TRAVEL WRITERS LIKE MYSELF ARE ASKED ALL THE TIME, “WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE CITY/COUNTRY/PLACE?”
It is no easy task to pick just one so I never do, but I do give a shortlist of my top favorites. The next most popular question is, “What is your least favorite or most disappointing?” This has always been an easy answer for me. It’s Athens, Greece. Before you start yelling at the computer screen or paper that you are reading this post on, let me say that while Athens might have been the most disappointing for me, it does not mean it will be for you and I respect that. You might love it and I am ecstatic for you!.
Throughout high school and college, my history and government professors were, for the most part, excellent about teaching us why the history of Athens was so important. In what is believed to be the world’s oldest city, Athens is also credited as being the birthplace of democracy. So much of the ruins leftover from these ancient times captivated me as a student but I never dreamed I would one day stand upon them witnessing firsthand the roots of my own country’s belief system.
My expectations for Athens were high, some may effectively argue, too high and the city was destined to fall in my esteem. Here’s what I thought was good, bad, and darn right ugly about Athens:
There is unprecedented access to the monuments and landmarks. The outdoors is a living and breathing museum where patrons are allowed to roam freely for the most part. Countless landmarks are located within walking distance of one another in the city center with galleries close by to visit to enhance what you have discovered on your own. Sitting in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus Theater was awe-inspiring. It still gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. The fact that it is on Dionyssiou Areopagitou Street, the link between all the monuments, means that members of the public have easygoing access to this impressive outdoor theater. The views of the enormous city were breathtaking, even through the haze of pollution.
The Temple of the Olympian Zeus stands proud along the monument trail in the heart of the city for all to enjoy. Impressive and resplendent, it stands as a symbol of strength and unity for Athens and Greece. The Parthenon has had a face-lift and is spectacular looking. At night, the majesty of it all can be seen for miles. The city does wonderful lighting it up and it is as glorious as seeing the Eiffel Tower!
The monuments are not well protected from people who innocently don’t realize they are treading on sacred grounds which to me, seems disrespectful. I also worry about walking all over them and wearing them down over time. Some visitors may be foolish teenagers who don’t appreciate the historic value of the landmarks and immaturely leave their mark for eternity where it does not belong. Worse yet, sick-minded individuals who have sinister intentions bent on destruction because of their delusions can too readily carry out these plans.
Athens has had an economic problem for quite some time. The city has not had the proper funds to take care of itself and thus there is a substandard infrastructure limiting its great potential. When I visited, the streets were dirty and people seemed a bit depressed, but I also only saw a few days and am not sure how pervasive this is today. I saw quite a lot of dogs lying in the street, but perhaps this is just normal. It was still sad to see in the searing heat of the summer and I trust others have had a different and better experience than I did. The paths down from the Acropolis were beautiful and lead me down through the Plaka (marketplace) where crowded stalls were filled with folks trying to sell their wares. However, desperate salespeople shoved things in my face and badgered me to buy something. I felt assaulted by a combination of the heat and the aggressive nature of the locals. Another insulting thing I encountered was that at least 50% of my cab drivers pushed the meter up manually while they thought I was not paying attention. A few didn’t even care and were bold enough to do it blatantly. I caught on real fast and refused to pay but had to argue with them each time, which stressed me out.
Am I glad I went? You bet, but would I return? Not in your life. There are so many more wonderful places to explore in the world. I prefer the Athens of my history books and delight in the few photos I have to remember the wonderful monuments, as for the rest I can leave it for others to enjoy. Sometimes in my life as a travel enthusiast, trips are not always perfect, but they are always worth seeing myself.