First Days in Athens

September 19, 2015

Getting the Hilton HHonors Citicard was one of the best decisions I made prior to Greece. Two free weekend nights to spend at any of their hotels around the world, and me with a flexible schedule and no place to stay in Athens. Everything worked out swimmingly: just a simple 8-euro metro ride to Evangelismos, and I found myself in the lobby of a lavish 4-star hotel.

Acropolis, Athens

After my experience at the Park Hyatt in Paris (which may have been unique, I will admit), I have to say I prefer 4-star hotels over 5-star ones. Not only are their doors open to more people in different income brackets, making me feel comfortable walking to my room in shorts and a t-shirt, but even the staff are less attentive (in a good way), making me feel like I’m a part of the crowd and not an integral member. No one is watching my every move or catering to my every whim.

Hilton, Athens

I don’t really care to stand out when I’m abroad. I’m sure this is ironic since most of my readers know how much I loved my time in Japan, a country that excels at making foreign residents feel like outsiders. But being there gives me something to which I can strive; if I stand out with my language skills, I can improve them. With my behavior, I can alter it. This extends well beyond Japan: I see no reason to call attention to myself in another country, even if that means accepting a higher price in a restaurant or avoid complaining about an injustice (I’ll save that for this blog).

I was spared that indignity for most of this trip, as Athens is a large international city. I may not look Greek, but that’s no reason people couldn’t have assumed I didn’t belong. I didn’t care so much about looking like a typical tourist with his iPhone out snapping pictures of the Temple of Athena at sunrise. Immersing myself in a foreign environment after 4-5 months in the US was a breath of fresh air, and I hadn’t realized it until I was on the ground and forced to think on my feet.

I kept my schedule open after two days in Athens so I could see if any Couchsurfers might offer up suggestions or even join me to Marathon or Sparta; part of me wants to just go there and scream “THIS IS… SPARTA!” in the middle of the modern city, though I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first. In reality, I found a Polish couple who were willing to rent a car and drive around Peloponnese.

I hadn’t planned on traveling with other people on this trip. Although I think I’m past my days of solo travel, I enjoyed some quiet time in hotels for the first few days of this trip to just reflect. The last three months in Seattle, I’ve gained 5-10 kg, reduced my weekly mileage, and overall just found new ways to waste time rather than pushing myself to learn a new language or explore other opportunities, work or otherwise. Like a frog boiling for another’s consumption, I failed to notice just how complacent I was getting. I wouldn’t say my perspective changed immediately after I stepped on that plane, but I began to remember in Athens. Just as a former athlete rediscovers his agility and strength, so too did I see what I could be if I stepped outside my routine.

So, to Peloponnese. My new Polish friends and I started in Corinth to see the canal constructed between the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf at the end of the 19th century. A bit of a tourist trap for those doing similar trips out west, the canal also offers bungee jumping for 60 euros.

Corinth Canal

My companions were particularly interested in taking a train from the coast inline to a small little village called Kalavryta. However, the timing on this trip left much to be desired; we were able to board without any reservations, but had to turn around at the top within ten minutes to catch the last train back. All in all, the sights were nice, but not worth the time or money.

Train to Kalavryta

The night ended with me almost passing out from sun exposure, hunger, and fatigue as we approached Patras. Although my travel companions told me they had done the research on accommodation and transportation, we all found the Patras Hostel a little cheap for our taste.

Patras Hostel

Herein is where I started to see the difference between myself and these Couchsurfers. Though I still consider myself a budget traveler, I’m starting to see the value and peace of mind in having accommodations arranged, even if a schedule isn’t quite set. I tried to explain how I cashed in my hotel points for free nights at the Hilton, but they still acted like we were on two different levels. Perhaps we are. I can still be in the mood to hitchhike, backpack, and crash in hostels, but when I have better options available to me at little-to-no additional cost or risk, why not take advantage?

American football was the furthest thing from my mind as I sat on the porch the next morning and tried to reflect on the trip thus far. Fate, it seems, has a funny sense of humour, tossing a man from Colorado into my path. I wouldn’t say he’s the most annoying person I’ve ever met in my travels, because we were only together for ten minutes, but he definitely personified some of the worst qualities I’ve seen in travelers. Loudly going on about the details of the Broncos game the night prior to the unfortunate Greek person sitting next to him and using all the English-specific words (e.g. touchdown, quarterback, etc), he didn’t receive much of a response.

I still wonder what prompts some English speakers to simply badger others in a language they clearly don’t understand. Maybe he noticed, and turned his attention to me. Upon learning I was from Texas, he launched into another diatribe on the Longhorns and Cowboys and found it unbelievable I couldn’t have cared in the slightest what was going on 10,000 kilometers away as I was soaking in the sights of the Aegean Sea. Instead of changing the subject, he doubled down on football, making it painfully obvious this was what the subject of our one-sided conversation was going to be: not Greece, not travel, not even our recent experiences in Peloponnese.

After that joyous encounter and a quick breakfast downtown, I started to be a little uncomfortable with my Polish companions. We had all talked about staying on the peninsula two nights and stopping in Mycenae and Olympia: my suggestions for the second day. However, with a late start on both days, Mycenae proved impossible, and I felt like I had to arrange my own place to sleep in Athens so their schedule the next day could be accommodated. It’s possible I was exuding some arrogant vibes towards the end of the night, as I really wanted to stay on the peninsula and wasn’t at all happy to just dine in Tripoli and use my 25,000 IHG points for a late stay in Athens. But… travel is travel. There will always be some hiccups.

Next, to Izmir and Pamukkale. My first time to Turkey. Hopefully immigration won’t mistake me for a purple unicorn.

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