We decided on Athens – return flights only cost us about 40 euros and it was an option which pleased everyone. Zoe was determined to go somewhere she could eat an entire octopus, Ben wanted something which offered a complete change to Berlin, and the Acropolis really appealed to my love of the ancient world.
As we disembarked the plane, I was immediately happy – it was warm. The sun was shining. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust following the weeks of Berlin clouds and grey.
Even the walk from the train station to our AirBnB was enthralling. On one corner there was an ancient ruin from the 5th century BC, on the other there was a mural protesting borders. The mix of the contemporary and classical was captivating, there was so much to see on every street.
Once we had dropped our bags we went to eat lunch in Plaka, close to where we were staying, and a really cool neighbourhood (although a little touristy) that sits in the shadow of the Acropolis – Zoe ate her first octopus of the trip, I ordered Moussaka, and Ben tried Greek meatballs.
Of the historical sites, we visited the Acropolis, the Archaeological museum, and the Ancient Olympic stadium. We also walked up what felt like a thousand steps to a small church which faced out over the entire city. Going in February meant that we didn’t get the intense sunshine of the summer, but it also meant that there weren’t too many tourists so we could see each wonder and spend our time leisurely, without any rush or busyness. Whilst the weather wasn’t perfect, it was warm enough to sit on the beach for a few hours and go for a swim.
Whilst at the beach, we met a Greek named Alex, who had lived in Boston previously, before missing the Mediterranean too much and returning home to Athens. It was clear to see why it had managed to draw him back – the water was as clear as a spring, and the beaches clean and well-looked after. He recommended to us a day trip to Hydra and although the ferry there ended up being too long and out of budget, we did take a trip to Aegina.
Only an hour ferry, it was one of my favourite days we spent in Greece. The island itself is only small, and not renowned as one of the most beautiful, yet all three of us were charmed by the small boats in the harbour which greeted us as we arrived. We decided to rent a car, fortunately Ben volunteered to drive so I didn’t have to, and explore more of Aegina. In the centre was a beautiful monastery, we were able to look around inside and see more of the remarkable architecture and extravagant art and sculptures that it housed. Then we drove on further, up some winding roads until we reached the temple of Aphea. Whilst at that point we had become unfazed by the ancient temples, this was stunning. It overlooked the island, and you could see the whole coast – as Ben aptly wondered, “I’m not sure which side is more beautiful to look out over”. We ended the day at an inlet, with water as blue as I have ever seen, enclosed by mountains.
Of everything which I loved about Athens, the thing that surprised me most was the vibrancy of the centre. Teeming with young people who swarmed the multitude of quirky cafes and cheap bars, it held an exciting aura of an up and coming city – not yet totally gentrified, it holds an authentic charm that left me desperate to return soon.