Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Blissfully Ignorant Travelers

Catching up on all the news I missed while in Greece, I learned for the first time about the Tuesday's unpleasantness in Athens, of which Jenese and I were blissfully ignorant.  First, I should explain that we did our own walking tour of Athens on Monday and then rented a car on Tuesday and spent the day in Corinth and parts further south.  Originally, we had planned on going to Corinth on Monday and doing the walking tour on Tuesday, but when we had difficulty getting a rental car on Monday morning, we decided to switch the days.

Monday's walking tour began and ended in Syntagma Square, which is directly in front of the parliament building.  Originally, we intended to avoid any embassies just in case there were any protests, but at one point, we inadvertently found ourselves walking down the street that is between the parliament building and embassy row.  The street was lined with riot police buses and vans, covered in steel mesh and sheeting.  Some of them were topped with water canons and had cow-catchers in place of front bumpers.  They looked like something from Road Warrior.  There were also riot police everywhere.  None of them seemed to have a purpose -- they were in perpetual wait mode.  Some of them were holding gas masks, others were holding full bodied plexiglass shields.  We also saw a row of shiny white police helmets all in a line on the sidewalk.

The scene was an eerie one, but being completely ignorant, we just assumed that was a typical day on embassy row.  Either it is a new full-employment plan -- conscripting half the male populace into the forces of the riot police -- or, because of the recent history of frequent protests, they've decided they need to maintain a permanent presence, just waiting for it to go off again.

Now I learn that because Angela Merkel was in town on Tuesday, the same Sytagma Square filled with up to 80,000 protesters.  This website gives the timeline of events, with photos.  (Here's more photos from the Wall Street Journal.) That is what took place while Jenese and I were driving through fields of orange trees in the peaceful Greek countryside south of Corinth.

At 4:30 AM on Wednesday, just hours after those 80,000 protesters went home, Jenese and I were back in Syntagma Square, waiting for the bus that would take us to the airport.  Again, we were clueless as to what had taken place there the previous day.  Jenese commented on the fact that a city crew was working on the sidewalk with a high pressure water truck.  Maybe that was the final touch of the clean-up.

So although we missed our connecting flight in Paris, I think our timing on this trip was pretty good. 

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