Safe travels in Athens (Greece)?
May 12, 2011 5:00 AM   Subscribe

Mom is in Istanbul now, flying to Athens on Saturday for 5 days. She's heard about civil unrest/protests in Athens recently. The news reports I've found (which aren't many) describe a 24-hour general strike yesterday, with shutdown of public transportation, flights, and other services. She knows to steer clear of any protests, don't talk politics, etc, but what else should she know?

Are you in Athens now? What's it like? Are the protests (and impacts to services) still going on? Will she have trouble flying in/out or getting around while she's there? Are there particular areas she should avoid?

Mom is in her 60s, American. She's not a particularly experienced international traveler, but the woman she is traveling with is. She is aware that any travel can be dangerous (and so can staying at home, for that matter) and she knows all the general travel safety recommendations, so she's looking for more specific information about this particular situation.

I believe she'll be staying near the Acropolis metro station.
posted by jshort to Travel & Transportation around Athens, Greece (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
This question has been asked before - though obviously about a year ago.

In summary, there are strikes in Greece a lot. I was there during some of them last year, and it really doesn't effect things too much - if the taxis strike, you take the metro; if public transportation strikes, you take a taxi or walk. The city itself is pretty walkable, so assuming the airport is open the day she comes and either the public transportation or the taxis aren't striking and she can get downtown, she should be fine.

I was also right by the Acropolis metro station (which is also pretty close by to parliament) - the first three days in the city we just walked in the surrounding area because a lot of the major sights (parliament, temple of zeus, acropolis, acropolis museum, forum) are all less than a mile away.
posted by CharlieSue at 5:58 AM on May 12, 2011


Thanks for the response. Yes, I came across that question when I did my pre-post search but, as you said, it was about the protests a year ago and I was hoping for some real-time information about the current situation (e.g. are flights getting in/out OK, will she be able to get to her hotel, etc).

Glad to hear you were still able to enjoy the major sites when you were there during a similar situation. Hopefully she will have a similar experience.
posted by jshort at 6:21 AM on May 12, 2011


I just flew into Athens last night from Cyprus last night. I was scheduled for a flight around 4:30 pm but they canceled that and put me on the 8:30 pm flight. When I got here around 10:30 pm, the public transport system was still on strike, till midnight.

Today, everything is running just fine, and there is no chaos or disturbances. Everything is normal.

The strikes are announced ahead of time, and I don't they are going to strike again soon. Of course, she should keep her eyes and ears open for any news but life does not stop because of a transportation strike.
posted by hariya at 6:33 AM on May 12, 2011


hariya - thank you! Glad everything is back to normal. If things change, would you mind posting an update or emailing me (email is in profile)? Thanks again!
posted by jshort at 6:54 AM on May 12, 2011


Sure. If I hear anything before I leave on Sunday, I will let you know.
posted by hariya at 7:12 AM on May 12, 2011


I live here (in Athens), and as far as safety is concerned, it's definitely not as though it's a dangerous climate for a typical visitor. There isn't any kind of general anti-American antipathy in terms of being some kind of target or anything. I live downtown (though tucked away in my own little oasis neighborhood), and I was all around the general area of usual activity today doing errands, and forgot to be even the tiniest vigilant for looking out for any kind of mob formation or any weirdness (juggling a dog, a cellphone, a backpack, an umbrella, packages, and a late gas bill).

Basically if you see a a pile of people with banners and bullhorns, swerve. If you see a bunch of young guys in hoodies gathering up, if you see a bunch of cops in riot gear (or gathered around riot vans/buses), just go in a different direction. Protests are very, very common here, and usually without any significant violence. Even when things get to full-fledged "riot" level, they aren't targeting regular people at all, and it's amazingly easy to avoid – all life goes on as usual just a few blocks away. I've been in Greece for a long time, and I've never been caught in any kind of mob situation, or even felt unsafe. (I'm American, btw)

Also, perfectly safe to talk politics! :)

(Exercise standard due diligence for any large urban city, of course)
posted by taz at 8:16 AM on May 12, 2011


Let me put it this way: I used to live in New Orleans (which I love!!!), and I'd be way more scared there.
posted by taz at 8:18 AM on May 12, 2011


taz - thank you so much for the real-time feedback! It's so hard to tell from news reports what it's really like. I've traveled internationally quite a bit (unfortunately not to Greece, though) and several times I've had family contact me very concerned about a situation that turned out to be mostly media-hype. Glad to hear she should be OK as long as she exercises normal big-city caution.
posted by jshort at 8:23 AM on May 12, 2011


No problem! Also, the Acropolis Metro Station is about 10 minutes away from my house, on foot. The whole Acropolis/Plaka/Monasteraki/etc. area is pretty much where I head when I'm going out of my neighborhood for anything, and part of where I was today. I have to warn you that I did notice an awful lot of Australians milling around today... so tell your mom to be safe out there! ;)

Don't hurt me, Aussies! They were very, very cute!
posted by taz at 8:32 AM on May 12, 2011


I will say one thing; if one were caught in some kind of flash disturbance, the best place to duck into would be a regular merchant shop... like, one might be tempted to go into a McDonalds (familar!), or a bank (secure!), but those are exactly the sort of places that the anarchists hate – multinationals and banking! Better to duck into any kind of local business/shop/restaurant. Again, I've been here for ages, and never had to do this at all, but that's what I'd do.
posted by taz at 8:47 AM on May 12, 2011


Thanks for the tip! I/she wouldn't have thought of that.

Mom loves Aussies! It's one of the few other countries she's visited.
posted by jshort at 8:58 AM on May 12, 2011


I wandered through Syria and Egypt recently and just didn't take out my camera and if I saw a protest I kept my distance and nobody even noticed me and I stand out like a sore thumb.
posted by tarvuz at 11:28 AM on May 12, 2011


I visit family in Greece regularly and we have property in Exarchia which is the anarchist neighborhood in Athens that the cops largely avoid. Tourists though, do go through there and I've never seen anyone hassled because they were foreigners, or for any other reason for that matter. The National Archaeological Museum in Athens is on the edge of Exarchia and if it interests her, she should certainly go. The strikes can be annoying and loud and that's it. On the rare occasions where there is political violence it is almost always targeted at either the police or the banks.
posted by BigSky at 12:55 PM on May 12, 2011


I wanted to pop in to say that Greece is not in the same situation as Syria, Egypt, etc.; I just wanted to mention this, because I do get concerned calls from relatives who imagine that something like that might happen here and a lot of people don't really understand the situation.

Greece has a democratically elected government, not a dictatorship or puppet government, no military strongmen to stage a coup. We often have crappy people in government, but it's because they were voted in, just like anywhere. Major protests and strikes right now are about austerity measures due to our economy crashing hard (a situation we share with Ireland and Portugal). There are also anarchist actions, on a sliding scale from petty to actual terrorism – something you'll find in many or most European countries. Sometimes normal protests will morph into something major, usually because of the anarchists. Sometimes a particular incident will set off rioting (like the police shooting of a teenager – the same sort of thing that sparks rioting in the U.S. and elsewhere).

Greece has a (relatively small) Muslim population, but Greece is a majority Christian country (Greek Orthhodox), and there are no radical sects fighting for political power or anything like that. Basically, like Italy is Catholic, Greece is Greek Orthodox. There's no oppression of women, everyone is educated, there are no tribes or sects or religious fundamentalists waging holy wars. It's just a small Mediterranean country with lovely ruins, gorgeous islands and great weather, very bad at handling money. It is a lot more Eastern than other European countries because of the Ottoman rule, and because it has historically been a cultural crossroads, so some spots are very like Turkey, and some spots are very Venetian, etc.

But it's not a boilerplate of unrest and/or oppression. The army is not a looming presence (the army is everyone's sons; nearly every male serves in the Greek army for a couple of years; there is absolutely no chance of anyone using the army against the populace). The biggest crisis here is the economy, and a history of corruption in politics, which is something we share with many other countries.

You don't need to worry about standing out here... there's no anti-Western feeling, because Greece is Western. Nobody dislikes tourists; there's no reason not to use your camera or look at your map or ask directions.
posted by taz at 1:02 PM on May 12, 2011


Our current Prime Minister was born in the U.S., by the way: "He was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where his father, Andreas Papandreou, held a university post. His mother is American-born Margaret Papandreou, née Chant. He was educated at schools in Toronto, at Amherst College in Massachusetts, Stockholm University, the London School of Economics and Harvard University."

If you heard him speak English, you'd never know he's not American. Actually, he probably is American, unless he had to give up dual citizenship to hold office.
posted by taz at 1:21 PM on May 12, 2011


If she ends up getting caught in some deep shit, and there's tear gas, she can pee into a handkerchief or something and put it over her face to avoid the worst of it. Limited effect sometimes, but better than nothing.
posted by Heretical at 8:27 PM on May 12, 2011


I just spoke with my Mom who is in Athens. In her opinion, it's a little volatile right now. There have been a couple of ugly news stories the last couple of days, the general strike, criticism from the EU, and a few attacks on immigrants in a working class neighborhood. Those stories affect and display the mood of the locals but they won't have any impact on tourists. However on Wednesday, video was taken of a protester, Yannis Kafkas, being beaten by anti-riot police and later hospitalized with "near fatal head injuries". If he dies, Athens could see some bad rioting. I don't want to sound like it's guaranteed to go off in the event of his death; it isn't. But I would advise your mother to keep an eye on this story. Hopefully his condition will improve and stabilize within the next day or two.
posted by BigSky at 3:06 AM on May 13, 2011


BigSky - Thanks for the update. Yeah, I read about the protester... I also saw the officers involved were suspended. Hope he recovers, and not just because of the potential for rioting. But I've seen the impact of similar incidences the US, and I hope Mom doesn't have to experience it.
posted by jshort at 7:28 AM on May 13, 2011


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