Our first night in Athens was nothing less than magical. We landed in Greece in the evening, and arrived at the apartment we rented for our three night stay in Athens even later in the evening, full of anticipation of discovering Athens and greater Greece in the days ahead.
We take the advice of the apartment owner and walk the couple blocks to her favorite neighborhood restaurant. The night is the perfect temperature and we choose a small table on the sidewalk outside the Olympion Restaurant, situated next to the curb and under the protective branches of a tall and sprawling tree.
We don’t hear English being spoken at any of the tables around us, our first waiter speaks only Greek, and we know instantly we are in the right place. Somehow the waiter understands us and we are quickly served a carafe of white wine, a carafe of red wine, bread, and oils for dipping. The next server to come over speaks English and he guides us through the menu, making us laugh with his gregarious personality and his boisterous antics. Our friend Ryan wisely tells the waiter to bring us what he would choose if he were eating. We end up with amazing dishes — some chicken, some beef, some in savory sauces, all cooked to perfection. The wine flows and the conversation is easy as we bask in the glory of dining on the moonlit sidewalk at a neighborhood restaurant in Athens.
“We have the best tiramisu in the world,” the waiter tells us when we ask about desserts. “No, the best tiramisu in the universe!” he exclaims. “You must have it!” We eagerly agree. He’s been right about everything so far tonight, so we order one tiramisu and four forks. When it arrives, it’s beautiful — spongy, creamy, dusted in cocoa, and the most remarkable tiramisu I’ve ever tasted. We savor every bite while I wonder about the consequences of having such an amazing dinner our first night in Greece. How will the rest of the meals in Greece live up to this one?
The night is late in Athens, near midnight, but we are wide awake and not yet adjusted to the time change so we decide to walk. The Temple of Olympian Zeus is lit up in the distance and we head that way. We can only see the temple from afar as the gates are locked for the night, but what we see is spectacular — huge columns reaching for the sky and lit from the base. Like all the monuments we will see in Greece, the size and magnitude are awe inspiring. As we follow the wrought-iron fence and circle the park showcasing the monument, I reach for my camera to take another photo from each new vantage point. The pictures are not that different from each other, but each glimpse of Zeus’s Temple makes me stop in to stare in wonderment and I take another photo though I know it will never do the site justice. From the farthest side of the park, we can see the Temple of Oympian Zues in the foreground and the Parthenon lit up on the hill behind it. Spectacular! But again, none of the photos are able to capture even a modicum of the awe offered by the real sight of these two breathtaking pieces of history in the same view, lighting up the night like beacons.
We return to the apartment in the small hours of the night, finally exhausted but still exhilarated. It’s only been six hours since we arrived in Greece, but already I know this is going to be a truly memorable and spectacular tour of Greece. I worry a bit that we have started our vacation on such an amazingly high note that the rest of the days will fall flat in comparison, but I quickly push the thought aside and trust tonight is nothing more than a portent of what is still to come in the two weeks ahead.