Monday, June 28, 2010

Athens: touring amidst protests

The Parthenon
It's amazing what a difference a few hours make: we were off the ship and on the metro early enough to have pictures of the Parthenon with no one else in them. A few hours later -- after 10 a.m., say -- the wait was hours, and the place, a madhouse. By then, however, we'd enjoyed a snack -- more baklava and another pastry, called kadaifi on the menu -- and taking in the Temple of Zeus.

There was some sort of protest going on outside the President's residence, which, unfortunately, closed the nearby national gardens, so we skipped ahead on our itinerary and, as luck would have it, happened upon the changing of the guard outside the palace. Our luck continued as we found a covered patio moments before the skies opened, raining down buckets. And just as we were finishing up our fantastic Greek salads, the sun broke through again. (Oh, I tried ouzo for the first time as well -- very similar to sambuca, which I love.)

The Odeon
The Erechtheum

If you're as confused by all buildings as I was, check out the site plan on the Acropolis' Wikipedia page -- I could've used it a bit sooner!

Hadrian's Arch -- the Acropolis in the distance
We decided to catch the metro back to the ship at that point, and it's a good thing we did: the combination of the port authority jamming all the cruise passengers into a single line -- one of the cruise lines was registering hundreds of passengers who were about to begin their cruise, no less -- and a massive failure of the body scanners had us waiting for an hour to board the ship. And the worst part was that no one could tell us anything: Royal Caribbean personnel didn't even appear until half an hour had passed. With everyone pushing and squeezing closer and closer together, no air conditioning, no water, many languages, military dogs barking savagely... Well, honestly, you felt the anxiety approaching riot levels.

However, the worst moment for me was when a Greek soldier near the defunct body scanners pointed at me from behind their barricade, shouting, "Hey! You! Stop!"

The Temple of Zeus
I'd been filming (and photographing) all this, since no one from Royal Caribbean was around (at least, initially), and I figured they wouldn't believe me without some sort of evidence. (Some of the staff don't speak English very well, so it can really help things along if you have something to point at.) As the soldier hopped the barricade and approached me, I had visions of him taking my camera and smashing it, or simply confiscating it. Instead, he stopped beside me, pointed at the camera, and said, "Delete it!", watching and repeating the instruction as I deleted each video and photo in succession, back to a picture of Nancy and Stephen that I'd clearly taken on the docks. Then he simply nodded and walked back to their line. The adrenaline didn't hit me for a few minutes, but when it did, I was shaking for some time.

Tuesday, June 29, 2:30 p.m.: Epilogue

Stephen has an interesting theory about yesterday -- courtesy of his dad's speculations prior to our sailing. The chances of all three scanners failing simultaneously are astronomically small -- Stephen managed to find someone in the industry who claimed they're never interconnected -- so it's likely that at least one of the machines was working correctly, and they simply claimed that all of them were broken.

Why? Well, Greek government employees have been protesting government cuts to their wages (and benefits, possibly -- I'm not up on the details) for some time now, and the fact that the cruise line that was registering people seemed to cater to locals means that we could have been caught up in an attempt by the government employees -- both port authority workers and the army -- to gum up the works just enough to garner public support for negotiations regarding those cuts (even if only to get Greece back to normal from the layman's point of view).

I like the theory. Especially when you consider that all the scanners started working again simultaneously. Oh well, time to catch a few rays. Tomorrow we're in Naples (and possibly Pompeii).

Have a look at my Athens album for more pictures of the Parthenon and the Temple of Zeus:
2010 06 - Athens

Up next: Naples (our last port of call), Sorrento and Capri.

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