I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy to have a plane touch down as I was the plane to Athens. Europe, blessed Europe. Where I can drink the water and eat the food! And hopefully not be leered at as I walk down the street! It was such a refreshing change to be somewhere that’s made for tourists, too.
The airport in Athens is well-signed, and it’s easy to figure out where to go. It’s also easy to figure out where and how to catch the train into Athens. It did not, however, say that you’re going to need cash for the train ticket! I hadn’t gotten Euros yet, so I had to walk from the train station back to the terminal to get some. Then, of course, the machine only gave me 50s. And alas, the automated ticket machines won’t accept higher than a 20! So I went to the window with a person at it and was able to get my ticket.
But it worked out well! I was sitting in an area where I ended up being near an American, an Australian, and someone British. The American was bringing his mom to Athens for the first time, as he’d been working with some archaeologists on one of the archaeology digs there for a few months. He was full of advice, and the train ride went so fast!
As I got off the train and was walking to my hostel, a couple of Greek men (older) saw me walking with my backpack and were so sweet – they stopped to make sure I knew where I was going and made sure I got to the right place for the hostel. And no tip expected! So many things were refreshing about Greece.
After I got to my hostel, I went to walk around the area. It’s called Plaka, and it’s a pretty well-known tourist district. The Acropolis is right there, and it’s surrounded by loads of restaurants and shops. I stopped at one to get Greek frozen yogurt with honey and walnuts. It was maybe the best thing I’ve ever tasted. One thing that made me happy was that while the Acropolis was right there, the Parthenon could not be seen – and I wanted to save that sight for a great location!
The next morning, I got up and decided to do a self-guided walking tour around Athens. Hadrian’s Arch was right there next to my hostel, and then close to that was the Temple of Olympian Zeus. I started my day there, and then continued through the city to the original Olympic stadium. It was so cool to see it and think about the history that’s there, and how incredible the tradition of the Olympics in general is.
I never realized how walk-able Athens is, but it’s incredibly walkable! I walked from the stadium on to Aristotle’s Lyceum and on the way found a random statue of Harry Truman! Of course I needed to stop and selfie with another American.
Then, at Aristotle’s Lyceum, the ruins were fun to think about as I meandered through. The Lyceum was a school that was also a gymnasium, as the ancient Greeks believed physical health went with knowledge (or so said a sign). The ruins themselves are not incredibly well-preserved, but the fact that they’re there at all is pretty cool. The site is an active archaeology dig, as it’s a rather recent find. I walked around and just thought about Aristotle strolling the grounds with his students, and it was so fun to be absorbed in the history.
I think one of the guys on the grounds crew saw that I was enjoying myself (the grounds were incredibly well-maintained and gorgeous!), and he started showing me a few different areas, and even some different herbs that he was growing. It was so fun, and the mint, rosemary, and lavender was just gorgeous.
I went on from there back to the hostel in a long loop, and wandered through the National Gardens on the way. They’re just these giant gardens in the middle of Athens, and it’s so refreshing to walk through the nature and the shade on a hot summer day.
At the other end of the National Gardens is a shopping district, and it was fun to wander through stores both familiar and new. H&M, Zara, Benetton all have outposts there! As do many European and Greek brands I’ve never seen. It was busy and fun, so I just enjoyed myself.
Then, I went for the gelato. Athens has a ton of gelato. It’s so hot in the summer, the gelato is needed just to keep cool! I tried far too many flavors and had far too much ice cream, but it was all incredible.
In the afternoon, I spent some time at the Acropolis Museum preparing for the Acropolis in the morning. The museum was so well-done, and such a change from the chaos of the Egyptian Museum! The layout and signage are easy to follow, and it was unexpected for me – at the top floor, they have it laid out where there are two rectangles that are the size of the Parthenon, and the frieze are all there (or at least all the ones that still exist). So you can walk along and see the stories being told, and if you need help, there are great keys. They’re even laid out according to the size of the Parthenon, so you can really see the stories they lay out.
After that, I went to climb Philopappou for sunset because it’s supposed to have a great view of the Acropolis. It did not disappoint! I enjoyed just sitting up there and reflecting on finally being in this destination that I’ve dreamed about and studied for so long. It was my first real view of the Parthenon, and made me so excited to go there the next morning. It was also an incredible sight, so I was happy I saved it for somewhere picturesque.
Suffice it to say my first day in Athens was wonderful, and it confirmed my happiness to finally be in Europe!