Sunday, March 23, 2014


Poor old Athens, with its pollution, its 25% unemployment rate and its elegant old mansions abandoned and left to crumble into the sea. Still, at least it has the Acropolis, which has significant upkeep costs but at the same time brings in the tourists by their millions. And with entry at $18 a head, that’s a lot of help.

After our last disastrous tour in Acre, Admiral Ackbar and I had trepidation in going on a guided tour of the Acropolis, but the tour was a welcome improvement over the last one. Although let’s be honest: if the tour guide had just stood at the front of the coach and thrown rocks at us, it would have been an improvement over the last one. But she was well-informed, well-paced, coherent and interesting, and we learnt a whole bunch about the history of Athens and the Greek gods who informed its mythology.

The tour also took in the changing of the guard at the parliament building, which would thrill any fan of men in miniskirts and shoes with big pom poms on them, and the Panathenaic Stadium, the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Admiral Ackbar kindly reenacted the victory of Spyridon Louis in the marathon.

Following our tour, we had a couple of hours to spare, so we hit the streets to see more of the real Athens.

The first thing that strikes one about Athens is that it has more orange trees than Malaga. Actually, it has more orange trees than an orange orchard. However, they are a variety of orange called bigarades, which are inedible and pretty much useless except as a flavouring in syrups or liqueurs. It’s a scenario that pretty much sums up why Greece is in trouble – they planted fruit trees as street trees, but made sure that they were an inedible variety that would do nothing but attract fruit flies and rot in the gutters.

The second thing that strikes one is the sense of life’s hardness. There are more derelict buildings than in the other European cities we’ve seen. Even on the glamorous Marina Zeas, where the rich park yachts big enough to have their own matching helicopters, they’re still reduced to having a KFC, a Pizza Hut and a Starbucks, which aren’t exactly luxury brands. And, most tellingly, there are no Umbrella Men, those African refugees who make a living in wealthy cities selling cheap umbrellas to pedestrians when it rains (and everything from jewellery to novelty torches when it doesn’t). Athens is so poor that it can’t attract them.

One thing that Athens did have, however, was this Double Pie gelato – a scoop each of chocolate banoffee pie gelato and apple pie gelato.

The Admiral was sated and so was I.


Anonymous TroyG said...

Derelict buildings? Bucharest, Romania, is where it's at for DBs. It can be difficult to tell whether a building is derelict or just in bad repair. Usually the key is whether there is a light in the windows.

You sometimes aren't sure whether a building is derelict through being abandoned, or the builders going bankrupt before completing the shell, or the demolisher losing interest or going bankrupt halfway through demolishing the site.

5:26 PM  

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