Athens Part II & The End

Posted on / by Alex Berger

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When I left off last time I noted that the evening’s plan was to check out the hostel bar before a night out on the town. As it turned out that’s just what happened, only it was just the beggining. We started at the hostle bar and quickly ended up meeting a Brazilian woman, two argentinian stewardesses traveling in Greece, as well as several other American and Australian backpackers. After getting aquainted and spending an hour two at the hostel bar we set out to find a nightclub.

As we left the bar two of local dogs attached themselves to our group. Unlike other cities the dogs in Athens roam free. Most have collars and owners but perhaps because of how the houses are constructed they spend most of their time roaming the streets or sleeping infront of their owner’s shops. In general the dogs are nice and friendly. My biggest complain is that they are not cat friendly. I can’t stand dogs that are cat killers and as a result had a hard time watching them terrorize the local cat population – which also roams freely. Luckily most of the cats know the game and go about their lives in safetey with the occasional fash dash up a tree.

As we made our way down the street in a decent sized group we passed a couple walking their small dog. As we began past one of the dogs that had attached itself to us started toward the smaller animal. However, instead of the usual dog posturing and back and forth the dog went in with what I immediatly recognized as lethal intent. In an odd state of surreal shock (you know how things slow down and you feel frozen) I watched as it closed in on the smaller dog. It’s a weird thing, the mixed sensations as you push yourself to overcome that shock and take action. As I realized what was happening I somehow managed to break through the shock (something I’ve been working on recently) and jumped at the two dogs, kicking a leg towards the larger one and driving it off just as it’s mouth closed around the smaller dogs neck. The owners, shocked themselves were frantically trying to pull the dog by it’s leash into the air but not having any luck. Luckily my intervention drove the larger dog back in time, before it was able to hurt the smaller one. After driving it off two more times as it started in around me I drove it off between two parked cars where it went absolutly submissive and abandoned the chase.

As we continued along our way toward the nightclub after recieving a quick thanks from the dog’s owners I tried to drive off the larger dog and it’s friend. Despite my best efforts it quickly became apparently that both had no intention of letting us be and that the one that had previously gone after the smaller dog had attached itself to me – perhaps because of my intervention? Eventually I gave up. Short of blatantly kicking the dog, it seemed like there wasn’t much i could do.

Eventually we reached the nightclub and settled in. As it had been the previous time we attended, the club was mostly empty. Unphased we took the dancefloor and quickly brought the place to life. After a few hours of mixing, socializing and dancing the club was still fairly quiet beyond our group. After quickly discussing it amongst ourselves we decided to set off and explore a hill/lookout located in the Agora? at the base of the Parthanon.

By the time we reached the marble hill where the judiciary had stood in ancient times it was well after 2:00AM. We all found comfortable seats on the odd, somewhat wild marble hill. The hill itself is an odd thing. Devoid of trees and grass it’s made out of marble, but despite the 2 thousand+ years of use and habitation it still has a rugged feeling. Parts are polished smooth, while others look like rugged, jagged hillside. There are two ways up onto the top. One is the old, steep marble steps cut directly into the hillside and showing the sagging wear of thousands of years of traffic. The second is a new, metal staircase that winds up to the top.

The view from the top is incredible. It offers a 220 degree view of the city stretching out from the base of the hill/park. Behind us and to the left the Acropolis stretched up into the darkness and to the right another tree covered hill stretched away into the darkness. The sky was mostly clear with scattered clouds presenting an incredible, if somewhat dull view of the stars as well as a gorgous, glittering view of the city. We relaxed taking in the sights for several hours before eventually noticing that dawn was fast approaching and that it was almost 6:00AM.

During our trip across Athens to the club and later up to our starry perch we had accumulated another 6 or 7 dogs – so by the time we settled in we had a veritable wolf (mutt) pack keeping us company. Some of them wandered aimlessly, others chose someone and plopped down against them. Yet others stood looking out over the small cliff face like wolves taking in the city and rest of the park.

Our path down and back to the hostle led us through the park. The trees were well kept, some were small olive trees others were small gnarly things. The ground throughout the park was covered in small green plants and large clovers which created a beautiful green carpet.

We slept in late the next day and didn’t make it out of bed until 12 or so. We made our way straight to the new Acropolis museum which is currently under construction. We were dissapointed to discovery that the because of construction, that the museum was still mostly closed. However, they did have a free, one room exhibit with several interesting pieces. When completed the museum should be really interesting. Because of ruins discovered during the excavation for the building, the entire structure has been re-designed. The new design is unobtrusive and incorporates the ruins into a second exhibit, while the building itself will float over the ruins.

From there we made our way down to the Temple of Zeus which was somewhat dissapointing. Despite being an enormous temple at one point all that remains are several large pillars, which while impressive in their own right are fairly basic. After a quick stroll through the Temple grounds we continued across the street to the national gardens. The gardens were beautiful and more or less what one would expect. The one unusual sight was a picturesque scene with a large cat basking in the sun atop an old 70’s automobile with classic curves that was parked next to a tree and lanternesque looking streetlight.

After exploring the city at random for a few more hours we eventually made our way back to the hostel and relaxed for a while before repeating our nightly ritual and heading over to the hostle bar. There I met up with Kimberly, a girl I had met in Venice who was studying in Athens. We had communicated though facebook and organized a little get together. She arrived with 3 of her friends and after getting aquainted, Lander, the girls and I set off back up to our perch atop the agora where we all spent a few hours relaxing and socializing.

The following day Lander set off early in the morning to catch his plane to London, gearing up for my own extended trip back the following day I spent the bulk of the day reading, sleeping and relaxing while preparing my system for the stresses and shock of extended travel and my return to the states. However, as I was leaving at 6:30 or so to grab dinner the concierge stopped me and notified me that there was a complete 24 hour transit strike scheduled the following day. Unfortunatly, that strike also included all airlines and the airport as well as transit to and from the airport. Worried about my JFK-PHX connection I decided to take a gamble and make a stab and rushing to the airport and getting them to put me on a flight to JFK that evening regardless of how it was routed. After several learning lessons while taking the metro (only 1 in 5 trains actually went all the way to the airport) I eventually arrived only to discover that despite the 12:00 deadline being 2+ hours away, that there were only 4 flights desparting from the airport as a whole, none of which were on Olympic. Frustrated at the waste of time, though it was not utterly unexpected I did manage to talk to a woman who was able to switch both my Olympic flight and my US Airways connection over to the same flight the following day. Slightly relieved and happy to have learned the trick to the metro I made my way back to my hostel, checked back in and turned in.

With all major modes of transport shut down Wed. became another null day. I wandered around the acropolis area for an hour or two and then spent most of the day in relaxed reflection before eventually turning in for the night.

The next morning I woke up at 7:30 in preperation for the long trip out to the airport and my 11:00 departure. The day was rainy and gloomy. The perfect type for travel that doesn’t require long walks outside. After double checking my gear and making sure i’d placed my knife and other similar objects in my main bag I set off to the metro. The first leg (a quick 1 station hop) was uneventful, however when I arrived on the platform for line 3 (the airport line) the number of people on the platform was insane. All the way down the the terminal the line was shoulder to shoulder and 3-5 people deep. Ordinarily it would not have phased me, but the next train was the special airport line I needed. Worried that i would be squeezed out by the commuters using the line for general transport and have to wait another 30 minutes for another airport shuttle I held my breath. As it turned out, almost everyone fit on the train – the station I was at was towards the beggining of the line and as a result the metro cars were all mostly empty upon arrival. Relived I leaned in a corner and waited out the 40 or so minutes it took the train to travel from one side of Athens to the other. Upon my arrival at the airport I spent a decent chunk of time being sent from one line to another before finally getting the correct line and getting checked in. From there it was through security and then off to the plane.

The plane ride wasn’t as bad as i expected, perhaps because my experiences on the ferrys had put it into perspective. The plane ended up taking off 30 minutes late, my seat was located against a bulkhead and as a result did not recline fully. To make matters worse, the bathroom was located directly behind me. The good news was, that despite being in the middle 4 seat row I was on the isle and had an empy seat next to me. An especially significant fact since the Greek woman on the other side of the empty seat stank of body odor and badly needed deoderant. There was also ample legroom (compared to other flights) and each seat had a small TV screen. Despite a less than stellar title selection there were 5 or 6 movie channels which each looped the movies they were showing simultaneously.

On one hand I was greatful that i’d gotten out on the same flights i’d been scheduled for the following day, but on the other hand I can’t help but feel like that’s saying “I’m greatful that you only decided to kick me once” The transit strike was in part motivated by a Olypic Airlines (government owned) financial woes. The airline is apparently in the process of going bankrupt and the strike as well as several other protests are all geared toward a government bailout. Frankly, I really don’t have any sympathy for them – if the level of service I saw (which by all accounts is a drastic improvement over their standard business model) is any indication they deserve it (for the record I refused to sign the petition they passed around the cabin). Despite canceling my initial ticket and resecheduling part of the trip without bothering to notify me, they also failed to offer any sort of compensation for the added food/lodging/transport costs I had to spend during my extra day/night in Athens. Not to mention that in the reschedule I lost my assigned seats in the exit rows (legroom). A simple upgrade or apology would have gone a long way.

Anyhow – after arriving in JFK and a 45 minute taxi I eventually disembarked only to find out that I had to pick up my bags, go through customs, then go and check in again with US Airways because the Olympic people had messed up my 2nd boarding pass. After a few minutes going back and forth with the US Airways associate she finally found the ticket information – previously she had been telling me that the system said i had already had a paper ticket issued and that as such i needed to present that ticket…a small acomplishment given I was in an Athens hostel and had booked via an e-ticket.

The US Airways flight was obnoxious, the seats were tiny, the carpet smelled like dirty socks, they charged for food and earphones. Luckily the lady that was sitting on the isle (I had the window) had been bumped from first class because because of airmarshals on the flight and as a result been guarenteed a seat with extra space (the middle seat was empty). She ended up being both interesting and extremly friendly, it also turned out that her daughter was graduating from ASU the following day which immediatly gave us something in common to discuss (ASU, not the daughter). The most interesting part of the flight was the de-icing process.

Because of freezing rains in NY they put us through the de-icing tent which resulted in a 40 minute delay. The tent itself was really interesting. A large hanger it had several large heaters mounted on the roof which blew hot air down over the aircraft following the same basic phylosophy as bathroom hand dryers. In addition to the hot air the spent several minutes with an odd hose truck spraying down the wings with two liquids. The first was a white foam, the second a green substance that looked like anti-freeze. From there we took off, had an uneventful flight and eventually landed in Phoenix.

It was fantastic to have mom, dad and Nate waiting for me.

I’m going to end this post there – however i’m not done writing yet, i’ll continue to publish several posts about the trip and my experience before switching back over to my mainstream blogging so don’t go anywhere! I’ll also be uploading the rest of the photos soon as well as doing some re-touch work and uploading higher resolution versions of several of the better ones.

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