I’ve done a small amount of travelling in my teenage to adult life. But always to nearby places, fitting in with the cliche of the day today Australian; the “affordable” traveller. We are all over Asia, because it’s close by and comparatively cheaper. I’d be surprised if you traversed Indonesia or Thailand and didn’t come across a loud and rowdy group of Aussies. But where we are fewer in travellers, is Europe. It’s far away, a high price for flights and expensive when considering currency conversion.
For this reason, many places I’ve always wanted to visit in my younger years have been just out of reach. But yesterday I got to tick off a long time dream and bucket list item.
As a kid, I always loved ancient/mythical stories. Hercules, Xena, Spartans and Gods battling to save the world or keep control of their domains. Roman and Greek mythos has always excited me and is why places like Italy, which I saw only last year, has also been one of my favourite places, ever. Rome astounded me with their mix of ancient and well-preserved buildings mixed within the enormities of modern society.
Greece – quickly summarising it’s problems
Athens, Greece, has been through a lot. From their ancient civilisation being conquered Romans from 509BC to 1453AD, to the Ottomans (Turkish Empire) occupying Greece for more than 400 years, they didn’t truly gain their independence again until the mid 1800s. Then came the many modern wars, and invasions through the 1900’s.
Shooting ahead, during the 1980’s Greece began exploring expansionary fiscal and monetary policies to help improve their economy, which unfortunately backfired on them, negatively impacting inflation rates, trade and growth rates.
Soon after, came the European Union, and despite the economy being in a bad state, they were let it in due to some doctored budget figures. Suddenly they were tied to the Euro and gained all the benefits of the EU; such as lowered interest rates on borrowing, and borrow cash they did. But with a lack of revenue coming into the country, it was not able to pay off it’s debts, and before long it had to claim bankruptcy.
Impacted heavily by this, are of course the millennials. In 2014, Greece’s unemployment rate was at an all-time high of almost 28%. This has now come down to 18%, but still very high for a country like Greece. Of this group, 70% are millennials.
This has impacted the generation in two ways.
Firstly, labelled the brain drain, Greece has a whole lot of millennials who are incredibly educated, due to their free education system, but are unable to get employed. So what do they do? They leave Greece to find work somewhere else in Europe.
The second is lashing out. This has a significant impact on the city of Athens in the form of graffiti. A city already pained with theft, congestion and waste. While some have turned to the arts as a form of expression, what i would call graffiti with style, others have littered streets with words of frustration and anger. Some roads look wondrous, beautiful even. Others unfortunately just ads to the chaos and pain of the city.
But why I loved Athens!
Arriving in Athens, we settled in for the day and prepped a few tours. I was eager to hear about the modern city, and it’s history before seeing the highlight. And I was pleasantly surprised by these experiences.
Beneath all of the issues, there is also still a lot of positivity. Greek people hold their heads high and are incredibly passionate and kind. They know they have some ironing out to do, and they’re not afraid to admit it. Friendly locals would remind us to hold our bags securely or engage us in conversations about our travels and give advice on things to do and see. I generally loved this about them.
Culturally, beauty shone through with; markets, music, dancing and food. There’s something to experience around every corner.
Then there is the highlight of the city, and for me, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
The Acropolis of Athens
We woke up early. I definitely wanted to beat the crowds. 7AM start, with pre-booked tickets in hand ready to march through the gates of the Athens’ Acropolis.
We walked hastily through the streets making our way there and for once Gabby saw some pace in my step. Finally, we made it with only 10 people in front of us. I was happy. The gates opened on 8AM, and BOOM, we ran our way up to the top point of the Acropolis.
I can’t express the feeling of emotion I got when I stepped through the archway to see the temples.
Despite the damage that had been done due to hapless Turk invaders who did more damage in a day to the location, than had been done to it in the 2000 years prior, it was in a great state. I was overwhelmed with how beautiful it was, almost to the point of tears.
The two main structures/temples stood tall to the left and right, barely a person in sight, as if the moment was just for Gabby and I. Marble flooring that was once the ground for the Greeks more than 2000 years ago was all around, heat reflecting in full force from the morning sun. The pylons of the temples stood tall and white, and you could envision the beauty it would have once held in its undamaged state.
To me, it was a real wonder.
Beyond the Acropolis is then the ruins within the city of Athens. The old Greek and Roman markets, the Agoras, and the temple of Poseidon. Each a marvel of their own, completing stories about how the ancient Greeks once lived.
Many tourists skip Athens and head on through to the Greek islands. But honestly, I can’t understand how you could miss something so wonderful.