25.10.2016 - 26.09.2016 25 °C
Athens airport was a breeze to get through, nice and simple, without loads of red tape. My transfer and check in went smoothly and I was able to get out for a good walk (the taxi driver said Athens was quite safe for me to walk around even at night??)
I very quickly discovered the people of Athens are far friendlier than Italians - they all spoke reasonably good English and went out of their way to help me. It turns out the warnings I'd heard about not being able to withdraw cash from ATM machines doesn't apply to tourists - it only applies to anyone holding a Greek bank account and the per day cash withdrawal limit for those people is E$60. I also heard that a lot of petrol stations have recently closed down - but I didn't see that, or get affected by it.
You can't walk through the streets and miss seeing the trouble Greece is in - there are many many unoccupied, crumbling, graffitied buildings throughout the main city area. Beggars and illegal street vendors are all around. A lot of work that got started for the 2002 Olympics is yet to be finished (the 'new' port being one such place). My taxi driver and I had a good chuckle about that, when I thought there was a new addition to the port in the throws of being finished, he explained to me it was the work started before the 2002 games - still in progress....
I did get into an uncomfortable situation on my first evening walk - I suddenly ended up in the middle of a square - and there were no women in sight,only lots and lots of groups of men - it looked like they might have been there for some sort of meeting - or perhaps that's the culture and the men all go and 'hang out' in the local squares... I'm not sure, but I definitely felt like I shouldn't be there so I hot footed it out of there as fast as I could. That one got my heart rate up a bit.
I got terribly lost in Athens too - even after asking at a local car rental office, I couldn't find my way back to my hotel. I'd done my usual trick and walked in entirely the wrong direction ... the lady in the car rental office was very difficult to understand, so she wrote me a note with my directions on it - but it may as well have been in hieroglyphics for I didn't have a clue what it said. She did tell me I'd have to catch the metro - well I tried, but I couldn't make any sense out of the ticket machine, or writing on any of the signs and no-one seemed interested in helping me - so in the end I gave up and caught a taxi home. I was scared about what the taxi driver was going to charge me, but it was only E$5 in the end - so was the right thing to do.
I enjoyed my half day included tour of Athens - it's always good to hear a local guide. We visited the site of the first modern Olympics - the Panathenaic Stadium, then the Acropolis Museum and the Acropolis and Parthenon themselves. They dominate the landscape of central Athens, and you can't help but get caught up in the legends of the Greek Gods. It was hard to believe that the structures before me dated back to the fifth century BC.
On my own I found the ruins of Hadrian's Arch and the Temple of Zeus - two more really interesting examples of the architecture of the period they were built. What I did find a little depressing was the fact that around these amazing sites, the area is quite run down. The streets are covered in potholes, there's rubbish bins galore, dust, dirt and weeds, graffiti on the buildings - that sort of thing.... it all served to reinforce the seriousness of the situation Greece is in. I wanted to spend money in every souvenir shop I went into just to help the shopkeepers out!
Two days in Athens was probably about long enough. If I ever get back to the area again, I'll try to get to Meteora - the Monasteries there are apparently well worth visiting.