Greece is the Word…is the Place…For Safe and Friendly Travels
London has Big Ben, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Rome has the Coliseum and Dublin has its pubs. Every European capital has plenty of history and culture to offer tourists. But Athens, Greece goes one step further, combining a culturally rich capital city with a socially wealthy atmosphere – a time-honored tradition of honesty and respect that makes any visitor feel welcome.
A trip to any Greek taverna will quickly convince you of that. Menus are diverse, including such favorites as Souvlas (grilled shish kabob chicken), Soupia (cuttlefish, a member of the squid family that’s grilled or served with red wine sauce) and, of course, ouzo, a popular licorice-tasting alcoholic beverage. But no matter what you order, your drinking glass and your breadbasket will always be full (bread is free and abundant with most meals). The wait staff will keep a watchful eye and a respectable distance while you eat, will smile politely throughout the course of their service, and will know precisely when to bring the check. A typical dinner for two, with delicious food and great service, averages just 18 Euros (US$22).
That’s what you can expect from Greece, a country that relies heavily on the tourist industry. Consequently, the people you meet, particularly in Athens – everyone from the taxi driver and the hotel clerk to the waiter and the local merchant – are friendly, helpful and respectful.
And despite the onslaught of increased tourism (which will no doubt have received an extra boost from the 2004 summer Olympic Games), Athens is still one of the safest European capitals you’ll ever visit. Take, for instance, my late night run in with an Athenian. One Friday night, tourists and locals were swarming the stone streets of the Plaka, a popular shopping district in the heart of Athens. Distracted by the noise of nightlife and disoriented by the seemingly never-ending streets that all looked the same, I accidentally took a wrong turn, and found myself in a deserted, dimly lit alley. Out of the shadows a male figure appeared, walking briskly towards me. As he approached, I saw him raise his hand…and tip his hat to greet me. My initial fear melted away as I smiled in return and kept walking.
Such is the way in Greece, a country with one of the lowest crime rates in Europe. Walking the streets in Athens is particularly safe; a plus, considering the city center is very compact, all major sights are within walking distance, and they are best reached on foot. The Acropolis, for example, with its famed Parthenon and other marble monuments, is centrally located in the very heart of ancient Athens, and is the one sight that everyone comes to see. A stone’s throw away are other historic must-sees, including the Theatre of Dionysus at the base of the Acropolis hill, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the Ancient and Roman Agoras (public squares). These sites date back some two thousand years (the Parthenon even further back to the 5th century B.C.), and for a mere 12 Euros ($15), a combination ticket will let you see them all.
But that’s not to say Athens is 100% crime free. You should take the normal precautions you would on any trip, in any location: keep cars and hotel rooms locked, secure all belongings while out in public, and report any theft to the tourist police. And should you become lost on your way to an ancient site – or countless other attractions, including museums, gardens and temples – the same tourist police, or local resident, can lead you in the right direction: just about everyone in Athens speaks a little bit of English.
Overall, the people of Athens greet visitors with an openness and genuineness that is refreshing to any traveler visiting a foreign country. My husband and I felt safe during our divide-and-conquer shopping spree in the Plaka, and had several pleasant conversations with locals during our whirlwind visit to all the cultural sites of the city. The inexpensive prices were icing on the cake. But it is the friendliness and respectfulness in its residents that will endure, no doubt, for as long as the architecture has survived that makes the city so famous.