Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Final Days in Athens...

Γιά σας, φοίλι μας! I figure an update on life in Athens is in order!

Yesterday was a fun day of walking. We went all over downtown Athens to Σύνταγμα square, which means Constitution Square, and saw the wrath of the riots. The phrase of the winter here was “Merry Crisis and a Happy New Year!” There were lots of government buildings covered in graffiti (which isn’t a HUGE surprise since everything else in Athens is covered in graffiti as well, but when translated, this graffiti was particularly graphic), and there were lots of stores and other public things that had been badly burnt. It was a very interesting sight to behold. Everything’s died down now, so no worries.

Later we visited the 2004 Olympic Stadium and the mall, both of which were really fun. The stadium is an amazing feat of engineering, but it’s completely deserted now. A total wasteland. Out of the entire complex built for 04, only a few buildings are still in use. It’s terrible!

The mall was lots of fun though. It’s fun to see the Greek kids in their own element. Everyone in Greece is dressed to the nines all the time, looking like European models for premier designers, and that’s especially the case at the mall where all of the teenagers spend their parents’ money. It’s really entertaining to see them all with their friends. With all of the cultural differences, some things don’t change. Teenagers are still teenagers, acne and all. They scrabble for attention amongst each other, and even with the language barrier the social stratification is crystal clear. It was a nice reminder of the fact that all of our differences cannot change the fact that we’re all still human and we’ll always have some binding ties.

Today was a lot of fun, but very different. It was our last full day in the big city and we’d already seen all the major historical and archaeological sites, so we hopped on a ferry and visited Αιγίνα. It’s a beautiful island that’s about an hour to get to by sea, which gave me plenty of time to sit, journal, and enjoy the day. It wasn’t exactly beautiful outside though. It was about 40 degrees and raining, but sometimes you have to pay your dues.

We had a great day on the island just putsing around and visiting shops. I had THE BEST meal of my life (seriously), which consisted of cod in a red wine tomato sauce and the most succulent octopus I’ve ever experienced. It was delicious!

Meals here in Greece are totally different, by the way. First of all, Greeks eat lunch anywhere from two to four pm and dinner anywhere between eight and ten. Also, a meal isn’t just eating food and moving on. It’s an event. I regularly see locals spend three to four hours at a restaurant. They’ll have an appetizer, sit for forty-five minutes, have another course, drink for another hour, have dessert, keep drinking, and head out whenever they feel like their food is good and settled. Twice a day. It’s crazy!

They do the same thing at cafes with Frappe, a Nestle drink of milk and Nescafe instant coffee shaken with ice. They’ll sit at a café for an entire day with their friends smoking and talking. Everyone smokes, by the way, and they all smoke inside. Everywhere. Apparently Athens just passed a law that comes into effect in 2010 that bans smoking inside, but for now all the buildings (except the museums) are smoky.

There are lots of weird quirky things like that here in Greece. Driving is insane. The cars pretty much drive and park however they see fit. “There are no real laws in Athens,” says Panos. “There are only strong suggestions.” And it’s true. The motorcycles and mopeds are particularly crazy. They drive on the sidewalks, in between cars on the highways, and pretty much wherever they please. And you damn well better get out of their way. That’s just the way things are. It’s a very exciting thing, stepping out your door in the morning!

And another thing. There are wild dogs EVERYWHERE! They’re very relaxed and lots of fun. They’ve actually become one of my favorite parts of the city. Our group will often accumulate four or five wild dogs who just roam the streets with us for no reason for hours at a time. When they see someone or something they perceive might threaten us, be it another group of dogs or pedestrians or a car, they go into attack mode. It’s very flattering. They fit this city, which is very haphazard and dirty. Athens is the least pretentious place I’ve ever been. Things are the way they are, wild dogs and all, whether you like it or not and nobody is going to give you any excuses. You can either take it or leave it. I love it.

That’s all from this side of the globe for now! Sadly, I’m off to Volos in the morning. I’ve fallen madly in love with this city and hope to return sometime soon. It’s called The Big Village, and it’s just that. I’m comfortable everywhere I go and can find anything I need right around the corner. Everything here is a juxtaposition of excitement and fast-paced living, eccentricity and quaintness, and at the same time there’s a sense of peace and tranquility about it all . Anyway, here’s to Volos! I’ll be sure to give you an update from my apartment there when I settle in. Have a great day, wherever you may be reading this!

1 comment:

citizen of the world said...

I was really struck by the approach to dining in Greece, too.The actually seemed offended if you wanted to eat and just get on out of there. But, man, is the food good!