Our journey in Greece made its second stop in the city of Athens. After we exited the ferries to make our way to the metro we encountered the street vendors and random sellers of goods, as we would throughout the entire city. A lesson quickly learned from these gentlemen, they don’t know the meaning of no; one must be firm and somewhat rude to get them to go away. The streets were busy and filled with people, everyone rushing to get to their next destination. Entering the metro was like looking into a maze of ants, everyone scrambling rushing and carrying ten times their weight in luggage.
The metro was our main form of transportation throughout Athens; it is loud, crowded and makes you feel like a sardine in a can, but it is the fastest way to get around the city and you see some interesting characters while using public transport. One man was listening to obnoxiously loud music, tapping his feet like a drum and slapping his hands on his legs, to what he thought was the beat of the music. Our hotel was located near central Athens, and unfortunately right off a street known for drug use and dealing, Tositsa. Located near the Athens School of Architecture this is one place to avoid at night. We were warned that illegal activities are frequent occurrences there because police cannot enter the university.
Not all of the streets were as sketchy as Tositsa; most were filled with helpful friendly Athenians or street vendors. The streets in Athens were also riddled with trash; every other corner had older Athenians sweeping the streets and scrubbing them with bleach water in the early hours of morning. We started all of our tours earlier in the morning, and I would recommend doing so as well; you beat the heat and the rush of people at various historical sites.
Our first site to visit was the new Acropolis Museum and the actual Acropolis. We had a tour guide lead us around the museum and site; I would recommend this if traveling in a group; you learn a lot more and it captures your attention hearing information from an individual as opposed to a plaque under the exhibit. Our tour guide made the history feel alive and fresh, new age for a younger generation of students; she kept us entertained with witty satire and by keeping us moving around the museum. Faye was a short, older Greek lady with a fiery personality and a flare for fashion. After seeing the museum, you can venture to the Acropolis site. Sweating and feeling the heat from the beautiful cloudless day we lucked upon, we made it to the top. From the top you can see the 360 degree views of the Acropolis and the Parthenon; you can also see a panoramic view of central Athens.
The Acropolis site was in the process of preservation. The archaeologists are saving what pieces they can to put the structure back together for a more complete piece of history. The more the archaeologists excavate the site and piece things together, the more they see how the ancient Greeks created the masterpiece that is the Acropolis. Columns were constructed piece by piece and you can see this first hand in the museum and then at the site. After enjoying the limited shade and a fading breeze, we climbed back down the mountain.
Even though there are several historical sites to witness in Athens, take the time to just walk around and people watch. Walking down the crowded streets you will see how many different people are mashed into this city of complete organized chaos; it is beautiful in its own unique way. On multiple walks we had a chance to stroll through the numerous squares, each consisting of its own individual flavor. The most famous of the squares being Syntagma Square, or the people’s square. This is the square where protests, peaceful in nature, are often held; this is because Syntagma square is across the street from Parliament.
Syntagma square is one of the best places to witness the general urban and young culture of Athens. And if you are craving for some Americanized food, there is a McDonald’s located just off the square. While people-watching at a small café located just off the square we witnessed a small group of protestors, although to me they seemed ineffective with their techniques. The protestors got a bit too close to peoples’ faces and they put their signs down after about five minutes. Shortly after seeing the protestors, a younger group of individuals had a live dj play music as street performers took their stage by storm. One set of performers took the form of a flash mob; while they danced, it was like Athens took a still frame of itself; all the people stopped to watch them dance. It was the moment that had me falling for Athens’ beauty and uniqueness.
While in Athens we did see several historical sites, all interesting and well deserving of a visit while traveling to Athens. Although for me the experience of Athens is out in the city, walking down the streets, visiting the squares, haggling with street vendors, having random conversations with locals about the economy and how the US views Greece and where we are going in our lives as students. Athens it a vital culture to witness and experience firsthand, it is a nice change from the drone like museum tours that all seem to blur together after you see two.
One such conversation occurred in an eatery when a local man, round in the face, with a serious demeanor and grey in the beard, asked to take the seat next to us. He was fascinated by us as students and kept prying with questions, attempting to figure out where we were in life, age, and where we were from. After a fulfilling conversation about college and being a senior and explaining that I study business, he entered in the conversation with the topic of the debt crisis in Greece. The man was all ears on our opinion and did not try and make it seem like Greece was suffering. He seemed hopeful, which was a breath of fresh air compared to other conversations with the same topic.
The same man was kind enough to give me and some fellow travelers directions to the local shopping area. And like most Greeks, as I have discovered, he told us the directions about three times and in three different ways. Eventually, we embarked on our journey to the shopping on Ermou in Athens. The streets were lined with vendors, performers and outlet stores. The variety of stores had us bouncing from side to side on the street. There was so much to see, try on, and purchase. After entering a few stores and spending our Euros along the way, we ran into a snag; the store hours are difficult to manage when you are used to American customs. We were actually removed from a store because it was closing, which to us seemed weird; we could not finalize purchases, but simply had to leave.
After that experience some of my fellow travelers and I decided to take on some regular outings as if we were home, one being the viewing of a movie. The theaters are vastly different in Athens; they have assigned seats, and unlike in America the seats start about 30 feet from the screen instead of about two feet. Also you can drink alcoholic beverages while enjoying your film. If given the time to see a movie while in Greece, it is more than worth it. The theaters were clean, luxurious, and as a frequent movie-goer I was thoroughly impressed with the establishment. In addition to a great movie atmosphere you have a chance to people watch and take in more of the younger culture.
It did not take much to have me captured by the fast paced experience that is Athens. The streets may have been crowded, but the energy of the city and random trees in the middle of sidewalks just grab you and pull you in. Even though we had a week in Athens, I recommend spending more time there; there are a million things to see and do. We finished Athens off with a lovely dinner after sitting next to the Temple of Poseidon and watching the sun set on the sea that lay before us. Athens is infectious and a must visit destination even if only for the energy that the city manages to generate. Organized beautiful chaos and an undying spirit awaits all who visit.