Over the next four days, the world was to open it’s doors to us, revealing an ancient snapshot of human accomplishments that went back to the 5th Century BC. Our time in both Athens and Rome will forever leave us feeling like someone had bent the fabric of time and allowed us to walk straight into when the Persians sacked the Acropolis and when the Gladiators roared within the Colosseum. Ok, that’s probably a little dramatic and would assume someone has solved time travel. But we were certainly awestruck numerous times as standing remnants of these ancient masterpieces towered above us.
After what was becoming a seamlessly never-ending summer, we were keen to return to some tourist spots and inject our minds with a strong dose of culture. We flew into Athens rather late, with few expectations of the city but a keen appetite to visit the Acropolis. Strangely, Elisha was struggling with a severe headache and was on the verge of vomiting so we made a concerted effort to get to our accommodation as quickly as possible. Lonely planet states on page 513 of the Europe on a Shoestring (8th Edition) under Dangers & Annoyances “Streets surrounding Omonia have become markedly seedier, with an increase in prostitutes and junkies; AVOID THE AREA, ESPECIALLY AT NIGHT!”
On a shoestring budget but desperately needing our own space, I’ll give you one guess where our “hotel” was located. That’s right – in AVOID THE AREA Omonia.
The streets were dark and eerily quiet as we walked with our backpacks from where the bus from the airport had dropped us off in Syntagmos to our hidden hotel. Grafitti was laden everywhere. In fact, it seemed every spare inch of space on any building, poster, pole, transport or living thing was marked with grafitti. And then, on that grafitti, was more grafitti. Words like “seedy” and “needles” began to enter our discussion as we walked rather closely into the abyss. Sirens could be heard somewhere. Was that a glass bottle smashing? “Hey Elisha, remember that time in the backstreets of Kuala Lumpur when we feared for our lives?”
We eventually found our hotel around the corner from a street littered with trash. We checked in, climbed the stairs to our room, turned the lock, engaged the deadlock, shoved a chair under the handle and then turned our bed into a fortress. Thankfully, Elisha did in fact vomit.
Which was fantastic.
For this meant she did not wish to head back out for dinner. Which was fine by me because I didn’t want to open my eyes again until the sun was up. So with howls and screams bellowing at us from the street below, we huddled and shook beneath the bed until, finally, we fell asleep.
Our reasons to fear were confirmed the next morning when, as we exited the building mid-morning, we saw a large armoured police truck parked across the road and an armed policeman standing at the hotel’s entrance. As a result of this “scared-shitlessness” I guess you would call it, we unfortunately don’t have many photos of Athens as we ensured we left the hotel each morning wearing our cheapest shoes and simplest clothes and left our valuables, such as watches, cameras and phones, at home (where they were probably at an even greater risk with the wage-deprived hotel staff.)
But Athens is an interesting city. We are all aware they were hit hard by their own financial crisis in 2010. I think for those who may have seen the city before this time would tell a very different story to ours. However, it seems because of this recession that the city has blossomed and redifined itself into one that we very quickly fell in love with. If you like Berlin because of its grittiness but underlyingly adorable personality, there’s a good chance Athens will win you over too. Skipping ahead quickly, when we flew to Rome, we read an article which confirmed our suspicions. The recession has lead to incredibly cheap rent in the middle of the city. Jobs just do not exist and there are a lot of people sitting around with nothing to do. So what does this breed? Ingenuity. Small businesses, such as new waves of bars and coffee shops, barbers and app designers, are flourishing. We read that rent can be as little as 250 Euros per month in the city. People, who are so sick of waiting for a job to become available, are tackling the problem first hand and taking the initiative to create their own jobs. It’s really cool. As a result, there are heaps of new and cool things to check out, the city is alive and has an incredible night scene. Throw in numerous specialty coffee brewers and Elisha had me legging it all over the city. When we weren’t being tourists and snapping photos of 2000 year old rocks, we were meticulously comparing Athens with our other favourite cities, such as Berlin, Prague, Budapest and Melbourne.
With all that urban stuff aside, the real reason anyone goes to Athens is to of course visit the Acropolis. I think history books for absolutely any period in time probably confirms that some race or person lived on this very hill. It is shrouded in history. And I won’t go into it here – because this is a blog and not a textbook. But to again be standing on something so significant not just to the Greeks but to all of humanity really was truely amazing. It is also home to the Parthenon, the iconic temple that has been renovated at the very top. Please reader, be very careful when hashtagging this on Instagram. If you do what I did, and mispell it as Panthenon, two things will happen. One – your photo will join a mash collection of photos that comprise both the Parthenon in Athens and the Pantheon in Rome from tourists who don’t know the difference, and Two – some self righteous twat will comment on your photo to correct you. However, because he is also a tourist who doesn’t know the difference, he will say “It’s Partenon. Panthenon is in Rome.” Twat. His name is Bartekwasu if you wish to join me in forever trolling him.
The other main attraction in Athens is the Acropolis Museum. This is incredible as it is built on top of the archaeological site of Markygianni and the ruins of a part of Roman and early Byzantine Athens. You walk over glass floors where you can see the foundations of the old city directly beneath you and marvel at its layout, design and architecture. Inside the museum itself are over 4,000 items that have been excavated from the Acropolis. Let’s just say lot’s of penises. Or is it penii? Battye, you’d know. Tell me.
Athens is exhausting. It’s hot and you do an incredible amount of walking. As such, it’s important to mix it up with plenty of refreshments. Elisha took me to a number of different coffee places. As we hadn’t had a great coffee in well over a month, this was almost the highlight of the city. There is also this bakery which does a Greek-style pie and is eaten for breakfast. They are served flat, taste great and I ate two. We visited a few different bars and had one final Mythos before saying farewell to Greece.
Before catching the bus back to the airport, we had to again make the dreaded return to the hotel to collect our bags. Ignoring Lonely Planet’s advise to AVOID THIS AREA, we made one final trek, empty-handed, through the suspicious hords of tramps loitering on the streets just so we could make a return trek, handed with cameras, watches and phones, through the suspicious hords of tramps loitering on the streets.
Athens had one final surprise for us. As we sat in the warm comfort of our bus, the heavens truely opened. I haven’t seen a flash flood like this since I was in Toowoomba the day cars were rolled down the streets in a torrent of muddy flood water. The bus splashed waves of water high over the pavements as we rolled through a foot-deep river or rushing water and we smiled gleefully as we took pictures of people on mopeds and people running beneath umbrella’s as they tried to escape the tsunami created by our bus.
We were excited to be heading to Rome after Athens. Although we assumed it would treat us with another display of ancient wonder, we were mainly keen to get there for more obvious reasons. And that was so we could be staying somewhere that Lonely Planet didn’t have a firm “AVOID THIS AREA” warning for.