Shannon and I were pretty nervous about travelling to Greece because of the language barrier. First of all, the alphabet just looks scary. And second, neither of us knew a word of Greek. But once we actually got there we realized that it wasn’t so bad! Once we could translate the Greek letters (which we knew through math and physics classes) to sounds, it was easy! Well, we still didn’t know the correct pronunciations, but at least we could make attempts.
When we got on the metro, we met a really nice couple who told us about Greek food, things to see, and taught us some Greek phrases. We ended up using almost all of them during our three-day visit! They also explained that if there is an accent on one of the letters, that is where the emphasis should be. Sorry to butcher the spelling, but this is what I wrote down from what they verbally taught us to help us remember how to say them:
Sorry = Signomi
Hi = Ja
Good = Kalli
Morning = Merra
Night = Nichta
Where is the = Pou inne to
Thank you = eff karisto
As per their recommendation, we stopped by a bakery and got cheese pies. For lunch, lamb gyros! We had a pretty chill afternoon roaming the streets, getting Greek froyo, and enjoying the small shops in Monastiraki. We sat down in an empty restaurant for dinner. Besides a small group there for drinks, we were the only ones eating. The food was tasty, the service was great, and at the end they gave us greek yogurt with honey as dessert for free!
We visited The Acropolis and saw an amazing view of the city from the top. The Parthenon was under construction (no surprise there), and I overheard a tour guide say that people are working on replacing the pieces with replicas made out of Titanium, which seems kind of unfortunate but perhaps necessary. I hope they’ll put the original pieces in a museum (with very high ceilings) or elsewhere to preserve them. The Statue of Athena was awkwardly not there. Really, just completely missing. The sign describing it was still in place, but no goddess! At the top we bumped into a group from MIT’s History Department and I recognized some friends! Also, cats! Many cats just everywhere.
We also saw the Theater of Dionysos. As a theatre geek I loved it. We sat for a while, and I was in awe of the idea that people many, many years ago actually watched plays there. I wish I could go back in time and experience it. In school I learned about how playwrights and poets sometimes wrote controversial texts like political works, and sitting there I could feel the nervousness of a playwright having his play performed for the first time. It wasn’t a huge theatre, but it still left a great impression.
We walked around the streets in Plaka, I bought a cute ring and made a quick souvlaki stop before checking out Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. One of the columns in the temple had fallen and so we got to see the individual mini cylinders that are used in stacks to make the full columns. Then we visited the Panathenaic Stadium which was huge and awesome because that was where the original Olympic Games were hosted! They gave us free audio guides,which told us about interesting stories and descriptions relating to the stadium. The guide lead us into exploring a cave right under the stands, where apparently young, unmarried women would go and perform rituals. They would provide food offerings by a bonfire and then dance around the fire naked, hoping to find good husbands. Weird, but interesting!
For dinner I enjoyed a Greek dish called mousakás (μουσακάς), which is similar to lasagna but has a layer of eggplant and a bottom layer of potatoes. It was great! We had some more tzatziki with pita, and then asked some policemen for directions home. It took six of them, in collaboration, to give us proper directions. It was hilarious! They were really nice and friendly. We stopped by the bakery again, and got an assortment of Greek pastries to try. We didn’t know what they were or even how to pronounce their names, but they were yummy sweet desserts. We had gone so often in the past two days that the owner recognized us, and gave us some extra pastries. Greeks are so nice!
Our last day country-hopping, at least for a while since I’m off to Germany for three weeks to teach science to high school students, was still a packed day. We checked out Kerameikos, the Roman Agora and the Ancient Agora. Despite the ruins being really, really old (dated in years BC) the areas were beautiful and almost lush. We relaxed on a nice bench in the Ancient Agora and soaked up the unexpected sun before getting lunch.
The highlight of the day was hiking up Mount Lycabettus. This was a struggle. Never mind that even getting to the base of the mountain was a 50 minute walk, half of which was uphill, but we were so not dressed for hiking under the hot sun. The cats clearly didn’t mind though, and we even saw cacti at the top with names etched into them. Once we got to the top the views made it all worth it. Lycabettus Hill is the highest point in Athens, much higher up than the Acropolis, and we could even see the Aegean Sea from the top! I had some ice cream in their fancy cafe and then we enjoyed the sunset. It was absolutely amazing. The most beautiful sunset I’ve seen on this trip. The rainbow of colours was beyond words. Unfortunately the photos don’t come close to capturing the beauty.
As the sun set behind a mountain, we descended and went for dinner. Lamb! We stopped by the bakery one last time and said goodbye to the owner. He was so friendly and gave us some extra food. I’ll miss him, and the hilarious way we had to communicate with him using gestures. (For example: to say that we were flying out tomorrow, I flapped my hands like a bird. He understood!)
Athens was awesome! Well, besides the cold weather, which was totally unexpected. We were sadly misinformed and thought that it would be super warm and could chill on the islands. Instead, we chilled and froze in our beds at night. But we had cheap, authentic, and delicious food for every meal and saw ancient ruins and a beautiful sunset. It was a great way to end my two weeks of insane travelling!