Week 1 - Arriving in Athens

Adventures in Greece as we pursue the dream of buying a boat and cruising the Mediterranean.

People shopping at a fresh food street market.
Saturday fresh food street market in Exarcheia

Adventures in Greece as we pursue the dream of buying a boat and cruising the Mediterranean.

View from a hilltop over the city of Athens with the Acropolis on the horizon in the distance
View towards the Acropolis from Lofos Strefi (Λόφος Στρέφη)

Welcome! Karina and I want to document a little bit about our adventures to share with family, friends and any one else interested in what we’re up to. We’re going to start with a weekly blog post, in addition to the more regular instagram posts you’ll find if you follow me there. This week we relocate from San Francisco to Athens during the pandemic and find our feet in Athens.

We set out from San Francisco on Monday after dropping off Rosie (the dog) at the Pet Transport company in the morning. Normally travel is an exciting time, full of anticipation, but this time around it was with a lot of apprehension that we approached the airport. There’s a lot of additional documentation required and specific formats and forms that need to be filled in related to your health and tracking where you’ve been, including providing a clear COVID test. You do your best to navigate the requirements, but you are always worried that there’s some change, something missing etc.

Fortunately, our paper work was in order — in reality the process was a lot more “Hygeine Theatre” than strict movement controls. Yes, if you were obviously missing something, they pulled you up, but they didn’t always check both our paper work for example. Current EU regulations seem to suggest you could only enter as a non EU citizen if you are a spouse, yet no one checked we were married.

We transited through France and half the paperwork we’d been told was required never even got checked! When we entered the EU formally, they simply asked where we were going and when we explained we were heading to Greece to retire (keeping it simple here), they simply rolled their eyes at me and stamped my passport. In Athens there was further COVID checks and random testing, but when I showed my clear test from the US, they simply waved me through.

Street scene with green tress and a building in the background, Karina standing in the foreground
Karina near our apartment in Exarchia

It’s interesting traveling with an intent to settle Vs as a tourist. The most obvious change is that we’ve been here for 4 days now and until yesterday hadn’t even seen the Acropolis in the distance, instead we’re focussed on things like “where’s the super market”, “what neighborhoods do we want to live in”, “where can we inspect an Apartment”.

Our first impressions are a mixed bag — there’s prolific graffiti throughout the area we are staying (which is a real student, rebellious area). So many shops are closed — we’re not sure if that’s because of summer holidays, the economy or both, but outside the tourist zones it feels like only 20% of the shops seem to be open at any time. It’s definitely a more “rugged” experience than life in San Francisco, but it’s also invigorating too!

It’s refreshing that “Western Brands” are very rare — they do exist, but there’s no Starbucks on every corner, we’ve yet to see a McDonalds and there are no large clothing chains (well, there is a Marks & Spencer in Monastiraki).

We’re adjusting to the “Greek Time” — not just overcoming jet lag, but the pace and time at which everything happens. Meals don’t happen until later in the evening for example. Other small differences include ashtrays on every table, we’d forgotten what it’s like to live in a country with so many smokers.

Everyone that we’ve met has been friendly and welcoming. While there’s definitely an under-current around Exarcheia of tourists not being welcome (as evidenced in graffiti we’ve seen “Tourists must die”), this is not what we’ve experienced day to day. Instead, everyone has been excited to hear we are coming to stay and have helped us at every turn.

Fresh, raw pistachio nuts given to me by a Taxi driver. So good, never eaten them like this before.

Rosie arrived a day earlier than expected (some mixup at the airline), so when we received a call to urgently come to customs “Are you coming to collect your dog?”, we rushed out there and the Taxi driver was incredibly helpful, calling his daughter to translate for us and explain where we needed to go (“To the airport, but not to the terminal, to the cargo terminal”).

Rosie fresh out of her cage after a long journey from San Francisco

Food is plentiful, cheap and delicious, every meal we’ve eaten has been a winner so far! We’re realising that we may not need to buy food in as much as we expected (when it’s so cheap to eat out), but also we’re going to eat far too much! There is good espresso coffee on every street corner which is a big win for me.

“Greek Pizza” for dinner in Exarchia — lamb kebabs inside Pide with cheese and fries. Delicious!

Beyond just adjusting to the pace, settling Rosie in and finding our way, we did also start hunting for an apartment. We weren’t getting much response from the rental sites (possible that many people are on leave), but Karina had a good idea of hunting down long term places on AirBnB. It’s a win win, a lot of people renting are hurting because of course tourism is way down, so a secure long term rent works out well, and for us, these places are furnished and fully serviced, so we don’t need to worry about furniture etc. for something we only need for six months. We’ve found a place in the heart of Psyri, near the border of Monastiraki which we’ll hopefully sign a lease for on Monday.

Overall our impressions are that people are friendly, helpful and excited to meet us which is wonderful. No real major issues this week, perhaps the most stressful parts were arriving at the airport worrying (unfounded) about documentation and Rosie arriving early which meant an unplanned dash to the airport.

No regrets so far! We’re having fun, in great spirits and looking forward to week 2 where we start the process of getting my residency permit.