Friday, August 15, 2014

Athens center of western civilization

If anyone wants to see why our western civilization might be in decline, one does not need to look at the US and its political disorder, its social tensions and or its moral decay. No, instead go to the city of Athens, populated by humans for more than 3 thousand years and the center of democracy for 2,500 of it.

(Salaried job for hanging around on the corner watching tourists)

Today, it is the Greek center of political strife, which is clearly visible on almost every major street corner. Greek delta police forces in full riot gear are ensuring "peace and quiet" to the tourist industry. Without those millions of tourists we see all around us Greece would be in a worse economic shape.

Saw hundreds of them everywhere in the city

If those tourist dollars did not flow in, not even this show of police force would be able to contain a probable boil of the masses most likely aiming for its failed corrupt leaders. And yes the average Greek has clearly in the public forum found the people who brought them into this pickle: the politicians and the money grabbers that put them there. Democracy at work ??

(Marching back from Parliament Guard duty)
(Below: fondling supervisor finding hankie to wipe guard)

Prices indicate how bad Greece is in need of currency inflow. Waiters when asked, open up to discuss the daily woes of living under the present government, looking forward to the next elections, and then shrugging that it most likely will not make a difference after all, because after all, all politicians are the same.

(Owner never presented us a bill)

In every restaurant signs welcome you: "stating that if no invoice is presented to you after the consumption, you do not have to pay". Another way for the government to collect taxes.

The slogan blare machine
How long still, I need to get my children

Demonstrations chanting "prefab" slogans, blared from a car fitted with loudspeakers, dutifully repeated by the following crowds, are lawful signs of barely contained human tension that simmers daily in the otherwise "happy" city.

Exiled Cuban at work

We arrive in the late evening in Piraeus after ferrying back about 12 hours from the furthest island visited. George, the husband of the lady who had rented us, through Homeaway, the apartment - two streets away from the Acropolis, had waited already an hour for our arrival and so at almost 10.30 we drive into a street with "no parking" signs all around. George wants to park anyway to help us into our place for the week, but then curses and lets us out quickly as he spots three policemen hard at work.

(Our Apartment)

Here, we witness a completely new and innovative way of "writing" parking tickets: one officer bent on his knees with a screwdriver and another standing besides him with a plastic bag to collect both license plates. The third officer takes all car particulars down on a form with collection time and street location. The driver is now allowed a "license plate free" ride to the station, where against an appropriate price, which includes the violation fee among other charges, he can regain his license plates.

(Acropolis dinner night view)

We chuckled, seated around the corner from there, facing up at the Partenon throughout our late evening meal, as we discuss this novelty in parking fine collection systems.

Athens has a wonderful metro system. A 14€ week card would bring us the following days, riding the system one or two stops each day, to 8 different neighborhoods, as we visited the sights and smells of Athens.

(Metro on Sundays)

I do not think many people pay for the privilege of using the metro system, despite posted warnings, that violations, when found, would result in an immediate cash penalty of 60 times the ticket price. There are no gates to the trains. Just ticket machines in the hallways and validation posts that should be used. We hardly ever saw anybody validating tickets before proceeding to the trains, let alone buying tickets.

(Can you see the validation posts downstairs?)

George chuckled at that story, when he collected us at the end of the week to bring us to the airport, indicating that people considered, that they have suffered enough in recent years under the yoke of changes forced upon them. He told us, that it is the intent of the government to place gates at some date in the future, but that it might not be the right time to impose another "hardship" on the people.

(He does not pay real estate taxes - I hope)

He then told us that August 1 was the real estate tax collection date and that he and his wife had to pay a 30% increase in real estate taxes over last year. It seemed, that the need to pay the EU back brings all kind of recent changes in tax laws.

He lamented, that prices in real estate were down about 50 percent from a few years ago and the government promises to adjust assessment tax rates to fair housing market pricing in 2017. This year however, they still assess pre-recession housing price levels while upping their rates, though tiered by income level classes. George complained that he, a construction engineer and his wife an architect, were both impacted by the strong decline in the construction industry. Nevertheless they were considered upper tier income people and thus the 30% tax increase over real estate they owned which they could not even sell without taking a 50% loss.

(Tax producing mountain slopes)

George expected that many Greek tax paying citizens were going to refuse the payment and offering the tax collector the real estate instead. For a few years now non-producing homesteads, often inherited from family, somewhere on a mountain slope were assessed too, something that never happened before.

Those girls are worth every penny

(These girls are worth every penny)

All this to let all of you complainers about your government know, that you, my readers have a good life under your respective yokes.

Next week some vacation stories about Athens and why we never climbed the 500 foot limestone rock across from us, to wander among the ancient ruins.





Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Other Islands

One of many matchmakers
Fresh catch displayed on board

Our matchmaker, the ferry brings us to a next possible intended. As you all may know, in the past centuries marriage through matchmaking was most common

Eating deep fried crunchy ansjovis


And the only way to the heart of a potential betrothed was frequent visits to her parlor and later possible attendances at dances and or theater visits, during which one was allowed to escort the lady there and be publically seen and of course "talked" about.

Milos a possible loved one?

Well the hundreds of islands, that the republic of Greece has to offer suitors can in many ways be seen as a replication of the matchmaking process of olden days.

We, the suitors, do not know what we will find when our matchmaker, the ferry, brings us to the front door and each following day we are allowed to see more and more of her beauty, character and temperament.

City of Plaka, Milos - another beauty

Will we return and maybe even become so enamored, that we propose to stay forever and embrace her charms till death us part?

Tourists baiting locals with ice
Local got the catch of the day
For you who want to see more of us

We are told that the islands have annually 20 million suitors and that their different charms embrace every year new faces like Sandee's and mine although through the centuries their expectations of lasting love relationships may have withered.

Catacombs of Milos shelter for early Christians
Klima a town only to be reached by boat

We sought to define our assessment by visiting two more islands after Sifnos, the islands of Milos and Folegandros. Both so different that comparing them might be an insult to each of them.

World War II bomb shelters now art expo space

Milos has each year half a million suitors, whereas, the larger and less endowed with natural beauty,

Expo talks about World War II experiences

Folegandros gets less than 200,000 visitors. Compare that with the favorite "ladies" among the Greece islands like Santorini or Mykonos visited by a million plus suitors each year.

Waterside village's Loo with a view

Comparing the three islands on their charms was not easy, maybe because at our age the ardor in our pursuit of their charms has been tempered by too many prior experiences. (Does that make us Cads?)

Right across from my coffee chair

Our favorite became the by nature less endowed Folegandros, who in the end bewitched us with a laid back atmosphere showing us every day a different side of her charming company during warm cozy evenings, providing original food and pleasant company, almost fooling us into believing we were the only foreign suitors among the many mingling in the plazas and courtyards of enchanting Chora - her small intimate capital.

Horiatiki salad can't get enough of the real tomato taste

Breakfasts on our private terrace, wine at our "reserved" spot in down town as if we were natives to the island. It all gave us the most welcome feeling.

Folegandros Breakfast everyday the same
Church of Panagia (virgin) re?-built in 1687 seen from our balcony
Our runner up was Milos, because of a seaside lodging with our own roof side private terrace for lazy evenings,

where we consumed "horiatiki" salads, the famous very tasty Greek salad consisting of tomato, cucumber, green peppers and onion some olives and sometimes as a variation on this famous staple some added capers all flavored by olive oil, salt and pepper.

We also rented a car on Milos to see the outlying villages, beaches and farms. And to top all of that off, a full day sailing trip on a catamaran around the island laid bare her physical charms in such a way, that betrothing her seemed unnecessary. Although Milos was charming and had a wild beauty to share with us, we felt still just visitors, not adopted natives, a status that Folegandros offered us.

After ten days at three islands, a twelve hour trip back on the "matchmaker" brought us to the last beauty to be enthralled by: Athens, a 4 million citizen city housing 40% of all Greeks. Although we would only visit the inner city, 4,000 years of human stories are enfolded to those who seek this grand old lady's charms.