What Athens in Greece, stays in Greece: Until It’s in My Blog
Updated: Dec 17, 2019
When my alarm clock rang at 3:30am in London on a Thursday, I didn’t groan. I didn’t hit snooze. And I didn’t think about turning over and pretending like that buzzing noise was just another vehicle siren speeding past Kings Cross Station.
This was the trip I was waiting for - the trip to the land of hummus. Greece.
More specifically, Athens for a day and a half. Then it was a quick flight to Budapest before our feet touched UK soil again at the end of the weekend. We’d be catching flights like some people catch feelings.
Amrutha (my friend/the main planner of the travel group) helped us find the bus we needed to hop on at Kings Cross before making it to Stansted Airport. The worst part about London’s airports - all of them are about an hour away from where we were staying. This wouldn’t have bothered me much if I was only traveling every so often, and for longer periods of time than 2-4 days, but when it seemed like it was every other weekend, it became a (privileged) nuisance.
We ate breakfast at the airport (I got my usual avocado toast with eggs. Some things never change. . . . And a glass of wine. Because it’s five o’clock somewhere. Or something. *side eye whilst ingesting the last drop*)
The flight to Athens. A smooth journey until the end. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even blame this one on Ryan Air. I had a head cold and when we were landing, I literally thought I was going blind from this sheer pain rippling through my right eye and forehead. (We love that for me.)
It was 2:30pm when we landed in Athens, and luckily, I calmed myself down from my near sight-loss in time to have that beautiful black stamp smack my passport.
Welcome to Greece, folks.
To get to the hub of Athens, we took the local metro into town. It took like 45 minutes. I know, not that bad. But when you’ve been traveling since 4am (5am Greece time), common sense (or just sheer patience, let’s be honest here) just isn’t so common anymore.
When we got off the metro, I was simultaneously thinking about two things: 1. This had to be the most beautiful weather I’d seen in months, and 2. This had to be the run-down part of Athens. Where were the tall buildings?
Unlike some of the cities I went to, I did little research before coming; I didn’t really think about Athens, its landscape, or what the architecture might look like. (It was midterms season. Cut me a break, people.) I knew in general that Greece was not doing too hot in the economy department - so “not hot” that it was conflicting with their position in the European Union. But it was hard to wrap my head around it until I was actually there, walking down the pavement, taking in every wall of graffiti and every stray cat darting from behind a trash can into the seclusion of an obscure bush.
Toto, I don't think we are in London anymore.
So on the walk to the Airbnb, it was safe to say I didn’t have high hopes for anything super fancy. We spent what felt like ten minutes wiggling the key around inside the keyhole, all of us shoulder-to-shoulder in the tiny hallway, my pit stains growing bigger and bigger, before the door finally creaked open.
And . . . wow.
Two whole bedrooms, one bathroom, an open living room with an L-shaped couch, our own kitchen and kitchen table, and not one, but TWO balconies. The one out front had a hammock, a table with chairs, and a view of the Acropolis. All this, and for 24 USD per person. I don’t think I’ve ever felt richer.
We were all pretty hungry at this point (for once in my life it wasn’t just me), so we changed and took some pictures out on the balcony with the good golden hour lighting. (I know, I’m cringing at myself right now, too.)
We started perusing the streets for a restaurant we’d found online, but stopped at a different place instead along the way. We started off thinking we’d just do appetizers here, but with our appetites, it became a full meal. We each got a small dish, then shared all of it. We had tzatziki, Tirokafteri (a spicy feta cheese dip), and of course, hummus.
My friend Chantel and I decided to get a little crazy and try a Greek shot. Let’s just say it made tequila look like lime soda. (Wine, anyone?)
Good weather, a stomach full of hummus - I didn’t really care what we did on the rest of the trip, I was already living my best life.
Not long after, we found ourselves crossing paths with a huge protest. People were shouting things through megaphones in Greek, and the crowd was repeating and cheering some of the phrases. Many held flags, and people of all ages were walking: grandparents, little kids, teenagers and millennials. I couldn’t read the signs, so I didn’t really know what it was about.
We popped into a restaurant chain called Coffee Island around the corner. I asked them about the protests, and with what little English they had up their sleeves, they said protests here were common, and people protested about anything and everything, especially jobs and the government. (Kind of what I figured it would be.)
One of my friends said she’d heard from someone that we absolutely HAD to try this drink called a coffeecchino. As far as coffee goes, I always stick to my usual, low-calorie order: a Starbucks grande iced Americano with one pump sugar-free vanilla, one pump sugar-free caramel.
But calories don’t count when you’re in Greece. So I added one coffeecchino to my tab.
Drinking that thing gave me weird deja vu to the days of ten-year-old Allison guzzling Target ICEES down in under 5 minutes. (The only way I'd accompany my mom on errands.) Only this time, no one was there to tell me to slow down before I got a brain freeze.
The dips we’d had earlier were great. But they weren’t enough. At least, not when you’re in Greece for less than 48 hours and you're a self-proclaimed Food Fanatic. It was on to Monastiraki Square for Dinner #2.
Monastiraki Square is a flea market neighborhood. The whole place is just one big oxymoron: the square itself contains so many ancient ruins from a history where the wheel was still all the rage in the technology department. Turn your head an inch away from gazing up at the Acropolis, and you might narrowly miss an electronic flying toy with flashing colored lights graze your face as it falls back down. Ah, street vendors. A toast to that.
We found a restaurant where we could sit outside, and browsed the menu. Yep, still ordering dips. What’s a protein source? We don’t know her. Pour me another glass of Moscato, thanks.
I was starting to question whether or not a baby Hercules was brewing in my tummy by the time we made it to the dessert place, Sweet Bougatsa. Here we picked up some treats for sharing in the Airbnb.
Before we called it a night, we stopped at a Hookah bar (what they called Shisha) named 7 Times. I don’t smoke hookah often - on the account that it’s literally terrible for you - but when in Greece, do as the Greek do. My friend Chantel and I shared a water pipe, and at the end of the night, I chugged a blue lagoon cocktail right after complaining about how I was too full to take another sip. (I couldn’t let those Greek bartenders think Americans don’t know how to drink.)
When we got home, we pulled out the two desserts: kadayif and baklava, and broke metaphorical bread over the patio table as we sipped on cheap wine and marveled, once again, at the Acropolis. (The one time that day it was only metaphorical, and not literal. Athens, I love you and your love of dips.) The baklava was literally heaven - the kadayif I could do without.
I couldn’t seem to get my head around this whole thing. Greece. I was in Greece. All those multiple choice tests on the Odyssey, the Spartans, the creation of democracy, scattered over the hazy years of grade school - it was a full-circle back to this, back to the little structure out in the distance that I could pretend to squeeze between my thumb and pointer finger. Percy Jackson, take some notes. School was in session, and I was officially at the front of the class.
I sat outside in the hammock for a bit. When I originally got to the Airbnb that day, I had my heart set on falling asleep in it. Sometimes, you gotta throw those romantic ideas out the window if you want any chance of waking up and not feeling like you got hit by a car. (I paid 24 USD for this place - SOMETHING had to be a little cheap or I was going to start getting suspicious.)
Everyone thought it was funny I not only offered, but explained how I vehemently ENJOY sleeping on the couch when it comes to vacations. I have nothing wrong with beds. I sleep in one every night. But when it comes to travel and with a large group of people, sharing a bed versus getting a couch to myself isn’t even a question. Toss me a throw pillow and I’m out.
Day Two: You ever have those days when you wake up feeling kind of achey, bloated, and with a slight headache, then slowly realize you didn’t even finish a glass of wine the night before? That’s called a food hangover, my friends. Sugar’s the new B-52. Bottoms up.
Anyway, it was one of those mornings. But at 10am I slapped some sink water on my face, ate a granola bar, and threw on some sandals. It was Acropolis Hour, and the Greek Gods didn’t have time to put up with that bull.
First of all, don’t be like us and order a ticket online ahead of time if you’re a student. Students get in for free. Hopefully they take that accidental donation and put it to good use.
Once we finally got in, we wanted to get drinks before the hike. (Drinks for HYDRATION, friends. I don't think Athena would appreciate us rolling up lit to her temple.) Who doesn’t have still water at a concessions stand? Apparently the Greeks. I literally despise sparkling water, so I bit the cost of a sweet tea, cracked my knuckles, and tried not to think about how I was already sweating through the back of my shirt.
Here’s the thing about climbing the Acropolis: you don’t just hike one little staircase and you’re there. It’s a lot to take in - both the history of the whole thing, and the fact that your Fitbit is probably going to reach its goal thirty minutes into the journey.
We saw ruins from left to right, including an old amphitheater. I tried to imagine what a production would look like there. Wonder how much it would cost to sit at the front of the stage for a Broadway-like show; quite a few drachmas, I suppose.
The Parthenon is sincerely breathtaking. It’s kind of hard to wrap your head around the significance of this particular spot. I have a lot of moments like this, ones in which I am aware of the fact that where I stand altered history forever, and yet it still just feels like a Snapchat filter. It was also a huge highlight for me to just sit down and gaze out at the city. When I first arrived, I was caught off-guard by the dilapidation. But now I saw the beauty in the short buildings, in the clotheslines hanging outside, in the red shingled roofs that spattered the skyline here and there. I could find the beauty in things that are different from what was revered as “beautiful” in the United States.
For lunch we stopped at a cafe called Gargaretta. It was nearly impossible for us to get our own meals, once again, due to the entire menu looking enticing. An array of dishes were ordered to be split amongst the five of us. (Let me just say this: fried Oreos are an insult to all things fried. Fried avocado? A gift from Athena herself.)
We couldn’t go to the Acropolis without going to the museum, too. But once we got there, I literally felt like someone had put a melatonin in my tap water without telling me. Caffeine was in order. (If Hermes had wings, he surely found a Redbull somewhere.)
The museum was full of beautiful statues and pieces of broken architecture. Nothing like staring at a bunch of naked Greek gods to really start feeling like the hummus is showing through the waistline.
The excavation site underneath was an added bonus, and something relatively new to the public. The ruins showcase old baths, homes, workshops, streets, and drainage trenches that were once a part of everyday Ancient Greek life. I’m still in awe of how well they were able to preserve everything while completing the excavation.
You would think after two months of London’s haphazard chilly weather, we would be overjoyed by Athens' 70-degree wave of summer. Maybe that would be the case if we hadn’t spent hours hiking around Greek ruins with little water to spare. (Shoutout to my sweet tea for most likely being the sole reason I didn’t pass out on a fallen rock from heat stroke.) And besides that, the sun zapped us of any human battery life we’d managed to charge the night before.
Coffee Island? Coffee Island.
I know deep in my heart that the coffeechinos are most likely 93% chocolate ice cream and 7% coffee, but ignorance is bliss, and so was this fine, cool beverage on a nice Mediterranean day.
Everybody in the group kept talking about getting donuts, and I was not really catching on to the hype. Krispy Kreme is literally available in the Tesco down the street from us. I’ll never turn down a good blueberry cake donut, but still, why now?
Loukoumades. That’s why. Chantel had a place recommended, called Loukomades Ktistakis. These little Greek balls of dough were soaked in hot honey syrup and topped with cinnamon. My friend Amrutha said it reminded her of gulab jamu, a traditional Indian dessert. Let’s just say I’ll never question their donut hankering again.
At this point in the day, I was pretty sure I’d eaten more food in Athens than I’d eaten in every Thanksgiving meal of my 22 years of life combined. That didn’t stop us from balling out on dinner, though. Someone in the group was recommended a restaurant called Savvas, which featured a rooftop dining area and a view of the Acropolis.
If you thought for even a second that I didn’t order hummus, we’re no longer friends. In fact, I think everyone ordered a small dip dish again. It was like the Greek version of tapas. Or family style at Olive Garden. Only not. Better. WAY better.
We also got two servings of a dish called a “zucchini tornado” - fried strands of zucchini with yogurt sauce smothering the top. Commencing food coma in three . . . two . . . one . . .
The sun set as we ate and sipped our last glasses of Greek wine. Amrutha started this activity back in Copenhagen where everyone in the group goes around and says one Rose (favorite part of the trip), Bud (part of life you’re most excited about because of the trip), and Thorn (least favorite part of the trip). I love doing this because, yes, it does sound like a hypothetical scene from a Cheetah Girls movie that turns into a song about friendship and fierceness and all that other mushy stuff, but also because it makes me realize how fortunate I am, every time I hop on a plane, to be able to see so much of Europe in so little time.
We gave ourselves a half hour to an hour to go souvenir shopping in the little street shops of Monastiraki Square. Then we descended into the depths of the metro, giving Athens one last look goodbye.
It was time to pack away the shorts and start pulling out our passports.
Siri, how do you say, “Budapest, we’ll see you soon!” in Hungarian?
Where to Eat:
Coffee Island (to drink a coffeecchino): https://www.coffeeisland.gr/en/
Sweet Bougatsa (for sweets)
Savvas (for dinner with a view): http://www.savvas-restaurant.com/
Loukomades Ktistakis: https://patisserie-232.business.site/?utm_source=gmb&utm_medium=referral
We used the underground for pretty much all transportation.
Where to Stay:
We did Airbnb and it was extremely affordable and for great quality/space.
What to Do:
Monastiraki Square: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monastiraki
Acropolis Museum: https://www.google.com/maps/reserve/merchant?c=wX424TNHoFc&source=pa&gei=xFb4XdEak8q1BuL8ifgH&sourceurl=https://www.google.com/search?safe%3Dactive%26rlz%3D1C5CHFA_enUS744US744%26sxsrf%3DACYBGNR8gK-pnHKhBgs8ifsEexskHVwtPw:1576556164247%26ei%3DhFb4XaLcDoWUtAbdpLSYDg%26q%3Dacropolis%2Bmuseum%26oq%3Dacropolis%2B%26gs_l%3Dpsy-ab.3.0.0i273l2j0j0i67l3j0j0i67j0l2.2249.3386..4699...0.1..0.119.966.9j1......0....1..gws-wiz.......0i71j35i39j0i131j0i20i263.a0X2SRvHTIY&hl=en-US