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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Athens - Like New York or Like Cairo?

I am a bit surprised that no one has commented to me on the notion that leaving Cairo for Athens may be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. That thought had certainly occurred to me as we winged our way across the Mediterranean headed for Greece. I had followed the stormy protests of last summer with some interest.

To this point, I haven't shared the images of graffiti on the walls in Athens, but here is an example.

Some guidebooks refer to the area around Omonia Square near our hotel as "gritty" or "drug infested." This Virtual Tourist page suggests avoiding the area at night. We met a Lithuanian couple who were afraid to leave their hotel in that area at night. Stores are open late three nights a week in Athens. We walked through Omonia to a nearby restaurant with no problems on one of those evenings. We passed through the dimly lit Meat Market in the evening several times without a problem, too.

To me, the city was a bit like pre-Giuliani Manhattan. The graffiti, the occasional person passed out on the sidewalks or benches and the like. We found none of this except the graffiti near actual tourist sites.

But the advice to avoid some areas, especially at night reminded me of my first trip to Manhattan in 1974. I was taken aside in Minneapolis by a NYC veteran who carefully outlined boundaries. "Don't go into Central Park after dark and never go North of the Museum. Don't go West of 8th Avenue." And a few years later, when Linda and I boldly strolled 3rd Avenue from Wall Street up to Mid-town, we had to step over a drunk or two to do it.

So fear not, if you are a big city veteran. Otherwise just keep your wits about you and stay near other folks. There are plenty of police around. Just don't walk down streets like the one on the right after dark, even if it does sound like there is a party going on right around the corner.
AthensNY3-1 AthensNY4-1

And one other resemblance to Manhattan. Here, along a main tourist route, we find a game of Three Card Monte. Don't play.

I suppose that the drug-addict, the alcoholic, the pickpocket and the thief is, in some way, the price of freedom. In a police state like Cairo, those problems are not visible and anyone who attacked a tourist would be dealt with severely. Hence, the streets are safe at anytime of night or day.

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