Monday, February 15, 2010

Athens. Freaking. Greece. (Pics Pending)

(Disclaimer/Warning: This post is H-U-G-E!)

My friends, I have been to the promised land. Athens is hands down the most incredible place I have ever set foot and I can’t begin to explain how difficult it was to leave it. However, I can explain what I did while I was there. Buckle your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen.

We got to Heathrow airport about an hour and a half before our flight. Olympic is a small airline company, so we took some time getting to the check-in desk. Once there, we were informed that our flight had been cancelled. Greece was on strike. I know. Cam and I aren’t two to complain, so we were good with a re-route through Paris (even toasted ourselves with our Coca-Cola). Then we found out we couldn’t re-route through Paris but would have to wait until the next flight, which was 7am Thursday. If nothing else, at least the girl at the desk (Estefania) was smoking hot with an italian accent to match. Boo ya silver lining. So, we got back on the Tube and headed back to the centre. The Rome group was on their way out the door, but Ali and Allyson were home still, so we went to find a show. An Inspector Calls looked like it got good reviews, and everybody was fine with it so we bought student-priced tickets at half off for the third row. We had about an hour so we grabbed burgers and then were the first ones to get our seats at the theatre. I don’t remember the name of the theatre but it was beautiful. The show was very well done (better be for that price) and totally worth the money. I won’t give anything away in case any of you go see it, but the main piece in the set is a house suspended a few feet off the main stage. Near the end of the play a bomb hit’s the house and the thing tips over, sparks flying, and all the china falls off the table and across the stage, almost hitting people in the first row. Pretty sweet, eh? So we headed back home and went to bed around 1am. And needless to say it was hard to get to sleep.

4am hike from the Centre to Paddington station. Anybody that hasn’t walked through London at 4am really should. Just throwin’ that out there. Jumped on the Heathrow connect, got in trouble for having my feet up on the seat across from me, got on a plane, ate some weird Al-Italia Airlines airplane breakfast, flew over the Alps, touched down in Athens freaking Greece. The passport line was a joke. For most of the time there were only two lines: one for people with European Union passports, and one for everybody else. Lucky for us there was a funny, gigantic Serbian dude in line with us for entertainment. After a while the three of us decided to just jump in the newly-formed line for Asian people. Choosing to let Serbia go first we proceeded through the gate with our new Grecian visas. I loved Greece the second we walked out of the airport. We’ve gotten maybe four legitimately sunny days here in London, but it was going full force in Athens. More international student discount tickets for the train system (I love that little blue card), around green hills, and into the underground.

We wanted to hit the Acropolis first, but we decided it would be cool to get out a stop early to see where we went. Thinking it something would be cool is apparently an act of inspiration, because we walked out of the underground station (which, by the way, had museum display cases and classy music going) and right in front of Syntagma Square, which was revamped for the 2004 Olympics. On the north side is a gorgeous yellow building that used to be the beautiful Grande Bretagne hotel. Winston Churchill stayed there during WWII and an attempt was made on his life. So we decided not to stay there (money was no issue…it was all a safety precaution. As you all know being a janitor and sports camp counselor has made me a rich man). The hotel was built in 1862 an an annex to what was then the summer palace of the royal family. It is now the Vouli, or Greek Parliament Building. In front of it is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded by the Evzone soldiers. We got to see a quick changing of the guards, took pictures with the bajillion pigeons there, and headed toward where we figured the Acropolis was. Once out of the way of Syntagma metro station, we came to a big old park with palm trees. Palm trees! So we bought giant sugar-covered donuts from some old guy that only spoke Greek (go figure) and walked through the park. Sculptures, mini ruins, more palm trees, the works. Turns out we were walking through the National Gardens. So it had been roughly twenty minutes and we were already blowing through the must-sees.

We could see the Acropolis way up to our right, so we decided to head out of the National Gardens. So we walked out of the gardens and right in to the Panathenian Stadium. The Panathenian Stadium was built in 1896 when the Olympic Games were revived. It is a giant horseshoe shaped stadium made of stone, with 47 rows of seats that hold up to 60,000 spectators. It was built on the same site where the Panathenaic Stadium--where contests were held for years and years starting in the 4th century BC--was built. The modern day stadium was built from the same plan as the ancient one, which was described by the geographer Pausanias in the 2nd century AD. Needless to say, I was reveling in the life I am living. On our way towards the Acropolis we saw a girl on a four-wheeler driving through the street. Athens rocks. We made our way down a nice little road till we came to these ruins and this arch. The ruins were fenced off and closed for the day, but we were still pretty close to them so we snapped some pictures. The arch was cool, so I took a few shots of it. So as we’re wandering aimlessly we crack open our Athens book and figure out what we had just been looking at. The Temple of Olympian Zeus. Zeus! Figuring that out pretty much made the whole holy-CRAP-we’re-in-Athens-freaking-Greece experience come alive. I’ve always thought that Greek mythology is fascinating (PS - Look up the new Clash of the Titans trailer. It’s gonna ROCK) and Hercules is one of my all-time favorite Disney movies, so I was all about the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Are you kidding me? I was totally there! Oh, and the arch thing? Yeah, Hadrian’s Arch. Same Hadrian that built the wall here in Great Britain. You should look him up on Wikipedia, because I write too much…and there’s so much more to go.

We could see the Parthenon through Hadrian’s Arch, so we headed that way. The hills around the acropolis are gorgeous, and it was a beautiful little hike. The Acropolis was closed for the day (we figured it would be), but we did have the chance to take a few pictures of the front of the Theatre of Dionysus. We promised Dr. Macfarlane that we would actually make this trip somewhat educational, so we hit up the newly-built Acropolis museum. It was a pretty cool museum. They have the pieces of the frieze (the rest of which Britain stole and keeps in the British Museum), and the walkway is made of reinforced glass so that you can see down into the ancient foundations of the building(s) that were there back in the day. Saw lots of sculptures, and some cool pots, and a ten-minute movie that we conked out during, the normal museum kinda stuff. Anyways, enough of the boring stuff. The sun was beginning to set, and that was our cue. Checked the map, found the Hill of the Muses, and started a hike up to the Philopappus Monument through the lush greenery that is the Acropolis. The sun was setting fast, so we booked it up the hill. We made it to a rock face, not huge but not small. Cameron found a path that would probably lead around it. Probably a good idea, but…I’m Calvin, so I went up the rock face. It was a little steep for me and my backpack near the top, but I got a hand up from our first-made friend Raffi. (From Milwaukee, touring Europe for kicks, needed a friend to talk to. Nice guy but we ditched him after getting down the hill. Have you seen Taken? That ain’t happenin’ to me!) What’s important is that I beat Cam to the top and I was about to have an experience of a lifetime.

This experience will merit it’s own paragraph. Oh. My. Goodness. South of the Philopappus monument is the Aegean sea. It was partly cloudy, and the sunset was to die for. I literally could have sat down and died at that moment perfectly content with my life’s experiences, where I have been and where I had come. Thankfully I’ve got some more time in me, so I decided to hang around, and the sunset was out of this world. It is number two on my list of sunsets (number one came walking into a ravine while trying to hitchhike with a mission companion in Aparecida de Goiania, Brazil) and the pictures will never, ever, EVER do it justice. The wind was coming off the Aegean, the sunset was more proof than anyone could ever need to prove the existence of God, and those few minutes were awesome in every sense of the word. Turn around and watch the lights come on across the way at the Acropolis. We got to see them light up the Temple of Athena (Parthenon) and off in the distance they eventually turned on the lights at the top of Lycabettus Hill. We just took picture after picture after picture, sitting on the rocks enjoying the idea of being alive.

Woke up next to Cameron. That’s right, we shared a bed. A double bed, for the record. It was cheaper to get one bed, and we got our own bathroom which is a blessing in a hostel. Our hostel was called Fivos. It was pretty hilarious. Our room was small, but we just slept and left. The bathroom always had hot water, we were next to a club so we got sweet bass to dream through all night, and we were really close to Monastiraki Square. Both Thursday and Friday nights we ate dinner at a place we found just off Monastiraki called Ice Grill. Our first night we sat down because the street guy told us he’d hook us up with free donuts. The second night we went because we were absolutely hooked on the Gyros. I am not even kidding you when I say that all we ate the entire trip was donuts and gyros. (Here’s a corny joke for you to tell Kristy, Chad: Did you know donuts were invented in Athens? Yeah…they were fried in grease. Bwahahaha, yeah it sucks.) Anyways, Ice Grill at Monastiraki. Try it.

Since my life was not absolutely incredible already, we had to top Thursday. What better way to do it than to take a cruise to the Greek islands? So we did. We had sent emails to them telling them we wanted to come, but we hadn’t actually bought tickets (planning is for suckers and missionaries). We just went to the hotel where we knew their bus was going to stop and waited for them to show up. We were three minutes late. They had already split, so Cam called and I went in search of breakfast. I was bummed when all I found open that early was a McDonalds, and it took a year to get our sausage McMuffins with cheese, so the bus came and went again. We weren’t about to not go on a cruise, so we found a taxi guy that spoke English (third time was a charm), got into his Mercedes taxi cab with leather seats, and set off for the pier. He didn’t talk much, but the man did his job. He just kept saying, “We will find it,” and we did--dock E1. We gave him a pretty good tip and ran over to the boat. We were literally the last two on and they were set to pull away as we got on. We told the ticket guy that we hadn’t actually paid and that we weren’t actually staying at the hotel they had passed by, but we had money so he let us on.

Our ship’s name was the Platyteka. It had three levels: bottom level was the dining/entertainment room, middle/main level was the bar, a bunch of tables, and a jewelry store, and the top level was the sun deck. I love big boats, and I was all about the waves. Cameron hasn’t been on any water much in his life, so he was feeling a little sick for the first while but he didn’t barf (he’s a man). Our morning was a bit cloudy, but not cold and the ocean is the greatest blue ever, switching quite a bit between hues. After 2+ hours on the ocean we arrived at our first island: Hydra. Hydra is a wicked awesome little island. Cars are banned there, and roughly 3,000 people live on the island. The main port where we docked is just a city built in to the side of the beach. There’s a big retaining wall around the front of the port, with lots of canons. The water in the bay was light blue, and clear as…well, water. We could see the rocks down in the bottom, even as we got further out on the hillsides. It was so hard not to just jump in. But we were biding our time and had our swimsuits on under our jeans. We didn’t have a ton of time on any of the islands, so we just kinda walked around and took some pictures. I even found a way old windmill. I freakin’ love windmills! We also got pics of a guy riding a donkey up the side of the mountain. Looked through some shops, walked and talked for a few minutes with a girl named Teresa, and got back on the boat. We sat at a table with two ladies from Georgia. One was Renata and the other one’s name I forget. They go somewhere every year together because their husbands hate to travel. They had lots of cool stories about places they had been. When they found out we go to BYU Renata asked, “so…are y’all Mormon?” We pled guilty and they thought it was really interesting, especially when we told them about missions. Cam served in Cambodia and I went to Brazil, so we had our own sets of stories to tell them. It was a great lunch of salad, rice, and kababs, and as soon as we were done we had docked at Poros.

Poros was far and away my favorite island. It’s very small, very green, and the water was the greatest color. We docked right under a hill with a clock tower on it. Again, we didn’t have much time so Cam and I took off up the hillside through the houses. This island gave me a lot of deja-vu back to my mission. I’m not sure if it was the random fruit trees, the steep houses crammed into one another, the lemon trees (we picked one for Teresa, because she hates lemons and yellow is not her favorite color. Can you tell how alike Cam and I are yet?), or the old lady hand-washing her clothes and hanging them out to dry. Regardless of what it was, it was a good deja-vu. The clock tower was sweet, but there wasn’t much besides that to see on Poros. It’s really cool though because the mainland is so close. I believe they said it’s about 400 meters away, 200 meters at the closest point. Again, I really wanted to swim but I decided to wait for the last island. So we slowly made our way down some very steep streets, checked shops (I found you a souvenir mom) and bought some chocolate croissants to accompany us along the little bay and back to the ship.

Teresa joined us on the sun deck for the voyage from Poros to Aegina. She’s pretty cool. She’s from LA, not a Lakers fan but not a Raiders fan, so we could be friends, had been in Germany for a while and was now on a trip with some of the people that she works with. It was cool to have somebody our age and fluent in English to talk to. She’s…20 if I remember correctly. We told her we were going to swim and she told us we are insane (the water, while beautiful, looked freezing). So anyways, we got into Aegina and we had a little bit more time. The cruise company has two tours that they will take you on. Tour 1 goes to a Byzantine-era Orthodox church and then takes you somewhere where you can try the delicacies and alcohol. Tour 2 takes you up to the Temple of Aphaia and over to the other side of the island. We wanted tour 2, but the ship was far from full so they pushed for tour 1. Cam and I weren’t about to throw 25 euros at a tour to one church and a bar, so we said ‘screw you guys, we’re gonna taxi it up.’ So we found another Mercedes-Benz cab with leather seats (first try this time) and bargained with him. Eventually he told me that for 40 euros he would take us up to the temple and give us 40 minutes to look around, then take us to the church for a few quick pictures. So we did it. The Temple of Aphaia was pretty awesome. According to Wiki, Aphaia (Greek Ἀφαία) was a Greek goddess who was worshipped exclusively at this sanctuary. The extant temple of circa 500 BC was built over the remains of an earlier temple of circa 570 BC, which was destroyed by fire circa 510 BC. We got some great pictures, looked across the sea to Athens (far away but visible), and headed over to the little shop. I was not aware that Aegina is the home of world famous pistachios (my fafe-wit), so we bought a bag. No wonder they’re famous…the pistachios were SO good. Anyways, back in the cab and on to the Byzantine church for a few picturse. We waved to Renata on our way out. I was hoping to find the guy that wouldn’t do tour 2 so I could moon him, but lucky for him he wasn’t there. After a relatively short but scenic drive we arrived back at the Aegean sea.

It was time; time to swim. There was a rain storm on its way, the wind was getting crazy, but I was not about to be at the Aegean sea without getting in. I went first. Got dressed down into my swimming suit (well…basketball shorts), had Cam hold my camera and my towel so I could get dry fast, and walked into the Aegean sea. The water was FREEZING, but it tasted like the ocean and I was loving every second of it. Once I got out it wasn’t really cold (compared to that water not much is), so I just put on my shirt and got some pics for Cam. On our way back to the boat we just stayed in our flip-flops and towels. We walked by a lady at her stand. She stands up, looks at me, and says, “What? Shwimming?” I just smiled and nodded. “Where from?” A-freaking-merica. As we got a few feet away we heard her call across the street something that sounded like, “Hey, these two moron Americans just went swimming. How great is that?” We got great looks from everybody (who swims in February? Honestly) and it was a great way to finish a great trip. Got back to Fivos safe and sound after eating gyros at Ice Grill and hit the sack. Athens is incredible, but if you’ve got the time, the islands are really where it’s at. I could have stayed there forever.

Ok, this post is getting ridiculous, but I’m getting close. Saturday we got up before the markets were even open, so we found a donut stand and got our fix. We ate as we headed to the Acropolis. We got there three minutes before it opens, bought our tickets, and headed up to the Parthenon. I’ve been excited for a very few things in my life like I was for the Parthenon. Just so you know, “The Parthenon (Παρθενών) is a temple of the Greek goddess Athena whom the people of Athens considered their protector. Its construction began in 447BC and completed in 432BC on the Athenian Acropolis. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered to be the culmination of the development of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered one of the high points of Greek art. The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of ancient Greece and of Athenian democracy, and one of the world's greatest cultural monuments” ( The view of the sea and the city was incredible. The buildings were works of art. It was a great experience and I had time to just walk and enjoy the terrain and the history of where I was walking. I know the connections are limited, but my mind couldn’t help but think of the Mount of Olives and the architectural setup of Jerusalem. How interesting that the idea to build stunning edifices dedicated to deity has been a part of human creativity since man was created. After some pictures we hiked down to the Ancient Agora where we saw sculptures and the Temple of Hephaestus (patron god of metalworking). Then it was over to the Roman Agora to see the Tower of Winds. Then we walked past but not in to Hadrian’s Library. After that we grabbed some lunch (guess what we had) at a little restaurant, did some souvenir shopping, and hit the National Archaeological Museum, which was very cool even though we got yelled at by a disgruntled old man for posing in front of the statue of Zeus/Poseidon (I took a picture of him, just to remember). The two coolest wings were closed, and we had less than two hours to get through it, so we didn’t make a fuss of heading out.

It was finally time to head out of my new favorite place on earth. We had a little time, so we just laid out in the sun in front of the museum to soak it in before heading back to London. I took a few minutes to write post cards to family members and just relax from the insanity that had been our trip to Athens. Finally I bought us one final ginormous donut, and we got back into the underground. Apparently Greece is retarded and nobody works at the train ticket offices on Saturday, so we had to get out early and take a Mercedes-Benz taxi to the airport. But we got home safe and that’s what counts. As we got off the plane I looked at Cam and said, “Remember how this morning we were hiking the Acropolis?” Yep…my life is unbelievable.


Post a Comment