Wanderlust 2017: Make Me a Hercules

A decision I made once I decided I was going to quit my job, move, and go back to school was before I became a broke college “kid” again, I was going to go on an adventure. Originally, I wanted to drive around North America and potentially parts of South America for a few months to a year, depending on how the trip went. Then, while visiting my dear friend Riley up near Boston in February, an ad popped up on her Facebook for the EF College Break travel agency. She sent me the link and we joked about me going on an “Ultimate Europe” trip which spanned the course of 35 days with group of random people ranging from 18-28 years old. Two days later, I put a deposit on the trip and never looked back. Four months later, I took a flight to Athens from New York City.

THE ARRIVAL

The flight takes about nine hours. November 2016, when I flew to Warsaw, I had a layover in Zurich, which broke up the eight hour flight into a five and a half hour flight, then a two and a half hour flight. My flight to Athens was an over night direct service on Delta with solid meal choices, as comfortable of seats as possible for coach, and a decent amount of leg room (keep in mind, I’m 5’10” and leg room can get tight on flights).

As we landed in Athens, I met up with the group of people with whom I would be spending the entire trip. Everyone was exhausted, I was in a very weird mood, and the combination can be hard meeting 29 other people for the first time. I think the only thing that saved us from grumpiness was the fact that we were in Greece.

THE SITES AND HISTORY

As you know (hopefully), Greece is rich with history that is still apart of every day life in Athens. The city is relatively touristy, but it’s to be expected when you have structures such as the Parthenon, Acropolis, Olympic Stadium, as well as dozens of other historical locations.

The first day, we did a walking tour of the main areas in Athens where you could buy knick knacks and food. The area was swarming with street vendors chasing you around to buy bracelets and other useless goods. The first thing Mayra, our tour director warned us of was the fact that you could easily be pick pocketed if you’re not careful. I think this instilled a lot of fear into the others who are on vacation with me, but living in NYC for six and a half years, you tend to be a little more comfortable in busy areas and don’t necessarily dwell on the idea of being robbed. However, safety is important and gypsies are everywhere.

On day two, we woke up bright and early and headed straight for the Acropolis. When I say this was one of the most amazing things I have seen, I’m not exaggerating. From the Acropolis, you can see the Parthenon, Dionysus Theater, Athena’s Structure, and a breathtaking view of Greece — from the Mediterranean to the mountains.

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We also went to the Acropolis Museum, where hundreds of historical artifacts and works of art can be found that date back to the inception of the founding of Greece. Some of the made-up names of the structures did crack me up. When you have a head of an artifact and one small piece of their body, how can you possible name it “Young Warrior Who Rode a Horse”? WHERE IS THE HORSE? HE’S NOT EVEN PRESENT! As you can imagine, I found the need to read the name out loud of most structures to simply entertain myself. Soon enough, the couple of people I had visited the museum with was soon questioning the names of each statue. Needless to day, it was a great bonding experience.

After the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Acropolis Museum, we decided to go for a stroll through a beautiful park to see the Panathenaic Stadium. This is where the first ever Olympics were held in 776 BC. The structure is massive and extremely fun to look at. You start to imagine olympians running in their full armour, barefoot running laps around the stadium and competing to be the first ever Olympian.

At the end of day two, we all took a hike up a hill to watch the sunset over Athens. Talk about a perfect ending to a perfect day. Nay, talk about the perfecting ending to our last full day in Athens.

The next day, we took a ferry to Paros to continue “Greeking out”.

THE FOOD

The first night, we had an orientation dinner at a gorgeous restaurant overseeing the Parthenon. I cannot exaggerate how important it is to have at least one nice meal when in Athens. Greek food is one of my favorite cuisines — I’m pretty sure it’s what kept in in Astoria, Queens for the five and a half years I lived there. Feta, tomatoes, olives, kebab, gyro, tzatziki, octopus, and the list goes on. Everything was fresh. Everything was cooked to perfection. Everything made me extremely happy. And the food I’m talking about wasn’t only at the nice restaurants, it was also in the small little hole in the walls you find on the side streets, the more generic locations, and the bakeries!

Speaking of the bakeries, if you have a chance to get a ham and cheese pastry for breakfast, do it. It’s very European, it’s very messy, but at the same time, very satisfying.

The final thing I will say that I loved about Athens is that the wine is always flowing. There is a different perspective on life there. You work and you work hard, but you also enjoy life. You don’t spend a ton of money on your home or material possessions. You spend money on food and drink that brings people together. Everywhere, people are happy, deep in conversation, sipping wine, indulging in their meal, and happy. Coming from NYC you very rarely see this type of relaxed lifestyle and happiness.

I was so happy with the food that I texted my mother and told her I was no longer on a traveling adventure to see new things, but I was simply on a food tour. She found it to be hilarious, but I wasn’t kidding at all.

THE DEPARTURE

We ended up extending our trip in Paros, which got us back to Athens very late the night before our flight from Athens to Rome. It was very sad. I felt at home in Greece — I really do think has a lot to do with my tenure in Astoria. I know Athens is a place I will be visiting again. I will probably spend more time in the islands or out in the country side, but a stop in the busy city of Athens is a must!

Country Girl “Surviving” in the Big City

When you mention that you’re from New York, people automatically assume that you mean New York City. Well, I hate to break it to you, but most of New York is NOT A CITY. I’m from New York but I’m not from the city. I’m from New York and I didn’t grow up taking mass transportation or cabs. I’m from New York and I definitely did not grow up knowing that NYC is one of the safest cities in the world. I’m from New York and I grew up in a rural/suburban area, with horses and goats in my backyard, a lake a mile down the road and a car because it’s about a 15 mile drive to get to the grocery store.

I am from Ballston Lake, a small town in Saratoga County. Whenever someone says, “oh, you’re from Albany” I cringe. NO. I’m not from Albany. Albany to me is one of the dirtiest places. The only good thing about Albany is their state school and their hospitals. To be honest, I would rather have someone assume I grew up in NYC.

Ballston Lake is an extremely small town with no street lights, two restaurants and a couple of country stores. Ballston Lake has horse farms and trees and wildlife. It’s what I consider home.

When I lived there, all I wanted to do was leave. It was hard growing up without neighbors when your friends could ride their bikes down the street after school and socialize. Once I turned 16 it wasn’t so bad, but the first 16 years of my life were frustrating.

I thought for the longest time I wanted to move to NYC so my mother brought us down. From the second we hit Time Square I knew that NYC was the last place on Earth I wanted to be. When I went to college, I immediately decided to not look at the colleges in their because I knew it wasn’t for me. After college, I looked for jobs EVERYWHERE except NYC. I was willing to move anywhere in the country. I was ready to pick up my life and just start a new adventure. Tennessee, Texas, California, Arizona, anywhere but the city. Once I realized that no other place was hiring except for places in Manhattan, I caved.

I think that’s the funniest part of my life. I live in NYC but I really am counting down the days until I can not live there. Yes, I have amazing friends down here, it’s only three hours away from Ballston Lake and I’ve gotten used to living the “city life” (as my grandmother calls it). But, right now, my heart is in the country.

Why am I telling you this? It really comes down to not knowing what you have until it’s gone. All I wanted was to live on my own and be Miss Independent. And the second that happened, all I wanted was to move back to Ballston Lake, swim in my parent’s pool all summer, bask in the central air conditioning, complain about the ridiculous winter weather and have a car.

When it’s my time to leave NYC will I move back to Ballston Lake? It’s not really the plan but it probably will happen. Living in the city is so expensive that it’s near impossible to save for a big move. Will I complain about moving home? Definitely, but it’s in my nature. Will I secretly love living with my parents? Absolutely, but I’ll only let them know every once in a blue moon; I have to keep them on their toes.

Astoria

I have lived in Astoria since February of 2011 and I can honestly say I chose the perfect neighborhood in the five boroughs. My first apartment, on 31st Street near 24th Avenue was a little rocky since the N and Q line was outside my third floor bedroom window, but I loved the neighborhood and the people. When my two friends and I decided to move in together I refused to leave Astoria (you can call that bratty but it was the best decision). The family and young adult friendly city has the perfect mix of bars, restaurants, shopping, entertainment and quiet side streets.

On November 1, 2011 we moved onto 44th Street off Broadway and we knew we made the right decision. It takes 15 minutes to walk to New York Sports Club, the grocery store and the movie theater.   The R and M line is a five minute walk from our living room, it takes less than 10 minutes to get into the east side of Manhattan and about 15 to 20 to get to midtown west. Some days I forget I live in a city because our street is so quiet. There are hundreds of restaurant options within a two to 15 minute walk radius and there are also a ton of options for food, drinks and fun. Here are some of my favorite spots:

  •  Dillingers Pub and Grill
  • The Quays
  • Doyle’s Corner
  • Blackbirds Bar & Restaurant
  • Diwine Wine Lounge
  • Bohemian Hall Beer Garden

Places I Still Need to Try:

  • The Sparrow Tavern
  • Sweet Aftons
  • Cavo
  • Broadway Station
  • Astoria Brewhouse Bar
  • Studio Square
  • Irish Rover

Will I stay here forever? God no. I’m not a city person by any means, but for now Astoria works! So if you’re looking to move down to the city and can’t afford paying around $1,500/month for rent, I recommend Astoria. I promise you won’t regret it.