And just like that, Summer is ending. As the borders opened at the beginning of the season, our calendar quickly filled up. We were fortunate to have been vaccinated early in March to travel around confidently. Our weekends booked up fast that we did not have a free weekend from May through the end of August. I convinced Jordan we needed to stay in Lyon for a weekend in August to recharge.
We jet-setted off to Sweden with friends, enjoyed glasses of Champagne with those same friends, explored the French Riviera, Greece, Belgium, the Provence region of France, and even was able to take a trip to visit Jordan’s family in the Northeast U.S. I promise I will write about all of our adventures soon! But today, I am writing about our trip to Athens, Greece in June. Feta late than never!
They say the journey is just as important as the destination, but I disagree.
As someone whose motion sickness is out of control (remember me on the boat in Norway?), the journey is the most miserable part. Dramamine is no match for my motion sickness, and neither is the French equivalent. I’ve tried the acupuncture bracelets to target the pressure points on my wrists and even had blood work taken by my doctor. Sometimes my “natural defenses” will kick in, which is me falling asleep while traveling. Between the motion sickness and sleeping, I am a terrible travel partner for Jordan. We haven’t found a permanent solution yet, but I’m trying not to let it get in the way of our plans. However, the weekend we stayed in Lyon and didn’t travel was so lovely.
If I could share one piece of advice from these adventures, it would be this: do not travel to Athens, Greece, in June.
Jordan and I originally wanted to take an extended vacation to Greece, but the timing was never right. As a compromise, I found an inexpensive flight from Paris to Athens for a weekend. We find that it’s almost easier to take the train to Paris and then fly out of Paris than from the Lyon airport, and the price was too reasonable to pass up.
Our train left from Lyon at 5:00 pm and arrived at the Paris Airport two hours later. We had an hour and a half to get checked in and go to our gate for Athens. Another flight was leaving for Athens at the same time as ours on a different airline, and we accidentally went to the wrong gate. Good thing we had a little wiggle room to get to our actual flight! The total flight time was around three hours, and we arrived in Athens, Greece, at midnight. All public transportation was sporadic by this hour, so we grabbed a taxi to take us to our hotel. The minute we walked outside to meet the driver, humidity consumed us. At midnight!
The hotel, a Crowne Plaza, was located in the city center and had a rooftop pool. One of our friends had visited Athens a couple of weeks earlier and told us a midday swim was the key to surviving Athens in the Summer. We knew she had given us the best advice based on how hot it still was at midnight. We settled in bed around 2:00 am and decided it was more worth getting a good night’s sleep to enjoy the weekend than to be exploring on empty.
The first stop on our itinerary on Saturday was The Poet Sandal Maker. It’s a family-owned shop that has been making custom leather sandals since the early 1900s. Here, we could have a custom pair of leather sandals to fit the exact dimensions of our foot. They have even made sandals for members of The Beatles! And if it’s good enough for The Beatles, it’s good enough for me. It was only open for a short time on Saturday, so we started our day by buying a new pair of shoes.
The store was small but packed with photos of celebrities who had visited and purchased items over the years. There was room for ten people to sit comfortably, and two seats were available for us. Additional empty seats were available in the back, but these were just for display. The members of The Beatles had sat there! The shopkeeper handed us a catalog to view the different types of sandals. I noticed that everyone in the store was also American and hoped we had not fallen into a tourist trap.
I hummed and hawed over what sandal style to purchase. Many of the types were very Greek-looking, and I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy wearing the shoes outside of Athens. Eventually, I chose a very minimalist option the Socrates number 24. After selecting my sandal, the shopkeeper asked me for my shoe size. He brought over a shoe sole in my size and asked me to stand up to see if it would work. I thought it was a little too small, but he disagreed. I had no option but to trust the expert!
Next, he brought leather pieces over and began attaching them around my foot to the shoe’s sole. It was indeed going to be a custom fit! He did this on both feet to make sure the sandals were snug. After he had the measurements correct and the leather lightly tacked on the sole, it was time to wait.
While waiting, we sat and chatted with some of the other Americans in the store. One was a granddad and grandson traveling throughout Greece for a few weeks. Another group was a couple on their delayed honeymoon, and a third group was a mom and daughters. It was frustrating to hear some of them talk so casually about COVID and not understand what restrictions the majority of Europe had experienced over the past year. Jordan and I shared our story about what life has really been like in France and Europe. They were all shocked and surprised by what we recounted.
After a little while, my shoes were ready for a final fitting. They fit like a glove, or whatever the shoe equivalent phrase is. Fit like a sock? The shopkeeper said I couldn’t wear the shoes for at least twenty-four hours, so we went to drop them at the hotel.
By now, it was just after noon and scorching hot outside. We wore light-colored clothes to try and fend off the heat. Jordan also purchased cooling towels online before our trip to wrap around our necks when we needed to cool down. The Acropolis was our next destination for the weekend, and we slowly walked up the sloping hill to the entry gate. When we arrived at the gate, we were thankful there was no line but soon realized why.
The Acropolis was closed. And also all the other attractions for the day due to the heat. They would be reopening once it cooled down after 5:00 pm. With our planned itinerary shot, we decided to walk around and explore Athens. First, we bought frozen lemonade to help cool off, as the shop by the Acropolis had sold out of the water. Next, we walked up a set of stairs to the top of a rocky face to get a view of the Parthenon and the surrounding city of Athens. I’ll sum up the next hour in photos, as no words are needed.
The weather said it was 105 degrees outside, but even that felt too low. Too hot to continue exploring, we retreated to our hotel. After all, there was a rooftop pool! We changed into our bathing suits and found solace in the water. The water wasn’t cold, but it still felt very refreshing. We enjoyed our afternoon dip for a couple of hours before deciding to venture back out in Athens.
It was 4:30 pm, but we still had not eaten lunch. There was a small restaurant next to our hotel with good reviews we decided to try. I love Greek food, especially gyros with tzatziki sauce, and I could not wait to try some authentic Greek food! We both ordered gyros and split a side of fries. Our gyros were giant, mine packed with shaved lamb, lettuce, tomato, onion, tzatziki sauce and topped with french fries. At the first bite, I knew this was the real deal. I also knew we would not be eating dinner.
Refreshed and recharged, we spent the evening walking around Athens. It was much cooler by now and bearable to be outside. The highlight of the evening turned out to be a surprise: cats. No, not the musical you may be thinking, but stray cats. Athens was full of stray cats wandering around.
At first, it was disappointing they did not have a home to go to, but we saw how well the locals (and tourists) took care of the cats throughout the weekend. Locals set up multiple water bowls and piles of cat food around the city. As for the tourists, the cats who were brave enough to come to the tables enjoyed a restaurant-quality feast. We made sure to give them some of our scraps while in town.
The most disappointing part about Athens were all the people trying to scam you on the streets. While we were eating dinner, our waiter asked us to move Jordan’s camera to a different spot as it would be an easy target for someone to take from the table. Men with friendship bracelets followed us and badgered us to buy them. They threw the bracelet at our feet, waiting for us to pick it up so they could then ask for money. Women with roses walked up to the dinner tables, trying to get Jordan to buy one for me. They attempted to put it in Jordan’s shirt pocket, so they could then ask for money. Now, Athens isn’t the only city where these things happen, but it has been the most aggressive we have experienced.
We planned to get up extremely early on Sunday, as it was our last day to visit the Acropolis and the other sites. We did not want the heat to be a factor, and it would be another scorcher. Luckily, the hotel agreed to check us out after 3:00 pm to shower before leaving for our flight. We knew we had successfully gotten ready early when we were at the first table for breakfast in the morning. We were out the hotel doors before 8:00 am and arrived at the Acropolis shortly after. The gates were still closed, but this time it was not due to heat. We arrived right before they opened!
We successfully beat the heat and the crowd. The gates of the Acropolis opened, and we made our way towards the Parthenon. The paved pathway of the Acropolis wound through the ruins. Along the way, we paused to admire the Theatre of Dionysus, the Auditorium and its still-in-tact seats, the Sanctuary and Asklepios, and more. We didn’t stop too long, though. The heat was coming, and so were the crowds. I took photos of all the plaques to read later as we continued towards the top.
Twenty minutes later, we had made it to the main event. The Parthenon was undergoing a lot of restoration with lots of scaffolding supporting the columns. Previous repairs joined old and new marble together, the colors not quite the same. The top of the Acropolis provided stunning 360-views of the city. It was easy to imagine how grand the Acropolis once looked in its prime.
My favorite part of the Acropolis was the Old Temple of Athena. Ropes blocked us from getting too close, but we could still admire it from afar. The grandeur of the Parthenon was impressive enough, but the intricate details on the Old Temple of Athena were better. Not to mention the fact these pieces are still standing and discernable after being build almost 2600 years ago in 500 B.C.
We spent about an hour at the top of the Acropolis, walking around and admiring the ruins. By then, it was 9:30 am, and the heat was arriving along with the crowds. After a few more minutes of taking it all in, we decided to seek solace in the shade and made our way out of the Acropolis.
Our next stop was the birthplace of democracy, the Agora. It was here this ancient Greek city first developed democracy in the 5th century B.C. Administrative buildings were built around the Agora to serve its council.
At its peak, the Agora was the center of everyday life. The Athenians would go to the Agora for athletic competitions, theatre performances, trials, and political gatherings. The ancient Greeks had a place to vote, a public notice board, and even a registry of names assigned to jury duty. The Agora came to its demise just before 300 A.D., where the Greeks stripped the buildings to provide stone for new city walls. Since preservation efforts had not been in place, it’s all we can do to imagine what could have been in the grassy space.
We walked back down to the city center in search of a snack. Restaurants were trying to bring people inside to enjoy breakfast, but we had eaten ours at least 4 hours ago! Breakfast was not on our mind, but instead a fresh sorbet. We both bought a scoop of a red fruit’s flavor. Ice cream before noon? Don’t mind if we do!
Our final stop of the day was the Library of Hadrian. The ruin was much less crowded than the Acropolis, but I think most people were seeking shade at this hour. Here, we could see how detailed some of the columns were. The marble grain and engraved floral patterns stood out among the piles of marble waiting to be placed in its original location. We also spotted some exposed tile on the ground with swirls and hearts. Now, not much was left.
Before saying goodbye to Athens, we popped in and out of shops, still ignoring the annoying bracelet and flower scammers. We accidentally walked into one store that was only selling phone cases. However, this also happened to be the store that blasted out air conditioning. We may have acted interested in phone cases for a little while to take advantage of the cool air.
After begrudgingly leaving the cell phone case shop, we went into a local art shop. I bought an original watercolor painting of the Old Temple of Athena, my favorite place of the trip. We also went into a local woodworking shop, where they made kitchen utensils and home goods directly from the wood of olive trees. I so desperately wanted to love something in the store, but we ended up walking away empty-handed. But not empty-footed, because I still had my custom sandals!
Would I revisit Athens? Yes, but never in the Summer. The food is enough for me to want to go back, but the heat is enough to keep me away. We were not there long enough for me to get my Greek food fix. Hopefully, the next time I am writing about Greece, we are on vacation at one of the islands!
Enjoy more photos of Athens, Greece below!