A Journey to the Navel of the Earth (and Other Adventures in and around Athens, Greece)

“Looking back to all that has occurred to me since that eventful day, I am scarcely able to believe in the reality of my adventures. They were truly so wonderful that even now I am bewildered when I think of them.”

DSC_0083Thus begins Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth. It also describes my adventures in Greece (and hopefully the remainder of my travels as well!). The last few days have been hectic and wonderful, starting with the ever interesting public transit adventures. After about 24 hours of travel to get to Athens, I hopped on a metro train to get to the center of Athens. The journey itself was awesome, as it gave me a chance to take in the beautiful Greek countryside on the roughly 40 minute trip through olive groves to metropolitan Athens. I stepped off the train to transfer to the line that runs close by my hotel, and must have looked puzzled trying to decipher the Greek signs because immediately a spy, nearly toothless elderly man popped up out of nowhere and asked where I was going. He proceeded to get me on the correct train and then walk me to my hotel, all the while telling me about how San Diego girls are his favorite in the world and making adamant attempts to convince me to cancel my hotel reservation to stay at his apartment.

The next morning, after some sleep and a hearty breakfast, I caught a tour the Delphi, the residence of the DSC_0058god Apollo and the site of the belly button of the earth. How does one determine where the earth’s belly button is? Well, apparently Zeus was bored one day and decided to try to figure it out (as an immortal, he has all the time in the world answer these very important questions). Myth has it that Zeus threw a large stone, and decided that wherever it landed must be the earth’s belly button, and it landed at Delphi. Delphi is about two and half hours north of Athens in the heart of Greece, and is the place where the oracles of the temple of Apollo gave predictions of future events in exchange for gifts. Although the temple itself and many of the artifacts have been destroyed or damaged over the course of various wars and invasions, the artifacts remaining are amazing to behold. My personal favorites included the carved sphinx and the fact that the Greek word for baby also means moron (according to the guide, Ancient Greeks thought of children as tiny, inferior, stupid humans, hence why there are almost never statues, painting, or other works of their likenesses. I find this amusing). I also had a good chuckle at the gift giving process in return for advice. In order to honor the good advice given by the gods, people seeking oracles had to provide extravagant gifts, which also served as a kind of status marker. One leader who wanted to impress upon the gods and his neighbors the importance of his oracle gifted twelve statues to the god, which lined the pathway to the alter. The next leader could not remove the gift of his predecessor, so he decided to gift 22 statues. The next leader didn’t know how he could top it, so he made fewer statues, but made sure to have them on both sides of the path to ensure notice of his gift upon a visit to the oracle.

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DSC_0378After visiting the smallest stadium in Greece and marveling over the inscriptions which can still be read on some of the stones, we made our way back to Athens through sleepy Cliffside villages and forest fires, as it were. After a quick shower, a friend of a friend, Chris, and I met up to explore Athens together. Chris’s family is from greece, and it was so awesome to see the city through the eyes of someone who knew where to go and what to do. His cousin recently opened up a bar called Indigo just outside the city center, so we went there and (thoroughly) enjoyed some amazing live music and ridiculously taste drinks over conversation about the Greek economic crisis. We then journeyed to a rooftop bar in the city center with absolutely stunning views of the Parthenon and various other landmarks. I can safely say this was my favorite night out drinking of all time.

The next morning, I was up again at seven AM to hop on a tour to the Acropolis of Athens. It turned out that DSC_0199half the city of Athens also decided this was a good plan, for when we arrived at the archaeological site there were quite literally thousands of people in line to hike up the hill to see the ancient monuments. Our tour guide decided to take a break in the shade of an olive tree to give us a lesson in the history of the area, which turned out to be 45 minutes long. We were all getting antsy, watching hundreds of tourists streaming past us and trying to pay attention (the only part I remember is the myth of how Athena became the patron goddess of Athens: Athenian like olives more than horses). As soon as we were released by our guide to hike up, my new friend Morgan and I beat it up to the top, swimming like salmon upstream against the crowds. We’re only given about 20 minutes to see the monuments if we wanted to make it back to the bus on time, so we hurried through and made it back just in time. Others were not so lucky, and were left behind.

DSC_0227We then had a guided tour of the new Acropolis museum. Morgan and I left our guide in favor of a self guided tour through the museum (she didn’t want people wandering off, but she wasn’t actually allowing us to look at most of the artifacts). We enjoyed ourselves, marveling at how none of the figures had intact noses. We met back up with our group just as the guide was wrapping up the tour on the fourth floor of the museum, and started to follow her down to get back on the bus. Somewhere along the way, we lost her, and somehow, she made it out of the museum and back to the bus without us. Luckily, we were able to contact the tour company, and we met up with the bus about an hour later to retrieve our things.

The rest of the day was less eventful: Chris and I went out again, I met more of his cousins, other Greeks, some Sweeds, and fellow Californians. Our plan was the meet centrally and wait for a few others to come in from the airport then head to the beach clubs, but by about 1:30 I was ready to hit the hay. Pooped, I made my way back to the hotel, and picked up my adventures on the morning with a trip to the library (housed in a gorgeous neo-classical style building) and DSC_0413then to the Temple of Zeus. Chris, Doug, Dylan, and I all met up afterwards to visit the archaeological museum. I have two reread about my time in Greece: not making it to an island, and not visiting the archaeological museum sooner. It was an absolutely incredible collection of artifacts from as far back as the neolithic period and representing cultures from all over Greece. We spent as much time as possible in the museum, but eventually we had to leave, reluctantly, so I didn’t miss my flight. Chris loaded me onto a bus to the airport, and now I’m sitting in a hotel room with one of my group mates, journaling about our experiences after an evening of Hungarian food and strawberry beer. But that’s a story for another day.

Love from Budapest, T

PS: I am writing these posts as I go, but am only able to publish every so often due to technology issues with my phone not being able to upload pictures to the WordPress site.  I’ll be posting as often as I can, so be ready for barrages of typo-ridden posts all at once. Ciao!

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