The guidebooks warn that Athens is hot, dirty, noisy, and crowded- especially in August, which is a traditional holiday month for Europeans. Well, the guidebooks were right. 95 degree heat with a brutal sun and the wind is blowing, so the ancient dust from the Acropolis covered our legs and clothes by the end of day 1.
I am really glad we did not rent a car- traffic here makes downtown Chicago look easy. Yes, the busses and subway are crowded. In fact so crowded, last night we waited for a second train in order to get on at our stop. Imagine being smashed into a train car to the point you have to yell and push in order to get off the train. Unlike Switzerland, where cars politely give pedestrians the right of way, in Greece making it to the other side of the crosswalk feels like a victory in the Olympic Games. The motorcycles are numerous, fast, and seem to have a death wish. And every taxi is in a hurry.
And yet, at 9 pm at night the city is still jostling and jumping and people are out walking in the cooler night breeze. The Greek language sounds so melodious and happy, and around every street corner is a street musician playing for coins. Last night, we headed to Syntagma Square, the main shopping district of Athens. I thought I was at a Black Friday event- Greece is on sale, and every store was crowded with buyers, pulling clothes off the rack, and standing in long lines to cash in on deals. I am not a big shopper, but it wasn’t hard to enjoy the vibe and excitement of Ermou Street. As far as the dirty part goes, the bathrooms have been clean and working, there was no litter in the newly renovated subway system, and the streets are clean. And we are loving the food- lots and lots of salads and fresh fruit.
My favorite moment in Athens was our first site stop yesterday- the Temple of Olympian Zeus. We had just bought our ticket passes for 8 Athens’ sights/museums. We stopped a guide near the ticket booth to ask if we were in the right place. With a big smile, she said “Welcome, welcome to Greece! We hope you enjoy our country!”