The City Everybody Loves to Hate

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

For two months I lived in Greece, meeting fellow travelers and the unanimous opinion I heard was "Athens is a shithole." Many said it wasn't even worth a day. When I rolled into Athens with a day and a half to kill I was a little worried I'd be miserable with all my remaining time after the obligatory stop at the Acropolis. Things didn't get off to the best of starts either when the hostel I wanted to stay in (and ultimately did) had only a cot in a bathroom to offer me. I chucked my stuff next to the toilet and went across the street to the Acropolis to play tourist for the next couple hours.

One thing about Greek tourism: I've never seen a set of employees so skeptical of someone claiming to be a student in my life. Every time I handed over my ISIC card it set off a round of interrogation as if I had accidentally given them my al-Qaeda membership card instead. By contrast, most Germans just assume if you say you're a student that you are. There was one thing I couldn't decide on about the Acropolis. Since it's set in the heart of a city it doesn't have the serene, beautiful backdrop of Olympia or Delphi, so should it lose points for that, or does Athens earn points for being your normal every day city that just happens to have a 2500-year old massive relic smack dab in the middle of it? Since everybody hates Athens, I'm willing to give them that one. The thing about my visit to the Parthenon, perched atop the Acropolis, is that not only did I get to see the temple built in the BC, I also got to see it surrounded in scaffolding dating back from the early 21st century, possibly late 20th, scientists aren't sure. But for whatever reason, the powers that be have decided the temple needs massive renovations and just about the whole things is covered. Now I have to keep the ticket stub, just so I have a picture of what the thing should look like. The nice thing, though, about the admission ticket to the Acropolis is it also grants you access to all the other ancient sites in the immediate surroundings. This includes two agoras, a few other temple complexes and the massive Olympic Temple of Zeus, my personal favorite. It sounds like a whole lot, but it can easily all be done -- at a casual pace -- in three or four hours. And that's I assume why everybody loses their patience with the place after a full day.

But Athens has a few other things going for it. The place has a legitimate bustle to it, and since I'm a city boy at heart, I enjoyed being amongst it. Also, Athens Backpackers is one of the best places I've stayed. OK, maybe sleeping in the bathroom wasn't the most ideal, but it also offers the opportunity to sit on a rooftop beer garden and drink while watching the sun set over the Acropolis. I can't imagine many finer ways to officially put an end to my detox effort (and now you understand why I had my a bed-is-a-bed attitude). Athens also boasts one of the finest museums I've been to, the National Archaeological Museum. It was, I think, the best thing I could've done before leaving the country after 80 days. The museum sports extensive exhibits from excavations of many of the major civilizations from Greece. At the end it also had an excellent exhibit from ruins uncovered from underneath the volcanic explosion at Santorini. The fact that I'd been there a mere 10 days ago all that much better.

One strike against the place -- Athens public transportation lobbed the final salvo against the Peloponnese in the battle for most mind-blowingly idiotic procedures on my way to the airport. The trip from the Acropolis to the airport is, in theory, a simple one-transfer metro ride. Get on one train for a few stops, switch to another line and you're on your merry little way. Think again. After switching to the blue line, I assumed I could sit back and relax until arriving at the airport. Instead, at one point a few stations down, we stopped, all the lights went out and I was informed the train had reached its termination. So I got off and waited for the next train -- on the same exact rail line. So the next train comes and I get on that. Two stops later, power off, termination. Twenty minutes later I was on the train that would actually go to the places it said it would. And it's not like people who are on the train to the airport need timeliness to be a factor or anything. It was no problem for me, though, since I had misread my e-ticket, written in 24-hour time, and given myself a nice 5-hour buffer to catch my flight.
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