First impressions can be lasting and for Athens’ sake let’s hope not. After taking a long bus ride from northern Greece we hopped on the Athens metro to get to our apartment where we planned to stay for a week. At our final metro stop we alighted and stood in front of a street map with quizzical looks and our mouths open…a gesture that instantly branded us as tourists. After about 15 minutes of reconnoitering our position, we headed up the escalator confident that we had an idea of where we going. While on the escalator, three young men stood very close to me, which I thought was odd but quickly forgot. We started walking on the street and reached a narrow, crowded pathway and I once again saw the same three guys, this time standing very close to my wife. I quickly called out to my wife, “Stop right there…wait for me,” which allowed the three men to pass. They continued walking, turned right and headed into a different metro entrance. As we continued walking, I looked back and saw them watching us – a family of four with about ten bags clearly not knowing where we were going…in other words, a target. I made eye contact with one of them and he smiled at me and returned to the metro as if to say, “I didn’t get you, but I’ll get someone else.”
After our adventure with our Athenian greeting party, we settled in to our spacious apartment. My wife has a genius for finding great apartments whenever we are staying somewhere more than a couple of days; this one was found on VRBO.com. Athens is fairly expensive so having lots of space with a kitchen, washing machine and DVD player is a travel luxury for us. The next morning we went on a walking tour of Athens and started out in the National Gardens. While looking at the Roman ruins, which were discovered while digging the metro station in preparation for the 2002 Olympics, my daughter found a purse in the bushes. Clearly, the purse had been pinched, money and credit cards taken out, and had been tossed aside. We held on the wallet and continued our tour, hoping to run into a policeman or police station. We finished our tour without seeing either and spend another hour walking around looking for a police station. We were starting to wonder whether Athens was a safe place or not. We got back to the safety of our apartment and watched a movie that night.
The next morning we went to visit the Acropolis and the Parthenon. We had brought sandwiches and we stopped at the Beule Gate to have a picnic lunch. We found a stone bench in the warm sunshine that was out of the wind and sat down to eat. While there my son found a wallet under our seat. Same story: no cash or credit cards and dumped somewhere after it was stolen.
Yes, it was a first impression – okay, a strong first impression – but we did not let it disturb our enjoyment of Athens. We enjoyed all of the Acropolis, had a fine meal in a local restaurant in the Plaka and loved seeing the gold death mask of Agamemnon in the National Archaeological Museum. The changing of the guard at the unknown soldier tomb was interesting, my wife and daughter really enjoyed the Sunday flea market in the Plaka and we walked what felt like the entire city without further incident. Most importantly, we left the city with our wallets.