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

06.05.16 Tigers, Markets, and Zip lines, Oh my!

June 5th… what and eventful and memorable day! We started out the day being picked up at 9 to go over to the Chiang Mai Tiger Kingdom to get up close and personal with some tigers.

We had scheduled our transportation through the tour desk in our lobby and thought we were going to have a simple red truck van pick us up and take us. To our surprise, a private air-conditioned van was going to be our transportation, which was actually a really nice surprise. While we were driving, we were all a little shocked when at one point the van reached just about 140km/hr but the cars around were all going similar so I guess it wasn’t too crazy.IMG_3689.JPG

The tiger kingdom was different than I expected probably because it was nicer than I had expected. All three of us decided to book the package that included getting to go in the big and small tiger cages. Once we were called we got brought back to the space where all the tiger enclosures were, which basically was like a zoo but only for tigers.

IMG_3652.JPGWe started with the small tiger, which really wasn’t small at all even though they were about a year old. There were four tigers in the space and the trainers had you go to each tiger so you could pet them and take pictures with them. It was super cool after to be able to say I had leftover tiger fur strands on my hand, because how many people can say that? When you pet the tiger the fur is soft similar to any other cat. For some reason I was sort of expecting it to be a little more wiry. When you pet or tough the tigers you can only touch them from about half way down because otherwise you may irritate them, which was a little bit scary.

One thing I really liked was that they let you bring your own cameras in with you and there is no pressure to purchase a professional photographers pictures.., probably because you are already spending enough money.IMG_3672.JPG

After about 20- 30 minutes in there, it was time to go into the big cat enclosure. There were three big tigers in here, and it was exciting to be able to be next to such a large, yet beautiful animal. For one of the photos, the trainer told us to basically lay on the tiger, which caught us all off guard. As soon as I started to put my head on the tiger, it shifted its position a bit, which scared me a little. However, once it was situated I got right back close to it again to give it love.

IMG_3747.JPG
my face when the tiger moved

Once again, after about 20 minutes our time was up and we were allowed to spend time walking around the grounds to see the rest of the tigers, just from outside the cages. We got to see the Giant tiger, a white tiger, and a newborn tiger.

IMG_3752.JPGAll I can say is that if there was a cashier in front of the door to get into the new born tiger area it would have been game over and I would have whipped out whatever money it took for me to go in there to play with that little tiger because it was so cute. The little guy was so playful. It is probably a good thing I didn’t go in there because I would most likely be in Thai jail right now for trying to steal a baby tiger.

Once we had our fix, we got back in our car and drove about 30 minutes back to our hotel.

We had about 2 hours here until we got picked up for our zip lining adventure so we got a little bit of lunch near by and then relaxed for a bit.

I tried an iced Thai green tea, an orange smoothie, and then a bread stuffed with tofu and mushrooms. The green tea was awesome because it tasted very similar to matcha, which I love. The orange smoothie came out basically like a slushy made with fresh squeezed orange juice. The bread was basically a small baguette with a slice in it like a hot dog, which was then stuffed with a garlicy, tofu-mushroom mixture, which was super tasty. Better yet, all of it cost only 80 baht! It was crazy to think that my two friends and I all ate for less than 6 dollars!

When we got back to the hotel we got to rest for just a little bit more until the second van came to pic us up. This time there was a total of 5 of us for the zip lining adventure. This zip lining excursion included zip lining, sort of high-ropes things, and abseiling, which I was super excited to try!

We drove the same way we did to the Tiger kingdom, but instead continued about another 20 minutes up a very winding road into the jungle. Once we got there, all the workers were super friendly, hilarious, and spoke awesome English! We quickly got our gear on and headed over to where our course started. Because I had my go pro camera with me, it just so happened that on some of their helmets they have go-pro mounts on them, so they let me hook my go-pro to the helmet mount, which allowed me to get some super cool shots!

IMG_4041I loved how half the zip lines we went on were super long, versus just one long one at the end. It was also nice that in between there were various sky-bridges, and rope related things to mix it up. On one of them I had to stop since I was about to pee laughing because one of the workers was bouncing the rope bridge. Still, I am not really sure what about it was SO funny, but I just could not stop laughing. I guess I was simply filled with pure, genuine joy.

Once we had our first abseiling experience. Of course then the workers changed the order so I was first. As well, none of us really new what abseiling was; all I knew for sure was it involved dropping from one level to the next, I just thought you’d be almost rappelling or lowered at a medium paced.

Nope.

Once I was dangled I the air, I was dropped the first half of the 15 meters, then had to undo one of the hooks and was then dropped the rest of the distance… talk about an adrenaline rush. The free fall was kind of awesome and kind of addicting because I couldn’t wait for the second one. The funny kind of scary part was that after I had made the first half of the drop and unhooked myself the instructor at the top screamed wrong hook. At that point I basically accepted any injuries that were going to occur because there was nothing I could do about it anymore. Then I realized he was messing with me.

The scenery around the whole place was awesome because you really felt like you were in the jungle. At one point you could actually peak through a little bit of the mountains and see a little bit of the city, which was absolutely beautiful. The very last thing was the last abseiling experience. Of course, I had to be the first one to make the 40-meter drop. Similar to the last one, I dropped the first 20 meters and then the last 20 after unhooking myself. This one was awesome because you really felt the adrenaline rush of the free-fall. The cool part was that on the second fall, you sort of were going a bit more head first because you were hooked on from you back.

After during the walk back we passed a super beautiful waterfall and then enjoyed a free breakfast. To our surprise as well, we also received free shirts! On the way home we all couldn’t stop talking about how amazing this excursion was, as well as how happy we were we chose one where you did more than just zip line. If you ever find yourself in Chiang Mai and want to go zip lining, Eagle track zip lining is the way to go!! Tours can be booked through Viator.com, but we were able to book the tour through our hotel.

Once back at the hotel, we were surprising not tired yet, so started walking towards the Thae Pae gate to get ready to start exploring the Sunday market. Once we go there, it began to sprinkle, and the grey sky only meant one thing. It was about to storm… Thailand style.

At first it wasn’t so bad but after we walked 10 steps in the pouring rain and were practically soaked, it was time to run into the nearest shop. At one point while we were walking through the market in the monsoon, I found myself smiling, which resulted in me laughing because I had no idea why I could be so happy in the pouring rain, but after such a great day, how could you not be happy?IMG_4054

Luckily for us, we were right near the Wawee coffee shop, somewhere all of us wanted to try! So, we were able to seek shelter inside while also enjoying a delicious coffee! In traditional Chiang Mai fashion, the storm was over in about 30-45 minutes, which was basically the time it took for us to finish our drinks.

Once the rain was basically calmed, we went back outside in search of trying some new foods. By the time I had walked up and back through the extensive market, I was able to try a fried sandwich stuffed with crab, a big chunk of a large crab you had to eat off the shell this spoon, and mussel balls, which were my favorite. I didn’t have enough courage to try the freshly grilled squid on the stick yet because there were a lot of tentacle pieces, but I tasted a small piece that was less intimidating.

Once we were full, we walked back to our hotel and contemplated getting foot massages from the place next door. Instead we just went back to our rooms to get our rest before another long week of school. I know I’ve said this before, but one of the best feelings is going to bed with sore feet because you know you made the most out of your day. While I was falling asleep I found myself reflecting on how incredible to weekend was and how fortunate I was to be able to experience all of these incredible things. How can I not be anything but completely overjoyed?

Anyways, I hope you all have incredible days!!! My blogs will probably be a little less frequent this week, but once again, we shall see.

Peace!

Hannah