Monday, 17 August 2015

Athena (Greece): Unparalleled Magnificence

This time we were smarter—MUCH smarter. We didn’t fly to Europe via the U.S. and we packed as lightly as we could. We avoided wearing metal and shoes that would take us an hour to take off and put back on our feet. However, we made ONE terrible mistake: we ate a meal before we got on the plane. I almost never eat in the airport, but the Irish chef hadn’t eaten lunch. Only an hour after getting on the plane we got more food and at this point I knew that I was in trouble. By the time we got to Greece I was bloated and feeling rather…Gross. I didn’t eat the first night we were in Athens and thank goodness I didn’t! By the time we woke up it was almost time for our complimentary breakfast (the most INCREDIBLE continental breakfast spread I’d ever had up until that point!!!).

While in Athens we stayed at The Golden Age Hotel (http://hotelgoldenage.com/), and it was an amazing experience! The hotel staff was extremely helpful and kind. I’m sure many people are thinking, “Well, if my country was in Greece’s (financial) situation they’d be very kind, too!” Yet, after our time there and actually having conversations with a lot of people, we came to the conclusion that the people are, almost exclusively (based on those we’ve encountered), genuinely friendly and helpful. Prior to our trip I really only knew about the stereotypes associated with Greeks who live in North America or the things you hear from others (Greeks are SO loud!), but being here has proven that their hearts are large, smiles abundant and conversation stimulating and well-informed. Greece has shown a hospitable side in the sense that the people are willing to speak to us (in English)—even though our Greek is lacking and abominable, lol! They want to know about us and share with us, in spite of such troubled times.

Yes, we’ve realized that we have a knack for going places at the “wrong” time: in Lebanon there were bombings in Beirut only weeks prior to and almost immediately following our trip; Italians in Naples were marching in the streets voicing concerns about the upcoming elections and Turkey’s citizens in Istanbul were protesting (and being punished by police) in Taksim square days before and after we were there. We seem to go where the people want changes and where they’re willing to stand up for them. While watching the fires blazing in Athens in the news, I couldn’t stop thinking about how different Europeans are from Canadians, and even how different we are from Americans. Why aren’t we standing up for ourselves??? Why did we let Bill C-51 pass??? In Athens, we ate a delicious restaurant called the Fork and Spoon (TWICE!!!), and the owner was chatting with us about the financial situation that Greece has found itself in and he blamed himself and other citizens who’d either voted in the current Prime Minister or who hadn’t voted at all. He also blamed people for not being more responsible with finances (we were told to ask for and ensure we received receipts EVERY time we paid for goods or services). I felt something inside me feel the same: Canadians actually allowed the Harper government in, and the party does not take accountability for their actions and it’s not their fault—it’s ours. Shame on us.

Canadians need to start taking responsibility for their actions and stop believing that their political beliefs are private. Folks, politics are public, and I highly doubt any Canadian is saying, “Oh, yeah. I just love letting the government have complete and utter control over my/our freedoms as they were instated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” but for those of you who are still blind or in denial, Canada is no longer a glorious democratic, progressive nation. Greece has shown me that Europeans are much more informed, much more willing to talk about their problems, own up to their mistakes and fight for changes to make their country a better place. Canada Day passed this year and I felt ashamed of what my country has become. That’s part of what has been so refreshing to me about Europe: the people stand up to their government. This article is a good read if you're interested in what's changed in Canada: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/opinion/sunday/the-closing-of-the-canadian-mind.html?mwrsm=Facebook&_r=0

The whole trip in Athens was so unreal at times: free metro, watching fires ablaze on the news that were roaring less than 15 minutes away, walking down the street beside the National Park only to be welcomed by military and police officers, citizens more than willing to talk about the financial situation that Greece had found itself in…Again. I realized we’d picked the perfect time to travel to Greece. Although it’s been heart-wrenching at times to see and hear, the people’s manners here during such a time speaks volumes about the calibre of their personality as a nation.

I’d like to hang out more with the people here and that is precisely what I hadn’t yet encountered anywhere else in Europe. Don’t mistake me, the people in Turkey, France and Italy were great! However, most Greeks wanted to talk with us, were willing to give us smiles, firm handshakes and food if they could! What more could one possibly ask for?? Although neither the Irish chef nor I have any blood connection to Greece, we agreed we love Greece (translation: the GREEKS!!!) more than we anticipated and want to come back!!! Our advice: get lost in Greece. The people will help you find your way back and then some.

Exploring Greece!!!

The National Library of Greece:



National Technical University of Athens:



The view of the city as we sat on the steps of the uni :)
A rare selfie, lol!
 Our first restaurant experience in Athens!!! The food was amazing and the waiter was extremely friendly and knowledgeable!!! We loved this place so much, we went there twice :)
 Bread and wine (with olive oil-hiding) were ever-present!
 Appetizer: I think it's called tiropita. Whatever it's called, it's delicious!!!
 Meatballs with rice and spices...My choice :)
 The Irish chef's choice: stewing beef and egg plant puree. The puree was to-die-for!!!
Dessert was traditional: dense Greek yoghurt and papaya...Guava (?) preserves. YUMMY!!!
 Take 2: pasta with ground beef smothered in cheese! OHHH YEAH!
Sooo good! I LOVE Greek food!!!
Look what we found while out walking! Pomegranates!!!
The Irish chef thought it would be a GREAT idea to go walking up a HUGE mountain (Mount Lycabettus) after dinner one night. I was not as enthusiastic. LOOK at the height of it!!! Well, we climbed it :S
 Peek-a-boo view as I climbed x amount of steps, ready to call it a night, but not the Irish chef!
 Look at the LOVE for greenery on their balconies!!! Gorgeous!
 The view from the very top of the stairs...Yeah, we hadn't even hit the actual pathway to the mountain at this point ( T _ T )
 My FIRST glimpse of Panathinaiko Stadium Kalimarmaro which has a "history directly connected to the modern Olympic games from their revival in 1896 until the Athens Olympic Games in 2004. It is also the place from which the Olympic Flame is delivered to all the Olympic Games, Winter, Summer and Youth" (http://www.visitgreece.gr/en/culture/monuments/the_panathenaic_stadium).
The view close-up! Couldn't help feeling that I was seeing part of history that was so monumental!!!
This was the first time I saw the Acropolis and maybe I squealed and jumped up and down...Maybe.
Getting closer!!! EEEEEK!!!!!
Zappeion Palace in the National Garden. We saw soldiers on the stairs, but I didn't get my camera out in time :(
 Looking towards the street from the steps of Zappeion Palace.
 At first I didn't notice the turtles in the pond :)
Look at the babies!!!
Olympieion: the Temple of Olympian Zeus! This is just the view from the street! I was SHOCKED at how visible everything was just from the sidewalk (I felt the same way about the sights in Paris!!!). Just incredible!

Plaka:

The view of the street, turned away from the Acropolis which was right behind us!
 Lots of opportunities to spend your cash on souvenirs! 
 The Acropolis...And the Irish chef's head, hehehe!
 LOVE all the little streets you can get lost on :)
 I wish we'd been hungry enough to try out food here! It looked awesome!
 The view of Mount Lycabettus :)
 Gorgeous houses
So idyllic and idealistic thinking you could actually LIVE in such gorgeous places SO close to the Acropolis!!!
Things are looking up! It's right there!!!
The Arch of Hadrian. I'm so AMAZED that there aren't any fences or other forms of security around this place! SO UNLIKE any monuments in Canada and Japan where security and keeping people AWAY from the artifact is commonplace.
Dinner at Fork & Spoon. Take 1.
The view of the chandeliers on the patio.
My view of the patio
 Complimentary appetizer made out of yellow split peas. I've read that this is actually from Santorini. Can anyone please inform me?
A chicken salad drenched in balsamic dressing! Yum!!!
 Sardines and eggplant smothered in a tomato sauce and cheese!
 Take 2: moussaka and chick peas! Delicious!!!
 Dessert: fresh watermelon
I don't know the name of this, but the dense cake was drenched in orange preserves and cinnamon!

Walking down Akadimias Street and some side streets while looking for bookstores:

 Best Book Hunters: Zoodohou Pigi 41A (off of Akadimias Street)
 I wanted to go into this store, but I needed a coffee and the Irish chef needed lunch, so we stopped at...
Academy Gourmet had AWESOME sandwiches and had a HUGE selection to choose from!
The Irish chef's lunch :)

Trying to cool down with iced coffee...AND a scoop of vanilla ice cream! Ohhh, yeah! After this treat, we headed over to Public which sells books, games, electronics, stationery, music and miscellaneous goods. We found an impressive selection (large and varied!) of English books there! 
 Not sure why Syntagma Square is important? Check it out here: http://www.athensguide.com/syntagma.html
We were told to be careful (and even avoid) Syntagma Square as the country declared bankruptcy, but we went anyway, and it was fine! We enjoyed beautiful weather and met fantastic people!!!