Snapshots of Athens

I wish someone had told me about Athens. I mean, really told me. We had Greek neighbours, when I was a kid, and their son was my brother’s best friend. In fact, there is a relatively large Greek community in my hometown, so I grew up eating spanikopita and tzatziki and salty feta cheese, all followed by sticky sliced triangles of baklava. But despite that, despite the hours spent studying Greek mythology in eighth grade social studies class, despite the fact that my favourite book, Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres, takes places in Turkey and Greece, for some reason it didn’t occur to me visit until recently. Better late than never, I suppose. Athens is not a pretty city, not really. Outside of the old town of Plaka, it is a place that was constructed quickly to house an enormous influx of people, and the haste of construction shows in many of the buildings, which are at best generic but mostly a bit on the dismal side. The sidewalks crack and heave beneath your feet when you walk. Almost everything could have used a fresh coat of paint five years ago. Stray cats amble underfoot everywhere you turn; some of them are cute but most are in need of a flea dip and, undoubtedly, many years with a cat therapist to help them deal with their hostility towards all the humans who do not bring them food. The archaic plumbing means toilet paper must be deposited in pedal bins next to toilets, a fact I never really adjusted to. Despite what every tour guide says, no one takes credit cards, not even the public transit system – cash is king except at the top of Acropolis Hill, the only place we were able use our credit cards in four days. Greece has been through hard times in the past decade and the daily reality in Athens in a stark contrast to much of the rest of the western world. But as far as I am concerned, that is all the more reason to visit. I loved Athens because it reminded me that life can be truly wonderful when you are forced to slow down, and because it confirmed for me what I have always believed; that all the things we have in North America just clutter our lives without actually improving them in any way. The trains do not run often, so we were forced to go at the pace they set – we spent half an hour facing the empty bench in the first photograph; we are used to trains that run every two minutes and took for granted that another would come soon, not realizing that soon was thirty minutes away. We watched an analogue clock tick by as we waited; they were everywhere and it was strange, but enchanting, to see them again. Until Athens, I hadn’t realized that they have disappeared from life elsewhere. We seemed to have more time, even when we had to spend so much time waiting – we enjoyed the sun and a glass of wine on our balcony every afternoon, just watching the city as the sun set over it. We ate good, nourishing food, the kind of thing you never expect to get on vacation – fresh cheese, homemade pitas, thick yogurt and artisan honey, among other delights that we consider indulgences at home – for prices that felt too good to be true. Mostly, I suppose, we felt lucky – we were greeted warmly and treated well wherever we went, though we speak no Greek at all. We walked in the footsteps of centuries of history, even though that history occasionally had a distracting H&M next to it. We talked, we laughed, we ate, we drank, we absolutely never hurried anywhere. It was perfect and I hope, someday, you will all get to experience it.

Je suis désolée, mes belles, mais je n’ai pas la fortitude nécessaire pour affronter la traduction de ce récit. En plus, je me demande si vous êtes toujours nombreuses à lire mon texte français . Si vous lisez toujours en français, dites-moi dans la section “commentaires” afin que je sache s’il vaut le coup de continuer avec mes traductions. Gros bisous !

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  1. As it is part of my heritage, I do hope to visit Greece someday. I am sorry to hear that is it a bit downtrodden these days, but I suppose when most times we spend our vacations trying to pack in as much as possible, it is nice to have a reminder that yes, it’s okay to slow down.

  2. Hi,
    I am going to Athen just today!
    Thank you for sharing this post!
    I will come back with my comments too.
    Have a nice day,
    Claudia from Italy

  3. Oooh, love the shot of you by the red car! So darn fun!! And love your description of Athens + couldn’t agree more… we’re a very over cluttered culture and it really doesn’t improve our lives at all! For me, that’s what I love about travel, it really does put those things into perspective! So wonderful to hear you enjoyed such an amazing trip, the food, the afternoon wine and the slowing down all sound absolutely amazing to me!!! xo

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