Five Delicious Days In Greece
Ancient technologies, jellyfish stings, and freddo espresso
This is my first “just for fun”/travel post. For now, I’m planning to send these out between longer essays. My publishing schedule will evolve over time and according to what interests you all, so let me know what you want to see more (or less) of!
Over the 4th of July, Nick and I took a 5-day trip to Athens and Hydra, a car-free island in the Saronic Gulf. Boy, was it lovely. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer break from Cairo.
This trip was my platonic ideal of vacation: the perfect mix of sun, sea, and city. We visited the Acropolis, had gelato for lunch, and sat outside drinking fizzy lemonade and freddo espresso (which Nick has started making at home by putting espresso in the blender with a little ice and sugar!). We breathed in the fresh air and relished being in a place where we could take pleasure in wandering the streets.
After landing in Athens at 6:00 a.m., we headed straight for the port of Piraeus to catch the 2-hour ferry to Hydra. We spent two days lounging in seaside tavernas, taking long walks, and swimming in the Aegean (I got stung by a jellyfish, but it was a little one, so…worth it). One of our favorite moments was a sunset hike to a monastery that sits on the island’s highest point. We were rewarded handsomely for reaching the summit, as the monastery’s charity shop had a dish of free loukoumi—which is just Turkish delight, but don’t you dare say that in Greece—and we got to pet the monks’ 150-pound Greek shepherd dog, who leaned into our legs like a cat.
We then returned to the mainland for three days in Athens. It’s an amazing city for food and drink. The Clumsies was named one of the world’s 50 best bars in 2021, and whipped us up a delicious cocktail of gin, scotch, pomegranate, mint, and black cardamom. Our hotel bartender recommended Auli, an outdoor taverna in Psirri that was the quintessential place for Greek meze, or small bites. Ipanema Espresso Bar and Bakery was a hidden gem, and its flaky, savory pies are the perfect breakfast before heading to the Acropolis early in the morning.
Between hunts for the city’s best gelato (which is Gelato di Nonna’s lemon cheesecake flavor, in my humble opinion), we visited Acropolis Hill, the Acropolis Museum, and the National Archaeological Museum, all of which are must-sees while in Athens. But an unexpected highlight was the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology. The museum exhibits high-tech devices used by the Greeks plus theoretical inventions from ancient texts—and better yet, it’s all interactive. Did you know that the ancient Greeks had mastered steam and hydraulic power? I sure didn’t, and I was amazed. We saw firefighting pumps, “magic” jugs that pour out holy water when a coin is inserted, and this nifty method of sending messages. It brought so much color to my mental portrait of ancient life.
Also, a fun side note: Athens was the setting for my very first bit of paid writing, a piece about the 1975 assassination of a CIA station chief. An extremist group claimed credit for the attack, but the killers weren’t caught until 2002, and the circumstances surrounding the murder remain somewhat mysterious. You can read the article here!
We took Athens at a very leisurely pace (I wasn’t feeling well on days 1 and 2 and had to nap for a couple hours), but if we had been more motivated to pack our days with activities, we could have easily fit in more museums or a day trip to another island. Here are a few pro tips for Athens’ biggest tourist attractions, if you plan to go someday:
Visit the Acropolis Museum before you go to the Acropolis. There isn’t a ton of information on Acropolis Hill, and visiting the museum first will give you some context for what you are looking at and how the site evolved over its 2,000+ year history.
DO NOT WEAR A SKIRT TO THE ACROPOLIS MUSUEM. Most of the museum floors are glass to allow natural light to filter through. They also provide excellent opportunities for upskirting. (Yes, I briefly looked up to test this theory, and…yikes. This leads me to believe the museum’s design team was almost entirely male, but I digress.) Unless you want to become an exhibit yourself, wear shorts or pants.
Many of the ticketed archaeological sites in Athens can be easily seen from outside the fence. Unless you’re dying to examine a lot of ancient columns up close, it’s probably not worth paying for tickets to sites like the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Roman Agora. Look at them through the fencing and spend the €8 on several gelatos instead.
We are already thinking about going back. If you have a favorite place in Greece that we simply can’t miss—or if you’re planning a visit and want to hear more about our trip—leave a comment below. (Greece is a great place to go right now, because there are zero Covid-related entry requirements.) See you next week with another essay!