Travel blog

Athens Is Worth It- But Not What We Expected

By on January 25, 2013
We’ve had an interesting* time of it in Athens, so far. Not the best, the worst but perhaps a lot of quirky and curious in-betweens. We started our Athens adventure by picking up a gypsy couple on an abandoned mountain road.

Against Armando’s better instincts- (he didn’t realize they were Bulgarian Romany when we pulled over) but karma is as karma does-  we helped them out and drove away lighter by just a loaf of bread and a few cookies.

They hadn’t eaten in two days. We had a few coins left, so we could always get more bread. We arrived in Athens right at sunset, drove to his father’s friend Dimitry’s neighborhood and found parking. We met Dimitry, a film director, and his wife Daniela, a set designer, that night.

One of Armando’s early jobs was working with Dimitry on a film, where he learned a lot about directing and how to get the best from actors. Daniela was and has been a superb hostess, and worries about us much.

Once upon a time, they too were out on the road in an RV, seeking inspiration and experience. It’s always nice meeting other people that don’t believe you’re ‘clinical’ for the simple choice of living in a van and traveling rather than static existing.

We’ve had several attempts at break-ins, in Athens. Once a man thumped, then banged on our side door at 4:30 a.m. When we opened the window he demanded we give him cigarettes. Being our groggy selves, heightened with unexpected adrenalin, we kindly told him where he could impolitely put his request.

The second time was the next day, where two young Greek fellas were trying to get in the side door- in the middle of the day, 3 p.m.ish- while I was writing inside. More barbaric words were handed out on a Mel platter, and they ran off.

After these two incidents, we decided to add a member to the Mork family: a reachable, fire-engine red crowbar. We had to make an adjustment, after losing our can of mace in a ‘fishing accident.’

If anything, this city has honed my cursing ability in spades. I think I might even be able to make a sailor blush, at this rate. Grin. The last time, it was a mere 5:30 a.m. and we’d parked in a street that was an ‘unspoken’ marketplace. At least they were legit, and we moved without complaint.

Athens does own a rich history. We’ve had a beautiful, brilliant sunset with the Acropolis in the faded forefront, seen from a church overlooking the city. There are enough ancient ruins to satisfy the hungriest of newbie archeologists.

But the flip side? You also see the impact of the EU slump directly. There are homeless people from all walks of life. They are beggars, sellers of sad leftovers of their former, successful lives. Tragedy and humor, in the traditional Grecian manner.

It reminds me of NYC. It reminds me of empathy, of a humanity that gets overlooked in the guise of poorly quipped jokes about Greece’s EU failure.

Within that spectrum, Athens is a ghost town of lost dreams.

There are more empty, dilapidated shops and buildings than we’ve seen in our travels so far. Some of the ‘working’ businesses keep their lights off during the day, to save on money.

The only things that really seem thriving here are the orange trees, full to the point of bursting and littering the streets. We’re not sure if they’re edible (that’d help out the homeless, no?) but guessing that would be a resounding ‘no,’ as they’re probably treated for insects or some such thing.** Ach jo, as the Czechs say.

Never mistake my observations for disappointment. I’m more than thankful for these- for every- experience we encounter. Athens makes me feel lucky. I have work. I have daily affection. We have enough to eat. Warmth. We have Mork and we have each other.
I’m surrounded by world history and I have the support of the people I care most about. Athens, at the end of the day, has re-taught me appreciation for the concrete things in my life.

After writing this, we went looking for a shop. It had started to rain, which we didn’t think much about, minus trying to jump over puddles and baby street streams.

Until we left the shop, laden with bags, that is. Athena must have been in some mood last night, because it wasn’t raining cats and dogs. It was raining: sheep, cattle and large aquatic mammals that had no business making a visit.

Athens is built on hills, not nearly as steep as Istanbul, but it’s a hilly place. When it rains, it pours gallons of water into makeshift rivers that surge around corners with mini white-water rapids.

The skies had opened up, the thunder was in surround-sound, lightning crackled above- but Athena wasn’t done yet. The hail started in. Car alarms began going off, lights flickered and went out, cars burned off tires trying to navigate around steep corners with 6 inches of flowing water underneath.

We gave up on the notion of ‘dry,’ and immersed ourselves in the storm like children. We stomped and played, using our shopping bags for balance. Armando practiced surfing in the larger waves.* People observing us from doorways shook their heads at our insanity.
There’s nothing like a little rain, a lot of soaking, to bring you back to puerile happiness. As I mentioned before, sometimes getting back to basics is best. With a huge, wet, sloppy grin- ευχαριστίες, Athens.

**The oranges are some form of year-round tangerine, and they aren’t eaten fresh due to bitterness. They are, apparently, popular as a jam.

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