My trip started on Sep. 1; I flew from Miami to JFK airport in NY with no issues, having filed the VerIFLY app designed for European travel, and with easy access to my gate with the TSA number. I was exempt from taking a Covid test, having been already vaccinated.
This was my first trip overseas since the Covid Virus restriction, and I found out on the day of my departure that I would have to take a Covid test an be negative in order to return to the US, this brought slight anxiety but I trusted I would be ok even if I would have to extend my stay for additional fourteen days under quarantine in my Athens hotel.
This is an important issue to explore before arranging trips overseas.
The Covid issue can be nerve racking, even if vaccinated. I was told it was due to the new string of the virus, which has made the vaccine safety void under the US requirements. I was told by American Airlines that vaccinated individuals can get newer stings of Covid, so vaccinating does not ensure safety for oneself or others.
Every company has its own requirements; including airlines and customs authorities; it is smart to check on the requirements of the country you are visiting, plus the requirements to return to the US.
ARRIVING IN ATHENS
My flight and connection to my destination in Athens went smoothly; I was required to present the travel destination form for Greece at customs on arrival. I had saved these documents in my mobile and also carried paper copies which I found were needed when entering Greece.
I picked up my suitcase and met my driver at the gate. I find it always smart to have a service waiting for me, especially in a foreign country.
I arrived in the morning and after the normal airport delays and trip to the hotel, I arrived at my destination. Highways and streets on our way to Athens were clean and well maintained, the roads and the sunny day also reminded me of Miami, and I felt at home right away,
My hotel In(n)Athens was super special, located in the city center and close to all the major tourist sites; clean streets and high end accommodations; service was excellent and there were no special requirements to check in, having arranged for all contingencies when I booked my trip. I had a pre-paid stay that included breakfast, an important factor for me, in order to have coffee ready in the morning.
I settled in and addressed the activities I had arranged for my first day; the Electric Bike Tour I had chosen for the afternoon was within fifteen minutes walking distance, using Google maps.
I showered, had time to meditate and had a short rest before I headed out. The bike activity was an excellent idea and I would recommend it to anyone visiting, if children are not involved. One of the young teens in our small group had an accident but kept riding, even though her lesion looked painful, and we completed the tour of all the major sites in the city on time.
Having the guide in this three-hour tour around the city saved me lots of time deciding on my next choices of activities for the following days.
On my way back to the hotel I slowly started to acclimatize and ventured into a spa that offered a foot treatment where these small fish eat the dead skin upon submerging your feet into a tub filled with water and hundreds of little fish that literally attacked my feet. It was not painful, but I had the sensation of my feet being sort of brushed, there was no other way to describe the ticklish effect. I got used to it and soon I was oblivious to the fish, and enjoyed the experience.
The owner was friendly and we chatted for a few minutes before I headed out feeling brave and accomplished.
Not too far up the small street, that was very busy with people walking and occasional cars that squeezed by the walking traffic, I found Eat by Milton's, a modern restaurant with white tablecloths and outside seating that offered a continental menu with a combination of local seafood, Italian entrees, and French desserts. I sat and was comfortable right away.
I ordered octopus on a bed of fava cream; a linguini with white clam sauce, and Pavlova for dessert. There was attention to ingredients and all my choices tasted delicious. I left happy and made a mental note to return to this place in case I would not find similar restaurants
The streets in Athens are similar to those found in other ancient towns throughout Europe, mostly narrow with small sidewalks where one stands to avoids the passing cars, and then jump back onto the stone road to continue on to one's destination. This was familiar and I found myself promptly assimilating the city, all within a few hours of my arrival, and allowed myself to get lost as I walked through the narrow streets.
DAY 2 DELPHI
I had reserved a tour of the Oracle at Delphi; one of my favorite readings in the past was Homer’s Odyssey, and Delphi called my attention for a day tour. We traveled in a luxury bus that took us through the mountains in a two-hour journey, as we received pertinent information on special spots along the way, from the guide that accompanied the group.
The ruins at Delphi are few and scattered, the land almost barren, I had hoped to find a spiritual energy center but I was left feeling disconnected to the land and the site; the memories of the stories associated with Delphi had always been interesting to me.
At the top of the hill where Delphi sits is the stadium (5th Century B.C) where the Pythian and Panhellenic games for athletic events were held, as well as music festivals; after a reconstruction by Herodus Atticus in the second century A.C. The stadium sat 6500 people. I learned that Greeks celebrated fitness; hence the Olympic games centuries later celebrated in Athens starting in 1896.
The guide provided stories on how the oracles, women that served Apollo and Athena responded to the questions place to them by the worshipers; the women were never seen by the people; there were instead male priests that would interpret the answers, always given in sentences that could mean two things at the same time, and it was up to the person receiving the information to choose which interpretation fit best; ‘Will we have a girl or a boy?’; the answer came ‘A girl not a boy’.
The tour can include lunch, which I had selected, hoping for a fresh lunch, but I found out I would have been better off not to have included lunch but to sit and order from the menu which offered better selections; the lunch included was not of any interest and rather plain. Local seafood I found later is extraordinary and it was a shame they did not make an effort to impress tourists.
DAY 3 COOKING CLASS AND VISIT TO THE CENTRAL MARKET
I chose to do a cooking class that included a trip to the Athens Central Market, and lunch, which we prepared together.
This was a great activity to feel connected to the city; the chef running the class was engaging and funny, and introduced us to all the vendors. Along the way she gave us the history of the market and the changes it has gone through. The food was fresh and farm to market, which made the trip enjoyable. We cooked three dishes, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed eggplant, and a fast orange pie; the recipes were not complicated but the results were tasty and we had a delicious lunch.
AFTERNOON UNEXPECTED ACTIVITIES
In the afternoon I visited with friends in Vouliagmeni, in the South East coast of Greece, played tennis at the Kourie Tennis center, one of the oldest tennis centers in the city, and had a wonderful dinner of local seafood at Rafale, located in the Four Seasons Hotel (Images borrowed from their website).
I wanted to feel at home in Athens, and prior to my trip I made a mental note to visit the closest tennis club to my hotel; I knew I would feel like a local in the city, and tennis would provide for me this experience; it proved to be exactly as I hoped.
I was lucky to find out my friends who also love tennis had access to several clubs and were excited to play. The Athens Tennis Club also happened to be a ten minute walk from my hotel; I visited as soon as I had an open window and was happy to find a lovely environment and a nice restaurant in the premisses, and started to make court reservations with a pro.
The trip to this South Eastern end of Greece to visit with my friends, from the center of Athens was about forty minutes via Uber. I found out Uber in Athens was associated with the local taxi company and they offered brand new vehicles, German and I believe Russian made. The drivers were personable and very nice, overall I was treated very well in all the Uber trips I took, as well as the places I visited in my stay, and the services I used.
Athens is a clean city filled with archeological sites everywhere. There is a harmonious integration of ancient and modern everywhere I went; and the locals seemed to know all about the city history.
In the morning, under the advice of my friends in Greece I visited the Parthenon Museum, which gave me a preview of what I would expect to see when visiting the actual site. There was movie of the Parthenon that narrated the history over the years from early times dating to around 500BC and providing an insight into the different cultural remnants found in the archeological digs. It also prepared me to have a better understanding of what I would be looking at when visiting the site.
The museum also had a nice restaurant an café where I had a bite to eat; at this stage the waiter checked for a valid negative Covid test before serving, and I noticed several people asked to move to the outside tables when they could not provide the Covid results.
From the three major sites that include Delphi, The Parthenon (also referred to as the Acropolis), and the Temple of Poseidon, the Parthenon provided the best restoration, and I could appreciate the monumental construction of the several temples within.
The Parthenon was the main Temples of Apollo and Athena, and the reconstruction made it possible to imagine what went on in these temples in ancient times. It is located at one of the highest points, overlooking the entire city as if the Gods were there protecting it.
I have to say that the magnitude of this site gave me goosebumps and I could only imagine how ancient people might have felt attending there for worshipping purposes. It was a beautiful experience.
One other item that influenced my emotions when visiting the site were the sculptures I had seen at the museum; maybe the exquisite elegance of lines in all the period pieces had stayed with me; I am an artist and years ago did some drawings at the MET in New York of a bust that sits in the sculpture garden, and always thought it to be as I mentioned before 'exquisite'. There is no other period in the history of art that one can find this elegance of lines and rendition.
I started sleeping longer, woke up late and had a late breakfast. used my leisure time to schedule and afternoon tour of the Temple of Poseidon. The tour offers morning and afternoon choices; I took the afternoon ride; the weather was clear and sunny but not hot or stifle and the wind made the journey enjoyable.
This temple together with The Parthenon, and Delphi, I was told by one of my Athenian friends, form a special triangle of energy. He suggested I visited this site first and to leave the Parthenon for last, which I did.
The location of the Temple of Poseidon is in the South Western part of Greece with spectacular views of the rocky terrain of the island and the open ocean.
Along the Poseidon highway, on our way to the Temple, where small beach communities spread along the coast with picture-perfect opportunities from our luxury bus. The trip was guided and we received information on all the special details of locations along the way. The views were inductive to total relaxation and I found myself in a meditative state that made the two hour trip short.
The temple has been restored in great part and the views from the top made me think of the Odyssey I once read and loved, imagining Poseidon as a giant God ruling the oceans with his trident, punishing sailors as he stirred the waters and projected lightening in their direction. I was now seeing the location from where he ruled.
We walked around for close to an hour, stopped for coffee at a small restaurant before heading back. The views of the ocean along the coast ride made this trip worthwhile on it’s own and I had two hours in the return trip to reflect and assimilate the beauty of this experience; I told myself I would pick up the Odyssey again to complete journey. I thought of Telemakus, Odysseus and his beautiful wife Penelope.
The tour bus dropped me close to my hotel in the same location I had been gathered in the morning.
I slept late again and had a late breakfast, my body one more time starting to readapt to US time. Early afternoon I headed for a visit of the Parthenon, feeling familiar with what I was going to see. I found a long line to purchase tickets but found out that most locations had Internet sites where I could purchase tickets in advance. The advantage of this was that they accept electronic tickets using my telephone; I skipped the line and went directly to the entrance. I was not checked for Covid.
The restoration of this site is beautiful; with a stip walk to the top of the mountain where a sequence of temples have been reconstructed with original parts, and I could feel a real connection to this ritualistic place as I ascended with hundreds of other visitors. It took about twenty minutes climb to reach the major temple,
there was a small garden at the bottom where I rested on my return walk from the mountain top, and reflected on my experience, before heading out.
I had an early dinner at a small restaurant located in an underscript street, inclined and offering a site of Athens below. I had fresh fish, olives and cheese, and headed back to my hotel, feeling accomplished and happy to have seen the history I only associated with ancient Greece.
I found out the cruise lines had cancelled service due to choppy seas and the possibility of bad weather; I had breakfast and headed out for a last stroll around Athens.
I was invited to visit my friends in the afternoon for an early lunch, followed by tennis. This turned into an early meditation and a massage treatment for one of my friends, facing the Aegean Sea.
We followed with tennis at another tennis center and later dinner at Blue Fish serving local fish and seafood. We had tender calamari and ceviche, and I left them to head back to my hotel to pack for an early flight the next morning.
I told the desk clerk at my hotel I would be leaving early, and he promptly offered the restaurant could provide me with a box breakfast for my trip to the airport. This was the final touch of hospitality from this intimate hotel, and I knew I would be returning in my future plan to revisit Athens.
The next morning my driver arrived on time and drove me to the airport while we chatted about the city. He informed me that the Greek and Italian cultures assimilated during Roman times and felt as one culture up to the present, that some of the Italian islands still maintain the Greek culture and Italians refer to Greeks as 'One faccia, one Razza', 'One face, One race'; a beautiful manner of expressing one united people. He emphasized that one would have difficulty differentiating a Greek from an Italian.
We talked about Covid and the financial and social consequences he felt had evolved in Greece, and we agreed they were global. I heard no difference from the talks I have with friends in the US, and I felt affinity to this man and to the rest of the world. We were both grateful for ZOOM and the short return we all had to spending time at home with the family; I did not mention I lived alone, but knew exactly what he was talking about.
I made my flight on time and had lots of food to eat, until we boarded and headed home.