A 2002 plan to keep 500,000 commuters cool on the Athens-Piraeus Electric Railway (ISAP) is still not ready seven years later, with only 18 of 43 trains to be air conditioned by June. Temperatures in ISAP carriages rise significantly in summer with exposure to direct sunlight for most of the journey.
It is also likely that trains will be more crowded than usual, with figures showing commuters using the railway 120 million times in 2006, which is an increase of 3 million when compared to 2005.
When my brother came to stay with me during the Athens Olympics 2004, I felt it was my job to warn him about various ills of the city in case he had illusions of fresh air, green places, professional taxi drivers leaving him in the right location at the actual price, friendly shop owners, buses/trolleys/trains running on time and air conditioned comfort.
Overnight, Athens was transformed into an unrecognizable city of smiling English-speaking hospitality, brightly colored bilingual signs, renovated squares and cafes, schedules running on time, and air conditioned buses and trains. He thought I was a liar! OK, the taxi drivers and shop owners were 99.99 percent the same and Greeks yelled anti-American obscenities at us, but still.
Of course I believed that trains and trolleys hadn’t even the possibility for air conditioning because never did a cool breeze blow in all of my years here, thus causing us to open windows. It became clear to me that the Greece cared more about media than its own inhabitants. In fact, I’m almost sure that most of the infrastructure installed during the Olympics would have never happened if the world wasn’t watching.
On our way to the Closing Ceremonies, my brother finally got a taste of real life. With the roads shut down to buses and taxis thanks to a crazy protester attacking the Brazilian frontrunner during the marathon, nearly everyone was forced to use the electric railway.
We were stacked like sweating sardines, my feet not touching the ground and my brother having a flashback to his ride on the Tokyo metro where stewards are hired specifically to stuff people into the train. But the biggest difference between Japan and Greece was air conditioning.
* Article last updated March 23, 2009