We left Istanbul very early in the morning and arrived in Greece around noon, leaving us an entire day to explore the city. On the bus from the airport into the city center, we studied signs and billboards to learn the Greek alphabet. With my knowledge of Cyrillic and our having taken several math classes, there were only a few unrecognizable letters. After dropping our bags of at the hotel, we set out to find food and see the sites. Rebecca and I were stunned by the tastiness of souvlaki – similar to a döner wrap – which, for two euro, was quite a steal. After gorging ourselves and loading up on cold water, we set out to find the Acropolis. At the base of the rock, we looked up and wondered whether we would actually be able to climb all the way to the top. The wind was strong, the heat intense, and the crowd of tourists huge – but the view was spectacular up top. After wandering around on slippery stone and admiring Athens from above for a while, we began the descent, stopping for a break in the shade in a sort of rock-park. It’s a huge rock formation, upon which people climb and mill about.
At night, we returned to the rock park to drink some Alfa (Greek beer). We made it to the top of the rock just before the sun fully set – we watched it escape behind the horizon, while behind us the Acropolis glowed with bright lights. The space was crowded with teenagers hanging out, laughing; people took many photographs, the flashes bright but probably ineffective in the black of night. Some guy asked us for a cigarette, but the cognates ended at that word, and we were unable to help him out. After what felt like hours sitting on top of the rock, listening to the sounds of the city, we made our way back down to the narrow streets overflowing with people. There, Rebecca and I shared the most delicious chocolate cake and talked with the host about his work and the restaurant. At first, it was a bit jarring to hear from him that he was only able to work two days a week for a few hours – there wasn’t enough money for him to work more.
The next day, though, his comments were put into another perspective by a man, whose name is Kostas, and his wife, Alla, who is originally from Odessa. Rebecca and I were sitting on the beach with a new friend, Krystle, relaxing in the sun and taking the occasional dip into the water. Kostas and Alla were incredibly sweet – we talked for a long time about how they met, their children, their relationship, and their work. Alla spoke of the unlikeliness of finding a job, due to her age; Kostas, like the man from the restaurant the other night, talked of only being able to work a few days a week. We asked about the difficulty of the economic situation in Athens and Greece in general, but Kostas shrugged it off, saying, “Sure, times are difficult. But now, we’re sitting here on this beautiful beach in a beautiful city – what’s to worry about?”
It was quiet while we were in Athens. After three hours of sitting at a cafe, eating chips and drinking beer with a unicorn on the label, the owner of the cafe asked us why on earth we were in Athens in August? Apparently, August is when everyone leaves the city for the islands, leaving the city quiet. That was one of our favorite parts of our trip to Athens – the calm streets made quite a contrast from the hustle and crowds of Istanbul.
The other favorite part: a nighttime tour of the Benaki museum. On Thursdays, this quaint museum is open until midnight. Around 10pm, we strolled in, unsure of what to expect. This is, quite possibly, the most interestingly curated museum I’ve ever visited. The museum featured pieces of ancient Greek ceramic bowls and vases, as well as clothing and maps throughout the late 19th century. In each case, they had placed contemporary reinterpretations of the art, made by craftspeople and designers over the past thirty years. A sign near the entrance implored visitors to: “find the similarities, differences, influences, and details that made the crafters of the contemporary objects want to offer new variations and creations.” On a mannequin garbed in traditional Greek clothing hung a modern handbag; next to a ceramic plate adorned with a well-endowed gentleman hung a lovely earring and necklace set decorated with tiny metal penises.
When we arrived in Greece, we had no idea of our plans for the rest of the trip. We thought about island hopping (Fleet Foxes inspired), we thought about taking a train to Croatia, and then we decided: to Cyprus!