Thursday, January 21, 2010

Welcome to Athens: Warm Weather, Insane Drivers, and Toilet Paper You Can't Flush

A warm greeting from Athens, Greece! After a fairly relaxing flight on Lufthansa over the Atlantic, I arrived here on Monday exhausted, excited, and quite confused. In a moment I will recapitulate the happenings of the previous few days, however I must first explain my flight experience.

Apparently I am five years old. On the flight from Detroit to Frankfurt, before I could entertain myself by opening up a good book, the flight attendants came rumbling to a stop next to my seat with their cart of drinks. Enthusiastically (and quite naively), I requested a chocolate milk. I smiled with anticipation. The rather attractive young hostess giggled because she thought I was joking. A few moments of awkward silence followed, and when it became clear that I in fact was serious, she responded in her most delicate and light-hearted of German accents: "Vell, I cood look in za kiddie box?" Using my problem-solving skills, I managed to cover up my frightfully embarrassed face by asking for water instead. I received my water and she left. But then she returned five minutes later bearing these items:

This was the best she could do: a glass of white milk (a buttery, thick, German 2%), and a chocolate bar on whose wrapper looking at me were whimsically-drawn cartoon characters. Good. Just the image I want to portray: naive Asian-American boy who asks for chocolate milk on a German airline known for its hospitality and precision. Within an hour I decided to move onto adulthood by ordering red wine to accompany my dinner. I can at least feel half respectable.

My arrival in Athens was warm. Literally, the temperature was a mostly-humid 60 degrees at night. I arrived at my room in the Pangrati neighborhood to find my roommates' luggage scattered throughout, but without their owners. Sadly, and a little lonely, I walked the brief five minutes to the CYA Academic Center to check in (I met them further into the night just before we all passed out from each our long travels). I walked along streets for a small while, only to be amazed that Europeans manage to drive their impossibly small cars at impossibly fast speeds, fitting six vehicles side-by-side while darting from point to point on streets which, if placed in any other part of the world, would be marked for only three lanes because it's the only safe thing to do. In downtown Athens, rational driving is only as rational as the street layout. Both reflect no sort of intellect-driven planning. There is good reason that one of our program administrators advised us to be vigilant as pedestrians, for Athens wins some sort of prize for favoring one of the most dangerous pedestrian environments in Europe. The vehicular-pedestrian fatality rate was something like 1,000+ in 2007 alone. I like to think that while some people use cars for driving, others use them for driving recklessly.

Other places I've visited: Syntagma Square (i.e., Constitution Square, the site of the latest
politically-driven bomb demonstration, the unfolding of which preceded my arrival by only days), Parliament, the National Gardens, the Marble Stadium (i.e., Panathinaiko Stadium, site in 1896 of the first modern Olympics), and a number of other smaller neighborhoods that smell of the freshly-baked goods and ripe fruits set on the sidewalk by grocers. This is not to mention that everything looks simply so lush. The trees are a deep, jungle green, and the citrus trees that line every sidewalk are crowned with clusters of attractive oranges. By the looks of it, things appear more or less friendly.

That is, except for the toilets. While I had been using toilets the "American" way for quite some time here, it was not until my orientation during the second day that one of the administrators jokingly mentioned the garbage cans that accompany every toilet in Greece. Piecing together the facts, I discovered that you're not actually supposed to flush your used toilet paper with your excrement, lest you desire a brown, wet mess on your hands. Rather, you throw your used paper away. Let's hope swine flu doesn't prosper among feces in bathroom garbage cans.

Enough of my talking; the following demonstrate a few of the sites for which I had enough patience to take pictures.

Me in front of the Greek Parliament

View of our backyard from one of the apartment balconies

A typical Athenian neighborhood

An art deco apartment juxtaposed with the architecture of the Greek Orthodox Church


  1. David. I will read this religiously. I laughed and laughed. Twas marvy

  2. david, i just subscribed to this using google reader, amidst all my fashion, design, and celeb gossip sites. feel special and have fun!

  3. i have it bookmarked to my safari tabs....

    SOOOOOO GOOD! im glad you made it safely....and i laughed out loud when i finished reading your chocolate milk story. mayur can attest to that. (oh, and 2% is the only way to go, in my opinion!)

    have you seen peanut butter yet?

    thank you for including pictures, and i look forward to reading/seeing more!

  4. YESSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Love it!

  5. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!
    Looking forward to the toilet paper adventure when we come to visit.