So the academic year was finally coming to an end and the long-awaited summer vacation was just around the corner! HURRAY!! And with me being off the hook for the summer semester, Thank God, I needed to properly plan my well-deserved and highly anticipated two months break.
With such a long period at hand, I decided not to spend the whole break in Egypt! Sorry folks! Instead, dividing my weeks between Egypt and a foreign destination(s), yet to be decided upon, seemed like the smart thing to do!
As I wanted to spend the last 10 days of Ramadan then the Eid in Egypt with my family and friends, I thought I would dedicate 3 weeks to traveling outside the country. But where would I go? It would have been great if I spent them exploring one of the Asian countries on my bucket list, they are quite a few, but with most of them being on their rainy season at the time, I was reluctant to do so especially after my wet experience in Sri Lanka during the “dry season”!! And since I didn’t want to cross the Atlantic, not just yet at least, Europe seemed like the place to be despite being expensive and overly crowded during the summer months.
So Europe it was then but frankly I didn’t feel like spending 3 weeks in one single country thus I had my mind set on choosing two splitting the duration between them. After that came the question of which two exactly. I wasn’t really sure yet but I knew one of them had to be Croatia and the second would have to be a Schengen country. Preferably one that can grant me at least a 3 months multiple entry visa since that one was going to be my 5th Schengen!
Now for the less privileged passports such as mine, the process of issuing a visa, Schengen in specific, is just a tedious one. But since I already have a good record with the Schengen area, I was hoping to get a 6 months multiple entry visa since the Netherlands provided me with a 3 months multiple that was still valid while I was issuing the one for my summer trip.
Let me tell you that not all countries are that gracious when it comes to the duration of your visa especially when you are a Muslim Arab. And while I was considering the Netherlands again or maybe Germany, my little sister who wanted to join me, instead on Greece.
She was finally able to travel with me that summer and since she has always wanted to visit Greece, I didn’t want to let her down despite the reputation of how tough their consulate is in visa issuance, at least the one in Cairo where my sister would have to apply for hers. So Greece it was ladies and gents. Frankly, I should have used my authority as the older sister and insisted on Germany! Why? Let’s find out.
To issue a Schengen visa, if you are one of the unfortunate lot, you need to have your trip planned to the very last detail because you will need to provide all trip-related documents from flights and all sorts of transportation till your accommodation confirmations and that is not even it! You also need to provide an HR letter and a bank statement along with a travel insurance and of course the filled in visa application! Did I forget anything else? Hopefully not! All of that should be handed in to the visa application center during your pre-booked appointment. Not mentioning the agony of the wait till you know if you got yourself a visa or not!! Tedious, didn’t I tell you!
Lucky me that tedious process is somehow less troubling in Kuwait. But in spite of that fact, I had my share of troubles as well because even with my previous visas and a passport full of stamps Greece wasn’t generous enough to grant me a long duration visa! Instead, I was given a one month two entries one!! So long were my plans of visiting Portugal in September 😦 Sigh!
On the other hand, it was quite a nightmare for my sister in Egypt! The visa application center gave her quite a hard time for not providing any documents which can explain how we will get from Corfu to Lefkada! And when she told them she will be traveling with me and that I will be issuing my visa from Kuwait, they asked for a copy of my residency! How could that have been helpful, I had no clue! My sister’s application took longer than the usual processing time during which she was called for an interview at the consulate. An interview that was more of an interrogation actually.
Few days after the interview she received her passport but without a visa as her application has been rejected because the submitted documents didn’t clearly state the purpose of the visit!! Huh?! What part of all the hotel bookings and flight tickets she submitted didn’t “clearly” state the reason behind her visit?! The rejection letter implied that the submitted documents were incomplete hence the none-clearly-stated purpose of the visit. Seriously? The thing is, any applicant is entitled to be informed if the handed in documents were missing something which wasn’t the case for my sister.
I know the visa issuance process is getting stricter than ever especially towards Middle Easterns and I kind of understand that! But come on, my sister is a senior student, she was being sponsored by my dad and would have been traveling with me, the older sister who works in Kuwait!! I think she doesn’t really fit the profile of someone who would break in to Europe illegally after a tourist visa gets expired!! She submitted all the needed silly documents, answered all the questions in the interview but yet got rejected over a vague reason without even a decent time to appeal!
I got so angry that I called the embassy and the consulate to complain and all they told me was that I needed to send an email and ask for a clarification! I did send an email explaining the whole situation and how they didn’t even give us time to appeal since the rejection was only 3 working days before departure. I asked to have a meeting with someone from the consulate but all I got was a daft reply that didn’t lead anywhere!
That was it, 2 days to departure and all my efforts to fix the issue were unsuccessful! My sister wasn’t coming though I was going to Greece only for her sake and not because I wanted to! I was faced with two major issues at the time, the cancellations and the fact that I couldn’t stand the idea of going to Greece without her!! The cancellation fees cost me quite a sum and while I was trying to absorb the amount of money I lost for no good reason, I needed to figure out what to do with the 10 nights that I would have to spend in Greece by myself! I wasn’t at all happy with that plot twist! As much as I enjoy traveling solo, I was actually longing for travelling with some company especially when it was going to be my little sis! I spend most of my days by myself and I travel solo most of the year so I didn’t really appreciate being by my own during my summer vacation; I do have the rest of the year for that thank you very much!!
Alas, I will be by myself for the whole trip and there is no escaping that! As much as I didn’t want to be in Greece at that time, I couldn’t really afford to change my flight and cancel the hotel bookings! So I made up my mind to spend the first 5 nights in Greece, the ones I couldn’t cancel on such a very short notice, then spend the remaining 5 in another Schengen country till I go on my planned 10 days trip to Croatia.
I wasn’t excited at all the day before my flight and kind of over-packed out of boredom which of course I regretted later! I was heavy hearted as my dad drove me to the airport in the morning and was feeling gloomy during the flight. But at the sight of the Greek islands from the air, I started to feel the thrill of being on a trip and bit by bit the sadness faded away! I was in Athens, Greece, one of the countries I myself have always wanted to visit but maybe when my Greek friends weren’t out of town!! A little excitement please Marwa, I told myself!
Upon arrival, I got stamped, claimed my luggage, and went on a short metro ride towards my accommodation which was quite central! May I also add that the hostel staff were friendly and the room was spacious and comfortable! By the time I was ready to hit the road again, I was quite starving so I decided to treat myself to a good meal before heading to the Technopolis at 7 to meet a friend for the LP concert! HURRAY! I kind of splurged on my first meal in Athens by dinning at Strofi Tavern. Strofi has a rooftop that overlooks the Acropolis and since I was there a couple of hours before the official dinner time, I was able to get myself a terrace table without previously made bookings. I think it’s always easy if it’s a table for one, huh!! That place is not budget friendly I have to warn you but the food was super delicious and the waiters were the nicest ever! A certain waiter got curious about the veiled female who had the whole terrace for herself and approached me for a quick conversation. He got surprised when he knew I’m from Egypt and kept on asking about the country’s state. That initiative encouraged another to talk with me and instead of spending my time at the tavern staring at my plate, or the Acropolis, I had the pleasure of conversing with some friendly people, we even shared a few laughs. It was the start I needed for a trip full of hiccups.
That tasty meal needed to be walked off and in an effort to do so; I walked around the Acropolis till my feet took me up the Areopagus Hill. That hill is just opposite the Acropolis offering great 360 degrees view of Athens with the Acropolis as the background of one of those angles!
TIP: the hill is a nice place to watch the sunset just be careful of the slippery rocky surface at the top.
After feasting on those views of Athens, I leisurely walked myself towards Technopolis for the concert while taking in my surroundings. The cobble stone walkways around the Acropolis were filled with stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs and handmade products and there was a street musician at every corner. So with the receding morning heat, strolling around that part of the city was enjoyable especially when music kept on coming from all directions. Speaking of which, while I was walking by I suddenly heard a really cool chill out music piece coming out from a café! And since I wasn’t quick enough to Shazam it and badly wanted to know which track it was, I went inside the café to ask! Now that was a first and despite being startled at my peculiar behavior, the waiter was nice enough to not only provide me with the video’s name but also to give me the link to that online music platform! You can access the website here 😉
I knew about the LP concert from the friend I met that night, Laila. The plan was for the 3 of us, my sister, Laila, and I to attend it together. But since my sis couldn’t make it, I was actually glad that I had Laila as company for the night! I couldn’t imagine how it would have felt attending the concert by myself after all the mishaps. I was in need of a friendly face back then so spending the night with Laila was the boost I needed to get that trip started.
The concert was in celebration of the 10th anniversary of establishing gazarte, one of Athens cultural hubs. The lineup included Angelika Dusk, Lola Marsh, Monophonics, and LP as the final act for the night. The concert was superb, Laila and I had a blast. It was a well spent night full of music and fun moments. It left me feeling happy and energized for what is yet to come.
Traveling solo is such a great opportunity to get to know people and make new friends from around the globe. So the following morning I had the chance of having breakfast with one of my dorm mates, Lissie, who is an independent musician from Austria. We talked about music, art, and travel over coffee in the outdoor area of the hostel. We didn’t have a view or anything but the morning breeze in the shade of the building under sunny skies made for such a great morning. Sadly, our plans for the day couldn’t intersect as she was leaving that afternoon but that didn’t mean I couldn’t meet up with her later 😉
So, how did the day unfold? Let’s see, Athens has its share of monuments and museums and all sorts of places to check out. But since I’m not really a museums person, I preferred to spend the day outside walking around enjoying the views and taking in all the heat and sweat that came along with it!! Don’t get me wrong here, I can totally take the heat! Come on, I’m Egyptian and I do live in Kuwait so 30-something degrees is like spring in my dictionary 😀
The location of the hostel I was staying at was really great and it allowed me to literally go around on foot. And I kind of decided to try not to rely on google maps that much and allow myself to get lost. Not lost lost, just an acceptable level of it. I started with Hadrian’s Arch and took it off from there and as I continued walking I suddenly found myself in Plaka. Plaka is one of the most popular neighborhoods in Athens with its narrow cobble stone streets that are filled with cafes, restaurants, and all sorts of gift shops. It gives you the feeling of a village or a small mountain town with its winding hilly streets. I just fell in love with it and if you are into jewelry like myself over here then you will love that area even more because of all the shops that are full of handmade jewelry made by local designers. The collection of this specific designer just blew my mind and now I’m obsessed with getting a matching ring for my pendant 😀
The next location on my list was the Monastiraki flea market and on my way there from Plaka I walked through an area full of graffiti which I absolutely loved. I’m a big fan of street art and I do my best to spot it anywhere I go so walking through painted walls is always of great joy to me. My wanderings that afternoon took me also to the Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, and finally to the square of Monastiraki where you can also find the Tzistarakis Mosque which acts as an exhibition for a small collection of vases and other objects made of clay, it was previously known as the Greek Folk Museum.
After a quick bite of chicken souvlaki accompanied by a slice of watermelon, compliments of the house, I walked myself back to the Acropolis through the flea market.
TIP: it’s advised to do the Acropolis in the early mornings or late afternoons to escape the heat during summer days. At the Temple of Olympian Zeus earlier the day, I came to know about a collective ticket that gives you access to 6 sites and is valid for a couple of days! It can be useful if you are a history enthusiast just be careful of the siesta time where some of the sites are actually closed!
I have a little confession here now that I have visited the Acropolis, I think it is kind of overrated! I paid for the ticket after queuing for like half an hour or something, went up the stairs and walked around but wasn’t impressed! Sorry 😦 If you want to spare yourself a fee of 20 euros, then view the site from the top of the opposing Areopagus hill. And if you wait till it is dark, you will get to see the Acropolis at night and that’s a marvelous thing to witness.
TIP: I was advised not to go up that hill alone late at night so you might want to be careful doing so unless you are in a group.
I met with my friend Laila again that night, it was my last in Athens as I was flying to Corfu the following morning. We watched the last of the sunset from the top of the Areopagus then strolled around the city to Little Kook for something sweet to eat. Guys, this place is AMAZING! The decorations and costumes of the waitresses are so cool and their desserts menu is mouthwatering. If you happen to be there, take a walk along Pittaki street to see the light fixtures installations. That street was a deserted one, a street that walkers by avoided till two organizations, Imagine The City and Beforelight, teamed up to refurbish the place. I only walked there at night but I imagine it being much lovelier in the morning.
Thinking about those couple of days now, I might have been unprepared and possibly didn’t give Athens the chance it deserves but my short stay was indeed lovely and I was glad I had the chance to wrap it up in Laila’s presence as well. My time in Athens came to an end and I had to make room for the island of Corfu so here I come 🙂