Greece Part 1 – Athens

I started writing this post sitting on the lounge of a cruise ship headed towards Santorini. But I won’t get ahead of myself, I’ll begin 36 hours ago, 6 am on Thursday when we first arrived at Skavsta airport. You might remember Skavsta from my previous entry on my trip to Belgium, and how I likened it to the Elephant Graveyard of airports. It might sound rich for a Malaysian to bag out a secondary airport, as anyone who has been to LCCT would probably say. But it isn’t just the sheer distance or the uncomfortable atmosphere of the building. Stockholm makes it particularly inconvenient for any person to get to the airport for an early flight as the metro on weekdays stops running at 1 am. Thankfully this time due to Valborg, the T-banas were fully functioning albeit infrequent. This made the journey much more comfortable already than catching two night buses which was what we did before. From T-Centralen, it’s the same 1.5 hour Flygbussarna ride to Skavsta.

Our first flight was to Thessaloniki. Having slept quite a lot on the Flygbussarna and as much as possible in a Ryanair matchbox, we weren’t too badly ruined at this point. We have a pretty pleasant three hour transit at Thessaloniki thanks to free WiFi. It’s pretty nigh impossible to do a getaway from technology trip when you’re travelling on a student budget. So much of the logistics like maps and tickets really require taking advantage of every free hot spot. And when you’re traveling with people, even with people as cool as I have been traveling with, it’s really good downtime to disengage from the group and see what the family and friends at home have been doing. Perhaps I’m not really doing a very good job at defending my generations dependency on technology. But being able to be connected anchors you somehow, when the alienation of foreign country after foreign country proves too much.

Anyway, from Thessaloniki to Athens airport to our hotel (Hotel Tempi) we arrive around 3 pm. To give that some perspective I got up at 2.30 am to leave Lappis for Skavsta. Sometimes you wonder if the money you save from doing all these shitty connections is really worth it. But such is the student life, we don’t have a lot of money but we have a lot of time.P1010436-1Our first food stop was this adorably decorated bubble tea store that Agnes and I spied on the way to the hotel. It didn’t so much taste of tea as just water and cordial and the pearls weren’t tapioca. Nevertheless it was still a thirst quenching reminder that holy hats we’re in Athens!Bubble Tea

P1010441-1Next up was Fresko, highly rated on TripAdvisor and the food blogs on Athens I had studied before. Different to the froyo stands that plague my second home, Sydney, they serve authentic Greek yogurt with fresh tasting toppings.P1010444-1Jordan and I shared a traditional Greek yogurt with quince while Agnes had sheep yogurt with pine honey and walnuts. The quince was a nice enough combination of sweet and tart but Agnes’s choice was the winner. Super thick yogurt with an even thicker dollop of honey and crushed walnuts, we went back the next day where I got a medium sized portion all to myself.

As we make our trips to zip around and try food, market vendors litter along side streets selling overpriced jewellery targeted specifically at weak-willed tourists like Agnes and I. I have this habit of removing my rings when I am washing my hands in public bathrooms and then leaving them there, so I give myself a month tops these babies.Photo May 13, 9 56 11 AMThe next morning we rose at check-out time, leaving our bags at the concierge in favour of breakfast. After having mapped it out we arrived at Ariston’s, another cheap eat popular on all food/travel blogs that have eaten their way through Athens.P1010445-2 I’m not entirely sure what it’s called in Greek but everyone refers to these pastries as ‘pies’. They are slices made up with layers of filo pastry and whatever filling you fancy. Each are 1.80 or 1.90 if you decided on a slightly fancier option. Agnes gets a slice of chicken and another with eggplant, tomato and cheese. P1010448-3Mine is spinach, feta and leek. Jordan gets the same with the addition of the traditional Greek cheese bread. The general consensus on the pies are great flakey crusts but with fillings that are a tad too salty. Regardless it’s still pretty bang for your buck, you probably couldn’t buy a toothpick in Stockholm for the SEK equivalent of the cost.P1010451-4We struggle with directions for a bit but when you’re heading for the highest point in Athens, it’s easy enough to just look up and follow the shadow of Greek temple ruins. The highlight of my time in Athens has to be Fresko Greek yogurt. Coming up in close second is our hike up to the Acropolis.P1010454-5Unlike Barcelona, all historical sites and museums in Greece are free for students. We save a cool 7 euros or so each and lose ourselves amidst the tourists. A word from the tried and wise, don’t wear flip-flops when intending to walk through sand, stone and gravel upwards to a really high place. Also don’t do it barefoot. I lose footing time and time again but take comfort in the fact that should I fall, I fall on my people. Red-faced sweaty tourists. The gods on Mount Olympus must have thought similar of their followers.

P1010465-7I’ve been to a couple of high places as of late and all I leave with the same breathlessness. There really is something transcendental about it. Being contained in a plane was one thing, but I believe standing on a rock high up and looking down is the closest you’ll get to feeling like a bird. And if I could look at me too from below, I would see but a speck, something so infinitesimally small in the large expanse of sky.

P1010466-8Or maybe the air is simply thinner and my appalling level of fitness has left me winded from the climb. Either way, it’s a great feeling up there post tourist congregation and the ruins aren’t so shabby either.

Photo May 02, 2 02 00 PMI have always had a penchant for Greek mythology, but who hasn’t really. Touted as the most ‘mainstream’ of mythologies, it’s everything today’s modern day famous a TV series could want and more. Tales of unparalleled beauty and courageous men were just the tip of the iceberg. As titillating as a flirtatiously revealing toga, Greek mythology has to be the single most hedonistically-geared genre in the library. Without going too much into the raping and pillaging by men, the overflowing goblets of wine and dancing Satyrs, and most of all not going into the Gods and incest, treachery and foolishness. That was quite possibly my favorite part of Greek myths, that Gods are as stupid as men.P1010471-10Coming down from the Acropolis, we swing by our hotel to grab our bags and head off to the train to the port of Athens where we would be catching our cruise to Santorini. Throughout the trip I constantly refer to the vehicle as a boat, but while writing I prefer to be as accurate as possible. This cruise was quite possibly the worst medium of transport I have taken, and I have been around South East Asia and sampled some really bad ones. Albeit it may have been our fault for not booking a bunch of beds and instead choosing to tough it out on some chairs and couches. This decision we made with the mindset that we would be arriving at Heraklion in the wee hours of 3 am, making it a cool 9 hour ride of which most we thought we would be awake for anyway. P1010473-11Instead it delays, stops in the middle of nowhere and wakes us up around 2 in the morning to witness the mass confusion of everyone putting on life jackets. The broken English spoken by the crew members allow us to cobble together the situation, that the cruise was running out of power. We make our way back to our sleeping couches, noting that the cruise still apparently had enough energy to play ridiculous Greek television shows from the 80s.

It isn’t so much just the delay that bothered me. It was the lack of courtesy on the part of the crew staff who didn’t see it fit to inform us of the situation. Further, no apologies were given. We ended up docking at Santorini 4.5 hours past the original ETA. Is this something that normally happens? Can we always expect ridiculous delays such as this? For anyone interested, we went with Anek Lines. A later conversation with an American group of exchange students tell us they had a fuss free time on Blue Star Ferries.

I manage to secure battery for my electronics and take a couple of snaps of dawn, but not before I have an argument (can you call it an argument if neither party understands anything) with a Greek lady over hogging the scarce supply of power points in the lounge.

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After exploring the city of Athens, chasing connections from yesterday and today, and a turbulent night on a cruise I truly feel beaten. But in spite all of this, or perhaps even because of the exhaustion itself, kicking back and watching the world begin on the horizon is like a sedative. I don’t even remember falling asleep but for the last time on this cursed boat I wake up and we have arrived in Santorini.

Now Playing: Coldplay – Charlie Brown

samanthawxlow

4 Comments

  1. Sometimes I wondered it too if waking up early was actually cost-efficient! Oh the joys of opportunity cost. The yoghurt looks incredible as are all the photos in Athens.

    Looking forward to the next posts. Actually any of your posts, trying to live vicariously through your travels in Europe!

    • The usual aim is to wake up as early as possible to soak in as much time in a foreign country as you can. But what I found is when you’re on a student budget your connections end up being so exhausting, sleep is always welcome. Also thanks! Unfortunately I think I’m approaching the end of my travels here in Europe. I’m back in Sydney next semester, sad face.

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