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Athens, Greece and the Week of Anti-Austerity

I took the ferry ride from Sardinia to the Civitavecchia port, caught the first train into Rome and headed to the airport to board my flight to Greece. I will be entering my 20th country in the past 11 months and one I have only dreamed about.

I didn’t know much about Athens or anything about Greece for that matter. I did not do my homework. I just knew that it was a country full of rich history and overdosed with a plethora of islands. What those islands looked like, I didn’t know except for the blue topped white buildings you see in so many postcard type views.

I arrived in Athens late on a Friday night with an offer from a new friend to pick me up from the airport. I booked a hotel room a few subway stops away from town and knew as soon as we pulled up, I may have made a mistake. It was horrible. The room was a shoebox and the neighborhood had a lot to be desired. I am so tired by now of handling the bookings while on the road. You could never imagine how much work it is to do the research, to find the right place, in the right part of town, for the right price when you don’t know anything about the city you are going to.

I had a friend from the States arriving on Saturday. She was enjoying an island hopping cruise with her boyfriend and another couple. We coordinated the timing of our arrivals. I couldn’t wait! I was so excited to have an American friend in Athens to enjoy the weekend with.

When I awoke Saturday morning and I was able to take a look around, I had decided to get online and find another hotel to book closer to town where my friends were staying. I found the journey into town from where I was not as simple as the hotel promised. I gathered my things and began to search for the nearest bus and was met with an insurmountable frustration at the hoops I had to jump to get a bus ticket. I decided to cave and call a cab.

Twenty minutes later, my bags and I were on our way only to be stopped just short of the city limits due to the police barricades preventing all traffic from entering into the center of town. The Greeks were protesting in the city streets and no one was allowed in by car. The cab driver didn’t speak a lick of English. After a much aggravated attempt at severe body language, he opted to drop me off, bags and all, at the nearest subway stop. I would have to lug all of my luggage down to the subway and into the center of town to fend for myself. Thank God, the subway dropped me off right in front of the hotel where my friends were staying.

It was hot that day. Stuffy and brutal. We met up in the afternoon and began to plan our sightseeing adventures in and around Athens. They were staying at the 5 star Hotel Bretagne in the heart of Syntagma Square. Their balcony over looked the square and you could hear the protestors throughout the day and into the night chanting their call to Parliament to stop the austerity measures that were imminent to come down after the planned vote on Tuesday.

Their messages rang throughout the whole weekend not causing much trouble to us and our planned visits to the Acropolis and the Parthenon. It didn’t even interrupt our evening enjoying the symphony orchestra at the beautiful and ancient Odeon theater, but we were warned that come Tuesday, if the measures were passed in Parliament, all hell would break loose. The city workers had planned to strike on Tuesday which would shut down the airports and stop any ferry traffic to the islands. I had better start making plans for a quick exit to the islands or at least get out of Athens before, for fear we may not be able to leave for days.

Athens is a city to see for two, maybe three days. You can see what you need to see in a short period, other than that, it’s really not worth staying unless you are somewhere on the coastline away form the city center.

My friends were scheduled to leave Tuesday morning just before the strike was about to take place. I decided to book a room on the outskirts of town close to the beach and wait for the strike to lift. I really wanted to take a ferry over to the islands to get a feel for the geography. I wanted to watch as we pulled into each port.

Tuesday came and the strikes were in full effect. The city center turned into a quiet war zone. Marchers and chanters were calling on bull horns rants to be called back by the followers, (In Greek) “First you beat us, now you smile at us”. They screamed and danced and made as much noise as they could. It wasn’t until mid day on Tuesday when the vote had passed that the scene took a turn for the worse and became violent.

A war broke out that lasted several days. The streets had become a deadly place to walk and gas masks a necessity to survive. The people were uprising and riot police were called to arms. Buildings caught on fire as the crowds threw molotov cocktails into store windows and trash cans.

The 5 star hotel balcony where were my friends stayed just the night before had turned into an opportunity for news crew to set up impromptu studios overlooking the scene down below. It was chaos that I watched on CNN from my safely, removed hotel room by the beach. It lasted for three days before the fighting and citizens war began to settle.

I was ready to get out of this hell hole of a city. I felt for the Greek people. They held so much passion inside of them and wanted to have some control of their destiny that seemed to be slipping through their hands.

Although, my time in Athens held a fun-filled, sightseeing weekend with friends, the city’s energy the last few days was draining. I couldn’t wait to get on that ferry. I booked the very first ferry leaving at 7 am when the strike lifted Friday morning. I had to be out the door and ready by 5 to make it to the port in time, but it was well worth it. I wanted on that boat and on that island….fast!

Athens, Greece

Happy to have met up with some American friends

Athens, Greece

My friend, Vanessa

Athens, Greece

The changing of the guards at The Parliament

 

Athens, Greece

Athens, Greece

The Odeon Theater

Odeon Theater

Odeon Theater

My friends who graciously invited me along

 

Philharmonic Orchestra of La Scala, Milan

Inside The Odeon Theater where we saw The Philharmonic Orchestra of La Scala, Milan

At the Odeon Theater

At the Odeon Theater

Odeon Theater

Overlooking the Odeon Theater

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

The Acropolis

The Acropolis

Acropolis view

At the Acropolis overlooking the view of Athens

Recommended guidebooks for Athens, Greece:

 




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