Acclimating to Athens

Photo of Athens hillside with the Parthenon

Two continents, three countries and three iconic cities in one day is pretty cool with Greece being the 35th country that I have visited. The flight from Istanbul to Athens last night was really uneventful, especially the speedy pass through Greek immigration.

Gee, could Turkey immigration learn anything from the Greek? Doubtful! However, our Greek taxi driver was also a reincarnated Formula 1 driver in his former life and he drove us very quickly to our hotel destination.

Non-anti-government graffiti

The drive from the airport was nothing special in terms of what to see, but as we neared our hotel we could tell it was not something that would make the cover of a travel magazine. The closer we got to our hotel, the more graffiti we noticed. It seemed to be everywhere, and many buildings were completely covered by the spray-painted gibberish. We would later find out that people in Greece are not too happy with their government and some of them spray paint their opposition on public walls. Frankly, this might be a bit of a stretch as I saw graffiti that clearly had no anti-government connection.

Immigration at the Athens airport, as mentioned, was probably the most expedient I have ever experienced. However, I should mention that someone told me that the reason Greek immigration is so quick, is that they want to hurry so they can go have a smoke! Despite my reluctance to spend the night in this obvious rundown neighborhood when we arrived at the hotel, our taxi driver assured us that it only looks bad but is really an up and coming neighborhood. We checked in with great efficiency at the Stanley Hotel and I was drinking my first Greek beer by 9:30 pm!

The elevator in the Stanley Hotel was so slow that we always used the stairs

When we awoke I had the opportunity to go out on our 6th-floor balcony to get my first look of Athens in daylight. I must say that I was not impressed; the surrounding buildings were in very bad condition, in fact, some should be condemned and torn down. The hotel we are staying in seems to be undergoing some major renovation, and much construction is going on. Our room had apparently just finished its renovation and still smelled horrible like it was freshly painted with a very strong smelling paint. We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, drank delicious Greek coffee all the while watching a homeless lady on the street below the window where we sat, yelling fiercely at her male partner who was bundled up on his make-shift sidewalk bed.

Ancient ruins and the new art of graffiti

Attached to our hotel is the underground subway system. We had grabbed a map from the hotel, marked a few places that we thought would be cool to visit and we headed to the subway station to buy tickets and begin our day exploring Athens. We didn’t want to do too much because we knew that we see many places in the coming days as part of our tour group. However, since we had a full day to do what we wanted, we thought it best to take full advantage and explore as much as possible of this city.

One-stop shopping for meat

At the subway station, we ran into a very nice couple who had the same idea as us. They were not part of our tour group but had taken the hop-on-hop-off bus the day before and wanted to return to see some of those places. The couple, Michael and Alice, are from England, he is British, and she is a Filipina. At our first stop, we talked with them for a little while and we wound up spending the entire day with them, walking to all the major sites.

Above, doppelgangers meet at what was once the center of the human universe!

Above, the site of the first “modern-day” Olympics in 1896

We saw the Acropolis, the Parthenon, Hadrian’s Arch, the fish and vegetable markets, the Hard Rock Cafe, and the changing of the guard where some rude man and his equally rude wife were acting as though they were privileged American’s. We had gotten there early in order to have a “front-row seat.” They thought that they could just cut in front of us at the changing of the guard and we quickly reminded him that they need to get behind. He mumbled some incoherent remark and my wife let him have it and those in our group who been assembled here for some time waiting to see the changing of the guards gave their approval. When I turned around to see the look on their faces, the two had sulked off. I have traveled to many countries and still cannot understand why some people are so rude and disrespectful. “Oh let’s just walk to the front of the line! We are privileged!”

I have watched the changing of the guards in four countries and still find it amazing

We walked, and we walked, and I felt so grateful that we had met these two wonderful people. They are both into photography and enjoyed taking photos as much as we do. I was quite amazed at the commonality that Michael and I had. He and I even look a lot alike and enjoy many of the same items, like metal detecting, artifact hunting, woodworking, etc. He and I were also married to Filipinas. Sadly, some low-life thief stole Alice’s hat from her purse! It wasn’t worth much, but it had sentimental value to her. Apparently, the thieves removed the hat from Alice’s purse, thinking that they might find her wallet underneath. From that point on we were vigilant with the protection of our articles!

The shop directly above was a paradise for a scavenger hunt!

Getting around Athens is unbelievably easy. Taxis are everywhere but we chose to walk around for most of the day and to use the subway, buying a day pass at the station that saved us money. Shops abound that have everything you could want. We found many places that had food so all that we brought from our hotel was a bottle of water.

Toward the latter part of the day, we found ourselves in a park area that was not too crowded and rather peaceful. We strolled along stalls where artisans were selling their crafts and we found a group of musicians who had begun an impromptu concert which we enjoyed very much. When I travel I always bring along a handful of change. I always drop some change into street musicians’ hats and then I don’t feel too guilty taking their photograph!

Above, very talented street musicians entertained us

My wife and I had such a great time with Michael and Alice that we felt compelled to buy them a nice dinner for being such good hosts. When I suggested that we would like to buy them dinner, Michael suggested a wonderful restaurant named, of all names, God’s Restaurant! And it was heavenly — pun intended!

Above, a heavenly meal from God’s Restaurant

We started the meal with the most delicious mussels I have ever tasted. They were so sweet and simply yummy, cooked in white wine and lots of garlic. I wound up having the shrimp which consisted of four super large barbequed prawns. Nida had the calamari, Alice the bream and Michael the moussaka. We had a great time and joked and laughed with the owner of the restaurant as we ate his delightful food. We finished our wonderful meal with Greek yogurt topped with Greek honey.

We ended the evening by walking all the way from the Acropolis back to our hotel, stopping along the way to photograph a few significant Athens buildings like the library. We made our last stop at the Bread Factory, an amazing bread/pastry shop where we ate pastries and drank tea. Sadly, Michael and Alice are going back to the UK tomorrow and I wish that they were on the rest of our tour of Greece.

It’s not everyday when you run into someone who looks a lot like you, talks a lot like you, and enjoys the same things you enjoy.  It’s even more rare when you run into that someone and their spouse is almost the twin sister of your spouse!  Rarer still is when this coincidence happens in some foreign country that neither of you had ever been to!  Running into Michael and Alice really made for a wonderful experience and we hope that they also enjoyed putting drops in their bucket. 

 

All photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography. Please contact me for authorization to use or for signed, high-resolution copies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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