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I'm a 21-year-old journalism student. I spent last semester living in Florence, Italy. These are my adventures.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I spent Saint Patrick's Day in Athens

I started Saturday with a complementary breakfast of two fresh homemade rolls with jam and a hardboiled egg. I made sure I had some green on for Saint Patrick's Day, and I was ready to go. We walked up the street to Athens Backpackers (our hostels second location) where we met a tour guide. Although he introduced himself a couple of times, I can't for the life of me remember his name. For €6, he took us on a five-hour tour around the entire city.
Before we left, the 16 of us went in a circle and introduced ourselves. There were people from everywhere from South Africa to Canada to Argentina to France. Our guide tried his hardest to remember our names and repeated them back to us a couple of times. Having a Greek name made mine easy.
And then we were off. We saw everything from the outside, but he told us if we wanted to go inside any of the sites everything's free on Sundays. I made an effort to remember which places I needed to see again. We started at Hadrian's Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus (photos of this are below since we could only see it from a distance during the tour).

Hadrian's Arch
We passed the old olympic training grounds and Panathinaiko, which is the stadium where Athens hosted the first modern olympic games. It was built in the late 1800s on top of the ancient olympic stadium. The modern stadium, built for the 2004 olympics, is on the other side of town.

We walked past Zappeion, the old olympic headquarters, in the National Gardens of Athens. Apparently the doors are usually open, but they weren't Saturday, so we just peered through the windows.


inside Zappeion
As we rounded the corner, Kate picked an orange from one of the trees. Orange trees seem to line almost every street, and I know she's an orange fan based on the bowl of peels she produces seemingly daily. She peeled the fruit and divided it among the six of us. As we each had a slice poised in front of our mouths, we heard our guide say, "now you can take and eat the oranges, but we usually don't."
We all stopped and shot glances at one another as the entire group turned to look at us.
"Just don't expect to be impressed by the taste," he continued. "We usually use them to throw at the police during riots."
We shrugged and nibbled at the edges. It was incredibly sour — much closer to a grapefruit than an orange. My slice joined the peels on the ground. A few people ate them, but no one seemed particularly impressed.

We kept walking, talking amongst ourselves. We passed a little pond with turtles!

The National Gardens were really pretty.

Eventually we reached syntagma square. The first thing we all noticed was this child staring down the pigeons.

He was dressed in the traditional uniform for parliament guards, which was fitting as we had arrived just in time to see the changing of the guards in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

If the kicking wasn't enough, the pom-poms on their feet made the entire thing seem ridiculous. I know it is a serious ceremony and has historic value, but I — along with most of those around me I may add — couldn't take it seriously. It took all my willpower to hold myself together, especially when I saw this man behind me:

Next we headed toward Monastiraki. On the way, we passed the only "riot" we saw all weekend. Although I apparently failed to properly inform my dad I was even going to Athens (he thought I was spending all of spring break in Santorini), most parents were very concerned that we were heading to Athens due to the economic situation. The worry was completely unnecessary.
This protest consisted of a banner, one megaphone and four employees of a coffee shop who politely parted when we needed to pass. Our guide said even protestors in major demonstrations are polite and don't bother citizens or tourists. Had there been one, all we would have needed to do was ask to get through.

We continued onward and quickly visited a Turkish mosque and a small church. We took a break in Monastiraki Square to get lunch. We thought food was incredibly cheap in Greece. James, a british sports journalist on the tour with us, was startled we thought the prices were cheap, but our only point of reference is Florence, which is pretty expensive.
In the square and along the streets throughout the rest of the city were the usual people trying to sell us various knickknacks — many of which are the same I see in Italy. New to us however, was seeing children trying to sell things. I don't think I've ever seen a child try to sell things in Italy. We also saw a large number of children playing the accordion for money. It was really sad.

After lunch we saw Hadrian's Library and the ruins for several market places. All of the ruins were sandwiched neatly between buildings currently in use.
Hadrian's Library

It reminded me of Rome in that sense. Next up was the Acropolis. Up the hill we went.

We stopped halfway up our climb for a view of the city. People milled about on the giant rock where our tour guide said he and his girlfriend used to go for "hugs and kisses when we skipped classes."

The city was so much bigger than any of us had realized.

We walked farther to see the Acropolis (again from outside) and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

As we neared the five-hour point of the tour, my interest and attention started to wane. He was explaining things we couldn't see at all from the bottom of the Acropolis. What I do remember is him picking on James for being british. A lot. I guess Brits get that often. The most memorable part of the end was when a woman snuck up behind us and started urgently speaking to him in Greek. We parted for her to enter our circle, and Caitlin and Bethany protected their purses, confused by what was happening. After a couple of minutes she left, and we asked him what just happened. He waited until he wrapped up the tour and we were walking back to the hostels. 
It turns out the man who had spent the last five hours showing us around the city for €6 was not an official, licensed tour guide. She was. Being a tour guide requires training and a license in Greece because it is a closed profession. So when she saw him telling a group of tourists about the Acropolis, she started to get territorial I guess you could say. He sent her away by saying he was a teacher and we were his students. The teacher part isn't entirely inaccurate. He has three degrees in politics, history and education and has spent a year or two teaching. Another year of school for tour guide training and a further two-three to get the actual license didn't seem practical to him — or to me for that matter.
He brushed off the entire situation by saying, "most tour guides are just women in their 60s who are grouchy because they're deprived of sex."
We almost fell down the stairs in shock and didn't even try to contain our laughter. He didn't skip a beat and walked on as if he had just told us something as obvious and simple as "The sky is blue." I thoroughly enjoyed him as a tour guide.

The six of us started heading back to our hostel. I turned back to see James looking at us. Amy and I decided he clearly wanted to hang out. I turned around and yelled at him.
"What are you doing?"
"Come with us!"
"I would love to!"
And that's how we acquired a Brit for the next two days.
Bethany, Kate and Jess stayed at the hostel to rest while Caitlin, the ever-resilient Amy and I walked around aimlessly with James. He claimed he knew where he was, but I was never convinced. Regardless, we found our way to a cafe and ordered Greek coffee. James warned us it was very bitter, so I ordered mine sweet. It was very different from anything I've ever tasted, but I actually really enjoyed it. We sat and talked for a while, and James even tolerated the "say this in a British accent" game every American plays.
We walked around some more and headed back to the hostel as the sky started to change to pastel colors in time for James to go watch his rugby match in the sports bar.

We relaxed for a while before going downstairs for dinner. I ordered the veggie burger again. James came over from the bar and showed us his impression of an American from the south. Hilarious. Bethany and I mentioned that we were going to get banana walnut cake, to which he replied, "ohh bahhnahhnahh wahhlllnut." We repeated that in a british accent sporadically during the rest of our trip.
After we got our bahnahnah wahlnut cake, we joined James in the bar. He introduced us to Claude, a sports columnist from Oregon. Funny how six communication majors make friends with two journalists. We ran into Simon and Melanie, who were also on our tour that day. They are a French couple traveling through Europe for three months. 25 cities. 19 countries. I'm so jealous, but I feel like I don't have much of a right to say that when I'm studying abroad for four months. They're both in between jobs and figured this was the perfect opportunity to backpack. I hope I get a chance to do that and come back here again!
After a while, we decided to go find an Irish pub. It was, afterall, Saint Patrick's Day. I went upstairs to get Jess and Amy, who were still getting ready. The two of them joined Caitlin, Melanie, Simon, Claude, James and I for our trek to the pub. Once again, James was in the lead and regardless of his insistance that he knew where we were going, no one believed him. After a few circles, detours and some help from locals, we surprisingly found our way there. And it sucked. A mass of green flashed under strobe lights. The mob of people rippled with the music, which was far too loud and high pitched and not that good. It took less than a minute to get separated. Those of us still together grabbed hands and pushed our way to the bar only to find out none of us wanted the only beer they were serving. So we pushed our way back, scanning the crowd. I eventually found Claude thanks to his height and black knit hat. James was nearby. We stood on the outskirts of the crowd in an awkward lump.
After a while we gave up. James asked for directions to a better bar, and we headed that way, leaving Melanie and Simon behind. She said they were just going to head home.
We found a bar where we could just sit and talk over some beers. After a while, James led us back in a similar fashion to how we got there.

Amy. me and Claude

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