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Mystery Trip – Athens And The End

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I arrived in Athens before 7am and tracked down my hostel. It was still dark. I couldn’t check in so I just left some stuff there and went to try and catch the sunrise. There was a cool place looking out on the Acropolis where the Athenian Council used to meet to discuss issues. Very appropriate.

I climbed up on the slick rock and waited. Unfortunately, the sun was rising behind the Acropolis itself, meaning I wouldn’t be able to directly see it crest the mountains around. But when it did I saw this reflected in the hills around and in the buildings and houses. Athens awoke and began to glow. A 5,000 year old tradition here.

After I’d been suitably satisfied that I’d done my duty I headed over to the Acropolis to get a ticket and head in. It was already very crowded with tourists, even at this early hour. So I weaved my way through them up the stairs, waiting sometimes when the hordes blocked my way to listen to the history of this and that god and how Rome and Athens influenced each others’ religions. Yup, covered that in 5th grade (I had a Greek teacher so we got into a lot of that). Next.

Finally I crested the stairs and the Parthenon spread out before us on the mesa-like top. It was awesome and ancient. Good morning to me. It’s difficult to describe because it’s so massive and in such a historical setting. I could almost see Homer sitting on the steps as a boy listening to the stories he would later retell. Or Socrates standing there, holding dialogues with his pupils. Fantastic history.

After that, the rest of the place was unremarkable. I walked down and headed to the hostel for breakfast. The place has a rooftop lounge where you can look at the Acropolis and Parthenon while eating. It’s fantastic!

So only one day in Athens, how can I see and do as much as possible? Take a walking tour. We passed by most of the major sites and got a little history behind them. Hadrian’s Arch. Temple of the Olympian Zeus. The Agora. The current Parliament. National Gardens. Several others. That finished up at noon and I had the rest of the day to explore.

I strolled the shops and cafes and took lunch at a nice Greek place. Souvlaki – the traditional lamb meat on a pita with a tomato. Nice. Strong coffee. Walked along the streets taking in all I could. Saw a couple of other sites which required admission – generously provided by my Acropolis ticket.

There seems to be some scheme here to try to talk travelers into going to a certain bar. I’ve been approached a couple of times by somebody ostensibly asking me the time or some other thing in Greek. Then they say “Oh, sorry. I thought you were Greek!” Then they continue on in excellent English asking where I’m from and telling me some anecdote about having visited Atlanta or having a son living there or something. Then they ask about what you’ve seen and what you’re planning on doing. Then they invite you to their bar. I’ve never gone to see what it’s about, but it’s probably some kind of a scam.

If you are looking for a bar, head over to Brettos. They’ve been in business since 1909, making their own brandy, ouzo, rakomelo (highly recommended) and other liquors. The well-worn marble counters, wooden aging barrels and colorful backlit bottles give the small place quite a lot of charm.  And if you get a bit peckish, just run across the alley and grab a delicious gyro for under 2 Euro.

At night I headed up to the rooftop again to see the Acropolis by moonlight. That’s where I’m sitting now, having breakfast again and getting ready to head out for the airport. It’s a hell of a view and a great way to culminate the gathering of a lifetime of memories.

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Athena And The Fates Intervene

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The Greeks begged me to stay another day here. Technically I guess it was Delta, but the people who asked were Greek. Apparently the flight was over weight so they were looking for people to take the one the next day.

So here’s the package they gave me. $1,000 in Delta credit. I’ll probably be in First Class tomorrow. 1 night at the Sofitel Hotel – a nice place 50 yards from the terminal. And an extra day of travel. How could I say no? So I said yes!

See you Atlantans tomorrow!

Into Greece And Athens

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I caught the train to Thessaloniki at about 5:15 in the afternoon. It was to take around 5 hours to get there. Then I was to take a train to Athens and arrive around 7am.  I caught the first train and was on my way. Hopefully the Eastern European rail system could get me there in time to catch my connection.

Just before the border most of the horde that was on the train got off – students, I’m told. Then it was on to the border where the Greeks came on board, dressed in civilian clothes and asked us all to surrender our passports for them to take off the train. In 10 minutes, they said, we were to come to the Police station to collect them. Quite sketchy. Fortunately I’d read about this being SOP so I wasn’t as suspicious as I’d have been otherwise.

After 10 minutes I had my passport and we were underway again. We got to Thessaloniki pretty much on time. I went down to the ticket office and picked up a ticket for the sleeping car of a night train and went to catch up on my email. It was 10pm and my train left at 11:30 so I had time. After firing off a few emails I was just getting comfortable. That’s when it dawned on me that there’d been a time change. I looked at the time – 11:30.

Pick up my stuff. Put my pack on my back. Run. Platform 1. Platform 2-3. 4-5. 6-7. Up the stairs. Train is still there. Get on board. Heart pounding. Barely made it.

But I suppose Greece is on the Eastern European rail system. We finally departed from the station at around midnight. I made my bed in the six-sleeper compartment and climbed into it. 7 hours to Athens. The long train. Time to get some rest.

The Grand Triangle

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I opened the Mission Pack. It had previously occurred to me that the envelope was a bit small to contain more than one travel book – therefore I assumed I would be staying in Germany. I found that one assumption was right, the other wrong. There was one book. But it covered the whole of Europe.
Also enclosed was a rail timetable, a large map of Europe and a letter.

Into Munich and out of Athens. Two options: Eastern Europe or south, through Italy. I was shockingly close in my previous guesses. The Philadelphian told me I’d have 9 and a half hours to plan the trip. There would be no sleeping for me.

I think I will be going through Eastern Europe, rather than Italy. I can either hug the coast or go deep into the heart of the continent. Either path would be a lot of fun would allow me to see places I’ve long wanted to. It’s going to be a good next couple of weeks.