“Would you take my picture?” the girl asked. “You look like a professional.”
I could only guess she gave me credit for this last because I was shooting pictures of ruins with my ‘big’ camera — an aging six megapixel Canon EOS — rather than with my iPhone. Perhaps also because I wasn’t actually shooting the ruins, but a daffodil that was defiantly growing from the crack in what had been, at some point in history, an ancient block of stone in an Athenian building.
It was my third day in Athens and I was still doing what I could to catalogue the trip on film. There was always another ruin to visit, always another road that had been walked on by Romans, Greeks, and a thousand other nationalities over the course of, not centuries, but millennia.
So I said sure, of course I’d take her picture. What else should travelers do but be kind to one another?
Yuon, as it turned out her name was, was Chinese, but had lived in Hamburg, Germany for half her life. She worked there for Airbus (“You know Boeing?” she asked. “Yes, of course,” was my answer. “Well, I work for their competitor”) and was happy to get out of Germany for a while, where it was apparently rainy and cold for three hundred days of the year. She was positively giddy about the sunshine and relative warmth (60 degrees Fahrenheit) of Athens. In fact, she was giddy about nearly everything Greece related. It was her birthday, you see, and every year she chose a different place to travel to for her personal celebration. Greece was a favorite.
When the round of photos were done, she said, “After this, I’m going up there.” She pointed to the heights behind us, where the columns and walls of the Acropolis rose up in pinks and whites.
“You should come with me. And then I’m going to go to that big hill.”
“The Church of St. George?”
“Yes! My friends told me there is a cafe. That’s where I want to have birthday cake! Come with me there, too.”
My plan for the day had actually been to read while sitting on one of the curving, tiered seats in the stone amphitheater of Dionysus, where we were currently, and then to finish off with a tour of the Acropolis and watch sunset from Mars Hill, a stony outcrop just to the north of the Acropolis’ heights. Said plan had not included much hiking about, since I’d spent the previous two days doing nothing, it seemed, but walking.
But Yuon was already skipping off to the next bit of ruins to examine. It was evident that I had said yes even though I’d said nothing at all, assuming ‘um’ doesn’t count.
So we finished wandering about the Theater of Dionysus and then we made our way up to the Acropolis, where we joined several dozen other tourists and travelers taking selfies and pointing at things. Luckily, we didn’t have to use the ubiquitous selfie sticks: Youn was happy to take pictures of me in front of masonry; and for her pics she now had her ‘professional’.
After the Acropolis we did spend a few moments clambering around the slick stones of Mars Hill, polished to glass-like smoothness from the thousands upon thousands of visitors who had walked and sat upon them, but Yuon’s eye was on the Church of St George, high high high upon its dome-like hill to the east.
“How do we get there?”
“I think there’s a road.”
One stop at a yogurt shop in town later and we had our answer: two metro stations, a short walk, and then there was supposed to be a ‘train’ — a funicular, such as I’d seen in Naples at Mount Vesuvius and in Hong Kong clanking its way up the side of Mount Victoria.
Well, that’d be cool.
Except that the walk turned out to be much longer than anything I’d describe as ‘short’, and included a number of steep staircases carved out of the road and the hill. And at the top of these there was no funicular, no train, no bus, no taxi, no nuthin’ but, it seemed, underbrush.
We met another group trying for the same goal, but they were just as lost as we were. Yuon, who had hurt her ankle before coming to Greece, had been trooping along with fewer complaints than me, but even her enthusiasm was waning at this point.
But she persevered. Accosting a pedestrian who turned out to be a Swiss tourist, she discovered that there was at least one more set of steps at the end of the road we were on. Follow those to get to the Church of St George? “Maybe,” he told her, not breaking his long, purposeful strides.
That was good enough. We were off. More steps, then some more, and then we were found ourselves at a scenic overlook. The city at sunset was spread out below us, glittering. The Acropolis stood on its hill, seemingly far below and away, glowing with sunset and from the lights that illuminate it at night.
Yuon bounced up and down, ignoring her injured leg. “I’m so happy!” she said.
The rest of us couldn’t help but be, too.
And, yes, the path did eventually lead up to the Church of St George and to a cafe. No cake, though, but that didn’t bother Yuon. She still brimmed with happiness from seeing the city laid out like a toy.
Me, I needed a glass of wine to prepare me for the hike back down the mountain. I was a professional, after all.