Athens:The Classical World
Aristotle, Socrates, Democracy (although not according to popular Indian belief) and Classical Architecture: this is why we decided to go to the land of the Olympian Gods - we were sure that we would be able to find some of the soul that we have been yearning for in this ancient world.
Our train trip from Istanbul requires some special mention: keep in mind that we are used to anything from 6-bed clean and efficient Chinese sleepers to noisy, dirty 2nd class sleepers in India where you run the risk of being sat on during the night. Our first reaction when we found our compartment was to turn around (with backpacks still on), get back off the train and double check with the conductor that this was actually our berth for the night. Thankfully, he confirmed because this turned out to be one of the best accommodations that we have had in 3 ½ months. We had an entire compartment to ourselves, complete with basin, fridge, A/C and electric sockets (which blew out our laptop cable, but that's beside the point!). The seats looked like business class on a flight and the 2 turn-down beds had crispy white linen and real spring coil mattresses. We were gently rocked to sleep by the movement of the train and slept for 10 hours - it was bliss.
Unfortunately, this train only took us to Thessaloniki in Greece, so we still had about 6 hours left to go. Arriving at the train station there were A LOT of very angry Greeks. It was a blessing that we were so mellow after a good night's rest otherwise angry Greeks can really freak you out with all the shouting and swinging of arms. Turns out that since it was the last Friday of the summer, all the trains were full. Not sure what the big fuss was all about since we ended up taking a bus 2 hours later - not so comfortable but it does the job.
Fortunately we were a bit wiser with accommodation and had a reservation with Christos The Greek at Hostel Roma. The room was cheap because it was a little bit out of the main tourist strip, but in true savvy backpacker style we braved the excellent metro and surfaced in a slightly dodgy area. As it turns out, everything in Greece is in, well, Greek. So after a phone call to get some directions from our new friend Christos The Greek we had finally arrived in our small but clean room. We were quite shocked however to find that Christos The Greek was in fact Christos The Indian. Another life-lesson learnt - never assume.
Climbing up the Acropolis in the early morning sun was truly an amazing experience. And seeing the Parthenon, still splendid after 2500 years, takes your breath away. We went to all the major archeological sites in Athens: Hadrian's Gate, Temple of Apollo, the Greek Forum, the Roman Forum, the various Agoras and some of the Byzantine churches as well as the fantastic archeological museum.
You can't help but feel the history when you are standing there. Something just resonates- the grandeur, the genius, the history, like it has a direct impact on the life that we lead today. We both decided that in an earlier life we must have been Greek - although maybe not the angry arm-swinging kind.
But I am sure that for someone who didn't major in Classics, all the ruins turn into a bunch of rocks in the end. Joey was very brave, he listened to me endlessly going on about this style and that column and this conquest and that deity - but in the finally I had to admit that we were both pretty ruined - no pun intended.
After a long day of site seeing, we firmly believe that everyone needs a cold beer. But since the Euro seriously doesn't fit into our budget, we decided to rely on supermarkets to provide the goods and Hostel Roma's rooftop to provide the setting for our sun-downers and dinners. It reminded us of our rooftop in Hong Kong - we seriously missed our dogs sitting up there! The rest of our meals we ate in parks (fruit & cheese) and every now and again we treated ourselves with a shared coffee. This is certainly not a place for a tight backpacker's budget!
We still wanted to visit one site before we leave the country, so we decided to head out to the islands to see if we cut some of the usual city costs, but also for the authentic blue-water, white-washed buildings experience: you can't be in Greece and NOT go to the islands! So, the ferry is booked, the swimsuits and sarongs are packed, and the sunscreen is lathered. Mykonos, here we come!