Published: July 26th 2012July 26th 2012
Ministry of Silly Walks I
Changing of the guards at the tomb of the unknown soldier.
"Don't answer the door if anyone knocks," warned Niki, our spacey 20-something landlady for the next few days. This was my first experience with AirBnB, the web service that allows anyone to turn their spare room into a Bed and Breakfast. I got the impression that Niki had a few bill collectors on her tail and consequently didn't open doors or shutters.
"And if anyone in the building asks who you are, just tell them you are friends of Niki, and pphhhtttt!" She gestured as though the nosey neighbor problem would be out with the trash. Niki's flat is in the upscale Kolonaki neighborhood of Athens. She shares her locked-front-door apartment building with doctors and lawyers who no doubt would be dismayed to know that she is renting her apartment to strangers.
Niki had been curiously reluctant to give me her address during our email correspondence. She told me to simply text her from the airport when we arrived and she would meet us at the Metro station. I explained to her that I had lost my iPhone, but told her I would try to call her from a public phone. When we arrived I managed to raise her
on a public phone, but she was annoyed because I couldn't tell her which Metro train we would be catching. "Just text me when you're on the train," she said. Once again I explained that I didn't have a cell phone. "Well just borrow one from someone on the train," she suggested, then hung up.
Niki's flat had a lived-in feel. Her wet laundry hung from a rack that blocked the entrance to the bathroom. Another load still sat in the washing machine. Nothing worked the way it was supposed to, but Niki had a workaround for everything. For example, to run the washing machine, one had to unplug the refrigerator for a few hours. Pphhhtttt! Problem solved.
Nancy and I were standing with a cluster of tourists in front of the Parliament building watching the amusing spectacle of the changing of the guards at the tomb of the unknown soldier. It was as if they were trying to copy Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks sketch. Their attempts at solemnity weren't helped by the fact that they wore mini skirts and had giant puff balls on their feet.
There was a faint ringing in
Temple of Athena
Beautiful columns support this Acropolis structure
my ears. I wasn't sure if I was hearing the call of a strange bird or perhaps the performance of a distant rock band. I mentioned the noise to Nancy, but she couldn't hear it. Then I noticed all of the traffic on the very busy street that runs in front of the Parliament building had vanished. Police with machine guns and glass shields were gathering at the corners. I tugged on Nancy's arm. "I think something is about to happen here." We hurried across the empty street to Syntagama Square where prospects for running and hiding seemed better. It was now clear that the noise I heard was neither a bird, a band, nor a product of my imagination. It was the sound of thousands of people on the march.
After joining the EC, people got the mistaken impression that Greece was a safe investment. Foreign money poured in to what was basically a sketchy economy where the rich didn't pay taxes and government corruption was rampant. Much of the incoming money was squandered. When the euro bubble burst, Greece fell hard and couldn't pay its debts. Now Greeks face extreme austerity measures. Salary suspensions, layoffs, and business
closures are becoming common. Although the Greeks recently voted to stay with the Euro, it's not clear that the Euro will want to stay with them. "Soon we go back to drachma," Niki told us, "and Greece will be Europe's Mexico. You come back then, everything cheap."
A loud speaker truck leading chants appeared at the far side of the square. The truck was followed by rows of people carrying placards, flags, and banners. We watched as the procession circled the square and stopped in front of Parliament. But demonstrators kept coming. Hundreds turned into thousands turned into maybe tens of thousands. As near as we could piece together, the demonstration was sponsored by the steel worker's union as a protest over heavy handed government tactics dealing with some previous demonstration. But this time demonstrators and police seemed remarkably constrained. Why not, they're all on the same sinking ship.
Nancy and I had to get up at 5 AM this morning in order to get to catch the 7 AM ferry to Santorini. As they did in ancient times, all ships leave from the port at Piraeus, which meant two metro trains for us. I was
Every year the Athenians voted to banish one guy for 10 years. Didn't need to be a reason. Just politics.
surprised to see so many people on the metro at such an early hour. I guess they were fellow ferry travelers and people with really crappy jobs. At one stop a group of four men got on the train. They were in their thirties and built like stevedores. One stepped up to Nancy and reached around her with both arms to close a train window. Odd, I thought, as she had just commented on how hot and stuffy the train was. It was also odd that although the train was crowded, the little corner where we stood seemed exceptionally crowded. The man closing the window was having a hard time with it. He was jostling Nancy and me. The whole scene seemed very odd. Instinctively, I glanced down at the zippered pocket where I had my money and passport. I was horrified to see that the zipper was open. I realized that these guys were mugging us. I warned Nancy and began pushing them away. I quickly verified that my money was still waded in the bottom of my pocket. There was some shouting. They pointed at the ground around my feet. One of them bent down and picked up
Seeing the Parthenon has been a lifetime goal for me.
my passport which was laying on the floor. He handed it to me just as the doors opened and all four men disappeared. Our fellow passengers seemed sympathetic with our plight. One girl came up to us and asked, "stolen?"
Although we were lucky, nothing was stolen (or if it was, I haven't figured out what it was, yet) my confidence was shaken. On the ferry Nancy and I fussed over the best way to hide our money and passports. We took turns guarding our luggage from our fellow ferry passengers. We even began eyeing each other with suspicion.
A Few More Photos Below
There are more photos below