I’ve been travelling Europe a fair amount since I moved back to the UK. It’s the best thing about being back: it’s so easy and so cheap to hop on a plane and spend a weekend in a different European city, and it’s surprising how I didn’t appreciate that until I left.
Anyway, a friend and I went to Athens for a few days. I had wanted to go for a while – it’s such an incredibly old city. I should refresh my memory, do some research and make this factual, but for now I’m just going to say I think it’s been constantly inhabited since around 4500 BC. That’s not an accurate date. But you get the gist.. very old city. The home of democracy, philosophy, such renowned scholars, Plato, Socrates, Greek gods and goddesses… so much that intrigued me.
My friend and I had entirely different ideas about what we wanted to do for the weekend, which we didn’t discuss and therefore didn’t realise until we got there. She wanted to go and explore the closest island and just spend one day in Athens, but as we had such a short time and factoring in the time and cost of travelling to an island, minus the lost time in Athens, I preferred to stay in the city and immerse myself more in that. Luckily for us, we’re both pretty chilled, laid back girls who are quite comfortable to do our own thing. Very lucky, in fact, as we’re also both extremely stubborn when we know what we want to do, and I’m not sure how we would have managed to compromise.
I’ve heard a lot of people say they were underwhelmed with Athens, that they found the city boring, dirty and lacking in atmosphere. Maybe it was because I hadn’t been away for a while, or because I didn’t have long enough to form that opinion, but I liked it at a lot. Yes, there was some evidence of the financial crisis in the odd closed-down store, but it really wasn’t incredibly prevalent. Most things were open and with a buzzing atmosphere. There were certainly still quite a few tourists around spending their money in the city, and locals eating al fresco at restaurants or sitting in the sun with iced coffees were everywhere.
This was my favourite spot to go and have breakfast., The photo doesn’t do it justice – to both sides of the steps up the hill was café, restaurant, rooftop café; café, restaurant, rooftop café; all with outdoor seating, upstairs and downstairs, and this continued the entire way up. Each time we walked past, there was barely a spare seat to be had.
Anyway, I spent most of my first day in Athens exploring the historical sites alone, stopping regularly for iced coffee or olives, bread, tatziki etc. Yum. Food memories. I was enthralled with the Acropolis – it was incredible that you really could see the Pantheon in the distance from almost every spot in the city. I saw the Temple of Zeus, marvelled at the Odeon of Herodias Atticus, wandered through Syntagma Square, climbed Lykavittos Hill, etc etc. I remembered why I liked travelling alone, moving at my own pace, seeing the things I wanted to see. When I’m alone, I research the facts more, I pay more attention to the finer details and the stories behind what I’m looking at: I educate myself a little more than I do when I’m travelling with people, during which I tend to get more lost in what we’re doing rather than seeing.
I got back to my hostel in the evening, and found a note on my bed from a guy I’d briefly met when I arrived the night before, just saying hi and to let him know if I was planning on visiting an island in the next few days as he would join. He wasn’t around, so I hastily scribbled one back, explaining that I couldn’t, but to let me know if he fancied hanging out that evening. As I wrote it, he appeared. And he did.
So we headed out to a bar, me and my new friend – let’s call him M. I liked him, we got on pretty well. In no time at all we had made more friends and our group had grown. And I remembered again what I had forgotten about travelling alone – you meet more people. We had no plan, but we got some dinner, headed to various districts trying multiple bars, and one by one, as the night went on, our other new friends left. By the end of the night, it was M and I, wandering the streets of Athens, drunkenly sharing snippets of information about historical sites or notable architecture we’d picked up in guide books or through research as we passed it.
We decided that we may as well stay up to watch the sunrise, and he happened to have found some rock which offered an incredible view once climbed. So there we headed. We got a few beers on the way to see us through, and sat atop a rock, in the darkness, in the middle of Athens, and waited for the sun to rise.
When we arrived, we were the only people there, but shortly after a few teenage boys arrived with the same idea. We chatted to them about their lives in Athens, they joked with us and told us their ambitions and philosophies – the kind of talk that happens after a few drinks, in a small group, in a quiet place, as the night ends and morning begins.
The boys actually left around half an hour before sunrise – they said they had seen it many times before, but I’m not sure if they felt they should leave M and I to it. Although, we were just new friends, and nothing to suggest otherwise had happened. He was an attractive guy though. And as we sat on this rock at 5am in the pre-summer weather, and he put his arms around me and pulled me close to him as I started to feel chilly in shorts and a thin cardigan, there was definitely an atmosphere building.
We watched the sun rise over this ancient city in complete silence, completely alone. I’m not sure it entirely matters who one is with, but when it is two single people fairly attracted to one another, it’s only going to become romantic. It’s romantic anyway. So when he kissed me, it didn’t come as a surprise. Neither of us needed to say anything, it was simply right.
We stayed on the rock for a while, not doing anything other than kissing and watching the world wake up. It was incredibly peaceful..but as we wandered back to our hostel to sleep for an hour or so, other thoughts were entering our minds.
We got back and our 4 bed dorm (of which we were two, my friend away on the island was another, and a guy who had a flight at 4am was another) was of course empty but for us. He closed the door and threw me onto the bed…and we proceeded to make friends in the ancient way. The Greek gods and goddesses would have been proud.
We hung out together the next day, and when my friend came back from her island trip, she just joined us. It was nice, obviously temporary – I was on a weekend trip and he was continuing elsewhere in the world after his stint in Athens. We said goodbye, and I headed home, although he insisted he added me on some form of social media – something I am really not too bothered about.
But, I got home, accepted his request, went to work and life continued. I didn’t even click on his profile. Until he messaged me – something quite nice as far as I remember. And then I had a brief stalk.
It was meant to be brief, anyway. But immediately it was apparent that he had a girlfriend, and that they were pretty serious by the looks of it. Well, that spoiled that memory. I was genuinely shocked.
And appalled. Is nobody faithful anymore? He was a nice guy, or at least he had seemed it. And this revelation made it all suddenly feel a bit seedy – although it hadn’t been. So I was annoyed at him for that. For ruining my weekend in hindsight. Because I had had a really nice time, but now I wished that hadn’t happened. It really was right back to reality..