One of the Army's benefits is being stationed in Germany, where travel throughout Europe is cheap and convenient due to the mass transportation options. When I had a long weekend, I took every opportunity to travel, and in 2005, I made a trip to Athens, Greece. After reading about Greek mythology, studying Alexander the Great's exploits, and saw the Elgin Marbles in London, I always wanted to visit Greece.
On the day I flew to Greece from Germany, my flight was delayed, which caused a cascading effect of misadventures. I landed in Athens after midnight, and the hotel that I originally booked was closed. I called a hotel booking service at the airport and was given a recommended hotel open late with vacancies. During the cab ride from the airport, I observed the landmarks along the route. One landmark that stood out to me was a Pizza Hut along a major road which would prove crucial the following day.
I arrived at my hotel, and in a hurry, I grabbed my bags to check-in. As I checked in, the hotel clerk asked for my passport, and I searched my pockets for it only to realize it was missing. In an instant, I realized my passport slipped out of my pocket in the cab, and before I could turn and get it, the taxi sped away. Thankfully, the hotel clerk understood my predicament and suggested that I get a replacement passport at the U.S. Embassy in the morning.
That morning, I woke up early to go to the U.S. Embassy. The hotel clerk called for a cab to the Embassy and promised he would contact the cab company from the night before to see if my passport was found in the vehicle. As I left the hotel, I made the mistake of not grabbing the hotel's business card with the address and phone number. This mistake would cause me a headache later in the day.
I arrived at the Embassy and explained my situation to the consulate office. Usually, there is no guarantee that the Embassy will provide you a new passport on the spot, but I had two trump cards in my pocket. First, I had a military identification card and a pass form that meant I had to leave Athens by a specific date. Second, I interned at the U.S. Embassy in London while in college and knew the Embassy maintained passports for emergency purposes. I paid my $90 fee and was out of the Embassy in less than two hours.
When I left the Embassy, I thought I had a fair good sense of where I was in the city and where I needed to go. My main goal was to visit the Athenian Acropolis, where the Parthenon was located. As I casually walked down the road away from the Embassy, I saw what looked like Greek ruins atop a hill. It was early, and I had not eaten or had morning coffee yet, so I mistook what I saw for the Acropolis. I walked up the Lycabettus Hill, along a winding road to the top. When I got to the top, I realized my navigational skills were off. From the top of the hill, I could see across the city and viewed the Acropolis across the city. Not wanting to accept defeat, I walked down the hill, found the nearest metro station, and took it to the Acropolis station. The biggest challenge I had navigating was my false assumptions that there would be signs in English for tourists since the Olympics were held a year before.
I finally made it to the Acropolis, and I hiked up the hill to see the Parthenon. There is a small fee required to enter the grounds for those that have not been there, and folks can sign up for guided tours. I paid the fee but opted out of the guided tour. I made my way up to the ruins and was amazed at the sites. Despite being in ruins, the Parthenon and other surrounding marble buildings were a fantastic testament to the ingenuity of the ancient Greeks. I took plenty of pictures and then planned to make my way back to my hotel. I departed the Acropolis and began walking around the city when I realized I had no clue where my hotel was located.
I realized my error in not grabbing a business card to give it to a taxi driver. Since all the signs were literally in Greek, I had no reference points to guide myself back to the hotel. I opted to find a major road and see if I could remember any landmark I had seen from the airport or my trip to the U.S. Embassy. The only reference I had was my belief that my hotel's name started with a “K”, and I remembered a Pizza Hut along the way. I walked around the city for what seemed like hours and eventually came across the Pizza Hut I had seen the previous night. I went to a newsstand and purchased a map of Athens, hoping it would help me. I also came across some Greek police officers and asked for help, but they were unsure what hotel I was looking to find.
I continued walking around Athens with a map, hoping to find my hotel. Suddenly, an older gentleman asked me something in Greek that forced me to reply in English that I did not understand him. He smiled and responded in English that I looked lost. I told him that I was indeed lost and that I could not find my hotel. I explained that I believed its name started with a “K”, and I remember the Pizza Hut landmark on my in from the airport. The older gentleman stated he thought he knew which hotel I was looking for and told me to follow him. We boarded a city bus and, within five minutes, arrived at a square where my hotel was located on the backside. I thanked the gentleman for his help and paid him ten euros for his trouble.
When I arrived at my hotel, the same hotel clerk who gave me the information about the U.S. Embassy informed me that the taxi company found my passport. He asked me if I wanted them to return it, and I replied that I did want it back. The clerk said that I would be expected to tip when the taxi driver returns the passport. I asked him how much and he replied that I should tip around 50 Euros. That was more than my cab fare the night before, but I figured that was the price I paid for recovering my passport. The taxi driver arrived about twenty minutes later, and I recovered my old passport. Since I received a new passport from the Embassy, my old one was useless, but I wanted to control possession of it if it was used for nefarious purposes.
After I recovered my passport, I went back to my room for a shower before I went out looking for dinner. Before I left the hotel, I grabbed a business card to avoid the mistake from earlier. As I walked out the main square to the main roadway, I looked to my right. I could not believe it. From where I stood, I was looking up at the Acropolis. I had spent hours lost looking for my hotel only to realize it was located in the footsteps of the Acropolis.
I enjoyed dinner that night and flew back to Germany the following day. I learned valuable lessons about not losing your passport, taking your hotel's business cards, and keep track of key landmarks in a foreign city.
Ten years later, I returned to Greece for another adventure/misadventure that I will share in part two.