I had been in Greece for five weeks, Athens for three. While arriving, I had seen the luminous and looming Lykavittos Hill towering in the distance. I knew there was a path to the top and I imagined a wonderful view, but I had yet to venture towards it. On this day, though, I had the day off from my internship at the University of Athens Museum of Mineralogy and Petrology and I felt particularly up for the challenge. With my camera in hand and map in my pocket, I started in the direction of the hill. I worked my way through the bustling streets, avoiding the masses of bussed-in tourists, and found my way to the base. As I started the often-steep climb to the top, I realized I had escaped the crowds and saw only a lone gardener maintaining the park on the hill. What I saw when I got to the top made my jaw drop. I could see all of Athens, the Acropolis, the Panathenaic Stadium, my apartment. I could even see all the way to Piraeus –Athens’ harbor – with all its docks and ships. It was incredible. But I was completely alone, looking down at this busy, bustling grand city.
For me, the point of traveling is to try and embrace other cultures. I endeavor to begin with a broad bird’s eye view, if you will, of the country I am visiting and then go deeper seeking out intimate and authentic experiences and relationships. I wanted to go out to restaurants that tourists did not go to. I wanted to make friends – and I did. The week I climbed Lykavittos Hill was also the week I found Redpoint, a small climbing center about a half hour out of the city via the metro. It was a scary moment stepping out of the metro station, knowing no one and not speaking the language. But it turned into the best experience of my time in Athens. An avid rock climber, I went and climbed at least twice a week for the remainder of my stay. I met local climbers and became good friends with the man who worked at the gym, Kirykos.
One afternoon my new Greek friend and I decided to meet for coffee. I left my apartment, camera in hand and map in my pocket, and ventured once again out into the crowd of people. I headed in the direction of our meeting place through the bustling streets. After coffee, as we were walking off the beaten path in his favorite neighborhood, we stumbled across a gated off building. I hopped over to the fence. It looked as if the roof of the building was gone, there was graffiti all over the walls and litter strewn on the floor. I asked Kirykos if he knew what this place used to be. He told me it was a nightclub and explained that this neighborhood used to be something special, filled with life. Now it was empty narrow streets with broken windows, ramshackled buildings and closed businesses. How different this grand city looked from deep within! I then realized just how far I had come – from sitting alone on that big hilltop to having someone with whom to explore the small parts of the city.
Although the up-close did not look as grand as the view from the hill, it was filled with new kinds of life, conversations and laughter and was all the grander because of it.
Heather Upin, ’16, studies geology at Smith College. During summer 2014 she traveled to Greece where she participated in Smith’s Global Engagement Seminar studying the archaeology of Greece in its geologic context. This experience sparked an interested in travel and deepened her passion for rocks. After completing her education at Smith College, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in geochemistry.