Monday, October 18, 2010

From the Athens of the North to the Athens of Greece

Pointless mission accomplished - by land and sea, I travelled from the self-styled 'Athens of the North' (Edinburgh) to the bona fide 'Athens of Greece' (Athens), with just one cheating plane ride across the Alps.

Arriving by bus in a remote and smelly part of the city, my first impressions of Athens were pretty unfavourable. But I remembered I had a similar reaction to Florence at first, before getting to the nice, pedestrian-friendly tourism parts.

Like in Italian, the word pedestrian in Greek roughly translates as 'public footpath that nevertheless permits motorcycles, as if they aren't basically cars, and stupid bloody choo-choo trains.' With its speedy and sparkling clean metro system too, this shithole has had a major colonic irrigation, but the skidmarks are still clear to see if you venture too far...

Who do I have to fellate to get free entry around here?

I don't know which set of made-up gods to thank for my continuing, undeservedly good luck at getting into major national attractions free of charge, but fortune continues to favour the foolish where'er I roam. Maybe Athena's trying to get her city a good write-up in this blog (sorry about the shithole thing earlier... but come on).

Like I arrived in Florence in time for Free Museum Weekend, I unknowingly headed down to the Acropolis during a Culture Ministry contract workers strike - meaning the plucky, aggravated temps were allowing everyone in free!

That took away some of the burden of enjoyment I would have felt if I'd paid the standard 12 euros to enter the site, which is pretty small and doesn't do much more up close than it does from down below. After the initial excitement of the climb, passing through the ruined entrance hall of Propylaia and admiring the jaunty angle of the Parthenon up close, there's not a lot to marvel at.

This isn't the fault of the Ancient Greeks - I'm sure this place looked pretty special before the Venetians bombed the Hades out of it, and before the Christians toppled the ridiculous religious imagery and replaced it with their own, equally ridiculous religious imagery. But today it largely seems like a building site, with masonry lying all around in neat piles and anything vaguely artistic having been relocated to the nearby Acropolis Museum (5 euros - quite good) and National Archaeological Museum (7 euros - great!)

While it was obviously excellent for free, the Acropolis felt like a bit of a disappointment after visiting Pompeii. If you do pay the 12-euro entry fee, you can fortunately use the same ticket to enter other sites along the Unification of Archaeological Sites route, or just pay around 2 euros to enter each of these separately. Some of these look charmingly like mini-Pompeiis, complete with dead dogs.

The Athens of the North?

Fake Ancient Greek architecture in Edinburgh

Despite our divorce, I'll always be in love with Edinburgh - the first and only place I've ever relocated to by choice. But the city's preoccupation with imitating Ancient Greek architecture always annoyed me, whether looking up at the incomplete-due-to-lack-of-interest columned wall on otherwise splendid Calton Hill (known locally as 'Scotland's disgrace') or the pointlessly neo-Parthenon design of the National Gallery of Scotland building, which doesn't deserve to be shadowed by Edinburgh Castle. It even has stupid fucking Sphinx gargoyles.

Edinburgh has no business trying to be Greek, even if its racist Duke was born there, and shouldn't feel like it has to adopt phony foreign influences when its own Old Town is so full of home-grown delight.

I was going to make a light-hearted comparison chart of Edinburgh and Athens' respective strengths and weaknesses, but considering Athens doesn't have much going for it beyond the Acropolis and a nice metro system, that would seem to invalidate my argument.

What have we learned?

The lesson we can learn from the 'Athens of the North' is, don't try to be something you're not by imitating an already-definitive style. You will only ever invite secondary comparison that causes people to track down the original and compare you unfavourably.

Multicultural influence can be a blessing if handled well, but you should never lose sight of your own unique strengths - these are what will make your name, and are what people will remember you for, perhaps even leading places to borrow your own name as a comparative in the future.

That is, unless you're a Venezuelan beauty pageant contestant. In which case you should have cosmetic surgery to appear more pleasing to western judges, bag the bucks and make your country and your domineering parents proud, you beautiful fool.


  1. Why do you say 'accomplished'? By my reckoning you're 2/32 of the way through your mission.

  2. I'm not your pet project, Gaywood. Then again, there's definitely too much world and my freedom of choice needs whittling down somehow.