Aegean Adventure in Greece, Part 1

The following travel post was written by Dawn Stuart Weinraub, a dear friend who used to teach Russian language at Emma Willard. Dawn is also an avid traveler and wonderful storyteller. This past October she took a trip to Greece where she experienced a politically unstable nation rebelling against austerity measures. Like many countries, Greece’s political system has battled corruption and debt for centuries.

An Aegean Adventure in Greece, Part 1

    …Athens’ city center was full of police because German Chancellor Angela Merkel is arriving later today. She is essentially the one imposing the heavy financial burden/austerity program on Greece in return for a financial bailout. Athenians are outraged at the huge expense for police protection (or prevention of protests) associated with her visit.

    I love the greenery, potted trees on balconies and roofs but I’m struck by all the graffiti, a mark of the anger and despair of the Greeks at the repressive measures of their EU partners to the North. Lois told me it wasn’t like this a few years ago when Athens was spiffed up for the Olympics.

    Turns out Angela Merkel is to arrive RIGHT HERE, in the historic section of Athens, in a couple of hours. We arrived at the Hera Hotel without a problem, but Maria Daphne, our wonderful Tour Manager, had to come by a circuitous route. Eventually a few others arrived and we met with Maria about 1:00 PM, with time enough to walk around for an orientation to the area: (mostly) pedestrian streets linking the historic sites, a monument to Melina Mercouri, many cafes and restaurants, and the Acropolis above us, only a short walk away. So Mary Kay, Mary Lou and I went to the Acropolis. We followed Mary Kay’s advice to hire a guide for 50 euros. She was excellent, and later, when we sat for a rest and acquaintance session, we came to recognize her current financial dilemma: pay the rent, buy the groceries, pay off the credit cards, educate the children, on a drastically reduced income. Her English was very good – it’s just one of her languages – and her knowledge considerable. She got in a couple of digs at Merkel. One: the huge cost to the Greeks of providing security. A lot of the masses of police we saw were called in from the provinces, mainly to keep order. Angel’s coming was not revealed until yesterday, in hopes the protest groups wouldn’t have much time to organize, and they forbade gatherings in Syntagma (Constitution) Square. As our tour was ending we noted the gathering clouds, and our guide said, “Even nature is weeping over Angela’s presence here.”

    It was about 3:30, and I hastened back down the mountain with great care over the slick marble pavement under foot and choosing gravel where possible to get to an ATM on the (mainly) pedestrian street before visiting the new Acropolis museum.

    At the museum, the entrance courtyard and ground floor are all glass, revealing the excavated ancient city foundations below. These they discovered in preparing the foundations for the museum. It is awe-inspiring to walk over ancient history. The statues removed from the Parthenon on the first floor are stunningly beautiful. I was very hungry (well, and tired from so much climbing and descending non-stop), so I went out to the terrace cafe for a salad and “coffee frappé” (espresso with a little sugar and milk over ice cubes – delicious). I heard what sounded like gunshots. No one reacted, though a few went to the balcony’s edge to look out when we heard the slogans chanted by many male voices (they weren’t to be seen). Back inside I found myself sneezing, and later someone suggested it might have been because of the police tear gas wafting over from the demonstration. As it was pointed out, life goes on in most of the city even during demonstrations, confined to a few predictable locations.