My trip to Athens
Mediocre. That's the word that came to mind when trying to sum up Athens with a new friend of mine I spent some time there in May 2017. To me, Athens is a legendary city. I'm sure it is to many. It's the birthplace of modern western democracy, and after all it is the capital of Greece, which is the origin of many myths, tales, legends, beliefs, traditions, words and much more. The cultural heritage of Athens is no doubt immense, and I've also always been a fan of the Olympic Games. Therefore it's no wonder Athens ended up on my bucket list of places to see, and it's a super easy place to visit if you reside in Europe.
Points of interest
Number one on this list must be the Acropolis and the Parthenon. They are probably the most popular places in Athens. A must visit for their historical value, unfortunately they are in such a bad shape that only little remains of what once were, and the rest you have to check out from model reconstructions. The Parthenon dominates the skyline of Athens and looks really good in the evening from the street level or a few floors higher. Right next to the Acropolis is the remains of an ancient marketplace, with a few interesting buildings such as the Hephaisteion.
The second most popular point of interest is probably the Arc of Hadrian and it's surroundings. The arc is in a decent condition to gaze at, but it is seen quite quickly. Check it out during sunset if you can. Right next to it is the Olympieion, or the temple of Zeus. It is in such a bad shape that out of the original hundred and four pillars only fifteen remain standing. Nevertheless, it is still impressive and definitely a must see.
The Panathenaic stadium is the place where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896. The stadium is built of white marble and looks gorgeous. Unless you want to take shirtless posing pictures like I did, you don't even have to go in to see the place - it's easily visible from the street.
Finally, I climbed mount Lycabettus. You can see almost the whole Athens from there. I saw pretty much the aforementioned points of interest plus the very mount I was on, making the total number of actually interesting things to see countable on the fingers of one hand. I also observed how, in general around the city, there seemed to be very few fancy areas, such as plazas. Additionally most of the buildings looked more or less the same. The white marble was, however, a beautiful distinctive feature all around the city.
For the old relics I visited the new Acropolis Museum. The most interesting thing in there was how there weren't many interesting things. Most of the ancient Greek sculpture has been stolen and is on display all over the world in other places, for example in Paris. There were some reconstructions of the ruins, and the museum building itself was kind of fancy, so the visit wasn't completely in vain. Just don't expect anything big from the place if you don't want to be disappointed.
I've taken as a habit to visit Olympic stadiums if I see them, and Athens was no exception. The Olympic stadium which was used in the 2004 games was kind of fun to see, and even though at first it appeared almost deserted, there was at least some action going on. It is also used as a concert venue.
The economic crisis
A recent thing everyone knows about Greece is its economic crisis. The European Union has been pumping money to Greece to keep it from crashing down and having a snowball effect on related economies. Or something like that. Not that many people actually seem to understand why exactly are we providing the support.
It's interesting how in Finland during the past few years the economic support for Greece has been one of the big questions in politics. Populists have used it to gain fame and votes. Yet, in Greece they don't even know about a small country like Finland giving them any support.
What's even worse is the common opinion seemed to be against the support from the EU. It seems like some of the Greek people consider the EU a leash on them and Angela Merkel on the other end, holding the leash. However, nobody seemed to have any other solutions either, and some seemed to just want the money for free, with no intention on paying it back ever. I think they need to double check how loans work before drawing more angry antics.
Random stuff that happened
As I stayed in a hostel and had plenty of time as the points of interest could be seen so easily, I met a lot of people. The most memorable was this young hothead from the States. He seemed angry and lost in life. I did see some former me in him. Luckily in the past years, thanks to some wonderful people and traveling, I've come to terms with most of my demons. I ended up giving him some life lessons, and truly hope he will remember them.
What happened was, after a dinner with the people from the hostel we went for some drinks. A couple of guys from our company were feeling a bit too happy and started dancing in a cocktail bar, and the bouncer threatened to throw us all out. Tensions rose quickly, and I soon found myself between the kid and the bouncer, trying to prevent a fight. Unfortunately I failed, got smacked right into my eye, broke my glasses, and ended up demonstrating some Finnish swear words to the patrons. But even if a negative experience at first, the aftermath the following day was a good one. Luckily there was no damage to my eyesight, otherwise I probably wouldn't be so happy about the incident.
I think Athens is worth a visit from all over Europe as it's so easy a target. I saw people coming from the United States to spend a full week or so there, but pitied them a bit - there really isn't stuff to see for more than two or three days at maximum.
The food was not bad, but nothing spectacular either. I guess you have to get outside Athens to really enjoy the local cuisine - and also the so called real Greece, according to locals. Again the best things about the trip were the human interactions, as is usually the case when traveling.
All in all, Athens is a nice place for a quick weekend getaway. Just remember to time it right. Spring or autumn is a good time to visit as in the summer it's intolerably hot and packed. The middle of May seemed perfect.