ATHENS: Ευχαριστώ

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Even though I barely slept last night, I somehow managed to get up with enough time to tidy the apartment, put a few items more into my bag, and shove the rest of the food in the kitchen into my mouth. I said goodbye to a few things that I didn’t want to haul around AFRICA and headed out the door. I was quite sad to leave our beautiful sensitive plant, Margaret, behind. I didn’t know what to do with her, so I decided to put the plant on top of the mailboxes in the lobby in the hopes that some kindly soul will adopt her and give her the water and sunlight that she so desperately needs.

When I took Jessica to the airport a few days ago, everything went smoothly and there was no problem whatsoever in quickly getting out to Charles de Gaulle. I was not lucky on my solo journey. The Métro was exceptionally delayed with trains leaving every fifteen minutes instead of the usual five. When one finally sluggishly chugged into the station, it was loaded with people, so I took my backpack off and hurled myself inside. It wasn’t comfortable at all, but I was on the train. It slowly made its way to the next stop and the next and I could feel sweat drip down my back and my pulse begin to rise. I didn’t want to miss my flight and this train was doing absolutely nothing for my nerves.

To increase the fun, I had to take three separate trains to the airport. The Métro, then another Métro line, and then the RER. Such fun! What was even more deliriously exciting was when I ran to the RER and watched the train I needed speed away. The next one wouldn’t be for twenty minutes. At this point I began to panic a lot. I knew that if I missed my flight, there would be later ones, but I didn’t want to miss it!

The RER finally came, though, and it seemed to realize just how annoyed I was because it arrived at the airport in record time. This was only a small relief, of course, because I still had to take a shuttle from the RER to the terminal and then find the terminal and then wait in the checkin line and then head through security and then make it to my gate. All in an hour. I was quite panicked by then.

It seems that every single person ahead of me in line had packed up every possession they’d ever had and was bringing it to Greece with them. This made so little sense to me. They had trolleys loaded with massive suitcases. I packed for a month away with a single backpack and I’ve done very well. I can’t imagine what they think they need for their trips. I’d never haul all of that around with me. I’d certainly lose my mind.

After what felt like an eternity, I made it to the front of the line and finally had my ticket in hand. It was an extraordinary thing to see CAIRO printed on my boarding pass. It was all real. I was really going. I wanted to vomit with nerves.

It wasn’t very long until I was on my plane. I was in the very back with a window seat. Literally it could not have been a worse spot. You can never get up because the other two people beside you have to move first and one of them is usually asleep. And when you’re in the back of the plane you are always going to be the last one off. To add to my horror, the man beside me had horrible breath and decided it was perfectly appropriate to take off his shoes and let his foot odor float through the cabin. I was appalled, reader. It was disgusting.

Of course, the flight was delayed once we were all on it, which is no fun at all. We sat there waiting to takeoff for a half hour, gagging on whatever horrible thing was happening to that man’s feet. Finally, though we took to the air and were munching on truly terrible airplane food. It’s always nice to be fed, though, so many companies have stopped giving out meals and make you pay for horrid little snacks. I appreciated that touch even if it was a plate of instant mashed potatoes with some scary meat thing. They didn’t have any more vegetarian plates, so I had to make do with potatoes and a dry, freezer burned roll.

Arrival in Athens.

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Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled to see Greece out the window and begin our descent to Athens. The water of the Aegean was amazingly blue and I couldn’t wait to get out and explore. I was the last one off, of course, which was irksome, but whatever. At least I was in Greece.

It was a bit strange going out of the airport since there was absolutely no passport control at all. I didn’t quite understand this. Is it because I had already come from with Europe? I’m going to go with that.

Very soon I was out of the airport and heading toward the Metro. I love an airport with a Metro connection to the city. It’s so civilized! You don’t have to worry about taxis or buses or any of that nonsense. You just hop on and there you are!

Of course, the Metro left as I was entering the station. OH HOW I LAUGHED! It was only a twenty minute wait for the next train, but I was getting a bit worried about missing the Acropolis. It wasn’t open all night long and I didn’t want to miss a wonder of the world. So, I was delighted when the train came and I was soon whipping through the countryside and looking at the mountains and the hills and just waiting for a ruin to pop by the window, but I never did see anything like that.

My original intention was to go straight to the hotel, drop off my bag, and hurry back over to the Acropolis since it wasn’t very far away. My time was running short, though, so I thought it was best to head to the Acropolis right away. I regret this decision. It killed my back. But if I had gone to the hotel I would have wasted a half hour that proved to be rather valuable.

Greece is the first country I’ve ever been in that uses a different alphabet from what I’m used to. Iceland had a bunch of weird accents, but it was still intelligible. I was glad that we had studied the Greek alphabet at work last year with the seventh graders. I didn’t remember them all, but it certainly came in handy when I was a bit confused. The Metro makes sense after you use if for a few times, but this is true in all cities. I’m so used to the Paris Métro and the London Underground that it was a bit strange to have to learn the train line endings and the routes. I did it, though!

I popped out of the train and it wasn’t much of a walk to the Acropolis gates. It was £12 to enter, which wasn’t all that unreasonable for an historic site, but there was no explanation given as to where you were supposed to go or what you were supposed to see. This was very frustrating to me since I had such limited time before the place shut down.

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I began climbing the rocky slope and slipping on the marble slabs that popped up all over the place. Tree roots and loose gravel were all over the place and I saw at least three people fall. I’m surprised nobody died! I don’t often complain about things like this, but it was very irritating to risk death every few feet.

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I did make a new friend who wouldn’t pose for you:

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And I was terrified by my discovery of something horrible called caper beetles. They feast on the caper plant, hence the name:

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Every few hundred feet were hard to read signs detailing the way to the Parthenon and what it was that we were seeing. I wasn’t pleased because I’m not terribly familiar with the area or the history and these lousy signs were no help at all. Ancient Greece was never one of my great interests.

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An icon of grace and beauty. And the Parthenon.

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I stumbled up the slope and then all of a sudden there it was before me and I felt absolutely nothing. I’ve seen the Parthenon a thousand times on television and in film, in books and online. Seeing it with my own eyes was terribly anticlimactic, though. It was not nearly as large as I had thought. The front facade wasn’t much longer than a hallway back at work. I had always thought that you could go inside of it, too, but it’s completely off limits. All you can do is walk around and look at it and at the other hundred gaping tourists who are gasping in delight. Then there was me, wandering around, shrugging, saying, “Meh.”

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I was much more impressed with the “new” Temple of Athena. The original one was burned down in ancient times and the new one was really rather lovely.

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But even more impressive than all that was the view overlooking Athens. That alone was worth the ticket price.

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I wasn’t entirely sure where to go next or what to do. I seemed to be wandering around in circles. The tickets you are given have about seven different perforated tickets to access different sites. There was no explanation so I just kept going up to different workers and asking where to go. They shrugged and said, “We will close soon, sir.” This caused me to sigh and wander off and find my own way around.

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I found my way down some strange slope where I believe a sixty-year-old Grecian prostitute was trying to lure me in. She was a worker, but she had the look of a lady of the night. She tossed her hair and flipped her tag seductively at me. I hurried away from there and out of the Acropolis grounds where I met George Michael.

It wasn’t really George Michael, of course. It was a Grecian man who wanted me to come immediately to drink at his brother’s bar. I’ve been through that ploy a dozen times now, so I kindly got away from George. He wasn’t so bad. He wasn’t insistent like other people and gave me some good pickpocket prevention advice.

I was too exhausted to go out and explore the city anymore, so I headed to the hotel. It was so very hot and I was feeling pretty gross. I was glad to get to the hotel and I was pleased entirely with it. The interior was interestingly modern and not at all offensive. Perhaps it was a bit too floral, but it was fine. My room was blissfully white and the Internet connection was perfect. It was kind of like a large boutique hotel.

The best part of the hotel — other than the exceptionally powerful shower — was the hotel restaurant. I didn’t expect great things, but they had a vegetable burger and I was starving so I ordered and wondered where all the people were and as I was wondering, I heard a strange ticking sound. To my delight and joy a Chihuahua darted through the room wearing a diamond collar. There was nobody there, though, so I have no idea who it belonged to. I really didn’t care. It looked like Tinkerbell. I was absolutely ecstatic.

My meal came and it was not at all what I expected and it was beyond fabulous. It was the second best meal of the trip so far and it only cost me €8.80 with a massive bottle of water. There were a couple of chickpea patties with smashed fava beans and caramelized onions. It doesn’t sound all that thrilling but the combination was absolutely divine. There was also a huge bread platter with feta cheese spreads and I was in heaven.

Fully stuffed and delighted, I headed back to my room and crashed in my bed.

Postscript: I forgot to explain the meaning of the blog title: Ευχαριστώ. This is the Greek word for “thank you” and it’s literally the only thing I know in that language. It served me well. Pronounced “Ay-Free-Sto.” You’re welcome.

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