Seeing as all our travel plans this year (and the next…?) have been put on hold, to ease the wanderlust I’ll post throwback photos every week from our past trips. Join me as I travel from my sofa!
Whenever possible, we try to visit a McDonald’s when we travel.
Why McDonald’s? Mainly because there’s a good chance the city has one (The Economist invented the Big Mac Index for a reason). Now, before you start thinking we’re unsophisticated eaters who don’t appreciate local cuisine (we do!), our reason for doing this is the exact opposite – McDonald’s has a menu item unique to the city and we like trying it out. In Paris, we had a cheeseburger that used blue cheese (au bleu) instead of the usual processed cheese slices they served elsewhere. Singapore used to offer a gula melaka (palm sugar) flavoured McFlurry.
In Athens they served a ‘Greek Mac’: two beef patties, lettuce, and tomatoes sandwiched in pita bread.
The McDonald’s branch was a short walk from our hotel in the Plaka district but the route was a little dodgy – graffiti on the walls, men loitering in the street corners. It was the year of Grexit and my siblings joined me on a rare “just us” holiday to Athens. Parliament was also close by. I recall expecting protests in the neighbourhood and being a little worried.
The view of the Acropolis from the hotel roof deck was unforgettable though, so we made do.
We headed to it the next day. The Acropolis is the highest part of the city. The walk up the hill was easy and clearly signposted. We passed several places that evoked memories of our high school “History of the World” textbook: theatres with names like Dionysus and Herodes Atticus, a temple named after Athena Nike.
At the top of Acropolis Rock was the Parthenon. At that time, restoration was in full swing so parts of it were covered in tarpaulin and there was scaffolding too. But still… it was the Parthenon. A building built circa 5th century B.C. during the golden age of Athens, one of the oldest cities in the world. We were right there! And the view was stunning.
From the Acropolis we made our way to the Agora, where Socrates was born and where St. Paul preached. There was hardly any shade on the way so water bottles and face towels are recommended.
The Agora is for wandering. There are several buildings on the site you can explore. You can shut your eyes and imagine it as the ancient marketplace it once was centuries ago, complete with the hustle and bustle typical of a public palengke, the famous philosophers who spoke, the huge crowds that must have gathered here to listen.
We continued on foot to the Roman Forum, where the Romans moved Athens’ marketplace from the old Agora. It’s smaller and has the beautifully named Tower of the Winds, an octagonal tower built in 50 B.C. There used to be a bronze weather vane on the tower roof which indicated the direction of the wind, personified in carved relief at the top of each side. Rays of sundials are carved on each side beneath the scenes of the winds, and inside there was a water clock powered by a stream from the Acropolis.
We had lunch at Diogenes taverna. It had a shaded terrace, which we craved after the heat. I ordered a creamy moussaka, a traditional Greek dish made of minced beef and eggplant baked in a tomato sauce, and our youngest had rabbit stifado, a local meat stew.
For me, the best part of this trip were the conversations with my siblings. As sweltering as the walks may have been, their company was hard to beat. That made it okay.
We talked about ourselves, mostly.
We sat in a cafe, To Kouti, for rose petal ice cream and strong shots of Greek coffee and talked and talked. The conversation was at times light, at times serious. By then, I had lived abroad for a few years. It was the longest I’d been away from my family and I felt out of touch. I used to know the daily minutiae of A’s love life. When I left, our bunso was still in university. Now A was in a serious relationship and the other was about to become a high school teacher.
While I did keep in touch with my siblings since leaving, I felt I was only getting a highlight reel of what went on in their lives. It just didn’t feel the same.
I think the distance from home helped us talk a little more freely. Without going into detail about our (fairly sheltered) childhood, it was thrilling for me to be there in a foreign country with two grown individuals whose lives I felt I knew intimately (and yet didn’t), whose voices sounded like mine (but spoke differently), whose thoughts reflected mine (but still managed to surprise me, in fascinating ways).
In Singlish, same same but different.
So, how about it, A and C? Let’s get another round of ice cream — it doesn’t have to be rose — we can have chocolate this time. Let’s pick the place together, it doesn’t need to be far. Let’s have more
Sweet, crazy conversations full of half sentences, daydreams and misunderstandings more thrilling than understanding could ever beToni Morrison, Beloved
Let’s do this again, just us.
Think critically dear readers,