Postcard from Greece

April 30, 2009 - 8:00 am

The sky is deep blue. It’s only 8am and the sun is already casting a penetrating ray through the perplex barrier before me. The Blue Star Ithaki appears to be moving at a fair clip over a calm pastel sea. Next stop is Mykonos; the playground of the idle, the rich and the famous. It’s a place for me to relax and unwind. And that’s just what I intend to do. My work is done in Athens and it’s time for me to leave and explore the islands.

I was impressed by the Greek capital. It’s a noisy, chaotic and surprisingly clean center of commerce. Athens is at ease with itself. At once I felt comfortable and safe. The city is big but not too large that I can’t walk it; which is my travelling m.o. Traffic is really bad and one must be extra vigilant for errant speeding vehicles busting a red light. There are sufficient crosswalks but waiting for the lights to change appears excessively lengthy. Overall, in my interactions with the Athenians, they were highly hospitable and accommodating, and their famous fare-high prices aside- more than exceeded my expectations. Even here, a Greek salad is called a Greek salad.

The Parthenon atop Acropolis is a stunning vision whether from afar-it can be seen from every part of the city and is particularly impressive ablaze at night-or up close when one explores what appears to be a constant building site. The signs say the work is to restore the previous restoration which had made the situation worse. Rusting metal rods used to hold the fragile stone and marble is now being replaced by titanium. I am struck by the puzzling question of how such incredibly complex architecture was constructed in its day. Specifically, how were these massive stones hoisted high above the towered pillars and perfectly situated to lock into adjoining pieces? I commit to Googling that later.

Surrounding the base of the Acropolis is The Plaka: a complex series of winding streets sprinkled with the most adorable little cafes and restaurants. This is people watching territory. It’s early in the tourist season and compounded with the global recession, there are no crowds. In fact, many eateries are eerily vacant. As a strolled around without a destination, I found myself randomly choosing different streets to explore and yet at no time feeling any sense that I’d lost my bearings. Of the many cities I’ve visited, Athens is immediately inviting and without pretension.

I’m now settled in a comfortable spot among the usual cast of locals and tourists oblivious to the fact they are part of my iPod soundtrack. There are a few Americans sitting quietly reading. Everyone else is smoking. My first cappuccino of the day has gone down nicely and it’s only a matter of time before I brave the line at the Flocafe for my second. There will be many before the day is done. My only near-term decision is to choose from the array of baked confectionary products. The city is fading into the distance and surrounding the boat are the distant silhouettes of beckoning island hilltops. I’ve just been offered my choice from a large selection of bootleg DVDs. I passed on the offer but have noted that commerce in all its shapes and sizes is alive and well out here on the Aegean Sea. There is Wi-Fi onboard at a price, but I decide to wait. I’m supposed to disconnect but realize that’s an uncomfortable state for me. I’ll try my best. After all, I need to focus on which croissant to choose.

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