A Couple Days in Athens

In Greece, Photo, Travel 2011 on June 15, 2011 at 1:36 pm

After 10 days of packed with activity in Italy I must admit, I needed a bit of a rest. So, with two and a half days in Athens, I decided to take it relatively easy, and just aim for the highlights.

First of all, I actually liked Athens quite a bit. It wasn’t at all what I expected. I think I had pictured something along the lines of Rome, but maybe a bit dingier. Instead, I discovered that Athens is a pretty little white and light city with modern conveniences, orange trees, a lot of history…. and quite a few demonstrators.

Yesterday, I decided to take it easy and just visit the Olympic stadium, home of the very first modern games, leaving the Acropolis – arguably Europe’s busiest and most important historical site – for today, when I’m a bit more rested.

The demonstrators had other plans.

I successfully made it to the stadium, and enjoyed a short little tour and walk around inside. The stadium itself is not particularly impress, but the history behind it, of course, is. Rather than the gladiator stories of the colosseum, blood, and valor at it’s most brutal, the Olympic stadium has it’s root in more relatable sports: track and field. It was strangely moving to walk in the footsteps of athletes from ages ago, the athletes who paved the way for today’s gold medalled superstars.

Other than a few rain drops, my visit to the stadium, plus souvlaki and a bit of a read in the park, made for a nice day.

Then there was today.

We already knew yesterday that there was to be a bus strike. That slowly expanded to include all forms of transportation. Then, because without transportation, you can’t really get anywhere, everyone else followed suit. Apparently this is how it works in Greece. If transport strikes, so does everyone else.

So we, being me and the rest of the people at the hostel, woke up this morning to Greece at a standstill, and I decided to put the Acropolis on hold for my one day in Athens after my trip to the Islands. Though it was open, it was packed on account of the fact that it was about the only thing open.

No worries though, instead I got to see a bit of Greece’s unions doing what they do best – strike.

They really do have it down to a science. Thought transport as on strike, they kept the metros open so people could get to Syntagma Square, the square in front of Parliament. There they blocked all representatives from getting into Parliament and voting for a particular bill.

The entire square looked like a Hooverville with tents, makeshift kitchens, booths, and banners that had been there for a few days. However, contrary to the news reports I saw on television, everything was mostly peaceful. There was quite a bit of yelling and a bit of running about, but I would not have called it a riot.

As for the tourists, there was the inconvenience of things being closed, and there was a bit of tear gas floating around in the air, but we never felt unsafe, and as Greece is highly dependent on it’s tourist season, everyone still seemed happy to have us in the city.

By the end of the day, there were few promises from Parliament, debatably empty, and everyone was already starting to head on their way. Apparently tomorrow morning will be quite normal again – good, because I’m meant to catch a ferry – and the unions will start planning the next one.

More power to them.

Coming from a country where demonstrations and strikes are effective mainly because of media coverage, it was really cool to watch the unions unite and actually bring an entire country to a standstill, not to mention get a same day reaction from the government.

That being said, please don’t bring the country to a standstill when need to get my flight to London.

A few pictures below:

Sitting in the olympic stadium

Syntagma Square at the end of the day.

Not even midnight and already cleaning up.


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