Greece sits on the edge of Europe and attracts many immigrants from the east. Some legal, but only ‘some’. Not all the immigrants that pass through Greece stay in Greece though, the country is used as a gateway for the rest of Europe. I read in the news recently that Greece has asked the EU for help with its illegal immigration problem as it feels it shares an uneven burden due to its geographical location.
Walking down the streets of Athens the level of immigration becomes patently clear, some streets are only populated by Pakistanis and, I assume, Indians. It was rather surprising at times to walk from an ancient Greek icon to a nearby street selling eastern spices, fabrics and, that modern Asian stereotype; mobile phones and cheap and fake consumer electronics.
Athens was very different from my expectations and it took a little while for me to overwrite what I imagined to city to be like; smaller, more western and with a clear historic center and replace those ideas with the reality; a huge sprawling beast of a city with arresting buildings and grand monuments nestled between mundane blocks of modern but low value retail structures where most of the proprietors wears spill out onto the street. This is the real Athens, you will need a good map and you won’t regret taking a compass either.
It’s amazing how many ancient ruins Greece has, and they’re entirely complacent about it… We’ve seen beautiful, gently deteriorating ruins overshadowed besides a monolithic churning cement factory, many of them are simply left to disintegrate and we even saw one buried underneath a small city supermarket. As you walk up towards the entrance to the shop there is a filthy perspex window in the floor and as you strain to see past the mould on the underside of the screen you can see an alarmingly impressive structure underneath. I have no idea why this is the case.
They take honey very seriously in Greece and the capital was full of small shops selling quality organic honeys, comb honey, soaps and candles and all the other products that can be made from bee labour. In one shop I picked up a really creamy looking set honey, just curious to take a closer look at the colour and consistency when one of the, subtly persuasive, female attendants told me how delicious and nutritious it was; ‘full of vitamins and minerals’. I was sold. It looked incredible, thick, heavy and with a not quite uniform consistency. At the bottom I noticed a reassuring sediment suggesting that it was cold filtered, probably through a simple fine sieve, which helps to retain the flavour and nutrients. It was probably the best honey I’ve ever had. We had a 1kg jar of cheap mass-produced honey at the same time, so we could do a side by side comparison. As the Greeks say it was like sampling day next to night. The old honey became very neglected and after some time a rule was devised that at every ‘sitting’ of honey Ellie and I both had to eat some of the older stuff. Once you have good honey it’s hard to go back.
Another great food that’s ubiquitous in Greece is grape vinegar, it’s so lively compared to what I’ve tried to home – mix it with some olive oil and it’s ready to be mopped up with some crusty bread, the perfect cheap snack for cyclists.
We really enjoyed Greece, it was more developed than I expected but they’ve managed to preserve most of the coast. The Greeks are a relaxed people (unless they’re behind the wheel of a car!) and in the evenings many of the older people head down to the coast and bob around in the water for hours until dark. The food is great, the sun shines all day and camping is easy. Just the island of Kos is left before we head into Turkey and Asia.