During my time in Athens in July 2011, the great taxi strike began, and I was caught in the middle of it. For weeks it meant roads blocked and no access to ports and airports, except on foot or by public transportation. For me it meant leaving the Pireus harbour on foot and walking to catch the train into the city, sweating more than I did in the Mexican jungle which was disgusting then.
For one day the strike was called off, and taxis were back in service. I thought this was most excellent timing as that was the day I had to cross the entire city just before I started my island cruise. My luggage was starting to fall apart as well and it was terrible trying to lug it around without the sides bursting open and all my stuff tumbling to the streets. However, as I wheel my luggage as carefully as I can to Syntagma Square, I don’t see a single taxi in sight when they are usually driving around like flashes of lightning, so obnoxiously fast and, well, pretty psychotic. I am usually terrified to cross the street even at a red light, because sometimes they don’t stop and honk absurdly at you to get out of their way.
I eventually saw some taxis lined up on the side of the street, but they had a big sign in the window that said, “STRIKE.”
Okay so that was like thirty minutes of being off-strike.
Back on strike they are again.
I desperately needed to buy some new luggage but there was no time to waste since I had to navigate across the city on my own now. I reached the top of the stairwell leading underground to the metro. Down I went with my luggage, step by step, the zipper bursting open more and more with every crash of its wheels on each step. I tried carrying my luggage instead but lost grip when my travel satchel swung around and I accidentally dropped it. I watched it slide down a few more steps. Growling, I kicked it down the remainder of the steps. I re-duct taped the garbage bag to the sides and started on my way again in a huff.
I crossed paths with a beggar who had two stumps for legs, swinging and propelling herself towards me using a pair of crutches. She didn’t even have fingers, just balls for hands. An act that may have been somewhat impressive if I wasn’t terrified out of my skull. I dodged out of her way and hurried on to the metro, but not until one of my wheels broke off.
I didn’t have time to nimbly repair this disgusting wheel covered in what I could only assume was shit. I kicked it out of sight and dragged my luggage anyhow. Time was running out, I just needed to be on the metro and get to my hotel in time to meet with the shuttle that would take me to the port.
Reaching the platform I noticed the metro was just about to pull away. I reached for my wallet and started fumbling for change to get my ticket but then said to myself, “Eff that I’m riding this thing for free,” and bolted onward leaping onto the metro as the door closed on my luggage. Completely squashed now, if it wasn’t already.
Riding the metro in Greece uses the honour system, which is why I was able to hop on without paying. There are signs informing you of the 60 Euro fine if you are caught during one of their “random checks,” but I never saw anyone checking tickets in my two weeks in Greece thus far. None of the locals ever seemed to pay (they knew better), just the tourists did. I’m sure if the Greece metro was controlled, it could be a solid means for income in their country. But right now, the Greeks are really just doing their own thing.
In Greece, GMT stands for Greek Maybe Time. Nothing is too urgent to require immediate attention. Because of the mid-day heat, most shops will close down between 2 and 5ish in the afternoon. Sometimes, though, I found that some tourist shops stayed open because they knew that uninformed tourists would still be out in the streets, and would be worth it to make the money. But much of the city quieted down during these times. There are even quiet hour laws. Keep in mind that while this might seem like a waste of your valuable travel time, you can take advantage of it and live like a local. I took the time when the city was quieter to explore, grab some food, pick up some souvenirs, or hang out in one of the squares. While walking past closed shops I could even hear some snoring.
I should also quickly mention there is a proper way of going to the bathroom in Greece. Allow me to introduce to you the practice of throwing toilet paper in the bin rather than flushing it away! It’s something that I’ve never come across anywhere else in Europe but wherever you go in Greece you’ll see signs in the bathroom warning you, just in case you’re one of those ignorant people who have never heard of this unusual practice.
Apparently the plumbing in Greece just isn’t up to it. I do wonder why the Greeks can’t just start using more accommodating pipes like the rest of Europe. But it’s best not to put too much thought into it as you knock back the ouzo.
Well, since it’s such an odd habit to break out of, there were a couple times I forgot and attempted to flush the toilet paper. I only realized what I had done after hearing a funny gurgling noise. The water started to rise, and as this is one of my fears, I got the hell out of there as fast as I could and didn’t look back. Another time I had forgotten, nothing out of the ordinary happened at all. But I still felt like I really screwed someone over, such as the next person to use the toilet perhaps.
Now that I was on the metro, I found that it was pretty nice. It was very clean, efficient, and aesthetically appealing. There were tons of signs in English making it easier to navigate where I was and where I was headed . . . including lots of signs stating the giant fines you are forced to pay if you don’t have a ticket. I ignored those ones.
Exiting the metro station, I walked up the steps leading me to bright daylight and scorching heat. There were no guards checking for tickets. I didn’t notice the burden that was my luggage as much. If it held up this much so far; I could make it just a little longer.
Waiting to cross the street, I noticed thick caution tape tied from telephone pole to telephone pole across the intersection. The lights weren’t changing either. A man on a motorbike pulled his helmet visor down, kicked it up a fear gears, and barreled through the caution tape full speed. It ripped away with a very loud snap and stuck to him, billowing behind until he veered out of sight.
That’s one way to make your way through a roadblock.
No one flinched and continued on their way, and I did too.