Here is the first of a few posts about my recent two-week trip to the Mediterranean.
One of my favorite parts of any journey is the time after I walk out my door before I arrive at my destination. Filled with euphoria at having completed packing (my least favorite part of travel) I love that in-between time when I can anticipate the adventure ahead, read, listen to music, sleep.
On this trip, I took the train to the airport alone, wiled away a few hours there, met up with my cousin, aunt and uncle, boarded our flight, watched part of the new Harry Potter movie, read my Rick Steves Athens guidebook, slept for five hours. When I awoke, I slid open my plastic shutter and saw the run rising over Europe:
A little while later, we flew over the Alps, which may be the best thing I've ever seen from a plane window:
(Though flying out of Mexico City at night is also damn impressive.)
When our flight lands in Athens, the first thing I see is an Ikea. Our waiting driver chariots us off to our hotel where we have an early dinner and drop into bed by eight pm.
I wake up at 11 pm, and think it’s time to get up for the day. Eventually I drift off again, and fortunately when I wake up, my lack of sleep has not dampened my enthusiasm for Athens. Neither does the pouring rain, our difficulty finding a cab, or our driver taking us to the wrong place. I am under Athens’ spell.
Julie and I find a sweet café on a cobblestone street, get croissants and Cokes and huddle at a table under a large umbrella, watching Athenians pouring off the metro, wearing their Sunday Best. When the rain stops we decide to forgo the museum and go straight to the Acropolis, which graces the top of the nearby hill. We wander awhile, taking a circuitous route through the neighborhood, hitting a dead end, and doubling back before making our way up the hill, discovering ruined theaters, and spectacular city views.
At the top of the hill, I stand in awe of the Parthenon as people have for 2500 years. Even with the scaffolding, patches of new marble and crowds, it is magical.
After a lunch of Greek salad and chicken souvlaki, we walk toward the Olympic Stadium, which has held sporting events for 2,500 years and is built entirely of white marble. The Athens Classic Marathon was that day, run along the route taken by the messenger who ran from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. (the origin of modern marathons.) Julie and I arrive just in time to see this guy finishing the race, having run in a Spartan costume complete with helmet, sword and shield.
Our perfect Athenian day ends with wandering through the city center, over to the ancient agora, or marketplace, and dinner of mezzes--like tapas, but Greek food. The next day we boarded our ship, and I left Athens reluctantly, wishing I'd had just one or two more days to explore.