Words and photography by Dalene Heck
He was dressed smartly in a collared navy button-down and crisp khaki pants. I don’t think he worked for the transit authority in Athens, but instead waited by the gates to help any travelers who looked perplexed by the system. There were a lot of them. “And watch your stuff,” he routinely called out after giving directions and sending the commuters on their way.
I purchased my ticket but saw no map and was unsure of where to go next. I approached the elderly man and asked which train I needed to get to the Halandri stop. He furrowed his brow; I had clearly stumped him. No matter though, as the gentleman turned and called out my stop name until another local perked up and offered to help. The young lady waited as I crossed the turnstile and then walked me to the staircase that would lead to the proper platform. “Go down and turn left,” she said. “And watch your stuff!” I expressed a rush of gratitude for this quick but crucial exchange. (The pair’s eagerness to help reminded me of our time in Turkey, but I dared not tell any locals that. I was warned to not even mistakenly call a Greek coffee a Turkish coffee, so I knew to keep further comparisons to myself).
I had embarked on solo travel in Athens worried for my nine days alone, but instead, I felt well taken care of at every step. This capital of Greece proved true to its namesake. As I set out to explore the city and beyond, Athena the Protector kept me safe and very, very happy.
A few of my standout experiences are documented below.
Temple of Poseidon
I’m not a bold solo traveler – I rarely head out on my own – but I found myself feeling inspired on this trip. I stayed outside the tourist area (although Kolonaki may soon be considered as such), and walked to and from the city’s attractions every day. And while it may sound silly to some, my transit experience was perhaps the most adventurous of all I did, taking me to a suburb that not even the quasi-transit authority employee knew about.
Having arrived safely in Halandri, I hopped on a small tour bus (there ended the adventurous portion of my trip!) for a ride to see the Temple of Poseidon on the coast. Roughly an hour away, the time was filled with a local guide disclosing facts about the destination. He took us from the ancient past until modern day, relaying ample facts about the Temple at our destination and its importance as a major monument of the Golden Age. That would be all the time our guide had with us, as he was not allowed to lead us inside the gates surrounding the sacred place. I always prefer this sort of tour, to be honest, so that the precious time visiting the attraction can be spent as I desire with information already in hand.
I chose to take the sunset tour and am perplexed why anyone would do otherwise. The crowds were not large, and even though I have seen plenty of ancient buildings with a stature that easily rivals that Temple, the dusky coastal views and atmosphere were what made this experience stand out.
When the sun finally sunk below the horizon, the dozens of people remaining clapped and hooted in approval. Seconds later, that rapturous moment ended as the gate attendant bluntly yelled at us all to get the hell out. (Well, maybe not in those exact words, but the tone was unmistakable.) I boarded the bus and headed back into Athens, nodding off as the darkness of the day deepened.
The Mighty Acropolis
The city wasn’t always named after the goddess. In the ancient world, King Cecrops, the first royal leader, wanted to give the city a patron god or goddess. According to legend, Athena presented the city with an olive tree; such a practical gift bested Poseidon’s offering of a river of seawater. And thus Athena was named the patroness, and the city henceforth bore her name. Later, the Parthenon, that most famous building towering over the city on a rocky outcrop near its center, would be built in her honour.
Visiting the Parthenon and the other buildings that make up the Acropolis is the single biggest attraction in the city, and rightly so. It’s an unmistakable treasure of dozens of centuries past, standing as a testament to a powerful civilization, and offers a perspective over the area like none other. With over a week stretched out in front of me, I waited until the best possible time to visit, favouring the latter half of the day when most other tourists were already on their way out. Hordes of people still swarmed the site but quiet, shady corners were still available to just sit and admire.
I eat, therefore I know
Did you know that the frappé was invented in Greece? I didn’t until I arrived, but happily gained insight into Greek culture by enjoying it (or a Freddo Cappuccino) every single afternoon. Greek coffee culture is something to be admired.
As is their cuisine, which of course is of no surprise to anyone. And even though Pete is the esteemed chef of the Heck household, I could not pass up the opportunity to learn my favourite dishes and take home recipes that have become my most beloved souvenir. Pete’s rampant enthusiasm for cooking paired with our travels have allowed us to relive fantastic memories right in our kitchen, but after just one morning with The Greek Kitchen, I have henceforth declared this cuisine to be my domain and he’s not allowed to attempt it.
It started with a tour to several markets in the area, something that had been on my to-do list since I arrived in Athens, but always better done with a local who knows her way around. From a cheese shop to rows of meat and fresh veggies, I learned of what raw ingredients are most precious to Greek fare and how to choose them.
Back in the kitchen, we (myself and one other participant from Singapore) set to work. We chopped spinach and garlic; shredded carrots and cucumber. We rolled vine leaves, unrolled sheets of phyllo pastry, squeezed lemons and scooped roasted eggplants. We sipped generous offers of local wines as we cooked up a storm and finally sat down to an epic feast that I still salivate about today.
It was such a large array of food that I had enough to feed myself that night and again the next day. I always knew that I liked Greek cuisine, but this experience firmly moved it into the category of love.
When Pete returned from his Greek island tour after many days away, he did not find a mopey wife craving all of his attention. He found me to be a little more inspired, and a little more empowered and brave. (And maybe just a little bit plumper from all that food and all those frappés.)
I give Athens full credit/blame for all of it, and most especially for the wee turning point that happened within.
how to do it
I found this cozy apartment in Kolonaki that perfectly suited my needs. It got a wee bit noisy on weekend nights (being over a bar), but was otherwise very comfortable and within walking distance to just about everything, including a transit station if anything else was too far. The patio is especially large and was very well used by me! (If you haven’t signed up to Airbnb yet, use this link to earn a discount for yourself, plus I get a little *somethingsomething* in return.)
For the sunset tour to the Temple of Poseidon, I booked it here.
I booked my morning with The Greek Kitchen directly with the company.