I had not reserved any hostel but had some marked on a map I printed off the web. Option A was full, so I had to resort to a 45 minute walk to option B with all my gear right in the middle of an Athenian summer day, which in the process forced me to revise my previous definition of “hot”. Luckily, they had a dorm bed for me, with A/C. After a massive nap to ward off the effects of a sleepless night aboard a plane, I set out on foot to explore the city, first climbing mount Lycabeus to get a nighttime view of the city while sipping on a Greek beer: life is not so bad…
Walking around is pretty much all I did during my time in Athens, in the day and at night with a beer in hand. There is loads to see and learn about, but it was high season and everything was seriously crowded. Athens, in the likes of Rome, has the vast majority of its attraction and tourist districts concentrated within a square kilometer or so. Other city in the world will get more visitors, but here, the concentration of selfie stick and sun umbrella weaving individuals gets to extreme levels. I’ll gladly spend an afternoon looking at rows and rows of Greek vases, but not if I have to wait one hour in queue and not with masses of tour groups clogging every passage.
I did see the acropolis, because I had to and for the occasion got up extra early to get a headstart on the swarms but otherwise all I did was roaming around in the cooking heat of the city, checking out the Athenians living their lives and drinking extreme amounts of water while barely going to toilet.
Abandoned and foreclosed buildings were abundant in the capital so I absolutely had to do a bit of urban exploration. My visit to the derelict “Peace and Frienship Stadium“, home of the Olympiacos basketball club, turned out to be the highlight of my stay. That day, I had visited the Acropolis in the morning and had taken the metro to Piraeus to walk around the famous port, which was nothing like I had hoped it to be and overall a huge disappointment. On my way back to the metro station, I decided to cut trough was appeared to be a park, but was in reality leftover sport facilities from the 2004 summer Olympics that the Greek could just no longer afford to maintain. I like a bit of urban exploration. There in the background the stadium was standing and I thought it must have suffered the same fate at its neighboring buildings, which made it a prime candidate for a bit of trespassing. It looked abandoned alright, doors were bolted shut, every surface had a graffiti, in the stadium were soda machines displaying advertisements from the mid 2000’s and a group of homeless had set up camp in the stadium’s bar, which looked like it had been the scene of a recent terror attack.
I tried every spectator entrance but no luck, they were all padlocked from the inside. After a while, I had given up and started my walk to the metro station when I noticed an inordinate amount of cars were parked in front of a service entrance and people were going in an out. Maybe they were just providing minimal staffing to the facility before it finally gets demolished? The entrance was guarded by a couple of dudes to which I had originally planned to politely ask if I could see the inside but the quick glance they gave me was enough to convince me that they did not give a gyros about my presence.
Awesome. I walked around until I found the staircase to the stadium itself and spent a good amount of time just walking in this very large enclosed space. It’s a weird feeling to be alone in a place that is normally crowded with other humans. Sounds like the wind, the birds knocking on the windows, the structure creaking, all echoing in this massive room for only my ears to ear. On the way out, a man gave me a suspicious look but on noting that I was heading for the exit, he did not bother to question me. The men at the entrance were still busy watching YouTube. Upon taking not the of ads promoting the team’s Facebook fan page, I rightly came to the conclusion that in spite of looking like it was bound to imminent demolition, the stadium was very much in operation, just under staffed and under maintained.
That night, nothing was going on at the hostel’s bar so I picked up my book, went to Syntagma square (where the protests usually happen) and read about astronomy (black holes) for a while, with a sense of having had a fulfilling time in this city. Athens was sort of how I expected it to be. Very much a European capital but with a more chaotic and messy touch. The price of everything I had to purchase (especially food) made me wonder how the Greeks could actually afford to live in their own capital but satisfied with my time there, I was nonetheless eager to leave it for something different. Next destination: Thessaloniki, where I will start my Greek adventure on two motorized wheels.