Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

Walking in Athens

timessquare2001_01.jpgA long time ago, in a country far, far away, I used to think that going to the City (San Francisco) was a big pain in the a$$ because of parking, crowds and the general loosening of good manners. Dozens of cities in international countries worldwide have forced me to conclude that I was naive back then.

New York’s Manhattan is one of those maddening cities where taxis whoosh and weave like schools of fish, doors are opened and slammed on your face, and pedestrians hesitate for the predictable speeder to pass, then make a mad dash on the first hint of green.

If you’ve ever walked in Times Square, you know it’s worse. Flashing billboards, blaring music, millions of colors, a thousand voices with a thousand different accents, spontaneous rappers, hip hop dancers, street vendors, commuters exiting the subway and racks of designer samples coming from all directions — it’s sensory overload. It’s just a matter of time before a straggler wanders into the street. Do they get hit? Rarely. Usually, just some ill words, muttered apologies, flipping of birds and an occasional fist slammed on the hood of a car. New Yorkers, after all, are not shy about expressing themselves.

Worse than New York is Athens. I’ve been cursed at for using the defined lines of a crosswalk, hit by motorcycles twice while walking on the sidewalk — the driver yelling at me for doing so, then breaking my brand new Nokia — and rolled off a car hood after being hit by a taxi when I had a green light, which (of course) was also my fault. Ironically, it’s sometimes easier to walk in the street when parked cars, baby strollers, old ladies, dog poo and nomadic vendors make it impossible to use the sidewalk.

At the other end of the spectrum is Stockholm, where pedestrians actually DO have the right of way, whether the light is green or red. As proof, my friend Charles waited until the light turned red, saw a van barreling down the street and intentionally stepped in front of it while I cursed and closed my eyes. Fully prepared to dial emergency services, the van screeched to a stop, the driver was calm and smiling, and Charles was alive and laughing. By Athenian standards, it was a miracle.

When I visit San Francisco, I now think how relaxing it is. It makes one rethink the Missing Persons song “Nobody Walks in L.A.”

* This entry was inspired by, “The near death of an iPodrestrian” at Mel’s Diner.

In the News

«Περπατάμε σε μια πόλη-ναρκοπέδιο»” (Walking/cycling in an urban landfill/minefield) — Ta Nea

Related posts

The first time I drove in Athens
Taking personal responsibility
Tickets and fines in Greece

Photo courtesy of Brian Page from www.gladlylearn.com

3 Comments »

  melusina wrote @ April 26th, 2007 at 22:59

Yea, I complain about Thessaloniki but it is downright tame compared to Athens. I hated walking in Athens because of the lack of sidewalks, or sidewalks full of misc. crap (ie. cars, trash).

Still, I’d much rather walk around both cities than drive. Ugh. The few times I was in a car (ie. cab) in Athens I think I would rather have died.

  Kat wrote @ April 30th, 2007 at 19:38

Yeah, taxis are another story, aren’t they? I have a few contacts who are taxi drivers that I hire each time I need one because they have maps and use them, don’t cheat me and drop me in the right place. It’s almost relaxing.

Before I found them, the BO, “being lost” and “not having any change” just made me more stressed after finding a driver to pick me up after 30 minutes. And what about that? Taxi drivers who are ‘elefthero’ but not wanting to take your fare because it’s not convenient or enough money for them. OK, I’ll stop now. ;)

  EllasDevil wrote @ May 1st, 2007 at 00:51

The whole “I don’t have change” line usually is followed by “well, then I can’t pay you.”

Change is found a short time later, but I can symphathize with both of you. I’ve had my stress/temper tried beyond belief in a taxi. This is why I prefer to drive myself, but the actions of taxi drivers still manage to raise my stress/temper levels when driving in Athens.

I’m all in favor of shooting them, but apparently this idea doesn’t sit well in a democracy.

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