A lot of the great things about travel boil down to the learning opportunities you get because, regardless of what you are doing, you will learn something.
Today we went off on our own, equipped with nothing but a map and a pocket full of euros. We somehow managed to get to the metro station, figure out how to buy a metro pass, and get on the right train to the right station. We got off and eventually figured out which direction we should go.
Surprisingly, we made it to our destination (an awesome Byzantine history museum). Along the way we found a park with some ruins and a few animals (goats, chickens, etc.). After lunch we navigated back to our hotel, though I’m not convinced we scanned our tickets correctly on the metro. No one checked and we haven’t been imprisoned, so I guess it turned out just fine.
Anyway, after that we went on an adventure with the whole group to see the Areopagus (Mars Hill). This is the spot where the Apsotle Paul stood and addressed the elders (very important guys) of Athens in Acts 17. Great leaders from all over the world have taken time to stop and explore this important site.
From Plato to Alexander the Great to Napoleon to me, people great and small have visited this place because of its great historical significance. This is something I imagine must surprise some because it is just a big rock with a great view. It seems to me that the ancients must have also had a wonderful view considering how tricky it can be getting over there (I definitely got my steps in today). The climb is definitely worth it once you hear the history and then experience it first hand for yourself.
But the local opinion is a bit different. This place of amazing significance and wonder is just part of the landscape to them. They are reverent to the history but also practical about its use. There are societies that look after it because of its history and tourism value, but the locals use it for a picnic spot. If this was America the government would rope it off, box it in, and you’d get to look at it through glass (but not for too long and no pictures allowed).
But that’s just a reminder of how ordinary this place is to the regular people who live here. I tend to think about travel destinations as exotic and built for tourists, but people do live here. It shouldn’t come as a shock that people live in Greece and they aren’t that different from me, but it is still a surprise when I walk into the super market and I see people buying Oreos and salsa.
I’ve taken several opportunities to sit back and think about how much history is around me, and how people live this every day. Maybe someday I will have the opportunity to live in a place with more historic sites around me so I can experience a little bit of the wonder they must feel as they think back to the Roman Emperor Hadrian every time they walk past his library (yes, it is in Athens). I remember a little of this feeling from living in Baltimore, but to look out my window and see ruins thousands of years old every single day would be an experience beyond compare.
I’ve noticed that the people here have an intense passion for their country and their way of life, especially when it comes to major cultural elements like food. It makes much more sense to me why they would have such a connection to their heritage when their ancient roots have been so influential for thousands of years and they are constantly reminded of it by the ruins outside their front door. I look forward to observing more about the people around me, as well as the great history of this wonderful place as we go further tomorrow.
In case anyone was wondering, the food is delicious and the language is incredibly hard. I am thankful that most people I’ve encountered speak English well, but I am also disappointed that I haven’t been given the immersion effect of learning language. It’s probably in my own best interest to speak English since Greek is such a challenge, but I’m hoping to put in more effort to pick up some phrases. So far, I can ask for a bathroom, order three different foods without any translations, and spot a pharmacy.
Prayers for our group would be greatly appreciated because we are already being challenged by the pace. Pick pocketing is also a concern here because of the city life and poor economy, which encourages thieves (who especially prey on tourists who tend to carry more money). It’s not a deterrent from visiting but it is a precaution we are all trying to take.