Adventures in MultiCultural Independence

Athens Travel Blog

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My bed at my apartment.
My bed at my apartment.

My apartment in Athens is wonderful. I love it, but it is very different from my glamorous life in the pi phi mansion.

Some things are similar, I live with all girls, only 4 not 50. And we don’t have air conditioning. No air conditioning in Oregon in March, is no big deal, but I’m thinking no air conditioning in Athens in July, will be a big deal.

My room in pi phi looks out to the roof. It’s a beautiful view, the ambience enhanced by constant sirens. My room in Athens has two glass doors that open out onto a balcony. The balcony looks out onto the busy street 4 flights down, Hreminidou. The street mostly has clothes stores, one called Venus Victoria, which makes me smile every time. It’s the Greco Roman adaptation of Vicky’s Secret. The narrow sidewalks are cluttered by assemblages of knock off purses spread on blankets. A constant stream of taxis and mopeds drive by all day and night, occasionally blasting American music.

the dryer
the dryer

From my beloved balcony I can see across to the other set of apartments across the street. I see our neighbors out on the balcony watering their plants. Another large neighbor I see constantly walking around in his speedo and gold chain. I don’t even have to peer into his room; he comes out onto the balcony like that. Come to think of it, I’ve never actually seen him WITH clothes on.

Some other gross things I’ve had to experience are:

They don’t flush toilet paper here. They put it in little trash cans, which we have to empty. Not pleasant. I know Mom, you’re freaking out, right?

street view
street view

On day one, I got a sunburn on my hair line, so since then I have learned to put sunscreen into my scalp. Needless to say my glorious, luminous, perfect hair has seen better days and now mostly is held back in a pony tail.

Since we spend all day out in the sun sightseeing, my shoulders are constantly sunburned no matter how much sunscreen I apply. It is so painful!!

Also since we’re out in the sun, running around it gets sweaty, so I’m constantly covered in a sticky layer of sunblock and sweat, which the pollution and dust stick to. I always feel dirty.

roommie in the kitchen.  its hot, so we walk around in our underwear.
roommie in the kitchen. its hot, so we walk around in our underwear.

We are constantly getting bit by bugs! Which is worrisome, because I haven’t SEEN any bugs, but somehow they keep biting me. It got really out of control at one point, where they were swelling up and looked like hives. And I have like 50 of them.

So far I haven’t had a bad experience with Greek cuisine. I really didn’t know what to expect when I got here, since I never really had Greek food back in the US. I just knew they had olives and feta. There is a grocery store a few blocks away, but you can’t really call it that. It is REALLY small. They have kiosks on every corner, but where Athenians really do their shopping is once a week at local flea/farmers markets. I passed through one, it was so cool! They had different stands for every type of produce imaginable, except avocados, which I can’t seem to find, unfortunately.

the entry room.  that couch is not comfy
the entry room. that couch is not comfy

When we’re on our trips it isn’t possible to cook for ourselves, so that means GYROS! Gyros are the best thing ever. They have little gyro stands all over the place, where they’ll have large spits of roasting meat (pork and chicken) They make them to order, with a hot pita bread, with the meat, tatziki sauce, onions and tomato. I figured out how to order in Greek. The very best part is that they are 2euro or less.

Greek is a complicated language. I’ve been trying my best to pick some up, and I can say the important things (like: “one gyro please, how much, where is the bathroom, I love you, thank you, goodbye” and I can count to 10) We ate out at a restaurant the other day with our professor and about three girls. I said hello to the host, who then prattled off about something to me in Greek. When I just stared at him blankly, my professor responded to whatever he asked. She told me later that he said ‘It’s unusual for an American to try to speak Greek, she should just give up, it’s too hard.’ Well thanks for your confidence mister. Another hard part is that the alphabet is different. I’ve learned it, but its like first grade all over again, I walk down the street sounding out all the signs, trying to read them. It’s incredibly satisfying when I figure out what a word means and how to pronounce it. My progress is slow, but steady.

...the bathroom...
...the bathroom...

Everyone speaks English. It’s very convenient I guess, but it’s not helping me learn Greek. The only person I’ve run into that doesn’t speak English is my friend Cassie’s landlord, who stopped us on our way out yesterday and lectured us. I had no idea what she was saying, but that certainly didn’t stop her. Another friend in my class got yelled at by a Yaya (grandma) she thinks for her provocative shirt. When she told the woman she couldn’t understand, the Yaya threw her arms up in the air and then marked herself with the sign of the cross several times.

roomies!
roomies!

You know, after all the classical Greek statues, I was really expecting something better than what modern day Greek men really look like. Yep, art history has given me unrealistic expectations of what I want men to look like. Reverse sexism? Probably. While I don’t think that Greek guys are all that cool, Greek guys certainly think Greek guys are cool. When walking down the street (especially in a group) you’re sure to here ‘hi girls, hello, hhiiiiiiiiii’ just anything to get your attention. I ignore them for the most part except for one occasion when the group of guys had been consuming some alcoholic beverages and were loudly catcalling, so true to form I responded with a condescending ‘Eww, you wish!’. I don’t know if they understood what I said, but they at least got the gist of it and shut up. Taming my wild beast of a tongue is a constant battle.

Tia – At the risk of my parents reading this, I will tell you that all of the knock off purse salesmen congregate with in one block of my apartment, and I did buy one…(mom and dad, it’s the ONLY souvenir I’ve bought besides postcards and its because I really needed a big one to hold my notebook and water bottle when I go to class) Anyway Tia, I fully plan on an epic Athenian shopping trip, but I’m making myself wait until I’m thoroughly sick of the clothes I brought, so I really enjoy it. Haha so don’t worry.

Tonight my roommate Sarah and I tried to cook some chicken on the foreman grill. When I plugged it in the electricity in the entire apartment went out. So we flipped every switch in the breaker box (labeled in Greek) for 25 min until finally it went back on. I couldn’t figure out what happened, until talking to another roommate who admitted to giving the foreman grill a bath last night to clean it. Just one adventure after another.

Well anyway, I love Athens, it’s a great city. I went for a stroll tonight with Cassie around my neighborhood and got a coffee. Everything is hustling and active, lots of people out and about and everything is open. It’s a lot of fun.

Lots of love

Βιβι

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Me at the Akropolis!!!
Me at the Akropolis!!!

I am so tired.

Imagine the most tired you’ve ever been, like not sleeping for 2 days and then climb up the Akropolis in 90 degree heat, then explore the entire ancient agora, walk to Syntagma square (not particularly close) then take the wrong bus that gets your FARTHER away from where you live, and then walk to your apartment in Pagrati from there. Then you will know how tired I am.

That being said, I could not be happier. Even though it is completely conceivable that I have reached a state of exhausted delirium, I couldn’t care less. I SAW THE PARTHENON. And it exceeded every high expectation that I held for it.

Arch of Hadrian.  So close to where I live!
Arch of Hadrian. So close to where I live!

Ok let’s start at the beginning.

I arrived in Athens on Sunday at about 5pm. I flew in from London, I passed out the entire ride there. Athens airport, the name of which I could not spell if my life depended on it, was really nice and clean and easily navigated. My suitcase appeared quickly on the conveyor belt, and I made my way to the taxi line, where I got an English speaking driver, I’m sure due to the prayers of my mother (thanks mom). My cab driver taught me my first Greek words, “efharisto” = thank you, and “dekaefta” = seventeen. Very useful.

Best Surviving Doric Temple
Best Surviving Doric Temple

I arrived at the street where my apartment was, and stood outside, waiting for someone to come and let me in. Which they T.A. Logan did eventually. My apartment is HUGE! Large foyer, living room with extra bed, large double room, kitchen, storage closet, bathroom (with laundry machine hallelujah) then two single bedrooms, which were already taken by the time I got there.

So Logan left me, and I spent time unpacking and ‘nesting’. All you pi phis will crack up, the blanket that I found in the apartment for my bed is leopard print. Of course. My sheets I brought are bright pink. So I call it the cougar den. (see mom, if I hadn’t told you about ‘cougars’ then you wouldn’t appreciate that joke, so aren’t you glad I did???)

new Akropolis museum, not on the akropolis and also not open
new Akropolis museum, not on the akropolis and also not open

My roommates were at the beach, but they finally showed up at about 9pm. 3 awesome girls from all over the US. They immediately decided we should go out to dinner. So we walked down the street perpendicular to our apartment, which is pretty hopping, and passed numerous posh places, before finally picking one. We sat outside. I had some thing that I also don’t know what it was, or called, but it had zucchini in it. (I was lucky since I basically just closed my eyes and pointed to something on the menu)

ancient agora
ancient agora

The next day we met our class at 830am in a small park across from a Byzantine church that’s just up the road 2 blocks. Yeah, I live 2 blocks from a Byzantine church! The class is 13 girls, and one guy, with all different majors ranging from engineering to political science, to myself, the art historian.

We walked through town heading towards the base of the Akropolis. On the way we passed the ancient Olympic stadium, its sweet, and then we passed Hadrian’s arch! I wasn’t expecting to see it, and it was high on my list of things I needed to see. I immediately established myself as a huge nerd when I exclaimed ‘OMG it’s Hadrian’s Arch!” No one else cared.

Antoninus Pius
Antoninus Pius

From there we walked through the Plaka to the Akropolis where we met our professor and had an outdoor lecture about the Parthenon. I reinforced my nerd status by answering all the questions about the Parthenon. (In my defense, I waited for other people to answer, but I guess no one else knew the subject matter of the metopes and pedimental sculpture.)

The hike up the Akropolis was steep but scenic, you can see the city sprawling out, its huge, but not tall, and very brown. It’s gorgeous. All the things I have heard about Athens being a really dirty city, I have to disagree with. I will say however that Athens is a steep, slippery and backwards city. Navigating the streets is how I imagine a safari would be like. You can get attacked by a wild animal (like a moped or Peugeot at any time) The traffic is out of control, no one cares about lane designations, and motorcycles don’t respond to any rules, they weave between cars and occasionally come up on the sidewalk. Drivers don’t care about pedestrians at all. There is no ‘right of way’ rule, that’s for sure. I have been dangerously close to moving cars since I’ve been here, but its not as scary as it sounds.

Caryatids
Caryatids

And everything is SLIPPERY! Because everything (ok not everything) is marble! Which is slick, but really adds to the ambiance, so I appreciate it. The best is when we walk through marble tiled streets downhill and someone has a hose running, so its wet. I think that’s more dangerous than the crazy traffic.

And everything is backwards. The word for yes sounds like ‘nay’ and the word for no sounds like ‘ok’. People tilt the head back to say no, and diagonal to say yes. They use the opposite turn signals to turn than we do in the states. Also you wave, signal, count etc with the back of your hand not the front. Showing someone your palm is an inappropriate gesture apparently.

Athena's gift to Athens: the olive tree
Athena's gift to Athens: the olive tree

So back to the main event: PARTHENON!

We passed the two amphitheaters on the way up, they were awesome. Then we passed through the propylaea (my physical liminal phase in my Parthenonian rite of passage) there was a lot of scaffolding, and I was expecting more clear cut staircases, instead of randomly assembled hunks of slippery marble to climb. Walking underneath it like people have done for so many centuries was an incredible experience. The Akropolis is my Mecca. The temple to Athena Nike is under construction, so I couldn’t really see it. We passed through the gate, and then there it was. A massive marble, organic and victorious treasury for Athena, right in front of me, standing so strong and noble, you could hardly guess the traumatic events that it has suffered. It was so big! I mean I knew it was going to be big, obviously, but it really was built to godly proportions, not man’s. We walked around it, there was so much to take in visually, the Parthenon and the city view, and all the tourists, it was really overwhelming. Of course I saw the Caryatid Porch and the other things up there. They have guards everywhere with whistles that will yell at you if you try to take a rock. Of course, it never would have even occurred to me to take a rock until they told me I couldn’t. (Just like Eve and that apple) But I didn’t take any rocks. I did eat an apple.

Athens makes me feel so alive
Athens makes me feel so alive

They finally pulled me away from my trying to find a way to take a picture of the upward curvature of the stylobate, and we descended the Akropolis (it seriously is just a huge rock! It’s unbelievable!) We walked to the ancient Agora, my adrenaline was beginning to wear off and exhaustion catching up with me. The Agora was great, it is really hard though to conceptualize an entire area from a few rocks from the foundation. The best part was walking up to the Temple of Hephastus, which is the best preserved Doric Temple, and would have been more exciting if I hadn’t seen the Parthenon first. Let’s face it; everything will pale in comparison for the rest of my life.

Caryatids
Caryatids

We slowly made our way back to the school center, which is on a nice plaza. We stopped for lunch and I had my first official gyro. Haha, it was really a big day. We had orientation after, and then stopped at a grocery store on the way back to the apartment. I’m lucky, my roommate Sarah has an incredible sense of direction.

I sat down on my bed, just planning to take a 20 min nap, but that turned into 3 hours, and then one roommate woke the rest of us up, and we went for dinner. I had chicken or something I think. I was more focused on the olives in the Greek salad.

We went back home and thus ends the first 2 days in Athens. I love it here. The combination of ancient and modern is a trip. The class is great and so are the other kids.

I know this was long, and I bet if you read this, its because: 1. you’re my mom, or 2. you’re a pi phi waiting for a feminist rant for which I’m becoming notorious. Ok I won’t leave you disappointed.

At the airport they had to go through my backpack carryon because my toothpaste is a gel and is more than 3 ounces or whatever. So the security guy had to unpack it, and it was really full.

Security man: “you girls just have to have so much stuff when you travel.”

Vina: Now sir, there is no need for sexist stereotypes. My backpack is full because I’m going out of the country for three months, and I’m only bringing one small suitcase.”

Security man (who is scared, because most men are afraid of strong women): “Oh, sorry. Well I guess I’ll let you keep your toothpaste, even though its too big, so you don’t think I’m a sexist pig.

Vina: “Well, I never said pig.”

The moral of the story is my teeth are clean and feminism wins!

Lots of Love,

Vivi (or in Greek βιβι)

Athens
photo by: Johnpro