Greece: Part III

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Having escaped from Ios, we made our way back to Athens to the Easy Access hostel where we had stayed when we first arrived. It’s apparently the only hostel in one of the safer areas of Athens, though there was a lively community of prostitutes hanging around, providing us with much visual entertainment.

We were quite tired from another long ferry journey, so we hung out in the bar and watched Denmark vs. Cameroon before calling it an earlier night than the few before. The next morning we got up early (actually too early, because I’ve apparently forgotten how to tell time and set the alarm for an ungodly hour) and had the free breakfast offered by the hostel – toast.

We decided to go explore a market we’d heard about and took the metro out of Athens, passing the Olympic stadium from 2004 on the way. Can’t believe those Olympics were six years ago. Turns out by ‘market’, our little info pamphlet meant ‘lots of expensive shops you can’t afford, like Gucci and Oscar de la Renta’, so that expedition didn’t last long and we went back to Athens.

After lunch we tried to visit the war museum, as Broseph is big into that sort of thing, but it was closed so we visited the Byzantine and Christian museum instead…which was brilliant. Huge and full of really interesting stuff – we learned loads about the history of the area with a focus on how religion shaped society. I felt well brainy after that!

That had taken us to the early evening so we had a rest at the hostel and then went out for dinner and some exploring around. We found some sort of music festival with Greek pop and rock acts performing in different city squares. The fırst one appeared to be Greece’s answer to Lady Gaga-meets-Christina Aguilera-but-nice-try-not-even-close (only the photos will explain- getting them uploaded remains a challenge), and she sang a few pop numbers in English which basically consisted of the same one lyric over and over again. We eventually discerned that ”I want nuggets now” was actually ”I want to knock it out”, but with no explanation of what she wanted to knock. Then we moseyed down to another nearby square where a Greek rock band was also singing songs in English, and they were actually very good. We did some head-bobbing and toe-tapping there for a while before heading back for bed.

The next morning we got up with plans to do a walking tour of Athens, but upon discovering the ridiculous price (after Adam in Budapest was so fab for free, we’ll never pay for one!) we decided to set out on our own. First stop was the Acropolis, where I blagged my way in for the student price using my Syracuse University ID, which features a charming photo of myself aged SIXTEEN. The lady was a bit suspicious, but she let me go. The Acropolis was excellent – the Parthenon is really something to see and there’s a brilliant view of the whole city from up there. Our ticket gave us access to lots of other sites of interest, so we traipsed around and saw the Ancient Agora, The Temple of Olympian Zeus, The Theatre of Dionysus, the original Olympic stadium.

We walked around for about seven hours straight, and I got a nasty sunburn on my neck and the backs of my legs (really need to master this sunscreen thing) so all we could manage in the evening was to watch some World Cup and then hit the hay, especially as we had plans to get up early on Tuesday to go to Meteora and see the monasteries on the rocks. Read on for THAT adventure…

We overslept, and so sprinted to the train station like our lives depended on it, only to arrive and see loads of people milling around – no ticket office or information booth was open. We eventually deduced that it was a strike, but just a short one, until about 9am. We had arrived a little before 8, aiming for an 8:30 train. OK, we thought, so we got in line for tickets and grabbed some coffee. More and more folks started showing up, and queue for the tickets was rapidly growing behind us. We could already see that as soon as the ticket office opened, it was going to be a mad rush.

As it was getting closer to 9, Bro and I had to create a blockade with our backpacks to stop two miniature and ancient gypsy people from cutting us in line, as well as a larger lady on crutches. It was craziness, and sure enough, when the ticket booth opened things got loony. Before we knew it the ticket guy was screaming at one of the passengers through the glass (which I thought he might actually smash), people were pushing and shoving and the tiny gypsy lady broke though our Great Wall of Luggage.

Ultimately we couldn’t get a ticket, so we went and got on a train, and just hoped it was going somewhere and we could buy tickets on board. The conductor eventually came around, sold us a ticket and then a couple of hours later threw us off the train and told us to change. We were seriously in the middle of Nowheresville, Greece at a little sleepy station, not sure what to do next. We got from the ticket guy that we should wait until 2pm…so we did that while watching Greece’s top ten music videos on the cafe TV (no comment on Greek pop except for…yikes).

Eventually a train came along and sometime later we got kicked off again, but we had made it! We were in a little town surrounded by huge massive rock faces, and we set off to find Elena’s guest house, where we had a reservation. DEFINITELY the nicest place we’ve stayed so far – it had a proper shower and a HAIR DRYER! Broseph said it was like I found a big bag of money when I opened the bathroom door, I was so excited. It was too late to go to see the monasteries, so we had a little walksies around town and watched some more World Cup before bed.

The next day we got up really early to hike up to the top of the rocks. Dang. What a climb! It will all make more sense when you see pics (I know, I know), but we estimate we walked and hiked about eight miles in one day, seeing about five monasteries and one convent. They’re amazing, supposedly religious peoples built them up there in the 11th century, and I really can’t fathom how they got all the way up there back then!

The views of the area from the top were fabulous, it felt like I could see for miles, and I couldn’t have felt further way from my “regular life”, I guess. You know, my cube at work and apartment in San Fran and whatnot. I have filed this experience under “What Is My Life Right Now?”, which will become a recurring segment throughout the blog, as things are getting loonier and loonier, I tell you.

Anyway, when we’d exhausted ourselves with walking, looking at religious antiquities and listening to monks chant, we hiked back down to get the train back to Athens, as we were headed to Istanbul the next day. Thankfully, the trip back to the city was uneventful, and we went back to the hostel for the THIRD separate time – they were really getting to know us there!

In the morning we checked out and hauled our luggage down to our dad’s office in Piraeus (the port bit, right next to Athens). He has a WONDERFUL staff there who took us out for a brilliant lunch at a restaurant next to a lovely marina. I seriously ate enough to last me the rest of the trip – beef carpaccio, rocket salad, baked feta, filet mignon, baked potato, chocolate mousse with pistachio cotton candy (we think)…oh and lots of wine. We were SO full and exhausted on our way to the airport in the company taxi – this backpacking life is REALLY hard, you know? ;)

Next up, Istanbul, where I think I left my heart.

Susie Hughes
Susie Hughes is a UK transplant to the United States, moving from London to Connecticut as a teenager. For five years she worked in technology public relations in San Francisco, quietly putting money away into "The Travel Fund". In May 2010, Susie left San Francisco to realize a lifelong dream of an extended trip around the world - seven months visiting more than 20 countries on four continents.
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