Climbing the steps to the Acropolis was worse than trying to get on or off the New York City F train during rush hour. Pushing and shoving their way up the stairs to the Acropolis, they were not deterred by the crowds . They didn’t realize that when they finally succeeded in reaching the Parthenon, they would only be permitted to stand beneath the great monument that was covered in scaffolding, surrounded by ropes and complacent guards, who barely acknowledged the tourists in front of them. Agreeing to accompany my friend to the Acropolis, I lasted about 30 minutes.
Since my interest in archeological sites is almost non existent, having been to Greek and Roman ruins in almost every country where there are Greek and Roman ruins, I fought my way down worn marble stairs to the entrance and waited. And I waited again in Mycenae and Mystras, understanding how the tour bus drivers must feel, spending their lives waiting for the groups of people who climb on and off their oversized buses each day. A consolation for their boredom, is their kick back from the restaurants and tourist shops where they deposit their bus loads
.This being my friend’s first trip to Greece and my twenty something one, we decided to stay near the center, in the Koukaki neighborhood at a two bedroom airbnb. The bathroom needed help but it was clean and clean is number one when I am traveling. The building with 3 apartments, located on the wrong side of Sigrou street but near the Acropolis, was owned by a Greek family who had relatives in the States. Auto dealerships and motorcycle shops were our landmarks. Walking around Athens reminded me how much I disliked this city. Whenever I mentioned that I had lived near Patission street, everyone shook their head, saying the neighborhood was rundown and had been taken over by Pakistanis, Africans, Syrians and Afghans, many without papers. Definitely life in this big city was not easy as I watched people looking very weary and tired, get off the buses during rush hour. Since I speak Greek and I’m fascinated by people’s lives, I have conversations with taxi drivers, hotel clerks and shop keepers. Our first taxi driver admitted he was having a slow day and since he worked for a company, he had to give part of his fare to them. So we agreed he could turn off his meter, our price already fixed. Our next driver was an Albanian who had come to Greece in 1996 ,escaping a country that had been closed to the world for forty years by a crazy Communist dictator, Enver Hoxha .Coincidentally, I made my first trip to Albania that same year and understood why most Albanians wanted to leave. Besides the local mafia, the country was so poor and backward, it would take years to improve people’s lives.
One day in Athens was enough and we were heading to the Peloponnesus to see some rocks and ruins and then visit the Mani peninsula ,once part of the Byzantine empire, invaded by the Crusaders in the 13th century, and now a tourist destination with castles, churches, hotels, apartments, restaurants and beaches for everyone. Back in high school studying the Greeks and the Romans, Mycenae, Sparta, and Epidaurus, familiar names in our history books, are just a few of the archeological sites in the Peloponnesus. Some are well preserved, others use your imagination and all charge between 10-12 euro entrance fee. Not like the crowds at the Acropolis, they are still filled each day with huge tour buses, gift shops, and mediocre restaurants. Driving through the countryside is breathtaking, avoiding the toll road whenever possible. Most of the towns in the Peloponnesus are not memorable, and many can be bypassed except for the city of Nafplion. On the Argolic gulf, part of the Aegean Sea, the old city has been restored with polished stone streets and buildings full of gourmet restaurants, cafes, shops and boutiques. A sophisticated,elegant,contemporary neighborhood, it is hard to resist keeping your credit cards in your pocket.
Our evenings in the Peloponnesus usually were spent looking for the airbnb we had booked. Thanks to google maps, and my semi fluent Greek, we always found our way. The first night I walked up and down a side street asking for Maria who finally arrived. She was talking on the phone to a friend ,ignoring my pleadings until she said she did not speak Greek and was from Georgia in the Caucuses. The apartment belonged to someone old, either alive or deceased. But it was clean and had 2 bedrooms, I got the cot. . Another night in Nafplion we drove up and down a dark street several times, using google maps without success, almost ready to look for a hotel room,But suddenly my friend remembered something the owner texted,” go to the end of the street”. A beautiful gated home overlooking the.city of Nafplion with a charming guest house for us with 2 rooms for $60. The owner, a woman in her 60’s, whose husband had died last year, had lived half her life in Chicago. I believe her airbnb rental made her life less lonely. We spent the first hour with her in conversation. Next stop deep Mani.