48 Hours in Athens

She started screaming and asked if we had our papers.

At that moment I knew my trip to Athens wasn’t going to be a good one. An eight hour bus ride to Athens didn’t seem like a big deal. I was aware of what was going on there, riots, demonstrations, strikes but maybe we left at the wrong time, people were already on edge and had been striking for two days before we left for our trip. I was aware of the Golden Dawn, wary of the police after reading the news and blogs but I’m always cautious anyway and aware of my surroundings so I didn’t think I would have any problems.

I was wrong.

I left with a girl I barely talked to my entire time here in Greece. She wanted to go to Athens, I wanted to go to Athens and so did my friend who was leaving by herself and arriving after us. My friend was the person who asked our advisors where we should go and how we should get there. She came back with answers to her questions and a map with a big X on one part where we were not supposed to go under any circumstances.

I should have looked at the map. I shouldn’t have trusted anyone to book the hotel. I should have gone with my gut feeling and checked everything out before I left but I didn’t because I didn’t have enough time.

We got on the bus, traveled for eight hours and then arrived 11 at night tired and hungry. The taxis were waiting outside the bus stop and the girl I was with was afraid to talk to anybody which wasn’t a big deal but sometimes you need back up and I wasn’t getting any that night.

I greeted the taxi driver and handed him the address to our hotel–he yelled for us to get out of the car.

That should have been my first clue. My second was the fact that three drivers huddled together and were fighting over who would drive us to our hotel–none of them wanted to drive down there.

But I was tired, getting annoyed and hungry. I snapped out of it the moment we finally got into a taxi and I started noticing my surroundings. Stores closed, streets deserted, large signs and banners hanging around with swastikas. The girl I was with was oblivious, just sitting there as the taxi driver muttered under her breath angrily in Greek.

She stopped driving momentarily to talk to a police officer because the road had been closed during the day. I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it to our hotel to be quite honest with you. He let her through and I was thankful for that because I don’t know what I would have done. It was dark out, people were walking in the shadows and I was with someone I didn’t know and was clearly too afraid to talk to anyone.

As she continued to drive, the woman looked at me when we reached a red light and she yelled–who told you to stay here?

“Google,” I said. “We found our hotel on the internet.”

She said nothing and continued driving until she yelled a question at me.

“Do you have your papers?”

Yes. Of course, but having my papers didn’t make me feel any better. Just being asked the question gave me an eerie feeling–we were not supposed to be here.

Turns out I was right. We were staying in Epidavros Hotel, located in Omonia Square.

I checked out the map, that’s where the big X was located.

I didn’t know what to do and at midnight there wasn’t much we could do. The girl I was with paced back and forth once I told her where we were. It wasn’t safe and after the drive here we didn’t feel safe either. Something was off and we had finally figured it out but this was our hotel and it was late at night so we needed to stay here.

But honestly? And I don’t say this to sound mean or to scare anyone but some people can be so oblivious. I’m going to give you all some advice:

Before you go to another country read the news and don’t just read about the city you’re staying in. Read about the entire country, learn what’s going on and internalize it. Open your eyes when you go somewhere, always be alert and cautious.

The two girls I was with, one knew very little about what was going on and the other didn’t know anything at all and doesn’t like to follow rules anyway. I felt like I had to be a parent for the time I was there and they were leaving two days after me.

They didn’t see what I could see and they didn’t understand why I was on edge and angry. In the morning they felt like it was better, safe, perfectly fine and I was being overly dramatic but I wasn’t. You may think so but for me being safe isn’t being dramatic.

The hotel was shady. There was a guy staying there who wouldn’t stop staring at my chest and then looking at my entire body. On day one when we went to eat breakfast in the hotel he asked us what our name was.

Again, seriously, some advice: don’t just go throwing your personal information out there.

She told him her first name. She told him we were studying abroad. She told him where we were from.

He asked us for our floor number and if we were staying alone.

Because that’s appropriate? No, it’s not. When I yelled at her, cutting the two off and giving him the wrong floor number and then forcefully pushing her towards the stairs she didn’t understand why I was so angry.

Some people just want to talk she said. Besides, she’s very trusting and her ‘danger’ meter doesn’t work well.

Seriously?

When I tried to break down the reality of the situation to her she didn’t like it because I was scaring her too much but good, I wanted her to scared. I wanted her to open her eyes and realize the world wasn’t rainbows and butterflies.

When my friend came it was just as bad. She arrived earlier than us so obviously she saw all these people walking around and was annoyed because she thought I was being dramatic.

Let me tell you something, she was hungry so she met us and it was dark out by the time we finished eating at a taverna and had to head back to Omonia Station.

We got lost. At midnight we got lost, wandering around the dark where the streets were mostly deserted except for groups of cops, I wasn’t sure if something was going on and the other people that were out were clearly on drugs. I unfortunately know an addict when I see one.

Like I said before, they weren’t seeing what I was seeing. A cop grabbed a guy in the shadows by the collar and just started hitting him, kicking him, punching him and the guy didn’t do anything. Others watched but they didn’t move. No one was surprised. No one was responsive.

And yet I was the only one seeing this. We asked some cops for directions and one of them started yelling. Just yelling. Not really wanting to help us and I was…I was nervous.

I feel bad saying this but sometimes you just can’t trust the police.

I didn’t sleep that night because when we finally made it back to the hotel the same guy from breakfast was there. You’re supposed to leave the key with the front desk but I’m sorry, I don’t think so. So my friend forgot I had it and when he asked for the room number she started screaming it out loud for everyone to hear. She’s just loud in general and I guess she didn’t think the man understood her since he spoke Greek. I don’t know. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it but the guys head snapped and he stared at us.

He now knew where we really were staying. I shouted that I had the key, she was off by two numbers but that didn’t make me feel any better. As we walked up the stairs I caught his eyes trained right on us.

She didn’t get why I was mad and was getting mad at my scolding. Since the Wifi didn’t work in our room she went downstairs by herself to go on the computer and what do you think? He was still down there and went up to her, telling her he wanted to be her friend.

Thankfully she heard my voice in her head and came back upstairs. They stayed in a different hotel after I left but whenever I told anyone back in Thessaloniki, especially the Greeks that we stayed in Omonia their eyes popped open and they shook their heads.

The response was the same: you’re not supposed to be there.

I know. I was there. I’m aware.

I can’t say I enjoyed Athens because of this experience. I visited the Parthenon, saw the Acropolis and went to the Archaeological Museum of Athens but I spent most of my time worrying so I couldn’t enjoy myself.

Just remember:

– Always research where you’re staying.

– Don’t go somewhere you’re not supposed to.

– If you don’t feel safe–leave.

– Always read the news and find out what’s going on before you go anywhere.

– Never give your full information out to anyone. It may sound extreme but using a fake name is sometimes better when you’re interacting with sketchy people.

– Always give your hotel information, the name, number and your room to someone back home. If your friend or roommate isn’t coming with you shoot them a text or a message on Facebook and tell them where you are. Heck, call your parents or sister or whoever back home and tell them too. You might think it sounds extreme and dramatic but your safety isn’t a joke.

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