After a weekend in the city of Athens, I learned some good lessons that I must pass on to all of you.
What to Expect in Athens:
- Graffiti and Orange Trees. They both line virtually every street in the city (except the ancient monuments). It’s an odd combination.
- Excellent food. This goes without saying – eat well, ask Greeks for recommendations, and use your hotel’s concierge services to make reservations for you.
- Walking. You’ll miss out on a great deal of culture and history if you rely on taxis to get you from place to place. You need to walk down from the Acropolis, through the Ancient Agora and into the Plaka. Wear comfortable shoes. Streets are cobbled and uneven.
- An international culture. Many people speak multiple languages. English is the second language of choice. (One of our restaurant greeters told us the biggest mistake he ever made was only learning 7 languages.)
- Ouzo. Drink it over ice for a pearl-colored treat with a licorice flavor that’s sure to please. A small glass is the perfect way to start – and finish – a meal.
What to Watch Out for:
- Taxis. Unlike other cities where taxi rides are individual, in Athens they are often shared. Everyone pays the same fare. Taxi drivers might not take you if they don’t want to go where you do. Most cabs don’t have meters they seem to use often enough. Ask a hotel person what the fare should be from point A to point B so you have some idea in advance. Like in any big city, the unscrupulous drivers do exist. And it’s amazing how their second language skills disappear when you are trying to negotiate a fare. Ask and clarify the approximate fare up front, and encourage use of the meter. And never pay more than what is showing on the meter, even if you’re asked to. Always try to have an address written down to show them, and get out a map to follow their progress through the streets – it will help you learn the city and keep them on track.
- Waiters. Amazing how their English evaporates when they keep bringing dishes and wine to the table that you didn’t order but get billed for anyway. They keep smiling and saying, “’tis okay.” A “cheap” lunch quickly turned into more than 50 Euros when the waiter at one tourist-filled taverna in the Plaka did just that to us. Be firm and send something back if you didn’t order it, then double check your bill. Good rule to follow: if you see lots of tourists dining, go to another place. The locals know much better.