Bari to Patras, Kiato to Athens

After staff ride, one hundred of us volunteered in San Barinco to pick up micro trash and improve environmental awareness in the little town. We kind of looked like zombies looking for cigarette butts, but we made a difference, and the beach looked like paradise within only a couple of hours.

some Mediterranean Sea time

I traveled to Bari with the rest of the volunteers and boarded a superfast ferry to Patras. I was relieved to have no schedule, no appertivo, and no people around me, so I could just worry about me myself and sleeping. It was a 16 hour ferry, and I must have slept 13 hours of the way. My body ached, and I had no mental energy to switch over to Greek, culturally or linguistically. I learned the alphabet and some phrases once, but now it was time to shut down, and go into recover mode.

Patras, Greece

I left Patras to Kiato, where the peaceful coastal towns continued in Greek. I traveled by bus and train, and needed to get to Athens eventually. I got off the train in Athens station (big mistake) and decided to walk to the Acropolis, you know, to stretch my legs. Within 2 km, I walked from whore house to crack town and then turned the corner into tourist city central, and Im not sure where I felt safer, but definitely couldn´t put my guard down as much as it had been in sleepy Puglia.

surrounded by ruins

I only had a day in Athens, before heading to the airport and taking my international red eye flight. Athens is a grimy town, full of misfits and tourists from everywhere, buzzing together in the second oldest city of Europe, a clash of pre-Christian history and modern city with a whole lot of made-in-china souvenir shops.

under the Acropolis

Sitting under the acropolis on a rooftop balcony drinking a Greek beer felt surreal. I´m not sure how real an ancient archeological site can ever really feel, because you know the facts and numbers, you´ve heard the stories and seen pictures and paintings, but if only those walls, or pillars rather, could speak.

Acropolis to Delphi

Everyone I met in Greece told me to spend as little time as possible in Athens as possible, or just skip it all together, but that seemed like a ridiculous idea. Who goes to Greece and doesn’t visit the Acropolis? There´s a reason its one of the most tourist ridden destinations in the Mediterranean, but also curious why it never makes it on any Seven Wonders of the World lists (not even the Ancient Hellenic list).

the Parthenon, under construction

Athens is a huge city, sprawling with construction, reconstruction, and suburban spread. It looks nothing like the postcard picture of Santorini, the bleached white homes exchanged for stained stone and marble. Still, the center of Athens is a walkable maze of old streets and stone steps, laying under the shadow of the Acropolis. The Acropolis is a citadel, built on the top of a platform mountain, in the city dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena. The Parthenon is the pillared, ruinous temple that makes Athens and ancient Greece so famous. Its big and impressive, but shrouded in construction canes and all the good stuff has been taken out of it and placed in the Archaeological Museum nearby. The view from the Parthenon over Athens is something to remember, but you really have to stretch your imagination to recreate in your mind how this city once looked or functionied in all its glory.

I couchsurfed in Athens with Yannis´ brother, my host from Crete. He took me to a ‘hipster’ bar, the TAF (the Art Foundation), a courtyard in the center of an abandoned building whose ruinous rooms offer exhibiting space for artists. Then we went to a forested courtyard bar called Six Dogs where the most trees in Athens congregated for a luscious green space between high rising, crumbling buildings. We always went out with is best friend, who was also originally from Crete, and after learning about my blog, advised me that Crete should be a whole chapter. Then, he warned me not to drink too much raki before I wrote the chapter, since ever glass of raki makes the brain one year younger… as his own jokes became more and more immature.

My brain was exploding with new Greek terminology: as the reading of their alphabet had become accessible to me, I started to realize how much English vocabulary has been borrowed directly from ancient Greek. Words for astrology, astronomy, physics, mathematics, algebra, philosophy, medicine and many other sciences are derived directly from Greek, and I found myself reading and understanding store front signs for ‘Pharmacy,’ ‘Apotek,’ ‘Optometry’ and ‘Orthopedic’ in strange letters. It’s a wonder why the ‘lingua franca’ was ever French, or now English, since Greek language and alphabet is the oldest recorded language in the history of the western world (younger only to Chinese).

The history in Greece was also flabbergasting, since everything was thousands of years older than any mentionaly anthropological history of Iceland or North America. Their rich Greek Mythology and Ancient Minoan culture provide millions of unanswered questions and curious wonderment, like how did they have flushing toilets in the year 1750BC?

I finally made it to Delphi, recommended by a fellow medievalist from Massachusetts, known as the center of the world in Ancient Greek mythology. Lonely Planet described the hilltop town as a place surely to be discovered and exploited by tourism eventually, since it was magnificently perched in the snowtopped hills of Parnassos mountain over to the Gulf of Corinth, with every house, hotel, restaurant and bar a million-dollar view you never had to pay for.