Greek Trek 2017: Athens – Lost Luster

As a young Sergeant in the Air Force, I was sent on temporary assignment from my base in England to Athens.  The reason is not important, but I was in Athens for five months.  Flying into Athens I was presented with an expanse of white buildings and a decided lack of high rises like you see in large American or English cities.  Once on the ground I saw that the buildings were whitewashed, well kept and beautiful.  Many years have passed and I once again find myself in Athens.  Flying in I saw much of the same picture I saw all those years ago.  However, on the ground, I was shocked by a decidedly different reality.  The once proud buildings were dull and dilapidated.  Graffiti defaced many of the now forlorn structures.  Financial difficulties brought on by government mismanagement and changes demanded by the European Union have caused Greece to become the pauper of Europe.  But, either despite or because of these difficulties, the Greek people are still proud, bold and hospitable.

This trip to Athens was only over three nights but a lot was packed into that time.  I spent a majority of my time exploring an area called “The Plaka.”  It is an area below the Acropolis with narrow streets lined with shops and eateries.  There is very little vehicular traffic in this area.  The shops sell just about any trinket a tourist could desire from “evil eye” pendants and bracelets to fend off evil to flokati (sheep skin) rugs.  The eateries, better known as tavernas, provided the taste buds with delicious dishes and equally delightful drink to wash it all down. 

The Acropolis

I went to the Acropolis as it was part of the tour package.  I have included a couple of old pictures from my first trip to show some changes.  If you want more photos along with detailed information I suggest you go to Matt Barrett’s excellent site.

This photo I took when I was sent to Athens as a young Sergeant.  Most people think this is the Acropolis.  Actually this is the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the Goddess Athena, which sits atop the Acropolis.  Back then, there were no paved walkways or stairs.  It was also pretty devoid of people.

Today, the way up to the Acropolis is now nicely paved with steps where needed.

Back then you pretty much had the run of the place with few visitors.

Nearly the same spot today.  Some of the temple has been restored but, as you can see, it is a sea of humanity.  This was as far as I went this trip.  The site was packed!

The Theater of Dionysos back then shows how much the city backs up to the Acropolis.

Today, you can see the reconstruction taking place and some of the modern buildings are gone.

The police patrol the area and these two officers are making sure the street vendors have proper permits to sell their wares.  The other thing I noticed is that, unlike police in an American town who ride the same brand motorcycle, here one is riding a Honda and the other a Suzuki.  The other thing I noticed is that sometimes I would see two policemen per motorcycle.

You can always hire a horse drawn carriage to take you to the base of the Acropolis in style.

And just because you are not in America doesn’t mean you escape seeing Segway tourists.

From the Acropolis you can look out and see other ruins that surround this sacred rock.

The Acropolis Museum, which was not even built the last time I was here, is built over other ancient ruins of an Athenian neighborhood.

Inside there are many artifacts found at the Acropolis. 

This statue, once part of an Acropolis temple shows the toll suffered from decades of pollution and erosion.

The statue shows how the arm is connected to the rest of the sculpture.  According to archeologists, square wooden pegs were used so that the arm stayed in the prescribed position.

All in all, a visit to this ancient site is well worth braving the madding crowds. 

The Plaka

The Plaka District is an area of Athens with narrow streets lined with shops.  There are shops of every kind here.  Some are there selling trinkets to the tourists while others are high end stores catering to the rich and famous.  Intermingled with these shops are tavernas, places that serve delicious Greek cuisine and drink. 

The Plaka is maze of narrow streets where you can easily get lost.  There are maps around to tell you where you are.

Tavernas in the Plaka offer good food and drink with inside and outside seating.

From the hanging birdcage there is no mistaking this for anything but an ice cream shop.

The streets are narrow and packed with tourists shopping for souvenirs.

This is one of the more interesting offerings in the Plaka.  The name was the thing that caught my eye.

Inside you can get the most interesting foot treatment.  These fish eat away your dead skin.  Some say it tickles while others say it feels like tiny nips on the feet.

Need food? Shops have it by the ton.  The plastic sealed packages to the left are olives.

Fine leather goods are readily available.

This building has the remains of a mural.  But you can also see the neglect and decay along with some graffiti.

Graffiti defaced many of the buildings in Athens.

A vintage BMW motorcycle was parked on one street in front of a fence covered in graffiti.

This taverna had a beautiful mosaic on the wall.

Another taverna on the Plaka with plenty of outside seating and across from graffiti.

A honey shop with the freshest honey you can buy.  You can even watch the honey makers at work.

No shopping area is complete unless it has a bakery.

There were many souvenir shops with tee shirts for sale.  I saw some that I liked but due to what was printed on them, I doubt I would be able to wear them anywhere.

This church in the middle of the Plaka. . .

. . .with a beautify mosaic of the Blessed Mother and child.  Churches seemed to be the only buildings devoid of graffiti.

These awnings in the Plaka district show the diversity of the shops.  A cheesy souvenir shop can be next to a high end watch shop.

Do you see the cat amongst the ruins?  Cats will be a recurring theme in this and the posts to come.

My time in Athens is done.  Now it is time to head to the port to catch a boat to the next destination: Mykonos.


Copyright © 2017 John J Campo


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