While I am still discovering this multi-faced country called Greece, one thing never fails to amaze me. The Athenian pavements. Believe me, sometimes there is an actual little road for pedestrians dragging along the (much broader) road for cars. But somehow pedestrians in Greece are not valued quite as highly as their vehicles. And, as much as driving in Athens can be a problem, walking in Athens is more, much more, way more problematic. And exciting in its own little masochist way…
Here is just a small list of items a hapless walker may encounter while strolling along a typical Athenian pavement:
– Trees. Athenian trees are carefully planted in the middle of a painfully narrow pavement at an accurate distance of every 1.5 meters or so. Note that the trees do not align to the pavement at a strict 90 degree angle. Instead, they bend. Therefore mind your head while trying to circle them.
– Broken asphalt. A classic. Not only does one have to keep their head safe from the bending trees, at the same time, it is imperative to tread extremely carefully. Just in case some of the pavement tiles have been cracked or completely removed.
– Cars. And more cars. And even more cars… parked solid along the pavement – theoretically, and, more often than not, ON the pavement per se. Parking in Athens is not cheap, finding parking takes time, and using paid parking is not good enough for the Greek macho mentality. If you’re trying to park, therefore, ignore the no-parking crooked cross signs – everybody else does.
– Lamp posts and DEH (public utility) electric wire posts. These are planted in-between the aforementioned trees, with the added advantage of actually facing the pavement at 90 degrees. These are therefore less of a challenge, but do still take care not to walk into one.
– Private plants. As if the hapless trees weren’t enough, home owners try to be helpful (to their plants, I assume) by taking their home greenery out for a “stroll” on the pavements. Looks pretty, but jumping over them is not terribly elegant.
– Water. Athens is not exactly a flat city, and many streets head uphill – or downhill, depending on how you look at it. Athenian housewives priding themselves on their crisp-clean houses, it does not come as a surprise that the resulting household cleaning water streams downhill plentifully along the pavements – making the latter slippery (thanks to soap) and generally quite dangerous to approach. Occasional rain makes the matters even worse.
– Rubbish bins. Those are placed wherever a car is not parked (or vice versa). Never on the road or inside the private grounds of a household, but always, always on the pavements. Often these containers are wide open to reveal their glamorous content. Be careful when stuck between such rubbish bins and a parking car…
– Sewage holes. Those, too, are often not on the road but on the pavements instead. I am not sure who was responsible for waste water system planning in Athens, but don’t think I will be sending them any Christmas cards this year.
– Kiosks. Glory to the Greek periptero, every day solving a thousand problems in an average Athenian’s life! Those kiosks are like small kingdoms, often located on pavement corners. The owners try to make themselves at home by placing more rubbish bins (“private” ones), surrounding the kiosks by curtains to block the wind and the sun, adding Coca Cola and other kind of fridges around. For me, to approach a periptero is a close equivalent of taking a fortress – the feeling of accomplishment is unbeatable.
I am only going to mention briefly such minor other pavement disturbances as road signs, street rubbish, dead cats and birds, alive but aggressive cats and birds, old grannies checking out the world from their little chairs outside their doors and other exciting obstacles to that simple task…trying to be civilised and walk on a pavement in Athens! Failing that, you will not be surprised to see most people, indeed, walking on the road.
And this is what I would anyway recommend to anyone arriving to Athens: don’t bother for a second with the pavements. The roads in Athens are free of trees, lamp posts and rubbish bins. The only disadvantage they have is cars. But those are too busy fighting among themselves… so tread freely. Good luck!