Opa!

“How did you guys hear about this place?” A local woman at the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, an hour and a half outside of Athens city, confusedly asked us.
“Our taxi driver brought us here.”
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Greece. Somewhere I’ve only ever visited in my dreams but this past weekend I finally experienced it as reality. Booking a beautiful hotel for just 50 euro each, my friends and I checked in around 12 p.m. on Friday afternoon. It was a cloudy day in Athens with a weather forecast saying there was a 40% chance of rain but I’ve learned in Europe to not trust any weather forecast and sort of play it by year. Leaving our umbrellas back at the hotel anyway, we ventured into the city. We wandered into small shops of shoes and jewelry as we attempted to find Syntagma Square when I started to become mesmerized by all of the unique and funky necklaces, bracelets and rings. We did this for about an hour until we realized we hadn’t eaten yet and we walked into the first bakery we saw and ordered the traditional Greek snack, what I would call a cheese pie, but Greeks call Tiropita. We continued exploring, still trying to find Syntagma Square, when it started to downpour. I knew I should’ve listened to my gut and brought my umbrella. Walking underneath passageways to avoid getting hit by big blobs of raindrops, we finally found Syntagma Square. For those of you who don’t know, it is the central square of Athens, which sits in front of the 19th century Old Royal Palace housing the Greek Parliament. Snapping a few photos, we couldn’t help but want to continue on to somewhere indoor because of the weather.

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Running into a vintage jewelry store, the owners greeted us with how I (again) would pronounce as “yusos”, meaning hello. Every time I would pick up a piece of jewelry, the owner would run over, take it out of my hands and put it on me even if I had no intention of buying it. A variety of vibrant colors, the evil eye, the Jewish hand for good luck and tassels were what encompassed most of the necklace and bracelet chains.

As the rain calmed, we walked outside and across the street. I spotted a street vendor selling fried corn. CORN. Yellow, salty, crispy, buttery corn that I haven’t seen or tasted in months. Feeling my stomach start to growl, I practically ran across the street and bought a stick for 2 euro.

We walked some more, every couple of steps I stopped to take a bite of my beloved corn stick that I didn’t even realize we walked straight into the Monastiraki Flea Market. A straight path surrounding by stores of vintage pottery and ceramics, jewelry (there was no escaping it), leather and shoes. Who knew the shopping in Athens would be so awesome? Walking in and out of stores, the path went on for at least 45 minutes. Within that time frame I had bought a gorgeous Jewish hand necklace, a stained glass lantern to hang in my room, and a bright red, more funky and fun necklace. It began to downpour again (curse that 40% chance of rain weather forecast).

Following the distinct smell of traditional Greek food that filled our noses, we walked into a cafe/bar restaurant called I Gusti. Looking at the menu, there wasn’t one thing I could read. However, one thing I recognized was a gyro. Hearing about them at the Greek festivals in my hometown of NJ and growing up with a Greek best friend, I knew I had to try one. After all, I was in Greece and where better to try an authentic gyro? Our waiter brought out pita bread filled with meats, tomato, onions and some sort of sauce foreign to my tongue. As I took a bite into it, I felt everything pretty much falling out the other end of the rolled over pita bread. However, the bite I did get was tasty and flavorful.

After leaving I Gusti, we once again started aimlessly walking until it got dark out and we took a cab back to our hotel. That night, we went to an incredible, authentic restaurant named Litho’s. With live music, people clapping and clanking their glasses together, it really brought the restaurant to life. Not to mention the food, the food. Our appetizers consisted of fried zucchini and some sort of eggplant salad (sounds weird but was great). I ordered, what I would call (again) the Greek lasagna, but what Greeks call Pastitsio. Hands down the best lasagna my taste buds have ever had. My friends ordered the octopus, and yes, I tried a bite for the first time. I wasn’t to crazy about the texture, however the taste was okay but I decided not to try another bite. For dessert, we were given a complimentary dessert from our waiter. A coconut and caramel cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Safe to say that was devoured in 2 minutes. Not ready to leave, we drank the rest of our bottle of wine and enjoyed the live music before heading out to a popular bar.

A for Athens, the coolest bar I’ve ever been to. The walls being large, glass windows, allowing a breathtaking view of the Acropolis on top of a mountain right across. We only ordered one drink but we all decided to drink them slowly (not just because they were 10 euro) but because something about seeing a perfect view of the Acropolis lit up by lights under the night sky was something we knew we’d all probably never see again. Taking a cab back to our hotel, our cab driver explained to us how he worked for the taxi company that basically provides chauffeurs to take visitors around all day for just 60 euro. No walking? That sounded great to us.

Our taxi driver picked us up at around 10 a.m. and brought us to our first stop, the Acropolis. Walking through the paths surrounded by these ancient ruins – it was like I could feel the thousands of years of history beneath my feet. The first ruin I encountered came up on my right and looked like a huge concert hall. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built in 161 AD, was a beautiful amphitheater that was indeed, used as a venue for music concerts even back then. It had an incredible backdrop of the city of Athens behind it as well as a mountain of greenery. The mix of modernization against the ancient ruins was unbelievable. It blew my mind how these monuments were even still standing, how I was walking exactly where someone else was walking a thousand years ago.

Continuing up the path we came up to the Propylaea, an entranceway that was built in mid-sixth century BC that lead us right up to the front of the Parthenon. The dozens of long, marble pillars that held the monument up were remarkable. The world’s most valuable, famous ruin that was dedicated to Athena, was now standing right in front of me. Walking around the Parthenon there was a Greek flag hanging with the city of Athens as its backdrop as well. All of the panoramic views I’ve seen so far of cities (like Florence and Siena) have been all orange, yellow and red houses but Athens was white. All white houses and buildings against the deep blue ocean beyond it. It was a breathtaking view. I continued to walk around the area and encountered the Erechtheion, built in 421-406 BC dedicated as a temple to Athena Polias, also known as the “Old Temple”. The statues of woman on the south side of the structure were what held up the structure unlike on the other side where they are just pillars. Next I came to the Pedestal of Agrippa then Beule Gate as well. All extraordinary ruins.

Leaving the Acropolis, our taxi driver drove took us to grab a quick spanakopita (a spinach pie), then drove us an hour and a half outside of the city to the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion. But before this, about a half hour into our drive, we stopped at a pond that was half surrounded by a cliff. The water was green like the trees that surrounded it and people were swimming (I’m not sure why though because it was pretty cold out). Nevertheless, it was a really beautiful pond. Getting back into the taxi, we continued on our way to the Temple and we drove along the ocean the entire time. The highway reminded me of the Golden Gate Highway in California. The sun was out and we had the windows down (I had forgotten how much I loved being in a car). With my friends drifting off to sleep in the seats next to me, I stared out the window at the gorgeous beaches and little towns outside of Athens.

With time flying by, our driver pulled over to the side of the road so we could see the view of the Temple of Poseidon from across the water. I could see the winding brown path going up the mountain leading to the structure that we were going to. It looked like it came right out of a watercolor painting. Getting back in the car, we drove about 5 minutes until we reached the path that would lead us to the Temple. When we finally reached it, it looked just like the Parthenon, except smaller and in my opinion, a much better view. Being the only monument sitting on the top of the mountain (the only monument for miles for that matter) and with the blue ocean right behind it, my eyes seriously couldn’t believe that something so beautiful existed. There were barely any people there so my friends and I felt very privileged, like we were seeing something not many tourists see when they come to Athens. The marble pillars of the Temple were so tall and the green grass popping out underneath them complemented the white color. Getting to the edge of the mountain, I could see the beach below. I decided to start down a path to get to it. It was extremely quiet and peaceful so I decided to sit on the edge of a rock for a while, just starring out into the ocean that was more blue than I’ve ever seen any other ocean before.

Getting back into the car an hour later, we headed back to the city. Our taxi driver took us to park with a view of Athens in its entirety. We bought some beers and took it all in as the sun was getting lower. Next, we headed over to the Parliament building in Syntagma Square to see the changing of the guards. These guards did not flinch for anything; even for the dozens of photos we took standing next to them. They wore unusual outfits with puffy pom-pom balls on their shoes. The ceremony for the changing of the guards wasn’t as crazy as when we were in London at Buckingham Palace because here there were only two guards on duty at the same time. The new guards came while the others performed a traditional show.

Next, we drove over to the first Olympic stadium. It was closed so we couldn’t go inside, but it was still a pretty cool sight to see. It had a huge track with a stadium of seats surrounding it with a Greek flag hanging in the middle.

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After hearing about a famous sandal/shoe maker founded in the 1920’s, we asked our taxi driver to take us Melissinos Sandals. Authentic, handmade, Greek leather sandals covered the walls when we first walked in. Greeted by a small shaggy dog, then an older man, also known as the poet-sandal maker of Athens, asked us to take a seat and look through the catalog of different designs of sandals. There were about 25 designs to choose from. I chose strappy, very Greek looking ones and a worker fitted them to my feet, then brought them back into a room, where I’m assuming he sized them and put them together. It took him about 20 minutes to make all of us our pair of sandals and within that time, I admired the walls of celebrities who had come through this shop. Everyone from John Lennon, Sarah Jessica Parker to Bob Saget, had all gotten a pair of Melissinos Sandals.

Leaving with our new shoes, we realized how hungry we were. It was about 7 p.m. and we still hadn’t eaten dinner. Our taxi driver knew of a beautiful restaurant right on the water called Zorbas. Known for its seafood, my two friends ordered sea bass but I, the grilled chicken wrapped with cheese and peppers. The food was delicious but I would have to say the view was what really made the restaurant stand out. After finishing our meals, we were so exhausted from our full 10-hour day and our taxi driver took us back to our hotel. We left Athens the next morning at 8 a.m.

Kelsey Maloney is a student at the University of Rhode Island and an official API Student Blogger. Kelsey is studying abroad with API in Rome, Italy.

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