A history lesson from the night owls
06.14.2012 - 06.17.2012 90 °F
We arrived in Athens via ferry, which is a pretty cool way to enter a city as large as Athens. We watched the city sprawl of the foothills get thicker as we approached the city center and noticed how the buildings didn’t even make it half way up the hills. We later found out that it has been tradition (or law) to not build anything higher than the mighty Acropolis.
We got off the ferry and headed to the electric train (aka metro) towards Gregory’s house in the Exarhia district. We arrived at Omonia station and barely had any room to get off the escalator as it tossed us into the middle of a massive political rally for the upcoming election. There were only three days left to go before Election Day and rallies were pushing into the night.
We managed to squeeze our way through the rally with our packs on and found our way to Gregory’s. This neighborhood of Athens has basically been taken over by social hipsters filled with gorilla vegetable gardens and political graffiti. The police wouldn’t enter the neighborhood at night, but they patrolled the entrance ways with full riot gear… apparently it’s like this most of the time, but they had more patrols setup to help out with any demonstrations that may happen regarding the election.
At 11pm, we went out for some drinks with Gregory and some friends. At 3am, we had souvlaki gyros for dinner. This was our introduction to the Greek lifestyle that seemed to not include sleeping. Apparently anything eaten before noon is still considered breakfast and dinner is never eaten before 9pm. Luckily for us Vasillas (one of Gregory’s friends) was giving a private tour of the Acropolis museum for a few friends the following day, and we were invited to join in. Vasillas turned out to be one of the most knowledgeable history buffs we have ever met! We started with a few ancient Greek stories over frappes in the museum café and then headed in! The museum itself is built on an archeological site and some of the floors of the building are made of glass so that you can see what is underneath. It is a fantastic museum, and was way more interesting than visiting the Acropolis itself (unless you really like being pushed around by oblivious cruise ship tour groups)!
Walking through the ancient sites of Athens we felt our minds wander with imagination and the contrasting thoughts of new and old ages. There were open archeological digs in the middle of town and ancient pillars lining new subways stations. In our minds we witnessed generations of guards changing at the Parliament buildings, sons of sons of fishermen at the Ancient Agora (market area) and felt the roar of the crowds at the Panathenaic stadium. From the amazing 360 view on Lycabettus hill we could see the area that was once included in the walled city and imagined what it would be like to see an approaching army.
We saw a different kind of army in person by heading to the polls with the masses; we tagged along with Gregory and went to watch him cast his vote. The Greek ballot system is slightly different than ours… in that each party has a full page of paper listing names of nominees, and you have to mark a plus next to the candidate that you want from each party. If you choose to only vote for one person, there are lots of extra papers...
For a country under such economic stress and questioning its continued involvement with the EU, the energy in Athens was amazing. Every night there were people out and about enjoying food and drinks on patio seating, roof top decks or just chilling in the park or in the public squares. If you do make it to Greece, make sure to have a cold FIX Hellas beer, its hella good!