11.23.2016 24 hours in Athens

Alright, so the next stop on my little European adventure is Athens, Greece. Originally, Athens was just a side thought for me. I hadn’t originally planned to go here so that is why I only spent literally 24 hours here. Originally I had planned to fly straight from Sofia, Bulgaria to Paris France on the 23rd; however, me being me, I decided to mess around with flights a little bit and from what I found, it was legitimately cheaper for me to leave Sofia a day early and go to Athens, and then fly from Athens to Paris the next day. So as you can tell from me writing this post, I booked it.

My flight arrived into Athens at 12pm. My instructions to my hostel said that I was to get on the metro to get into the city and then get off at Syntagma square. Simple enough right? So I followed the signs for the train out of the airport, which was very clearly marked and easy to follow. When I got to the ticket booth the lady said something, which I could not understand; and then basically said, take bus.

I’m not going to lie, I had a little mini internal panic when I heard take bus. I know I sound like a complete chicken when I say this but there was absolutely no way I was going to be able to figure out taking a bus into the city. So I walked back into the arrivals area to try to figure out what to possibly do next.

The Athens airport is a little bit far from the city so I really was trying not to take a taxi, but with my chicken self that was really the only option for me. For the taxis, you basically just wait in a cue and then once you reach the front you get in the next cab. The taxis from the airport had a flat rate of 38 Euros one way, which I’m not going to lie is pretty pricey (my cab ultimately cost me 42 Euros… Gulp)

With that being said, my cab drive was super awesome! He gave me a lot of great recommendations of things to try in the city, which I actually ended up doing!

I stayed at the hostel called Dioskouros and for paying no more than 12 dollars to stay there for the night it was perfect! Location wise, it was basically a street back from the Hadrian’s Arch and Temple of Zeus Ruins.

When I checked in there was another women in the dorm who was actually Greek herself who helped me out a lot in regards to navigating the city and more things to do.

My first stop of the day was the Acropolis. I was told to make a right out of our building and then a left once I reached the street with all the shops and restaurants, and then follow that until you basically run into it. And so I did until I saw an entrance.

When you get to the entrance you can either pay 10 Euros for just the acropolis hills or 30 Euros for a ticket that includes everything. I paid for the 30 Euro ticket because I thought to myself, well if I’m only going to be here for a day, better just see all of it. My advice, don’t buy the 30 Euro ticket, just purchase the 10. I could never find formal entrances to any of these extra things I paid for and my ticket was never checked again granting me special entrance to somewhere else. The 10 Euro one would have been just fine. Oh well, at least now I know.

Immediately upon entering you see ruins of different things from so long ago. The walk up is literally incredible because you literally feel as though you are stepping way back in time. As you walk up the hills the sites keep getting more grand. As well, the view as your are walking up (as well as from the top) is so incredible. After a fair bit of walking, but a very entertaining walk, you reach the top of the acropolis where you will see the Parthenon, the Old Temple of Athena, and the Erechtheum. I probably spent a good hour just marveling at all the columns and just the pure architectural magnificence of it all.

On top of all that, there is an absolutely brilliant, panoramic view of the city of Athens. Truly outstanding. I could have spent all day up here just taking it all in. But, as you read earlier In this post, I barely have a day in this city so once I had my fix it was time to keep going.

Now this is the part where I sort of search for the other things I paid for but never really found.

On the way down I followed signs to the Agora which brought be down a beautiful set streets. I stopped frequently because there were all of these adorable little cats everywhere that I just couldn’t resist.

As I was walking down the hill I had a moment of genuine happiness thinking to myself, wow Hannah you really did it, you made it. I never expected this trip to bring along such feelings of empowerment. In this moment I truly felt unstoppable. Oh what a great feeling. My whole body was filled with bliss and I just kept thinking to myself, you really did it, you’re here standing next to the Acropolis. Nothing like the feeling of having a dream and making it come true.

This is more than a moment I will remember, but truly a feeling I will remember. Even writing this now I’m not sure how to explain the feeling but I don’t think I’ve ever truly felt that way in my life.

Okay so eventually I ran into another set of ruins which I think was the Agora, but I simply just admired from the outside (partially because I was getting hungry). I then continued back up the huge hill toward the back entrance to the acropolis, and then back down to the street where I came in on, just a little further up.

As I was walking down the street to find lunch I came across a cute place that smelled very good, so I walked on in. I ordered myself a Greek Salad Sandwich and then once I finished, ordered a piece of Baklava to go.

Funny story about the Baklava. Every time I have ever had it I really don’t like it, yet it feels like everyone around me is always urging me to try it and eat it. So, my thought was alright Hannah, get a piece of Baklava so next time someone offers you some you can say something snobbish like, Oh I only eat Baklava when I’m in Athens…. What a fun thing to be able to say. Well, I took a bite out of that Baklava and it literally tasted so good. You see, now I’m in a pickle because I kind of want to see if I like the ones my family tries to make just as much, but at the same time, I really don’t want to spoil this association with Baklava.

I enjoyed this as I wandered down streets covered in shops and restaurants. I also tried one of the coffees the taxi driver recommended to me. I don’t remember the name unfortunately but I think the shop was called coffee island  and the drink is basically an iced cappuccino but the foam is like a very sweet, think whipped cream. Wow is this good! The cream is definitely very decadent but of so delicious and a very tasty treat! I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get home without all this amazing coffee. After a little bit of exploring in the Plaka area, crossed the street over to where the Hadrian’s Arch is.

I walked around here for a little bit and ultimately chose to not enter the Temple of Zeus ruin because I felt as though I saw enough from the outside.

After this I looked up at the sky and noticed the sun was starting to set. While I was getting lunch, I had wifi so I was able to quickly check some messages and noticed my friend who was in Athens last spring had messaged me and suggested to go to the highest point in Athens and watch the sunset from there. After reading it I had no idea what he was talking about and honestly wasn’t going to do it cause I figured I’d be able to watch the sunset from anywhere in the city.

Well, for some reason once I saw the color of the clouds in the sky starting to change from bright white to slightly more golden and pink hues, a spark ignited inside me and I became a women on a mission to find the best spot to watch the sunset.

I walked up the street to get to the Acropolis and started walking up those hills to see if I was high enough to see the sunset. From this point I was able to see it a bit, but not fully as though I had imagined I would have been able to. So I walked down and kept walking.

On the street you would take to get to the entrance of the Acropolis, if you keep walking you will get to the point where the road comes to and end and it looks like a round about with probably a lot of tour busses. It also looks like you aren’t allowed to go any further.

Well I decided to continue anyways because I realized there was a nice little path that take you all the way up the other huge hill you will see from the ground when you are in Athens. I think at the top of this hill is also what was said to be Socrates’s prison.

Never before have I ran so fast up a huge hill to make sure I didn’t miss the sunset. Running up this hill, quite literally chasing the sun, I know it sounds stupid, but I felt like I was Hercules going the distance. Here I am, running uphill on this path, yet smiling ear to ear.

The view from the top of this hill is one of those views that brings a person so much hope… the kind of view that makes you feel like anything is possible. From up here you can see the acropolis, a panoramic view of the city, and also the water. The sky was painted with all sorts of shades of blues and golden yellows. It truly looked like something that came straight out of a movie, only I’m fortunate enough that this in no movie but that life I am living. What a blessing and what a brilliant reminder of what our beautiful world is capable of. Once again, bliss.

As the sky started to darken a little more, I started my way back down the hill and back toward my hostel. I eventually got back around probably 7pm, had a shower, and then went to bed.

So here’s the part where it really sinks in that you are paying 12 Euros a night to stay somewhere. The shower that I used was one of the kinds that detach from the wall so you can move it around. The problem was that there was no place on the wall to attach it to. What I ended up doing was balancing it over the nozzles for hot and cold water, which caused me to ultimately shower kneeling.

One thing I have definitely learned from this trip is I surely do not need a lot of luxury in my life because this was just fine for me. Like I said, this hostel was perfect for everything I needed it for, what works for me doesn’t have to work for everyone else.

After a busy day, I fell asleep easy and woke around 9am to go on a mission to find Greek olives and see Syntagma square. Out of my hostel, I walked straight to the main road and then made a left.

It was pretty easy getting here because you can quite literally follow the street signs and then you’ll run into it (basically just walk straight).

I’m not going to lie, I thought that this square was gong to have a little bit more to it, so I didn’t really spend a long time here. I did, however, walk up and down the one street that had a whole bunch of trendy shops.

On my way back to my hostel to check out, I stopped into a juice bar, which appears to be a chain here, nova gea for a cappuccino and a juice, which was good. I then walked back to the area I was the day before with all of the shops because I knew at least one of them had these olives in a bag. When I got there I bought three different kinds. I will say though, I am a little upset that this was all I was able to find for Greek Olives. I kind of hoped I’d find a little stand with fresher olives but oh well, this is better than nothing!

After I walked back to a walk up restaurant on the road to the acropolis to get a falafel pita, which I ate on a bench right next to the Temple of Zeus. I had a couple of cats come and sit next to me, which I think I would be the only person who actually enjoyed that.

Once back in the hostel I asked the lady at checkout what the best way to get back to the airport was and she told me the Metro. Although hesitant, I went with it and walked back to Syntagma Square to where I would catch the metro to the airport.

I was very happy when it all worked out! I am the biggest chicken in the whole world when it comes to taking public transport so when I say that taking the metro into the airport was easy you can believe me. It cost me 10 Euros (much better than 42) and took me directly into the airport on the last stop.

I am so very thankful that I chose to spend a day in Greece! What a great place! I cannot wait to go back and explore the rest of the country.

As far as do’s and don’ts go, I would say do try to see the sunset from the highest point in Athens and don’t pay for the 30 Euro Acropolis ticket, just do the 10 Euro one.

Alright, hope you have a great day!

 

Hannah

11.22.2016 Sofia, Bulgaria: the start of my journey

On November 20th the start of my mini European journey began in Sofia, Bulgaria. It has been a little bit over 10 years since I had last been to Europe so this was a major thrill for me! The first thing I did once I got to Sofia was check in to my hostel… or at least attempt to.

So, as soon as I arrived the gate to the hostel was opened because people were in and out making deliveries. So I just proceeded up and into the building thinking that things would be laid out plain, simple, and easy to find. Let me tell you, it really wasn’t—at least for me. On the website there are no specific directions on what bells to ring or what doors to go through so honestly when I arrived here I was walking around this building for at least 20-30 minutes trying to find something that seemed like an entrance. I learned later, that when you come, usually the front gate is locked and you have to ring up (unless you have the key). Then someone will come, let you up, and check you in.

So, until then, I am trying to ask these workers who speak no English, where the entrance to the hotel is so I could check in and as you can probably imagine, none of them understood.

I’m not sure if this was the right thing to do but I decided that freaking out was the worst thing I could do so may as well go walk around outside for a little bit. Fortunately for me, all the luggage I had was a medium sized purse and a backpack so I didn’t look that stupid walking around. I eventually made it to where the German Christmas Market was and then walked back the way I came (take in mind I have no map at this point so I don’t really know where I’m going.

Anyways I walked back to my hostel and I am so thankful that this time, it just so happened another person who was staying there was walking in. This allowed me to get in easily and took a lot of stress off my plate. It turned out that for the first night I would be staying at the sister hostel, called The House, which was just down the street. This hostel was awesome, and similarly, in another awesome location just off the main shopping street Vitosha, which means it is also an easy walk to all of the main sites.

If you plan on coming to Sofia anytime soon, I would definitely recommend staying a block or so off this street because it puts you very close to many shops, cafes, and restaurants and all the tourist attractions are basically within what felt like only a 0 minute walk.

Well, my day basically ended as soon as I entered my hotel room around 3pm because within 10 minutes of sitting in my bed I fell asleep. Call me boring but nothing is fun when you are exhausted.

The next day I woke up around 8:40 am so that I would have time to shower and get something to eat before having to head back to Guest house 32 to check in again at 12. For my breakfast I decided I would basically walk up and down the Vitosha street until I built up enough courage to go in somewhere. I made my first attempt in this one cute café when I realized I could not pay with my card and needed Bulgarian currency. Stupid me though, did not convert any money to Bulgarian because for some reason I thought I read that using a card or Euros would be fine everywhere. Nope. IF you are going to Bulgaria do yourself a favor and get some of the currency so you don’t end up like me at an ATM withdrawing only one days worth of cash.

After my ATM stop, I was embarrassed to go back to that same café so I walked up into this store Rois, which sold fruit and nuts and got myself a medium sized bag of roasted walnuts. Let me tell you, I am not really a fan of salted nuts but these were absolutely incredible.

One of the challenging things about the language barrier for me here was that even though the language both looks and sounds completely unfamiliar, the people do not so there is still a small part of my brain thinking I’m going to here a hello when really the most familiar thing I overheard was some French. Another struggle I faced was when I would try to ask someone something or order something, people would come up to me and speak completely Bulgarian in fast sentences, which then caused me to have to explain I spoke English.

So I then continued along the road again until I reached the café Shortcut, so I could hopefully get a quick coffee and sit outside. If there is one thing I have learned it is that if there was some sort of universal language, the word ‘cappuccino’ would be in the dictionary. As usual, the man behind the counter started speaking only Bulgarian when I looked at him and said cappuccino. Immediately he knew what I wanted and made it. I then took my drink and enjoyed it outside.

This cappuccino was incredible. Plain and simple. This is going to be one of those flavors that I remember forever. I ended up sitting here, eating my nuts, savoring the flavor of my cappuccino, and taking in the sights and sounds until about 12:00pm when I went back to my first hotel to check out, so I could check into Guest House 32. I was very impressed when I finally got in and was showed my room! The staff was very friendly and my room was perfect for everything I needed!

After I was checked in my goal was to go and see some of the sites, such as the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. I walked out of the hostel to Vitosha street and proceeded in the direction of City hall. I eventually reached an intersection where to the left is a huge column looking statue with a golden angel on top. Here I made a right. This road would apparently bring me to the Russian Orthodox Church (and many other things). As I was walking, I noticed I had passed the park with the German Christmas market in it, which helped to orient me.

I kept walking and eventually ran right into the church. It was so beautiful! The outside had these beautiful golden domes. The inside was painted so beautifully I wished I could have take a picture however, we were not allowed. The church is not that big so it didn’t really take a long time to tour.

Once I finished, I walked through a little park area to the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. This Cathedral is huge so by this point, you can see exactly where you need to go, it doesn’t really matter how you get there.

This cathedral is absolutely breathtaking. It is so architecturally brilliant from the exterior, you would think it would be hard for the inside to compare. Nope, the inside is just as or possibly even more beautiful. The inside is painted from ceiling to floor with these brilliantly detailed murals—and like I said this cathedral is huge so these paintings are no joke. I think I must have lucked out with the time of day I chose to visit because along the right side all of this light was coming in creating the most spectacular green glow. I could have stayed in here for hours just staring and feeling so tranquil I literally had to force myself up to leave. Even once I was out I took another lap around the building just taking in the enormity and the beauty.

One thing to note is that you can take pictures inside this cathedral; you will just have to pay 10 lev for a photo pass.

After I was finished here, I walked around the area a little bit longer and then headed back in the direction of the Christmas market. I sat on the exterior for a little bit in the park just taking time to myself to journal and reflect. What a blessing it was to be able to say I was able to just casually sit in a park in Sofia, Bulgaria and Journal.

After I walked through the Christmas market to try to get a little snack for lunch time and ended up getting these sliced potato things. I don’t really know what exactly they were called because I honestly just walked to a stand and pointed at something since there was no hope for me trying to read the menu. Fortunately it was delicious!

After I made my way back to my hotel to take a little nap and rest my feet for a bit. It’s crazy how you don’t really realize how much walking you’ve done all before 3:30 until you find yourself stretching in your hotel room. Okay so my little nap is a bit of a lie. I ended up sleeping until about 6:45 and left the hotel again around 7 to see the monuments lit up at night.

Again, I was completely blown away by the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. If you think it is brilliant during the day I urge you to see it again at night. Seriously. You would think that because it was dark you’d be able to see less but for some reason the way the lights illuminate all the crevasses and created all these intricate little shadows it seems as though you can almost see more.

Once again, I had to force myself away, back the way I came so I could go and get dinner. I went into this restaurant called CORSO, which is basically right across from the Russian Orthodox Church. I went here because I noticed the menu had English on it and I saw something that said vegetarian options. For most of the options on the menu, this place did not really fit my budget; however, one of the vegetarian options was significantly cheaper than the others so it ended up being perfect for me!

I ordered the Eggplant bayildi, stuffed with Ratatouille and quinoa, which also had tomato sauce. When the waiter brought out my meal I think I quite literally drooled. I’m not kidding. This thing looked so good I could not wait to eat it. If this thing were to look as good as it tasted they would need to find a way to make it look even tastier. Did that make sense? Probably not—lets just say it tasted so good I was ready to order a second.

Instead I went for the dessert of the day, which was some sort of cake with mascarpone nuts, biscuit, and all sorts of deliciousness. Once again, delicious. If you are coming to Sofia I cannot recommend this restaurant more! All the waiters spoke good English so I didn’t feel awkward ordering. As well, they have sections of their menu where it lists Bulgarian dishes, which is awesome!

Once I got the bill I made my way back to my hotel and went to bed. By this time it was about 9:45 and I was honestly impressed with myself for making it out this late. My flight to Athens the next morning (or in about 20 minutes as I write this now) is scheduled for 10:40am so I planned on leaving my hotel at around 7am to make sure I could find a taxi and get to the airport early enough.

I was able to easily find a taxi on the end of Vitosha street (opposite the end where city hall is) and it cost me 20 euros (which I think was probably too much) to get to the airport.

I am so happy I got to visit Sofia—what a great city! I was genuinely surprised at how not touristy the town was! There was no trouble at all seeing the landmarks and it was crazy how you really did not overhear a lot of English at all!

As far as dos and don’t go I would say don’t think you will be able to get away with just using a credit/debit card. I definitely learned this lesson the hard way and will not make the same mistake again.

One thing I 100% do recommend to do if you go to Sofia is to walk the monuments at night. What would recommend is to walk down Vitosha street towards city hall. I am not sure what the exact street is but you’ll make a right when you see a huge statue of what looked like some sort of angel on top of a column on your left. You will end up walking between two beautiful, grand buildings. This street will ultimately bring you to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral nad the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral.

This is ultimately the same route I took during the day time; however, I would definitely recommend it for walking around at night because it truly is well lit, which is good if you are a little bit hesitant about going out by yourself at night.

As well, besides my little difficulty finding the entrance to my hostel at first, I would still definitely recommend it! The location was absolutely perfect and the inside was well kept and everything that I could have hoped for! I would definitely stay here again, and or recommend it to a friend!

If you are considering Sofia, Bulgaria as a destination stop on your next trip definitely just go for it! In my opinion, it makes the perfect destination for any day-weekend length trip!

Hope you all have a great day!

Hannah