“I heard this story about a fish. He swims up to this older fish and says, ‘I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.’
‘The ocean?’ says the older fish. ‘That’s what you’re in right now.’
‘This?’ says the young fish. ‘This is water. What I want, is the ocean.’”
If you’re reading this then I’d like to extend my welcome, my congratulations, and my thanks, as it means you’re one of the select few who made it through my Italy post, an entry that was far too long, not nearly long enough, and entirely intended to weed out the weak and non-committal.
November is a rainy month in this part of Europe, though today, Sunday, December 12th, I’m writing from my 5th floor rooftop deck at Filolou 170 in Athens, Greece, where it’s blazing sun and quite warm, warm enough that I’m either going to need put on some sunblock soon, or move to the shaded, Northwest-facing part of the patio, which won’t be so bad since it affords me an unobstructed view of the Acropolis, just a 25 minute walk from my door. I’ve been twice in the past two days, since arriving by bus from Nafplio, and before that the island of Kythira, Nafplio again, Kalambaka, and Igoumenitsa, where I arrived by ferry from Brindisi, Italy, nearly two weeks ago. Of those, only Igoumenitsa and Athens were part of my original itinerary, the ability to change plans on the fly being a glorious part of my traveling solo.
It’s strange to realize that it’s nearly Christmas and the family dog, a former stray (as I am told most of the domesticated dogs in Athens were at one time – not to mention the literal dozens of felines I see every single day), is soaking up the rays alongside me, zonked out on the warm patio. There is holiday music about town, and a Christmas tree and other decorations in Syntagma Square. In the nearby downtown shops, holiday shopping lines extend down to the sides of the buildings, as access is limited due to Covid.
They’re actually quite good about Covid enforcement here, something I hear is waning back home as cases rise, so please be careful. Yesterday I bought a cappuccino and croissant to-go on the way to Mount Lycabettus, but when I left, a steady rain had begun to fall, so I decided to sit at one of the covered patio tables instead. A moment later the proprietor came out to ask for my documentation – even for outdoor seating. It’s not foolproof, and cases are on the rise here as well, but every little bit helps.
Apart from mask requirements and my paper Green Pass (the U.S. is the only country I’ve encountered so far that is not digital), I’ve moved about quite freely, having to fill out Passenger Locator Forms for maybe half the countries I’ve entered, and I haven’t been asked to take a PCR test since Aberdeen. That will get a little more difficult as I go, as next is Istanbul, then Jordan, and then a long run through the African continent. I’ll need a PCR test to board my plane on Wednesday.
Not every day is warm and sunny, as the opening picture from atop Mount Lycabettus can attest. It was actually blowing gale force winds yesterday, with pelting, sideways rain, and it was also quite raw (they actually closed the National Park in central Athens due to the severe weather warnings). Not the best day to climb to the highest point in Athens for a panoramic view of the city below, but then, I figured, any shmoe can snap photos from there on a picturesque, sunny, blue sky day (borrrrinnnng), but only a select few idiots would hike up to do it during a severe weather warning – and when it comes to doing something idiotic, well, I’m your man. I wanted to see the world, and seeing it at both its best and worst is part of it, though wind and rain can hardly be called its worst. After all, y’know what happens after you’re soaked through with rain? Eventually you just dry off.
The Parthenon and Acropolis are everything you’ve seen and heard and read about. What is most stunning to me were those who laid waste to it. The Persians did the first significant damage. Even though the Parthenon was a temple to gods the Persians did not worship, and even though Athena herself was honored there, in part, for having protected the Greeks in prior wars, the act of destroying these outsized masterpieces of art, tying ropes to the statues and pulling them to the ground where they were smashed to pieces, I cannot fathom there wasn’t some tinge of sadness and regret in the hearts of at least some of these hardened warriors, for even Sophocles served as a General in the Athenian military, so I imagine men of similar creative intellect served in others.
Beneath the Acropolis Museum there is an entire excavated portion of the city that existed at the base of the Acropolis itself. After its discovery and incredibly meticulous excavation, it was completely filled back in with crushed stone in order to protect it during the construction of the museum, which was built upon enormous concrete pilings, the base of the museum’s foundation beginning 30 feet or so above the excavation site. Visitors can walk upon open air catwalks above the foundations of the ancient homes and beneath the museum, exposed and yet protected from the elements. It’s a masterpiece of archaeology and engineering it itself.
Speaking of engineering. As far as AirBnB’s go, this one may be the best yet. I’m on the third floor of the home of Leftheria, Victoria, and their daughter, Eleftheria, a student who is studying Turkish politics and preparing to become an Athens tour guide. They are all wonderful and personable and kind, eager to talk and tell stories and offer any help I might need.
The building was built by Eleftheria’s grandfather in the 1950s, and was the first of its kind to have an elevator, though it’s narrow enough that I had to spin around and back into it when I arrived with my gear. I imagine that her grandfather never envisioned some chucklehead from Rhode Island showing up one day wearing both a backpack and a frontpack. The building is five stories with two levels of roof decks, compete with lounge and covered dining area, a laundry room and more. I look out at other decks and patios from this and my own apartment patio, and occasionally get to watch my neighbors watching the pasty white interloper turn red in the sun’s rays.
Leftheria is a painter and sculptor and owns a hoardy art and antiques shop on the ground floor, its front door next to ours. Much of it is filled with religious art, the walls completely covered with hundreds of overlapping framed paintings. He gave me a tour of it yesterday, excitedly pointing out the differences in the eras of painting styles. Some of his original paintings are in my apartment, which has five rooms, three of which have beds. A full kitchen, full bath, and a balcony that is accessible by three of the rooms. All for 35 euro per night. The street has bakeries and sweets shops, cheese shops, wine, markets, barber shop, laundry, everything I could possibly need, which isn’t much these days.
I keep hearing about the “bad areas” of Athens and have been told by some I’ve met not to take my eyes off my things because “you know, it’s Greece,” but while I am sure they exist, I have personally seen nothing of them yet. That said, there’s a woman from Singapore next door to me, here for a month. We haven’t met, but apparently she came from another neighborhood where she told Leftheria she felt unsafe. A gentleman from England is here with his daughter in a unit below. This is a return trip for him.
I’ll miss being away from family and friends this holiday, and will admit that on a couple of occasions the holiday music here has made me a bit verklempt, but I don’t miss the stress. Even for a single guy with no kids I find the social and shopping part of the holiday a little more than overwhelming. There will also be no Doddcard this year. It won’t be the first time, but it does gnaw at me a bit – I’d contemplated doing one way back in July and prepping it for mail while I was away, but time got away from me, as it usually does. Besides, I work best around December 10th, when I’m in full-on panic mode, and the insanity of the season helps with the creative absurdity. A card made in July would have ended up being cute and sweet and adorable, all of the things I hate in greeting cards. I’ll make up for it next year, with a vengeance.