Upon our arrival to Athens, we were quickly whisked away to our welcome dinner. My best friend, Aly, and I were the last of the group to arrive so we had to move quickly in order to make it. Jetlagged and feeling gross from traveling for almost 21 hours, we desperately wanted a shower but knew there simply wasn’t time. But as we got closer and closer to dinner and meeting the rest of our group, tired feelings quickly turned to excitement: we were about to start the trip of a lifetime.
Our group’s welcome dinner consisted of traditional Greek food items, Greek-made wine, and a gorgeous sunset view of the backside of the Acropolis. The weather was warm and breezy (a common theme for the next two and a half weeks) and we shared awkward small talk as we got to know the rest of the group we would be traveling with.
Not surprisingly jetlag simply got the best of Aly and me (and everyone else) towards the end of dinner and we decided to call it a night and get a good night’s sleep.
The next morning was spent briefly exploring the center of town, shopping the local tourist shops, and stopping for a quick lunch. If I could give one tip about free time in a new city: don’t be afraid to get a little lost. Make that right, turn down that little alley, and get off the beaten path. You’ll be surprised what you may find.
We found an adorable little restaurant right off a charming alley. It was at the lunch that I was introduced to saganaki, a delicious authentic Greek dish that can be found at just about every restaurant in the country. Saganaki is Greece’s version of fried cheese. If you’re reading this and you’re not a big cheese fan, you may want to skip over this part (although, I must say, you’re weird…and wrong).
Unlike in America, Greece’s saganaki is one large block of square fried cheese, the type depending on the region (sometimes halloumi, sometimes feta). It’s warm, delicious, and frankly, I could easily eat this with every meal…and I usually did.
After lunch we had the opportunity to tour a little more of the city, learn about the history of Athens, and hike up to the Acropolis. If there is any tip I can give you about walking up to the Acropolis it is to wear non slip shoes. Even then, take extra, extra caution when walking. Those ancient Greeks sure loved their marble and granite and the steps are still made up of those surfaces. Translation: so much falling. Everywhere you turned there were people slipping up and down the surfaces on their way to and from the Acropolis. It’s made even more difficult by the fact that much of the surfaces are not even.
Even with the slippery surfaces, the top is worth the walk. The Acropolis is truly a sight to behold and the views of Athens from the top are simply breathtaking.
Following our slippery hike up the Acropolis, we were treated with Lukumades: a tiny delicious donut hole-like pastry, traditionally covered in cinnamon sugar, honey, and topped with ice cream. If you’re looking for the perfect authentic Greek dessert, this is it.
Finally, after an exhausting day, we headed to port to board our overnight to Crete. The ferry trip would total 9 hours and was certainly interesting. Our group was placed into rooms with two sets of bunk beds and full bathrooms, similar to a cruise ship room. Once on board, we quickly realized there are many different types of tickets for this ferry. Enclosed rooms were one ticket type, there were assigned seating areas, open seating areas, and very basic tickets options. Those with the basic ticket were able to lay down on any open space they could find. This meant that any hallway or open area you would walk through, you had to step over people sleeping on yoga mats or in sleeping bags. I was genuinely surprised by this. This is something that would never happen back in the States simply due to safety issues (what happens if we have to evacuate the boat?). I was definitely grateful for a bed that night so that I could really appreciate the next day to its fullest.
See you in the morning, Crete!