The first thing I read when I entered Αθήνα was Έξοδος. To see ‘Exodus’ written like on a normal, modern sign was surreal- the Bible is so old and weird it’s hard to understand that any of it is grounded in current reality (despite having no Latin or ancient history, apparently years of math taught me to read Greek- my education is slightly more well rounded than I’d thought).
Due to laziness that I’d rationalized away (people told me they got delayed due to strikes so let’s keep the plans flexible), I’d booked the Centrotel on booking.com a mere 16 hours before landing in Greece without reading any of the reviews, just going off ratings. Later, I glanced at a review which read, ‘This is the worst neighborhood in Athens. We got mugged right outside the hotel, which is next to a sex shop. Prostitutes line the streets where tough youth openly snort lines of cocaine.’ Concerned, I lookeded for another hotel even though the booking was nonrefundable, but the Internet consensus seemed to be: if you stay in central Athens, it’s noisy all night and you can’t even exit the hotel because of riots, and if you stay outside of Athens, then you’re in a dangerous neighborhood where you will get mugged. They say to bring a ton of cash because the ATMs are down, but if we bring a ton of cash we’ll get mugged. If we take the metro we’ll get mugged but if we take a taxi we’ll get ripped off and possibly kidnapped and sold. Quandary!
Nevertheless we headed out with the plan that if anything at all weird happened we’d head to the Ritz or something and explore Greece under heavy supervision with a bunch of old people.
Much to my surprise, the hotel was awesome! It also had cool art- in Greece art is everywhere, even in random Internet cafes. The neighborhood didn’t feel dangerous- it reminded me of a more run down East Village (Brooklyn?…), and I love The Village. Every single person we met in Greece was super friendly- what they say about Greek hospitality is absolutely true. I also love Greek food! Lots of olive oil and salad, and baklava or some other nutty, honeyed dessert with yogurt is one of my new favorite things.
The only time we felt in peril was walking through downtown Athens at midnight (I guess we were asking for it). There are whole blocks of abandoned buildings. I’ve included a photo of an abandoned building across our hotel from our balcony with the roof caved in. Walking through the abandoned neighborhood and office buildings was creepy and dark. I heard 13K homeless people live in these buildings and it costs less to buy a building than a car. Also apparently there’s a whole subculture of mainly young people who explore these buildings and photograph their findings.
Everything was covered in graffiti, mostly ugly scribbles but some demonstrated artistic ability. I was surprised there wasn’t more graffiti on the ancient monuments littered throughout the city. Aside from graffiti as a sign of angst, other evidence of unrest included cops in riot gear, film/news people with camera equipment, whole blocks of dilapidated, abandoned buildings, and stuff being much cheaper than stuff in Ireland. Despite this, Greece is assuredly first world.
I’ve always liked Greek myths, and one of my secret pleasures is alternative ancient histories, so I enjoyed the museum full of ancient statues and the Antikythera mechanism- a 2000 year old computer found on a shipwreck. This is part of why I learned to scuba dive- I’m convinced I’ll find a ton of gold and treasure if I just get under the sea and start poking around.
We also went to the closest island to Athens, Aegina. At first I was seduced by the descriptions of fresh fish and beaches but now I don’t think I’m typically an island person. I do still want to visit Corfu and enjoy seeing animals and wildlife, just not a fan of mosquitos and slow transportation. Once we invent teleportation or helicopters become the norm, I think I’ll be much more adaptive. More photos on tumblr.