March 18, 2015

Monthly Musings with Marc - March

Athens' Dirty Secret

First thing I did when I got home from Athens was watch Disney's HERCULES. Tomorrow, I will likely watch TROY or ALEXANDER THE GREAT.

I needed to put Athens back on the pedestal in my mind because what I saw the last three days made me sad.

Don't get me wrong, Athens is a great tourist city. Incredible food, low prices, and historical sights - a tourist's dream, as long as they don't peek around the curtain.

Anyone who knows me well knows my obsession with ancient history. I read books, watch TV shows, and play video games based on ancient Roman and Greek times. Military strategies from those times are still studied today. Athens is the city that bore democracy and great minds like Socrates and Pluto. I have wanted to visit the land of mythology since I was a kid.

And now Athens will always be a land of myth to me. It is no longer what it was. Not even close.

When I travel to cities, I like to see where and how the locals live, to take a look at what is being hidden. I walk down side streets, hop on local buses going in all directions, and try to use Airbnb to stay with a local. In most cities I have visited, these explorations have led to hidden gems like cool antique stores, great cafes, or forgotten churches. In Athens, all I found was piles of trash, ugly grafitti, and decaying buildings. These were not things I was going to take pictures of.

Greece is known to be struggling financially and jobs are supposedly hard to come by. Then why have they spent 35 million euros, and planning on spending another 70 million, on restoring the Acropolis? That's a lot of money for a tourist attraction that already attracts millions of tourists per year to its hill, even in its unfinished state. What about creating some clean-up projects in the areas where locals live in squalor? Why not look to clean the streets, rebuild livable areas, or improve transportation? Use that money to strengthen what could be a foundation. Instead they are allowing the city itself to crumble behind the scenes.

Like I said, Athens is a great tourist city. Visit for a day or two, and then go island-hopping. Eat the gyros, olives, and baklava, visit the old Panathenaic Olympic stadium, and I suggest climbing up Filopappou Hill to get a great view of the Acropolis. From here you will get a great view into the past, a view into what Athens was. But when you come off of that hill, don't look too hard, or you will be greeted by what Athens is, something far from the myth.