The Athenians

May 27, 2008

Before you get on the plane to Athens, don’t. Cancel your trip and rebook for somewhere else, anywhere. Athens is not a very nice place, Full stop. It is dirty, chock-a-block full of feral dogs, over-sensitive Greeks, spooky paired male types, trash, cockroaches, cars everywhere all the time – yes 24/7 – laconic yet surly taxi drivers, restaurateurs who cadge clients off the pavement with dubious tales of  sorrow or joy or both, hotels whose staff could out-basil  Basil (Fawlty) himself.

No, Athens is not for the faint hearted – what with the pollution, countless number of banana skins in the guise of dog doodoo, under taxed museum officios and prices which even off-put the Queen of Spain, your pumper will be tested to its limits.

Moreover, if you are the kind of tourist that dilly dallies, meandering here and there, gawping at every archaeological artifact the English and Germans have dug up for the Greeks,  be aware that Athenian dust  is so thick and vicious that you must not stand in the same spot more than 30 seconds. Cover your coffee – avoid Greek coffee which is really Turkish coffee but a tad more gritty –  when you sit at an outside taverna.

Although the vast area of Athens is architecturally nasty or uncritically stated, of no architectural value, it does have a few traditional hotspots. The most obvious are the historical monuments. Yes, these alone justify a trip to Athens. Yes, they are sufficient reward for the indignities one suffers at the hands of churlish cabbies. The museums are – and there are many –  worth the  throbbing feet. The most interesting must be the Byzantine and Christian Museum, a well-sized and well-designed museum. It goes without saying that the Acropolis is a must. Beware! it is under construction – that is to say cranes and scaffolding is everywhere. The crowds are polite, tight – sardines in a tin have more elbow room – and international. It is no longer the Germans scuffling with the Americans for space on the Acropolis parapets. Now you must contend with Thais, mainland Chinese, Poles, Malays, and even the odd Turk or two.

An interesting aside on the matter of cranes  at the Acropolis was told to us by a small shop owner (left). She allowed us to sit in front of the shop and drink the cold beers which she graciously sold us though she did tell us that it was illegal to drink them in or near the shop. But I understood the reason why she allowed us to sit about, pawing our Mythos, in front of her narrow shop, contravening city bylaws. Because it was a wee human moment, in which total strangers can meet each other and spontaneously be together to catch whatever fate throws at them. In this case it was the cranes towering below the Acropolis.

“A crane driver, a woman from Ukrania, the best crane driver in all Ukrania, it was she who moved very important historical columns to the new museum.”  The ferocious pride in the Ukranian woman crane operator’s skill  had become her own pride.

The Acropolis and the other pre-Christian era monuments are all worth the bother which comes with Athens. All the museums are worth a visit. Some of the neighbourhoods clad out for tourists is worth a visit but like any other traps beware that you can be snared you without warning. Inevitably, you will be snagged by an deft waiter who will have you seated before you realise that have just eaten somewhere very similar.

Athens is worth the effort. But be forewarned. It is a dirty, busy, car-riddled, dusty, polluted and expensive city. Do not pet the feral dogs. Do travel by underground and tram but be warned that Greeks understand English and are listening very attentively.

Athens has the trappings of all large western cities: krishna con men, romany beggars, dog doodoo, east African street merchants, and throngs of Japanese tourists. Most of these I can handle but it is also full of Athenians.


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May 26, 2008

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