Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Last day in Athens

Our last day in Athens has arrived rather quickly.  Four nights seems so long when one is planning the trip but it goes past so quickly especially in a city like Athens where there is just thousands of years of history to cram into very few days.

We booked a couple of tours for the day starting with a "Food Tour" which turned out to be well worth the money and great to have a local guide.  In all of our interactions thus far with locals the one topic that they all bring up is the 'crisis' and how it has affected them personally and it is very evident from the number of closed and boarded up shops.  The walking tour took us through the maze of streets around Plaka, Monastiriki and Psiri and within a short period of time we had absolutely no idea where we were but the tour consisted of going past various places of interest with a few stories and then a stop at a delicatessen or shop for a bit to eat and then going on.  Well worth the money and the effort.

We have all heard of the Italian mafia but apparently there was a Greek equivalent who dressed as depicted on the column next to 'Carlos da Greek'.  The mafia worked for the politicians to buy votes so corruption was endemic in society and that was another topic which came out quite strongly that the young people had had enough of it whereas the older generation were entrenched in it.  Our guide, Melina, described as a war of generations and that they, the younger one, were going to win because the older one was simply dying out.  Apparently in the past if a mafia member was caught by the police they would cut off his one mustache, one sleeve of this shirt, the cuff of one pants leg and the top of his boot to indicate to the other mafia members that he had been in custody.

 The photo above is just one of many examples of streetside cafe's and given that the streets are so narrow taking a table in the street must add a certain element of danger to dining out.  We spent quite a bit of time in various spice and delicatessen shops which were all quite colourful and aromatic.  The area, although there are obviously tourists, caters mainly to the greek population and the guide recounted how traditional greek pies were at first shunned by people because to be seen to be purchasing a pie implied that the wife didn't know how to cook.  Quite different to S.A where it's not that we don't know how to cook; we just don't have the time and energy at the end of a day to do so.  Lucky for Woolworths!
The last stop on the tour was to a souvlaki pita shop which is like the  national fast food of a pita rolled in a cone and filled with all sorts of delicious fillings. The difference was in the price, at a souvlaki fast food one would cost about 2 EUR whereas more-or-less the same dish at a restaurant was about 10 EUR.  The difference is in the presentation ... the word 'marketing' was used in a derogatory way at this point.

 The meat and spice shop above had a vertical garden growing above it which has amazing and something I would really like to do at home. By that of course, I mean for Caron to do ....
 The central market was quite a hive of activity and the guide warned us to be particularly conscious of our bags and aware of people because they have lots of problems with pickpockets and muggers.  The market itself was a typical market with a wide variety of fresh produce and I think that the kids found the meat market a little eye opening ... especially since the slaughtered lambs still had their eyeballs intact so one had the feeling of being watched as one wandered past.

In the afternoon we did a Segway tour which, although quite fun, was a little disappointing.  I think partly because of the limitations of the Segway which means that there can't be any steps anywhere on the tour which means that the choice of sites is limited and partly because the tour guide wasn't great.  She was actually a graphic design artist but this was the only job she could get so that was it; a lot of people we bumped into were just starting or had just started a new job.  Getting to grips with a Segway took a little practice but not too much and by the end of the tour we were all reasonably competent.  There was one exciting moment in the tour where Alistair was trying to go as fast as possible on a wide expanse of marble and managed to overpower the Segway and went flying off it and landed in a heap.  Nothing damaged other then a bit of pride and a nice marble roastie.

One of the place we went past was the presidential palace which we had accidentally stumbled on previously so we saw the guards doing their slow glutinous march again but we had an added attraction of a stray dog that took part in the ceremony and stopped the traffic by standing in the middle of the road and barking at the traffic.  As soon as the ceremony was over the dog retired to the sidewalk and went back to lying in the shade.

To complete our day while were were on the tram on the way home a man started to talking to us ad the same story came out, manage to get a new job as a night porter at a hotel.  Pensions have been cut so they have to carry on working as best they can - pretty miserable times it seems.

So that was Athens, tomorrow we leave to Paros ... the one think I really would have liked to have seen was the New Acropolis Museum but it was not to be.

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