Athens, Greece – History, Beauty and a Little Fear of Disappointment

travel tweaks

I ended up in Athens on a whim. May 1st (Labor Day in Romania) came at just the right time to make it a long weekend and although I was already in my mid twenties, I had decided to try out the “go to the seaside” trend that I wanted to experience ever since high-school. As May 1st celebrations on the Romanian seaside usually entailed lots of hormonal teenagers and college students drinking their wits away, I had never been actually allowed to go.

While browsing the hotel offers and trying to fit it all in my budget, something deep inside my head started turning and just out of curiosity, I googled hotels in Athens and started thinking of gas prices. I realized driving to Athens (about 800 kilometers or 500 miles), booking a two-night stay at a hotel (mind you, not a posh one), paying for food, museums and seeing other attractions, would actually be cheaper than spending the long weekend on the Black Sea beaches. I immediately called the people I was supposed to go with and cleared it with them. I also immediately thought of my mom and convinced her to go as well. Actually, I later found a list of things I wanted to do I had come up with in high-school, and taking my mom to Athens was on that list.

I was hyped up about the trip and a bit worried about my being the only driver. While the number of kilometers is not impressive, given we had to drive south from Bucharest to Giurgiu, cross through Bulgaria and then continue to head south through Greece (as my luck would have it, the route was filled with construction or repair work), which meant a rather lengthy drive. Not as long as it took me to drive to Oludeniz a couple of years later, but still!

Something else was also on my mind – everyone I knew who’d been to Athens (friends, acquaintances, including architecture students) had all pretty much said the same. Athens had been disappointing. They’d go there expecting the world only to go from one bunch of rocks to another and be completely unimpressed. Acropolis was generally the one thing they said was still worth seeing, but that was about it.

Athens, Greece - History, Beauty and a Little Fear of Disappointment

Maybe learning about Greek culture and history from early on (Black Sea resorts were actually Greek colonies in ancient times, even before the Romans took an interest in what know is Romania), reading enthusiastically Alexandru Mitru’s “Legends of Olympus”, which is pretty much basic reading for any kid, probably created some immense expectations that modern day Greece, Athens in particular, could not meet.

After quite a tiring drive and a little crazed search for the hotel, we made it into our room. As I said, it wasn’t the most expensive hotel or the highest quality venue. Actually, as it was conveniently located in an office building area, Greek men would indulge in an afternoon visit with companions (probably prostitutes) and pay for a room at this hotel or similar ones in the area. Yet that hotel had the most memorable bed  sheets I had ever experienced – silky, soft, with the most soothing cooling effect.

That evening we went to a nearby restaurant where we had pizza and our first encounter with the local beer Mythos 🙂 I make a point in trying local brands of beer or wine when I travel. I rarely try other alcoholic beverages because I can’t take strong ones, unless they are sweet and fruity. So ouzo was out of the question for me!

On the second day we started our exploration of the city. We went in the city center, started at the building housing the Hellenic Parliament, continued with the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, then made our way to various temples spread across the city. I even found a place where my statue should be placed!

We saved the third day for a few other sites in ruin which we visited on our way to Acropolis. My mom had to stop and wait for us half way as going up is a bit more demanding and one might think. Or at least it was for her. Either way, we went up, passing by fallen statues and ancient amphitheaters, making our way up to this glorious structure and the museum housing artifacts related to it.

We did somewhat keep to the Romanian tradition of being on the beach on May 1st. On our third evening we made it to a beach a little further down from our hotel and on the way back we stopped at another near Thessaloniki to have lunch and then full around a bit.

Maybe I was just so thrilled over being there, maybe I just loved discovering the city I had always imagined, maybe I had let my imagination run wild more than others, but I did love every minute of my short stay in Athens. The only disappointing thing was the restaurant service. For some reason, I expected it to be all squeaky clean and at the same high-level I had previously experienced in Turkey, but it wasn’t quite the same. When it comes to the best possible services, it’s hard to top Turkey, even when you’re considering the smallest of the smallest neighborhood restaurants.

Athens, Greece - History, Beauty and a Little Fear of Disappointment

I felt myself immersed in stories of long ago, while still being taken with modern, neon-lit office buildings and contemporary art. At the museums, I gladly discovered every piece displayed before my eyes, as well as the art students camping on the floor and drawing sketches of old masterpieces. Wandering off on narrow streets and seeing lively or darker street art was refreshing and the happy chatter about us, the nice souvenir salespeople and the bright, sunny weather were all refreshingly relaxing. We also indulged in quite some more Mythos, that beer accompanies each and every lunch and dinner.

I do plan on going back, exploring more of Athens and the rest of Greece. I don’t think I could ever find it to be “just a bunch of rocks” or disappointing in any way!

P.S. I uploaded a few more photos on our Travel Tweaks Facebook page so check them out 🙂