Greece: Day 1, Old Athens

We arrived at Athens International airport after one of the best flights I’ve ever had, due to a bulkhead seat and my seatmate sharing her gin with me. We navigated the metro rather easily, and for the first time in my travels, we arrived at the hotel with no wrong turns using my hand-drawn map.

At first look, the Psyirri neighborhood is gritty and filled with graffiti and abandoned buildings. But venture further and you will find a range of cafes and tavernas waiting to be explored.

City Circus is a trendy new (one year old) hostel/B&B sporting a sort of “hipster circus” theme and a bountiful breakfast. After a short wait while conversing with the owner about his inspiration behind opening the hostel and what led him to do so, we retreated to our room which was strikingly similar to our very own bedroom. It has exposed beams and a small bathroom off the side. We left quickly before sweet sleep tempted us.

My first interaction with Athens led me to believe she was a bit of a bitch (but her true colors shone through after my jet lag dissipated). We got lost several times trying to find restaurants I’d selected ahead of time (something I’m going to hold off on doing the next trip since this scenario is far too common and so annoying). We arrived at one claiming the best lamb chops in Athens only to find that the place was packed and we wouldn’t be seated. The ATM wouldn’t work at first, rejecting our card. We spun around, passing young lovers, the young man sitting on his scooter groping his companion’s breasts as she straddled him proudly. I laughed out loud, the US this is not, and we hurried away towards a restaurant recommended by the hotel owner.

After ordering half of the menu, a cheese platter, two salads and a dish of prawns fit for a king, we ventured out to explore the Acropolis complex. It was free today. Around this time jet lag hit even harder, but we pressed on, perhaps even rushed. We experienced the typical tourist spots but found a few unique offerings-  a birthday party atop Filopappos Hill and a modern dance and song performance way below us in the amphitheater. Up we walked until the mighty Parthenon stood before us. We snapped a few photos and took it all in as quickly as we could due to our sagging eyes. We took a quick tour of the Acropolis Museum (also free today) filled with marble statues and other artifacts recovered from the Acropolis with glass covering excavation sites below.

I’ll be honest, we couldn’t really appreciate it entirely, and I regret that a bit. Normally I don’t do a major tourist site on the first day but our time in Athens was so limited we had to accomplish what we could and the fact that it was free gave us the added push we needed.

On the route back to the hotel we wandered through Plaka and Anafiotika. Plaka is the hugely popular, beautiful neighborhood filled with touristy shops and restaurants houses. Anafiotika is a little slice of the Cyclades with white washed houses and an aura of calm. By now, we needed sleep. Luke grabbed a gyro (the first of many on the trip) and I went to bed without dinner. A small price to pay for immediate sleep upon return.

I showered and fell into bed, sleeping for a few hours before being woken up by the echoing of guests walking up the marble staircase above us. I found my earplugs and drifted back to sleep…essential for travel, so much so that I bring a jumbo pack with me despite the teasing I receive.

That first day feeling is never a good one: a mixture of anxiety, frustration and pure exhaustion. You sometimes wish you were home in your own bed and curse yourself for being so ungrateful. For me it takes a couple of days to settle, a shame when that couple of days is a quarter of your trip. I breathe steadily and keep saying to myself you’re in Greece, you’re in Greece…be kind to yourself…and so on. The days that follow make the discomfort of the first a distant memory.

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