I stopped in Athens for a few days, mostly due to lack of imagination. I couldn’t decide where else to go in Greece. Athens has a bit of a mixed reputation among travellers: some say it’s definitely worth a visit, others say it should be avoided entirely. It’s certainly not the prettiest of cities, but the main sights are surely worth stopping here for.
Athens is one of those cities with more history than you can handle at once. Built by the ancient Greeks to honour the goddess Athena, the Acropolis, the ‘High City’, is the centrepiece, is visible from everywhere, and a particularly impressive view is to be had from the rooftop bar of my hostel.
The site wasn’t nearly as heavily touristed as I expected. It seems the Greek financial crisis may be keeping people away. Annoyingly, the view of the Parthenon, the most famous building in Greece, was rather spoilt by the monolithic scaffolding and cranes dominating the front side. It seems that perpetual reconstruction work is underway, but since they still are not completely sure how the thing was built in the first place, they’re taking their time.
I had a long walk around the city, taking in the beautiful park adjacent to the Acropolis. There are great views from the top of the ancient city and other hills. On the slopes of the Acropolis itself are caves and archaeological sites rarely visited by tourists: a path around the perimeter was completely deserted. I attempted to buy water at the kiosk by the entrance. They had none, so I asked for ice tea. It was €4.50; I changed my mind. It’s really hot during the middle of the day when the sun is almost directly overhead, I think it would be unbearable without the wind.
I messed up Greece a bit. Since starting my travels I heard about these ancient monasteries atop giant rocks somewhere in Greece. Nobody I mentioned them to seemed to have heard of them so I started to wonder if they existed at all. They do: they’re called Meteora, and I’ve come here on a side trip from Athens. I messed up because it would have been much quicker to come straight here from Albania, and then do Athens. Sometimes a little research goes a long way. Once again, I didn’t book accommodation, but due to missing my stop I arrived much later than expected, after dark. Fortunately, I met a girl from Hong Kong on the train who had booked a hotel and was getting a pickup from the station. I tagged along.
It’s amazing how much my attitudes to travelling have changed in the last three or so months. I used to have Rules about pre-booking on weekends and no showing up anywhere without accommodation after 6pm. Now I’m happy to show up reservation-free almost anywhere.
I love hostels, but it feels good to stay in a hotel once in a while. This is the first private room I’ve had for nearly a month and it’s great to have all the amenities that go with it – ‘Free shower curtain!’*
The monasteries are accessible by bus, or you can spend all day hiking up them, which everyone says is really hard. Guess which I’m doing? I didn’t bring my hiking boots for nothing.
* Kudos if you get the reference.