Living in Europe comes with a ton of advantages. One that I appreciate the most is perhaps how convenient it is to travel. I can take a short walk out of my apartment building and hop onto a train that takes me into the city, or out into France, or even to another country. Going home over the holidays, something that I should have found enjoyable in its entirety, felt excruciating because of how stuck I felt at home. We just don’t have trains like that.
This week’s trip was different, though. I took the train from my place in Paris, yes, but to Charles de Gaulle Airport. The compact nature of continental Europe makes for the most opportune of travel itineraries. Flights can be incredibly cheap these days with the rise of low-cost carriers, so I’m making the most of my stay by getting to as many destinations as I can while I live in Paris. This week, I was headed to Athens. As a bonus, the cheap flight also gave me an outbound layover in Frankfurt, and an inbound one in Zurich. That’s three cities in three different countries in one trip. It was a deal I could not resist.
First stop: Frankfurt, Germany! Frankfurt is not in itself a city with as much to discover as a capital like Paris. But with its distinctly German charm and Hessian sensibilities, I’m glad I got to spend a few hours there. After being lost in its immense (and immensely confusing) airport, I took the train to the city center. There, at the central plaza, watched over by the Hauptwache, the old militia tower, I was greeted by a beer kiosk blasting German Schlager music. I sipped an Apfelwein, a traditional Hessian cider, as I sat and listened to some folksy pop music and dug into a plate of Currywurst and fries. Afterwards, I took a walk around the city and checked out the old town, with its distinctive architecture, and walked along the river Main.
I flew out of Frankfurt that night and headed to Athens, where I arrived just after midnight. The long drive to my AirBnB wasn’t too bad: my driver, recommended by my hosts, was friendly and welcoming. This was something I came to learn about the Greek people when I explored the city the next day. Everybody was pleasant and eager to make sure that I had a nice time in Athens–save the few pickpockets I had to stave off.
I checked out some of the sights I had only dreamed of as a child: the Acropolis, with its ancient ruins steeped in history. The Parthenon was beautiful in its aged state, and the view over the city was spectacular. Athens looks like miles and miles of urban sprawl, something that isn’t surprising considering how old the city really is. I was lucky that I visited during the first Sunday of the month: entrance to the monument was free of charge. It was crawling with tourists, both local and international; I probably heard every language possible on top of that hill.
Greece is certainly proud of its history, which is in full display at my next major destination, the National Archaeological Museum. Artifacts from Ancient Greece filled the neo-classical building, from pottery to jewelry to sculpture. It was a diverse showcase of life in Greece, from prehistory to antiquity.
On my way home to Paris, my plane stopped at Zurich, Switzerland. The first thing anybody would ever tell you about Switzerland is that it is expensive. One Swiss Franc has roughly the same value as a US Dollar, but prices there seemed to be double what an American would expect anyway. Nonetheless, I got to easily check out the city center, which was convenient thanks to the extensive, criss-crossing system of tramways.
Before this trip, I felt a bit of trepidation in solo traveling. It had been a long time since I visited a new place without having anyone there waiting for me to see the city with. I guess I had grown comfortable of always having support from someone I cared about. One thing that this trip taught me is that I am more than capable of being an independent traveler. I am emotionally and culturally competent enough to work my way through a new culture, a new language, and a new experience. I need to give myself more credit for being able to do all this on my own, but trusting myself has always been a bit difficult. I guess I just really needed to get out there and do it.