on top of each other like Lego blocks without any space between. Among the buildings,graffiti-decorated walls, honking cars and exhaust, stand rows and rows of orange trees, which Jim says we'd will find throughout Greece. But they are not for picking, and can only be consumed happily with tons of sugar due to the sour taste.
Athens is surrounded by mountains. And I learned that the Greek pronunciation of Athens is Athina, like the ancient goddess Athena.
Upon arriving in our hotel Ben and I slept for three hours, to make up somehow for being awake for 23 hours in a row while in transit. We went to a recommended restaurant, Hermion, located in the plaka, also considered the "old town" historic section of Athens, about a ten minute walk from our hotel. We ate lamb with olive oil and oregano, Greek style meatballs and rice, and lots of delicious bread with olive oil.  Buckets of olive oil on this trip. 

Dinner at Hermion
It was kind of difficult to navigate our way back to our hotel, because the plaka's streets are really like a maze of alleyways and one way driving lanes.  So it was inevitable for us to get lost in what Ben called, "Graffiti garbage town.  The plaka sits just below the Acropolis.  And even at 9:30 at night the cobblestone streets are filled with people, either shopping (at one of seemingly 9000 shoe stores), drinking coffee, eating pastries, drinking wine, or yelling. It's streets are also crowded with piles of trash, which is not one of the best things about Athens.

Wednesday morning in Athens started out unexpectedly early. Despite going to sleep at 11PM, we woke up at 3 AM, 3.5 hours before our alarm was scheduled to go off. In an attempt to prevent a severe crash after breakfast, we tried to force ourselves back to sleep.  We managed to sleep for another hour and a half before resigning to the fact that we were wide awake, and there was no changing that. We played on our tablet, talked, cuddled, Ben started a words with friends game. Then we exercised and prepared for breakfast. We were among three couples in the breakfast room at 6:35 a.m., five minutes after service began.

Our plans for the day were to participate in a four-hour tour of Athens and its number one attraction, the Parthenon. But first we visited the first modern Olympic stadium, built in 1896. Then it was off to the acropolis and the Parthenon. Our tour guide really could have come straight out of the History Channel.  She really knew her stuff. And the Parthenon is just incredibly awesome to look at, but its story is even more in amazing. It's survived 25 centuries, built with the hands of slaves to honor the city's patron goddess, Athena. Athena's gift to the city was an olive tree, which explains a lot about the cuisine and its popular condiment.Following our tour we took a brief visit to the temple of Zeus. 

We arrived back at our hotel in the afternoon, and ended up taking a four-hour nap to go with our four-hour tour.  The nap was not planned. We woke up, worried about the effects our nap would have on our jet lag, but we ended up getting ready for dinner at the infamous Strofi anyway.

Strofi is special in that it's situated just below the Acropolis, so it provides excellent views of the lit up Parthenon at night. We tried fried feta cheese, fried in filo dough, topped with sesame and honey, which was delicious. Then Ben feasted on kid goat baked in parchment paper while I ate pork with lemon to go.  We washed everything down with a bottle of wine that I accidentally mistook for $30 instead of it's true value, 30 Euro. We unexpectedly spent 100 bucks on dinner, and I failed in my attempt to eat vegetables, which I hadn't eaten since we landed in Greece. After dinner we stumbled back to our hotel, mildly drunk.
Fascinating Discoveries: 
  • If Athena is the patron god of Athens, then SNAPS are the patron cookie of Greece.
  • You're never more than a stones throw from a ruin, or a police officer in riot gear. 
  • The war between the stray cats and the dogs in Athens is alive ad well.  The stray cats rule the plaka, while the dogs run the Acropolis.
  • If Ben and I lived in Athens, there's a good chance one of us would not have jobs. One in two Greeks under 35 years old are unemployed.