For my next act, I'll review the city of Athens, which was the first trip I'd ever taken to Europe.
Back in 2005, the extent of my travel experience had mostly been to Caribbean resorts. But like me with Montreal, my wife has always had an obsession with Greece, so I wasn't exactly going to protest a trip there. So we decided to broaden our horizons and fly across to the pond to a whole new world.
Until then, Europe to me seemed like some distant land from a fairy tale. It was just one of those places that I never really expected to see when I was young and unconcerned with the world outside of my narrow viewpoint at the time. I knew there were some big important things to see over there, but I never imagined being able to afford to visit those places or having the cajones to step so far outside of my all-inclusive Caribbean resort comfort level. After all, they speak Greek in Greece, so there was no chance of being able to speak a little bit of the native tongue and stories of pickpockets, gypsies and unfriendly Greeks didn't make it any easier.
But I hunkered down and boarded that plane in the first step of a journey that took me to Athens, Mykonos, Rhodes and even Kusadasi, Turkey. Turkey! Although this trip was more than just Athens, this city will always hold a special place in my heart for awakening me to the realization that the world is bigger than just Maryland and the Caribbean. And since then, I've been completely obsessed with seeing as much of the world as possible.
Here's how Athens stacked up.
1. Arts & Culture --10-- The Acropolis. Greek Mythology. The Olympics. The origin of modern thinking. Need I say more? There was so much history and culture in Athens that I sometimes had to pinch myself to remind myself that I was in the same city where all of this stuff happened.
2. Food --6-- The Greeks are known for many specialties, but in my finding, none of the food really wowed me while I was there. Pardon me. I should have said "none of the food really wowed me while I was there except for a lamb kabob stand across the street from our hotel". Holy shit was that stuff good. But aside from that, the food was so-so, and maybe that's because we were so new to European travel that we didn't know where to go for good, local food. We mainly stayed close to tourist-friendly locations and didn't go off exploring like we are so prone to do now. So while I didn't have much amazing food in Greece, I can respect the tradition of Greek cuisine and give Athens the points it deserves. It was a "my bad" on that one. In the beverage department, Greece also left me a little cold. Ouzo is probably the most rank liquid that I've ever tasted and Greek wine and beer leaves much to be desired. I came away from this experience realizing that the Greek people and terrain are very tough, which explains the tough cuisine.
3. Mass Transit --6-- Again, because this was our first trip to Europe, we didn't explore much on our own, which meant that the mass transit system was unused by me. However, I do know that the Athens metro is serviceable and largely new, largely built for the 2004 Olympics. Had I known about the metro back then, I wouldn't have had to take the hour and a half long taxi ride from Pireaus to the airport.
4. Look & Feel --9-- Athens itself may not be much to look at: lots graffiti and run down buildings, but all you need to do is look at the Acropolis and all of that other stuff just falls away. Also, historic parts of town like the Plaka and Psiri -- at the foot of the Acropolis -- offer markets, bars, restaurants and night clubs. The view from Lycabettus Hill is breathtaking. While my wife and I had dinner at a restaurant located at the top, we could see the lights come on, illuminating the ruins located across the city one by one after sunset. It was one of the most memorable views I have ever seen. Overall, Athens may not be a handsome city, but it's stunning where it counts.
5. Overall --9-- Take away the stunning Acropolis and some of the other ancient ruins that are scattered across the city and Athens may become just another bustling city on the Mediterranean. But come on, this is Athens! Those are the reasons this is one of the most important cities in the world! No matter where you're standing in the city, a thousand important people stood there at one time before doing a thousand important things. And that experience alone is reason enough to see Athens for yourself. Ok, so the food may not have been all that great, but I know it exists. And you can always survive on lamb kabobs.
Total -- 40/50