Athens: First Impressions

Well, we (my family & I) have been here for almost three weeks so it's probably time to synthesize and share some first impressions. Comparing Athens and Fitzwilliam (or, for that matter, Rindge) isn't like apples and oranges, it's more like utricles and pumpkins -- and a really large pumpkin at that!

Greater Athens consists of 4,000,000 or so; in other words nearly 4 in ten Greeks live in the capital city. And it seems as though at any given moment at least a third of them are on the move. Each form of locomotion presents its own challenges to the those of us who are newly-arrived. By far the easiest and safest way to get around is by metro. It's inexpensive, efficient, and user-friendly; its major drawback is that it doesn't cover large sections of the city, though much of that slack can be overcome with buses and/or the tram.

Taxis are ever present, though that does not mean you can get one when you need it. Trying to hail one with a foosball table (it was in a large box) was nearly impossible. It took me 40 minutes to convince one to stop and pick me up. Although more expensive than public transportation, taxis generally provide much more excitement. (I'll leave it to the students to tell you about their first taxi experience.) Cars and trucks are behaviorally similar to taxis; the only thing they're lacking is the meters.

Just when one thinks taxis are the dominant motorized life form, along come the scooters. They come in all shapes and sizes, carry an equally diverse ridership, and seem to live by one rule of the road: there are no rules of the road that apply to them. Lanes do not exist, crosswalks are great places to wait until the light changes, and sidewalks and one-way streets are merely minor hindrances that shouldn't stop someone from reaching her/his destination in the quickest possible time.

Given all of this my daily runs have become individualized adventures in survival. So far the metro is the only thing I haven't had to worry about. But in addition to the hazards mentioned above, there's one other I hadn't expected -- pedestrians! Sure, there are lots of them, but they don't behave in any easily predictable fashion. For one thing, individually they're just as likely to walk on the left as on the right. And, despite the fact Greeks tend to be slimmer than we Americans, two of them can somehow manage to take up an entire sidewalk. And then there's what I've come to call the "Athens veer." The person up ahead of you who seems to be walking in a straight line may, without any warning, suddenly and inexplicably drift off in another direction.

While I'm on the topic of pedestrians, I've quickly come to realize that many times the safest place to walk is in the street. Sidewalks in Athens can be physical nightmares. They're uneven, narrow, often uphill, and generally the slipperiest surfaces I've encountered this side of ice (due in no small part to the high incidence of marble in their construction).

If all of this seems like I'm complaining, I don't mean to be. For all of the challenges associated with navigating around Athens there's the reward of looking up and seeing the Parthenon (I can't imagine ever tiring of that), or turning to your left and encountering the Temple of Zeus Olympian, or stumbling across any number of sights that remind you what a special place this is.

Next time: Wining and Dining (or, How I Developed a Feta-ish)

robin (aka Pan Man)


Anonymous said...

How lovely! I can't imagine having to immerse myself in a culture so wholly, having only ever left the states for Canada, but it sounds fascinating. I hope you are taking lots of photos to share with us when you return. As for Feta.. what took you so long? It's one of my 5 food groups. :) jpb

larumba said...

Ok...so it sounds like a 'moving' experience with all the transportation concerns....but it also sounds DELICOUS....warm weather (39 F expected tonight...), BEACHES !!!....things close by...HISTORY...Parthenon, et al....drink it all in!!! Soak it all up..Miss you and your fam, but SO excited for this experience for you all and your students...keep updates coming!!!!
-la rumba....