As we walked toward our gate, Laura leaned over and whispered something to me, motioning to my right. Next to me were three police officers escorting a man in handcuffs. We watched as they walked to our gate, and then boarded our plane. We figured that couldn't be a good omen for the trip. The four of us spent a lot of time trying to figure out what his crime might have been that required deportation back to Germany. Rachel was so preoccupied with talking to us about the prisoner, that she forgot to take her cash out of the ATM and it got sucked back into the machine just as they were calling us to board the aircraft. Like I said... not a good omen. The prisoner sat in the last row with the cop. Rachel sat two rows in front of him. Laura pointed out that there was also a nun on our flight. You think this would balance out the prisoner, but it was like we were the punch line of some joke: A prisoner, a nun, and a german get on a plane... and then Rachel loses €200. Alright, so it's not really a funny joke, and it doesn't make much sense, but I'm a fiction writer, not a comedian...
Frankfurt: worst airport ever. It was super small, with no seating, barely any shopping, and like two restaurants. It just might be the final destination for the mysterious handcuffed man on our flight - it had very prison-like characteristics.
In Athens, we were magically upgraded in our hostel to a private apartment with its own bathroom, kitchen, television and living area, and two "balconies" (aka fire escapes). Our hostel was already in a prime location, right at the foot of the Acropolis, so this upgrade was a fabulous surprise. I thought the guy behind the desk was kidding around when he said we were upgraded. I asked "does that mean we get towels for free?" playfully trying to get something for nothing. When he said "yes" with a straight face, I paused and said "wait, seriously?" Then we stopped asking questions and took our upgrade graciously.
Our first night in Athens, we walked around the charming cobbled streets of the Plaka. Much like in Italy, the waiters bombarded us on the streets, trying to get us to come eat at their restaurant. I'm not one to easily fall for that (having lived in Little Italy all last summer) but we were stopped by the owner of Vizantino Taverna, and he showed us his picture on the back of the menu and told us his restaurant was recommended in the Lonely Planet books. We seemed skeptical, so he threw in a free carafe of wine, which sealed the deal for us. After we sat down, I immediately pulled out my Lonely Planet guide book... he was no where in it... crafty bastard. But our meal was lovely: greek salad, tsatsiki, saganaki, and bakalava. I love Greek food! It was a relaxing evening, dining on the sidewalks of the Plaka, as the bustling Athens nightlife passed us by. Great for people-watching, one of my favorite pastimes. On the way home we saw the Acropolis all lit up.
Danielle, me, and my Lonely Planet at dinner on the Plaka
We were in Athens over Greek Easter weekend, which was both awesome and inconvenient. All the attractions were free because of the holiday, but the hours of operation were all messed up because of Good Friday services, etc. But we are expert tourists and easily rearranged our itinerary to account for this. On our first full day in Athens, we hiked up to the top of the Acropolis and looked longing through the locked gates at the stray dogs. They were taunting us because they had slipped in unnoticed, but we humans would have to wait until the following day to climb up to the Parthenon, because of Good Friday Service. We did climb up an adjacent rock formation, Areopagus Hill, once the meeting place for the supreme council. It had amazing views of the Acropolis behind us, and the entire city of Athens below us.
Danielle, Rachel and I on Areopagus Hill
Then, we walked down the hill to the Roman Agora, the city's civic center under Roman rule, with its 1st Century foundations of structures like a 68-seat public latrine (obviously a must-see), and the well preserved Gate of Athena Archegetis.
We walked past the 13th Century Byzantine Church of Kapnikarea, an adorable and seemingly out-of-place ancient church in the midst of modern day shops in Monastiraki.
We scoured that part of town for the infamous foot fountain that Rachel had been raving about. Yes, it was a fountain made up entirely of feet. I'm not gonna lie - the way Rachel talked on and on about it, I was expecting something bigger than four feet tall... haha, "four feet tall"... cause it's made of feet...
Rachel and her foot fountain
Anyway, we roamed the Botanic Gardens, and after a female runner collided full-on with me... we found two benches in a quiet area of the gardens to relax in the sun until the museum across the street opened.
Then something completely inappropriate happened which I cannot even bring myself to begin to try to explain here and now. We gladly hurried into the Benaki Museum for a crash course on Greek History. And we never set foot in the gardens again.
As we left the museum, and walked along the edge of the gardens, we caught the changing of the guard.
Rachel (who had been to Athens before): "I've seen two new things today."
Danielle: "Well, three, if you were sitting where I was!"
The guards wore white puffy skirts and did this bizarre slow march, where they threw up their arm and kicked up their leg, and held both in midair before taking a step. I have a theory that it's the worst possibly way for an army to march on their enemy. I have another theory that the march was designed specifically to emphasize their bell-sleeves, their giant pompoms on the toes of their wooden clogs, and the tassels tied to the back of each calf. This kept us amused for a long while.
Changing of the guard
We eventually moved on to see the Panathenaic Stadium, which held the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. It was built on the site of the original 4th Century BC Olympic Stadium.
Next Stop, the Temple of Zeus. It took more than 700 years to build (completed in AD 131), and only 15 of the original 104 massive pillars still stand, along with one that toppled over and looks uncannily similar to sliced carrots. Here, at the Temple of Zeus, they advocate skin cancer. A lady sitting on a bench 50 yards from me, blew a whistle at me until I ceased the application of sunscreen.
The Temple of Zeus
Danielle, Laura, me, and Rachel at the Temple of Zeus
Also on the same site as the Temple of Zeus, was Hadrian's Arch. Man, Hadrian's got a massive collection of structures built in his honor: an arch, a wall, a library, etc. You'd think he was like an important Roman Emperor or something...
We walked home through the Plaka where I posed for a picture with Athena and saw a giant sandal. Then it was naptime! Just as I was curling up in bed, I heard something faint and familiar coming from the other room where Danielle, Laura, and Rachel are watching TV. "Do I hear bagpipes?!" I ask incredulously. They all three start laughing. They had found some Scottish movie on TV. I swear, bagpipes find me wherever I go. First, it was the bartender's ringtone in Belgium, and now the TV in Greece.
They woke me up for dinner and asked if I was ready to go out. I sleepily responded with a yawn: "I'd be willing to put on pants." I was wearing shorts and figured it would be cold out at night! But they got a good laugh out of that. While we were out in the Plaka for dinner, a candle-light procession passed us by in the streets for Easter.
Me and Athena
Saturday morning, we finally made it up into the Acropolis. I had been taking pictures of stray cats and dogs, and I have a hefty collection of strays on ruins. We stood in the shadow of the Parthenon and marveled at its sheer size. It puts our half-assed, unfinished Scottish Monument on Calton Hill to shame. Then we celebrated with "jumping shots" to accurately capture the extent of our excitement. We saw the Odeon of Herodes Atticus on the way up, the Temple of Athena Nike at the top adjacent to the Parthenon, and the Theatre of Dionysos on the way down.
Then it was my turn to "pull a Rachel" and have a row with an ATM. Because of the sun glare and everything written in Greek, I couldn't read what the screen said, and had a minor heart attack thinking that I too had lost €200. Turns out that Greece does not accept Solo cards. Yet another reason for me to hate my bank (as if I didn't have enough reasons already).
We made our way on the metro across town to the National Museum of Archeology to see Cycladic Art, the mask of Agamemnon, and lots and lots of pots. Standing on my feet all day in museums puts a lot of stress on my lower back, so I leaned forward to crack it. I happened to be right in front of the famous statue of Zeus and Rachel thought I was bowing down to him. To quote Michael Ian Black: Zeus, "I accept your challenge."
Me and Zeus
Somewhere in the museum:
Kat: "It says it's a soldier's sarcophagus..."Rachel and Kat look puzzled at the three-foot long sarcophagus...
Kat: "Was it a midget soldier???"
We walked back through the Plaka and Monastriraki, past the church of Koimisis Theotokou, and grabbed lunch. The street vendors basically attacked us at our table. So did the animals. The birds were very tame. They flew right up to us and perched on the table next to me, like a dog begging for scraps. There was also a cat begging for scraps. I'm surprised it didn't go after the bird. It's probably used to being fed from the table and has become too lazy to be inconvenienced with its catlike instincts to chase after food that moves.
This picture is not zoomed in - that's how close the bird was!
I felt like Sleeping Beauty: best friends with the little birds
It was a gorgeous stray cat
That night, I was eaten by mosquitos. The one particular bite on the back of my right hand caused the most trouble, swelling up over the course of the next day. We moved out of our hostel and into our hotel, which was part of the cruise package. There was a rooftop pool and bar with a view of the Acropolis and the whole city. We definitely took advantage of that! The pool was freezing, but we went in anyway!
Rooftop pool at our hotel
Walking around Omonia Square, where our hotel was, Rachel leaned over and said under her breath: "where are all the women?" and a lightbulb went off... we were in the sketchiest neighborhood in all of Athens! After we checked in, we didn't leave the hotel again until our tour bus took us to the dock. We even had pizza delivered to our room to avoid having to go out for food (which was no easy task seeing as everything was closed for Easter Sunday).
We met our tour guide that night, Dan, and he termed the street behind our hotel "Beirut" because of all the drug deals and crimes that happen there. Our room was on the sixth floor of the hotel, and when Rachel went to close our window for the night she peered down first. I yelled: "Don't do that, you might get shot!" half joking, but also pretty much dead serious. My hand was so swollen from the bug bite that I wrapped it in toilet paper to prevent myself from scratching it in my sleep. It looked like a mummified hand. I hate having lame injuries, so we made up this badass story about how I hurt it bashing in the faces of drug lords behind our hotel.
Then we started our cruise! TO BE CONTINUED...