Exploring Athens Greece
Look, I am no expert on exploring Athens Greece I was there for a grand total of four days, and clearly, no one can learn everything about a city in such a short amount of time. But, I did notice a few things that I either did not expect or that I wish I had known prior to my arrival in this amazing city. A place that is known for being one of the best winter destinations in Europe.
That’s why I am writing this article. I want to find out what happens when tourists stop being polite and start getting real… Just kidding, I am going with an MTV theme today. The reference is pre 16 and Pregnant, for anyone who doesn’t get the reference. But I digress. Back to all that is Greece.
I share these nuggets of knowledge not to dis Athens, but to keep it real so that when people visit, they know exactly what to expect. I mean, I can only speak for myself, but when I arrived, I expected immaculate ruins (a contradiction I know) because I had this fantasy in my mind that Athens would be a fairy tale of a capital city; a shining beacon of modernity that was punctuated by glorious relics of the past.
Well, not surprisingly, the reality was very different. And that’s not bad because truth be told, no city is perfect. Every center of urban development has it’s attributes and it’s defects since a utopia is merely a construct of our minds. Therefore, let’s leave Troy (I am referring to the movie with Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, and Orlando Bloom. I mean, the men in Greece are hot but not epically attractive like this dynamic trio of terrific testosterone.) level daydreams behind and embrace Athens, Greece for what it really is, an imperfectly amazing city. So, to help you understand Athens, and plan an amazing 7 days in Greece, let’s take a gander at the 12 things you NEED to know before Visiting Athens, Greece.
1. There is a MAJOR shortage of public bathrooms and garbage cans
I felt like I was playing the worst game of Where’s Waldo, only with garbage cans and public bathrooms (Oh bathrooms and garbage cans, why have you forsaken me?). Now, maybe I am totally oblivious, but I could find neither public bathrooms nor trash cans anywhere. Perhaps, the people of Greece are just infinitely cooler than me and produce less trash while never going to the bathroom. But all I know is that I spent my entire trip carrying around an endless amount of trash, that would make Oscar the Grouch proud. I did this while frolicking through the streets because I constantly and desperately had to go to the bathroom. Frolicking became my vain attempt and trying to hold it all in. It got so bad that I actually held an empty diet coke can while peeing behind a bush since both urban amenities were MIA and completely unavailable to me. So don’t be like me. Say no to peeing behind a bush. Go to the bathroom before you leave your hotel and at restaurants. Also try and embrace green living by producing as little trash as humanly possible.
2, Everyone Smokes
Coming from a very anti-smoking country like the United States, I am always surprised that there are still countries out there where everyone seems to smoke. Well, Greece is one of those countries. It’s not even a bad thing because I used to smoke and my mouth actually waters when I smell a good cigarette. It just felt very surreal to see a smoking lounge in an airport. I mean, the last smoking lounge I saw was in the show Madmen, which was set in the 60s, so you get an idea of how passé smoking is in the US. Just be prepared if your body doesn’t involuntarily hunger for the moment when the smell of nicotine hits your nostrils (Stay cool and don’t smoke kids!).
3. There are herds of Stray Cats and Dogs Prowling the Streets
It’s not that it’s bad. I mean, I love animals of all shapes and sizes, but if you’re allergic to any of these domesticated animal species, you might want to take an epi-pen with you to Athens. The city is literally crawling with stray animals, and we’re not talking dainty little cats and dogs either. A lot of these animals are huge, dirty, mangey, and basically, urinate everywhere (No picking up after your dog law here. LoL). In fairness, most of them are friendly enough and actually don’t even notice you’re there. But they do attack one another, so be prepared for more than one cat fight while in Athens (I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. Oh, and keep an eye out for any animal related “presents” on the ground.).
4. Graffiti is EVERYWHERE
Didn’t you hear, graffiti is the new building color du jour. The entirety
of humanity is just falling way behind Athens’ trendy self. I mean, practically the entire city looks like a real life tribute to the works of modern artists Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol (even the metro cars are covered in it). Now normally, I wouldn’t object because this is “street art” and therefore hip and trendy, but this “super sized” amount of graffiti is not so elegantly adorned with trash and cat pee, giving Athens a more sketchy than trendy vibe. You know, kind of like when Milli Vanilli got caught lip syncing their songs (Unabashedly showing my age here). Yeah, that level of sketch.
5. It feels like paying for the Metro is optional
Okay. The entire time I was in Athens no one checked for my metro ticket. Not once. Plus, each time I walked into the metro, the gate was wide open and I could just walk right in. Sure, I bought a ticket anyway because I was too scared not to, but it was just so weird. It felt like buying tickets for the subway was a joke. Even the people selling tickets looked bored out of their mind because no local was ver foolish enough to buy an actual metro ticket. The only place I saw people buying metro tickets was at the airport and I bet that was because most of them were tourists who, like me, were foolish enough to think you needed a metro ticket. And maybe you do, but it sure felt like you didn’t.
6. EASIEST subway ever
No reason to take a taxi ever in Athens because the subway is so easy to navigate. There are only three lines in the entire city, which easily and adequately cover the historic city center or the region of Athens with the highest tourist concentration per city block.
The only place in Athens that was a little challenging to find was the port of Piraeus, and that’s just because the port is so large. Thank God port maps showed me that the port is directly across the street from the metro, otherwise I might still be looking for my ferry. There is also a shuttle bus at the port that takes you to the ticket office, free of charge.
Now, while this whole process may sound easy enough, a distinct lack of signage creates severe tourist anxiety, as you slowly convince yourself that you couldn’t possibly be going in the right direction and that you will probably miss your ferry (Maybe this last part here is just my crazy thinking.).
7. Everything’s better with Feta. Oh and Greek Salads have no lettuce
No joke, I thought I hated Feta. Then I came to Greece. The cheese here is so much better than the stuff they pass off as cheesey goodness in the United States. To me, Greece is like a fine, aged cheese with exquisite and bold flavor, while the US is like a cheap and expired can of cheese wiz, with more than a few dents in it. Yes, the cheese in Greece is THAT much better. Seriously, if I had talent for writing poetry, I would write a Shakespearean sonnet to imortalize the true beauty that is the cheese here. Guess that’s why the traditional greek salad has no lettuce (Totally forgot about this and was surprised when I got a lettuce free salad.). Who needs lettuce when you have to robust and rich flavor of Feta cheese? Lettuce free is the way to be!
8. There’s a pie for that!
When I am on a budget, I eat at a lot at bakeries since it is infinitely cheaper than eating out all the time. Well, when I entered local bakeries, I was surprised at the number of pies, individually portioned and made, with a thin and flaky layer of crust that encased an assortment of savory meats, cheeses, and even vegetables like spinach.
While I stayed away from the meat since I am a vegetarian, I ate a lot of cheese and spinach pies and can attest to the awesomeness of traditional Greek bakeries (I mean, anyone who wraps cheese in a thin and crispy layer of carbs is okay in my book. Sure, my waist line may object but my stomach never will,).
9. Waiters take your order all at once
Generally, I found that waiters take your entire order at once. There are no second chances because right after you order, restaurant staff typically bring your check to the table, in a shot glass.
So do yourself a favor and order everything all at once, from drinks to desserts to entrees, since a minute or two later, a check will magically appear on your table (I tried to add to my order once and they brought me an entirely separate check. Needless to say. I didn’t make that mistake again.). But don’t worry, just because the restaurant gives you the check, doesn’t mean they expect you to pay right away.
10, The Wifi Sucks!
This one is not as true for Athens as it is for the Greek islands, but the wifi is truly awful. Not only do things take forever to load, but the network continually drops the internet connection over and over and over again. I had to sign in and re-sign in about 10,000 times, or at least that’s what it felt like. Needless to say, I almost threw my tablet across the room when writing a blog post in Mykonos. So, be prepared for Wifi woes a plenty and make sure your electronics have padded covers, just incase the lousy connection gets the best of you (or bring a mediation tape or the Dalai Llama or a massage specialist named Sven. Whatever works,
11. Whacky Weather
Bring a hat and sunscreen because Athens gets hella hot during the day, at least in May (to say the sun is strong is like saying that the Acropolis is just a dilapidated shack. The sun burned me in places I didn’t even know could be burned). But the funny part is that it gets pretty cold at night. At least cold enough for me not to need air conditioning. And I am a rather zealous, air conditioning enthusiast, so that’s saying something. Therefore, when in Athens (and the islands too), prepare for dramatic temperature swings throughout the day and pack accordingly (Thank God I brought a fleece with me. Never really believed I would actually need it but the weather was pretty manic.).
12. Pick Pockets a Plenty
I feel like this is not just an issue in Athens, but the Metro was rife with pickpockets. I mean, it was so bad that I had the metro ticket teller implore me to be careful and guard my belongings like Ice from American Gladiators. Thank God I did because the very next day, I caught someone following me in Monastiraki. I noticed him out of the corner of my eye and intently watched him. I quickly realized that when I stopped, he stopped, and when i turned, he turned. Eventually he gave up because he knew I caught him, but be careful because nothing ruins a trip faster than having your money stolen.
I’m sure there are other things I could say, but this list gives you a general idea of what to expect when living la vida loca in Athens (Shout out to Ricky Martin. Opa! People really do say, “Opa!” In Athens. I heard it for myself.). Plus, this list started out at 10 items and has now gradually increased to 12, so I’m gonna stop before my list turns into a virtual encyclopedia (And nobody has got time for that with the marvelous invention of Google, especially when you want to look up fun things like how to spend an afternoon in Athens). So I will very reluctantly quit while I’m ahead and savor some of the cheese and olives that I couldn’t resist buying in the Athens airport (Don’t judge me! Cheese and olives are serious business in Greece. Oh, and Greek Yogurt.).