It has been a week since we first arrived in Athens and yet it feels like we’ve lived here for much longer than that. We are still settling into this new way of life. There are many things to get used to once more. The lack of dryers for clothing requires everyone to hang their laundry on clotheslines, the absence of certain foods in the grocery stores or markets, the strong stench of filth that is just a part of most of the city, all these things and more we are once again growing accustomed to.
In this post, as I show you around the city and introduce you to Athens, I will take some time to shed light on the more difficult side of things. It’s very easy to write about only what is fun, beautiful, or interesting, but there is a huge side to this story that isn’t pretty but can’t be left out. Writing this blog gives me the liberty to share my perspective on things but I would not be entirely honest if I was only to show everything in a positive light.
Greece has officially gone from a recession to a depression and though much of the evidence is invisible a lot of it is obvious. The economy here is terrible. It is extremely hard for anyone to find good jobs. On top of that, there are so many immigrants and refugees who arrive and need to find a way to survive. But if there is no work for the unemployed Greeks, then how are they supposed to find work for the refugees? The result is a lot of homelessness, begging, and poverty.
The entire situation is very complicated and a lot of it I don’t know about. But I do know that I don’t want to give a false image of Athens. Yes there is beauty and happiness, and light here, but it is living side by side with tons of graffiti, people sleeping in the streets, dirtiness, and even more which is invisible.
And yet, though there is depression, bad economy, and the refugee crisis, the Greeks seem happy. Our Greek friend says that in the center of Athens only fifty percent of the people are Greek. Many of them have moved to the outskirts to enjoy “better quality of life.” He says life in the center is very different from life outside of it. He also told me, “As you can see, we are a happy people. We laugh all the time.” As far as I can see they bear their burdens well and are still extremely proud of their country and their heritage. However, most of the suffering I’m sure is invisible to me
It’s market day! Every Wednesday they set up a market right underneath our balcony in the street below. We weren’t sure if they would do it this early in the year but when we woke up there were lots of tents already set up. This market has everything from clothing, kitchen supplies, and accessories, to fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers. It’s quite a cultural experience too as we don’t have anything quite like it in America. It’s so convenient and the prices are cheap so most of the time when we need stuff this is where we get it.
Walking around in the market we get plenty of strange looks. I like to consider us travelers rather than tourists but our blonde hair gives us away. And though she doesn’t realize it Geneva’s pink hair draws a lot of attention. However, the Greeks have kind of a hospitality code that says that you are required to give the foreigner a bed and food should it be needed and whatever he may need when he is in your house/land. They are some of the most hospitable people you can find, and I’m losing track of the times they have stopped us to offer advice or protect us from things we don’t know about.
I love this market. All the vendors are shouting things in Greek at each other, the tables are loaded with vibrant fruits and spices, it’s a loud, colorful, odd place for us. You run into some weird things too. One guy kept following us around making swooshing noises. At one point he grabbed a cleaning brush for scrubbing your bathtub and began to brush his hair with it. He pointed at Geneva’s camera and said, “Take a video!” Another lady gave us a Greek lesson in the middle of the road.
Dad had to teach this afternoon so we went for a walk to get out of the house. We headed for a park which we have not explored, but just as we were going over there a guy stopped us. He said there were lots of drug addicts who hang out in there and told us to go somewhere else. So we wandered around for a while before making our way home.
One thing I need to mention here is that last year we spent a considerable amount of time in an unofficial refugee camp that is about a block from our apartment. Things have grown tense there and for our safety, we aren’t allowed to return. We did run into some refugees who we recognized on our way home but since they were headed back to the Squat we didn’t stay to talk.
Dad is determined for all of us to learn at least some Greek while we are here. It’s not easy. Languages aren’t the most difficult subject for me but when you throw in a brand new alphabet it gets hard. I can’t tell you how long it took me to understand that what looks like a “p” in Greek makes the sound of an “r”. We’re slowly, slowly, slowly getting through it. And it does help to hear it and see it around us everywhere in day to day life.
This afternoon we found a much better way to get to Omonia Square. Last year, Jackson would lead us on these long, confusing marches where we would somehow appear at the right place without knowing how we got there. Omonia Square is one of the main centers in Athens. It is always crowded and it is also said to be the most dangerous place in Athens. We’re not so sure about that because last year we walked through it in the middle of the night and there was not a living soul anywhere. But you do have to watch your pockets or someone might snatch something.
The market here is set up every day. There’s the fruit and vegetable part, the spice area, and the meat market, which we usually avoid altogether. Let’s just say they don’t have the same ideas regarding packaging and hygienic distribution, not to mention the stench is overpowering.
We spent a good part of our day here. You never know what you may find in an outdoor market like this. We met people from Egypt, India, and other places around the world. I found a basket full of living snails that were being sold as a food product. (I’m sorry Mom for including this).
Today was nothing exciting. Schoolwork and study in the morning and errands in the afternoon. We had to find a bank and a post office and get metro passes for this month. There isn’t always some great adventure every day. People seem to think we’re over here drinking out of coconuts and tanning on the beach all day which is far from the case. We’re just living life, and sometimes there are boring days here just like there are at home.
Happy April Fool’s Day! I seriously considered telling a few of my friends that we were coming home early as a prank but decided against it.
As usual, school and study in the morning. Greek, English, History, French (only I do French), journaling, sometimes Biology, High-Performance Masters Academy, and Great Courses if you’re wondering. We don’t always get to all of that every day though.
On today’s agenda, we have…Climb Mt. Lycabettus. This is the highest point in Athens and has a 360 overlook of the city. We weren’t exactly sure how to get there but by maps and the metro we eventually figured it out. Once at the bottom, we tried about four different trails which turned up nothing but a tortoise, a possible wolf, and dead ends. In the end, we gave up trailblazing and followed the main road to the top.
The hike wasn’t as bad as I expected, and had it been ten times worse the view would have been worth it. All of Athens and Piraeus was spread below us. The Acropolis rose up from the tangle of buildings of in the distance. There’s the ancient Olympic stadium, there’s Syntagma Square, there’s the island of Aegina out to sea. You can see everything from up here. Moments like these you have to take all the pictures you want then stop to soak it all in. From up here, Athens seems even bigger. There’s so much left to explore.
On our way down the hill, we met a guy from Canada who has lived here for about 25 years. He served as our temporary tour guide and led us all the way back to Syntagma via a part of the city we had never seen before. He described it as “the Beverly Hills of Athens” and it sure looked like it too. As we dodged speeding cars and mopeds trying to keep up he pointed to the line of traffic and said, “There is no one happier than an Athenian who finds a parking spot.” He’s right about that. Traffic here is chaos.
We have been eating pretty much exclusively fruits, vegetables, and healthy food while we are here, but Sunday is cheat day. That means cheese pies for breakfast. A cheese pie is a quarter moon shaped pastry of layers and layers of filo dough and butter filled with feta cheese. They are the messiest, most rewarding things to eat.
Mom wanted to go to IKEA today (yes they have IKEA here. Two of them in fact) but they’re closed on Sundays. So we went to the antique market at Monastiraki. The antique market is only set up on Sunday but it is worth going to if you ever get the chance.
Piles of old books and postcards, vintage cameras and pocket watches, suitcases, and more all in one jumbled corner of the city. We grabbed some gyros for lunch and spent the afternoon exploring here.
This evening we met with our friends Harris and Vaso. They are actually the people renting us our Airbnb but they were so kind and hospitable last year that we became good friends. I love evenings like this. Good food, good friends, wonderful memories.
To top it all off they showed us a secret place at one of their other rental apartments. A roof terrace with a stunning view of the city. I could keep living on in a night like this for years on end.
Last night we stayed up so late that we got a late start this morning. Today was bit gloomy and overcast. Honestly not the best day for me but hey you win some you lose some. The evening ended well with a lot of laughter and stories about dads childhood.
Cheese pies and books make for one happy Lydia. There is a section of the city just behind the library that is almost exclusively bookstores. For about a block almost every store you see is either a bookshop or a cafe. This is one of my very favorite parts of the city. Mom and I spent a blissful afternoon exploring the bookstores. There was one entirely for French books, many with only Greek, and many with a wide range of language selection.
I bought a tiny penguin classic by Arthur Conan Doyle for 1 euro. Almost every bookstore has a spiral staircase which just adds to my overall happiness. Day well spent in my opinion. On our way home we saw a party in Panepistimio Square. There were people walking around in cow costumes, and loud music was blaring. We found out that they were giving away free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for earth day. We went all the way home to get the girls then came all the way back for free ice cream.
Planning many more adventures in the days ahead. Until next time, αντιο!