I have never spent so much time sitting down. The flight to Athens is long and sleepless and I reveled in the opportunity to stretch my legs. The rest of the group is similarly unwinding. Gathering up our assorted luggage, we walk through a set of large glass doors and turned to find our tour guide Kate smiling down on us. She beckons us closer and begins to explain what awaits us in the Birthplace of Democracy.
The bus ride into the city is spectacular. Athens built a new airport when they hosted the 2004 Olympics, Kate explains to us. We listen intently, soaking in her words as we watch the sprawling suburbs flash by. The tightly packed houses go on for miles, seemingly thousands of buildings squeezed between the high mountains on our left and the sea on our right. As we drive downtown, all around I see ancient ruins and modern buildings. It is truly awe-inspiring the way the Greeks live around these ruins, Kate is saying. They just build up the new and live among them.
The bus is too big to pull up to the hotel. Our driver pulls up to the curb, about a block away. We hop out, and start piling up our bags along the side of the road. When everyone has their luggage, we trudge to the hotel. It is a wilting day and we are exhausted, so when our chaperones instruct us that we have only thirty minutes to put our things away, we are aghast, yet we mount the stairs with grim determination. A few brave souls wait for the elevator, but when it finally descends down they find it will only fit two people. As I reach my floor, six laughing faces tumble out to greet me. I can’t help wondering how they all fit, but I am too anxious to see my room to truly care. As Nick, Eli, and myself pull up in front of our door, we put down our heavy bags and turn the knob. As the door swings wide, we can’t help notice how small the room is. There are two beds, and one cot, and about three feet of walking space. While we quickly unpack, we mutually decide to spend as little time in the room as possible.
The walk up to the Acropolis is very short. We are staying at the bottom of the hill and Kate assembles us right at the base of a cobbled path leading up to the Pantheon. We all gather close together. I take the chance to look around the group, and what a diverse group we are. People of all ages, high school freshmen to thirty-somethings. Together we walk up to the highest point in Athens: It is the place where democracy was born, where Athenians time after time held their last stands. As we crest the hill, there are actually two Acropoli, one smaller and the true Acropolis. Lucky for us, we only climbed to the smaller one. Even with that, some people are sweating. There is a large outcropping of rock on that hill and we all scramble up it to get a view of this city that we have heard so much about. For me the view was of more than just a city.