It was almost midnight when we jumped on the bus at the airport in Athens. The ride from the airport to the city was long, but the bus moved fast, whooshing us past hundreds of signs written in Greek that we couldn’t understand.
A little while later, we reached the terminus & stepped out on to the street. Standing there to greet us: a man in a suit with a soul patch. The silvery-metallic sheen of his hair, the same as his suit. His purple shirt was unbuttoned way too low – like, Bee Gees low.
“Taxi?” He leads us across the street to his car, throws our suitcase in the trunk.
I crawl in the seat behind him. Olivier gets in next to me. Soul Patch, he gets in & his seat is reclined so far that he’s almost laying down. Thanks a lot, Soul Patch. We tell him we’re going to the Apollo Hotel on Achilleos street. He lights up a cigarette & starts rocking out to a Scorpions song playing on the radio. I decide that I don’t really care for Soul Patch.
He asks where we’re from. “France,” Olivier says. “Just outside of Paris.”
We drive past a car with a hooker leaning in the driver’s side window. Then I notice that there are hookers everywhere, walking up & down the street, standing on the corner, smoking in doorways & I briefly wonder if the Apollo Hotel will have those fancy vibrating beds.
We would later figure out that Soul Patch had driven us out of our way, making the drive a bit longer, thus increasing his fare & allowing us to enjoy the scenic route. So, no fancy vibrating beds.
Even though the beds didn’t vibrate, we had no problem passing out.
The Apollo Hotel isn’t fancy, but it’s comfortable & clean. We woke up & stuffed ourselves with Greek yogurt & covered it with thick, Greek honey before heading out for a lazy day of exploring the city.
We strolled through the Zappeio Gardens. This was where Olivier really took notice of just how many orange trees there are in the city. He had a hard time containing his excitement & ran over to one of the trees to snag himself a juicy treat.
“You know, if I were a hobo, I think I could be happy here, surrounded by all of these beautiful oranges.” He carefully tucked his prize away in his backpack.
Then I saw some ruins poking out over the tops of the trees.
“We have to go look at that!” I pointed. “There’s some really neat shit over there! NEAT SHIT!”
After walking for about 5 minutes or so, we found ourselves at the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
We paid our 2 Euro & went through the gate. We saw dogs laying in the sun & a little farther, a couple of dogs sniffing one another, deeply engaged in serious doggie discussion. As we walked through the ruins, we passed more dogs along the path than human beings.
If there’s anything Olivier loves more than free citrus fruit, it’s dogs. I began to worry that he might swallow his tongue, or pass out from an overdose of pure joy.
After we had absorbed all that we could from the temple ruins, we walked over to the National Gardens of Athens. Here there are cute little gazebos & fountains, a miniature zoo, a café & a small duck pond. We didn’t see as many dogs, but there were some cats & peacocks hanging around.
Oh… & there were plenty of orange trees. This was the moment where Olivier just couldn’t take any more temptation from the fruit dangling in front of his face everywhere he looked. He reached up, grabbed one & started peeling it. I watched as it squirted sticky juice all over his hands. He put it in his mouth & a split second later, spit it out. He looked down at it the half-chewed remains on the ground.
“Not ripe enough. I’ll save my other one for a few days. My hands are sticky.”
“I am a good wife. I have wipes,” I said, feeling like a hero.
We meandered through the small zoo until we happened upon a bird that had a smaller bird on it’s back, pecking at it & chirping as the bigger bird ran around in circles, flapping its wings & shrieking in horror. Some little kids came by, pointing & laughing. You know, because nature is hilarious & kids are mean.
All the walking & hilarity eventually takes a toll. The heaping piles of Greek yogurt & honey we had for breakfast lasted a long time, but now we were starting to look at the wildlife in the park in ways that were making them nervous. We ended up at the Hard Rock cafe, because… well, what’s more touristy than shoveling a sandwich into your gullet at the Hard Rock? (Not to mention that Hard Rock’s potato skins fuck all other appetizers in the face. IN. THE. FACE.)
After we had stuffed ourselves & were feeling fat & happy, we decided to do some more exploring & wandered around the hill below the Acropolis. We passed by the Roman Agora & would have gone in, but during March in Athens, museums & historical sites are closing at 3pm. We came ambling by at around 5 or 6pm, so were shit out of luck. But, we did take several photos from the outside of the perimeter.
Not surprisingly, the Roman Agora isn’t closed to all visitors after 3pm.
Eventually, we grew tired of exploring for the day. We strolled through the Athens Flea Market & decided to stop for a beer. A trip to Greece would have been a total waste if we had not at least tried a Greek beer.
Sitting at a little table outside the bar, on the edge of the flea market, we snacked on olives & sipped our beers as we watched shoppers, tourists & beggars passing by. Occasionally, someone would stop by our table in an effort to earn some spare change by playing an accordion, or trying to sell us packages of Kleenex.
“I think we can skip dinner,” I said. “Besides, we have kind of an early start tomorrow to go see the Acropolis & the museum.”
“Yeah, I’m not hungry, either.” Olivier took another sip of his beer. “Anyway, if we get hungry, we have some crackers in our room & one dubious orange in my backpack.”
“It is,” he agreed. “It’s dubious, but it was free.”
I couldn’t argue this, so instead, I suggested heading back to the hotel & picking up some street food on the way back for our late night noshing. We walked to the métro station & stopped at a Koulouria vendor who was set up at the entrance of the station. Just imagine a big piece of warm, delicious bread stuffed with Philly cream cheese & covered with sesame seeds. That’s what we bought. Olivier put them in his backpack, along with his dubious orange.
As we turned to leave the vendor’s stand, we passed something that caught my eye. When I looked at it, I couldn’t help but light up, feeling a swell of hope in spite of living in a world that is rapidly devolving into Idiocracy. What I saw was proof that here, in this country steeped with a rich history of great thinkers & artists – some of the greatest minds ever to have lived – that these great thinkers of Athens were still alive, that the philosophers are still out in the streets, creating & sharing big ideas.
Important ideas that we’d all be better off paying attention to.