We haven’t exactly been following a regular schedule lately – doing stuff in the daytime during the week, and working on nights and at the weekend. It’s nice to have the time to be able to be pretty relaxed about going places or seeing things – though I’m sure other folk would be expecting us to do a lot more than we are.
We arranged to meet up with some of my relatives in the centre of Athens to get some food and hang out – choosing the area near Monastiraki train station.
Monastiraki is a pretty lively place. There are tiny streets branching off in every direction filled with restaurants. The flea market that spreads out at the bottom of the main road is crammed full of the most bizarre assortment of items and people you will ever lay your eyes on. Gramaphones, kitchen pieces, pistols, camera lenses, genuine nazi memorabilia, antique furniture… the list goes on and on.
The others were running a bit late, so we climbed up ontop of one of the strange metal structures that are in the small square near the train station to get a better view, and to stay out of the way of the various people trying to sell us bracelets or lottery tickets or whatever else. Oh, not to mention the guy who was wandering around with a syringe in his hand, presumably getting ready to shoot up somewhere.
We got a nice view of the square, with some guys doing flips and other things, with the shops and Acropolis in the skyline behind.
We also had a good vantage point to see the police hassling some street traders. Police in Greece are not like the polis we have back home. They are young, well built, and operate more like the military. They aren’t folks you want to have too many interactions with. If I needed directions somewhere, the Greek police would probably be fair down the list of people I would approach.
There’s a real anti-authoritarian attitude in Greece that I like. People don’t like being told what to do, by anybody – and this applies to the police as well. Small, petty things that would be deemed as ‘improper’ in the UK, or socially unacceptable are routinely ignored. This is Greece. Do what you want. Not to over-egg this and make it seem like there’s anarchy, because there definitely isn’t – but there’s a free spiritedness and disregard of rules that is infectious.
Of course, that sort of approach to life which can be charming in everyday situations becomes incredibly frustrating when you need people to give you straight answers, or to take some sort of action on your behalf. The Greeks do not do bureaucratic tasks well at all.
Athens is filled with stray cats and dogs, who seem to have the same laissez-faire approach to life as the people.
We spent the afternoon as many Greeks do – drinking beer and iced coffee, whilst chatting lazily in the city’s streets. Lager seems to taste a lot better than usual here – probably because of the heat – and if there’s one thing that the Greeks know how to do well, it’s iced coffee.
Afterwards, we headed to the park near Syntagma square that was designed specifically for the enjoyment of the previous King, before he was ousted by a referendum in 1973, which was approved by around 80% of those who voted, with a turnout of 75%. This came after the Greeks had voted to restore the Monarchy by a staggering 97% in 1935… so he must have done something really terrible to have such a short turnaround.
The park filled with exotic animals and plants at the taxpayers’ expense probably had something to do with it.
My cousin mentioned that beyond the park there was a marble stadium, where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896, so after we parted ways, me and Grace went to take a look.
It was only a few Euros to get in, so we decided to pay, even though we weren’t really interested in the museum – but seeing the stadium itself. It was well worth the money.
The Panathenaic Stadium was built on the site of another ancient stadium, and is made entirely of white marble. The Greeks seem to have a thing for marble. Wikipedia says it’s the only major stadium to be suilt solely with this material, and one of the oldest surviving.
It’s impressive enough simply for what it is, and the fact that it’s still in such good condition, but the real amazing thing was the scale.
It doesn’t look like much from the street, but inside it’s spectacular.
I only wish I had a wider lens.
Walking onto the track, I couldn’t help but imagine what the place must have been like 100 years ago, when it was packed full of people. The feeling of walking onto the track as an athlete in such an impressive structure must have been both exhilirating and terrifying. Even doing it in an empty stadium was intimidating. This ancient Greek structural style has a lot of soul.
I could pretend like we ran some laps, as we saw other people doing, but you would know that was a complete lie, so I won’t.
Grace would have won anyway.