If my summer in Europe were a novel, then Athens certainly was the epilogue. Cassandra and I added this ancient city on the tail end of our itinerary simply because it was fairly affordable and we thought, why the heck not. Far from action-packed, our time was spent lazily adventuring. In a state of travel fatigue, our mornings were occupied with ruins and markets, the afternoons we dawdled away in an air conditioned Starbucks, and nighttimes we stationed ourselves at a newfound favorite gyros joint.
We made a mad dash away from the ruckus of the Santorini airport, bid adieu to our time on the beautiful island, and beelined it for the ATMs in the Athens airport in the middle of a financial crisis. A stint on the subway and a short walk later, we emerged at our cozy Airbnb, where we were met with this unbelievable view:
And our gracious host, Kakao:
"Where should we go for a bite to eat?" We asked Kakao and his human, the epitome of cool It-girlness, Andromeca. She pointed us towards the end of her street at a little sidewalk fast food restaurant called Best Pitta.
With a name like that, we couldn't be more skeptical. Sure. The BEST pitta. *eyeroll*
You guys, they really, truly were actually the best gyros of all.
We tried gyros for every meal in Santorini. We made the effort to branch out and sample some of the more famous gyro places in Athens. None could compare to this tiny fast food joint on a random street corner in a nondescript Athens neighborhood.
Cassandra and I often recount our best meals in Europe. It goes a little something like this: pizza in Naples. Grilled octopus, tuna steaks, and black risotto at Restaurant Eden in Dubrovnik. Gyros at Best Pitta in Athens. In no particular order. Simply put, the gyros here were out of this world – the fluffiest pita stuffed with crispy french fries, the most fragrant of grilled chicken, and a dollop of tzatziki sauce, I'm drooling on my keyboard even thinking about it.
The next morning, we set out for a blast into the past.
Word of advice: wear good walking shoes. I had Rainbow flip flops on and it took me like forty minutes to make it safely down these slippery steps. Cassandra stood at the bottom, doubled over in laughter and was NO HELP whatsoever.
Walking around the Acropolis was a bit surreal. First of all, it was hot as heck (notice the theme of this trip?) and involved quite the trek. So at this moment in time, we were already dehydrated and delusional.
Second of all, WHAT the WHAT. Once you wrap your mind around precisely how old and historical these pillars and stones are, you're thrown for a loop.
You contemplate time, history, a whole different world.
...and then you're thisclose to suffering from heatstroke, so you start taking photos of the information plaques to read later and seek out some shade under which to catch a breath.
And play a monumental game of Jenga while you're at it.
The actual activities we committed to in Athens were 1) the Acropolis (because is that even a choice), and 2) walking.
We sauntered through the Monastiraki market, marveling over gimmicky magnets of gods and cooler relics of the present-day Athenians.
We walked through the streets of Plaka, popping our heads into shops for a dose of air-conditioning and to check out sidewalk cafes.
We walked through Thissio, seeking more delectable bites to eat and postcards to write.
We walked many a time to Best Pitta for more gyros.
(So much so that at one point, our host Andromeca spotted us on her way home from work and exclaimed, you two are here again?! No. You need to expand your horizons.
And so that night, she fetched us and Kakao and led us through maze-like avenues to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where the waiters spoke not a word of English. She ordered us pork knuckle and vegetables and Athenian classics and we spoke of her travels and the Greek economic crisis and we agreed that the food was amazing...
...aaaaaaand then for our next meal, Cassandra and I were right back at Best Pitta.)
My one request for Athens (I had told Cassandra that the Athens itinerary was up to her to plan because she had been so excited to visit after taking a Greek mythology class. Santorini is mine to plan, Athens is yours, I said.) was to visit the Poet Sandalmaker.
Stavros Melissinos is exactly that – partly a poet, partly a legendary sandalmaker who has handmade leather sandals for Jackie O, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sophia Loren, and anyone who is anyone.
Cassandra and I weren't about to pass up such an opportunity, so we tucked ourselves into Melissino's shop, picked out a style each, and waited to be custom fitted for our new leather sandals. Sturdy and comfy, I highly recommend visiting if you're ever in town.
Finally, after one last European sunset, we retreated to bed, preparing ourselves to face the inevitable the next day: returning home, to a time of doubt and uncertainty, after the most wonderful summer escape.
This was the view from our bedroom–I can't explain how crazy it was to fall asleep to a lit-up Parthenon, or to be stirred awake at 5am by the rising sun and be faced with the stone pillars against a rosy sky.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and this trip was no exception.
We waved goodbye to an Athens that was as gritty and as authentically no-frills as Santorini was pristine, flew to Frankfurt (where we thought we'd miss our flight and then I ended up being upgraded to first class HOLLA #sorrycassandra #yesIabandonedher #soooooooosorry #storyforanotherday), then to Toronto, and then to Los Angeles.