By Carlett Serratos
Sweaty and tired, our stomachs empty and our frustration growing by the second, a few of the girls and I headed toward the small Athens neighborhood near Monastiraki Square. See, our day began quite nice actually. We visited the Acropolis and saw the Parthenon — took tons of pictures. However, we had walked for hours and we were feeling pretty h-angry as a combination of jet lag and dehydration began to hit us with its full and brutal impact. We were told it might take day or two to catch us — the jet lag that is. As we made our way down the street, waiters shoved menus in our faces and made a genuine (and by that I mean outrageously enthusiastic) attempt to get us into their businesses. It was in that moment, despite my growing fatigue, I began to feel a sense of familiarity. My frustration of hunger and heat took a back seat to the realization that this type of place was not completely foreign to me. In Mexican cities such as Oaxaca and Cancun, I had experienced this all before and I felt as if I was there. I no longer felt the urge to scream. Being halfway across the globe no longer seemed so intimidating because it suddenly felt like our typical family vacation.
When we finally settled on a nice looking restaurant, Palmie Bistro, my whole body relaxed into the chair. The food itself was amazing, but my mind kept trying to make sense of the restaurant environment itself because it was so distinct from the typical American restaurant. For starters, our waiter was smoking alongside all the other employees, despite 1) being an employee inside a restaurant and 2) having customers present. I’ve never experienced anything like this, and even though we were warned about the liberal smoking in many European cities, it was jarring. We didn’t even discuss leaving, since this was part of the culture we were exploring. We dealt with it. Another difference I noticed was we received our check prior to the arrival of our meals, which I found very odd, but somehow it made sense; it was sort of cool because though it might seem like they were ready to push us out immediately once we were done, it was the opposite. It was like everyone in the room had all the time in the world. With some food in our bellies, the girls and I grew excited once again to keep exploring (and anxious for some fresh air free of the smell of secondhand smoke) so off we went. We wandered the nearby neighborhood called Plaka, a place much louder and colorful than any other we had visited so far. It felt great to not be the loudest group around — since most other places our volume brought stares. With buildings and clothing and decor in bright colors everywhere we looked, and cars and motorcycles honking constantly — Athens took on a certain rhythm. Street vendors chanted the prices of their items and enthusiastic tourists had an air of excitement — this neighborhood allowed me to feel a sense of belonging, and I was relieved. We walked around the flea markets, listened to live music, bought Greek snacks and then — rock bottom.
Our exhaustion caught up to us and we decided to make our way back to our hotel via the metro, which I will say is one of my biggest challenges with Greece so far. It is very efficient and easy to navigate, but I am not used to being clustered and squished next to random people, it makes me a feel anxious. Thankfully, the trips are short for the most part and we aren’t on it for more than a couple minutes. Something surprising about Athens is the amount of people that speak English here, which I definitely did not expect given we are so far from home. I didn’t realize that English was such a universal language. I’m glad people understand me though, it gives me a sense of safety. An interesting observation I’ve made during my first few days are is that road rage is most definitely global. I guess no one really likes traffic anywhere, which makes sense. Another observation is that spicy foods are not a thing here, which makes me a little sad. Oh, and coffee, is a way of life — and I love it. I’m excited for the rest of my experience here and I feel like holding a mind free of judgement and keeping the idea of cultural humility in mind, I am sure that I will make meaning from my time here.