No, not at the manifestation of civilisation (wasn't that somewhere in Africa?) but the starting location of my travels. Thinking back to April 2015, I arrived here in Athens, alone, and frankly, without much of a clue. That was seven months ago.
But what about now? What's changed? Have I changed? I'll answer this by comparing pieces of text I wrote then to the feelings and experience I have now.
First though, why have I come back here? Well, apart from the wonderfully hospitable people, the scorching sunshine, the abundance of meat-based dishes and the vast history, are are other reasons too. For starters, it's on route to the final island of the challenge I set myself back in September - to visit (and explore) the largest five islands in the Mediterranean. I'm so close now to completion, I can taste the feta cheese... :-)
As I couldn't fly directly to the final island, here was an obvious intermediary stop and besides, there was something suitably nostalgic about returning here, especially if I could get the same hostel and even the same room. Would that even be possible?
Though you'd thought I'd have found the time to change my computer's background image to one of my own...!
It's both fair and accurate for me to say I've come a long way both idomatically and literally since my travels commenced. In fact, after a little bed-time reading last night, I was reminded of that better than ever as considering my current location, it felt appropriate to re-visit and re-live my first week's blog postings from Athens.
Relatedly, and on recent inspection, I was surprised (and really happy) with my writing back then. Naturally the quality over the months will have dipped and risen at times as factors influence this and blogging is especially difficult for a non-natural. Still though, for that one week in particular covering my first Greek week, I was very satisfied with my writing so hope to have largely kept to that standard (and improved) ever since.
My images have also improved but if you go back to my first picture-based post of exploring Athens, you'll notice even back then I could still shoot a clean photo.
Below I've extracted seven past, notable sentences from my first week that I feel show my evolution and improvement since then. Subsequently I feel it accurate to say I have suitably improvised, adapted and overcome many constraints from the past.
Let's start with me actually contacting my first hostel directly. What, you didn't think I was just going to press the 'book' button did you?
"Hi there. This will actually be my very first experience in a hostel so I'm a bit nervous :-) In your experience, would there be a particular room better suited to a newbie as I notice you appear to offer plenty of, ‘dorms’?"
Lol, it's hard to not look back and lightly chuckle at my innocence and naivety. These days I'll interrogate reviews before I book and would often consider booking direct with the hostel to exclude 'the middle man' (booking agencies). Also I would ask them much more specific questions relating to towels, Wifi, breakfast and whatever else.
Incidentally though, the first line of guy's response back to me was just what I needed to hear.
"Hi Sami, don't be nervous mate, you will have a great time I promise. If you want to meet people book a 6 person shared original or delux dorm."
Still I booked the 4 bed, just to be sure :-)
"... for someone who is super-organized, would you believe that I could turn up in Greece (at night) not knowing where I was staying or how to get there?"
That was completely genuine and it really did happen, Still, that was testament to just how busy my final days were with so much left to do. Seven months on and I am nearly always much better prepared with screenshots, road names, telephone numbers and GPS location of my accommodation.
I actually recall nervously laughing at the situation when that realisation hit me half way to Athens! Still, it wasn't a bad thing to happen to me as I was forced to learn to control my emotions meaning I didn't panic and instead tried to think logically as to what I was going to do. Thankfully, having applied logic and some rationale, it all worked out well that evening. Until I entered my first dormitory...
"Having entered the room, I continued to process my surroundings and can admit to only having stopped breathing heavily a couple of minutes later. Actually, maybe five minutes later."
I'll never forget my initial reaction during those first few minutes but given my title as The Unlikely Traveller, we all shouldn't be too surprised by my reaction. Little did I know back then that this would be the the type of room I would later consider as ideal! It's spacious with only four beds and it has its own shower room. This is by comparison would be luxurious to some of the places I've stayed at.
What a difference. What a learning curve.
"Later, two more people of the three remaining beds entered the dormitory. For a first-timer like me, it was definitely a weird feeling when you greet strangers you are staying with aware they had checked in well before you. You kinda feel like you’re intruding on their space…"
Haha, now this is a perfectly normal feeling and experience. If anything these days it's now more a case of 'Oh, you're in my room' as oppose to once upon a time 'Oh, I'm in your room'.
"Accommodation will cost around 70 euros – equivalent to £50. No bad for three nights stay."
I'm surprised I worded that so casually as back then I would consider £50 for a single night's stay as very good so £50 for three nights was a bargain! However, by my today's hostel standard and experience, £50 for three nights stay is actually expensive and a lot more than I would ever like to pay.
"Get this, there is free tea and coffee and there is also supposedly a free breakfast."
These were some of the many things I couldn't get my head around, especially for the £23 GBP cost per night to stay here. In reality the breakfast served here was just average from comparable experiences since meaning after seven months I do appear to have taken the inclusive breakfast options for granted. These days if I'm provided just toast and cereal, then that would qualify as a below-average offering.
I recall back in Sarande, Albania, at one my favourite hostels The Hairy Lemon, being provided free tea and UNLIMITED freshly made pancakes. It's relevant to mention this in total cost me under £10 per night!
"If my hostel experience is even remotely good, then you lot are gonna seriously have to consider ‘hosteling’ in the future."
It would seem that my efforts to educate friends, family and all-others who haven't stayed in a hostel before, started a early as back then. Remember, I was someone who has never stayed in a hostel before and once upon a time, could never see myself in one to then almost immediately being completely SOLD on the idea.
I really suspect this has changed a big aspect of future travel for me, forever. You can't say much bigger than that.
If you have the time and interest, feel free to have a digest of these very first articles and re-live with me my first week. I've listed a few of them below for convenience:
To read up on my first two days, see these posts:
For images relating to ancient Greece, see these posts: