I was finally able to reach home yesterday after a long drive from the big city. I downloaded my Greece vacation pics last night; I was in the middle of sorting them out when thunderstorms knocked the power out, twice. But tonight, I've finally been able to put together some pics and share my Greek adventure with you. Looking at all those pics, I couldn't help but laugh that my impression of Greece made me think of Vespians, Thespians, and Lesbians. It was a lot of fun! The Greeks really are a very friendly people. And I finally got to see the places of the Greek myths that I enjoyed reading about so many years ago as a small child.
It was a long flight, about eleven hours, from the US to Athens, Greece. Luckily, I flew on Continental Airlines, which is one of the more friendly and comfortable airlines. Now, after going through customs and swine flu screening--they had scanners checking us out as we left customs--I picked up my bags and headed out to where the travel agent was waiting with the taxi driver.
Greece Travel Tip #1:
Unless you've made arrangements for a private taxi, taxi drivers can pick up other passengers along the way. Everyone pays their own fares. But if you want your own taxi, a travel agent can make all your travel arrangements that includes private taxi service. Or you can take the metro or bus.
I used Matt Barrett's website to plan my trip. His site provided very useful information as well as great travel agencies to use. I was very happy with Fantasy Travel, an agency on his website.
Now, the taxi ride itself was a, shall we say, thrilling experience. It was like being on a rollercoaster, with the car driving really fast, weaving in and out of traffic. And traffic was crazy! Everyone drove really fast, and when we started getting into the heart of Athens, the roads got smaller and more crowded. People were very aggressive on the roads. You need more than defensive driving, you need some offensive driving as well to survive the traffic! A few times, I thought we were going to crash. The fact that I wore my seat belt while the driver didn't should've been my first clue that I was in for an exciting ride!
The Greeks seem to love the tiny cars. I saw mostly tiny cars and Vespas, which were perfect for their small, sometimes twisted, and crowded streets in the city. I was amazed at how deft (and bold) the scooter riders were as they just dodged and drove past the cars stuck in traffic!
But after surviving the taxi ride, I finally made it to my hotel, which was just a short walk away from the Acropolis!
Now, to be honest, I wasn't sure if I wanted to pay to enter the Parthenon. There were a lot of ruins and sites in the Acropolis and surrounding area that were free. And those sites were just as important and more fun to explore! Like the Areopagus, for example.
The Areopagus (or Mars Hill) is the site of the ancient Greek supreme court as well as the refuge of murderers and the place where even the Greek gods and mythological beings were called to trial, such as Ares and Orestes. This was also the site where Paul preached his message when he arrived in Athens to spread Christianity. It's also a great spot to survey the city and check out other sites. That's Mount Lycabettus in the background, the highest point in Athens.
Greece Travel Tip #2:
Wear comfortable shoes when exploring sites in Athens. Some of the ancients sites are really slippery. The stone steps and paths have become very smooth from thousands of years of millions of people walking on them.
There are so many paths and trails around the Acropolis. It was quite breathtaking to see the juxtaposition of ancient archaeological sites and modern shops and restaurants. It's incredible to think that the city of Athens has been continually inhabited for 3,400 years! But there's a beautiful blending of the ancient and natural and modern elements in the city that makes it unique and spectacular.
Greece Travel Tip #3:
When it comes to dining, there are plenty of good restaurants around the Acropolis. If you're not sure where to eat, just ask a local. Or just follow your nose to whatever smells delicious, and if you see a lot of locals there, then chances are, it's a great place to eat.
Try to eat outside, because the atmosphere is great for people watching and enjoying the sights. But be warned that there are smokers present; it is Europe. Otherwise, enjoy the indoor tables if you want a smoke free environment.
I was pleasantly surprised at the friendliness of the Greek people. I was also surprised to learn about their customs. These are some of the interesting things I learned from my first day in Greece:
The service staff were surprised at getting tips. In fact, they guessed that we were Americans because we left tips. But the service was excellent. And after you eat, you can just sit in at the table for as long as you like, just people watching. Make sure you have large sunglasses; it makes people watching easier and it made me feel very European. I had to get used to just sitting there, enjoying the view, no rush from the staff. In fact, you have to ask for the check when you're ready to leave. They won't bring it unless you ask for it. It's so very laid back at the restaurants, as opposed to the hustle and bustle of the city.
I enjoyed eating a gyro dinner. I learned that the Greeks pronounced it as 'Yee-roh', and it's a huge plate of mixed grilled meat, vegetables, fruits, and yogurt. And it was absolutely scrumptious! As I enjoyed the outside bistro atmosphere, some little girl playing an accordion came around, hustling for money.
Normally, I don't hate street performers, but this little girl was playing the accordion terribly, and having her around the table for a few minutes was worse than the second hand smoke that blew across my face occasionally. Luckily, years of battling those Girl Scout con artists had hardened me against the sneaky tactics of little girls hustling for money. Have you noticed how the Girl Scout cookies are getting smaller each year while they hike up their prices? I ignored Accordion girl and didn't make eye contact or acknowledged her presence til she got the hint and moved on to another target.
After dinner we took a leisurely stroll around the area. I was surprised to learn that everything in Athens is a lot closer than what I'm used to. I had gotten a map from hotel reception, and the scale was much smaller than the US maps I was used to. Every point of interest and site was within walking distance. I had to get used to hearing scooters driving almost everywhere. Just move out of the way when you hear them. We came across a car rally. These local Greeks were celebrating their small, cool cars.
See? They like the tiny cars and Vespas!
There was so much art and architecture and archeology all around Athens. That included my hotel. Underneath the hotel was a section of Themistocles Wall.
It was built secretly around 478 BC to protect Athens from Sparta, the enemies/allied city states having just survived and repelled a Persian invasion--the Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians, and 400 Thebeans made a heroic and legendary stand against 200,000 Persians.
There were also lots of statues in the hotel.
I was amazed at the incredible view from my balcony. I could see Philopappou Hill right outside, and if I turn right, I could see the Acropolis.
I had arrived in Athens around noon, but I had seen so much in half a day and I couldn't get to sleep til long after midnight. It was hard to believe that I was here. I was in the land of myths and history, the birthplace of Western civilization. And tomorrow would be another incredible day to experience the wonders and splendor of Greece.