Day six: Travel Delphi – Athens, and Rebetiko!
The trip from Delphi to Athens wasn’t long at all, and soon, I found myself smack in the middle of the hustle & bustle of massive Athens, feeling like a tool with my rolling suitcase because only people who are tools have rolling suitcases while walking several blocks in large cities. This does not mean that all people who have rolling suitcases while walking several blocks in large cities are tools. But I felt like one. A big one.
(Solo Traveling Premise #9: Try not to be a tool.)
I got incredibly lost (suitcase thunk) trying to find (suitcase whack) the closest metro stop (suitcase clunk) and someone literally shoved me out of the way while I was trying to politely ask them for directions in Greek. I was quite frustrated by the time I got on the metro, but I finally found it and linked up with my friend and fellow Fulbrighter Stephanie!
(Solo Traveling Premise #10: Know that seeing a familiar face at the end of your solo travels will be one of the most joyful experiences of the whole trip.)
From there on out, I wasn’t a solo traveler anymore. And I found that the balance was really lovely: I was happy to be alone the whole week until the bus ride to Athens, where I found myself really excited to see my friends again that night!
That night, we met up with much of the rest of the Fulbright crew for some awesome Italian food (during which I demolished a whole pizza!!). And then, at about eleven, we headed to a local rebetiko joint.
What is rebetiko, you may be wondering? Basically, it’s Greek folk music. It has a much more complicated history than that, but essentially, it includes bouzoukis, violins, guitars and singing, and uses many old standards that at least the audience where I went seemed to know. It begins at midnight and goes until you drop. There’s dancing, singing, clapping, smoking, drinking and general revelry. What’s not to love?
We left at three, but even despite the late hour and the dense cloud of smoke hovering around us, I could have stayed all night!
…And here’s the part where I confess that I now really really want to learn the bouzouki. Because I’m an incorrigible stringed-instrument nerd, I can’t help it. I really encourage you to try to find some rebetiko music and listen to it; the sound of the bouzouki is really unique and interesting!
Day seven: Haircut and International Food Fun!!
For some time, I had been feeling like my hair was trying to kill me.
Perhaps that’s a bit much. But I had SO MUCH HAIR. Pounds. Tons. It felt heavy, took four hours to dry, and sometimes I got the feeling it was trying to smother me in the night.
So I chopped it off! Stephanie and I both went for somewhat drastic haircuts and successfully navigated that quintessential traveler’s rite of passage: the haircut in a foreign country. Armed with her roommate, who is Greek, we headed to a salon recommended by said roommate in the morning on Saturday. Steph’s roommate translated for me, and I also pointed to pictures of what I wanted, which helped.
Differences in getting one’s hair cut in Greece vs. the US:
- Haircuts are extremely expensive here for women here. It was, of course, more expensive to have it cut in Athens than in Thessaloniki, but as a general rule it seems to cost more to have a cut in Europe.
- You know that part of the cut where they’re shampooing your head and they give you a brief-but-lovely head massage? From my own experience and from those of several others, the head massage here lasts for way longer! I think mine was probably around 5-7 minutes. And the chair was massagey too!!
- The process is different. For me, I explained what I wanted to the stylist. Then I had shampooing/awesome head massage time with someone else. Then the stylist cut my hair. Then someone entirely new came in to blow dry it. Also, I’ve heard for men that they shampoo your hair again after they cut it!
In the end, I got about 4 inches cut off and it looks like this:
Feeling light and unencumbered and free as a bird, I was in dire need of some international food. Back home I cook and eat a lot of ethnic food, and Greece isn’t exactly the best place to find it. However, Steph and I had a Japanese take-out place recommended to us… so I not only had sushi, but I had it delivered. It was good for the soul! Sushi is my favorite food, so this was a big deal. It seems odd to me that the food I miss most from the States is sushi, but it’s true!
Day eight: Race day!
I know it was only the 5k, but being a part of the 2,500th Athens marathon was the single coolest athletic experience I’ve had thus far. The atmosphere was simply electric! There were 20,000 runners and their families and friends there, and the magnanimity, history and intensity of the event made it an absolutely unforgettable experience!
I ran the whole 5k with Carrie, a fellow American at AFS, and Dallas, a Fulbrighter based in Athens. We had a great time running together; the course ran past the national gardens, the parliament building, and the Parthenon, and we chatted the whole way! (I also really enjoyed the part where I got to grab a bottle of water from someone on the sidelines, take a few big glugs from it and then throw it down like the Uber-Intense Marathon-Type Super-Athletes.) My shoulder only bothered me a bit on the uphill sections; otherwise, it wasn’t a problem at all.
And then came the big finish. Like the marathon runners, we got to finish in the stadium! And when I say “the stadium” I mean “THE stadium,” as in the stadium from the first modern Olympics in 1896! The stadium was lined with people all cheering and singing, and running into it gave me a surge of joy and courage the likes of which one doesn’t come across very often. I finished with a very slow time but a very, very big smile!
Later that day, I got to watch some of the marathon runners finishing. Watching these strangers accomplish something like that, and hearing their friends and family suddenly burst into cheers at seeing their runner go by on their way into the stadium, was so moving I actually teared up.
Noticing this reaction in myself, and realizing that this year is a great time to do it… I’m seriously considering running a half-marathon in Prague or Berlin or some other exciting location in April. Stay tuned.
I was snapping random shots like this, trying to catch moments in which runners were being particularly theatrical, when I realized immediately after taking a photo that Thanos (head of student life at AFS, my ride back to Thessaloniki, and a marathon runner) had just run by. After erupting into a half-Greek half-English garbled cheer, I took a look at the shot, and I had managed to get an awesome picture of him smiling and waving near the finish line completely by chance. This is particularly amazing because his family didn’t get to see his finish!
…And that’s how I survived a full week of solo travel. I conquered my fear of heights at Meteora, bad weather at Delphi, my tendonitis at the marathon, and a ridiculous tendency to leave bags on buses in order to simply survive the week. And I have to say–the more I see of this country, the more I’m falling in love with it.