A somewhat lost weekend in Athens – Our Europe

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A somewhat lost weekend in Athens

Athens is a rumbustious city.

If it is Saturday, there must be a demonstration by someone, against something, going on somewhere. Or on any day of the week come to that.

There is graffiti everywhere. Everywhere. Some of it good, some of it even brilliant. Most of it ugly.

And the constant hum of traffic can lull you to sleep at night, until the screech of the boy-men racers on their powerful motorbikes jolts you awake.

It can also be a beautiful city. The Parthenon, which sits atop the Acropolis has been a constant wonder for nearly 2,500 years.

I have seen it many, many times now. From up close, from a hotel window, even from a makeshift BBC studio during the 2004 Olympics.

For me it is a powerful symbol of all that is great about Europe, and humanity. It stands as an enduring testament to the brilliance of the architects, engineers and craftsmen who built it with nothing more than pen, paper and their genius to guide them.

I will never tire of gazing at it.

But we have been in Athens for 48 hours now, and I have still not seen it.

Our plan to walk round the Acropolis on Saturday was scuppered when we were pickpocketed at Syntagma Square. Not an unusual occurrence in a big city and more common in Athens in recent years.

The tourist policeman, dressed in a Who t-shirt, shrugged his shoulders and told us he sees around 20 tourists a day at his desk.

“And Greeks too,” he adds.

“If we catch the thieves, they are released within a day.

“They have no papers,” he shrugs, “so they are let go, what can we do?”

Indeed, what can Greece do?

Its economy continues to flat line.

It is the safe harbour for hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing death, destruction and extreme poverty, yet it does not have the infrastructure, or national resources of a country like Germany to cope with this tidal wave of human misery.

And its ultra left government, led by the once charismatic Alex Tsipras, don’t seem to know what to do.

This BBC report from last week is a timely reminder of how the Greek people have suffered in recent years.

Currently nearly a quarter of working-age Greeks are unemployed and public sector pay and pensions have been cut by more than 40% in many cases.

At the same time, taxes have gone up by around 25%.

Greece is paying a terrible price for what was a global economic crisis.

But the Parthenon remains as beautiful as ever, a reminder that the spirit of Greece is stronger than even a cabal of German bankers.

Today we had planned to have lunch at Café Avissinia, probably our favourite restaurant anywhere, and gaze upon the Parthenon while sipping retsina.

But the plague of insect bites I picked in Patras is such a torment that I have spent the day feeling sorry for myself in the refuge of our temporary home Camping Athens.

Tomorrow, no matter what, I will enjoy time with that most Greek of beauties. And then we will have lunch.

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