I’ve been in Athens for 5 days now (so not quite a week, but orientation is officially over!) and I have been loving every moment. I live in the Pangrati (Παγκράτι) neighborhood on a pedestrian street and it is wonderful. My walk to the Academic Center takes about 10 minutes and looks like this:
I have five roommates, who are so much fun to hang out with. We’ve been getting to know each other and we have all cried laughing together and shared several meals.
We ate gyros for our first dinner at a restaurant called Smile in Plaka. It was obviously a very tourist-friendly area, so maybe it wasn’t super authentic, but it was fun.
On Wednesday, we went to the Academic Center in the evening for souvlaki and traditional dancing. Also in the picture are our friend Carolyn and our director of housing and catering, Popi.
On our first full day in Athens, my roommate Rachel and I explored the neighborhood a little and bought an orange pepper plant (because we wanted flowers but don’t have any vases) and found a coffee shop. We were happy to find that everyone in our neighborhood seems to be friendly and genuinely wants to make our experience in Greece a good one. At the coffee shop, our waiter gave us half price (and has continued to do so every time we’ve ordered from him, which is to say every day) and has helped us with vocabulary. When we walk in with food from other bakeries or the grocery store, he always teaches us the word for what we’re eating. I’ve also learned to order a frappé with one sugar, which is my new favorite drink. It’s instant coffee mixed with sugar in hot water and then shaken with ice. A layer of foam rises to the top while the cold coffee sinks to the bottom. It’s the perfect treat for hot days in Athens and our waiter only charges us one euro for what I estimate to be a coffee the size of a Starbucks grande.
The man in the flower shop where we bought the peppers was also very friendly. We wanted something bright for our apartment, so he wrapped up our plant in bright pink paper and tied it with a silver bow. We told him we’re students from America and he only charged us 3 euros for the plant, taught us some numbers, and pointed out a restaurant for us to try. Similarly, in a bakery down the road, roommate Emily and I picked up breakfast for our apartment, and the lady behind the counter taught us the names of the pastries and tossed in a τυρόπιτα (cheese pie) for free.
We found people who work at stores and restaurants in touristy areas to be a little more pushy and aggressive, but generally Greeks seem to want to share their culture and are happy to talk with us students for a few minutes and give us deals if we ask. We’ve also been taking survival Greek courses throughout orientation, and it’s nice to be able to wake up in the morning and order breakfast and coffee and Greek before even going to class. The Athenians have been very patient with us!
Our neighborhood is very quiet and, as I mentioned before our apartment is on a pedestrian street. I’d heard about stray dogs in Athens, but our little corner is very popular with cats. This might have something to do with the fact that the little old ladies in our apartment leave out cat food and dishes of water on the steps. The cats are friendly and well-fed, and in the afternoon when it gets really hot, they all lounge around on the cool stone and let us pet them as much as we want.
This is our street, θεοφραστου. Sometimes motorcycles or scooters park at the bottom of the stairs, but it’s really nice to live in a quiet area with no traffic. Another really cute Greek custom I’ve noticed is that young children (under 3 or 4) seem to spend the day with their grandfathers, so all over the neighborhood, grandpas walk around hand-in-hand with toddlers, often with an ice cream or pastry in their hand.
Speaking of food. Oh my god. Besides pastries, souvlaki and gyros, which are amazing, we’ve been eating good. We all went to a taverna dinner on Wednesday with professors and other students in the program and ate mostly appetizers: bread and fava beans and tzatziki sauce and Greek salad with feta and fried zucchini. When the waiter brought out the meat and watermelon, I had to loosen my belt a little to make room.
We’ve been walking around a lot too, so hopefully that will balance out the amount of food we’ve been eating. (The 100+ stairs between the apartment and the Academic Center won’t hurt either.) This is the Zappeion, where the Greek congress convenes. My roommate and Emily and I walked here through the National Garden yesterday after orientation. It is stunning. We thought this was Syntagma Square, but apparently the building there is even bigger and more stunning, so we’ll hunt that out later this week.
We wandered inside the building to look around and somehow ended up in the central courtyard. It was so beautiful, but we only got to look for about 10 seconds before a woman came up to us and started speaking Greek, to which I replied, “Yes,” because I’ve heard that’s a good response to some things. Then she asked me in English if I worked in congress and I said no, so she said we had to leave because we weren’t actually allowed inside, and especially not when congress is in session (which apparently it was). Oops.
Finally, we went to see the Temple of Zeus, a short walk away from the Zappeion. We showed our ICOMOS cards and got in for free, which was wonderful. I love living in a place where I can explore not only a new culture, but a rich history within a few blocks of where I’m living. This weekend my roommates and I are thinking about going to an island and next week I’ll be in Andros. I’m very excited to explore these areas that are easy to access now and continue to learn about this beautiful country.