“Tomorrow soon turns into yesterday.
Everything we see just fades away.
There’s sky and sand where mountains used to be.
Time drops by a second to eternity.
It doesn’t matter if we turn to dust;
Turn and turn and turn we must!
I guess I’ll see you dancin’ in the ruins tonight!” *
I was brow beaten into visiting Greece this July, over some strong personal reservations regarding our safety in an unstable country and even more unstable European Union.
STAY OUT OF ATHENS!
That sad city is lost in every meaningful way.
Every area we went that is more than two blocks away from a major government building, or archaeological site looks like this:
The graffiti is not just at street level. We saw the scars on the sides of buildings in places that would require rope and harness to reach. Looks like pic of dead zones in the US like Detroit. Just pathetic.
We were in Greece for a week, and only saw two police officers in the district of Athens where our hotel was located. Near government buildings and archaeological parks, the police were quite visible.
In addition to the urban blight mentioned above were LARGE crowds of (100+) men ages 20-50 sitting and standing around every metro station doing absolutely nothing…all day. No women around, just guys glaring at anyone who seemed to have a purpose in life.
Across the street from our hotel I saw a business that only seemed to open after dark. The place was lit by a single bulb, so all you could see were silhouettes of men sitting around low tables with their heads together. No sign was visible above the business, so I asked the desk clerk at the hotel. He got really spooky on me and said, “That’s a coffee house. It’s not a café. Not a family place. You don’t want to go there. Only men go there to drink coffee and,” he hesitates, “and play games and talk.” It wasn’t a question of the man’s English, he spoke fine English, but that was all I could get out of him.
Tourists are warned to:
Never go out after dark, especially women, escorted or not.
Only carry bags strapped across your body to prevent the moped riding purse snatchers from grabbing your kit.
The Gypsies that cover southern Europe have changed tactics. The new trick is to dress like tourists, and ask you to take their picture with their camera. While you are fumbling around, their accomplice is picking your pockets. I had to wonder what the Gypsies would do if their intended victim just ran off with their camera.
I spotted a couple of lookouts in the form of 2 kids sitting on a doorstep, and after we made the corner, I looked back and saw we had grown a tail. He was obvious if you were looking for him, but normal tourists probably would not make him. Once I made eye contact he turned a corner, but I saw him again about a block later. Got to keep your head on a swivel.
The Acropolis and Parthenon were worth a visit, but with the packed crowds in the park, it’s a suicide bomber’s wet dream of a target. The Acropolis Museum was VERY nice.
Shopping was a bore. Almost everything was some variation of the graphics from the “300” movies. Lots of “Molon Labe” T-shirts that I can get at any gun show in the US. If you have kids keep the blinders on because playing cards, books, and pictures based on classic erotic art are commonly displayed. My 14-year-old told me, “After this, I can watch any kind of movie I want. I’ve seen it all.” Sadly, she was right.
We visited the temple of Hephaestus and the Keramikos cemetery. Both worth the walk and close to the Acropolis. The best part was we saved money by purchasing multi-entry tickets that covered all 3 parks.
“There’s laughter where I used to see your tears.
It’s all done with mirrors, have no fears.
There’s nothing pure or sacred in our time.
The nights we spent together are no crime.” *
A day cruise with Athens Day Cruises was part of our adventure. The route went to the islands of Hydra (pronounced Gee-dra by the locals), Poros, and Aegina (pronounce Ah-gee-na).
Hydra, and Poros were not very exciting. The waterfronts were very picturesque. The shops and cafes were the same as Athens, jut no graffiti.
Aegina was a welcome relief. We bought a bus tour across the island to one of the more intact temples in Greece, and a visit to the cathedral where the relics of St. Nektarios are kept. This church is one of the most important in Orthodoxy and quite beautiful.
The boat we sailed on was nice enough, but nothing but air and lunch were included in the ticket price. Not even tap water was available for free. Fortunately, we were carrying 2 liters of water, so they couldn’t bleed us. Lunch was a buffet of Greek classics. Pretty tasty. The afternoon portion of the cruise included a presentation of Greek dancing.
The food we encountered was pretty McGreek all over. Not a lot of variety or selections were offered by any restaurants. I really love Greek/Mediterranean food, and was looking forward to trying dishes I can’t get in Texas where we have a couple of big annual Greek food festivals. No such luck.
Our favorite restaurant in Athens was called “Alexander the Great”. We enjoyed their “patio” seating on two occasions. The first night we stopped by we perused the menu and saw prices comparable to what we would expect in the US, so we ordered a dish each expecting to share. They started us off with fresh loaves of crusty pita and a plate of pickled peppers, cabbage, and other goodies. Then we discovered the failure in our plans. Alexander’s serves family style portions. We ended up with 3 large PLATTERS of food followed by a large plate of fresh watermelon. All for 40 euros. We could barely walk back to the hotel.
The only place I was able to get something beyond kebab and moussaka was a little no-name restaurant on the road back from Meteora. The dish was stewed veggies and lamb that was falling off the bones. Thoroughly enjoyable.
One critical question a lot of tourists ask is about the safety of the drinking water. As of this writing, the water in the cities is safe to drink. We saw some signs in a few places warning not to drink the water, but these were very isolated cases.
Greece has two local beers “Mythos” and “Fix”. Due to security concerns I was keeping a clear head this trip, but I tried Mythos while we were away from Athens. It is a light pilsner type beer roughly equivalent to Heineken. Drinkable.
“Like marble statues always flowing lay,
From castles built in silence, let us play.” *
AWAY FROM ATHENS
Outside of Athens, things look a lot more civilized, and much less like occupied territory.
We took a two-day bus trip to Delphi and Meteora. Both well worth the ride.
The ruins and museum at Delpi were spectacular. As I wandered around reading the signage, I notice something shiny next to one of the temples, so I wandered over to have a look. It turned out to be a small metal sign, standing in full sun, next to a huge slab of reflective marble. It was written in braille. I ran my finger across the first line and that sign was painfully hot. I had to wonder what kind of sadistic bastard would play a joke like that on blind people.
Definitely visit Delphi just don’t touch the signs.
Meteora doesn’t have much in the way of ruins, but it has some fantastic rock formations that make the place look a lot like Monument Valley with trees. Geologists are not sure how these massive columns of rock were pushed up from the seabed, but the end result is amazing. What is more amazing are the monasteries perched like tiny castles on top of the rock columns.
One of the differences between Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism is the naming conventions for religious retreats. Catholics have convents/nunneries for women and monasteries for men. In Orthodoxy there are only monasteries. Some are for men, and some are for women, but they are all referred to by the term “monastery”.
We visited one of each while we were in Meteroa, and purchased some very fine wine and honey from the brothers and sisters. I’m not a wine drinker by any means. Something in wine gives me the worst hangovers. This wine didn’t do that. If you are passing by, take the time for a visit, and try the wine and honey.
The town of Meteora is little more than a wide spot in the road. The folks are nice and the pubs are friendly. We stayed at the Zosas Hotel and drank beer at Stefanos Tavern next door . Zosas offers breakfast with the room, so give them some business. Stefanos have an amazing outdoor grill, and the prices are reasonable.
The word “acropolis” translates as castle, and there are a lot of them scattered about. We visited several in differing levels of excavations.
One of the more interesting archaeological sites we visited was a burial mound.
I didn’t know the Greeks ever buried their dead in mounds. Still lots for this traveler to learn in this world.
One of the oddest things we saw was in Athens. It is a statue of Icarus from the first modern Olympic games
Considering the story Icarus, it seemed like a really dark theme to display to Olympic athletes.
“It doesn’t matter if we turn to dust;
Turn and turn and turn we must.
I guess I’ll see you dancin’ in the ruins tonight! Dancin’ in the ruins!
Guess I’ll see you dancin’ in the ruins tonight! Dancin’ in the ruins!
Guess I’ll see you dancin’ in the ruins tonight! Dancin’ in the ruins!
Guess I’ll see you dancin’ in the ruins tonight!
Dancin’ in the ruins!” *
*Lyrics from “Dancin’ In The Ruins” by Blue Oyster Cult