4 – 15 February 2017
With inconclusive tests of my half numb foot (in the interesting hospital system in Lefkada) and no significant progress for months, it seemed a good idea to get a second opinion before heading out on the last leg of my journey. This time, I had my travel insurance set me up in a private hospital in Athens, which was a completely different experience. The hospital was modern and the neurologist seemed more qualified immediately identifying the spot where I initially had some pain. However, with no pain in my leg or back – or visible signs from the MRI scanning - there was no recommended treatment. After more than 3 months, the foot is (strangely) still numb, but at least I know it’s nothing serious, so I can only hope it will disappear as soon as possible.
I had no plans of going to Athens, but now that I was there anyway, I decided to do some sightseeing visiting Acropolis on a free Sunday with surprisingly many locals and tourists on this overcast morning. I remember being impressed when I visited in 1987, but this time it was quite disappointing being small and dilapidated. Probably more have happened with my perception than Acropolis itself – the last visit was just after an interesting trip to Crete, ancient Greek studies in high school and most importantly before I had travelled the world. The experience confirmed my travel philosophy to avoid returning to places I’ve seen years before, as revisiting seldom lives up to my memories. Walking around town I also visited the archaeological museum, the old stadium, the parliament, the botanical garden, the flea market, the cathedral and countless churches.
I generally don’t like big cities and Athens was no exception - busy, ramshackle, dirty, polluted with all the same chain stores you find everywhere in the world – hardly anything Greek about it. To me it’s one of the greatest downsides of globalisation when we all become identical people with identical lives – same clothes, food, habits and traditions, languages, TV, movies, etc.
Surprisingly many people were begging - some immigrants and refugees but most of them Greek. Greece it very corrupt/selfish on all levels of society and most people seem to be cheating to get something for free (from dentist visits to food) even though they can pay, preventing the really needy people to get help. Embarrassingly, there seem to be no pride in taking care of yourself or helping others. People might not have the cash, but they'll rather starve or beg than borrow money with collateral in their houses. Some people have several houses and cars and still they feel poor and complain, because they have less than before the financial crisis, and/or compare themselves to other people having more. Despite having little money, a lot people spend their money impetuously on expensive cafes, coffee to-go, etc. because appearance is everything. On top of all this, there seems to be no joy of life - I don’t recall any smiles during my time here...
This mentality also relates to shopping - not only in Athens but everywhere in Greece. I generally dislike shopping and here in Greece, it’s always a bad experience. There is absolutely no customer service – rather the clerk/owner always make the customer feel in the way as if bothering them. Several times, I have experienced the clerk/owner being very annoying (even leaving the shop) when asked questions. They don’t have demo models and It’s not allowed to open a box to see/try the desired item. There’s no return option, if you open the box after buying and even when the product is damaged (e.g. scratched) it’s a long discussion to return it. Buying a gift for someone requires cash as the gift can’t be exchanged without the creditcard used for the initial transaction. The shopping challenges seem endless. I don’t know if it’s part of the reason for the never-ending financial crisis, but it certainly doesn’t inspire people to spend extra money. I’m sure foreigners introducing customer service can do good business here.
One great experience was a daytrip to Delphi, which I hadn’t visited before. It was a beautiful drive especially the last stretch up the mountains with lovely views of snow-capped peaks. Delphi has a great location in the mountains and it was an interesting visit, where I especially treasured the good vibes and peaceful atmosphere. On the way back to Athens, a short detour to visit the impressive 10th century monastery Hosios Loukas also offering scenic views and a peaceful atmosphere.