High Heels Travel Agony in Athens by Mihaela Lica-Butler

Mihaela Lica-Butler at the Acropolis
“Oh, I love your boots!” chirped Eleni.
And I am happy. I love my boots too. They are John Galliano knee platforms, brown, high, and perfect in every way. I love all my boots, but these are insanely high, and I take great joy in dissing the wiseacres who advocate no-heels, fugly all-terrain sneakers: “Wear comfortable shoes,” they insist.
“My heels are f...ing all-terrain,” I think, but never utter the words. ‘Coz what do they know? I only believe in high heels. But it figures, in Athens’s case, they know better. So bear with me. 
Eleni is not the first to notice my boots. The cab driver last night gaped at my heels for a while. I thought he had a thing for feet and I ignored him. He spoke no English, but somehow he managed to understand our destination, a poorly pronounced “Stratos Vassilikos Hotel” my husband blabbered at him. Then the episode became a memory – one of those apparently forgettable moments that come back to haunt you when you least expect them. And it would come back with a vengeance.
Early this morning, the PR chick who greeted us cheerfully in front of the breakfast lounge looked at these damn boots too. But she said nothing. Instead, she just asked:
“Was everything OK with your room?”
Yeah, everything was OK, although I thought, for the life of me, I still cannot figure out why Stratos is advertised as a five-star hotel.
“Is there any hair salon nearby?” I ask without high expectations. There’s no way I will have my hair done in time for the event we have to attend at lunch.
“You can have your hair done here,” she says with a smile that looks like a childhood memory.
“For free,” she adds.
“Oh?” I say, and as the response leaves my lips, I think “this is five-star treatment.” Then I ask “When?”
“Right now if Eleni is free,” she tells me - and that smile never leaves her face.
I like this girl, I think, and head to our breakfast table, in time to learn from my husband that there’s only fruit and bread for vegans. Well, I am not hardcore. I do vegetarian. But I love complaining, and I am thinking “Back to three stars on TripAdvisor for Stratos.”
I don’t even finish the thought, and the cheerful PR chick arrives at our table with a Playmobil toy and a free ice cream coupon for my child. “OK, four stars,” I think.

Yianna Lo Daskalopoulou -- Five-star Smile at Stratos
“Eleni is free when you are ready,” she tells me.
“Five stars!” my brain races.
What’s up with that smile? It is open, honest, and it never leaves her face.
“I’ll be done in five minutes,” I say, and I finish my piece of fruit.
Now I sit in this tiny room, facing a half-wall mirror, and Eleni chirps behind me: “I love your boots!”
Well, I love my boots too. What’s not to love about Galliano?
Then we chat.
Eleni makes me laugh. She asks about my event.
It’s a DigiTravel convention, and I am supposed to be a speaker. I mention how much I fear public speaking - I’d rather deal with a snake than face a crowd. She gets ophiophobia.
“If I have beautiful hair, maybe they don’t notice how nervous I am,” I half-joke.
She gets that too, laughing out loud, but she turns back to the boots: “You need comfy shoes.”
“Know-it-all,” I think, but instead I answer “I was born in high heels.”
She laughs again, and we continue chitchatting till my hair looks like a million bucks.
“I could never walk in your boots from here to the National Hellenic Research Foundation,” she tells me as she sprays L'Oréal or some other finishing fixer over my hair.
Right now I ignore her remark, but I’ll grow to regret it. By lunch, there’ll be blood in my boots.
High heels are impossible in Athens.

Pláka, Athens
The sidewalks are narrow, full of holes, and irregular in the neighborhood from Stratos to the conference venue. We didn’t have time to explore more than this part of the city and Pláka. Hopelessly optimistic, I think maybe the rest of Athens is more suitable for my vice, but for now, my boots are not made for walking.
Only two kilometers separate our hotel from the venue of the National Hellenic Research Foundation. The walk takes us on asphalt walkways even a row of ducklings would find challenging to follow - high heeled, barefoot, or all-terrain sneakered. Heck, Cretan goats would snigger at the thought of walking down Athens’s sidewalks.
Still, somehow I managed. I walked the walk, with a couple of unscheduled stops to a tavern and a minimart, acting all excited about discovering the places while secretly wishing for a saw of any kind to get rid of the heels.
Business all behind us, we plan a trip to Pláka and the Acropolis.
I have nothing but my Gallianos to wear.
“You must be out of your mind,” a colleague says visibly amused looking at my boots. “You’ll not even make it 10 meters in Pláka!” he adds with a smirk on his face.
“I’ll buy a pair of slippers, or something,” I argue, but the man keeps on smirking.
“Good luck with that,” he says, visibly amused.
    It’s November, you know, and we soon learn that all shops that usually sell the famous Athens sandals are closed. But Pláka is still touristy, and busy, and many shops stay open year round.
I need to take these boots off. Pláka is worse than the sidewalks. It’s cobbled and full of patches closed down to pedestrian traffic for repairs.
Every step hurts - there’s no plain, leveled path to walk on.
In agony, we enter every single shop/ boutique on the way, desperately looking for sandals, or (oh my God!) flip flops, or… anything to cover my aching feet before I just give up and take off the boots and walk barefoot.
And here they are… the dreaded canvas sneakers I frown upon every time I people-watch in Trier. It’s the only shop in Pláka so far selling any kind of footwear, and we’ve been exploring for more than an hour. As much as I don’t want to, I sit down and try on a pair. They are red, they match nothing, and I know I will probably never wear them again after today. But they fit. Blissfully so.
My husband laughs and takes pictures. As much as I hate it, I laugh too. Oddly, this is a learning moment: sometimes people are right in recommending “comfy” shoes.
Red textile sneakers on my feet, a plastic bag carrying my Gallianos in one hand, and a backpack of souvenirs on my back, I am now ready to face the Acropolis.
    Can you imagine hiking up this rock on high heels?


Mihaela Lica-Butler is travel writer and travel public relations pro, lover of cultures and cuisine. She has built a fun career while chiming in on many topics, from relating the trials and tribulations of the people of Kosovo, to experiencing, first hand, the heroics of the Romanian soldiers serving for the UN. But she thrives in conveying her love for travel and places in written word, and she is happy to be a constant contributor for some of the world's best travel sites.


  1. It's funny, the first travel story of Athens I ever heard (it was about 20 years ago), was from another girl called Mihaela. Her black boots didn't have such high heels, high enough to torture her though :D Some places are not made for heels. I agree, Athens is one of those. Another one would be Bristol (after 3 days in only high heels and boots to look pretty for my event and distract people from the "I don't know what I'm doing here" look in my eyes, I was ready to walk barefoot). Still, it won't be a trip you'll easily forget. And getting your hair done for free is more than fair compensation :D

  2. This is so funny! I never see you in anything but high heels. I wish I was there. But lesson learned: to heels in Athens.

  3. I have some difficulties in leaving my comment, maybe it's too late for me *lol*. Anyway, what I wanted to say is, that I have laughed a lot when reading about f... shoes! It must have been an unforgetable trip to Athens! :)

  4. I've been to Athens, and I did feel blessed that I had been born neither in, nor for high heels!

    Besides, I wish I had at least a tiny little per cent of Mihaela's ability to describe even her painful experiences with such an enjoyable sweet sense of humour.

    The only point I've missed is/are those Cretan goats -- I have never been to Crete and cannot imagine their opinion of Athens' sidewalks :)

  5. This was a great and eventful day. I'll never forget the look on Mihaela's face as she laced up her nemesis, flat bottomed sneakers. She was a sport all day lugging that big-red-purse all over Athens! What a gal, what a writer.

  6. High Heels Travel Agony in Crete next time Mihaela...

  7. A man can not understand what a woman do to be beautiful and feel confident? Many women in Russia walk in high heels. Just today I drew attention to the fact that my eyes do not notice because are normally accustomed to this spectacle - the ice, snowdrifts, temperature -4F and dozens of women in high-heeled boots going from the train station. If I knew that this evening I will read this ironic and bright article I would do a couple of photoshots on the streets in Moscow suburbs for comment. Thank you, women, for your hard work to wear heels - it makes our life more beautiful!

  8. Love this no way to climbing in heels- i have climbed it is sandals i think , so no heels for me, love you have shared your story and that you can laugh about it xxx

  9. Love this story! Very creativly clever of surrendering to the non boot goddess. Xoxo

  10. Your post was so engaging, Mihaela! I appreciate your skilled use of dialogue and drawing me into the story with sensory details. I, too, visited Athens and stayed in a 1/2 star hotel in Plaka. I also appreciate how fiercely independent you remained to wearing your boots...until...and the red tennis DID MATCH something...your red purse or so it seems that color in the photo. Happily sharing with my travel sisters. PS You might have to rethink wearing flip flops when you join me in FL next year for our writing retreat...or in Bali this October! Just sayin' my friend. xoxo

    1. I also have high heel flip flops. :) May I please wear them?

  11. I envy anyone who can walk in heels. The only shoes I can wear are flats-flat boots, flat trainers, flat flip-flops. No heels. My youthful days wearing heels are resigned to the wardrobe of my memories!

  12. Hahaha, the same thing happened to me in Nice, France, where I swapped a pair of pretty strappy sandals for a pair of comfy birkenstock-like pair that i found at the store. And your red sneakers go well with your red bag :)

  13. Love reading about your adventures, Mihaela!

  14. I love your willingness to share this crazy adventure and hope your talk was a success! Great post and I appreciate your sense of humor!

  15. I used to cruise around New York City in high heels, back when I was way younger, way stronger, and had knees that didn't sound like Rice Krispies when I exercise. Ah, the innocence of youth! Great story!

  16. Well, those were rockin' boots...=) But I love those red sneakers too. I love your adventures... Jill Celeste xoxo

  17. Thank you all for the comments, I am so happy that you enjoyed the story! You'd think the lesson is learned but next time in Athens I will still wear high heels. Maybe not as high... :D

  18. Lovely story, Mihaela. Funny, I never imagined you in heels when I read 'A Kiss of Oranges and Myrtle on Crete'!

    1. I now live on Crete and I am still in high heels. :) You should come visit me one day.

  19. I liked the photos you clicked and the way you explained all the things. I have applied for a visa of Greece and thanks a lot to Greece visa team.

  20. It seems you had a great time in Athens. Luckily I have my Greece visa and I have booked my tour. I am excited to fly to Greece.


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