So I recognize that most people do not “hop over” to Athens for a weekend. I recognize that I am living in a fantasy land and real people do not get to do this, but I am enjoying feeling like James Bond and shipping off to exotic lands for a long weekend to ride mopeds through the kinds of places you see on those stupid motivational posters. I arrived in Athens in the afternoon last Wednesday and met my friend Jenna later that afternoon. Jenna has been working in Switzerland as an au pair (nanny) this summer so we decided to meet geographically half way to have an adventure together. And an adventure it was. Jenna is the perfect exploring partner. She charms her way into the favors of every local and is always excited to do something just on the right side of the fine line between crazy and stupid. We stayed in Athens with a great host named Konstantinos who we connected with on CouchSurfing.com (anyone wanting to travel without spending a wad or wanting to meet interesting folks from around the world should seriously check this site out). Konstantinos not only gave us a room to stay in, but introduced us to souvlaki, Latin zumba dancing, and all his first rate friends. I’ll come back to them shortly.
The first day Jenna and I took a ferry out to two of the Sarconic islands – only about an hour’s ride from the port. The first was Aggistri which is Greek for fish hook because of its shape. The island was tiny with only one small town – all the buildings blinding white with blue roofs and shutters. It was right out of a postcard. We wandered the island for a bit, ate peaches, and swam in the beautiful water – the same strikingly bright blue color of the town roofs.
We then took the ferry about ten minutes to the neighboring island of Aegina – Aggistri’s big sister. This island had a couple of well-established towns and was much more built up than Aggistri. We decided we wanted to see as much of the island as possible, so after some deliberation we decided to rent wheels. I got a moped and Jenna rocked the 4-wheeler. The scenery around the island was unbelievable. We wound our way through the olive trees, cactuses spilling over the
terraces, and the deafening drone of cicadas hanging heavy in the air which was already thick with the scent of hot pine. We grew drunk on sun and basked in the the surreal tranquility of it all. The pines and the rocky dirt roads were almost beginning to remind me of the Conifer home turf when we turned a corner and came face to face the ancient Greek Temple of Aphea perched on the highest point of the island. We explored the temple and discovered countless other quaint churches scattered among the vineyards before zipping back to the port to grab ice cream and catch the ferry back to Athens. These places like Egypt and Greece blow my mind because they have more history than they know what to do with. Ancient priceless monuments remain scattered everywhere – unguarded and un-glorified, simply waiting to be re-discovered. The oldest thing you’ll find on our property is a basketball we lost down the hill two summers ago.
That night Konstantinos took us to a Latin Dance party with some of his friends where Jenna surprised everyone with how quickly she picked up the dances. At one point Konstantinos’ dance partner classically turned to me and said, “I think this is not the first time Jenna is dancing.” I just laughed.
The next day we had planned to go see an ancient Greek tragedy in the old Theater of Epidavros outside of Athens, but we missed the bus. So after I moped for a little bit we decided to climb Mount Lycabettus in the center of Athens instead for the best view of the Acropolis. We then made our way to the base of the Acropolis for a romantic candlelit dinner on a narrow cobblestone street, a guitar player crooning in the moonlight (I’m not even exaggerating about the guitar player – though I am kidding about the romantic part for those of you scratching your heads). After dinner of Moustraki (Greek eggplant lasagna) we met up with Konstantinos and some of his pals on a rooftop right across from the Acropolis. It looked like you could reach out and touch it from where we were sitting.
The next day we slept in and then went with Konstantinos to a Latin Zumba beach party he had been planning the whole time we were there. We got to meet a big group of his friends – dancer and non – and danced late into the night under cliffs dramatically illuminated by floodlights. We crashed on the beach afterwards and Jenna and I fell asleep as Konstantinos and his friends talked and laughed in Greek (probably about my dance moves).
The next day was my last day and after one last unsuccessful attempt to get into the Acropolis (we got closer every day, but never actually made it inside) I made my way to the airport. Jenna stayed one more night before heading to London to stay with Eric – who I introduced her to after we traveled with him earlier this summer. I had trouble at the airport and missed my flight, but they were able to stick me on another one that left only a few hours later and I was back in Cairo before bedtime.
I came back to a Cairo alive with the festivities of Ramadan. While the nightlife in Cairo is already busy, during Ramadan the streets are buzzing until 2 in the morning or later. Muslims fast during the day for Ramadan as a means of reconnecting to moderation and simplicity, and to be in solidarity with the hungry. They then break the fast after sundown with the افطار (iftaar) meal – which in Egypt often turns into a feast. The idea during Ramadan is that everyone sacrifices together and everyone is fulfilled together, so no one is allowed to go hungry for iftaar dinner. Families that are well off join together and purchase “mercy tables” where anyone is allowed to sit down and enjoy a good iftaar meal. Anyone is welcome at these tables, and while I haven’t sat at one yet I did get the chance to enjoy a great home-cooked iftaar with my friend’s Arabic class. His teacher cooked us traditional iftaar foods and we rented a felucca ride to enjoy the meal on the Nile. Muslim or not, everyone should experience iftaar dinner after a day of fasting from sun up to sundown. I tried fasting a few days this last week (which includes no water) and it is amazing how great food tastes after thinking about it all day. It’s like Thanksgiving on steroids.
I just left today with my travel buddy Jessica to go see Jordan before flying to Spain. We will be staying with our friend Uma in her house in Basque country while in Spain, and then Jessica and I will work our way south across Gibraltar into Morocco and then head east across Algeria into Tunisia. Jessica will be staying for a bit with her friend in Tunis and I will fly out after a couple days to meet up with Abby in Israel. Then it’s back to Cairo to start fall semester with maybe a short trip south to see Luxor and Aswan first. I will probably be offline for most of the next month, but I will try to get on a post a few pictures if I do come across a computer.
Cheers to all – enjoy the last few weeks of your summers!