Before starting this post, I tried to search for some nice quote to put in but there were none that resonated with what I feel when I am near the sea. All I see is this vast expanse of blue/green/turquoise water and the equally sized sky on top. But then I am usually on land when I am watching this spectacle. And once in a blue moon, when I am in the boat, it’s just to go from one piece of land to another – may be for 2 hours, and that’s about it. And whenever I have done that, I haven’t found a big difference between being on a giant lake, in a river or at the sea. And that I think is probably because I have not had the view from the top that would show how small I am in comparison to the water body I am on. The only perspective I have is of me is in relation to everyone else around me. Therefore, I have absolutely no idea what all those quotes are talking about – ocean singing, quietness, beautiful thoughts yadi yadi yada. I mean the water is not even drinkable, for crying out loud, let alone all the sand that you bring back with you! But even then, whenever I’m in a place where there is a chance to go see the sea (funny), I go and do that. May be one day I will understand what exactly is everyone raving about by being at the sea. Alright, alright – it’s not that bad. All I am trying to say is – probably I feel the same beside a river as beside the sea.
So, on the second day of being in Athens, I looked up at a pamphlet/map at the apartment. I found that there was an organized boat trip to three small islands. So I kind of ran to the meeting point in Syntagma Square hoping to find a spot even if I hadn’t pre-booked anything. If not, then at least to get a place for the next day. As per the pamphlet, a red bus was supposed to pick up the passengers to take them to the port. 5 minutes, 10 minutes past the meeting time and no sign of that red bus. Then I asked the friendly looking kiosk owner again (I’d asked him earlier if that was the meeting point). He speculated that probably the company wasn’t running the tour that day because the season was almost over and therefore, might not have had enough bookings. Yes, I know, I should have checked earlier. So – I decided to mail the tour company later and find out more. Long story short – it worked out, but two days later. The full story here. Now, what to do? It was only about 8:30 AM in the morning. I had two options – to hop on the metro and go to Piraeus (the port from where the ferries go to the islands) or take a tram (as mentioned on the map) going through the city and then alongside the coastline, to reach a beach town called Voula. How did I know about this second option? The nice hosts of the apartment that I’d renter, had told me about it while handing me the key. And it seems things have a way of working out in a certain way. One of the hosts had mentioned that after Saturday, the temperatures were predicted to drop. So if I wanted to go to the beach, I should do it by Saturday. And as you can see, despite my not really planning to do that, there I was – at Syntagma Square, on Saturday morning, looking for the tram number 5 to go to the beach!
I found the tram stop after some searching – it was right opposite to where the Parliament building ends and the National Garden begins. However, there was a notice stuck there which I didn’t completely understand until a friendly Athenian walked by. The notice said that people need to take the metro to a stop (Neos Kosmos) and then take the tram from there because there was some construction going on the line from Syntagma till that other stop. So off I went to the Metro station. As far as I remember, that was my first Metro ride in Athens. Usually, I avoid the underground because then you don’t get to see the sun and the buzz of the city, but then sometimes, you find quite some interesting stuff underground – like in Athens. The Syntagma metro station is a mini museum! It showcases several of the ancient artifacts unearthed during the digging for the construction of Athens Metro network. Same is true for a few other stations like the Acropolis and the Monastiraki.
Once at the Neos Kosmos, I saw a no. 5 standing right in front of me but I didn’t climb in because I had no idea which way it was going. Usually when I have the unlimited travel pass, I am quite careless and climb in onto the transport get down at the next stop after realizing that it’s going in the opposite direction. But that day, I didn’t. I waited (it was a boring wait) and then saw first a man running towards a tram coming from the opposite side and then saw the tram making a turn into a street perpendicular to the one I was standing in. So I also ran. And good that I did because that was the right direction! Boarded the tram and just observed people coming in and going out along the way. One woman, probably in her 50s, carried a folding chair and a kind of beach bag. Definitely a local. And I didn’t even have flip-flops! That’s when I realized that I was not really prepared for the day at the beach. But now I could not turn back. Some other passengers were probably going for work. A family of three was the one that was with me on the tram till the last stop. The mother kept her 3 or 4 year old busy with a notebook and a color pen during the long journey. I could have gotten down at so many places on the way, like the woman with the folding chair who got down at the first sight of the ocean. I guess I wanted to see where did it end. The tram went through Glyfada, a nice suburb which reminded me of a locality in Bangalore, which used to be the place to go when my friends and I wanted to be in a quiet posh part of the city with swanky (ya, expensive too) cafes, wide streets and lovely houses. I thought of getting down there on my way back to the city. After getting down at the last stop, there were two options – again! I could stay there or find a way to go to Sounion where there is a Temple of Poseidon. The family of three which got down there, seemed to be about to do that because we all walked onwards and they stopped at what looked like a bus stop. I think either I didn’t want to wait for the bus and be again on a long journey, while the sun was also quite bright or may be I was not thinking straight because the nearby beach was beckoning me. I don’t know what it was but I just decided to stay back and enjoy the scenery of where I was. In retrospect, I think I could have gone further but now that cannot be changed.
Coming back to the story. I got down to the rocks close to the water, which was quite close to the street, as compared to the other beaches I have been to, where I’ve had to walk quite some distance in the sand to reach the waters. There were a handful of other people, all most probably pensioners, at the beach with their chairs/umbrellas. The beach itself was strewn with sun-bleached leaves of some kind (or may be sea weed). It was not with fine sand but wasn’t pebbly either. And then the water – that was just fabulous! I took off my shoes and socks (as you already know I wasn’t really prepared for the beach) and found a rock on which to sit and dip my feet in the water. It was so cool to the touch and gave a lovely contrast to the heat of the sun overhead, which was already strong although it was just a little before 10 AM. The time might explain the presence of only old people; the young ones were probably finishing their chores or working or may be just waking up after a Friday night party (like the one in some apartment in the complex I was staying, with upbeat piano music that sounded great but annoying if you want to go to sleep!)
So there, I sat for some time but as you might know from my other posts, I am not one of those who can sit still, unless it is on the couch in front of TV when I completely lose track of time. So after a while, when I felt my head burning, I decided to get up and move further. I wanted to see what else was around. So jumped on a bus and it took me through the beautiful neighborhood. One very interesting thing I saw was colorful awnings on the balconies of all the apartments, which makes sense when it is as sunny as it was there. I wonder why we don’t have them in India where summers are quite brutal!I got down where I wanted to, walked around a bit, took a lot of pictures, found the bus again and thus, explored the area.
It was getting around noon and I thought of finding a restaurant. I thought of going back towards Glyfada where I’d seen some malls while on my way to Voula. Once there, I went to the malls but didn’t find anything good. Then I found a vegan restaurant called Yi. That was a really great find. It was a spacious place, with calm ambiance and beautiful decor and a nice host. That was so different from the restaurants in the city, alright from the restaurants I’d been to. The host confirmed my thoughts, when I asked if they had a branch in the city, that it would be difficult to find that big a space to create such a relaxing atmosphere within the city. I had a very nice lunch there, complete with a dessert, while the phone was also getting fueled up on the side.
Then from there, I decided to return to the city for which I found the connections via bus and metro, with the help of the wifi at the restaurant. I could have taken the same tram no. 5 back that I came with, but then I would have seen the same sights again. The other way promised some more new things to see. You know that desire to absorb as much as possible of a place that you like? Then you know what I was feeling like. It’s good to have those public transport passes!
The metro that I found brought me to the Acropolis station where I spent some time exploring the mini museum set up there, with the finds from the diggings there.
Went out, walked around a bit, before climbing onto the Areopagus hill, which was named as Mars hill by the Romans. I didn’t know the name then but just saw a lot of people over there and went. It’s funny that I learnt this from my Portugal trip that if you see the board indicating a “Miradouro” anywhere, don’t think but just go. “Miradouro” means “Viewing Point”. There was no board It was a lovely view of the city as well as the Acropolis from there. The hill had several purposes during the Greek and the Roman times but it is most famous for the speech of Apostle Paul. As it so happened, the Greeks worshipped 12 Olympians but they also had a 13th deity they called “Agnostos Theos” – the Unknown God. Apostle Paul cleverly placed the God mentioned in Christianity as this 13th deity!
After getting down from there, I went around in the search of Anafiotika neighborhood which was supposedly below the Acropolis. May be I found it may be I didn’t. I tried it once again on my last day of the trip in Athens, you can read about that here. But found myself in the market (Ermou street?) and got pulled into the shop of a friendly shopkeeper to buy some souvenirs when they used some Hindi words to get my attention (“chalo chalo” and “namaste”). The octogenarian granny at the door shook my hands warmly while the grand-kids showed me the wares. I bought a few things and then was on my way. The market was all beautifully lit up by then, as was the Acropolis. Sat around the Monastriaki square for some time, got something to eat at a nice vegan restaurant close-by and called it a day.
P.S. Unfortunately, I have lost a lot of my photos while transferring them to the laptop, so I am a bit sad. I can just hope that I my memory is serving me right and I am recalling the events correctly. Moral of the story – 1. At least outline the events of the day on the same evening, if completing the full post is not possible and 2. Upload the photos to an online service for safekeeping in parallel!