Athens, Greece - My Second Home & Where It All Started
2011 was the best year for me as a student and as a person. I did a study abroad program in Athens, Greece which would change the way I see the world today. It was my first time overseas and a truly amazing experience that opened my eyes to the vast amount of culture and life that other people in different parts of the world exhibit. Below is a quick overview of my first trip abroad and why I fell in love with Greece.
Food & Frappes
The food in Greece is extremely delicious and cheap. From a full size meal to a small bite, I was always satisfied with my options. For 40 days, I ate a gyro/souvlaki about 2-3 times per day and never got tired of it. (Didn't gain any weight either) There was a place around the corner from my apartment that had the best gyro/souvlaki for under 3 Euros - it has since closed. Once in awhile, I also tried out Greek salads, dolmades, spanakopita, moussaka, pastitsio, saganaki, and other Greek cuisine. This was actually my first time trying out true authentic Greek food.
My apartment was in the Plaka/Syntagma area so there was never a shortage of restaurants and food stalls to choose from. Another place I went to a lot was Noodle Bar, an Asian joint. I mostly went for dinner/late night since they close pretty late and it always hit the spot. It was also around the corner from our apartment which was convenient and prices were reasonable. Check them out: http://www.noodlebar.gr/home/main/
Another amazing gem throughout Athens and other parts of Greece is the frappe. It's made from Nescafe Frappe Classic mixed with water and sugar.(Milk optional) You will find the Frappe almost anywhere during the summer. It's a refreshing drink especially on a hot summer day. I would at least get 2 a day - one in the morning and one in the late afternoon - under 2 Euros.
Exploring and Demonstrations
The people in my study abroad group and the amazing hospitality from the Greek people made my first experience in Greece beyond incredible. Everyday we would venture off to a different part of Athens to explore. One of my first places to visit around Athens was Cape Sounion, famous for the Greek Temple of Poseidon and about 1.5 hours away via bus. An amazing scenery with crystal clear waters around the temple. Some people in our group got a chance to swim under the temple. At some point, we all got separated and me and 3 of my classmates went to a beach nearby only to realize it was a nude beach..Welcome to Greece! We weren't there for too long and we eventually met up with the rest of the group. I have a short video on Cape Sounion below:
Next, we chose to spend a weekend in Santorini. We took the ferry which was about 8 hours from Pireaus to the island. The 8 hours were an eternity for me. I started feeling sick the day prior and knew I was going to get worse. Once on the ferry, I started vomiting, had a high fever, and my body kept shaking. I kept thinking to myself, "Why is this happening to me now? What am I going to do? It was either food poisoning or the flu - oh well gotta man up! Once we arrived in Santorini, I thought I was dreaming - I was in paradise.
There was so much to do in Santorini and we managed to see most of the things the island has to offer: Red Beach, Black Sand Beach, Hot Springs, Nea Kameni, and the world famous sunset in Oia. Though I was sick for most of the trip, I managed to pull through. I actually went out all the nights I was there and got better. I have a short video on Santorini below:
The next weekend, our study abroad coordinators took us on an excursion for 3 days to different parts of Greece. We visited Ancient Olympia, Delphi, and Epidavros. My favorite out of all of them was Ancient Olympia, the site of the Ancient Olympic Games. It was unbelievable what I was seeing and learning the history of the Games. I even got the chance to run on the track which was awesome. On the way back to Athens, our bus made a brief stop for a bathroom break. They gave us 30 minutes to either hang out at the rest stop or go into town to explore. Me and 3 other classmates decided to go into town and ended up in a bar. Our bartender loved us so much that he decided to hand us free shots of whatever he decided - I believe one of them was Ouzo. We lost track of time and eventually some of our other classmates started to look for us. Our phones were dead and about an hour later, we were found. We weren't allowed off the bus after, but hey, YOLO.
2011 was a year where the Greek people were fed up with politics and the austerity measures that were being implemented. When I arrived in Athens in late May, the Indignant Citizens Movement was in full swing. There were daily demonstrations and some turned violent, especially the ones on June 15th, 28th, and the 29th. The riots on the 28th & 29th were some of the worst according to several news outlets. My classes were cancelled due to the volleys of tear gas reaching campus. Those two days were chaotic - I've never witnessed anything like that. Plumes of tear gas and destruction filled the streets. The metro station in Syntagma Square looked like a triage zone where many of the injured were being treated - even that was tear gassed by the riot police. When I came back to the States several days after the riots, there were reports that the riot police were using expired tear gas on demonstrators. I have a short video on the demonstrations below:
Even though there were daily protests on Syntagma Square, the nightlife scene in Greece was one of the best I've experienced. In Athens, nights start off around Midnight-1am and could last until 5am-7am, depending on where you go. One neighborhood I always went to was Gazi. Gazi has everything - restaurants, cafes, bars, & clubs. I literally went every night with my study abroad group. Our typical night will start around 11pm, having drinks at a rooftop bar called 45 Degrees, a cool rock bar overlooking the Acropolis. After spending a couple of hours sipping on Ouzo, we would head over to either Socialista, Soho, or Why Sleep to dance the night away. I enjoyed it and most of my nights were memorable which I will never forget. Other areas we went out to were Plaka, Pssiri, and Glyfada. Plaka and Pssiri were low-key spots where we would go to a small bar or hookah bar. The nightlife in Glyfada is similar to Gazi, but what makes it a little better is the cafes/bars/clubs are on the beach - more expensive though. It's far from the centre of Athens, at least an hour on the train and 30 minutes via taxi. I have a short video on a typical night in Athens below:
Despite all the fun I was having and embracing the Greek culture, I also had classes to attend. I only had 2 classes, all in the afternoon. My day would start at around 9am; wake up, shower, get ready, and hit the streets of Athens. Most of the time I was by myself since everyone else had classes in the morning. I would go around the corner to a coffee place I went to every morning and get a frappe along with a small snack. My study abroad program was independent meaning we had our own apartment with no supervision and had to buy our own food/groceries. If I had errands to run, I would do it in the morning. Once I was done, I would head back to the apartment, hang out on the rooftop, and catch up on homework until everyone came back from their classes. I realized on my 1st day of school that classes don't start on time. I arrived 10 minutes early to my first class and the classroom door wasn't even opened yet. A student from Romania who was studying at the university told me that everyone arrives 10-15min late. Well that explains it all - I was on-time afterwards :) Miraculously, I got 2 A's in my classes in International Business and Greek Anthropology.
I would do this all over again with the same people! It was a life-changing experience.