Athens was grumpy. Several years of extravagant spending by the Greek government and its citizens had come home to roost with the worldwide financial crisis of 2009. The European Union had required steep austerity measures in Greece as the price of a pulling the nation back from the brink of fiscal chaos. Nothing was sacred from spending cuts including social services, wages and pensions. A massive influx of impoverished immigrants and a nascent neo-Nazi movement added to the country’s woes. Everyone was expected to make sacrifices to help solve the crisis.
Since sacrifices are best made by someone else, there had been massive strikes and violence in the country.
We didn’t know what to expect but had decided to see Athens on our own. Tours offered by the cruise line were very expensive. It helps assure a healthy profit margin. There is neither encouragement nor support for independent exploration. No handy-dandy sheets are handed out saying this is what you should do if you want to see such and such on your own.
Normally our self-guided tours worked great but Athens proved to be challenging.
From the moment we stepped off the ship, taxi drivers offering tours inundated us. Tourism had dropped with the fiscal crisis and was dropping even farther with the end of the tourist season. The air of desperation turned to rudeness when it was discovered we were planning to use public transit. Finding the right bus stop and the right bus turned out difficult, however. When we finally did find the bus it was pulling out of the bus stop. Out of frustration I turned to a taxi driver. We were able to hire two taxis for an all day tour for the six of us that was substantially less than the cruise tours.
Was it worth all the hassle? Absolutely.
Much of who we are in the West evolved from what happened in the City State of Athens between 500 and 350 BC. We visited the cradle of democracy and walked where Socrates, Plato and Aristotle had walked. We climbed up the Acropolis and admired the Parthenon and other buildings that have been a major inspiration for Western architecture for 2000 years. We watched the changing of the guard at the Prime Minister’s residence, visited the site of the Athens 2004 summer Olympics and concluded out tour with an expensive but excellent Greek meal.
NEXT BLOG: We continue our exploration of Athens with a visit to the huge temple of Zeus, see the site of the 1904 Olympics, watch guards do the kick step and eat fish and moussaka for lunch. Note, in order to make more time for other writing projects, I will be blogging on our Mediterranean Cruise Adventure on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.