Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Greece - Athens

Tried and tried and tried to shorten this post and failed. Sorry. Scroll down if all you want is pictures. Or see all the photos here. I'll share bits of Nafplio and Sounion later in the week.

I'm not Greek (to my everlasting disappointment) but I have roots there, of a sort. My parents lived there while my mother was pregnant with me, flew back to have me, and then returned to Athens. We lived in a suburb right outside the city, in Filothei, for those of you who might know it. We left before I was old enough to have any concrete memories.

I returned in high school, on a dorky school trip with three of my best friends (and many other people who I've forgotten). We stayed for three weeks. We learned absolutely no Greek. We got sunburned. We found a bartender in Crete who spiked our milkshakes with (a teeny tiny bit of) rum. We lacked in supervision due to a few planning snafus on the part of the program. We felt very Grown Up.

I came back in college, for my semester abroad. This time I learned enough Greek to ask directions and order food and discuss my ancestry (a truly critical matter that comes up far more often than you might think). I lived in a huge, old apartment in Kolonaki with 7 other girls, at the base of Lykavittos hill. It was a hike - my calves barely fit into my pants by the time we left, so muscle-y were they. We lived on lentil soup and cheap wine, saving money for excursions all over the country. I learned the city like the back of my hand, navigating by feel, wandering at all hours of the day and night. I sobbed into my suitcase at the airport as I waited for the flight that would take me out of the country.

Touching down a couple weeks ago felt like coming home. We arrived right after a few days of rain, so the city was at its absolute best.

We settled into our rented apartment, right on the edge of Plaka, close to Syntagma. We visited the acropolis (which is truly brutal in the heat, but lovely in this sort of moody weather) and we oohed over the New Acropolis Museum (miles better than the poor old one) and we ate.

greece - athens - acropolis
{athens, from the acropolis}

greece - athens - acropolis
{acropolis, erechtheion}

greece - athens - taverna
{taverna dinner}

The weather warmed up, quickly. We spent our days exploring the city. D took the family to Delphi, while I stayed home and indulged in a free day. Morning city walking (fast, determined, disdainful of traffic signals) with a stop at my favorite bakery and my old stomping grounds, followed by a long afternoon nap in our breezy apartment.

greece - athens - kleomenous 42
{my beloved old apartment - that's our balcony on the first (not ground) floor}

greece - athens - afternoon breeze
{curtains, breeze}

An evening out at the Dora Stratou theater, to ogle the costume collection and the dancers both.

greece - athens - dora stratou theater
{dora stratou theater}

greece - athens - dora stratou dancers
{dora stratou dancers}

Late in the evening (the sun didn't set until 9:30 or so) we'd sit on our balcony and drink beer and look at the acropolis, all lit up.

greece - athens - balcony view
{acropolis, lit}

And on our very last evening in the city, we went to the top of Lykavittos hill, to visit my favorite tiny church and to see the city.

greece - athens - lykavittos church
{lykavittos church}

greece - athens - from lykavittos
{athens from lykavittos}

The only sad bit is that D's brother, for whom the trip was designed, did not love Athens. As in, mostly hated everything about it (specifically, noise, cars and crowds), with the exception of the Acropolis. We clearly waited too long to immerse this suburban child in a city environment. I was heartbroken, but we tried to make the best of it. I mean, it's a bit like handing someone the most amazing present you can think of, beautifully gift wrapped, waiting with bated breath for the reaction and then watching them burst into sad tears when they open it. Not good. 


  1. Just wonderful, the photos, the stories, all of it (except D's brother's response). So glad you had a glorious time. You're making me long for more European romps.

  2. In the last 4 1/2 years I've been living in Europe, Greece has topped the list of my places to visit. But oddly enough, I've always ended up traveling to other (though wonderful) places. I'm still dying to go before I move back to the U.S., if but for the food alone. Your pictures are great, I loved this post!

  3. I have a serious love affair with Greece. I also did a study abroad there and fell madly in love. I'm in Europe right now, visiting many places in France (which I thought would be my dream land), but find myself comparing everything to Greece and sometimes wishing I was there. There's just something so undefinably magical about it. Delphi and Nafplio are two of my favorite places, and I cannot wait to hear more about your experiences! xoxox

  4. Oh my goodness, Rachel, what a lovely post! I too try to be considerate of my readers and write short posts, but this one was definitely worth reading all of. I adored your description of your day spent alone in the city. How sad that your brother-in-law did not enjoy the trip! Is he very young? That might be the reason. It sounds like you were still able to enjoy yourself, so that is good.

  5. @ Mary Beth - bro is 12, which we thought was old enough for international travel, and probably is for many kids. But he's a skittish 12, and it wasn't good for him. Sad.

  6. I'm almost in tears because of how beautiful it is. I've always wanted to go to Greece and your last picture makes me so sad I've never been....yet.

  7. oh no!! so sorry he didn't like it. that is sad.

    but...i just said to my sister this morning that we need to go to greece (and italy and ireland). these shots are breathtaking.

  8. Isn't it crazy to have another country feel like home? I was born in Norway but moved here when I was four, my dad's whole family is there so we visit every other year or so, and I always marvel at how at home I feel when I go there. It's just...peaceful. Marvelous. :)

    And I LOVE your photos. Hope you're doing an album for yourself or something!

  9. little bits of it will lodge in him in places he doesn't know about and then, a decade or two from now, he'll have a dizzying, visceral moment of realizing what you and D were on about when you brought him there. it will happen.

  10. Love this post. I studied in Athens, too, in Pagrati, and I loved it. Thanks for bringing me back,

  11. I lived in Athens 4 years and I go back very year, mom is Greek. Dont love it, but I love being Greek and im so so proud of it. I can absolutely see why you love it though! Cant wait to visit the new museum at the Acropolis!
    Beautiful photos! Thanks for this post

  12. Beautiful photos! Have never been, but hopefully someday. Have a nice Wednesday! Ida

  13. oh, i have many similar experiences (on a smaller level) with my teenage sister. it is hard when they don't love everything the same way we do. ;) but i agree with what lauren said.

    this, "(the sun didn't set until 9:30 or so) we'd sit on our balcony and drink beer and look at the acropolis, all lit up." IS HEAVEN. About the late sunset? A balcony with a beer and a view? Heaven.

    did i mention the day you announced where you were was the day my best friend left for greece? today i go an email from her "...Jamie you can not imagine how special Greece is. It will have my heart forever. I can't even look at these stupid venetian canals. If I could have canceled the rest of the trip and stayed in Santorini I would have... Poor Italy it's after Greece" :)

  14. Oh shit, kids. The thing is, he'll probably look back on this vacation when he's older and wish he had taken advantage of it more. I think it's just a "growing up" thing.

  15. amazing pictures! i'm trying to figure out which club or class at our high school sent you off to greece. was there a Greek Club I wasn't aware of? i'm sure you will have lots of stories from your trip to share at our next get-together!

  16. wow, i am flooded with memories. i spent a year living in athens and loved my time there..although i did not love the noise, traffic or the stench of urine everywhere. i did however, love the taverna food, street food, olives, sunsets, changing of the guard and that same little church...oh and Easter.

  17. You lucky girl!! My fiance is half Greek and we stayed with his family not too long ago just outside of Athens. I tell people it's just like the postcards. It really is THAT beautiful!!

    Hope you're having a great week Love!


  18. This is on my list of places that I'd love to go to. Le sigh. I enjoyed the present!

  19. loved every word. can't wait to go.

  20. Wow, the Athens city lights from above are incredible. The flowers on your balcony looked lovely too...sort of like a touch of home on vacation! Although it sounds like this trip was a homecoming of sorts anyway. :)

  21. This makes me miss Athens so much! What a wonderful city - it's so nice to hear that you are a fan as well. Your pictures capture the beauty and drama of the place.

    I'm reading Henry Miller's Colossus of Maroussi and that's making me miss Greece as well. Sigh. So little time, so few vacation days...

  22. This post really made me miss Greece. I studied in Athens in college, too. My time there left a lasting impression and I can't wait to take my husband and kids there someday.

  23. what a beautiful post. while it's unfortunate that D's brother wasn't a fan, it sounds like you made the most of your trip. that meal looked absolutely delicious!

  24. This may sound strange, but your post made me long for both Madrid and Greece. Madrid is the City I fell in love with abroad. It's where I emotionally came of age. It's where I lived on cheap wine and lentil soup (really!) and saved up my money to travel on weekends. I've walked all it's backcorners and I love it fiercely, for both what it is and isn't. It hurts me a bit when other people don't appreciate it the same way, even though I try and account for their differing perspectives on crowds, cities, and life.

    And it also made me miss Greece, specifically the Greece I've never been able to see. I stayed a week with a friend studying in Paros. I couldn't visit Athens because anti-American riots were taking place that week (height of the initial war effort coincided with Tony Blair's visit to Athens.) I've visited several of the other islands on a cruise. But I've never really spent time there, knowing it like you describe in this post. I reveled in the Isle beauty, in relaxing, in hiking, and in eating such incredible food. But now I want to go back and know it more. Thank you for sharing (this and your second post today with more details.)

  25. @ kris - ha ha. The high school trip was totally unaffiliated with our school. It was run by Duke University and we had high school kids from all over attend.

    @ ALAL - yes, definitely. Part of the Athens love for me is the city, part is the time in which I experienced it, just like you and Madrid. And Athens definitely has mixed reviews. It is a fairly intense city, so not everyone loves it. But so fabulous to live in. And the islands are well worth your time - you're so lucky to have visited them! We did quite a bit of island hopping while I lived in Greece, but ended up limiting it on this trip, due to time restraints. Boo.

  26. I can't believe he didn't love it. How could you not? I don't understand. He could have at least pretended to like it for your sake.
    Ah, me.
    Well, either way - it sounds heavenly to me. Thank you for the photos. The night view of the church and cityscape are especially entrancing.

  27. Thanks for sharing your trip! The photos are gorgeous - the lights of Athens, the Acropolis, the balcony, the food - and it all makes me want to go to Greece even more. I've been to Italy (and I'm completely enamoured of everything but the national football team) and I'm dying to see Spain and Greece.

    I wish wish wish D's brother had been more open about everything, but 12 is a nearly impossible age when it comes to that sort of thing. That's what I've noticed with myself and my siblings and cousins, anyway. Like Lauren said, it may take him a while (I'd guess 10ish years) to really appreciate it, but he probably will eventually.

  28. Oh so beautiful. Thanks for sharing a window into another world. :)

  29. Thats too bad D's brother didn't like the trip. You can take me instead next time! :)
    The pictures are beautiful.

  30. I know this is pretty random but which is your favourite bakery? What is it called and where do you find it? Also, what do you love buying there?

  31. @ anon - My very favorite bakery is called ένη (which is actually pronounced eenee, more or less, because the v is actually an "n" sound) and it is in Kolonaki, on Marasli. It's very easy to find because you can just hop off at the Evangalismos metro stop, cross Vassilissi Sofias and start walking up Marasli. It's on the eastern side of the street (your left, if you're coming up from Evangalismos). It is a pretty small place, but they have a nice large sign sticking out above the sidewalk.

    It isn't on a corner, but I think the nearest cross street is Alopekis. If you hit Patriachou, you've gone too far.

    I actually think Patriachou is the street that has one of my favorite cheap restaurants. If you turn off Marsali onto Patriachou, the sign is large and green and starts out a bit like the word for food (φαγητό). If you order gyros to go, you won't be disappointed, although sitting down and having a long meal there is also nice.

    As for ordering at the bakery, the selections vary a lot from day to day, but they always have baklava and it's the best I've had, ever. If they have katifi, you should definitely try it. You'll recognize it because it looks like little bundles of shredded wheat. I never bother ordering cookies from them, although I'm sure they're perfectly fine. It's really the pastries that are stellar.

  32. Wow, thank you for the very detailed directions. I actually live in Athens in the neighbourhood right next to Kolonaki so I would be able to find it quite easily but I am touched by your generous sharing of information. I stumbled across your blog last night and a great smile came across my face when I saw your posts on Greece. I decided to ask you about the bakery because even though I am very Athenian it is always great to hear about other people's favourite places. So thank you very much for sharing that with me. I look forward to reading many more of your posts to come.

  33. @ anon - ha ha! Yes, those instructions are much too detailed for an Athenian. I hope you love the bakery if you try it, although I assume that there are probably lots of other gems tucked all over the city, and you probably know many of them. Kolonaki was where I lived while I was in school, so that was the bakery we stopped at on the way home.

  34. So touched.. Greek girl living in Athens. But I realize that this post was written 7 years ago.. I do wish that if you ever come back again, your love for Greece won't get lost in the crisis. We are all so sad..


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