Peace & Quiet
Safe and Cheap
Athens is the cheapest capital city in Europe, according to figures produced by Eurostat, the official European Union statistical publication. And Greece is the second safest country in Europe for tourists, according to French research based on theft per 1,000 residents. Portugal is safest with only two reports, then Greece with four, compared to 27 in Britain and 37 in Holland.
The Temple of Hephaistos
Each time I visit Greece's capital, I seem to see one incident which captures the city for me. For the previous edition of this book, it was a scooter rider driving through a 'No Entry' sign and then along the pavement among the pedestrians, since that was the quickest way to his destination. Obey the one-way system? Not the Greeks. While researching this new edition, it was again a scooter rider. This young man raced through a busy city crossroads and, while turning right, took one hand off the handlebars and crossed himself three times because he was passing a church. Only in Athens, I thought.
Many visitors to Athens just see the traffic, and not the people. Athens is indeed far too busy and noisy, and bedevilled with smog, and too hot in August. And yet, and yet... the city is making great efforts to improve the centre. There are constant schemes to restrict traffic access. One of the main shopping streets, Ermou, has been pedestrianised for much of its length, making it a pleasant place to stroll along in the day, and again at night when the buskers emerge. There is talk of more pedestrianisation, and of creating a traffic-free triangle based around Ermou. Monuments like the Acropolis stand aloof from the traffic. Byzantine churches ignore the hubbub. The National Archaeological Museum remains one of the finest museums in the world. And the Athenians remain resolutely themselves, at home in their city, as any visitor could be if he or she remembers to look for the little human touches.