One year ago, I was up at the ass crack of dawn to catch a plane from Stansted with my husband. Four hours later, we were on a graffitied metro from Athens’ city outskirts, eating packets of olives and sesame-covered nuts, on our way to Monastiraki. Our reason for coming? Practically, to connect with our families flying in from the US and Australia to catch a local plane to the island we’d be getting married on days later, and willingly, because who wouldn’t want to visit the home of democracy right before saying ‘I do’?
A true millennial, I pride myself on my Airbnb-hunting skills, and I was looking forward to this one. As we made our way down the main street, past buildings in shambles amongst lively markets and cafes, I became uneasy. We’d been travelling for a while (a downside of living and travelling in Europe – anything over 5 hours suddenly feels like a lifetime) and I wanted nothing more than to settle in our accommodation, and what I hoped would be a ‘good’ area. We arrived to a café covered in ivy and coloured streamers near the end of the Monastiraki market, where we were meant to meet our host. Twenty minutes past with no word from him. Starting to panic, I asked my husband to speak broken Greek to the café host to see if she’d seen anyone. Nope. Forty minutes past, and then one hour with no contact. My husband started looking for local hotels on his phone as I spoke to Airbnb customer service, coming to the conclusion that I f*cked up this time. We were scammed.
Enter: young guy wearing a mis-buttoned Hawaiian shirt and rocking some serious bedhead. He pointed to our suitcases. ‘You are coming for apartment?’ It was near 3pm and he looked somewhere between stoned and freshly awoken from a nap. As I tried to make sense of the last hour and a bit, I came to the realisation that…we were now on Greek time – aka, what is time? I quickly said ‘never mind!’ to the customer support rep on the line and hung up. To my pleasant surprise, the apartment boasted an incredible view that overlooked the symphonic market and tavernas below, ruined and refurbished buildings in front of us, and a view of the Acropolis in the distance (though, most things do).
Finally settling in, we embarked on an afternoon exploration of the local area, which turned out to be the most unintentionally trippy place I’ve ever been in my entire life. Lemme clarify – I lived in Washington state. I’ve been to music festivals. I’ve had a hippie phase. While I associate a psychedelic culture with those things, from clothing and art, to community and music, there is more often than not an intent behind that culture, to be, well, trippy. Athens, on the other hand, wasn’t even trying.
Wandering through the streets, we came across skate shops, art shops, and vintage stores, the only consistent theme linking all of them being unparalleled individuality. Our interactions with the shopkeepers were amongst our first with the locals in Athens, and they were truly gracious; the girl in the kilo shop telling me where else I could find vintage clothes like the items I was buying, the man in the wine shop considering our tastes and recommending a bottle cheaper than the one we had picked out – these interactions set the tone for the kind-heartedness and hospitality we’d receive throughout our whole trip.
Just as prominent as these eclectic shops were the ruins – those of capitalism prior to the Greek Debt Crisis (boarded up banks, abandoned chain retail shops, and graffitied streets), and older still, the ruins of, uh, early civilisation. As a result, what can be best described as an atmosphere of contrast, beauty, and defiance of time. Perhaps (OK, definitely) less formal than shops were street stalls selling collections of what I can only describe as aesthetically pleasing sh*t from peoples’ garages. Laid out in wagons and the street itself, the vendors appeared to never make a sale, but at least enjoyed sharing a cigarette (or 10) in each others’ company.
I like to take things slow when I travel, gallivanting around and discovering what may come, as opposed to meticulously planning and loading my days up with walking tours, itemised sightseeing, restaurant reservations, and so on. As high-strung as I may be, travelling is one thing where I like to go with the flow. Luckily, I married someone on the same wavelength (though our preferences for when to get to the airport are a whole ‘nother story…)
So, after a restful sleep, we muster the energy to visit the Acropolis. As much as we typically avoid ‘touristy’ things, you can’t like, go to Athens and not visit the Acropolis.
Leaving our apartment, we weave through the streets on the outskirts of Monastiraki, lined with more vendors on either side selling jewellery, tchotchkes, and Greek souvenirs, their items laid out against colourful facades of the buildings. Nearer to the ascent to the Acropolis, the buildings in question change from the unassuming to the slightly pretentious; fine-dining restaurants for tourists make a point to advertise their view of the Acropolis. Bro, I don’t know if anyone’s told you, but the thing is on a f*cking mountain overlooking the city. Every restaurant has a view of the Acropolis.
As we travel onwards and upwards, the concentration of commercial buildings thins out, as they are overtaken by residences and the occasional taverna. The journey itself is just as glorious as the end destination. The roads leading to the Acropolis give the sensation of one being amidst a movie set for Greece; the scenery is so perfect that it’s hard to believe it’s real.
Finally, we arrive. The Acropolis is packed with humans (as anticipated), and windy (not so much). I’m not talking about a gentle breeze, no – more like gusts of wind that hurl pebbles and sand in your eyelashes. My husband and I sit down to take cover and enjoy a moment together. It’s unclear whether sitting amongst this icon of ancient civilisation brought out our inner philosophers, or if we were just being our cynical selves (probably a bit of both), but as we observed those around us – looking at the architectural legend through the lens of a phone or wearing a goddess-like dress and posing for Instagram – it was hard to have faith in humanity. It was a beautiful moment that concluded with us agreeing that we are past peak civilisation, and leaving. That, my friends, is love.
Back in our apartment, we stare out the window. Not particularly fixated on one particular thing, we watch as the buildings turn from daylight’s beige to evening’s purple haze. It’s a sight that demands you rest to truly enjoy it, and so we do. In our lounge chairs, we gaze out the window as if sat at the cinema, absorbed in a live screening of Athens’ city life. From the market packing up below, to the rooftop bars kicking off their joie de vivre, to the Acropolis lighting up in the distance, we drink it – and some red wine – in. For hours we sit here, watching, listening, smelling, chatting, laughing, dancing. As someone who spends a lot of time in their own head, worrying about stupid sh*t, this evening spent looking out over Athens is one of the most mindful moments I’ve experienced. For that, I am one grateful chick.