An Opportune Moment

Despite What You May Have Heard, Athens is Pretty Nice!


After Istanbul, Katie and I hopped a flight to Athens, Greece. I’ve spoken to a number of travelers who found this city too dangerous, too dirty, and too touristy. I have one friend who, when you ask her about Athens, replies, “well, I stepped off the bus into a drug deal, so, that was my introduction to the city.” While I can’t blame her for fleeing to the Greek Isles after that experience, based on my own time in the city, I think it’s worth spending a few days in Athens.

The Parthenon alone makes Athens worth a visit.

For starters, the city didn’t feel dangerous to me. This may have been because Katie and I were couchsurfing and when you have a local showing you around, travel often feels easier and more relaxing. Inviting strangers to sleep in your home and agreeing to sleep in a stranger’s home involves a significant amount of trust. So, once you’ve overcome that hurdle, it seems silly not to trust your host leading you around their city.

Our couchsurfing host was an awesome Greek woman around our age whose mother was from South Carolina and whose father was from Sparta. She actually grew up in Sparta and Katie and I had to stop ourselves from saying stupid things like, “wait, people live in Sparta?”

Seriously though, I’m pretty much just going to include photos of the Parthenon and other parts of the Acropolis in this post because they’re that cool.

During out visit, there were some protests, which I suppose might make someone wary of Athens, but they were peaceful and we didn’t get involved. Although there was a noticeable police presence in the city and our couchsurfing host did lead us through a line of gun-touting police officers one evening. That was a bit startling, but the officers were in a crowded public square and none of the locals, including our host, seemed concerned.

I think people from the US get nervous when they hear about protests and assume they must be dangerous because we so rarely demonstrate in our country. However, political demonstrations are common in much of Europe. The people regularly voice their opinions about the government in the form of protests and strikes, and while these events sometimes get violent, they aren’t too hard to avoid, and can even sometimes be safely attended by foreigners.

I’m thinking specifically about the general strike that I watched march down Passeig de Gràcia when I studied abroad in Barcelona. I was safely off to the side and feel that the experience gave me some insight into Catalan and Spanish politics. Later I saw broken windows on some banks and a video of a car that had been lit on fire near my university. Clearly, some damage was caused, but I didn’t hear of any injuries and I was able to witness the event in general without getting caught in these scarier occurrences.

The light was hitting these ruins beautifully.

As far as Athens being dirty, well, I visited while the garbage collectors were on strike, and I didn’t think it was that bad. I mean, at least the piles of garbage were all in one place, right?

But, in all seriousness, Athens is no dirtier than any other major city. If you find cities dirty, and that’s a problem for you, then you might not like Athens. As always, It’s all about personal preference.

Voting is all about personal preference too. We were in Athens just after Obama was re-elected and saw this message on a side street near the Acropolis.

Katie and I enjoyed the bits of the city we were able to see in the 3 days we were there. Our couchsuring host introduced us to a few of her friends and brought us to some cool bars we never would have found on our own. One place she brought us was a bar in the courtyard of some rundown buildings, which had been converted into an art gallery. The entrance was unmarked, but it was packed, and clearly the place to be.

And yes, we enjoyed Athens’ touristy side as well. The Acropolis is a major tourist attraction for a reason and that’s why I’ve shown you so many photos of it. We loved seeing the ancient amphitheaters and the ruins of the Parthenon. I had fun pretending to be a caryatid.

Photographic evidence that my impersonations are spot on.

We also spent an afternoon at the Acropolis Museum – a sleek, modern home for ancient artifacts.

It was a joy to look down over the city from the Acropolis and imagine what life was like in Ancient Greece. And it was a joy to sit on an outdoor patio eating dinner with the Acropolis lit up above us — the past preserved in a modern metropolis. We only spent a few days in Athens, but I’m thankful for the time we had there.

The view of the Parthenon from the Acropolis Museum.

Have you been to Athens? What did you think? Did you find it dirty, dangerous, or touristy?