As I was on my way to Athens...
Trip Start Jan 14, 2010
60Trip End Sep 02, 2010
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Where I stayed
Athens waits, and with it a city in the midst of turmoil as the country is on the brink of financial ruin. There have been reports of riots and demonstrations, but a little civil unrest hasn’t stopped me yet from finding a good time. Over the last few years we’ve seen our own country dance on the brink of ruin – in fact it feels that maybe we still are. Like the proverbial Fiddler on the Roof, sometimes it only feels like things are better, when actually we have become accustomed to our precarious position. I suppose it’s not the first (nor the last) time Athens will be in turmoil – after all it’s one of the oldest countries on Earth
May 4, 2010
What’s a travel day without a few near misses? Whenever I hear my name being called over the loud speaker when I’m having lunch waiting for my plane, it puts the fear of god in my heart. When they called me in the Seattle airport, I ditched my partially consumed lunch, including a bloody mary, overpaid the bill and dashed to the gate. Since I already had a boarding pass, I didn’t know I had to check in. No problem! But that flight was delayed a bit on our arrival to Paris and we spent a splendid time on the tarmac, putting me inside the massive, confusing and clearly designed to befuddle everyone Charles De Gaul airport with less than an hour to get my connection to Athens. I did the OJ Simpson thing and made it through customs, security, two busses, and god knows how many miles of moving sidewalk just in time. Then, of course, upon our decent into Athens the captain decided the wind was too brisk to our back end and did a touch and go instead of landing. OK, that did put hair on my chest.
Despite the intentions of all bad flying karma out there I made it to Athens, found the right bus, got off on the right stop and found my way down to a plaza to figure out where my hotel was
However, my experience with my RoadTrek and running around my own country with a meager map (and a GPS) has given me new confidence. Well, more confidence at least.
So there I was, sitting in a plaza, a typically Greek plaza (although, technically it was the first Greek plaza I had ever seen), staring at my map and trying to find the street where my hotel was whilst a loud, energetic and colorful stampede of protestor come through followed by an impressive display of police force. Hmmm. More on that later. I spent the better part of 10 minutes or so glued to my map and decided that these Greek people use too many alphabets. I got my shit together and wandered towards the open air café’s and bars which seemed like a reasonable alternative. One block later I look up to the street sign and viola! There’s my street with a handy placard carrying the name of my hotel and a pleasant arrow. Who needs GPS when you have luck
Hotel Tempi comes highly recommended by Lonely Planet and it was the cheapest thing in this area of Athens. First the bad news: my room is on the 6th floor and there is no elevator “but you’ll have a lovely view”. And the view is lovely. I don’t know what I’m looking at yet, but there are some very old bldgs out there. Cool. Oh, and need I mention that I share a WC and a shower (if you call a spray hose connected to a little sink a shower) on this floor?
Now the good news about Hotel Tempi: this place really is in the heart of things. Now that I have spent the better part of a day walking all over Athens, I appreciate the location. Outside the hotel door are chic bars and café’s – less than a mile from here is the Acropolis (BTW – it’s the Acropolis that I see outside my little window on the 6th floor – duh) – and a mile the other way is the fabu Athens meat/fruit/fish market – what a sight. It seems like everything I want to see and do is within a reasonable walk for me. Oh, and the desk staff at Tempi are nice, helpful people (albeit a bit cheeky – when I set out this morning I told the desk guy that I was going to the Acropolis and asked for directions – his response was “Really? How different.” I guess I deserved it, but still)
The windy, meandering path up to the Acropolis at the top of the hill is a little daunting and personally I can’t imagine doing it in extreme weather. Since I was following people who looked like tourists but didn’t know where they were going (I failed at keeping the directions I got), I was a little lost with them, but after a while found the right path – look at it this way – if what you are trying to get to is as big as the Acropolis, even I should be able to figure out how to get there. Rumor was that it might be closed due to a “sudden strike”, but just as I rounded a corner to the entrance around 10am, they were opening the gates – but, because this is Greece – they weren’t selling tickets (the ticket sellers were on strike), so they were letting everyone in for free.
Hmmm. In an economy where 80% of their GDP is based on tourism this doesn’t make a whole lotta sense to me.
Even before I cleared the gates I could hear the protestors. Probably 100 or so people were gathered near the pillars of the Parthenon with a huge banner draped over the edge of the cliff that said “Peoples of Europe Rise Up” and they were chanting in several different languages
The Acropolis, with all of its precious ancient buildings is a site to see. I’m not sure what I’m looking at, but, boy, there it is! I should have paid more attention in World History, but my teacher was a brute named Mr. Moran and the only thing he inspired me to do was ditch class. Anyway, I digress.
I spent a goodly time there then wandered through the other sites in the neighborhood that had been there for millennia. I took a light lunch at a pricey street café at the foot of the Acropolis (Greek salad and beer – 9.50e), then kept wandering in search of personal enlightenment and more food. I snagged a pork Slovakia kebob (1.30e) from a street cart in the robust and colorful Athens flea market, bought some wonderfully salty black olives (1e) at the Plateia Mitropoleos, then made my way up Athenas Street to the markets where I found fresh brown bread (.80e) and barrel aged feta (1.5e). I will never be hungry again.
During the calm stroll back towards home base I was captured by a café selling espresso shakes (5.5e) and spent a pleasant hour or so watching people pass by. I’m pretty sure that with a bit more practice I can learn to spend an entire day hanging out in bars and café’s.