Greece: Day 2, The New Athens

We wake up today feeling groggy but substantially better. We take hot showers and dress in our lightest clothes as it’s going to be a very Greek day, temperature wise. We head up to breakfast in our hotel, a true godsend at the beginning and end of the trip. The spread is so impressive I can’t stop myself from going back for seconds (and thirds!). There are the typical European breakfast buffet fixings of yogurt, museli, bread, olives, meat and bread. But what’s so special is the products provided by the mother of the owner and their friends in Crete- homemade marmalade (my favorite was the orange, so different than the one for purchase in the states), honey, and garden olives. We pour over our map and after constructing a loose plan we’re off.


We walk away from Psyrri toward the Central Market. The streets become busier, less tourist-ed. We cross a main street and enter the market through a side door, directly into the meat area. This, friends, is not for the faint-heated. Row after row of animals in their purest form. Lambs held upside down by a string, their eyes bulging, butchers breaking down other whole animals and pushing the premium cuts in your face as we hurry by. Luke doesn’t notice that we’re walking on the remnants of the butchering, but I do. We turn a corner quickly and emerge into the fish stalls, much calmer but fascinating still. We make our way out when a cart pushes by holding two massive swordfish that almost spear us both.

Invigorated, overjoyed by this true experience, we move on to the Kolonaki neighborhood, defined as being the wealthiest, most quintessentially European of the city. The stores become more posh as do the restaurants. I grab my first “frappe for takeaway” and fumble over my coins somehow grabbing Turkish and Canadian coins in the process. She’s kind, pushing them back my way, I correct my faux pas and we’re off.

The afternoon is wonderful, filled with a lot of exercise, sun and fantastic food in an area I didn’t expect loving. A lesson on not trusting guidebooks all the time. We walk through the streets of Kolonaki then rest a while in the National Gardens. It was empty and peaceful, a perfect change of pace. From there we venture up the side of the Lycabettus Hill. It’s a lot of walking but the views at the midway point are so worth it, perhaps more so than the tippy top. Once there, we rest against the tiny white church for a while, the only sign of shade.

Back down again we wandered through the streets with our compilation of maps and guidebooks. In other cities where I’ve been nervous to use my map for fear of being targeted, I don’t feel like that here. Perhaps because of the boost in confidence from being told I look Greek by a couple of Greeks on the plane. We end up at a homey restaurantI found in one of my books in the Exarchia district, supposed stomping ground of the anarchists.

No sign of anarchists but so many of solid hospitality and amazing food and graffiti, lots and lots of graffiti. With no English translations, we are guided into the kitchen to check out the day’s offerings. We order, sit down and it’s just so peaceful. There are families everywhere walking their children home for lunch, greeting the restaurant owners and keeping on their way. The owners’ daughter runs to a cart holding a dog and is gushing over her new friend, waving frantically when his owner returns and it’s time for him to leave. Who I assume is the grandmother, is in the kitchen of our restaurant preparing my salad and putting the finishing touches on our meals. Things start to fall into place here, the travel experience becomes more engaging than frustrating.

We continue to the National Archaeology Museum and unbelievably extensive collection of Greek artifacts from the mainland and islands. We could have easily spent a day here but again, jet lag has us by the throat. Our favorite is the temporary Antikythera Shipwreck exhibit showcasing treasures from a wreck that took place in ca 50 BC. It was such a beautifully curated exhibit, we honestly would have went just for that.

The day winds down from here, but first we check out the port of Pireaus and purchase our tickets to the island of Santorini in the Cyclades. Once back in town we toss around ideas for dinner but end up at the gyro restaurant of a man proclaiming he loves America and Obama. Here, here!

The night goes quickly as we devour our 2 euro sandwiches on a nearby bench in Monastiraki  square and before we know it it’s almost midnight and we have an early wake-up call for our journey to the islands.

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