Touring Athens as a Tourist

Trip Start Jun 01, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, October 7, 2006

I return to the house and meet Alekos' half brother and his son, who is in the Greek airforce for his mandatory service. We chat for a bit and then it is time to go. Alekos and his nephew drive me to the airport, which is oddly quiet. A small, one gate place, you can tell when a flight is about to arrive or leave simply because there are cars there. There are no cars. Luckily this is because I am early! However, a snafu develops when I discover that I don't have my ticket. I argue with the counter man. I never got a return ticket- he insists I did. I have him look me up on the computer- there I am- yes I paid for a round trip ticket, yes, I am truly me (I wave my passport). No, he wont give me a ticket for the plane- I have it. We go back and forth on this, Alekos tries in Greek- in vain. I end up buying another ticket.

I say goodbye to Alekos who must go back as Hronis is waiting and I sit in the sun to wait an hour or two for the plane. Of course, the plane is late. I end up sitting many hours in the sun! I watch the shadows move and look at the other passengers. Finally, we fly back, late into Athens.

Usual airport mess, but I now know the airport, catch the right train and lugging 'the bag' get to The Plaka and start hunting up a room. I had written down hotels before leaving, but being me, forgot to write down the street names- so I settle for the "Hotel Byron" on Vryonos (Byron) street; a main street in the Plaka. I lug up to the room, and of course, I am in the front (with a balcony) overlooking the street- and the noise, and the old man with the guitar begging for money playing and singing the one song he knows, over and over and over. I'm pooped and put on the tv and start researching hotels (they have wireless here!). I get "Harry Potter" the first movie, in English, and putter away- no going out for me tonight.

When I step on the balcony and watch the crowds, at one point I see a cat get run over by a car. Now the guide books warn of this as the attitude here towards strays (and the streets are full of them) is not like ours at all. Efforts were made for the Olympics to, among other things, clear out the stray population but it is back in full force and people here just see these animals as nuisances along the line of pigeons. I have steeled myself to this but decide I will not look out of the window any longer- the cat is dead, there is nothing I can do. The Plaka roars outside my window until late in the night as the guitar player with one song keens.

In the morning, the motor scooter and motorcycle traffic starts around 5. I'm wiped out and not happy with the room. I get up and go out in search of another hotel- this time armed with street addresses. Every hotel is booked, it is the weekend. So, defeated, I go back to the hotel and arrange to move rooms (and these rooms are not luxury like my last hotel- later I find a guide book someone left behind at this hotel, and see that my last hotel was listed as a step below "Luxury"). The beds in this place are little more than pallets on wooden supports! Ah well, I move to a smaller room in the back and set out.


Of course, I had to start with the Acropolis, I had certainly seen enough of The Plaka! Now, The Acropolis (abbreviated TA) dominates the city and is part of every view no matter where you are. It is enormous and I never cease to be amazed at how HIGH it is. How'd they get all that stuff up there over 2000 years ago? I began the climb up, and there is no concession here for the disable, you gotta be able to walk, and walk up steep streets and stairs. The weather remains sunny and in the 80's and there is no shade for the long walk up the hill. I suggest you simply look at the pictures, there is no way for me to describe this place- birthplace of democracy, philosophy, architecture, you name it- its magnificent, awe inspiring, massive, and beautiful.

Of course, it is also jammed with tourists (but not so bad) and completely under construction (I should say restoration) covered in scaffolding and cranes. I spent about 3-4 hours on TA, mostly staring at the Parthenon, but I also went through the small museum and looked at graffiti (it fascinated me, don't know why). From there, meandered back down the hill (stopping to listen to the symphony orchestra practice far below in the amphitheater) and went towards another neighborhood (Monastiriki) and then back through The Plaka and took a rest at the hotel as I had slept so little the night before.

Friends of a friend are also in Athens- they were due back in the States earlier but their plans were interrupted by the coup in Thailand so they have had a week here in Athens and we agreed to meet for dinner. It was wonderful. I got to talk English! They spoke English back! They are here on their honeymoon and had traveled quite a bit and we got to share stories and experiences about different countries, customs, our impressions of people. We sat at an outside café and talked through two pitchers of strong red wine.

Having been solitary for so long, it was great to bounce thoughts and impressions off others and I was glad that some of my thoughts were shared (isolation makes you wonder- reality checks with others is soothing). For instance, as I was waiting for them in the hotel lobby, I heard a 'pop' outside and quickly a woman came in to tell the front desk man that a kitten had been run over. "Yes" he replied. "But a car ran over it" "It is dead?" "I think so" "Ok" "But its in front of your hotel" "Well, someone will clean it" and he looked back at the game on tv. I told this to my friends at dinner and they had similar stories and we talked about 'the pail next to the toilet' (remember, no toilet paper in the toilet!) and other things. They had had the loud-southerner-from-america-at-the-next-table experience too; and the I'm-from-America-but-didn't-vote-for-him conversations/accusation/apologies; and I-find-myself-hating-other-tourists-and-wanting-to-kill-them thoughts when people do all the things that I complained about in Aix; they also are finding they are eating food in a different way and appreciating it more, they are seeing things differently (and I am not alone in taking tons of pictures- oh be happy gentle reader that I don't post the 70 or so pics I take each day! We are snapping things that are just 'interesting' to us- for me it was balconies in Paris, them the ground on a little island they visited) it was good not to feel alone!

Even with all the vagaries of travel- we wonder why we are going back.

We finished dinner and they went with me to a local gay bar. I won't go out alone as every guide book warns that 'while legal, it is barely tolerated' and also that there are many traps at these places that make it pretty dicey for someone alone. It was midnight and the first bar we went to was mostly empty (things don't hop at any bar until after 1 here). It was a loud American style disco so we soon left (after paying $10 Euro each to get in) and went to another bar up the street. This was a quieter bar (I found out later the oldest gay bar in Athens) and we paid our cover and went in and talked again for another hour as the place filled up. (As I write this, a huge thunderstorm is sweeping the city and the awning at the outdoor café where I am having dinner is barely containing the water, there is a flood swirling about my feet- but at last the streets will be clean!). Eventually my friends tired and left and I was going to have one drink and leave.

It turns out that the DJ (? He was in his late fifties, and um, portly, playing traditional Greek dance music) took a fancy to me and sent me a shot. Well, I drank it and said thanks, I offered to buy one back- he and the bartender refused. A tequila shot appeared and we all did that. Minutes later it was an ouzo shot- now, I just am not drinking that much anymore and was already beyond what I wanted so tried to refuse- no such luck. Then a shot of Bailey's followed by something else- at that point the mix was not so good in my stomach and I left- and they yelled and screamed at me not to go (why? I still wonder if this was one of the traps that people are warned about- apparently so based on what I read later in the guidebooks). I went outside and went back to the room as quickly as I could stagger.

This morning- crashing hangover and in bed until late- but not wanting to miss anything- forced myself up, poured in some coffee and hit the road in the blazing sun. Went to Temple of Zeus (photo), then through the huge public gardens to the 'guard' at the Parliament. Poor guards! In their funny little dress, people come and laugh at them and take pictures of them while the poor guys sweat in the heat. Then I went to the Cathedral, but couldn't get in. I forgot that churches are taken very seriously here and since I was wearing shorts, the way in was barred to me. So, an hour or two in the Ancient Agora, which has the best preserved Temple in Greece (see photo- God, this is getting boring even for me- but I'm trying to catch up on five days of things so its more of a listing than anything else! I'm notorious for my bad memory and I want to at least get down what I have done so that I can come back and fill it out later) and the replica of a Stoa (see photo). There is a debate as to how much should be rebuilt, restored or left to lie on the ground- and I have to say, having one Stoa rebuilt really helped me imagine what the ancient city must have been like - and it must have been fantastic.

I walked to Kerikipolis (sp?) but it was closed. Back through Monasrtiki, The Plaka and spent hours trying to book next leg of journey. Plan at this point to try and fly tomorrow to Bucarest. It's impossible to get a reservation on line no matter how I try, and I even braved the phone system but the office of Roumanian Airflight is closed. So, I'll strap on the pack, head to the airport and hope for the best. I'm wary of the airlines after the Karpathos incident but don't want to waste time in trying to get out of Greece by train or boat (they take far too long- everyone flies in and out of Greece).

Well, there is lighting, thunder, floods in the street so here I sit having dessert (which I didn't want at first) yogurt with honey and fruit- delicious. I wonder how I'll manage the backpack as my shoulder is much worse (the pallets they call beds aren't helping- I can barely lift the camera with my arm at this point) and I wonder how I'll handle navigating in Roumanian; if I get there.
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