Written by: Nathan Dean
Syndicated by: Montana News
Two things become immediately apparent as you drive into Athens, the poverty, and how densely packed everything is together. On the way from the airport, Athens doesn't seem very impressive at all. For miles, empty, seemingly rundown buildings stretch out. It definitely doesn't look like the birthplace of democracy.
Graffiti covers the walls everywhere, some supporting fascism, other walls call for the removal of the Muslim menace, and some are simply the names of the people who have wanted to leave their mark. I was actually very underwhelmed with how Athens looked like a slightly more built up town with a delinquency problem.
Then we drove around the mountain and entered the real city. Immediately I saw that my first impression was wrong. Buildings were crammed together end to end as far as I could see, mostly about 3 to 10 stories a piece. Every single building has multiple shops on the bottom floor, but turns into something completely different for the other upper floors, like a bank or an office. It's surreal to see how each building is like it's own strip mall.
When we got to the hotel I originally didn't know if it was a nice one or not. The room was very small, especially for two people. The only furnishings are two twin beds, a desk, and a chair. Interestingly, the key card has to be put into a slot for the lights to work in the room. This took John and I an hour or so to work out, in which time we unpacked in the dark.
Each room has a tiny balcony to stand on, overlooking a slightly sketchy alleyway. Our room, 203, is on the second floor according to our key card, but we walk up 3 flights of stairs to get to it. Meaning it's on the fourth floor. I'm pretty sure the Greeks use the same numbers we do, so I don't know what is going on with that.
I actually found that this hotel is very high class. The breakfast this morning was amazingly good, with all sorts of food laid out. It has a pool and a restaurant on the roof, and two tiny elevators to get there. Everything is tiny here. The rooms, the streets, the cars, to some extent even the people are smaller. I have to duck through some shop doorways to get in, and I keep hitting my head on banners and merchandise that's hanging from the walls of the market.
Our first day we walked into the marketplace, a 5 minute walk from our apartment. On the way we pass about 50 shops, and every single person wants to sell to us gullible tourists. I've learned to be extraordinarily rude to these people, because they are relentless. In the market Sammy was tricked into thinking he was about to get a free bracelet from this African guy, before we managed to tell him that that bracelet wasn't going to be free as soon as he got it on his arm.
Going into the market is an intimidating experience. Everyone is yelling at you to buy their stuff. And when you walk in, they hover over you lauding the quality of their wares. Some of it is actually very nice, but most is knock of clothes, or tiny knick knacks crammed into a thousand shelves. I actually haggled twice successfully, and got my shirt 10 euros cheaper than everyone else. Of course, they also immediately discount all their wears when you walk in, saying you can get something for 5 euros cheaper than the ticket price right of the bat. They just want you to walk out of there with some of your money in their pocket.
Beggars are everywhere. When we were eating lunch, this gypsy woman lead two little girls in playing accordions. These girls were trained well. They came up to where Jared was sitting and started playing right into his ear while he stared blankly ahead. Eventually one stopped and began tapping him on the chest saying over and over, 'Gib money. Gib money.' Jared had to look at this girl no older than 5 and say no. I felt bad for him but you have to be a little heartless if you want to survive the panhandling. Later, I almost saw one man get run over as he was trying to panhandle cars in the middle of the road.
He was quite obviously strung out on drugs and hobbling his way down the middle of a one way street. Mopeds and tiny hatchbacks are popular here. Having a small car is a must, because the roads are narrow and the drivers are aggressive. I've become very used to the honking of horns outside my hotel window.
Smoking is as common as drinking water here. People smoke on the sidewalk. They smoke while eating at the cafés. I saw a couple rolling cigarettes by the Parthenon. Something I don't see are tobacco shops. I have absolutely no idea where these people get their smokes. This makes walking down the road an interesting combination of smells. The smell will go from smoke, to olives, to the gyro stand on the side of the road, back to smoke, and then the homeless guy panhandling on the ground. Some people can't stand it but I kind of find it exciting.
The pricing here is interesting. At one shop I can spend 1 euro and get a 1 liter water bottle, then walk across the street and pay 4 euros for a Coke. Mostly though, everything is cheap. I get piles of food here for less than what a soda at McDonald's would be back home. It's fantastic. Everything is finger food here. Other than the Greek salad.
That's one thing that's bothered me. A Greek salad is not a salad at all. If I took a bunch of tomatoes and threw them into a bowl with some cucumbers and a block of feta, would you call that a salad? No, that's just a bunch of salad toppings. Also the olives in the 'salad' have pits in them which I was more than surprised to find out when I bit down on one. I learned quickly.
People here don't mess around. If you get in their way, they will push you. There will be no mumbled 'excuse me', they will go along their way. Not that I'm surprised, I think I would get sick of slow walking tourists too. But when I'm checking out different flavors of gelato I don't wanna get shoved out of the way by an elderly Greek woman. The gelato was worth it though.
I can't imagine what driving would be like here. I really feel for our bus driver. Cars will pull out quickly in front of us, he's had to slam on the brakes several times. I've never seen an accident though. Either everyone here is good at driving or it's not worth it to stop and look at the damage. I would not want to be on a moped, the taxis swerve blindly around constantly.
The jet lag and time difference is getting to me, by my account, it should be 5 pm there, while it's 1 am here. I should be asleep but I figured I should type this out before I forgot it all. I didn't feel like I needed to describe the Parthenon or the acropolis, I have pictures of those, it's the little things about this crazy, dirty, insanely fun city that I won't remember. I'm looking forward to see how different a little fishing town like Delphi will be. I'm going to bed, I have to be up in 5 hours to get on the bus.