The Not So Pleasant Side of Athens

Words By Juber Ahmed
Travel Writer
Muslims Go Travel

Recently I came across a twitter post which talked about there being too many representations of destinations which are glossy and idyllic. I couldn’t agree more. It so happened that I read this whilst I was two days into my trip in Athens.

Travelling is not just about the perfect picture and tantalising blog posts. If we’re actually curious and want to learn about a new destination, I believe the fair way is to present a place holistically. Anyone that knows me, knows that I usually always have a positive outlook when writing my articles. But it was this tweet made me stop, reflect and plan how I’d adapt and change the way I wrote. So here goes.

What I’m about to mention is solely to inform. In no way am I attempting to damage or tarnish the reputation or significance of Athens as a destination. I just feel responsible in informing prospective visitors on some of the unpleasant stuff I encountered, so that they can make informed decisions. Maybe someone may read this and decide to do something about what I observed. So, whatever the result, I write my unpleasant observations and experiences to help others.

From my entire time and experience there, you’ll be glad to learn that there were only two unpleasant factors which put me off.

Firstly, upon my arrival to our hotel – which was located in the Metaxourgeio neighbourhood – I noticed men scattered around lying on the edge of closed shop doors. This did not bother me as its quite common in some parts of the world for people to simply sit around in random places on hot days.

However, what I saw next really shocked me.

By the way, its worth noting that this is something I’ve never witnessed in person before and have only come across what I saw in the movies.

So, as my wife and I kept walking around, we noticed that these men were heating crack cocaine in Tulipano glass bottles. It was a sight of fright and one that caused us to become extremely anxious and nervous. However, we soon remembered about the effects of smoking crack cocaine and how if anyone is in serious danger, it’s those who were inhaling this stuff and not us.

As we walked past these men, we could hear the crackling sounds of the solid cocaine blocks, which by the way, is the reason why it’s called crack cocaine. Most of the men we walked past looked extremely high and were sat on the floor with one leg over the other. They did not seem to give us any attention at all. After doing some research at that point, we learned that smoking crack allows the drug to reach the brain faster and in turn brings an immediate and intense (very short-lived though) high. This usually lasts about 15 minutes and is highly addictive.

This was a truly sad sight to see. Observing all this obviously made me question many things. Why is this so open? Is this situation not being policed enough? Is the economy really bad in this part of Athens? Is anyone doing anything to help these people? It was a sight we were not ready to witness, considering that The Acropolis – one of the most visited sites in the world – was just over a mile away!

The second thing we experienced is something that is common in many parts of the world. However, after having travelled extensively around the world, it was the first time we experienced this.

We all know about pick-pockets. The more densely populated a town/city/area, the higher the chances of being pick pocketed.

This can especially be the case when a place is known to be a tourist hot spot. Rules around not becoming a target are quite simple; keep your belongings safe and wear your bag at the front. Keeping that in mind, I have to say that this next experience could have easily been avoided if we were wearing our bags on our fronts.

Before you think it, no, we were fortunately not victims of this. However, we did come very close. On two occasions, someone attempted to take something out of my wife’s backpack.

The first time was when we used the metro. We were waiting for metro and my wife noticed a man who kept looking in our direction incessantly. We understand that people stare, however, this was different. We almost felt as though we were targets. The metro arrived and the man was at a distance from us. When the doors opened, he hurriedly made his way to the door we entered through despite having doors available in front of him.

We decided to stand to allow others to sit and also because we were not far from our intended stop. This man slowly started making his way towards our direction in a very discreet yet noticeable manner. He first came and stood by my wife’s side and then moved and stood opposite us.

The uneasiness kept getting worse and therefore we decided to disembark on the next stop, as long as this man was not getting off. The doors opened and we saw no sign of him leaving so we rushed out of the metro. My wife noticed the man move directly behind her just before disembarking. As we began to walk out of the metro, a woman who was also getting off informed us that my wife’s bag was unzipped. My wife removed her bag and indeed did find it unzipped. We turned around and looked back in the metro before it departed and noticed the man staring at our direction, as if he knew why we were staring at him.  We checked the back pack and thankfully nothing was missing.

The second time we experienced this was when we were strolling around the national gardens of Athens. Located in Syntagma Square, this is one of the very busy spots in Athens and is a hotspot for pick pockets. So, it would of course have been sensible for us to have kept our backpacks on our fronts.

We made our way into the park and at one point as we were walking through a narrow pathway, we noticed a couple behind us. My wife and I moved to a side in order to allow the couple to go ahead of us, as we felt they were very close to us in proximity.

As we moved to the side, they decided to stay behind. We then decided to stop at the end of the pathway to take some photos and noticed that the couple also stopped. Not much attention was given and we continued walking. So did they!

Eventually, my wife felt as though someone was touching her back. As she turned frantically, she noticed the women was directly behind her. The woman turned in a dash and began touching the leaves of a tree. Now I know what you’re thinking. Seems a bit strange right. Well it was!

My wife immediately took her back pack off and as soon as she done that, we noticed the couple speed off. We were not surprised to see that the bag was unzipped.

If you’ve come to this part in this article, kudos! Reading this may have put you off, but it’s important to remember that despite these unpleasant incidents, the majority of our trip was phenomenal. The food, the people, the amazing sites, the shopping and so much more is what defines this majestic and historic city of Athens.

In no way have I narrated these incidents to simply entertain you. They have a point. Be conscious and careful where you stay. Be careful when going out alone at night. And most importantly learn from our mistakes and keep your backpack in front of you at all times. Especially if it contains valuables. Luckily my wife’s backpack did not contain any valuables or anything of interest to these thieves.

Whilst Athens is an amazing city, it sadly (like many other places) has its downfalls. However, if you can avoid these, I promise you’ll have a memorable experience.


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