Sunday, January 29, 2012 – Time: 11:00 PM
Has it really been a week since my last post? Wow, I guess so. It all went by so quickly, but I guess that’s just how things go. Anyway, I have a lot to talk about so let’s get to it!
Tuesday, January 24: So no, I didn’t actually wake up to go food shopping at 10 AM; instead, I woke up at… 1 PM. Just in time to eat lunch with the group though! After that, classes lasted until 8. I really hate that they take up an entire day, but there’s not much I can do is there? At least my City of Rome class is amazing, so going to that class 3 times a week is like a guided tour.
After class, we had the kitchen for two hours, and together we prepared a salt-crusted tuna, stuffed with lemon, rosemary, carrots and onions (yes, Frank made it). I’ll be the first to admit that I hate seafood, but this wasn’t bad. We had it with fried rice (which Rebekah made) and minestrone. Overall, one of the best efforts we’ve had. And we decided Kristin would cook tomorrow (she’s going to make some good ol’ mac and cheese!).
Wednesday, January 25: Woke up a bit early today, and met with a couple classmates for City of Rome; today we were supposed to meet at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (The Basilica of St. Mary Major – one of 4 basilicas highest ranking basilicas in the world, all of which are in Rome) at 1:20 for our class. Surprisingly, we got there early and met the professor, who then took us across the street for cappuccinos (all on him) before we met with the rest of the class and went in. The place was huge, beautiful, and covered in gold (you probably saw the pictures I posted of it in my imgur album, kevininrome), but my professor made a really great point: you don’t feel any spirituality from the church, only the power and majesty that the church held.
After we left that spot, there wasn’t really anything more to see; the other church he had wanted to show us was closed, so he gave us two options: head home early, or go visit the Asian part of Rome. Shockingly for college students, we all voted unanimously: show us more. Our professor brought us down through a nice park, through a flea market (where he gets shirts custom-tailored for 25 euro), and past an Indian fast food joint that he called “really good.” Where did we stop? A gelateria, of course, where we got a 50% discount from the owners because there were so many of us; the professor sat at my table, where we proceeded to drill him for information on where the best places to go were in Rome, and what we should do.
On the way back, I overheard a couple girls talking about there being a public transportation strike organized for that Friday. As in, that Friday, the day we were supposed to be getting a taxi to the airport to go to Athens! If the public transportation was down, what could we even do? Of course, ask my professor, that’s what. He told me to get into contact with Domenico back on campus, so I texted Elena to let her know about the impending disaster and to have her get things sorted out. She ended up having booked a SITbus shuttle to the airport by the time I got back. 8 euro is a small price to pay to actually be able to get away.
The mac-n-cheese dinner turned out really great, and Kristin made a separate pan of gluten free pasta just for Elena (that actually tasted better than the gluten version). But while the dinner went great, the night didn’t. Caroline and Kristin got into a bit of an argument because both she and Frank insisted that the gluten free pasta we had the first night we cooked made them sick – despite the fact that Kristin, Rebekah and I were all fine. When she and Frank left, things still felt a bit sour, but we cleaned up and tried to put it behind us. Frank and Caroline would be going to Naples, and Kristin, Rebekah, Elena and I would be in Athens. That should be enough space to calm down, right?
Thursday, January 26: The day started out normal enough. I went to class with the same few classmates from yesterday, and met the professor in a bookstore at the Argentina bus stop (where he gave one classmate a book suggestion and let us all grab a coffee upstairs first before we started). We walked out along the side streets, and were led to a nice shop where our professor gets some of his scarves (they really looked nice, apparently they’re made in Nepal). We left when the few latecomers to class called the professor asking where we were. He directed them to meet us in Trastevere (literally meaning trans+Tevere, “across the Tiber river”) and when we all got together… he brought us to another scarf shop! This one was mostly Syrian, but had some pieces from Istanbul in it.
I really liked some of the decorative hotplates they had, and decided to buy a couple. As I was paying, though, the professor just walked out with the class! By the time the receipt was done being written and I ran out, they were all gone. I ran around the area for a good half hour before giving up, and just went back to campus a bit disappointed. I didn’t get to see the church we were going to that day.
Funnily enough, everyone in my class who saw me later that day asked where I had disappeared to; when I explained what had happened, we would share a laugh and just say “Oh well!” The professor is really awesome, and I apparently didn’t miss much (except a great chocolate store!), so not to worry. As long as I don’t get myself lost again, I’ll be good. Apparently, they all noticed I was missing when they left the church, and started looking for me (which was sweet), and the professor was disappointed because he knows I like the class.
Oh well, class was boring and by the time it was over Frank and Caroline had already left for Naples. That meant it was just Elena, Rebekah, Kristin and me left for dinner, and we warmed up polenta and had some cold cuts with it. Really, it’s a great, simple dinner (and healthy too!) that’s made all better by the company of friends. We ended up playing a few Sporcle quizzes while we ate, and then split up at 10 so we could all finish packing. We leave for the shuttle at 4:45 AM and should be at the airport at 6. Flight’s at 9!
Friday, January 27: I didn’t sleep all night. I didn’t want to. I always get paranoid that, if I only have a few hours of sleep, I’ll not be able to wake up on time and I really didn’t want that to happen. I spent the time leading up to 4 AM playing League of Legends with my friends online, and then took a quick shower and shaved. Elena and I got Rebekah and Kristin, and together we ran down to the Piazza Cavour where the shuttle stopped.
The trip to the airport and the wait was uneventful, just sitting and drinking cappuccino. When we finally boarded, we had to take a shuttle from the gate to our plane (for some odd reason) and from there we got to board and pick our seats. We all got to sit together, but unfortunately Easyjet doesn’t have much leg room, so I was a bit cramped all trip. Luckily I had my iPod, a window seat, and didn’t have to use the bathroom all flight, so it was mostly painless.
I don’t think any of us realized just how lucky we had it in Rome. At least Italian uses the same alphabet as English, and Kristin, Elena and I all had some experience in Romance languages, so we could roughly understand Italian when we saw it. But Greek is so different… it was the first real culture shock I can remember. We walked out to the taxi queue and luckily (so we thought) our driver understood English. He drove us down through the outskirts of the city and into the center, somewhere about which we would be staying.
Being driven around was almost scary. All the signs looked like they were written using Wingdings font, the city had a grittiness like Queens or the Bronx, and I honestly didn’t know if I’d ever feel comfortable. And then we got to Athens Backpackers, the hostel we had booked. They had great ratings online, but a hostel? I didn’t know what to expect as we walked through the front door, and was surprised by the really warm welcome. “Oh, you booked for a 4-bedroom dorm room? Actually, we’re giving you a free upgrade, since one of the apartments isn’t being used!” Well, thank you!
The apartment was small but cozy, and we all quickly fell asleep for 4 hours. When we woke up it was dinner time, and we walked over to the Athens Backpackers’ help desk to find a good place nearby. The man behind the desk suggested Ambrosia, a nice little place a few blocks away. Was it nice? It was amazing. The first time since leaving New York that I had a meal where meat was the main part of the dish! Both Elena and I got the sausage, Kristin got the pork and Rebekah got lamb chop. The food was good, and cheap. 10 euro each is almost half the price we usually pay for a meal, and it was worth the 20 we usually pay in Rome.
We got back to the apartment and got into bed after that, since we planned to do the walking tour the next morning (hosted by Athens Backpackers, of course) and the free breakfast started at 7:30.
Saturday, January 28: We woke up at 8:40 this morning, and had to quickly get ready and run downstairs for breakfast. Now, the free breakfast included toast, butter, jam, cheese, and hardboiled eggs; since Elena wanted something substantive to eat, she paid 5 euro for sausage, bacon, sunny-side up eggs, and mushrooms and tomatoes (which looked really appetizing). The coffee and tea was also free and unlimited, and we all had a filling dinner before heading over to the help desk for the tour.
We were joined for the tour by three other people staying at the Backpackers – a Serbian currently studying to become a pilot in northern Greece, an Australian just passing through for the weekend, and a Brazilian doing backpacking with friends. Together we visited the Temple of Zeus, the old Olympic Stadium (from 1896), the Zappeion, the Monument of the Unnamed Soldier, and the Acropolis of Athens. The tour took 8 hours, and I’ll give my thoughts on it later (I want to see if I can make a Google Maps thing where I can leave notes along the map as comments).
So I haven’t even mentioned the dogs and cats yet! Apparently, strays in Athens are normal, and people keep them well fed. One who lives near the Backpackers followed us for the whole 4-hour walking tour (and occasionally went on ahead, like he’d done it before – and I wouldn’t doubt he has), and we had fun petting him as we went along. I gave him a bit of my souvlaki when we stopped for lunch (I was already full and we still had to climb up to the Acropolis, he needs food too!), and a few other Greeks donated their food as well.
By the time we finished the tour, we had all laughed ourselves hoarse (we all constantly exchanged jokes, and the tour guide was hilarious too), and I can say I learned a ton about the ancient Greeks. We decided to go to dinner at the New Acropolis Museum, which was literally two minutes from our apartment (and it’s right across the street from the Acropolis itself). The food wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t bad and again only cost 10 euro each. Still, it was nice and a good end to a good day.
Sunday, January 29: We woke up earlier today – 7:40 AM – and went downstairs for breakfast at 8:20. I decided to get a bacon and egg sandwich this morning, along with the free breakfast, and it was the best 2 euro I spent in Athens. After eating quickly, we checked out and left our luggage in a special holding room before heading out to go to the sights – we didn’t actually get into the Acropolis on Saturday and since admission was free Sundays, it just made sense to do it today. It’s an absolutely breathtaking view from that height, looking out over all of Athens and seeing all of the sights we went to yesterday, and the mountains in the distance.
We decided to go to the museum again as well, to be able to really look around – and seeing the sculptures that the Greeks made was impressive, to say the least. We didn’t spend too much time there, but it was still interesting (not to mention free!). Since we didn’t have much time left, we walked back to the Athens Backpackers and had them call a cab, then took that to the airport. It was a little disappointing having to leave early, but it was great while it lasted. Athens was an amazing city and I’d love to go back one day.
The Aegean Air flight left at 6 PM, and despite it being a 2 hour flight we still got a meal. The best part was, since the flight wasn’t completely full the four back rows were empty and I got one all to myself. We landed in Rome and, happy to be back in a place where we could understand the language, took a cab back to campus.
Total cost of the airfare: 200 euro each (100 for Easyjet, which includes the flight back that we didn’t take because Elena, Rebekah and Kristin have their midterm on Monday, and the flight would’ve gotten in too late, and 100 for Aegean Air).
Total cost of transportation: 36 euro (The cabs were each a flat fare of 35 to or from the airport, and the SITbus was a little more expensive).
Total cost of food/shelter/other: ~75 euro each not including souvenirs (6 euro each for the walking tour, 20 per person per night for Athens Backpackers, and about 25 for both dinners and lunch during the tour).
Total cost of Athens trip: 310 euro per person for 3 days/2 nights, including free breakfast. That translates to about $400, which sounds like airfare alone for most weekend trips. I’ll sure take that!
Walking to Shuttle: http://g.co/maps/99wp9
Shuttle to Airport: http://g.co/maps/t2y9x
Airport to Athens Backpackers: http://g.co/maps/cgy9a
Our apartment: 37.967279,23.72851
Saturday Walking Tour