Friday, June 22, 2007

Athens to Love or Leave

[VACATION] Athens can be daunting. The first time here I can’t say I came away enamoured. Athens is loud, gritty, confusing and flat-out hot, thanks to unrestricted building of countless ugly buildings that ate up virtually all of the green space that once dominated this area. The heat just boils in all the narrow, concrete alleys and streets as a result. Future visits changed my mind, though, as I became increasingly familiar with the Plaka, especially the Plaka at night. Strolling the Plaka—the old historic area directly below the Acropolis—is one the best ways to spend an evening anywhere. Stop for a meal here, a snack there, some shopping, slurp an ice cream and end the night with an ouzo and you’ve managed through a fantastic evening.

By day, though, Athens seems like a nightmare and it can be difficult to reconcile the two faces of Athens. As much as it is easy to hate the Athens day, it is during the day only that you can visit the major archeological sites like the Acropolis, the Roman Ruins, the Ancient Agora and all the fantastic museums. Equally, by day some areas of Athens like Monestriaki and Omonia Square are notorious for spawning hucksters, hustlers, pickpockets and thieves. Everyone in Athens warns everyone else heading to such areas—or even when riding mass transits—to be careful with your purses and wallets.

It doesn’t do much good though. The cops of Athens couldn’t stop the thievery if they tried, and by all appearances, they don’t try. In fact, finding an Athens cop in those areas is as hard as finding haystack in a needle. It’s a price for living there, I guess. Perhaps the Athenians think having an area where it’s barely wise to wander, while at the same time necessary to do so because of all the markets and shops there, adds a little spice to their city. They really are a live and let live bunch, you know, and if something goes awry, they’re quick to tell you they warned you fair and square.

So, I can’t say we weren’t warned when one of our party was separated from her wallet which was inside of her purse. The Euros inside equaled the monthly wage of the average Athenian, so a major score. Not even counting the credit cards. What a hassle! Nobody knows anything, of course, and the best we could hope for was a benign shrug from the people we asked information from. That assumes of course they took the time to listen, then shrug. Hey, they’re gypsys and Albanians, we would hear. What did we expect? Well, not much, I suppose. But, it’s amazing Athenians do so little about it, nonetheless.

As a result, I spent the day thinking of all the nasty things I could say about Athens and its people. I waited several days to write about it though, this the far less incriminating tone as is truly warranted. It wasn’t enough to ruin a trip, but its fair to say that Athens has slipped a notch or so in my belt.

Problem is, Athens doesn’t care.

Next time back, and I will be back for I do love Athens at night, I will merely stay for a shorter period—and I will advise all others to do likewise. (John Saltas)

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