Friday, December 18, 2015

A trip back centuries BC (Athens)

Jenny is a fantastic host. When I mention I have a sniffly nose she quickly makes me a delicious traditional Greek remedy - tea from local plants with organic honey. Her apartment is a cozy yet spacious place and I enjoy myself the next morning, slowly eating breakfast with more tea. And then I head out to conquer the last stretch!!

A large portion of it is pretty industrial and not really all that enjoyable, but there's one section of an old coastal road that offers a majestic pano over the sea. Once I get into the 15km radius of Athens, traffic is disgustingly thick... Why didn't I think about that?! Small town kid, I suppose. 

Wide empty roads!!


Shipwreck?


In all my excitement to reach Athens, I took on more mileage than I usually plan for and arrived downtown in the dark. I decided to just crash at a hostel for the night and figure out a couchsurfing option tomorrow. And what a fabulous choice!! This hostel wasn't what you'd call cheap, but you got what you paid for. Best bed ever. Cozy communal area. FAB breakfast. Cool people. A+, City Circus Hostel, A+. I went for the 3 course dinner offer in the restaurant, where I learned about Christmas in Singapore, Amsterdam, China and Ireland - hostels, I tell ya!


On my first full day in the city, I did pretty close to nothing. Which was fantastic. I met Tom from England who is en route to Singapore on two wheels. It's so fun and reassuring (that you're not an absolute idiot) to hear about other cycle tourers' adventures, mishaps, crashes, wrong turns, GPS-routes-gone-wrong, and of course the beautiful moments, too. In the afternoon I went to meet Konstantinos before wandering around somewhere downtown until he got off work again. He lives with his dad and grandmother who is very cute. She sorta clutches onto my arm and says short little things in Greek (that I obviously don't understand) while smiling and nodding. The next day, I tackled the Acropolis Museum - an overwhelming 4 hours of impressive statues and history.

In the evening, Konstantinos took me on a tour up the Lykavittos Hill where you get a great view over the city lights. 
The next day, I meet up with Michael who I had met in Agrinio. (Apparently Greece isn't all that large after all?) He says there's a cool cafe he wants to show me. We're walking down a rather deserted alley and I'm starting to question what kind of cafe this might be. Then we step through a completely normal door with only a very small, discrete sign beside it, and emerge in a courtyard type area. All the tables are full.  A retractable canvas roof, that is usually open in the summer, gives a nice soft light. The place is surrounded by old abandoned rooms that have graffiti and other art on the walls, and upstairs there's a small art gallery. Sweet spot!



After being in Athens for a full 3 days I still haven't been up to the Acropolis... So I decide to take advantage of the sunshine and tourist it up. I'm pleased to say I didn't pay a cent of entry fees! I walk through the National Gardens to where Olympian Zeus' Temple is easily viewable through the fence, Hardrian's Arch beside it. 


Hadrians Arch
Zappeion Hall - Athens Academy of the Arts
Temple of Olympian Zeus


Then somehow, I sweep a free entry to the Acropolis, after showing my joke of a student card. (Thanks past self for thinking it would be hilarious to put your hair in cute little pig tails because 'you're never going to use this card anyways right!?') I casually stop by the Ancient Agora and the Roman Agora as well as the hill of Nymphs and the Theatre of Dionysus. Fun fact: since disturbing ancient ruins is a crime, all of Athens was built illegally... Because they're literally everywhere.


The Parthenon
This is a remake of what used to be on the west pediment of the Parthenon. In the middle are Athina and Poseidon who compete for the honour to become the city's patron. Athina presents an olive tree, while Poseidon brought water. However, since the water is salty, it does not prove to be very useful to the people, and Athina wins.


Temple of Athena Nike
Theater of Dionysus




On my last day in Greece, I go on a hunt for a bike box. It's surprisingly simple! Soon, I'm weaving my way through the crowded streets with a large cardboard box, receiving questioning looks. Somehow, finding a roll of packing tape is much more difficult than the bike box itself, and I end up walking the length of downtown Athens a few times, lugging this box with me the whole time.

I soon learn that packing up a bike isn't as simple as I thought and slightly regret not having paid more attention when my trusty pops did it for me 5ish months ago... Eventually I have everything wrapped in foam and the handlebars, derailleur, front wheel, and seat removed. But the pedals are not budging! Frustrated, I decide to take a food break and go for a last Greek souvlaki with Tom. 




This photo really doesn't suffice for the quite commical changing of the guards ceremony. They do it every hour, including at 3 in the morning... 

And then Konstantinos persuades me that we should forget the bike and go to the movie... Leaving 2 hours to sleep before I have to get my bike in the box, carry (drag) it to the tram, then to the metro and then through the airport to catch my flight. You're probably expecting a very catastrophic story now. But this is a Suchy girl were talking about; pretty sure it's in our blood to work on no plans and always last minute. So long story short, at 10:45 the plane takes flight and I AM on it.

Here's some more photos of my wanderings around...

Lots of Christmas lights
Greek-looking stairs
'The World is More Beautiful with You'
This made me smile.
These stands are everywhere. They're selling a drink called Saleb which tastes like a chai latte but creamy and more heavenly...
Cosy cafes everywhere!!
This is a protest against the compulsory military service all males over the age of 18 are subjected to in Greece. 
Art!!




Second hand book shop... with English books - win!
Lots of buskers on the streets.

I want to say that I thought deeply about how incredible it was that I was cruising by all the countries I'd travelled through at a ratio of 1 month of cycling to less than 1 hour of plane riding... But I was 100% passed out, probably drooling on the tray.When I arrive in Berlin, my first thought is 'Oh, well maybe I'll put another jacket on.' And then, 'Wow, I understand why half the world has a hate-on for winter - Where's the snow at??'