8 Lessons Learned During My Trip to Greece #SOL24

June 25, 2024

So part of the reason I haven’t updated in so long is that I went to Greece at the beginning of May. A friend of mine was presenting at a conference and invited me to tag along since she (a) wanted company and (b) knew I was still on sabbatical, so I made the very difficult decision to go. I am sure you all appreciate my great sacrifice.

On this trip, I learned a lot of important lessons that I wish I had known BEFORE my trip. So I’m presenting them to you so that if you decide to go to Greece, you are prepared.

#1 – Bring hiking boots

On May 10 (day 8) of our trip, I learned a lot of lessons. The most important one of which was to make sure to bring hiking boots if you plan to go to any of the ancient sites. We went on the Athens & Acropolis Highlights: a Mythological Tour that starts at Hadrian’s Arch, goes up to the Acropolis, and then down to the Ancient Agora. This was a very long walk, punctuated by a lot of opportunities for me to fall and injure myself because I wasn’t wearing the proper shoes–namely, hiking boots. To start, it was raining (more on that later), and the first part of the tour included walking first to the Arch and then to the Acropolis over what turned out to be a marble sidewalk. Do you know what wet marble is? Extremely slippery. Especially if you’re wearing tennis shoes with very little traction, something I learned as I was slipping and sliding across said sidewalk.

Next was the walk up the very large hill (mountain) to the Acropolis. The Acropolis is an archaeological site which means it is extremely rocky the entire way up, while walking around the Parthenon, and on the way down, so again, lots of opportunities to fall or roll an ankle. It is also NOT accessible AT ALL so anyone with any kind of mobility issues will struggle getting up and down the very steep hill that is mostly steps. Steps filled with rocks. Everywhere is rocks. Rocks, rocks, rocks.

Hadrian's Arch shown way, way down the hill with an arrow above it amidst the rest of Athens. It is far away.

For perspective, that’s where our tour started. This pic was taken at the Acropolis. As you can see, the start of the tour was very far away and also down a steep hill.

Then, the walk down to the Agora was, of course, filled with rocks because part of that is still the Acropolis. The other part of walking to the Agora was basically walking straight down a paved hill. (I kept calling Athens “Stealth Francisco” because one minute the path was pretty flat and the next we we were walking up a hill somewhere. This happened almost everywhere we went in the city.) So, yeah, the paved hill was also slippery because it started raining again. And then, of course, once we got to the Agora, we discovered that’s another archaeological site filled with rocks and steps with no bannister to walk up to the temple of Hephaestus, so not only is that another opportunity to fall and/or roll your ankle, but it’s also a chance to plunge to your death. So you definitely want hiking boots there.

(For the record, our guide asked us if we wanted to go up to the temple, and our entire group said yes but then had regrets as we walked up the stairs with no bannister. At the Acropolis, if you fell off a step, at least you would basically just hit your bum on the ground right next to it. It was rough going but I felt relatively safe. Hephaestus, on the other hand, was like driving up a mountain with no guard rail.)

We also went up to the top of Mount Lycabettus, which was very windy (more on that later) and also very slippery because of the rain, so having hiking boots would have served me well there. The walk up to the mountain was all stairs with rails, but once we got to the church on top, it was all slip and slide all the time. Hiking boots would have made a huge difference there as well.

#2 – Bring your backpack

On the booking for our Acropolis tour, it said that no large backpacks were allowed so don’t even bother bringing them. This was terrible advice that should be ignored. I say this because I left my backpack in the room like the good rule follower I am and had immediate regrets. Do you know why? Because it started raining even though there was absolutely NO indication of rain in the forecast. And do you know what I had in my backpack? My umbrella and also a poncho. Both of which would have been perfect on a rainy day as we traipsed the Acropolis. And neither of which I brought because of the zero rain in the forecast and because I had no way to carry them if it weren’t raining because I didn’t have my backpack.

weather forecast says windy and cloudy but ZERO mention of rain

Standing in the rain while it’s raining and the weather forecast still not mentioning there’s even a chance of rain is, as the internet would say, diabolical.

You know what else goes well in a backpack? Snacks. You know what you need on a four-plus hour walking tour of the Acropolis? Snacks. Granted, I did have a protein bar in my purse, but that was not quite enough to tide me over, and I wish I’d had access to my full arsenal of back up snacks as well. Another thing that goes great in a backpack is something else you need in Athens at all times: a windbreaker, which leads me to the next thing I wish I had known before going to Greece.

#3 – Pack a windbreaker

I had a sweater, of course, because I don’t trust the outdoors or the air conditioner and know I could be freezing at any moment. However, most of the temples (Hephaestus, Parthenon, Poseidon) and other sites (Mount Lycabettus) were on high ground. As anyone who has ever gone up a mountain knows, high ground can be very, very windy, so while my sweater kept me from some of the chill in the air, it did nothing to protect me from the wind. Not only that but we went on a cruise which, you got it, had a lot of windy moments because it was partly overcast when we started and also, you know, we were cutting through the water on a boat.

Also, even though the temperatures matched Florida’s, the humidity matched California’s, which meant that even if it was nice and warm outside during the day, at night the temperature dropped and often brought with it a breeze that, again, cut through the sweater like it was nothing. So while it was very good that I had my sweater, having a windbreaker would have been much better and much more useful for the different activities we did.

#4 – A sun hat is your friend

Because of my time in Joshua Tree, I had a sun hat, the kind with a strap under the chin and made of fabric (not straw), which I chose to bring instead of wearing a baseball cap. This turned out to be a fantastic idea because not only did it keep me from turning into an overheated monster on the sunny days, it also kept me a lot warmer than I would have been when we got to the top of the Acropolis and Mount Lycabettus. My hat covered my head (of course) but also my ears, which kept the wind out and made everything a lot more bearable. People who know me know that I run cold, but I was not suffering nearly as much as I know I would have been if I didn’t have that hat.

#5 – Have cash, especially for taxis, small stands, and excursions

I talked to a few people who said I wouldn’t need cash because “everywhere” takes cards. That may be true, in general, but a lot of places PREFER cash. I ran into this twice–once when I went to buy souvenirs at a gift shop located in a huge tourist area with a lot of stands. The woman was going to offer me a lower price if I paid cash and actually kind of haggled with me so that I wound up paying for part of my purchase with cash. After visiting Mount Lycabettus, we decided to take a taxi back to the hotel (200 steps* to the top to catch the Funicular, not counting the walk up the hill to get up the steps, then the walk up the steps from the Funicular to get to the top of the mountain = we were DONE walking) and even though I asked our driver twice if he took a card, he agreed to take us because he thought we would pay cash. His card reader thing wasn’t working so he wound up driving us to an ATM to get cash anyway.

For the excursions, you want cash because the people take tips. We took a cruise to two islands, and after we docked, they passed out a tip jar. I told my friend I had a feeling they took tips because the one guy was flirting/working a little too hard, which to me felt like he was singing for his supper.

#6 – Wait until the last day to spend all of your cash

So, Mount Lycabettus was our last full day in Greece and because I didn’t think I’d need the cash I had taken out (see #5), I used cash everywhere we went that day that took cash. This is also why I didn’t have enough money to pay with cash at the gift shop and, of course, you already know what happened with the taxi. If I had just waited one more day, I would have been good for both. It all worked out, so it’s fine, but just something I wish I had known.

#7 – Bring a duffel bag

Okay, this may be the most important lesson of all. I went carry-on only for the trip as one does when flying standby, so I had my carry-on suitcase and my backpack. THIS WAS A MISTAKE. Instead of the backpack, I should have brought a small duffel bag that would fit under the seat. Do you know why? For food souvenirs. Namely baklava and other goodies that do not travel well in a backpack. I could only bring back two small containers of baklava because they fit in a food bag, but there was no way I could put baklava straight from the bakery in either of my travel bags. The containers aren’t sealed completely so the honey would have leaked all over my stuff, and if I had bought anything else, it would have spilled all in my backpack. But if I’d had a duffel bag, I could have managed to keep everything upright for the duration of the trip home and would have been able to (a) enjoy more baklava and (b) give some to my mom and a couple of other people for souvenirs. Alas.

#8 – Buy small bottles/jars of a thing you want

Oh wait, the baklava things wasn’t the greatest tragedy. The greatest tragedy was that I went to pistachio island and discovered pistachio butter. I discovered pistachio butter so bought a small jar to bring on the plane. But I wanted more. So like a ding dong, I bought the larger jar. (Remember, I was traveling carryon only.) I was hoping and praying that somehow the large jar would clear security.

Spoiler alert: It did not.

Who could have seen that coming? Everyone who wasn’t me, obviously.

After I got home, as I was unpacking and put that little jar that cleared security on the shelf in my kitchen, I thought, Duh, why didn’t you just buy a bunch of small jars of the pistachio butter to bring home?

So, yes, my one brain cell apparently activated way, way, way after the fact when it would do me zero good. Please don’t ask me what I was thinking when I stood there with the two jars in my hand before I bought them because I clearly wasn’t. This is basic travel knowledge but apparently the pistachio butter made me lose my mind. Don’t make the same mistake I did.


So there you have it: the eight lessons I learned while visiting Greece. I hope they help someone avoid making the same mistakes I did, even the ones like #8 when I should have known better.

*P.S. If you want to see what the stairs up to the Funicular were like, this post has a picture. Keep in mind that every time we got to the top of a landing on the stairs, we faced that view again. And again. And again. My friend almost lost her mind because there seemed to be no end in sight. To its credit, Apple/Google maps did say there was a “steep climb,” but no mention of the stairs were made anywhere–not even on Atlas Obscura!

 

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6 Comments

  1. Leah Koch

    Love this! I’ve been to Greece and relived the trip through your detailed recounting. I also like how you structured the post as lessons learned.

    Reply
  2. Debbie Lynn

    I would LOVE to go to Greece and hope to one day, so I am archiving your suggestions, thank you very much! :)

    Reply
    • Akilah

      I hope you get to go soon! I had a great time.

      Reply
  3. Juliette

    Thanks for the format and your detailed writing. I will borrow this format for my next adventure. Thank you

    Reply
  4. Elisabeth Ellington

    I love this format and I’m totally stealing it. Though I never go anywhere half so interesting as GREECE. Somehow “8 Lessons Learned During My Trip to Pittsburgh” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. This was a delight to read–and so cleverly done, because a whole story of your trip emerges from the advice and lessons. So much voice and humor here.

    Reply
    • Akilah

      Oh, I don’t know. I think there’s a lot I would need to know before I ever set foot in Pittsburgh.

      Reply

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