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Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain
I recently earned my Masters in History at NWMSU and am now working as a language assistant in a Spanish elementary school.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Greek Αλφα Βετα(Athens: Part Ένα)

Over the weekend of my birthday, I flew to Greece, a place I have wanted to visit for a long while. Greece has been in the news recently because of its poor economic situation and the many protests and riots surrounding it. While I was there, I noticed some of this, but it was not always on the surface. I visited the capital city, Athens, which was once the capital of art, philosophy, and splendour in the ancient Greek world. Athens has had a tumultuous history since its rise to prominence in the 400s BC. The city saw the rise of Alexander the Great to the north, then was later conquered by the Roman Empire. Athens remained a center of learning throughout the period of the Roman Empire. When Rome fell around the fifth century AD, its legacy remained in the east with the wealthy Byzantine Empire, which Greece was a part of. Much of the attention of the Byzantines turned away from Athens to its capital, Constantinople. Athens, and the rest of the Byzantine Empire split from the western world in terms of religion as well. While the west remained under the auspices of the Pope in Rome, the Byzantines followed a more traditional Christianity based on ancient traditions and fewer rituals. This became known as the Orthodox Church. The population of Athens declined, but the city experienced a revitilization in the 1000s and 1100s when most of its medieval Orthodox churches were constructed. As the Byzantine Empire declined, the control of Athens switched between the hands of various merchant companies from Burgundy, Florence, and Catalonia. In 1458, Athens, now sparsely populated, fell to the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. The city and the rest of Greece remained under Turkish rule until the Greek War of Independence in 1833. At this time, Athens had fallen far from glory and consisted of only a few houses around the Acropolis. Nonetheless, the new Greek government chose the city as the capital for its new nation because of its symbolic place in Greek history. Athens grew rapidly over the following decades. It saw the rise of Ioannis Metaxas' dictatorship in the 1930s and was occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War. Heavy fighting took place within the city in 1944. A military dictatorship followed briefly after the war and, since then, the city has attempted to revitalize itself as a major European capital.
Many people who visit Athens admire the Acropolis and the surrounding area but complain about the run-down look of the rest of the city. Its true that the outskirts of Athens consist of mostly poured-concrete apartment complexes, but there is still some charm there, as well as a strange sense of familiarity. After a three-hour flight I landed at the Athens airport, which is about twenty minutes outside of the city, and took a little time to orient myself. I found some free maps of the city as well as some information which would direct me to my hotel at Voula, an Athenian suburb. I found the bus I needed and sat in the back. On the way there, the bus passed many familiar sights: billboards, movie theatres, large hardware and appliance retail stores, and weeds growing up alongside highway guardrails. I began to think about all of my travels and how, with each trip, my destinations seemed to feel less foreign. The bus dropped me off right outside my hotel:

The elderly Greek woman at the front desk spoke quite a bit of English. I learned later that she was one of two owners, the other being a British expat. The hotel was nice and had recently been remodeled:

Across the street was the last stop of the tram which traveled straight to the center of Athens. As it was getting late, I decided to stay in the area of Voula and look around. This was a new town, founded in the 1960s and it gave me a good sense of what suburban life is like in Greece. I walked through neighborhoods, spotting several stray cats and dogs (stray dogs are a common theme in Athens) and hearing children yell to their friends, "Yia su!" ("Hello!"). Here are some scenes of the Voula neighborhoods, which seemed far away from the Greek economic crisis forbiddingly headlined on every European newspaper:

I wandered past Voula Beach:

and a relatively new Orthodox church:

I then found a food stall and was able to use the limited Greek I had obtained from a travel book to order some souvlaki:

This contained lamb, lettuce, tomato, carrots, and tzatziki (a cucumber/yogurt sauce) wrapped in pita. All around this food stall were several kiosks (something which the Greeks seem to love more than other Europeans) which sold newspapers, soft drinks, and snacks. I then went back to my hotel for a good night's sleep before my full day in Athens.

1 comment:

  1. Can't wait to see more pictures on Greece. The food looks good!