Automatic Updates from New Blog

Hey, everyone! I’ve got some great news–I’ve finally figured out a way to give you guys access automatically to all of the posts showing up on the new Bythepathlesstraveled blog!

I know that it’s a pain to head on over there for new posts. But now, fear not! This is how it works:

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So click on the cog and you’ll see the five most recent posts from the new bythepathlesstraveled blog. Woohoo! In the cog there’s also the option to subscribe, and you can also view the archives if you don’t feel like scrolling all the way down. The magnifying glass is a search bar too, so feel free to search for a post if you are looking for something specific. 

I’m trying to make things a lot easier for you guys if I can, so if you have any suggestions, PLEASE let me know.

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So basically, I’m going to attempt to shortlink to some of my major post categories. Once you’re at the first post, you can use the navigation arrows on the vertical red bar to the left of the page to keep reading through chronologically. (Don’t worry, the arrows will be there!) 😀

To check out my China Series, click here:

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To check out my Europe/Hungary Series, click here:

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To check out my Flagship Niagara Series, click here:

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To check out my Things You Thought You Knew Series, click here:

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To check out my Japan Series, click here:

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(Cheap) Must-Eat Foods in Athens, Greece

Yet another list of great must-eats in Europe! This time, it’s Athens, which I spent a little while in during October of 2012. So what are the foods that you just can’t miss out on in Greece, the “land of the gods?”

First of all, I’d strongly encourage you to find Attalos, a restaurant pretty much right next to the Kerameikos Museum and the Stoa of Attalos (imagine that). 

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Known for its authentically Greek food at reasonable prices, you just have to be brave enough to tackle the menu, which is entirely in Greek as well. But if you know what you want, it’s no big deal! Since Attalos specializes in homemade cuisine, you’re in luck for finding one Greek dish that’s hard to spot outside the family kitchen — dolmadakia, or stuffed wine leaves. They are stuffed with a type of minced meat, and the sauce is made of lemon and egg.

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Don’t leave just yet, as Attalos also has some great dessert — baklava! I’m not joking when I say that honey oozed in jets out of the sides of this nutty dessert!

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Second, make sure that you make the quick trip to Piraeus, a port city very near Athens (accessible by metro). As soon as you set foot in the station, make sure to stop at the small confectionery for some chocolate covered olives

You heard me right. Greece is the land of olives, no?

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Third, if you eat nothing else in Greece, please for the love of food get some tyropitaMy preferred location for this cheesy bread is Ariston, notorious as one of the the best places in all of Greece for this super cheap treat.

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So what is tyropita? It is a miniature loaf of bread that, when served piping hot, contains strong, gooey cheese. My gosh, I don’t think I enjoyed any snack food in any country as much as I enjoyed this.

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Next, you can’t leave Greece without trying some loukoumades, a type of Greek doughnut that is actually almost nothing of the sort. Sure, they’re fried pastries (drizzled in honey, if you so choose), but take a chance and hold one up to the light. You’ll see it’s transparent! 

However, the thin pastry certainly isn’t lacking any flavor, and you’ll fill up fast! I would highly recommend the acclaimed Krinos as your restaurant of choice for loukoumades. Don’t be afraid to walk right back into the kitchen to ask for them fresh!

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You can get them on a plate and stay to eat (though you should probably share with a friend!), or you can have them boxed while they’re still hot. 

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Finally, I hope you will have realized by now that we’re in Greece — so try some Greek yoghurt! Although I’m not too much of a fan of it myself, a wonderful restaurant named Fresko near Plaka and the Acropolis Museum made me at least call a truce with my former yoghurt nemesis. 

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Although I personally recommend yoghurt with quince, a kind of peach-like fruit, it’s entirely up to you. They’ve got a lot of choices!

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 

In all honesty, I have only one warning for travelers, both new and seasoned: be afraid.

Be afraid that you will never return to this place.
Be afraid that you will never find this food again.
Be afraid that the cook whose food you just scorned has been looking for days for a simple smile because of a meal that he prepared.
Be afraid that you will return to wherever it is that you came from no different than when you stepped out the door, for that is the saddest end of all.

Greek “Odd”ysseys — Part 2

I can honestly say that, amidst my happiness at being in Athens, I woke up to quite a disappointment on Thursday. As an off-campus student, my registration time is long before any of the on-campus students, and so as soon as I woke up I logged on to register quickly for all the classes I had previously selected. I assumed that being one of the first in the whole campus to register would give me some advantages. Of course, the two classes that I absolutely needed the most were closed – Eschatology and Badminton I.

My petition to the Eschatology class was denied, which absolutely shocked me. Regardless, it’s the badminton which concerns me. I need that gym class during interim, and there’s no way to petition a gym course. So I’m going to have to hover over the registration system like a vulture to see if that gym class opens up. Somehow, I doubt it will.

Anyway, on to happier things. I made sure to get up very early Thursday morning (as usual) because my day would be busy and exhausting. Well, not so much “busy” as “time-consuming.” Not many things to do, just a few more in-depth activities to round off my time in Greece. I had a similar breakfast to the one the day before, packed my bags, and checked out of the Apollo Hotel, although Maria was kind enough to let me leave my bag there rather than carrying it around all day. Truth be told, if I’d had to carry it around, I would have done virtually none of the things I did. You’ll see why shortly.

I took the metro to Syntagma, where I crossed the street to Parliament to wait for the hour to strike. It’s a simple thing, but I always find guard changes entertaining and intriguing, and I was told that the guard change in front of the Athens Parliament is a great one. Indeed it was.

The guards, who were dressed in a very interesting way, stood unmoving. That’s the way they stand for hours each day. They’re like those soldiers in Britain (their official name escapes me at the moment); you know, you can go poke them in the face or something and they won’t do anything. The outfits these Greek guardians wore are supposedly replicas of ancient war clothing.

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About a minute before the top of the hour, a string of guards came marching in synchronized high-steps in a line down the main street. Yes, this does indeed happen every hour, 24/7. An extravagant, coordinated ritual filled the Parliament square for the next five minutes, dancelike in performance but intensely serious in function and atmosphere.

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Slowly but surely, two new guards swapped for the two who had been standing there rigidly. When the new guards were in place, a military officer came by each guard to make sure none of the strings of his tassels were tangled and that his outfit was folded correctly after the ritual. He’s also there to scratch noses (he is signaled to do so by the tapping of a rifle butt on the pavement) because those soldiers are no longer permitted to move once they face forward at their posts. So what exactly are they guarding? Well, the Parliament building for sure, but they’re more specifically there to watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is the sepulcher behind them with the carving of the dying Greek man.

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Have a look at a snippet of the ritual that I captured on video here: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2rxoFg0sV0)

It was only later in the day that I discovered that not only are these guards present in the front but also every block or so surrounding Parliament and that this ritual occurs at each location. I was surprised by that fact. Many of these rituals are happening when no one is even there to watch. I ran into it being performed three additional times throughout the day, and I kept bumping into the line of fresh replacement soldiers as I bumbled around in town.

After I’d watched the guard change, I headed back to the square to take a short walk down a side street and see if the orange KTEL bus was waiting for me. On the way, I observed two things that I’d like to point out; first of all, if you’re in Athens and you tell me that you can’t find a taxi, I’m going to slap you upside the face. Look at this place. I have never seen this many taxis anywhere else in the world!

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The second thing I’d like to point out is that, after having spent a few days in Athens, the logistics of the place are terrible. If you ever travel to Athens, I would recommend carrying with you at least three different maps, so that when one map has a road spelling that you don’t recognize, you can see it spelled differently on the other maps. I had four maps with me at all times, and I used all of them. For example, just look at the difference between one side of the same crosswalk and the other.

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Yeah. Get used to it.

So anyway, that’s the street I went down to wait. This was the deciding moment that I spoke of on Wednesday – Plan A, or Plan B? Plan A was to take the KTEL bus to Sounio, a city on the coast of Greece, to see the Temple of Poseidon there. Plan B was to do a whole bunch of other things. I won’t go into what they are now because I ended up opting for Plan B, so you’ll hear about them.

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Why didn’t I go to Sounio? Well, there are a few reasons. First of all, I had no idea how expensive it was going to be, as there is no recent reference (at least none more recent than 2010) about the fares, and from what I understand they can range anywhere from 3 to 6 euro each way. Second, the bus trip takes between 1.5 to 2 hours each way. It was 8:30, so I’d have to devote at least five hours to the trip (two to get there, one to see the sights and wait for the bus since it only comes once an hour, and two to get back). That would leave me at 1:30 and I had to be on the train to the airport at 3:30. There’s that awkward amount of time in between that’s not really enough to go do anything substantial but just enough time that you don’t want to just sit around and waste it. Third, it was a Friday, which means traffic is more likely to be heavier, which may delay the bus and make the trip even longer. Fourth, a series of political demonstrations over the Wednesday and Thursday that I was in Athens had the city swarming with police, armored cars, and swat teams with shields. I wanted to stay in the city instead of risking that, with a flight that night, I wouldn’t be able to get back in. Fifth, the Temple of Poseidon looks very, very similar to the Olympieion.

So all in all, I decided that Sounio would be a trip that I’d rather do if I can come back to Greece and spend more time in that particular region around Sounio. That way I could get some of the local cuisine and see the cities around Sounio without feeling rushed. It was too risky now, and it could turn out to be a great trip later. Problem solved.

With that decision made, I opted to begin my itinerary for Plan B, which included a long walk away from Syntagma – Mount Lycabetus. And I wasn’t there to take pictures. I was there to climb it.

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The trails up were unforgiving and steep. That’s not to say that there weren’t trails, just that they required a lot of leg strength (and substantially more for short people like me with a smaller step). I pretty much had to stick to the trails, because there were pits of cacti on both sides. It was like a death gauntlet or something – walk the razor’s edge, don’t fall to the sides or you’ll die. 😉

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Seriously though, I had no idea that Greece was so cactus-ized. I didn’t think it was the right climate. On Mount Lycabetus, though, people put their own spin on things by carving their names into the cacti rather than the stones.

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By the time I got to the top, beads of sweat were rolling down my neck and face. I was the only one atop the promontory except for an old man who was the attendant of the small church there on the mountain. He smiled happily at me and continued sweeping and feeding the cats down on the steps to my right.

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There were some great views from the top.

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There was also the amphitheater, which is situated a bit further down on the hill. A lot of people were there because, unlike the point where I was standing which was only accessible via climbing, the theater is accessible via a funicular that tunnels through the mountain. So, lazy people can pay 6 euro each way to ride it rather than climbing the mountain.

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I spent a while up there enjoying the view before I made the descent, which was significantly easier than the climb up. Once I got back onto the main streets (which were unfortunately a bit sketchy and prompted me to walk a bit more quickly through them), it was a straight shot to my next destination, Panathenaic Stadium.

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For those of you who don’t know, Panathenaic Stadium is the stadium that was used in the ancient Grecian games, back when they were exclusively a Greek thing. The Romans had hold of the stadium for a while, when it became a gladiatorial arena where men fought with each other and with wild animals. It has a strong connection with the 2004 Athens Olympics, but this is not the stadium in which those were held. I went inside and climbed to the top, which was almost as steep and difficult as Lycabetus had been.

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And yes, there’s Mount Lycabetus in the background.

The “priority seats,” or “thrones” of the stadium were the places in which important people sat to watch the games, and the king and queen had their own seats as well.

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I also got the chance to walk down the tunnel through which the athletes themselves walked in ancient times, and I could really get the feeling of how intimidating it must have been to come out of the darkness of the cavern into the bright light and the roaring crowd.

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Also, at the opposite end of the tunnel (where young girls used to dance naked, strangely enough), there is now a room that contains all of the torches from all the Olympics in history. I made sure to take a picture of each one, but some of my favorites were from Sydney in 2000 and Torino in 2006.

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Since I was in an Olympic stadium (in Greece, no less), I just couldn’t help myself. I lined up next to one of the Herms on the track, waited for my watch to strike 12, then bolted. The material on the track has fantastic grip, so it was quite comfortable to run on.

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But come on, honestly, if you’re standing in an Olympic stadium in the country where the Olympics began, are you really going to just stand there and watch? The track was huge, and I certainly am no runner, but I was not about to let myself pull one of those “well, I almost ran the whole way” things. I pushed through the exhaustion and made it back to my starting point, having run the whole way, in 1:45. For me not being a runner (and in fact hating running in general), I’d say that’s pretty darn good! The Olympic time for one lap on that track is fifty seconds, though….

So yeah, I enjoyed a long stay in the stadium to take it all in. When it was time to leave, I thanked the ticket lady, gave her back the audio guide (which was free, by the way), and went back the way I’d come. At this point, I saw the guards doing their dance once again, and I think the tourists watching them were a little surprised to see me walk by without a second glance. But I’d already seen it more than once at that point.

A short walk away was the entrance into a beautiful wooded area which led to the National Garden. I really enjoyed the quiet, refreshingly cool (especially after mountain climbing and running the Olympic track!) atmosphere.

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I sat down on a bench, listening to the sounds of birds I did not recognize (which was nice in its own right) until I realized, Man, there sure are a LOT of bird sounds around here. What is going on? I walked a bit further to discover a whole sanctuary full of birds! No wonder!

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Right next to them (to my immense delight) was another enclosure that had some really cool sheep. Err, rams, I suppose.

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Their fur was much coarser than I imagined, but they were quite majestic-looking and seemed generally aloof.

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Except for this guy, who was trying to make a break for the border.

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[INTERMISSION IN WRITING: I am writing this at the airport and had to take a break to conserve battery. I am quite happy to take your survey, Mrs. Lufthansa Lady, but please for the love of everything that is holy, speak slower. Don’t nobody understand the words comin’ out of your mouth. Very few people will understand that joke.]

Anyway, it was a pleasant stroll through the park without a real time constraint, and I found a pond with some fish along the way.

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I also found a happy little turtle and a not-so-happy (and rather large) snail, both of which practically made my day.

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I got a little turned around in the labyrinthine pathways of the park, mostly because I wasn’t concerned with paying attention to where I was going and opted instead just to wander. Still, I found my way out to the street I wanted easily enough, and by that time I was quite ready to have something cool to eat or drink after all my walking. I returned to the area near Plaka, where I had seen a food shop that I’d wanted to visit.

The time had come to revisit my old enemy – Greek yoghurt. I’ve had it in the States before, and I will happily say with passion that I hated and despised every moment that I spent eating it. It was one of the most disgusting things I have ever tasted. However, considering the fact that Greece is probably the best place to get Greek yoghurt, I decided to give it another try. I ordered just a small cup of the traditional yoghurt with quince, a peach-like fruit that is not as sweet. It took a little practice to figure how to get the quince to blend well with each bite, but after some time I got the balance of yoghurt vs. quince down pat.

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After this small bowl of yoghurt, I was willing to call a truce. This version of freshly made Greek yoghurt vastly improved upon my last attempt, and I would certainly say that I enjoyed it. However, don’t count me a regular eater. That particular one tasted good (although there were some off bites for me), but Greek yoghurt overall is still just too bitter for my tastes. Kudos to Fresko, the restaurant, for at least giving me a brighter outlook on my former arch nemesis, though.

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At that point, I still had a few hours left before I had to leave for the airport; Mount Lycabetus didn’t take as long as I’d expected it to, so I had no idea what to do with my floating time. After thinking it over, I figured that I could probably get into the Acropolis Museum for free and by golly I was right (being an EU student for the time being is quite auspicious every now and then!). Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed in the museum, but pretty much it was a building full of all the sculptures and monuments that were once pieces of the now-ravaged Parthenon. It was cool to look through, but it was a fast find. I went out to the balcony (the only place you can take pictures) and snapped this shot of the Parthenon’s reflection in a window:

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The most interesting thing was the temporary exhibit going on at the museum focusing on ancient Greek color. Did you know the Parthenon used to be deep royal blue? In the next few months, the museum and some experts are going to get together to try to find out more about the use of color in the ancient Greek world and do some studies on what remnants of color they have left.

Most of my time in the museum, however, was spent watching a documentary on the Parthenon in which the narrator described what each statue on the building was. I found it particularly helpful and enlightening; actually, I watched it twice. 😉

After the Acropolis Museum, I still had just about an hour to kill, so I finally gave in and got a gyro. Are you people happy now?

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To be honest, I liked the toasted chicken pita from the day before better. The meat was spinning around on spits in the shop (which is an indication that you are in an OK place), and the bar was full, so I figured that place was as good as any. At some point in Budapest, I will go to a gyro shop (I know that my roommate Kelly would love to come) and see how that gyro compares to the one I had in Greece.

As I was sitting in a park eating my gyro and enjoying my observations of pigeon ethics, a big green bug about as long as a wasp but skinny and green like a katydid tumbled out of the tree smack dab into the middle of my gyro. Fantastic.

I tried to sit there and just enjoy the view, but even after that I still had extra time left. Just searching for random, small things to do to eat up my  last 45 minutes, I hopped on the metro to Agios Ioannis to take some pictures of Kynossargus Hill. It was hard to get the scope of it from up close.

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I saw the diminutive path pointing up into the hill, and I thought to myself, Heck, why not? So, just like with Lycabetus (although with considerably less work), I climbed to the top and got a great view of the Hill of the Muses and the Acropolis.

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Also on my journey, I happened to glance toward a pine cone on the side of the path and my brain just about exploded with the sudden, gleeful exclamation of OH MY GOSH BABY TURTLE!

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Two turtles in one day? Obviously I am turtley enough for the turtle club.

At the top, I found myself surrounded by spooky-looking graffiti, and I didn’t want to hang around, as it looked like some kind of teenage biker gang lair. Like Akira all over again, only without the creepy little wrinkly girl. Oh, and the mind powers. There were none of those either.

Despite the eeriness of the place, I do have to admit that the graffiti artists have some real talent. I certainly can’t deny that.

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I took the quick hike back to the bottom of the hill (although “hill” is not really what I’d use to describe Kynossargus) and then got back on the metro, having decided on my final destination before hitting the airport – Omonia.

Here is the point where everyone (most notably my mother, probably) screams their faces off. “DON’T DO IT!” I can already hear them shouting.

Jeeze, don’t panic. I’m not stupid enough to hang around Omonia Square by myself. I came out of the metro station, took three (count them, THREE) pictures, and then went back down and got back on the metro. Trust me, that places creeps me out as much as it does you, my friend.

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For those of you who are unaware, Omonia is not the place to be hanging out when you’re by yourself, let alone when you’re a female by yourself. It’s a sketchy place, and both my Classical Mythology teacher (who has been to Athens more times than he can count) and my hotel owner (who lives in Athens) specifically told me not to go there. The only reason I went was to see what it looked like. I don’t believe in hating places, people, or things that I have absolutely no personal experience dealing with. I went to say that I went. The end.

After my one-minute stay in Omonia, I had no problems getting back to the hotel and retrieving my bag. When I entered, the owner lady was shouting at some people who had parked illegally in a no-parking zone in front of the hotel (which is on a narrow street in which two lanes of traffic and a tram line run).

“This your car?” she said. The guy tried to talk himself out of it, but she just kept pointing to it and said, “You pay fine for this.”

When I got back to Metaxourghio station, I validated my ticket to the airport and cruised on down to Syntagma, where I transferred lines and was on my merry way to catch my flight. For those of you who in any way keep up with my blogs, you should know that this is not how it ever works. That day was no exception.

It was quite obvious which metro to get on – it had a big “TO AIRPORT” sign pointing right at it and all down its tunnel. I rode it about ten stops when the automated voice over the speaker said, “Next stop, Doukissis Plakentias. This is the train’s final station. All passengers are kindly requested to disembark.”

I knew that I wasn’t at the airport, but it was obvious that I couldn’t stay on the metro, so I got off with everyone else. When I stepped onto the exit platform, I looked above me to see a sign that said, “TO AIRPORT.” On the platform for the train that just stopped.

So pretty much it was telling me to get on the train that doesn’t go any further.

I studied that metro map for a long time over my stay in Athens, and I am quite sure that the blue line connects with the airport; even without the big obnoxious signs, I would have known that. So my next alternative was to try the suburban railway to get to the airport. I asked at the ticket window if I needed a different type of ticket to use it, and she told me I didn’t, so I ascended to the tracks above the metro line.

As soon as I saw the light of day, I was faced with a decision – track 1, or track 2? They were right next to each other. I pushed through the crowds to try to find a destination board, and finally I found these.

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Fine by me, it’s obvious that I should be on track 1, right? It was 15:40, and the railcar was scheduled to arrive at 15:44. No problem. Except that it didn’t arrive then. And we all stood there looking at each other and wondering, as the minutes passed, where the heck it was.

Long story short, I found a cozy seat next to a window once the train finally came, and it was a pleasant ride to the airport from there; the suburban railway is very nicely maintained and smooth as a baby’s butt. The airport itself didn’t cause too much hassle this time, but I’m still disappointed at how disorganized and unhelpful it is. I arrived at my boarding gate, B11, around two hours before boarding time was scheduled to begin. As the flight before us to Madrid cleared out, the gate was pretty empty and I enjoyed the quiet; for some reason, everywhere I went the last few days had put me right next to people blasting irritating rock music out of their headphones. Seriously, it was getting a bit ridiculous.

Anyway, as the people for the Budapest flight filtered in by twos and threes, an elderly lady sat down next to me. The airport survey lady from the earlier intermission came over to ask her the same questions, but the elderly woman (who spoke with a British accent) couldn’t understand her. The survey lady couldn’t think of anything else to do but uhh and umm through the whole thing, and I was very disappointed in her. Having a job myself that is in many ways similar to hers, I would have been very disappointed in her if I were her boss. She made the conversation very awkward and was trying to escape it rather than addressing the woman’s issues with the airport (which were what the elderly lady was talking about instead of the survey. You want survey material? No better place to get it than here).

After the survey woman left, the elderly woman and I got to talking for quite a while about how the airport is confusing, each of us telling our stories of frustration about it. She complimented my English before realizing that I was from America, and we talked about my studying abroad and about her world travel (she had a layover in Athens to China). She couldn’t hear well, so when the boarding started and the instructions were specific according to which seats were boarding, I helped her out. When I told her it was her turn, she got into line and kept smiling at me and saying, “Well, we’ll see!” She didn’t really know what was going on (and I don’t blame her, since the line was chaos and was actually split up into like four smaller lines for no apparent reason). When she got through, she turned around to wave at me and smile but gave up with the huge crowd between the two of us. I don’t think she realized it, but I did see her and smiled back.

Once on the airplanes, it was a restful ride home. The view was a fitting farewell to Greece:

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I went back to Munich to transfer again, supremely glad (once again) for the meal on board, which contained five meatballs, rice, carrots, green beans, crackers, a roll, and a small bottle of water. I think I’m getting a little Japanese in my mindset – the rice was intended to be eaten with the meatballs, but I picked the meatballs out and ate them separately, then made the rice a meal of its own.

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I ate everything you see there except for the green beans (which I despise more than any other vegetable, although I did have some of them). I think the guy next to me was a little surprised at how thorough I was, and his face was just a little bit appalled when I took the remaining spreadable cheese that I hadn’t used on the bread and popped the whole thing into my mouth. I think he believed I was about to do the same thing with the half-packet of butter I had left. I thought about it. 😉

The next flight was delayed by half an hour, as is usually my luck. But, who cares? I was going to sleep at the airport anyway, so it didn’t matter what time I arrived back in Budapest.

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The flight from Munich to Budapest had a small salad and some sesame seed sticks. In the salad was all manner of things, and I ate everything – red beans, great northern beans, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, pickles, olives, and other unidentifiable veggies.

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It was after 11PM when I arrived in the Budapest terminal, and I went straight to my usual sleeping floor and settled down. Because I got there so late, all of the chairs and everything were already taken, so I was on the floor. I changed to a heavier pair of clothes and curled up, but it was just as cold as I’d hoped it wouldn’t be. I didn’t get to sleep very well, but thankfully I only had to wait about four hours before I could get back on the bus, metro, and tram back to the dorm.

Once I arrived back in the dorm, I ninja-sneaked my way into bed to keep my roommate from waking up at 5:30AM, and thus ended my trip to Athens.

Although it was very enjoyable, I am somewhat glad to have finished all of my independent travels. Let someone else figure out the logistics for once.

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In other news, I am registered for the max number of credits and I have a schedule that works (which I am exceedingly thankful for), so now it’s just a matter of creeping over the Portal page like a greedy vulture hoping that one of the other classes will open so that I can make my schedule more to my liking. But like I said, at least all of the classes that I do have are counting for things – no wasted credits. I just don’t really want to have another Christology class for like the fifth time in my life….Oh well. You gotta do what you gotta do.

VLOG INFORMATION: I also have a vlog from Athens which will be posted in its own separate tab, but you may also view it here: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-r142MHtqsA).

Update: for those of you who follow my blog regularly, please note that I have finally gotten my SD card to upload videos again. That means that I’ve been able to revise that post from Lupeni in which we sang in the Icon Tunnel. To view the updated post with a working link to the singing, please click here: (https://bythepathlesstraveled.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/in-which-we-say-a-boom-chicka-boom/)

Greek “Odd”ysseys — Part 1

With such a fantastic hotel room here in Athens, I slept like a baby. Not before watching some Greek TV, though! You bet I turned on the cartoon channel! 😉 I alternated between all kinds of stations – cartoons, news, weather, and American dramas with Greek subtitles to get an idea of what they watch here in Greece.

Pretty much the same things we do in America.

It was an early rise in the morning to snag some breakfast and get to the Acropolis before thousands of others did. I managed to get my blog post up while I was getting ready (it’s not the posting that’s the problem, it’s the pictures – they won’t usually upload into the blog while I’m in foreign countries), and then I found the H floor of the hotel for breakfast. It was simple but more than enough – your basic eggs (scrambled and hard-boiled), bread, fruit, jams and jellies, meat slices, cheese slices, and cereal options. I took one look at the meat and cheese slices before a loud don’t you DARE crackled through my brain. Too many of those breakfasts in Sarajevo and Lupeni….

Instead, I just grabbed some scrambled eggs, a whole bunch of peaches, and a piece of pound cake. After that, I went back to get a bowl of Muzli and put some hot milk in it. I wanted to have a sturdy breakfast to give me energy for all the walking I’d be doing.

It was an easy ride to the Acropolis via metro, although the entrance is not as obvious as one would hope. I knew that before I went, though, so I was prepared to feel like I was walking the wrong direction. The trails leading to the entrance to the Acropolis were very nice and forested, as is much of the base of the Acropolis hill.

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I can say with certainty, though, that if you are not physically somewhat fit, unsteady on your feet, or have little experience hiking, you will have difficulty with the Acropolis. The trails are just that – trails. Not paths, not cute little walkways. Sure, some of them have cobblestones, but those are even more treacherous than the trails. And I mean that, too; it was raining for almost my entire stay on the Acropolis, and those stones are like ice, maybe just a bit worse. That’s not an exaggeration. I was wearing Merrell hiking shoes with excellent treads and my feet were still all over the place like an ice skater. I pitied all the people wearing flipflops. Although that is definitely a stupid thing to do anyway, rain or not….*facepalm*

So, first I explored the outside of the gated entrance, since I didn’t see any crowds and figured I had time. When I’m by myself sightseeing, I’m a big sucker for “leave no stone unturned”; I will explore every corner and I hate to leave if I know there’s a place I haven’t been, even if I also know there’s nothing new there. So, I entertained myself with the “pointless” outside architecture for about ten minutes before I went inside.

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At the ticket office, I discovered that I was one of two people in the entire Acropolis. Now that’s what I like to hear! It didn’t take much to get into the Acropolis for free with my student ID (university students studying in the EU are free), which was a nice change of pace from the grouchy metro lady who wouldn’t take the same student card for a discount on the tickets. Oh well, if life were perfect it wouldn’t be fun, right?

Since no one had entered after me and I was all alone, I figured I’d explore for a bit more before worrying about getting right to the top of the Acropolis hill. I saw a gigantic rock and thought to myself, Imma climb that. And so I did, and later found out (AKA when I got a bit closer) that it was Aeropageus (Ἄρειος Πάγος, Rock of Ares) or, for those of you more savvy with Roman myth than with Greek, Mars Hill. It was from this place that the Apostle Paul gave his sermon about the unknown god in the New Testament. And I climbed it, slippery rocks and all.

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It gave some really great views of Athens itself, and so I took a few snapshots of Pnyx Hill and Philopappos Hill, as well as some panoramic pictures of the city.

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Then, it was off toward the eastern slope to see what I mistakenly thought at first was the Theater of Dionysus but later discovered (by finding the real Theater of Dionysus) that this one was the Odeum of Herodes Atticus.

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I put off going to the top yet again to further explore the dirt paths and steep rocky slopes of the eastern hillside, where I found the Portico of Eumenes (well, all that’s left) and Asklepieion.

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It was shortly after this (and after a steep, treacherous descent) that I found the actual Theater of Dionysus. I had swapped them in my mind so that the smaller one (this one) was the Odeum, but I was wrong. Thank you, free guidebook handout. Can you believe that I read those things? You should.

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Anyway, I finally backtracked with the intent of climbing the hill when I saw all the tour groups passing by. I groaned at myself, thinking I’d made a huge mistake in not climbing to the top first thing before the crowds. Thankfully, I was still much earlier than the mass of tour groups, and this one was one of two groups on the Acropolis (the first group being the one that I had sprung in front of when it finally came to the upper ticket booth so that I could just get going and not wait behind fifty people).

I made quick work of the slippery paths and came to the actual Acropolis and the surrounding monuments, which included the Temple of Nike and the Propylaea.

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I took a quick walk around the Parthenon, which disappointingly still has a huge amount of scaffolding on it, to take some pictures of the panoramic city and most notably the Temple of Zeus in the distance.

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It’s one of those ironic things, taking pictures of monuments. You want to be close to them naturally, but you often find the best pictures from a distance. It makes me sad.

Anyway, I backed away from the Parthenon to get some good pictures, trying to obscure the scaffolding as best I could.

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To be honest, without being allowed to go in the Parthenon or anything, there’s really not much to look at for more than thirty seconds or so, so I took a little sidetrack (literally) to the right side of the Parthenon to visit the Erechtheion – the real reason I came to the Acropolis. No, really.

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Not that I wasn’t interested in the Parthenon. That’s far from the truth. But I find the story of the Erechtheion so much more charming and entertaining. Maybe I feel like I “know its secrets” or something, I don’t know, but it’s just more interesting to me. It is a place for the worship of many gods, but mostly it’s focused (as are many things) on Athena and Poseidon. I can’t believe that I almost walked out of the Acropolis without taking a picture of the hole in it. What was I thinking? That was what I came for! Jeeze.

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No, it’s not a piece of rock that fell out of a decrepit monument. According to the myth, Athena and Poseidon were fighting over who got to be the patron god of Athens, so they had a competition. They got all the people together, and each god had to decide on one gift to give all of the people. Athena gave them an olive tree (supposedly the one pictured above next to the temple). Poseidon, on the other hand, gave salt water.

Greece is surrounded by ocean. Not even a good try, Poseidon. You lose, dude.

Angry that Athens chose Athena as its patron (and evidently with a little too much seaweed in his ears to understand why salt water was such a bad idea), Poseidon chucked his trident into the temple. Supposedly, that hole is where it punched through. That’s why I wanted to see it. Charming.

After I’d satisfied myself seeing the temple’s puncture wound, I booked it out of the Acropolis, as now the tourists were streaming in. Where there were probably only about fifty people on the whole of the Acropolis when I started, it turned into this quickly:

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And apparently, according to the guides I overheard, it gets much worse. I can’t imagine.

A high point (no pun intended) of the trip to the Acropolis was that, as the rain stopped, a rainbow framed the whole hill for more than thirty minutes. Can you see it?

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How about now?

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Eh? Find it?

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Okay, I’m done now.

For most of time on the Acropolis, I had a really annoying, loud group of teenagers around me. They always happened to be going to the same places that I was. At the base of the mountain, I dodged around a corner down the road to the Ancient Agora. They went too. Of course.

At first, I didn’t really know what the Ancient Agora was, only that I wanted to see it. As it turns out, it’s a little like a monument park. I really enjoyed it, as I stumbled upon a lot of interesting things by complete accident. Most notable of these discoveries were the Stoa of Attalos and the Temple of Hephaestus. I was planning on visiting each one, but I didn’t realize that they were right there.

The Stoa of Attalos was cool to go inside. Its symmetry was pleasing to the eye. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. If I have a say in it, my future house will look like that.

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Although, to be honest, from far away it kinda looks like a Vienna sausage.

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Then (after taking about 150 pictures of everything else just lying around), I made my way over to the Temple of Hephaestus, where that annoying bunch of kids were (thankfully) just leaving. Still, I encountered them on the path up, which is not big enough for two people. I had to stand off the path (by a high dropoff) to wait for them to pass.

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Once I got to the top, though, I rather enjoyed it. Perhaps it was because I had been searching for the temple for so long that I enjoyed it, but I thought that it was a nice, scenic monument that didn’t have all the hype about it but was just as beautiful as the Parthenon.

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The garden area around it was refreshing, and I found myself chased by swarms of bees three times. I’m not exaggerating – they were all breeding, as were the ants, and I stepped on their nests by accident. I heard this strange buzzing, and I was thinking, What on earth could be making that noise? I didn’t realize until a whole bunch of bees zipped around my head that I had better move. Fast.

The temple was very near the exit of the Ancient Agora, so I headed out and back toward Monastiraki, where I had been yesterday, to get some lunch. All of that (Acropolis, Agora, everything) took me only three hours – that’s what happens when you’re not constrained by a tour guide. Not that tour guides are a bad thing (I wouldn’t mind being one, remember?). Anyway, I’ve been conflicted about the whole gyro situation since I got here. Part of me says, You can’t get more Greek than a gyro. Eat one. The other part of me says, Remember all of those Greek people who said that they would never eat a gyro in Athens? It’s not about the country, it’s about the restaurant. Can I really get one as good as a Greek one back in Budapest? Well, yeah, I think I can. I have a couple places in mind, actually. But Athens is so touristy, knowing that all the Americans want to eat “real Greek gyros” that the quality is incredibly poor (actually, in the past, many gyro shops got in trouble for using meat of such poor quality and made out of so many unidentifiable parts that their operations became illegal). So, this is what it comes down to – if I have the money left, I will get a gyro. Otherwise, I’ll go without. This trip to Athens is very strategic – to rid me of my Euros since I won’t have any need of them without losing money on commission changing them back over to forints (the exchange is usually quite bad).

So, all that to say that, if you’re wondering why I didn’t get a gyro for lunch, well, that’s why. Hmm. That was a lot of commas. Sometimes I can’t stop the English nerd from oozing out. Sorry.

Anyway, I opted instead for a Greek grilled pita with chicken, chips, lettuce, Greek mayonnaise, and a light dousing of ketchup and mustard. It was quite good, actually, although the chicken was a tad tough. Very messy to eat.

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I munched on it as I walked to Kerameikos to tour the museum and the site now that it was open. I had to sit on a bench for a while, as the pita had much more endurance than I did. You try climbing a mountain and then walking down a long cobblestone road holding an oozing pita with 17MPH winds and motorbikes zooming illegally around you. You’d sit down too.

I stood up, though, when a gruff-looking man seemed to take notice of me. I walked toward the entrance to Kerameikos (which I could see), and he followed. I finished eating the pita just outside the doorway, where I could be easily seen by the people inside, just in case. A solo female traveler can never be too careful!

It didn’t take long to tour the cemetery, Kerameikos, mostly because it all just looks like a jumble of rubble. Not that it’s not a worthwhile monument, it’s just not necessarily as picturesque as, say, the Parthenon.

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Then, I went inside the Kerameikos Museum, which was made up of about four rooms containing more tombstones and some Greek pottery. It was interesting, but a fast walkthrough did the trick.

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On another note, I am very intrigued about the number of cacti that I am seeing in Greece. I didn’t think it was that type of climate.

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I still had a lot of free time to burn, so I decided to go back to the Olympieion and take a closer look. On my way back the last time I had headed through Plaka, so I avoided that busy marketplace in favor of a straight shot toward Hadrian’s Arch. The temple was definitely a lot nicer up close.

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I took the chance to sit on a nice bench next to the temple columns in the refreshing breeze and figure out what I wanted to do next. However, my itinerary for the day was over sooner than expected, so I decided that the next best thing to do would be to search for the specific restaurants I had chosen for the remainder of the items on my must-eat Greek food list. I short metro ride to Syntagma Square left me a little disoriented, but it only took me a few minutes to find which street I needed to head down to find my first restaurant. In fact, it was pretty much in the square – Chatzis. They are known to have the best kourabiedes in Athens (perhaps in all of Greece?), so I was definitely excited to get a Greek cookie from them! Unfortunately, kourabiedes are Christmas cookies, and my fears that no one would sell them in October proved true. What can you do? Oh well.

Next up was Ariston, a bakery only about ten minutes away on foot.

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As soon as I walked in, I knew I had a winner just by the smell, but the atmosphere definitely erased any doubts I may have had. Ariston is the place in Athens to get tyropita, which I knew beforehand, but the suffocating stream of locals (each with their personal favorite order from Ariston) streaming in and out of the shop told me that the food was quality. I asked the woman, who spoke no English, for a tyropita, and she handed it to me wrapped in a handy bag with an open top so that you could eat it right away. I paid and left quickly, the freshly baked bread scorching my hand through the napkin and paper wrapper.

When I bit into it, I was actually a little disappointed, as it wasn’t the flavor I was expecting. Taking another bite, however, I ascended into wonderful bliss. I am in Greece, after all. This must be ambrosia.

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I swear I want to eat these things every day for the rest of my life. That is cheese you see inside that bread; pungent and very strong, that cheese complimented the buttery, freshly baked bread perfectly. The bread itself was interesting, flaky and fresh but not soft. Not difficult to chew, but not soft – Greek phyllo bread. It’s difficult to explain. But the cheese inside was fantastic. It wasn’t stringy, it was small-curd feta cheese. I really want another one.

I gnawed delightedly on that as I turned back onto Ermou Street toward my final specific food destination, Krinos. It was about a half an hour’s walk by foot, and it brought me back to Monastiraki before I’d realized that I’d missed the turn a block back onto Aiolou.

When I turned onto the street, I was at building number 19. I was looking for 87. My feet hurt.

It was worth it, though, to see Krinos come into view on the left side of the street.

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It was a little bit of a strange restaurant, with the food counter in the back so that you walk through the dining area to get your takeout food. At first, it appears almost like a kitchen you’re not supposed to enter. Anyway, I told the man (whose English was not very good, which was encouraging) that I wanted loukoumades, and he gave me six of them with the option to stay and eat or take them out for a bit cheaper. Not only because I want to save money but because I also wanted to save my feet, I opted to take them back to my hotel for dinner. He added honey and cinnamon to them for free, and I practically leaped out of the shop with a smile, eager to try one of them while they were still hot and fresh.

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These are not doughnuts. Don’t even let that thought cross your mind. They are somewhat transparent, very crispy, and have a luscious center of dough that is almost creamy. These pastries are so delicious that they used to be served to the winner of the Olympic games in ancient Greece. However, they are very filling, which means that six was more than enough for me (another reason I opted to take them home). The guy sure didn’t mind putting on a lot of honey, though! After I ate all of them (which took a few hours), I used the handle of my fork to measure the honey that was left. There was about a half an inch. That is not an exaggeration.

After I got back to the hotel, I spent quite a bit of time figuring out what to do on my final day in Athens. The issue is that what I’d originally planned has conflicting prices – one is too high, while the other is okay. So pretty much I won’t know whether or not I’ll be doing that until I get there. So, I have Plan A for Thursday and Plan B. Either is okay with me, but I may not have time to do both. Then again, I may. It’s hard to tell, so we’ll just play it by ear.

I also spent a huge amount of time on this blog – around four hours. Yes, that’s how much work I put in every day for you people. 😉  You ought to be thankful that I’m a writer anyway.

So stay tuned for the next post, which probably won’t actually appear tomorrow, as I’ll be back on a plane without internet access. But don’t worry, it will come soon. Until then, see ya!

It’s All Greek to Me!

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.

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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.

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Another note on the benefits of flying in the morning: you get this.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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That was a filling meal by itself, but I still had the baklava!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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