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Josh Burstein

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Notes From A Novice Backpacker In Greece

Posted: 10/19/11 05:10 PM ET

I did not take an impromptu trip to Greece to assume the role of embedded journalist. I just wanted to take my first real vacation and climb Mt. Olympus to high-five Zeus. So take this rant with a grain of salt, it's coming from a typical American tourist, uneducated on the situation, but nosy enough to find himself in harm's way.

Yesterday I arrived in Athens for a mandatory day of tourism. I befriended some traveling Aussies to join the adventure. We committed typical gap year antics, and the whole city operated business-as-usual. We bought worry beads and evil eyes and all the other requisite junk, but the veneer seemed to unravel as the day went on.

I could overlook monstrous piles of garbage as it barely rivaled a snowy week in NYC. I could smirk as I casually joined a protest march as it coincided with my route from the Parthenon to the Plaka district. There was chatter about the 48-hour strike, we weren't oblivious, just unaware of the gravity of the pending situation.

This morning, everything, everything was closed. Everyone in the hostel was grounded without taxis, ferries, buses, planes. I rented a car the night prior to drive to the Temple of Poseidon at sunset -- that hunk of metal that passed for a Mercedes is the single luckiest asset I could have obtained.

I offered my Aussie mates a ride to Delphi, but they were worried about returning transportation and chose to stay, so I journeyed on solo, and what ensued played out like a bad Jason Bourne chase sequence.

I tried to leave the city the way I came and quickly hit a barricade, so I thrust myself into the fray. The cops were taking people out of their cars and questioning them. Within moments I would be blocked in, so I reversed and hit the side streets barely wide enough for a moped and a pedestrian. Weaving through with no sense of direction other than away, I fled the city.

It is my impression that the Athenian Police are lawless ruffians, no longer paid enough to serve and protect. It would take a visible bullet wound to warrant a helping hand here. Everyone is on strike. Everyone is hurting, financially, emotionally and physically. The police are no exception and show it.

I had to get out now, or I wouldn't. And then I hit a main road -- a main road filled wall to wall with protesters marching to Parliament. I was trapped in the sea of people, people banging on my hood like they were getting ready for kickoff. I was losing a 70,000 person game of red rover but able to slowly inch my way out by driving on the edge of the sidewalk. For the better part of two hours, I was in one-way street limbo, hitting one police barricade after another, subsequently hopping a curb and whipping into the nearest alley.  

I have since cleared the city and arrived in Delphi, relying on my rudimentary understanding of the Greek alphabet and LA driving tactics. I'm watching live footage of civilians returning tear gas canisters to their senders from the avenue where I just stood and the reality of the moment is setting in. 

This crisis has officially hit all sectors and social classes -- and now the city is feeling it on a united front, fighting against itself, fighting against outrageous taxes that many are proud to say that they have dodged.

The garbage has piled up for weeks. They turned away tourists from the Acropolis. The airport closed for a full day last week. These are real flashmobs! There was a steady beat building to a boiling point among the public sector and now every working class Greek is marching to the same drummer. They are well-rehearsed, tired, impatient and hungry. 

I commend these protesters for taking action, as only the front lines appear to act aggressive. I suppose whenever automatic rifles are waved around by authoritative figures, things get a little tense. I feel for all the players involved, but ultimately they are cutting off their noses to spite their face. Athens is officially closed for business, defiantly proud of it and my fear is that the world will not care enough to help with an eventual grand reopening.

Again, I'm no expert in policy, I'm just a guy that got out of dodge right before the fun really started. I think about the friends I quickly made at that cheap hostel and wonder what they're doing with their day. I'm optimistic that they all will be okay; this is a domestic dispute after all. It's far from civil, though, so most assuredly auditing a protest or two is no longer a novelty.

 

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