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The First Leg: Athens

When people think of Greece their immediate thought goes to mythology and the culture which surrounds it. Within that culture is embedded an unbelievable amount of history and tradition. Although we arrived later than intended, we were determined to make the most out of the time that remained of our first day. We headed to the Acropolis Museum (for which we got into for free with our student ID’s!) and explored the various floors of artifacts, statues and history. Having not studied mythology since the 9th grade, the refresher of Greek Gods and information about Athens past was extremely interesting and useful-especially when we ended up going to the Acropolis the following day. Knowing we had a lot to pack into the next day, the night consisted of dinner, an ice cream stop and bed.

The following morning we got up and started to head to the Acropolis Museum to join in on a free tour which would be departing from there. I’m not sure if I mentioned this yet, but I don’t always have the best sense of direction and unfortunately this characteristic proved itself true as I tried to get us to the museum only to head us off of the path we had taken the night before- in my defense the streets can start to all look the same and seeing them during the evening is way different than during the day! Anyway, we continued to walk knowing we would be late but hoping to still catch the group. Luckily as we finally reached the street of the museum, a man with a group of others asked if we were looking for him-thankfully it was George, the tour guide we had been desperately hoping would take his time leaving the initial site. I breathed a huge sigh of relief that although I had messed up we were still able to make it.

George took us all around Athens for about 4 hours. He was a Greece native who had lived in Australia, so he was able to provide the tour in English and was a serious wealth of information. We saw everything from Monastiraki square, changing of the guards ceremony, the first modern Olympics stadium (which occurred in 1896 for you history buffs) and all other historic sites in between. Besides learning tons about Athens we also began to talk to other tourists on the tour including a couple in their 50’s, a young couple from Canada who was staying at our same hostel and a family with two young boys who were originally from the US but had moved to the UK 3 years prior for the husbands job. As we began to exchange future travel plans and stories of how we ended up there, I realized how spectacular this tour was in more ways then one. In fact, I asked the husband for information about the pharmaceutical company he works for and he informed me that they do summer internships giving me his email for future reference (UK round 2 summer 2k15? Sounds good to me! Haha). After the tour we headed to the Acropolis, an Athens must, and explored the area.

With our cameras about to die from the insane amount of use they saw that day, we headed back to the hostel to charge. While the batteries rejuvenated, we went to explore the flea market near Monastiraki Square. As we checked out the various shops and continued down the strip we stopped at a shop to check out some scarves, which I had been on a hunt for since our arrival. As we began to talk with the shop owner and I was again impressed by the clarity of his English I couldn’t help but ask where he was from. When he responded Greece I initially thought, “Elise you should probably stop asking that question and just accept that the Greeks speak incredible English.” Luckily he then continued to say that he had studied for 12 years in Michigan to receive his doctorate and was a knee surgeon. I then told him I was from Wisconsin and he responded with the fact that he had ferried to Wisconsin from Michigan multiple times. I then paused having a realization and had to ask if he had taken the car-ferry into a town which was my hometown. When he said yes I just about died. What are the odds that I would meet someone in Greece who had been to my little no-name town of 35,000?

We continued to talk with him for the next 45 minutes to hear stories of his past, how he worked in the US and was called back to Greece to fight in the war with Syria, about an Alabama girl he had fallen in love while in the states and the corruption of the medical field in Greece that forced him to drop his practice and only continue practicing through an organization called doctor without borders. As we talked and he told us his stories you could see a history in his eyes, a pain we would never know ourselves and experiences one can only live through to truly understand. Yet between all the pain and difficulties his optimism persevered as he’s smiled and embraced his past as the point that had gotten him to that day. And at that moment I knew I would be buying scarves from his shop because, although slightly more expensive than others, they came with a story; something worth way more than the few extra dollars I would be spending. One thing he said has stuck with me went along the lines of, “The best thing someone can do is travel and see the world. If that means you don’t have food for money don’t eat, because the things you will experience and observe will make you realize both the wonders and tragedies present in this world and give you an appreciation and understanding unlike any other.”

After that experience we went on to climb this huge hill to the highest point in the city to catch a glimpse of all the pieces to Athens puzzle put together: the sea, historical monuments, mountains and the sky high apartments and buildings. It was easily worth the trek and is something I would recommend for everyone visiting to see. Afterwords we went to a restaurant called Smile that the family from the tour had recommended to us. We began talking with the owner, Connie, who was born in Greece and grew up in a suburb of Chicago but came back to Greece, met her husband and the rest was history. I couldn’t help but laugh when she told me she used to drive her mom up every few weeks to Wisconsin to stock up on cheese. I was awestruck by the fact that I had yet another person in Greece to remind me of home. Seriously though, what are the odds?

In all honesty I had been waiting for an experience like this throughout my trip abroad. I have a friend who had a life changing experience in Morocco and in all honesty I was jealous (in one of the best ways possible though!) for the outlook she gained from her time there. Ever since reading her blog and talking to her about the experience I continued to hope that I would be fortunate enough to receive one of those moments myself. Without a doubt Athens did that for me, and it went above and beyond my wildest dreams. Meeting Jamiz in the airport, the family on the tour, Stratos in the shop and Connie in the restaurant I realized that it is impossible to seek these moments- let fate take the wheel, and see the crazy adventure you end up on.

Although Athens was less than 48 hours, it was one of the most incredible and eye opening experiences I could have asked for. Now onto the next leg – Mykonos!

Until next time,
Elise

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