Losing my breath in Athens!
It was early Sunday morning, and my last few hours in Athens. I made my way out of the hotel and to the metro to catch a glimpse of what everyone, visitor and local, had said I had to make sure to see before I left: the Parthenon.
In an effort to avoid the tour crowds that tend to take over the area later in the morning, I made sure to be the first one there. The climb up the hill was a peaceful one as I walked past the Acropolis museum and bookstore, past the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, and up the stone stairs to the temple of Athena.
I sat on a nearby stone, and took it all in. With only a few visitors around, it was easy to admire it all without distraction. That is when I heard the church bells. They seemed to dance through the valley, making their way to the top of hill, their soft welcoming sound bringing a sense of peace with them. I made my way over to admire the rooftops of Athens, with Mount Lycabettus rising proudly above it all. The melody of men chanting hymns from below danced straight into my heart.
It was then that Athens took my breath away.
The days before were spent connecting with the people from this great city, enjoying the weekend festivities, and eating as much Greek food as I could find. I immersed myself in the culture through a food tour, visiting the Central Market and food vendors excited to share their cheeses, olives, breads, teas, and hams.
An afternoon consisted of walks past Kapnikarea Church and down Ermou street, past residents and tourists enjoying hearty lunches in the open-air cafes. At times it felt overwhelming with so much to see, hear, and do. Days were spent trying to grasp the history, as well the realization that the city is a lot more advanced and better functioning than it has been given credit for. Not having been sure what to expect when I arrived, my senses were on overdrive almost the entire time I was there.
It’s impossible for me to think of Athens and not smile at the memory of my last few hours there.
But, that moment, at the top of Acropolis Hill on a quiet, cloudy Sunday morning, I felt it all come together. All the experiences beautifully wrapped in a way that my emotions could comprehend.
Athens is complicated, in a brave, strong, beautiful and vulnerable way. It has survived the punches and isn’t defining itself by its struggles, but by its successes and its ability to move on. The pride of this city stood out everywhere I went, but never in a way that clouded the hospitality and generosity offered to me.The intense passion of the people was fascinating to me and yet so culturally similar to my Latina roots.
It’s impossible for me to think of Athens and not smile at the memory of my last few hours there. To really appreciate Athens, you can’t just do Athens. You have to allow yourself to be immersed in it. You have to allow it to awaken all your senses and you have to slow down and listen. You have to look beyond the surface to get to the heart of city, and be ready to fall in love.