What is it that the Chinese are supposed to have said? "May you live in interesting times!"
By now you must have read about, or seen on TV, the demonstrations and riots in Athens. The nationwide, general strike on Wednesday shut down the entire country and resulted in my inbound flight, along with hundreds of others, being canceled. Apparently, it also resulted in three poor, innocent souls dying in a burning building while the crowd outside protested. I did ultimately arrive early Thursday and soon after witnessed the burned-out shell of the five-storey bank in question and the charred remains of a car parked in front. Later, when visiting the Acropolis before sunset we could hear the start of Thursday's demonstrations echoing between the buildings and then up through the smoggy air from Syntagma Square below, a kilometer away. Were there 10,000 or 100,000 people marching, shouting, demanding to have their 2 months of annual vacation pay re-instated, I could not see, I could not say?
Not normally one to shy away from exaggeration and hyperbole, I must admit that the average traveler in Athens is not affected, much less aware of these ongoing, historic events. The cafes and restaurants in The Plaka are still bustling with tourists, drinking ouzo and retsina, which accompany their pikilias and Saganaki shrimp entrees. (What other nation would consider cooking giant shrimps with feta cheese in a tomato sauce?) The bouzouki players and singers continue to entertain and it would seem that the demonstrators know better than to upset the one sure source of foreign currency and so The Plaka is never on the marchers' route.
Hugging the base of the Acropolis's east face, the Plaka is quintessential Athens. A maze of restaurants with tasty traditional food at reasonable prices, all flavours of Greek wine and spirits, and smoking allowed everywhere as here the no smoking laws are flouted with indifference. Every 'taverna' has a stunning box seat view of the Acropolis, which at night is all the more spectacular as the Parthenon is lit up against the black sky. Most establishments offer a rooftop garden but I recommend dining al fresco at street level as all the alleys are closed to cars and the tables from one spot spill over onto those of the next. Here's a tip for your next visit: The best restaurants are the ones on the cross-streets -- these are the alleys paved in stone that climb up steeply towards the Acropolis -- where a party atmosphere prevails.
If you are a graffiti artist, I recommend that you stay away from Athens. Try as I did, I could not find any side of any building, nor fence, nor overpass unblemished by graffiti. The artists must be very frustrated with no fresh canvass available. Across the street from my hotel, the owner was painting over his façade -- I cannot guess why as it unlikely to stay immaculate more than a few days! It is my only disparaging comment about this once-great city, unfortunately the graffiti is ubiquitous.
If you arrive in Athens, but somehow have forgotten your sunglasses, no worries! On every corner, or so it seems, there are African immigrants selling sunglasses, as well as counterfeit Louis Vuiton bags, watches and any number of useless tchotchkas. With tourist high season fast approaching, I can guess that even the cheap, the fake and the pointless will all find willing buyers. Here's hoping that there's nothing pointless taking place in your life...