Saturday, 12 December 2009
Greece 2009 - Day 17, Athens, a city of thieves
After four years of visiting Athens on the way to a Greek island-hopping holiday I have finally managed to see the new Acropolis Museum. It was originally planned to be completed in 2004 to accompany the return of the Olympic Games to their spiritual Athenian home but construction setbacks and various outbreaks of controversy along the way have meant that it did not finally open to the expectant public until June 2009.
The long awaited €130m Acropolis Museum is a modern glass and concrete building at the foot of the ancient Acropolis and home to sculptures from the golden age of Athenian history. Unlike any other museum in the world this one has been designed to exhibit something it doesn’t own and can’t yet exhibit and the Greek Culture Minister has said that he hopes that it will be the catalyst for the return of the disputed Marbles from the British Museum in London because about half of the sculptures have been there since they were dubiously sold to the museum in 1817.
We spent most of the morning in the museum and after we had finished we walked around the ancient city admiring all of the sights. Athens is a wonderful place for visiting ancient monuments and buildings, in addition to the Acropolis there is the Ancient Greek and Roman Agora and the dramatic Temple of Zeus with its spectacular columns thrusting triumphantly into the sky. They are all in pretty poor shape it has to be said, the Parthenon at the Acropolis was blown up by Venetian invaders when it was being used as an armoury store, most of the Agora is pretty much non existent and the Temple of Olympian Zeus has only a handful of its original columns still standing.
We checked the bus times back to the airport and discovered that the metro line had been reopened so we agreed that would be our preference and once confident of times we walked through Monastiraki with its cramped little tourist shops and back to the Plaka where we found a place for a drink next to the Agora. For some reason Athens felt different this year, there were more beggars, more lucky-lucky men and more gipsy kids pestering us at the table for handouts. It didn’t feel quite so safe.
Despite this, it was the last day of the holiday and we had spent a good day in the Greek capital even when it started to rain later in the afternoon. Finally we had a last meal before collecting our bags from the Royal Olympic and made our way back to the airport. This was the fourth year of taking the metro and I have never felt uncomfortable or unsafe in any of the previous three years but this time something was different. Syntagma station was busy and felt edgy and when the train arrived we had to force our way onto unusually crowded carriages.
As soon as I got on board I knew something was wrong and this is how they did it. At the very last moment a group of three or four young men rushed onto the train causing mayhem and confusion and pushing and shoving and moving other legitimate passengers around. In the melee we were separated so couldn’t watch out for each other and I knew instinctively that something was going to happen in that carriage. In hindsight it is easy to see that we had been targeted, we had been on holiday, we were off our guard, weighed down with bags and the way that Kim was looking after her bag made it obvious that there was something inside that she would prefer not to loose.
One man stood by the door but then I sensed that he was determined to stand next to me and he pushed in and stood so close I could smell his body odour and it was most unpleasant. I knew what he was doing but luckily I was wedged in a corner so I gripped my wallet in my pocket in a vice like white knuckle grip and turned away from him so that he couldn’t get a hand to my right side where my wallet and my camera were. He knew he was rumbled, gave up and moved on pushing and shoving the other passengers as he went.
Kim was stranded in the middle of the carriage but I could see that she was clutching her handbag tight to her chest and I felt reassured that she too was being extra careful. Suddenly I noticed that she was bothered by something and was examining her ring. One of the thieves had placed a bit of wire around the stone and had pulled it so hard that it had bent the ring and it had hurt her finger. She said that at the time she thought it had been caught in a zip or a strap from someone’s bag but this must be a well practiced diversionary tactic because at the moment she reacted he managed somehow to open the zip of the bag and remove the first thing that he found. All of this happened so quickly and at the next stop they were gone and so was Kim’s camera.
This incident rather spoilt the holiday and we left Greece with a sour taste in our mouths. All of Kim’s precious pictures were gone including her favourite of the naked man on the beach on Ios and these were priceless and irreplaceable. I hope we will return to the Greek Islands again next year but we probably won’t be stopping off in Athens.