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High Heels Travel Agony in Athens by Mihaela Lica-Butler

“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.

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.

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