After moving to Portugal, we realized that our bucket list had grown to the point where it is now better described as a bathtub list. There are just too many different places to visit in Europe! In Portuguese, we’ve learned to describe it thusly: “É um lugar muito diversificado.” Which means “It is a very diversified place.”
With all these choices and diversity, we decided to just start with the “A’s,” and just knock them off one by one in alphabetical order. We’d already been to Amsterdam, and so lo and behold, Athens was up next!
We were as excited as kids visiting Disneyland when we saw our first view of Greece from the plane (little did we know that would become more than a metaphor despite the fact that it was supposed to be solely a Grecian vacation). Greece! Athens! The Acropolis! Our bathtub list was about to get one more rubber ducky taken from the tub.
After landing in Greece, we found out that Greeks have a very hard time with spelling in the English language.
In fact, they think the 1978 film Grease was all about their country. Even after over 40 years, they still have Olivia Newton John Travolta (yeah, they’re sort of like conjoined twins) greeting tourists. Although they sure looked like the real thing. They even posed for us just like the movie poster. Awesome.
And if you don’t believe the Greeks have a hard time with English, just check out these signs:
If you ever want to move to Greece and need a job, just apply as a translator. Just remember to not parking where you’re not supposed to.
Speaking of translating, after seeing their alphabet there’s no wonder why the phrase, “It’s all Greek to me” was popularized. We’re just glad not to have to learn a new alphabet in Portugal. Although, I do have to say it’s pretty easy to see why this Greek word here is “men:” the second-to-the-last-letter is a pair of boobs. So I think the word translates literally to: “likes boobs.” I guess Greek is easier to learn than I thought!
In any case, we were excited to visit Athens and the Acropolis, although we were told that Athens itself isn’t that much to see. Our cab ride from the airport confirmed that. It’s a rather dreary city, with really only the Acropolis looming above giving it any semblance of interest or beauty.
Our initial impressions were undoubtedly affected by our cab ride. Our driver wasn’t of Greek descent, which is neither here nor there except for three things: he didn’t speak English (and probably not Greek either), he didn’t know where our hotel was, and he had no idea how to get there even after being provided with an address and a map via my phone. He also had no other electronics in his car (which was held together with duct tape) other than the taxi meter.
So the entire way I held my iPhone out so he could see the GPS guiding him to our destination. Despite that, more than once we had to shout out to him to make a turn (repeating what Siri had just said, only louder), just before he barreled down the wrong exit. We were relieved that we actually made it to the hotel. To add insult to injury, he wanted more than the stated maximum for cab fare we saw posted on big signs at the airport, claiming that it was due to the road tolls, which he went through and had paid like a regular driver. I was dubious of this, but gave him the money anyway figuring I just paid for a source of material for my blog. Plus I kind of like avoiding getting stabbed.
Our taxi adventures continued on the way back to the airport. Our flight was early in the morning, and this other driver actually had some electronics in his car, including a GPS. But that was a waste anyway because he totally ignored it. Instead, he raced down side streets like a bat out of hell, with the GPS frantically rerouting itself, looking a lot like the electronic snake in that electronic maze game. The scariest part of the drive, however, was when he hit the freeway. Not only was he driving like a madman, he could barely keep his eyes open! I spent the entire freeway part of the journey with my own eyes focused solely onto the rearview mirror, ready to bop him on the head if his actually closed. As it was, I would occasionally make a loud noise just to make sure he stayed awake; coughs, burps, farts, whatever it took. Carolyn thought I must’ve eaten something onerous, but I didn’t want to tell her why I was doing what I was doing so she wouldn’t freak out. Once in a while I wondered if he steered the cab so close to other cars’ bumpers while going over 140 km an hour just to keep himself awake, which freaked us both out plenty as it was.
When we got to Crete, we rented a car.
Our hotel, called the Jason Inn, is actually a lot nicer than the name implies. Not that there’s anything wrong with the name Jason Inn, but it does sort of sound like a two star flea bagger on the outside of Las Vegas.
But in fact it was pleasant, clean, quiet, and had a nice breakfast buffet on the roof with a view of the Acropolis. Of course, just about everyone in Athens puts chairs and tables on the roof for a view of the Acropolis, but hey.
Despite our pleasure with the Jason Inn, we did get a kick out of some of the construction issues, namely this light and power cord almost within touching distance of our small balcony, and the shower head which was mounted right over the bar holding up the glass partition. We clearly were not in Japan (because everything is made just about perfect there).
Anyway, for this first part, we’ll just show you some of the sights we saw while walking around Athens, and then the next entry we’ll get to the place that keeps Athens from being another Baku, Azerbaijan (you’ll understand that reference if you keep reading).
First we’ll check out this cool street art which was right around the corner from our hotel. When you first see it, it looks like a complete picture of a vampire-toothed purple-haired woman. But as you approach, you see the art was created on different walls. Pretty cool. It reminded me of the movie Labyrinth, which had non-CGI optical effects just like that.
A typical restaurant scene with lots of outdoor tables. The area around the Acropolis had no shortage of places to eat, most of them fronted by a charmer encouraging anyone and everyone to come eat the best food in the city.
We chose this one because Carolyn loves twinkle lights. That, and the waiter who encouraged us to come in was very chatty and the restaurant was not too busy, so we had a nice discussion with him about Greece and even politics. He doesn’t like the Germans.
Near our hotel the local Walmart displays its wares. Actually, it was a street filled with second-hand items. You name it, you surely could find it. Even a second hand, I’m sure.
After lunch, it was time for us to get back in the saddle.
Speaking of saddles, my horse-loving sister had this store named after her. I’ll give you three guesses as to what her name is.
This is a government building protected by two Buckingham-Palace-esque guards. They have a rather funny routine with the changing of the guard, complete with synchronized leg kicks that wouldn’t serve them well at all in any kind of real battle, unless the enemy were turned around with their backs to them, bent over.
We took a Hop On-Hop Off bus just to see more of Athens than we would have on foot. It was a good way to go, except that Athens really doesn’t have that much interesting to see aside from the Acropolis and grey-haired men wearing blue shirts.
Of course there are some ruins here and there. This is Hadrian’s Arch. Built in about 131 AD, it is one of many Roman ruins scattered throughout the city.
Speaking of ruins… don’t think for a minute Europeans aren’t very well versed on American politics. Someone captured one of the prevailing sentiments pretty well.
This may be a response to the above, I dunno. Like most European cities, graffiti is prevalent, and sometimes, like the above, even in English. We were so grateful for this one in particular being in English because otherwise we would have never understood it and wouldn’t have known what we were supposed to be doing.
Unfortunately, along with the graffiti there were other unsightly areas. Athens wasn’t a pigsty, but it surely doesn’t rank high on any “cleanest cities in the world” list. Which made me wonder… and yes, thanks to the internet, there is actually a cleanest cities in the world list. The top five: #1 Calgary, Canada (Woo hoo! You go Canucks!). #2: Zurich, Switzerland. #3: Luxembourg. #4 Adelaide, Australia. #5: Singapore. There is also, of course, a dirtiest cities list, led by Baku, Azerbaijan, mostly because it sits on some very rich oil fields. I guess that’s where the term “filthy rich” came from.
After a long day of sightseeing, there’s nothing like a cold beer to cool you down. Mythos beer was the most common we saw, and it was good! Also, the gyros in Greece are pretty much the same as the gyros you get from the fast food restaurants in the mall, so yeah, you’re eating authentic ethnic when you pass up that Taco Bell for the gyros.
We came away from Athens thinking about two kinds of animals: cats and turtles. Wild cats were everywhere, and once in a while, usually near some ruins, you’d come across a turtle. This guy was crossing the road where he might have had to put the strength of his shell to a mighty test under the wheel of a car, so we put him back in the grass. Like most turtles, he didn’t even thank us.
This is the Panathenaic Stadium, completed in 144 AD. It is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. Back then it could hold up to 50,000 spectators: a lot less if the home team had a losing season, but a lot more during the first Olympics because the athletes were all naked. Two thousand years later, all we have close to that is beach volleyball and Speedos.
The world’s first running statue. We caught this freeze frame as he was bursting through the park on his way across the street.
Fresh fruit and produce are often artfully displayed, although I’d hate to be the one picking a cherry from the bottom, sending them tumbling in a veritable cherries jubilee.
This Aphrodite is artfully displayed as well. Plus she’s 50% off. What a bargain!
And so Aphrodite made it to the street next to the second hand stores, where she found a row of third and fourth hand stores. By the time it gets to fifth hand, we think it gets put into the small stairwells.
I have no idea what this sign says, but since they have a picture of Bogie and Bacall, it must be a classy joint.
I think the middle store is selling vitamins based on the sign, but with all the ladders it could also be a hardware store. Either way, it’s probably a good place to get some iron supplements.
Next up: the Acropolis.
For our Portland friends, no, not that one.