Democracy, universities, Percy Jackson. These are just some of the things that the great country of Greece has given the world over the course of its existence. I’ve wanted to go to Greece since I was in the third grade when I became obsessed with Greek mythology. I would go to the library to check out a couple of books on the subject and then sit and read them during recess. Needless to say, I was an awkward kid (and yes, I’m also an awkward adult). My trip to Greece was essentially the realization of a childhood dream with “the cherry on top” being that I went on my 21st birthday! It was the best gift I could’ve given myself. My only regret is that I didn’t have time to check out the islands, but that just means I have an excuse to come back! Now let’s talk about my Athens adventures!
No weekend trip would be complete without some personal growth and the universe decided to get that part of my adventure done early. You heard it here first folks, the tube is not a 24-hour service. Now some lines will run for 24 hours on the weekends, but the Northern line isn’t one of them and that’s the line that stops at Angel and Old Street, the two stations that are pretty much equidistant from Thoresby House. I had of course planned around this fact. My intention was to take the bus to King’s Cross St. Pancras and then catch the Thameslink to Gatwick Airport. Seems logical right? Some sound planning? Something a responsible and sensible adult would think to do.
Now let’s add in some details. My flight was at 6 am and the airport is at least an hour away by car so it’s even longer when I take public transportation and the Thameslink only runs every half hour. I wanted to get to Gatwick at 4 am since I didn’t know what the security situation would be and I like to play it safe. The Thameslink would’ve gotten me there around 3:30 am if I caught the 2:30 am train out of St. Pancras (yes, it’s technically a completely different station from King’s Cross; no, I didn’t really think about that fact before doing this). All this placed me at the bus stop across the street from my dorm at around 1:50 am. By myself, in the cold, because I didn’t know that the bus didn’t come until 2:09am when it was that early in the morning. Eventually, the bus did arrive, but I still couldn’t allow myself to relax. I got off at King’s Cross St. Pancras station only to discover that King’s Cross was closed, meaning I couldn’t use the underground tunnel to get to St. Pancras. I did eventually make it to the correct station, but by then I would’ve missed my train so what I did instead was go to the Starbucks inside, let my family know what I was doing, and then I called an Uber to take me to the airport. After that, I stayed in well-lit areas, made sure that I remained connected to the Wi-Fi, and sort of hovered around young families and authority figures (like the police) so people would be less inclined to approach me. Let this be a lesson to you all, sometimes the cheaper airfare just isn’t worth it. Don’t put yourself in that situation. Be safe and remember the lessons taught in Detective J.J. Bittenbinder’s Street Smarts (John Mulaney never did answer whether the money clip was supposed to be engraved).
In spite of the terror inflicted upon me in the wee hours of the morning, I made it to the airport in one piece, safe and sound. The flight to Athens was pretty uneventful, just very cold. Whoever decided that planes should essentially be flying freezers needs to be fired. I don’t care if they keep it cold so that bacteria die, half the time you get sick on a plane because of the freezing temperatures! Where the transportation got really interesting, is when I took the Metro. Let me tell you, navigating that gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “It’s all Greek to me”. Now they do have the English translations on their maps, but it almost looks like it was added as an afterthought. Announcements are always made in Greek first so you need to pay attention and listen when waiting for your stop or for any other important information.
I made it to my hostel without incident, though I did get a little lost trying to find it. I have a feeling that’s going to be a common occurrence, but at least I’ve accepted that fact. That weekend I was staying at the Hotel Cosmopolit, a hostel I had found on hostelworld.com. The room was decent, but the bathroom for the room was comically small. The great thing about the hotel though was that it was a short walk from the train station and close to a bunch of restaurants. Plus, it was easy to get to pretty much any archeological site (Athens is a very walkable city). It is important to mind your valuables while in Greece though. Poor economies like the one found Greece typically lead to an increase in crime so always be aware of your surroundings. Street Smarts!
My weekend in Athens was a whirlwind of history, culture, and fun. I visited archeological sites, went on a walking tour, bought a painting (I like to buy art made by local artists as a souvenir), ate delicious food, and essentially did anything my heart desired. And yes, I’m being decently vague again so as to not spoil Athens for anyone thinking about going. I will, however, give recommendations!
In a city like Athens, you should definitely go on a walking tour. The city has so much history and a walking tour will teach you a lot about the major sites so you can appreciate the ruins and churches more. The company I used was Athens Free Walking Tour and I met some great and interesting people. The walking tour is also great because it can give you a lay of the land and you will be able to navigate the city with greater ease. That’s why I always like to take my tours in the morning, so when I’m exploring on my own I somewhat know where I’m going. Plus, if you’re in a time crunch like I was (I only had a weekend to absorb all this after all), a tour will allow you to see the major attractions and give you enough information that you don’t feel obligated to stop at the museums to know what exactly you’re looking at. While I would’ve loved to check out the exhibits, I just didn’t have the time. The tour was a great way to get a brief synopsis of everything. Just make sure you keep a map on you at all times. Athens may be a very walkable city, but it’s very easy to get lost and distracted by everything going on around you. For example, I wasn’t able to explore the ancient agora because I couldn’t find it again after my tour.
Speaking of checking out the sites, I have a very good money-saving tip for y'all! Like most of Europe, there are great student discounts in Greece. Take the entrance fee(s) to the ruins, while a pass to see all the archeological sites would normally cost €30, you can get it for half that price if you show them your US student ID. That being said, there’s a better deal to be had! Hand them your student ID from the institution you’re studying abroad at because students from the EU, which UK students still technically qualify to get in for free. The pass gets you one-time admission to each of the archeological sites and the museums and lasts for 5 days. Talk about a steal!
Aside from the archeological sites though, there’s plenty to explore! The cobbled streets of Plaka, the changing of the guard at the parliament building every hour, the various souvenir shops, the National Garden, etc. And if you happen to be there on a Sunday, you can enjoy the military parade they always have at 11! One last recommendation though would be to go to a rooftop bar. At night, all the archeological sites get lit up and it’s a beautiful thing to see. It can be hard to find one that’s open in the fall and winter months, but it isn’t impossible. The one I went to is called the 360 Cocktail bar which not only has a rooftop bar, but the floor below it has floor to ceiling windows so, if it’s too cold you can still see out over everything. And as a bonus, it has a great view of the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens. Have a drink or two after a busy day, kick up your feet, and relax, you won’t regret it. Plus, there’s a pretty good crepe place across the street!
My next adventure will be taking place in the land of bratwurst and beer. Berlin here I come!