Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Athens 2016: Syntagma Square (Σύνταγμα)

On first glance, Syntagma Square may look like an ordinary busy square that's a good place to get photographed in the centre of Athens, just as any large imposing square is in any other European capital city. Sometimes, it feels like the heart of Athens; but there are also times when can feel like Athens' arse. Whatever the case, a visit to Syntagma Square is a must, every time I go to Athens, just to get a feel for the city at that moment when I was visiting.

If you get to Syntagma Square by metro, you may not realise that you are about to exit utopia. The metro (still) looks like it was built last month and opened last week. That's Greece, land of contrast, country of extremes. Walk up the stairs to the viewing gallery where you might catch an exhibition or trade fair. Go and see the ancient graves and water pipes that were sliced through when the metro station was being built. Take in a bird's eye view of the people on the platform as they are going in and out of the trains. There's something here that will please everyone.

Take the escalator to get to the square itself above ground level, where you will see the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, standing next to the mighty tall body-fantastic Evzones dressed up in skirts and stockings. If you thought your wife spent too long getting dressed, think about these guys: they need at least half an hour just to get the uniform on, never mind make-up, and they can't even put it on all by themselves.

Where is that melodic music coming from? It's as if it was being played to welcome you. And those delicious aromas? Surely not from the McDonalds across the road. Walk down to the square to find out, but don't step on the grass. That's the ear-tagged stray dogs' turf. Their lives have been greatly enriched - not terminated - by the kindness of strangers. They are just hanging around, like the man (or two) who you will see resting on one of the benches. Don't spend too long staring at him - it's impolite. You  know he's homeless, but you don't know how or why he ended up like this.

Instead, try to soak up the atmosphere of what is happening in the square. If you are lucky, you will see a protest march passing through the square. What do those placards say? Perhaps it's all Greek to you. What's that stuff being sold at the various stalls? Don't confuse it with the paper paraphernalia of the various politicky grass roots movements which don't actually sell you any stuff - instead, they sell you ideas. Who are all these people on the square? Can you tell the tourists from the locals? And where are those migrants that everyone talks about in the news, whenever Greece is mentioned? Perhaps you can't tell them apart from the rest. Maybe they too are sunning themselves among the crowds; like you, they are soaking up the atmosphere, as they wait for the day they will bid farewell to Greece who gave them their first start of a new life in Europe.

Bonus photo:
Travelling on public transportation in Athens is very cheap - just €9 for five days on buses, trolleys, trams and metro trains, or €1.40 per single-ride ticket with a 90-minute duration. You only pay if you have a conscience - it is very very rare to have your ticket checked by an inspector, since no one wants the job, since an anarchist group began targeting ticket inspectors' home addresses.

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