As I’ve probably mentioned numerous times before, I’m fairly obsessed with ruins. I’m not sure what exactly it is about them, but I think that structures and artifacts that are able to withstand the test of time are fascinating. It might be because these things offer our modern, advanced society a tiny glimpse into our past – about 2,000 years into the past when it comes to ancient Greece.
Everyone has his or her bucket list of dream destinations when it comes to travel, and Greece is second only to Egypt on mine. When I traveled abroad, I wasn’t exactly sure what other places I would be able to visit because it all depended on where everyone else on my trip wanted to go. Some people are fine with traveling on their own, but I like sharing experiences too much to attempt that. So, I pitched the Greece idea way back in the fall semester of my junior year when my study abroad group’s group chat first began. People were all over the place at first – Italy, Southern Spain, Budapest – but as the end of March 2016 grew closer, I sold two people on the idea… and then three more.
Our first flight from Barcelona to Athens took off at 7:30 a.m., so that meant waking up around 3:30. Honestly, I wasn’t even upset about it because I was so excited. When we landed in Athens, figured out which metro we had to take into the city center and got over the initial shock of most signs being printed entirely in Greek and very basic English, we were on our way to our first hostel. The metro ride was uneventful, like most metro rides, and as we walked to our hostel from the well-known Syntagma Square (the square is outlined by hotels, restaurants and Parliament), I couldn’t help but notice that this area of town was pretty dilapidated. I had been expecting it after the economic crisis Greece was facing and its struggle to support the influx of refugees, but it still came as a little bit of a shock.
The Hotel Dioskorous was older and had its quirks, but you could not beat its location or free breakfast (French toast with Nutella!!!). We were across the street from the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Gate, a five-minute walk to Plaka (the main shopping area in Athens) and a 10-minute walk to the Acropolis (Athens’s main attraction). The day we arrived, we faced the worst weather of the entire spring break trip but we were still able to tour the Acropolis Museum and eat some classic Greek food for dinner (don’t worry, we had baklava for dessert).
The next morning we hit the ground running because the majority of Athens’s attractions close at 3 p.m. (because it’s the winter…). We were able to tour the Acropolis, eat some gyros and hike two small mountains before dinner. The Parthenon, which is the most well known feature on the top of the Acropolis, was surreal to behold in person. It’s something everyone has seen in his or her history books growing up, but the fact that it is (mostly) still standing is awe-inspiring. We took way too many pictures and made fun of all of our fellow tourists taking even more pictures. Although we considered joining a tour group to explore Greece, we ended up being completely capable on our own and cut some costs that way. We were also happy to travel on our own time and look slightly less like lemmings than our fellow sightseers. We hiked Philopappos Hill and Mount Lycabettus, which I would highly recommend, because they were relatively free of other tourists and offered incredible views of Athens.
The next day, we got another early start and checked out the Temple of Zeus, the Ancient Agora of Athens and the first modern Olympic stadium. We finished the day with a wonderful meal in Plaka at the top of a small, steep alleyway that overlooked the rest of the neighborhood.
Athens definitely lived up to my expectations with its incredible ancient history and cuisine, but we were all excited to move to island time when we took off for Santorini in the middle of the week.