It was a long night, I’ll tell you that much.
I arrived at the airport at around 10PM on Monday night with the intention of sleeping at the airport to catch my 6AM flight on Tuesday morning. I’ve slept at the airport before, no problems. Just one difference. The last time I slept there, it wasn’t 35 degrees outside.
I grossly underestimated how cold that floor would be. Or rather, I underestimated the fact that it stays cold. Normally, if you just put up with the cold for a little while, you create a warm spot for yourself, right? Not these floors. They NEVER get warm. So I shivered for a few hours before I climbed up onto these chairs.
The chairs were certainly not better, as they are the molded kind, so lying across three of them put me in serious need of a chiropractor after an hour or so. Still, somehow, I managed until 4AM. Then, I got up to wait for my check-in to open, and I made it through security with no problems. The flight boarded and took off six minutes early, but I suppose that’s what I’d expect from Lufthansa, the airline that I believe is the best I’ve ever flown on.
One thing that I certainly have missed while using the budget airlines is the food! I do appreciate paying a lot less for WizzAir or EasyJet, but it sure was nice to wake up early and have a nice fruit breakfast with a delicious German granola bar handed to me for free.
Another note on the benefits of flying in the morning: you get this.
Anyway, I had a layover for 50 minutes in Munich in order to transfer to a different plane whose gate was changed, and the trip to Munich took me over the beautiful Alps. We didn’t see them for long, but it was a great sight while we did!
At Munich, I didn’t have much time but it was a leisurely stroll through the airport that left me with about fifteen minutes’ wait before boarding again.
This time, during the 2.5 hour flight, I was even more impressed by the Lufthansa food. I’m not usually a fan of airplane food, but this had tomatoes, spinach, orange juice, a chocolate cake that pretty much amounted to a giant, delicious Mounds bar, what I believe were eggs, and potatoes, as well as a wheat roll with butter. That’s pretty darn good, guys! Come on.
Although I do have one question – why does the drink box say apfel if it’s orange juice? I know I’m no German expert, but….
Anyway, it wasn’t until I arrived in Athens that I had any real issues. To be honest, I was quite disappointed in Athens’ Eleftherios Venizelos Airport; I expected it to be much more clearly labeled after the Olympics, but signs were obviously backwards. It was a little disgraceful. For example, the sign pointing to information about tickets for the train was pointing into a wall. Literally. There was nothing on the other side of the wall, no doors on that entire corridor’s walls, nothing. It was pointing the opposite direction of where you were supposed to get tickets. It took me a long time (and numerous information desks, who weren’t sure what they were talking about either) to finally get a ticket. But just to avoid a repeat of the Paris situation, I bought my return ticket at the same time. I have it with me, so hopefully there’ll be no issues returning the airport, at least.
My hotel, the Apollo Hotel, was almost laughably easy to find. It is literally about a thirty second walk from the exit of the metro station, and thank goodness the metros here go both ways! That was directed at you, Paris. I had the entire metro system memorized before I found my hotel, and it’s proved handy so far. I memorized it on the 40 minute train ride into Athens. Anyway, the hotel people here are very kind and I have a really nice room all to myself! I didn’t spend long inside, though. It was 2PM – far too much time left in the day just to sit around! At the same time, I knew I couldn’t finish everything, so I had to choose wisely. I sat and studied my map (so that I wouldn’t have to do the tourist sneak-a-look-every-five-minutes trick) and decided upon the places that I wanted to go, first off being Kerameikos. As usual, things never go as planned.
I got off at the Thissio stop at the prior suggestion of my Classical Mythology professor, who had told me as we’d been chatting about a week before not to get off at the Kerameikos stop, as counterintuitive as that may sound. Having learned the map, I knew what direction to go in, but I was one street too early. Unlike in Paris where you can just walk in the general direction of monuments and find them, in Athens (for the smaller monuments at least), you have to be on the right street or you will miss it. So I ended up walking past the Odeion of Herodus Atticus without taking any pictures because I didn’t realize that’s what it was, and then I backtracked to pop into a pastry shop for directions. The guy told me to walk in the opposite direction of where Kerameikos actually is in order to get to the Kerameikos metro stop. He said it would be shorter than me just walking there. And yet he was within rock-throwing distance of Kerameikos and the museum. Seriously, I’ve spit things that far. I don’t think the pastries were the only things in his store that were a little nutty.
Despite what the Athens website said, Kerameikos was closed, and I continued to run into that problem for the rest of the day. Therefore, I had to restrict myself only to monuments that I could look at from the outside without needing to get into because they were closed. I snapped a couple shots of Kerameikos, but I’ll be back when it’s open.
After Kerameikos, I was hoping to find a few of my must-eat foods, as always. But, Greece is a dangerous country, and it’s not the type of place where I can pull my usual “walk away from the tourist sites to find good food” trick. Areas away from tourist sites, and particularly food-filled places like Omonia Square, are dangerous for tourists, particularly single female ones. So, I’d asked myself before coming on the trip, How am I going to get good, authentic food without putting myself in danger? There has to be a way.
It came to me in the form of thinking like a local – if I was a local, I’d want an easily accessible place not bogged down by tourists. So I realized; I could find good places right next to the metro stations. I just had to make sure their menus were in Greek, not English.
Trust me, English people can’t decipher food names from Greek letters, so if a restaurant has a menu exclusively in Greek, English-speaking people very rarely try. I returned to the Thissio metro stop and went right down the restaurant alley until I found a place whose name (and menu outside) were in Greek.
They had exactly what I’d wanted and exactly what I thought I’d have the hardest time finding – dolmadakia and good baklava. As I was waiting for my food, I savored the great view of the Acropolis across from me.
Dolmadakia were the food items I was probably most excited about – stuffed wine leaves. They are a truly Greek food that is not too often prepared well outside the home. But this place succeeded with flying colors. It was by far one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten. The dolmadakia itself was well presented, and the sauce was gratuitous (which was good, since it tasted fantastic). The taste of the leaf was not overpoweringly “planty,” and the minced meat inside was savory but not smooth and processed or fake. The sauce was very strong and pungent, cheesy in a kind of white cheddar way without being white cheddar. Knowing that it tasted very strongly and like cheese is surprising when you discover that the sauce was actually avgolemeno sauce, made of egg and lemon.
That was a filling meal by itself, but I still had the baklava!
I have had baklava before, so I can now say with experience that I’ll probably only eat it in Greece from now on. This baklava was almost unbearably sweet, just as the others had been, but this one was full of the characteristic chopped nuts that I love. When I pressed down my knife to cut off pieces, sweet honey popped and bubbled like syrup out of the layers of the baklava’s thin, crispy pastry-like body. Way too sticky for its own good, that was easily the best baklava I’ve ever had. I have rarely been as satisfied with a meal in a foreign country as I was with that one.
After the baklava and dolmadakia was a quick pit-stop to take a picture of the Stoa of Attalos as I passed by, then I stumbled upon Hadrian’s Library by accident.
Before I realized it, I turned a corner and was standing in Monastiraki square, the lifeblood of trading and marketplace life in Athens. Honestly, it was the best thing that had happened to me all day. I loved the feeling of access into the lives of Athenians, and the attitude of the market itself was welcoming and cheerful. Charming, I’d say.
Despite the pouring rain (which perhaps gave Monastiraki even more character), I headed around to check out the various shops before hopping back on the metro and finally going to the Akropoli stop, hoping to buy the Acropolis ticket and then just not use it until the next day. Unfortunately, I was too late, so I wandered around some more looking for a kourabiedes, yet another food on my list. One elderly lady in a confectionery, happy to help with my search in any way she could, gave me a free rose-flavored Turkish delight (my favorite!) to see if that was what I was looking for. I’ve finally got a kourabiedes place staked out, though, so I’ll let you know how that goes.
Anyway, without being willing to start my Acropolis journey just yet, I headed in the opposite direction to catch a glimpse of the olympieion (or the Temple of Zeus) as well as Hadrian’s Arch, which just happens to be right there.
After Rome, I do feel that I’ve seen enough ruined columns for one lifetime, but I still appreciate the beauty of the temple and the arch.
It was starting to get a bit late, and the cloudy skies only made darkness come quicker. It was around 6PM, but I didn’t want to call it quits just yet. Still, with all the sites closed, what could I do? Head to a random city, that’s what I could do. And so I did.
I went to Piraeus, one of Greek’s primary port cities, to check out the boats and the water just to burn some time before heading back to the hotel.
Even more interesting than the water, though, was the quaint little bakery inside Piraeus’ train station. Naturally, I headed inside (haven’t you noticed that a lot of my must-eat foods tend to be in bakeries?). I was disappointed to find a sore lack of kourabiedes, loukoumades, or other sweets I may be interested in, but then my eye caught a glimpse of a glass jar and I was hooked.
We all know that Greece is famous for its olives, right? Well, the airline won’t let me bring olive oil back home with me, so I have to get my Greek olive fix while I’m in Athens. And what better what to do it than with chocolate covered olives? Yes, you heard me right. I bought myself two kinds:
After I got back to the hotel, I tried them and fell in love. They have only a very, very faint olive taste, and it’s more as if they were made with olive oil (just an oily taste that some chocolates have) than that they actually contain olives. I found the underwhelming presence of the olive strange but delightful. I suppose that’s how Greek olives are supposed to be after all, isn’t it? So the smaller ones are delightfully orangey tasting while the large ones are quite nutty. Quite a pleasant and surprising experience. After restraining myself to save a few chocolate covered olives for the next morning, I headed to the top of the hotel to take one quick photo to sum up my day before heading to bed.