Riding solo and arrival in Athens
Here we go again, the international terminal of the airport. At country number 24 in 4 years I am no stranger to the process. I started traveling at the age of 21 and haven’t been able to stop. But here it was again, the butterflies in the pit of my stomach, am I really doing this? I couldn’t work out why I was so particularly nervous for this trip. Heading to Greece, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro and wherever else I end up, this is the first time I have actually ventured in to traveling first world countries. I am so excited to meet up with my two best girlfriends for the Croatia leg of the trip, but my time in all the other countries will be on my lonesome. A lot of my travel in the past has been solo, but I was always meeting up with a tour or volunteer program. This is my first time legitimately backpacking it by myself, sure. But I had acutely become aware that here I was a woman, venturing out in to the big wide world without much of a plan and nothing but a backpack. These are things I had never really thought about on previous trips, or I probably had, but the amazing experiences that followed had wiped those memories clean.
But here’s the thing, as soon as I jumped on the plane, all that fear disappeared, because I’m telling you, travelling by yourself feels so good. It is liberating to know that you have to completely rely on your own resources and common sense to get you where you need to be. It’s refreshing and kind to talk to the people next to you on the plane and hear their stories and where they’re headed because you’re not distracted by travel buddies you already know. It’s easy to fall in to the trap of thinking there’s a big scary world out there because there’s no denying there is scary things happening out there. But here’s the secret, there’s also a super beautiful world out there. Millions of women, men, children all doing their thing and trying to live their life just the same as all of us.
This particular journey started out with the hike from Melbourne to Athens, I had a layover in Abu Dabhi, which at the end of the flight resulted in me being the only person able to answer an ‘is there a doctor or nurse on board?’ to help a poor girl having an asthma attack. My last minute nerves about whether it was in fact acceptable to wear a short sleeve tshirt in the UAE melted away as I had to sprint through the airport yelling at people, a lot of whom didn’t speak English to get out of the way so we could get the girl some medical treatment. Thankfully despite all the commotion I was still able to make my connecting flight and she was ok. Then I had a five and a half hour stint to Greece, which was really interesting flying over a lot of the Middle East then over Turkey and Greece’s pristine islands! Then there it was again, the nerves in my tummy, I was off the plane and in Athens by myself, and I can’t speak a word of Greek.
I was initially going to catch an Uber from the airport to my hostel but I decided to both save a bit of money and balls up a bit to catch the metro. I was pretty happy with this decision as it was super easy and packed with other tourists. There were a few dicey characters but they were minding their own business and any major city has that. I came up at the Monastiraki metro station knowing my hostel was close to the main tourist attractions but holy crap, I walked out and straight away there it was, the Acropolis with the Parthenon looming over the city. I was so excited, I was in Greece! I spotted a few other landmarks like street food stalls (my number one spot once I put my bags down), the market and a few other stores and quickly found my hostel. After dropping my bag for fear of falling asleep I was straight back out in to the street for an ATM and something to eat. My hostel manager gave me a quick tip about pickpockets so I shoved my cash and my phone down my leggings and my bra and confidently set off.
The streets of Athens really reminded me of South America with their kind of organised chaos. After spending so much time there that surprisingly put my mind at ease. I was already a pro at crossing roads and dodging people. There is loads of graffiti and heaps of little vendors. I strolled down to the market and brought some fresh fruit and got a date offer with my strawberries, declined the date but asked where I could find the best Gyros, which I was obviously pronouncing wrong since I got directed to a place to change Euros, but find my quintessential Greek gyros I did. I LOVE Greek food and this was everything I needed it to be. Soft warm pita, shaved perfectly tender flavorful meat, lashings of fresh tzatziki, chips and fresh tomato, for 2 Euros! I was in heaven. I sat down and people watched in the square while I devoured my gyro then decided to stop fighting my jet lag and come back to read my book and have a nap. I think I’ll get up early in the morning to tackle the acropolis!
I stuck to my guns, one of the beauties of travelling solo, you don’t have to wait for anyone in the morning ate a quick breaky and set off up the hill towards the Acropolis for its opening at 8. There are two ways to walk up to the Acropolis and either I was at the quiet one or I really just was the early bird. In my whole 20 minute walk once I made it through the main square I only encountered a street vendor and a street sweeper. This made me a little on edge purely for the fact that I was trotting up rambling alleys without another soul in sight. I had also heard very mixed review of Athens and people’s experiences there. But as always I made it there without any hiccups and was happy to find the early bird really does get the worm! I watched the sun finish coming up from a view point with spectacular views of the city before lining up for my ticket to enter the archaeological site. I was pretty excited to see the Acropolis and the Parthenon but what really surpassed my expectations were the views that came with it. I was in Greece!! There were only a few other travellers on the huge site as tour groups were slower than I was and the hoards of people from cruise ships hadn’t made their way up yet. I felt so peaceful, soaked up the sun and became acquainted with my selfie stick, something I haven’t really used before but is really just a solo travellers best friend. I decided to take a no-shame approach. Much as I have with eating dinner or doing activities alone. I was very pleased to have beat the crowds at the Acropolis and I walked back to the hostel and tried to fight the urge to have another gyros at 9 in the morning. I settled for some frozen Greek yoghurt with Pomegranate (a tough sacrifice I know), and got ready for my flight to Santorini. I will be returning to Athens at the end of my trip to fly home an no doubt smash more souvas. For now, see you soon Santorini.