Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world and instrumental in the development of democracy, is the birthplace of Western civilization and has rich cultural and historical achievements spanning almost four thousand years.
Off on a fourteen hour bus ride to Athens I went, leaving Istanbul and the continued rioting behind me. These long bus (and train) rides are becoming the norm and have affected my psychological time. The rides are feeling shorter and shorter. The bus had wifi, in-seat movies and complimentary snacks, coffee and pop. Though I discovered at least half of the pop and water went to Turkish and Greek border guards since they must have been tired during their late night shifts. And turns out while on route there were reports of three small bombs exploding at government offices in Athens.
For a great rate I rented an AirBnb apartment that was very large, sparsely furnished and in a convenient area of the city. It was close to the centre Onimia with cafes and bus lines nearby. The only noticeable issue for me was that it did not have internet which slowed my logistical planning for my continued traveling to other destinations. What I did not know about the area I was in, the Exarcheia district, was that it was the epicenter of massive rioting in December 2008. And after the recent bombs that went off it was not hard to notice eight police officers in riot gear at almost every intersection in the district along with a half dozen police trucks of additional twelve riot police per truck peppered throughout the vicinity. My guess is that there were about 300 police offers in the area.
My morning ritual would be to go to a nearby cafe and have a freddo cappuccino and a gyro. My friend said it’s the “breakfast of champions”.
Across from my apartment was a cool café-bar that was recently purchased by a group of eight enterprising friends. Their goal was to make the café popular enough to be self-sustaining and were not drawing any wages amongst themselves until they turned a profit. With the eight of them they could each work a couple shifts a week and even work at their own part time jobs until they become more successful. S-M-R-T! Yet their ambiance was mixed since one night had loud glaring music that kept the neighborhood awake while other nights the music was more low-key allowing for patrons to hang out and chat. It all depended who was working that night.
Taking the Metro is easy. You can get timed tickets were you can hop on and off within the allotted time. The price is $1.40 Euro a ticket for 90 minutes. Since I was so close to the museums, parks and historical sites I walked almost all the time.
It is hard to not be in awe at the ancient ruins scattered throughout the city and seeing Akropolis (Acropolis) everyday in the background as I went about my daily sightseeing. I was fortunate to go to Acropolis on the day it was free and saved myself $12 Euro; one of the attendants at the Temple of Olympian Zeus told me to wait a day since many places had free admission, though I never knew why. At Acropolis you get to see the ancient ruins (Erechtheion, Parthenon, Dionysus Theatre) and panoramic views of the Athens.
Should you find yourself in Athens check out the ancient buildings in Acropolis, the historical area of Plaka, the National Archeological Museum, the Acropolis Museum, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Arch of Hadrian, Ancient Agora or Athens, the flea market area of Monastiraki, and Omonoia Square. I enjoyed visiting each and every one of these places.
At the port of Pireas in Athens is where you can board ships to explore Greek islands, walk around their harbor, check out the sandy beach (at Zeas Port) or visit any of the waterfront cafes.
Athens also has a strong bicycle culture. I noticed some dedicated bike lanes and cyclists sharing the road assertively with automobiles.
There were souvenir shops lined up one after another and it reminded me of the many vendors in Istanbul selling the same products over and over again. Unfortunately, most of these places do not get a steady stream of customers and are just struggling to stay in business. A store can manage if in the right location in Plaka or Monastiraki where tourist groups swarm in like locusts and buy all the little trinkets their euro dollars can afford. And I never thought I would be the guy to buy a snow globe as a souvenir present for a friend back home. The most “unique” souvenir that I saw was that of the penis-size bottle openers which can be found at most souvenir shops.
Athens is a city of great historical significance to Western civilization and democracy and is easy to navigate around in. Any visit there would be relaxing, enjoyable and worthwhile.
After Athens I found myself taking a thirty-four hour boat ride across the Adriatic (from the port of Prata) to get to my next destination. The ride offered me a chance to catch up on my reading while relaxing on the top deck with Greece fading behind me and the open sea ahead.