5 striking things about Athens
You arrive in Athens, this city you’ve heard so much about but have never before visited. On the taxi ride from the airport, you gaze out the window, yearning to explore this new place, your new home. By the time you arrive you jump out of the cab, immediately taking in the city’s sights, sounds, and atmosphere. But what exactly does this entail? Logan Noe compiles a list of the five most striking things about Athens for newcomers to the city.
In any unfamiliar city, on that first walk down the street, certain things really stand out. In Athens, this list includes the orange trees that grow… everywhere. Right through the middle of the sidewalk. On the divider in the middle of the road. All along the narrow side streets. Suddenly this city has mysteries: where did the orange trees come from? Who planted them? Are the oranges safe to eat, and is picking them even allowed? You know you’ll find the answers to these questions eventually. You even know that, in a few weeks, you won’t notice anymore how unique it is to have orange trees growing all over a city. But on that first walk, the orange trees are nothing short of enchanting.
You see the first one. Then a second, a third… and maybe you start thinking that Athenians just have a thing for cats. But by ten, or fifteen, or twenty, you decide you’ve seen more cats than normal, for any city. Instinctively, you approach one, wanting to see if it will let you pet it – and then you stop. What if it bites you? What if it carries diseases? And what do these cats eat anyways? You snap a picture of the furry white creature instead, and pass at least ten more on the walk home.
Yes, all cities have graffiti – but Athens is different. The graffiti is everywhere, throughout the city, on all types of surfaces and walls, in all different colours. You don’t see any signs of effort to remove it, like the shiny new paint in otherwise historic neighborhoods that you’ve noticed in other cities. And it doesn’t seem contained to any particular area of the city; wealth and tourist appeal seem to have less of an effect here on the volume of paint on the walls. Like the orange trees, you know that in a week or so the graffiti will fade into the background of your new city and merely become part of the backdrop of your life. But right now, these walls feel like Athens’ defining characteristic.
You’re walking down the street, heading downtown to meet your friend for dinner. Religiously following the directions from your Google Maps, you barely look up to cross the street when out of NOWHERE comes a motorcyclist, inches away from you. You’re shocked, appalled, thinking all kinds of incredulous thoughts about the man who didn’t even slow down for you when a CAR nearly comes barrelling towards you, also with no apparent signs of speed reduction or consideration for your health and well-being. Of course, your logical side tells you to quit your habit of J-walking. But you know that you could never give up the feeling of rebellious independence that comes from crossing busy streets whenever and wherever you like, and decide instead that you just need to work on your timing.
You knew they were a Greek thing. You knew they’d be here. You expected the stands along the road, the tiny shops, and the established place of the gyro on most menus. What you didn’t expect is the abundance of all these things. Everywhere you turn, you spot a place to buy a gyro. With French fries or without, wrapped up in a pita, skewered on a kabob… you quickly realize how unprepared you are to navigate this culinary scene. Not to mention that you know you need to try the lamb, chicken, and beef to decide which kind of meat you prefer – what kind of Athenian would you be without a preference? Very quickly you realize that, for the rest of your life, when people ask you what you ate in Athens, gyros will be at the top of the list.