Athens

Ancient temple in Athens, Greece

Look at the columns!

…and an adventurous party

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So, we got engaged. After we got back from Munich, we started to intensively plan the wedding, and to figure out some of the things (of course, the wedding itself was an experience, you wouldn’t think I would be so lucky to have everything working for me, right?), and after that we took some time for ourselves, since you cannot figure everything out so early.

The only thing that worked smoothly, when it came to the wedding, was the “choosing” of the godparents, which were in fact chosen before the husband was. I was also lucky to have a husband that accepted the godparents because he likes them a lot and considered them as part of the family even before we started thinking about the wedding.

Well, since we have the coolest godparents ever, they thought we needed two bachelor’s parties so that we’re sure we don’t regret anything. The first one was going to be a city break somewhere, a different place for the guys and the girls.

The second one was going to be a classical “going out and getting drunk” kind of party, closer to the wedding. Still, the first one could be very close to the wedding, since the time keeps on shrinking during that period and the stress is also a major factor in the month before the great event.

Initially, the groups were set as me, our godmother and the maid of honor, and my husband, his brother and the godfather. Unfortunately, my maid of honor couldn’t come, but, as a surprise, my sister-in-law could. She used to work in a field that meant her schedule was split between three weeks abroad and three more at home, so her presence at different events was usually a matter of luck.

But, since we didn’t have anything set in stone yet, and because my godmother and my sister-in-law are amazing, we managed to organize something together. The next challenge was to decide on a place, especially since the godmother had a one-month trip through Europe as her honeymoon, so she saw lots of places then, and my sister-in-law visited also lots of places, so it’s quite hard to find new destinations to take them to.

At least I wasn’t a challenge, considering the small number of places I did see before. Apart from that, we also wanted to go somewhere where it’s warm because neither of us likes being cold, to go somewhere affordable, because we didn’t win the lottery before, and to be able to go sometime in March, including a weekend and just two more days.

After some long discussions, we decided for Athens for the girls, even though my sister-in-law went there multiple times (we would have had to leave Europe or choose a very obscure place to not follow her trails), and the boys were going to go to Dublin. The godmother was in charge of the accommodation, which she reserved using their Booking account, linked to the godfather’s email address because they had some discounts due to the Eurotrip they previously did.

We were going to have a hotel near Monastiraki, to easily reach the metro, with three single beds, to be able to sleep without caring for someone else’s wellbeing; the boys had accommodation right above a night club because it felt like the right place for them. We also decided when my sister-in-law should come to Bucharest, because she also needed to come from Cluj, and she somehow managed to buy the ticket for the next day, initially.

She tried to change the date of the ticket, but it was more expensive for her to change the date than to buy another one. So, she bought a new ticket, and someone had some free space the day after because she didn’t even cancel it since this also meant a cost for her. I have no idea how the Wizz guys are managing their business like this, but who am I to judge how they make money?

The boys were going to take-off at six in the morning, on a Saturday, and we were going to take-off the same day, at 11 AM. The return was similar, they came back two hours before we did. We’re a little proud of ourselves, me and our godmother because we managed to organize something so complicated, especially since we had to plan what to see in Athens, and we didn’t quite have a lot of time on our hands.

Taking off to Athens

When the D day has arrived, we sent the boys to the airport early in the morning, and we met to have some coffee before take-off. Of course, we had to make a seat change to bring my sister-in-law near us, since she bought her plane ticket in a different transaction than we did, but we encountered nice people that wanted to help us.

Before we even took off, she already fell asleep; she’s so used to flying that she can sleep in every situation, so she can keep her energy up for the truly important stuff. Apparently, every bimbo in Romania was going to Athens that weekend, and all of them were wearing the same crowns with laurels, similar to the ones Caesar used to wear, made from some silvery or golden metal, so we had something to make fun of for the entire trip.

Until then, I had already given up on dolling up when going somewhere, so I was again in the position of making fun of others. The entire flight was OK, my godmother allowed me to hold and squeeze her hand on take-off, and she laughed for only one minute, which is awfully little considering the panicked face I still had.

On the other hand, right on the seats in front of us was a family of three, with a 5-year-old girl we didn’t even know was there, that’s how quiet she was. After half of the flight time we found out there’s a child in there, when she asked her dad, whispering, why can we see the sun if we’re above the clouds and her dad explained, at the same noise level, the whole phenomenon.

At the airport, we wanted to act like ladies and hopped into a cab, after we discovered that my godmother’s phone didn’t work anymore, because, for some reason, her roaming option wasn’t activated, and her pay plan was made under her mother’s name. So, we had to call her mother using my phone, let her know we arrived and asked her to help with the roaming thing, so she wouldn’t spend four days without her phone.

In the taxi, we also opened the navigation app we use, to be sure we were going the right way, especially since the driver didn’t appear like he knew a lot of English. But so that we don’t feel so far away from home, the man knew how to make detours. His GPS was in plain sight, and explicitly saying to make a right, but he made a left instead.

The first time, the two choices were between going into the city and taking the detour road around the city, and we thought maybe there was some sort of rush hour and that’s why he did choose the detour. The second time, we were already in the city, and he went directly into a traffic jam, ignoring the GPS that was saying something else, thus being very obvious what he was doing.

We then started telling him to follow the GPS, but he didn’t understand English at all by that time. He actually drove us past the hotel, and we saw the name and everything, but he didn’t want to stop. The hotel was in the middle of a pedestrian area, and he wanted to take us “closer”, on a different, parallel street.

This was the moment we all burst with anger, told him to stop immediately, and we opened the door at the first red traffic light because he wasn’t acting like he understood what we were saying. On the meter it said 24 euros, we gave him 30, and he was leaving peacefully.

We asked him about the change, and he started to know even less English (if possible) and saying something about some tax; we didn’t understand a thing he was saying. For us to not spoil our vacation, we left him alone, while deciding to choose the train for our ride back to the airport, so that we don’t take the chance on finding a similar guy on the way back. Truly, this felt like not so far from home.

After this, with our state of mind, as you can imagine it, we went to the hotel where we found out, from the receptionist that at least was speaking English, that we did NOT have the room reserved two months in advance, and that she had “sent us an email”.

We called the godfather, since the reservation was done on his Booking account, and we found out what happened: he didn’t have enough money left on the bank account linked to the Booking account, and he did receive an email, at 5 AM, in which Booking was letting him know about the situation and that he had 24 hours to fix the problem.

He didn’t read the email, since he was at the airport at that time, and the hour was not that friendly either. After he read the email, he made a quick transfer and the reservation was confirmed in a few minutes. Still, because they weren’t able to withdraw the money, the people from the hotel occupied the room with someone else.

I find it hard to believe they managed to do that between 5 AM and 2 PM when we arrived, but we couldn’t prove anything, especially since it was Greece’s National Holiday that time, so the demand was probably higher than usual. In other words, we did have a point, but we still did not have a room.

The receptionist sent us to another hotel, two streets away, where she knew the owner (Balkan style, “I know a guy…”), and she called in advance to ask if he had a room available for us. It was the least she could do after she left us on the streets.

The “new” hotel was horrible comparing with what we had initially chosen, and for the same price, of course. Everything was squeaking, the room was smaller, the windows were old and we could hear everything that was happening outside, the toilet was a tiny room made out of plasterboard in the sleeping room itself, so the noise cancellation was only a dream, the beds were a double and a single one, and the breakfast was so bad, we ate daily at the restaurant nearby.

The hotel we would have stayed in is this one, and the one where we eventually did stay in was this one. As you can see, the second one is not even listed on Booking, and I had to put a serious effort to find it listed somewhere, so I can show it to you. Its only advantages were the ceiling and the hot running water, which was infinitely more than what we were hoping for only 10 minutes before.

Since our reservation was confirmed, we started thinking of the fact that the money could be taken from the godfather’s account anyway, so I decided to go to the reception, where the owner was at the time. After I had questioned him about the situation, his response was the owner from the other place wouldn’t do such a thing, and that he knows the guy since they were kids.

After I pointed out that I haven’t known him since childhood, he just shrugged. The money was taken back from Booking because they were only blocked, not delivered, but we were a little bit concerned. The tense situation made my godmother throw her phone away against a wall, but at least it made it work properly. Basically, after less than two hours since we had arrived, we were scammed twice.

To calm us down, we went into the first restaurant to have something to eat and a cool beer. As I think everyone knows, Greek food is great, and people are welcoming, especially the ones working in tourism. A great chunk of Greece’s income comes from tourism, and its economic situation is not very comfy, so people really want to have happy customers.

As I might say, the restaurants are always full, and I’m not sure only with tourists, so probably many reasons led to the economic failure of the country. Being Balkans, they rely deeply on concepts as tipping, which they greatly appreciate, on the hospitality of every place’s owner and on the fact that you feel part of the family wherever you go.

Usually, restaurants are family businesses, and all the relatives work there, starting with the 16 year-olds and ending with the elders that tell you stories over a cup of Ouzo. At almost every order some other things appear on the table, like a small bowl of peanuts or a plate of fries, or a Greek salad or a small cheese plate.

Of course, you pay them under some other form, but this makes you feel special as a client. Also, every seller will ask you where you’re from and will tell you a few words in your language, or he’ll ask you to say something to him, so he could learn. Not only that he finds out where are you and he can modify the price accordingly, just like in Asia, but they also say that it’s common politeness to be able to say “Hello!” or “Thank you!” in the person’s own language.

During the first evening, the girls took me to see a beautiful view, from the top of the Lycabettus Mountain, the perfect place for a sunset view over this city full of history. That’s how I found out that the two ladies plotted a lot about this trip, and the plans that I thought we had were not the same as the plans the two of them decided, and also that my opinion was not that important, my only job was to act nicely and just wait around to be surprised.

This was also my first time seeing and using the funicular railway, and also the first time I didn’t feel quite safe in a city. After you get down from the hill, and you’re still amazed by the Acropolis that looks over the entire city, you’re a little bit shocked when you descent closer to people after you’ve been staying with gods.

Maybe it was the fact that it got dark or the increasing number of refugees that were hitting the Greek coast, but there were also lots of people living on the streets that were not there during the day. The city started to become darker due to the evening, the poor street lightning, the amounts of homeless people around, the smells of urine and feces around, and probably the fact that we were three crazy girls just walking down the streets didn’t help either.

We got to the hotel safely and slept like three little tired piggies, only to wake up fresh the next day, to find out how awful was the breakfast from our “new” accommodation.

The first day in Athens

After we found a decent restaurant to have a decent breakfast, we went towards the second surprise scheduled by the girls, the bay where we were going to leave to the Aegina Island from. Aegina was chosen because we couldn’t go to Hydra – I mean, we could go, but we couldn’t get back the same day.

After we almost lost the ship because we weren’t entirely sure what we were supposed to look for, we finally embarked and wanted to stay outside, up on the deck, with our hair free in the wind, like some sort of models. After we stood in the sun before the ship finally started the trip, we resisted the strong wind for about ten minutes before we decided to finally give up on our genius ideas and go inside, where there were air conditioning and a small bar with drinks and snacks.

Three hours later, when we reached the island, we just wanted to go somewhere and have something to eat, and the girls were dreaming of some seafood. And where can you find better seafood than on a Greek island, am I right?

Well, I’m not. I think we found the only place in Greece that had a chef that had no idea how to cook some shells fried or boiled with some wine sauce and vegetables. While the girls were waiting for their shells, I indulged myself with some fish and tzatziki, which were delivered to me in such big quantities, that I honestly thought I looked famished.

On the other hand, the girls received a plate of shells with some meat on them, but if you took out the shells, I think there were around 2-3 spoons of meat in there.

After this, we walked around the island and got tanned under the wind, which is quite a hurtful experience, since you only feel the cold, but at home, you realize you’re also fried a little bit. Because of this nasty wind, my godmother thought about buying some socks, because she had her pants a little bit short and felt cold, but she only found something of size 42 (9.5) and she’s a 36 (6), but we invented a new fashion, perfect for the time: the functional one.

We also had a fight with some sort of a four-wheel bicycle, because we wanted to rent it for an hour, thinking that we’re brave and capable enough to handle it. The nice man was kind enough to give half of our money back 20 minutes later when we went back half dead.

We went back with the same big ship, but at least we went inside from the beginning, being aware we could not resist one minute outside, on the deck. When we arrived on the mainland, tired and probably with a cold, the girls decided to almost kidnap me and take me to a club, because apparently there’s no way we could have had a bachelorette party without clubbing.

And I know I’m going to sound like a grandma, but the clubs reminded me of the college period when I used to go clubbing at least once a week, every week, to those students clubs that were the only ones I could afford. The same crowd, the same amount of smoke (there was a “No smoking” policy only in restaurants and bars but not in clubs), I think they were also playing the same songs, the only difference being the Greek translation of them.

Initially, I thought it was only Greek music, but I also recognized some songs that were for sure not Greek in the beginning. Unfortunately, one prejudice of mine makes me correlate Greek music with that awful type of music played in Romania, the manele, that I hate with every inch of my body.

And that’s because most of those “songs” are copies after Greek songs, so Pavlov’s theory is very easily applied to me in this case. After that, we slept the few hours we were able to before the day planned for sightseeing, but not before we ate from my sister-in-law’s supplies that she had bought for my brother. Thank you, brother, for the nougat and pistachio!

The second day in Athens

The next day we had difficulties waking up, since the 3-4 hours of sleep were hardly enough for us, and we were in not such a nice shape. Still, we tried to move our tired bodies to Acropolis, because we didn’t come there only for the clubs. Unfortunately, on the way there, while riding the metro, we have seen a situation that I absolutely hate to tell, but I also cannot help myself, since I promised naked honesty here.

A young man, about 18-20 years old, together with a small 6-7-year-old girl, got into the metro and started singing. Both of them were clean and had proper clothes, there weren’t any signs of them being abused in some way. After they had finished singing in Greek, we got the chance to hear them speaking and swearing “these bastards that don’t give us a penny, f… them”, in Romanian.

Let aside the fact that we had to look at each other with the face that said “Do not open your mouth right now to speak Romanian!”, which is already very sad, to be ashamed or afraid to speak your language, we also had a moment of thought about the fact that the little girl, on a Monday, instead of being at school, was wondering the streets with a guy I assume was her brother, and was begging instead of learning something useful.

What are her chances in life, if this is how hew childhood looks like? At least we changed our focus for a little bit. In the last days, we have encountered lots of bimbos at tables next to us, so full of make-up and hyaluronic acid that you’d think they’re going to explode; I remember particularly two of them who were out shopping while their boyfriends were relaxing at a casino.

On the other side, the places to visit are amazing. The girls continuously made fun of me, since apparently a large chunk of the history studied in fifth grade is kind of stuck in my brain, and I have told them about every type of column we have seen at the temples (hence the title), about every god and his area of expertise, about every one of the seven world wonders (especially after searching for Zeus’ statue, but didn’t find anything but the temple in which it used to be) and about any art that was born in ancient Greece.

Concerning god’s lives and legends, the extent of what they kept in mind was that most of the problems appeared because Zeus couldn’t keep it in his pants while having a very jealous wife. This is not entirely wrong, but still, this is the extent of what people remember about things they don’t care so much about.

After the Acropolis, we visited also the Panathenaic stadium, the only one in the world built entirely out of marble and kept in very good shape for hundreds of years. We also wandered around wide parks with nice vegetation and a great amount of peace and quiet, very well received after the long and difficult night we had.

In the evening we made a small shopping session in the Flea market next to the Monastiraki square, and then we went to have dinner at a new restaurant, where we found the nice man from the plane, the one with the small and nice daughter. Initially, we tried to put some space between us, because we’re kind of panicked, but after he introduced himself and told us about the girl, we remember him and decided to have dinner at the restaurant he was working in, to celebrate just how small the world is.

After another short walk, we found a restaurant with a terrace where we stopped to have a beer; here, the owner, after finding out why we were in Athens, felt the need to explain what’s the deal with being married, since he was married for 30 years already. So it goes like this:

Marriage is like a large barrel, in which there’s about a jar of honey, and the rest of it is full of shit. Well, both persons in the marriage eat from this large barrel. You would usually have shit in your spoon but, apparently, when you have honey, it’s definitely worth it. The important thing is that you share the entire barrel, instead of having it by yourself.

Random guy at a restaurant

Please excuse the language, but those were his exact words.

Leaving Athens

The next day we woke up, again, very early, to have the chance to visit the Temple of Hephaestus, which appeared to be the one in the best shape, and also was surrounded by a large park and so much green but not so many people, so we were under the impression that we were on a personal meeting with the gods.

It looks like they liked us because we got back to the airport without any incidents, by train, with only a few euros spent, and we even managed to nap a little on the way. And, to be sure that the world is small, we encountered also the two ladies from the terrace, with their boyfriends, and we managed to see that one of them was pregnant – note to self: they are multiplying!

Before we got on the plane, right next to the gate, we had another chance of feeling ashamed; a woman, in her sixties I think, accompanied by her husband who had obvious problems walking, was trying to get on the plane with a large carry-on, a huge bag from Jumbo, the toy store. Of course, the lady from the gate explained, in both English and Greek, that she’s not allowed to take so many things on board.

A young guy helped her with the translation, thinking probably that he was doing a good deed, and she kept on saying that she doesn’t understand why she’s not allowed to get on the plane with such big things. When she heard that she could take her baggage on board, but as checked-in baggage, which has a separate price, she immediately remembered she did speak Greek and started to say to everyone that she was going to see her grandchildren and that she bought them toys.

Everyone started to make comments about her not being allowed on board in that situation – apparently, if it’s for the kids, it’s OK, rules don’t apply anymore. After some time, people started to take some of her baggage, if they didn’t have carry-ons themselves – a thing I would never do, to take someone’s baggage on board with me.

Of course, the lady from the gate was a witch for telling her to pay, like the amount paid would have gone directly into her personal account, not in the airline’s one. When we were on the stairs to get into the plane, we, of course, had the opportunity to be right in front of that woman, and she was pushing her husband up the stairs (even though the poor guy could barely walk); after she pushed me a few times, I felt the need to tell her it’s not OK to try to step on me, so she mentioned she was in a hurry.

I have no idea where, because I don’t think the plane was going to leave without either one of us, but she was in a hurry. All in all, it looks like aging is not the thing that makes you wise and well-behaved. Proper education from home makes you like that.

The bottom line for a trip to Athens? Do it! It’ll be fun. And it will probably be messy as well. You may have problems. You may end up on the streets for some time, or eat some bad sea fruit, or even end up on the wrong boat. But you know what? It will still be worth it!

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