My two and a half week spring break began on Wednesday afternoon, March 24. Most people left the weekend before, so the building was very quiet by the time I took the express train to Athens on Thursday morning. I saw Mom, Dad, Sam and Aaron for the first time in 2 months in the lobby of the Niki Hotel (just a few blocks away from Syntagma Square) once they got back from watching the Independence Day Parade. It was really wonderful to see all of them, and after loads of hugs and kisses, we and headed upstairs to the room to prepare for the day.
This was my first time in Athens, so I became a tourist once again. We went to Syntagma Square where there was a protest going on (surprise surprise), walked through the nearby National Gardens and saw the Zappeion, an old but beautiful fencing hall for the first summer Olympics. We then explored the area around the Acropolis which had an old city feel where there was an endless amount whitewashed houses covered in artistic graffiti and stray cats sitting atop motorcycles and hiding behind potted flowers. We didn’t go to the actual Acropolis because it was closed: it was independence day!
After lunch we walked around Monastiraki where Sam tried haggling with African street vendors for a crappy watch (which he did not buy, thanks to Mom’s warnings), we found the Jewish synagogue in Athens, and watched “Peruvians” perform street music while dressed as Native Americans in huge headdresses. It was quite a busy day and none of us had trouble going to sleep that night.
The next day, Friday March 26, we went through the same old village to get to the Acropolis. Sam was happy to do so because he accidentally deleted all of his pictures the night before, so he was able to capture the graffiti once again. It was 12:30 and we were all hungry, so before we went to the Acropolis, we decided to get lunch. We got a lot of appetizers and shared, happily eating the tasty feta, Greek salad, and meatballs on our plates. Our moods soon turned sour though when we walked back to the Acropolis. The gates were closed and we were not allowed inside, even though it was only 2pm. The reason? We weren’t there during the peak season! They closed at 1pm that day.
We were disheartened and walked along the path that went around those ancient ruins. On our walk, we found the Acropolis Museum. It had just been renovated less than a year before we were there. The main reason for this is because other countries like England, France, and Germany were keeping ancient Greek art and ruins in their museums after they had been stolen from Greece hundreds of years ago. Their excuse for why they still had these artifacts was because Greece did not have a place to properly care for these items. Greece has now proved them wrong. Their new Acropolis Museum is beautiful and the art in it is astounding. There was also a great view of the Acropolis from their outdoor patio where Aaron did some sketches of the ruins. Those other countries had better get their acts together and give them their stuff back!
After the museum, we walked up steep streets to make it to the fenicular railway, which took us up to the top of Mount Lycabettus. Mount Lycabettus is a small mountain that is the highest point in Athens. In mythology, it was said that the goddess Athena accidentally dropped the mountain there while carrying it to the Acropolis. A beautiful mistake. We were there at night and could see the whole city, its lights glowing at us while the city’s noise was on mute.
After being on the mountain, we went to dinner in the Plaka at a great restaurant. Mom asked the owner if we could have baklava for dessert, and he said no, “baklava is tourist food” and they mostly got locals. After not eating tourist food, we raced over to Syntagma Square and watched the changing of the guards. Quite an entertaining dance with army men in traditional skirts. We went to take a picture with one of the guards and he got mad at me for standing on his right side. Because he wasn’t allowed to speak, he instead banged his rifle on the marble beneath his feet, indicating that I was doing something wrong. I got the picture, scooted over to his left, and stood there solemnly, though the camera got me with a terrified look on my face. It was great blackmail material.
The next day, we finally made it to the Acropolis. We got up early, bought super classy sunscreen (“coppertone? do you want to fry?” – Pharmacist) and hiked up to the top. It was very very crowded with student tour groups and people speaking hundreds of languages all around us. It was an intense experience but we made the best of it. Mom played tour guide and read to us from the Lonely Planet tour book about the ruins that surrounded us. The view of the city was phenomenal, and we even thought we could spot our hotel from there.
Mom and Dad heard from Uncle Pano that they should go to Sounio, the area of the Temple of Poseidon, at sunset. The bus comes every hour, and by the time we found the the bus stop, we had just missed it. So we waited for a long time and finally boarded it at 5pm, along with a large group of Spaniards. The trip was long and took about an hour and a half, but it was beautiful. Blue waters surrounded us as dusk set in and we passed through many small towns. By the time we got there, it was almost sunset. As we all walked to the temple, a woman closed the gates. We spoke at her in anger, asking how she could close up shop after we had taken such a long ride and had all paid to get there? She remained firm and repeated that the site closed at sunset. One Greek woman tried reasoning with her and she screamed back at her. Oh well. We walked on the island that surrounded the temple and looked at the ground that almost looked red, and the incredibly blue sea that was surrounding us. The temple looked beautiful behind the sun, with colors exploding behind it.
The next morning, we said goodbye to Athens and left for Delphi. Mom and Dad decided to rent a large white Fiat van which would become the family car for a week. The trip took around 4 hours and was gorgeous yet again. Before we got to our destination, we went through a town called Arachova that was clearly a ski town. There were woolen sweaters and caps hanging from store windows and the place was not very populated because of the season.
We checked into the Sun View Pension, a family run hotel with a beautiful view of the Corinthian Gulf. We went for a walk around the small town and went into the small church to see the art. There were more people than usual because it was the middle of holy week. We then went down to the main street where we found a light dinner and then went to bed. The next day, we went to the site of the Oracle where there were numerous ruins and gorgeous views. Mom played tour guide again, though none of us were quite sure what ruin was what. I did come to the conclusion that Delphi is definitely one of the most beautiful places that I have ever encountered. Well worth the visit.
Later that day, we took another 4 hour trip and drove to the town of Kastraki, the small town closest to Meteora and right next to the larger town of Kalambaka. On the way, we stopped on the water to skip rocks and enjoy the view. The Greek country side really is beautiful. We got to Kastraki at dusk and walked down to the central part of town which includes 2 small markets and a few restaurants. We went to a small taverna and then went to bed at the Doupiani House where there were some views of pretty spectacular geological enigmas.
The next morning we checked out and drove up to Meteora, home of monasteries atop huge jutting cliffs. I don’t need to describe it because I already did in a previous post when I went there with my school some weeks before, but I can tell you that it was a different experience. Because of holy week, some of the monasteries were closed which meant there were a lot less people. It was bright and sunny this time, and the last time it was hazy and gray. And I can’t say I enjoyed one experience more than the other – they were just different and I had a blast each time. When I was in one monastery, I lit a candle for Papou. He would have loved it there.
We then drove to Thessaloniki. I neglected to mention this before, but throughout the entire trip, I was sick. I got worse and worse as time progressed, so by the time I got to Thessaloniki, all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and sleep forever. So the next day, I went to a pharmacy with my parents where we met Nana, a very kind pharmacist in her late 60s who, to my surprise, spoke very good English. She immediately called her personal doctor and made an appointment for me on the spot. We thanked her and walked downtown and found the doctor’s apartment where he worked. As we walked in, a woman was leaving and stared at me for a second. After noticing my chai necklace, she said “Eisai Evraika?” Are you Jewish? Nai, I responded, I was. She gave me a bright smile and left.
We waited in his old waiting room for about 10 minutes. Mozart’s “Requiem” played in the background and all I could think was that, for some reason, it was totally appropriate. When he called us in, it because clear that he did not speak English and I did not speak Greek. I would pantomime my problems and dad would translate back. The doctor took me into his examination room, looked me over, and figured out that I had bronchitis. His prescription? 4 different medications including antibiotics, 5 oranges a day, 2 glasses of tea, and 1 bowl of soup. Awesome. By the next day, I felt lightyears better but the family had to go. It was a lot of fun and I missed them instantly, but I was excited for my next trip: Paris!