Sometimes the best trips are the ones done in the spur of the moment, with adrenaline, excitement, and a tremor of impatience dancing through your mind. It’s a heady mix that has you rushing from one website to another, calling up friends and getting them to share in your enthusiasm, until you have a car full of friends and family and you’re on your way. That was how I made it to Athens on a Labor Day long weekend–which in Romania happens in spring, with May 1st being the actual holiday.
Traditionally, it’s a holiday spent somewhere at the seaside. Or that was the most popular way of spending it when I was in high school. I wasn’t allowed to go, as the idea of a few nights of drinking and parties on the seashore didn’t make my mom feel very confident in my safe return home. Ironically, my mom was there when I first experienced a beach on Labor Day weekend, and it wasn’t what either of us had imagined.
How we ended up going all the way to Greece? I just had a hunch and did a few searches. It helps to try out different destinations when you decide on a trip a couple of days before your departure. It turned out it was cheaper to spend two nights in Athens than on the Romanian seaside. Not a big surprise as the entire country flocks to the Black Sea on Labor Day and it’s the one time when hotels in the area can make money off season. We estimated gas, food, and visiting expense as accurately as we could, and it was still cheaper. Also, a lot more enticing than the same old Black Sea resorts which we’d all visited numerous times.
Road Trip from Bucharest to Athens
My mom, my roommate, and my boyfriend at the time all went with me. I knew Mom had wanted to go as much as me, as we’d shared a passion for Ancient Greece and their gods and myths. So we packed the car and ourselves–yes, four people and luggage in my tiny Peugeot 107–and drove from Bucharest, through Bulgaria, via Sofia, all the way to Athens. As it happens when you’re the only driver and tired AF, there were roadworks all the way from the Greek border to Athens. It was tons of fun! And about twenty hour long.
Fun fact, GPS was still relatively new at this time. It was also expensive enough that I hadn’t gotten one yet. So we used plain old maps to get to Athens. As you can imagine, it took a bit to find the hotel after getting to the Greek Capital. But we found it, eventually.
When we finally got to the hotel, it looked as I would have expected. Cheap and comfortable. The best things about it were that it was low priced, it was three stops away from the city center, and they had these cool, soft sheets that are the best I’ve enjoyed to date. All that had to compensate for our next day discovery – it being cheap and in a business-like area meant the hotel was used (especially at lunch time) by lovers who would rent a room for a couple of hours. Yup, that was fun! And I am still denial about some of those women being professionals.
Our first and greatest discovery was however made the very night of our arrival, during dinner – Mythos is a great local beer and it’s okay to have it with every meal (except breakfast) while in Athens. Honestly, I always try local beer or beverages when I travel. I’ve never regretted not playing it safe, and it’s a great way to discover authentic flavors. Besides, ouzo was a no-no for me, as hard liquor is not something I can drink, no matter how much I try. So it had to be local beer…
Day One – Old Royal Palace, the National Archaeological Museum, and more
We had an early start the next day (it was a Saturday), with a simple but tasty breakfast, and a bus ride into town. Silviana, my roommate, tried to ask for directions in the bus, which lead to a bit of a misunderstanding. It took me a few minutes to realize the nod I thought meant ‘yes’, was the sign for ‘no’, similar to that in Turkey or Bulgaria. We had a laugh, spotted the Old Royal Palace from the bus, and decided we had reached our destination.
We started with an aimless walk around the city center, admiring buildings and gawking at absolutely everything. It was a hot day, way hotter than Romania had been when we’d left. I don’t usually wear glasses till summer hits, but the sun was so bright, the shades stayed on almost all the time. As we were making our way with no real direction down one street, I found something truly marvelous. An empty pedestal, just perfect for when they’ll erect my statue! Not sure why I’d get a statue in Athens, but I found a spot for it just the same!
The next stop was the National Archaeological Museum which we just happened to stumble upon. We went in and there went a few hours of our lives! The art, from engravings to statues and jewelry is just too beautiful to ignore. And for a taste of the modern arts, we were treated to the mesmerizing statues in front of the museum.
What totally surprised me was the large number of young artists sitting everywhere on the floors of the museum, sketching old masterpieces. It looked so cool and for a moment, I wished I had the skills to join them. Alas, I had to comfort myself with looking at more urns, pots, sculptures, paintings, and everything else dug up from the many ancient sites within Athens and the entire Greece.
Before we left, I had to take another moment and enjoy the statues outside. The art was a bit of an excuse, the truth was we needed to sit down for a while before walking some more.
When we were sufficiently rested, we made our way back to where we had started. We had seen a pedestrian area filled with restaurants and we thought it would be a great place to enjoy lunch at a terrace outside. Which we did, after saying hi to a statue of Athena (who has always been my favorite goddess). Of course, more Mythos happened during lunch.
After our lunch, we went ahead and explored the nearby temples. Zeus and Apollo’s once glorious temples are barely standing today. Yet walking by those tall, beautiful columns never fails to make you feel in awe. And super short!
We returned to our hotel to change and had dinner somewhere nearby. We were knackered and had a big day to look forward to, so we went to bed pretty early.
Day Two – Acropolis, Sunset at the Beach, and more Mythos
The second day started with great plans. It was the day we were going to climb up to see the Acropolis! We took the same bus to the same stop, and then used some small tourist maps to find our way to Acropolis. On our way there, we were treated to narrow, ascending streets, and gorgeous street art.
Sadly, as we were walking by random olive trees and slowly making our way up, Mom said she’d wait for us there. She managed a glimpse to the Parthenon, but the ascent was too difficult for her back issues. I felt bad about leaving her there, but she insisted. One of them had to make it up there!
On our way up, we made our way past the Theatre of Dionysus, which really isn’t that impressive at first glance. That is until you think they used to have a thriving culture here while other parts of the world were barely able to clothe and feed themselves.
Close to the Theatre of Dionysus is one of my favorite sites from this ascent – the Herodeon or Odeon of Herodes Atticus. It’s a lot more well-preserved and it its position is so impressive and awe inspiring!
It took us a good hour to climb all the way to the top. It might have been slightly more, or even less, but I couldn’t really tell. I was too busy admiring everything and occasionally picking my jaw off the ground. Yet nothing had prepared me for how delighted and dwarfed I’d feel once we made it all the way up. The Parthenon, the Caryatides at the Erechtheum, the Acropolis museum… I was in a permanent daze all the while.
I honestly never wanted to leave, but we had to make our way back. We met my mom and showed her all the pictures we’d taken. We then walked back to the city center, trying to find a place where to eat. We got the obligatory olive oil to take home, along with some magnets and other trinkets. We got those from a small shop where the owner was collecting money from all the countries his customers came from. He had most Romanian bills, so we left some coins for them.
After a much needed meal, and a slow walk through the park next to the Old Royal Palace, we took the tram to the beach. I had no idea what beach it was, I just saw there was one near a tram stop. We enjoyed a lovely sunset and a bit of moonlight before heading back to the hotel.
Leaving Athens – Harder Than You Think!
Leaving Athens was a nightmare. And almost impossible! And while I was sad to go, that wasn’t what made it hard. See, we’d enjoyed Friday evening through Sunday in Athens, and we were supposed to leave on Monday (as we had to be at work on Tuesday). Can you guess? Monday WAS Labor Day. Which is celebrated in Greece too, so traffic was… well, it gave Bucharest a good run for the money.
We did manage to make it out of the city eventually, but it was late, we were already a bit cranky and annoyed. It took longer to drive back home, about 27 hours, but in the end it was all worth it.
I’d come to Athens on a whim, with a small twinge in my heart. See, I’d had friends (one of them was at the time studying to become an architect) visit Athens before me. Their reaction was good, but more in the lines of “meh.” They’d found it boring to see old rock after old rock. Plus, a life time of hype about how gorgeous Athens was, and all those Greek myths we’d all read growing up made it hard not to feel a bit let down.
Not for me though! I couldn’t help being mesmerized by this beautiful city. Athens was everything I hoped it would be and more! That said, who wants to go? I might just tag along…
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