By Valerie Stohr
This weekday evening, half of our group and I (about ten of us), struggling through the difficulties of jet lag, decided to leisurely explore Athens in the summer heat rather than just sleep in our hotel. After riding the metro from Megaro Mousikis to Syntagma Square, we walked to our final destination: the Plaka and Monastiraki flea markets. Crowds of people flooded the streets and vendors of souvenirs and foods for tourists filled my eyes. The smell of food, a mix of McDonald’s and traditional Greek, was inescapable. However, it was the smell of an ice cream parlour that took hold and we bought an ice cream, a cool snack on a warm evening and nice break from the crowded market.
Managing to navigate through the loads of people and narrow streets where cars that seem to have the eternal right-of-way, we eventually arrived in the Plaka neighborhood. Plaka is where the flea markets begin. One of the main reasons we came to this part of town is not only to enjoy the scenery and get our steps in for the day, but because we wanted to try “Doctor Fish,” a nail salon that offers the opportunity to have tiny fish nibble the dead skin off our feet. The prices varied on the options menu, but we chose the 10 minutes for 10 euro option. Since we had a big group, the technician extended the time to 12 minutes.
Once we finished getting our feet tickled by the tiny fish, we set out to find food, making small purchases along the way. Our wallets emptying quicker than we expected as the time passed. We reached the Monistariki neighborhood, where vendors line both sides of the street, mostly selling the same souvenirs, but for different prices. Because it is summer and tourists abound, we made it our mission to seek out the best prices and not fall into the buy-the-first-thing-you-see trap. The culture here is definitely different from back home in the states. Walking past the stores, the salespeople are not afraid to approach you directly on the street in front of their shops, often multiple times, asking you to try pieces of jewelry on or even attempting put them on you directly. Most are persistent inside stores as well, ensuring we did not need help finding anything and appreciated every last detail. I found many souvenirs, for myself and my family, that I bought that will help me remember this trip, and to share these memories with family and friends. We ended the night (very late actually) at a restaurant called “Just Pita.” I ordered a covered pita with pork.
The food was amazing: melted cheese mixed with perfectly cooked pork and seasoned vegetables, all embedded in a warm pita. I ordered tzatziki sauce on side, which is a traditional Greek sauce made from yogurt, garlic, salt and olive oil. It had an amazing taste and goes well with both meat and bread. I’m enjoying trying new flavors and tastes. Even if you’ve had a gyro back home, they taste a million times better here.
As dinner ended, we made our way back through Monastiraki and Plaka, the sunlight now completely disappeared. Tracing our path in reverse through the maze of cobblestone streets, we worked together to remember where we had turned left and where we had turned right. The whine and rumble of motorcycles and scooters still a constant. Once we found one of the main roads that had mainstream stores like H&M and Forever 21, I knew exactly how to get back. There’s the parliament building! I know that the metro station is right below it. It felt good to know that even when you get a little lost, we can always find our way. It’s not as scary as I thought.