Or, "Why does P go R?"
Thursday 2 June 2011 - Thursday 2 June 2011
Marking the precise middle of our trip (3.5 weeks gone, 3.5 to go!), our flight to Athens from Barcelona passed by amazingly quickly. After weeks and weeks of painfully slow train travel, a cheap flight across the Mediterranean made traveling easy! As we walked out into the airport and heaved our packs up onto our backs to begin the first day of our time in eastern Europe, we realized one important thing. As hard as it was to understand signs in other languages in the countries we had already traveled in, it was going to be infinitely harder here; the greek alphabet is totally different than ours!
Gerst promised to memorize the shapes of important words like “bathroom” and “exit”. Unfortunately for us, “exit” looks almost identical to “gates”, which led to some confusion at the airport. Regardless, we found our way onto our bus to the center of Athens – Syntagma Square. Right on par with the rest of the trip, we hopped off at Syntagma Square into the middle of another protest. Tour de Protest.
We had heard from some travelers in Barcelona that taxis in Athens were ridiculously cheap, and might actually be our preferred mode of transportation. Given that, we forewent the above ground trolley system in favor of riding in our first car of the trip. However, communication with the cabbies was difficult since even writing down our destination (the Pagration Hostel) for the them to read wasn’t useful – the spelling was totally different in our alphabet and the Greek alphabet. However, we finally found a cabbie willing to drive us (it was surprising how many taxis drove right away when they heard us speaking English!) and we hopped out at a nondescript, unlabeled building that was supposedly our hostel.
Cautiously and somewhat suspiciously, we pushed open the main gate, and found ourselves in a lovely little hostel. Tall ceilings and floor to ceiling doors that pushed open onto a big balcony. And the best part is that we found Kim, Andy, and Matt (our travel companions for the upcoming sailing trip) already in the room! Kim and Andy are fellow UM computer scientists, and Matt is one of Andy’s good friends. It was so nice to see familiar faces after a long time abroad.
It was already getting late that first night, so there was little time to see the major sites, but we still decided to check out as much as we could of Athens. And where better to do so than the highest point in the city? Besides the well known Acropolis, home of the Parthenon (which closes disappointingly early … 5 pm!), Athens boasts another massive, natural hill at the center of the city. A cone of greenery in a sea of whitewashed buildings, the massive hill has a trail that tacks back and forth across its face, leading to a little plaza and church right at its peak. It was a long walk to the top, and along the way, we busied ourselves with learning the correct pronunciations of the greek alphabet from Matt, who had studied Ancient Greek in school. Convenient, right? So we made our way higher and higher, babbling like children as we sounded out each letter and word on every street sign, storefront, and advertising flyer that we saw. Embarrassing and slightly awkward? Yes. Educational and necessary? Definitely.
We finally arrived, sweating and sticky in the humid, nighttime Athens air. But the view from the peak was spectacular.
All seven of us retired to the hostel, sleeping soundly in preparation for the upcoming week of sailing!