We just returned from a couple weeks in Europe and were shocked when we turned on the news back home and saw the steady drumbeat of news about the Greek and European financial situation.
For the two weeks we spent aboard, first on a yacht sailing to seven Aegean Islands and then at the Parthenon Hotel in the heart of the Plaka in Athens, we seldom saw a mention on the local news channels.
Apparently Europeans are not only more sophisticated than Americans, they are also not the prisoners of a news media gone whacky for bad news, real or imaginary.
Athens was delightful, and one of the friendliest places we have ever visited after over a hundred other countries.
Athens has survived the Saracens, the Turks, the Mongols and the Nazis, and today's situation is literally a 'walk in the park" for them.
In fact, all the phoney scare stories in the U.S. media give a visit right now a special advantage.
This city is extremely popular worldwide, we choose it thirty years ago for our first European trip, and every restaurant is overly eager to please you, museums are spectacular, and the shops have great bargains.
Where to stay
We made it a point to find a good hotel within easy walking distance of everything important.
We chose one of the well regarded Airotels called the Parthenon Hotel a block from the Acropolis. From here the city unravels a history of 5,000 years, a civilization of fifty centuries, unbelievably magical, day and night.
The hotel staff was extremely helpful, and the complimentary breakfast each morning was really more like a banquet.
The rooms are large, excellent wi-fi and other amenities, and many have views of the city.
Walk out the hotel front door and you can follow the Dionysiou Aeropagitou, a street permanently full of art works, performances and events, and you are in the historic center, where the heart of the city beats, where history meets the contemporary.
How to tour Athens
My wife also researched thoroughly to find the right tour company to most efficiently see this remarkable city.
She chose Odysseas Zournatsidis of Greece Athens Tour. whose experience and local knowledge made the very most of our time here.
One of his many tours brought us to the Parliament to see the changing of the Royal Guards as they march back and forth in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the traditional uniform of the Evzones. These uniforms have a long and storied history which begins with the warriors (euzones) at the time of Homer and culminates in the "phoustanella" and "tsaroukhi" at the time of the Turkish Occupation. From 1821 onwards the Evzone uniform was established as the official Greek national costume.
The most distinguishing feature (beside the skirt about which we we abstain from joking) is the shoes called tsaroukhia which are hand-made from hard red leather, each sole having 60 nails and a pair weighs 7 lbs. The toe of the shoe turns up in a point which is covered by a black pompom.
Like the equally famous Beefeaters in front of Buckingham Palace, the guards will not react to anything visitors may do, although many try and fail.
On our second day Odysseas Zournatsidis took us on a tour of the Athens harbors and shoreline, and the final day he took us 100 miles south in the wine country on the Peloponnese including a stop at the Corinth Canal, the world's first, which made the world's biggest man-made island out of this huge 8,320 square mile peninsula. Cape Cod with 413 square miles is the world's second-biggest man-made island.
He'll also pick you up and drop you off at the airport.
Where to dine in the Plaka
We discovered a great family-owned restaurant called Smile a block from our hotel. There was never a more appropriately named eatery. Daughter Zoe and her beautiful mother Connie, will welcome you as never before. Just take a peak at the traditional Greek dishes on their menu.
We also discovered two elegant restaurants a short walk in the opposite direction, both owned by the Kazakos family. The traditional tavern "Geros Tou Moria" is located under the Acropolis in the beautiful Plaka and managed by the restaurant owner's son Demetrius Kazakos.
How safe is Greece?
Athens is among the safest cities in the world, and no people are friendlier than the Greeks.
In ten days traveling to seven Aegean Islands and three days in the city, we have not been inconvenienced once due to the strikes or protests.
But perception is reality for most folks, and they may miss the most cultural and classic city on Earth.
One day we watched some protestors marching past the Acropolis heading towards the Temple of Zeus on their way to the Parliament where they squatted for the evening.
But not to worry - everyone is more interested in having their photos take. And they love Americas, certainly more than any other country we have ever visited, and everyone you meet asks "Do you know my coupon Demetrius in Chicago?"