Before I went to Athens I considered it to be an extension of Western Europe. It being the birthplace of western civilization, I don’t think this assumption was much of a stretch. I think that the intermingling of Greek and Roman mythology in my mind had led me to believe that Greece and Italy were somehow interchangeable. Now the two countries do share some similarities, but Greece is not Western Europe. I love Western Europe, but stepping into a place that feels totally foreign to you is an invaluable experience. Greece is the gateway to Asia and the Middle East and the culture reflects that.
The experience that drove this home for me was cab ride from Piraeus. I had forgotten my passport at a hotel and had to get back downtown. I do not speak Greek, but I did have the business card of the hotel so I gave it to the cab driver. She was an older woman who did not speak a word of English. At each stoplight we came to she would scream out the window at the people in the cars beside us and the people on the sidewalk. At first I thought she was just saying hello to people she knew, but as this continued to happen at every stoplight and I began to wonder. Athens is a beautiful city, but like any city there are good neighborhoods and there are not so good neighborhoods. We were in one of the latter and it was dawning on me that I had zero idea where I was; I had been in the city for a week and this area was nothing like anywhere I had been. We came to another stoplight and once again my cab driver started screaming out the window. At this point a rather large leather clad man dismounted his motorcycle and came over to the front passenger side window. The cabbie handed him the hotel’s business card. The man looked at me and explained to me that she couldn’t read the English alphabet and that the address on the card was not given in Greek. She had been looking for someone to translate the entire time. After a brief discussion, we were on our way and she got me to the hotel. Disaster averted thanks to my unlikely biker hero.
Looking back on this I feel like an idiot. It was my own ignorance that got me in trouble, but it made me realize that I was not in Kansas anymore. This detour was a blessing in disguise. If you’ve ever been to a resort town you will know that you don’t really get the authentic experience. If I had not seen the Athens I saw on that cab ride I don’t think I could say I truly saw Athens. It might have taken me outside my comfort zone, but it also broadened my cultural context for a cohesive world view.
So get ready for a whole new ball game and explore with a car rental in Athens, Greece.