anotherlongshot (anotherlongshot) wrote,

The Odyssey (1): To Athens

We camped overnight at the surprisingly comfortable and sleep-conducive lounge of the Paris-Orly Airport, where we were slated to take a 6.30 AM EasyJet flight to Athens. I was actually kind of excited about the overnight camping, seeing as it was (understandably, I'm sure) my first sleeping-in-airport experience, like, ever.

And indeed, it was actually pretty good. For one thing, the airport had an upper-floor lounge area that travellers conveniently converted into a temporary, free-for-all sleeping area, easily done by the comfortable amount of sofas and couches for people to rest on. At first I thought it was a tad stuffy, but as the night went on, it began to get chilly, so the temperature became just right. Mag and I spent the first hour snacking on delicious M&M biscuits and not-so-yummy cherry tomatoes that we bought from a random supermarket in Montmartre, after which we laid down on our bags that we converted into pillows and attempted to sleep.

The most amazing part about the overnight camping thing was that I actually managed to get some sleep, and this was despite this French woman speaking super loudly right next to us and another man, sleeping behind me, snoring intermittently after a while. In fact, I was sleeping so well that it took Mag considerable effort to wake me up for check-in at around 4.30 a.m. After that, I was too groggy and tired, and therefore cranky, to be anything loosely resembling 'good company', and the ridiculously long queue at the check-in counter didn't really do much to help matters. EasyJet checked in all their flights at the same time, so queuing and lugging two huge bags along the queue wasn't fun - at all.

The flight itself was uneventful. Mag slept, I slept a bit, I think Mag bought a bottle of water for two euros (but I might have remembered wrongly). Four hours later, we touched down in Athens.

The Athens airport was probably the most relaxed airport I'd ever been to in terms of security. Unlike the English ones (London and Manchester, that is) that asked non-locals ten million questions about their history and current state of affairs, the Athens airport didn't even bother stamping passports. There was no immigration checkpoint, and it was baggage claim immediately after one got off the plane. Pretty amazing, right? Totally fuss-free, right? Mag and I, however, were totally devastated because we wanted an Athens stamp in our passports. Boo!

After Mag deposited some of her stuff at the airport (for a fee, of course, and because her bag was super heavy) and after I finally tracked down the bloody tourist information counter that was not obvious at all, we set off for Omonia station, where our hotel was located, via the Metro. The guy at the ticketing counter was super hot (and I mean, super hot) so we were in pretty high spirits as we went up to the platform and plonked ourselves onto the seats. When the train still hadn't moved five minutes later, we realised that it was only going to take off at 12.30 - a whole twenty minutes later.

Oh my god.

At one point Mag wondered if the Metro tickets needed to be validated, and she even got off the (very stationary) train to check for any such machines, but found none. Satisfied, she came back in where we camwhored a bit, as usual, and at 12.30 the train finally moved.

It was a bloody long ride from the airport to Omonia, at least half an hour, if not more. I guess that wasn't as bad as travelling from Heathrow to Central London (or from Central London to Heathrow, which was such a major fucking bitch that I almost died) but it still felt like ages. We were still pretty excited about being in Athens, especially when one of the first things we saw of Athens were the mountain ranges in the distance when we exited the airport and were headed for the Metro station. We also saw actual blue clouds and sun, two things which we sorely missed while freezing in Paris and London.

So yes, I guess you could say that we had high hopes for Athens and were definitely excited about being in the Greek city. Imagine, then, our big shock and surprise when, as we were about to exit Omonia station and look for our hotel, we were stopped by this stumpy, fat and short Greek woman, asking to see our Metro tickets.

That wasn't the horrible part. We bought tickets from Hot Metro Guy, so we weren't in any danger of getting intro trouble...or so we thought. I showed Stumpy Woman the ticket, thinking it'd take three seconds and we could go, but I was proven utterly wrong when she glared at me/us and started ranting about the ticket not being validated.

Like, what the fuck? What validate WHAT? It turned out that Mag's instinct about the stupid ticket needing to be validated was right. Our ticket was not validated. It was the most ridiculous thing ever, and the Stumpy Woman did not make things any easier when she continued to berate us about the ticket's non-validation, eventually saying, "You pay 48 euros now, or go to Syntagma."

WHAT THE FUCK WAS 'SYNTAGMA'? It didn't help that Stumpy Woman's English was rudimentary at best and I was literally straining to understand her. I caught the part about paying 48 euros (what the fuck, are you kidding me?!), and then heard 'Syntagma'. I had no idea what the hell that even meant. I'd been in Athens for a grand total of three hours. Even if I could spell 'Syntagma' at that point in time (I couldn't), there was no way I could possibly have recognised it when the word was said out loud.

Therefore, the first thought that came to mind was, "Oh my god, is she saying we have to go to the police station?"

This strikes me as funny now and it soon became a running joke between me and Mag; but in that moment, faced with a very angry Stumpy Woman who didn't give a shit about the fact that we were obviously tourists who'd just arrived in her fucking country and therefore might legitimately not know about her stupid Metro's ticket validation system (especially since I'd had Metro/Tube/MRT experiences in four different cities, and none of them require ticket validation), whose complete lack of sympathy for our bewilderment was rudely evident in her demanding that we paid 48 euros, I couldn't help but think that our first night in Athens might have to be spent in a Greek prison.

Of course, my next thought was, "Shit, is she scamming us?" After I got over my initial fear of being thrown behind bars for not knowing that I was required to validate a Metro ticket that I already PAID for, I began to wonder if Stumpy Woman was even legit in the first place. It was in her demeanour - stout, angry, very fierce, and completely and unabashedly rude. It didn't matter that we were tourists, it didn't matter that Mag tried explaining to her that we'd just arrived (JUST arrived, literally) and that Hot Metro Guy, who'd by then became Stupid Incompetent Jackass Who Couldn't Do His Stupid Job, didn't breathe a word about validating anything, it didn't matter that we couldn't have used a previously-bought ticket because, like I said, we'd just arrived in Athens, and it sure as hell didn't matter, at least not to her, that our impression of Greece in severe danger of being irrevocably tainted. Quite clearly, Stumpy Woman didn't give a shit about her country's tourist revenue, so flagrantly obvious by her then demanding - and I mean, demanding, that I paid her freaking 48 euros after Mag gave her her passport. She literally stuck out her hand at me and barked, "You! Pay 48 euros now, or go to Syntagma!"

Seriously, I wanted to wring her stumpy neck. That was probably my closest experience to racism throughout my entire trip. It was quite obvious that she chose to check our ticket because we were Asians with luggage, which naturally meant 48 Euros Easily Earned (by the way, the fine for not validating a ticket is 6 times, I think, the price of the ticket); and if she really did target us because we're Asians, then the Greek tourism board is going to receive a not-so-friendly letter/email from me very, very soon.

Either way, the said tourism board, plus the Athens Metro, are going to receive that letter/email from me. Stumpy Woman was utterly rude to us and she had absolutely no cause for being so unreasonable and unpleasant. She couldn't have not known that we were tourists, so bearing that obvious fact in mind, there was so much more she could have done to make the situation actually comprehensible to us. Maybe it was because she couldn't speak proper English (in which case, DON'T FUCKING TALK TO ASIANS YOU IDIOT), but whatever the case, we genuinely had no idea what was going on...until her male colleague came over and took over her job.

It turned out that Syntagma was the main Metro station that handled all the fines and whatever. Stumpy Woman basically gave us the option of paying 48 euros on the spot, or going to Syntagma Station (say 'station' lah oh my god) to apply for a fine waiver. All this became clear to us when the guy explained it, albeit explained it sternly, like we did something totally OMG wrong. The guy could've been a bit more pleasant, but he was an utter saint compared to Stumpy Woman who was the biggest bitch I encountered on my trip, and one of the biggest bitch I'd ever encountered. Seriously, who the hell is so utterly rude to foreigners visiting your country for the first time? Who's ever heard of something like that? It's one thing to be unfriendly, but quite another altogether to be outrightly rude like Stumpy Woman was.

But anyway, we obviously chose not to pay the stupid fine, which would've been utterly ridiculous. I'd never paid a fine in Singapore, widely known as the Fine City, so to pay a fine in Athens would've I said, utterly ridiculous. Which I absolutely refused to do, as did Mag. The guy copied down our passport numbers and gave us the fine slip and told us to go to Syntagma station to apply for the waiver. He then asked us if we were about to look for our hotel, to which we replied in the affirmative, and then he said that we could dump our luggage first, then go to the station to waive the ridiculous fine.

Okay, at least he was nice in the end. His colleague, though? She deserves to be fired. Thankfully Syntagma was only one stop away, so we went off to look for our hotel.

It took about fifteen minutes. The walk to the hotel itself was probably about ten minutes, but it being our first time, it naturally took longer. Athens was unlike London, unlike Paris; it was as dirty, if not even dirtier, than Paris, and like Paris, the zebra crossings exist only for the sake of existing. The men openly and blatantly stared at you as if they'd never seen Chinese girls before in their lives...which actually could really be true, considering the noticeable lack of Asian faces around. The area we stayed in was famous for being home to prostitutes, drug addicts, and petty criminals, which begged the question: Why, oh WHY, did we choose such unsavoury places to stay in?

Nevertheless, our hotel turned out to be rather nice. Two beds, fresh towels, air-conditioning, and...a HAIR DRYER! This got us really excited; Mag had been going to bed with her hair wet, and I'd been waking up at 7 to wash my stupid hair because I couldn't sleep with my hair wet. The hair dryer, therefore, was a major life-saver for us both. The bathroom was also quite clean, though the shower area was pathetically small. It was this square, covered by a shower curtain, and that was it. You literally barely had room to move.

But still, it was adequate for the price we paid (15 euros a night, I think), and the manager was very, very nice. And there was free Internet access in the lobby. No complaints.

Anyway, after we settled in a bit, we set off for Syntagma where we filled out forms to waive the stupid fine. We were told that it'd take a month to process, by which time I was all, Whatever. It's been a month and I haven't heard a word about it so...whatever. Stumpy Woman is still in danger of losing her job. I still have the fine form so I can totally give a reference number, although I'm quite bummed I didn't get her name. Oh well.

Syntagma led to the city area, so we spent the rest of the day walking around Plaka Market. It was basically this super touristy area where lots and lots of Greek souvenirs were sold. It was also just at the foot of the Acropolis, which we caught a peek of sometime around sunset, and needless to say, it was really, really pretty.

Plaka # 1

Plaka #2

The Acropolis as seen from Plaka, bathed in sunlight

Despite our shitty encounter with Stumpy Woman, we soon found that the Greeks were generally friendly and hospitable. Unlike the French that either didn't give a shit about you, or were only civil towards you when need be, and unlike the English that didn't give a shit about you either way, the Greeks were really, really nice. We stopped by a cafe to look for lunch, and the manager/owner/whatever, an elderly Greek man, chatted us up while we looked at the menu. After he found out we were from Singapore, he actually asked if we were from Jurong or Bugis! How interesting. And even when we decided not to eat there, the man pointed us to a nearby restaurant when we mentioned wanting to eat fish.

Eventually, we settled for the opposite cafe/restaurant, Ice Grill. I suspect this decision was partly influenced by the presence of this super, SUPER cute waiter whom Mag first noticed, who became my Hottest Guy Spotted on the Trip. He was all tall and Greek and had this smothering gaze...

Okay, I exaggerate about the smothering gaze, but whatever, he was HOT. We actually ended up in the same area twice, and ended up eating ice-cream in that restaurant on the second day. But more about that later.

Lunch/dinner was good. I had some salad pasta thing that was really nice, and Mag ate some chicken kebab thing that she liked. Then came desserts. I saw some Greek donuts on the menu that looked super yummy, so I ordered the Greek donuts with honey and cinnamon powder (I love cinnamon, did you know), and Mag had the one with Nutella. Our desserts arrived (we asked Hot Waiter for our donuts, and he momentarily forgot and it was so cute. Uh yeah, I need to stop gushing) and when I bit into my first donut, I almost died. It was really, really good, all deep-fried and chewy and yummy. I didn't give a shit about the obvious fat contents, because there was no such thing as dieting when I was overseas.

After about four donuts, though, I began to get really sick of it. It became too sweet, too rich, and I stopped eating after I was halfway through. It was quite a waste of food, but...oh well!

After eating we began walking around Plaka and going crazy on souvenir-shopping. I stupidly bought this gorgeous candle-holder from a shop, stupid because it was arse-heavy. I have no idea what it was made of but the point is, it was really heavy, so I ended up lugging that and a heavy clock I bought from the Versailles souvenir shop all around Crete and Manchester and London. How nice. But I think it was worth the pain because it's really nice.

We had Starbucks for dinner. Haha! We wanted to slack around in a Starbucks in Paris on our last day, but there wasn't a single Starbucks in Montmartre, so we made up for it by sitting around in the first Starbucks we saw in Athens. It was about 8-ish and it was getting dark; more importantly, it was getting really cold. Nevertheless, I braved the cold and ordered an iced latte. The Starbucks was actually really empty, and my tall latte cost 2.90 euros. Not worth it at all.

The next day, we went to visit the ruins. Our first stop: The Temple of Olympian Zeus.

Some gate

Temple of Olympian Zeus

It was in a single word, amazing. I don't know what it is about ancient ruins that attract me so; perhaps it's the humble reminder of how insignificant we are in the grander scheme of things, and how breath-taking it is to see, in the flesh, the evidence of civilisations that existed so long ago that you can't even fully comprehend it. It didn't seem real at all, looking at these structures that were constructed so long ago. Fallen columns that looked like banana splits, some still intact, but only barely, and the Acropolis atop a hill, in the distance - like I said, it was surreal.

There were also ruins that gave shape to the word 'ruins'. There was some Roman bath thing on the same site that had literally nothing left except rocks and a sign telling visitors that it used to be a Roman bath. There were also lots of ants, and the sun was absolutely scorching hot.

Still, despite how awed I was by those ancient columns, it didn't prepare me at all for the majesty that was the Acropolis. The first substantial thing we saw was the Theatre of Dionysus, and some of the seats, carved into the floor, were actually still intact. Since the site was situated on top of the hill, we had to walk quite a bit to the top, where the Parthenon was. We did so under the scorching - and I mean, SCORCHING - hot sun and both of us were completely baked. My exposed shoulder blades are still black a month later.

View of Athens from the foot of the Parthenon

The Parthenon

It was really quite unreal. I don't even know how to describe what it was like, walking all the way up, battling fellow tourists for the best view of the site, trying to maintain my balance on the slippery marble flooring of the site (it only got slippery when we reached the Parthenon and the Erechtheum, which were thankfully next to each other!), and just being there, standing on the ground that so many others did, especially the ones that created it. It was like being in Siem Reap and walking on the grounds of Angkor Wat, that same disbelief that it was really happening, being a part of history so long and varied that I literally cannot comprehend it. What does 407 BCE even mean? It meant these ancient ruins that have somehow survived all these centuries and the wars and natural disasters that have happened over the years.

"Over the years". What does that even mean? It was unreal, and it's still unreal.

And of course, the view of Athens from the Acropolis was...just amazing. The mountain ranges formed the backdrop, and the contrast between the natural and the man-made city that it seemed to form a protective wall around was really something. Much like looking down at Paris from the Eiffel Tower at night, looking down at Athens from the Acropolis evoked the same indescribable, near-tears feeling in me. It was like standing on top of the world and feeling, even if only fleetingly, so invincible that you were convinced that nothing could ever hurt you again.

It was really magnificent, and it made the tiring and ardous walk (I'd say 'climb', but that'd be a gross exaggeration) to the top worth every single drop of sweat and every single ache and every single patch of skin that got burned by the sun. Hands down one of the best moments of my life - ever.

All that walking up and down naturally made us really hungry, and after we left the Acropolis, we sat down in a random Greek restaurant for lunch. I ordered some grilled mushrooms with Parmesan cheese and Mag ordered a moussaka. WE BOTH LOVED OUR FOOD TO BITS AND PIECES. I also ordered Greek coffee which wasn't really anything to crow about, to be honest. It was too bitter, even for me.

We wanted to visit more ruins but we were too tired to, and we didn't think it was wise to burn our skins even more. By then, at 3-something, my skin felt entirely raw and sensitive to the slightest touch. It was quite literally the first time ever that I was seriously worried about my skin. Ergo, we decided! Haha.

Like I said earlier, we somehow ended up back in Plaka and we found ourselves looking, once again, at Ice Grill, the place where we had lunch earlier. We ended up eating ice-cream there after I had an iced cappucino from the friendly man's restaurant opposite Ice Grill. I didn't want ice-cream at first, but Mag's ice-cream seriously tempted me, so I went to look at their vast selection of flavours.

I wanted a "kinder" at first, but the guy serving me asked me to try this other flavour. I was all, "What?" Didn't understand what he was saying. He was all, "I'll show you", and scooped up a bit of the ice-cream he wanted me to try for me to sample. I thought it was all yummy, so I said that I'd take that.

I distinctly remember asking for one scoop. He gave me two. One scoop cost 1.80 euros and two scoops was 3-something euros. Strangely, when I went to the cashier, I was charged, like, two euros.

Seriously? I LOVE GREECE. I LOVE GREEK MEN. The guy that gave me two scoops of ice-cream for almost the price of one wasn't really that hot, but he was still better-looking than the average male you see in Singapore. I know, I know, I'm so superficial, but who cares.

And...yup, that's about it. Two days in Athens was definitely way too short. My Acropolis ticket covered six archaeological sites, and we only had energy for two. I wish we'd stayed in Athens longer; its history is evidently rich, and the people were generally friendly. The food was pretty fantastic too, not to mention actually affordable (especially in comparison to London and Paris!). We had actual, proper meals practically every single meal in Athens and that felt really great.

The few downsides, though, were the air (dirty, dusty, polluted) and...actually, that's about it. I'd complain about the never-ending Metro ride back to the airport, but that wasn't really too bad.

In a nutshell, Athens was amazing, and I'd definitely want to go back and do the whole Acropolis thing again. I absolutely, absolutely loved it.

Tags: athens, bad experience, europe, europe trip, food, greece, mag, paris, pictures, stupid syntagma woman, travel

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