Athens, Greece

Let me paint a picture; I am no true artist, but I still like picking up the paintbrush.

 The city is filled with exotic noises; at times people are honking incessantly, and others, all you hear are the murmurs of gibberish from the outdoor cafes. Athens has been experiencing an economic rollercoaster, but I must say people haven’t stopped experiencing Athens. 

After our first rookie train stop mistake of talking to a complete stranger (an old man with no luggage and loitering nature), who was sketchily trying to help us with directions, I felt completely panicked. Here we were, on our first stop, staring at 5 different train station exits, with no idea of what the symbols on all the signs read. Yes, bursting out of the bubble is nice, but it certainly takes a while to get used to the air. And boy, was I turning purple.

The town was dead. It was gloomy and slow, and being completely lost didn’t exactly help. We slowly paced ourselves down Ermou Street, where the Pella Inn Hotel was located. Five Americans (yes, I have realized I can now call myself that, though it is hard to fit the mold sometimes) walking down a quiet, closed city. At first glance, all I could absorb was the vandalized walls; different colors, different sayings, differing viewpoints.

It helps to see the big panorama. Even in a country where we, strangers, may not be the favorites, there exists the hardship of history’s trajectory. Even across the world, people are still fighting for their basic rights and demand to be heard. The difference? I think people here have more control than their government, in the sense that they are willing to disorderly speak up and it is nearly impossible to silence them.

It was a relief to find ourselves in a safe hostel and in a one-size-fits-all room with 5 beds and a lock ( a commodity that I don’t think we’ll be getting everywhere). Being liberated from my 20lb bag felt like the true moment in which this trip really began. No matter what happened from that moment on, we were in Greece and there was absolutely no turning back– Start breathing the air baby, because this is the real deal .

We ventured to Ghazi that night (it took some convincing to get me out of the room), where I became aware of how alive the place really was. Outdoor seating EVERYWHERE; each restaurant with its own unique atmosphere and invitiation to spend our time and money there.

I must admit, not understanding the language feels very frustrating; it’s like I’ve been invited to play a game on someone else’s turf and I can’t understand the rules. Talk about applying my nonverbal knowledge! I desperately want to soak up their words, their customs, but I feel helpless. However, this part is uncontrollable– I am wearing glasses so I must learn to cope and use them to focus on what I can control– my attempts at playing the game the best that I can.

Let the games begin. We made the classic American decision of attempting a bar crawl. What better way to cover such big grounds in so little time? Millenium, SOHO, Why Sleep*, and Socialista* became pawns in our path, that got tackled by our excitement, naiveness, and adventurous nature. One, two, three, perhaps, four or five drinks later, and we found ourselves on the stage of Socialista, the Greek club (clearly the place where young, vibrant people go to dance to their favorite tunes, and hell, we fit in well).

It is always when you step out of places with crazy sensory stimulation that you realize the effects of alcohol, and our  wonderful wobble home was a true moment of utter happiness; a moment in which we realized how free we really were. Best friends at hand, and the light-up stone path guiding us home. Home to the rooftop in which I’m currently painting.

************************************

Why is Greece in Trouble? 

Over the last ten years, Greece has gone on a debt binge, which has provoked an economic crisis that has seriously endangered the country’s economy, corrupted the government, and unleashed a growing social unrest that is currently threatening Europe’s recovery and the future of the Euro. Fortunately, Greece has been kept afloat by its fellow euro zone countries, which have provided 2 massive bailout packages of about 130 billion dollars.

Greece was living beyond its means even before it joined the euro. After it adopted the single currency, public spending soared.

Public sector wages, for example, rose 50% between 1999 and 2007 – far faster than in other eurozone countries.

And while money flowed out of the government’s coffers, its income was hit by widespread tax evasion. So, after years of overspending, its budget deficit – the difference between spending and income – spiralled out of control.

When the global financial downturn hit, therefore, Greece was ill-prepared to cope.

Debt levels reached the point where the country was no longer able to repay its loans, and was forced to ask for help from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the form of massive loans.

Eurozone crisis explained, BBC News. June 2012

And for those who prefer the quick paced visuals:  Greece

Advertisements

The EuroTrip Basics

Before I start my rambling, or shall I say, poetic descriptions of all the locations I traveled, I figured I would present a visual of the trajectory that my team followed, along with some important facts that may help all of you, potential future backpackers, to plan an amazing trip (though I must admit, only 47.8% of the trip was actually strategically planned).

Below is the map that I now know like the back of my hand:

Locations traveled: 

1. Athens, Greece

2. Mykonos, Greece

3. Roma, Italy

4. Cinque Terre, Italy **

5. Nice, France & Marseille, France

6. Malaga, Spain **

7. Barcelona, Spain

As you can see, we followed the Mediterranean coast the whole way.

Methods of Transportation:

1. Round Trip flight: Air Berlin– One of the most wonderful airlines I have had the pleasure of traveling with.

Flight Cost: $975

2. From Athens–> Mykonos: SeaJets Ferries

3. Athens–>Roma: 2.5 hr flight

4. Roma–> Cinque Terre: Overnight train with sleeper beds (sorta, we had to get off at 4:30am, so I’d hardly consider that over night!)

5. Cinque Terre—> Nice & Marseille: Eurail Trains

6.Marseille—> Malaga: Ryan Air flight

7. Malaga—>Barcelona: 5hr train

Though, it can be encouraged to use the Eurail Passes for most trips, we decided against it, mainly due to some of the long distances we had to travel to cover many areas (i.e. France to Malaga). In the end, transportation costs did not surpass Eurail Passes’ costs by much, and maximized our time in all locations.

The Essentials

Ladies, it can be done! I managed to fit all of my necessities in one backback. Yes, it was a hunky thing that may have been able to fit a middle school child in it, but it was manageable to carry. According to the Air Berlin, I carried 21 pounds of belongings, and probably came back with a couple more. However, I think the perks of only having one bag outweighed the dangerously high number of outfit repeats throughout the trip. Why? Well, mainly because unlike America, people rely on using their feet for transportation, and escalators are a commodity mainly found in underground metros, not the steep coasts of the Mediterranean.

Things NOT to forget

(this is the section where I do my part, and save others from committing my mistakes)

– A light, but hooded sweatshirt

– A small purse to carry all your daytime belongings (I only brought a backback and a wristlet…..fail)

– A blazer to pair with any outfits you go out in

– A multifunctional pocket knife (great for random wine purchases)

– Wrinkle spray ( boys love this stuff)

Things to FORGET:

-Straighteners and blowdryers (no one cares about your hair anyway)

– 20 outfits (just, no)

– Chunky shoes ( girls, one pair of heels if you must, and boys, one pair of boat shoes. And the crucial running/hiking shoes)

THE TRIP:

Began: May 20th

Ended: June 13th

Travelers: 5 ( 3 biddies, 2 males)

First stop: Athens, Grecia.