Athens, Greece :
A modern city caught in between development and poverty. A huge International Airport, world class underground Metro right from the Airport, streets that are cleaned every evening with modern equipment, well dressed people, preservation of their archeological wealth with extreme care give us an impression that Athens is just another developed and well-to-do European city. But, a tete-e-tete with any localite reveals the not so impressive underbelly. Beggars in the same world class metro, again right from the Airport, tourism as the only flourishing industry, their unsuccessful attempts to attract IT industry, failure to cash-in the Olympics for which, apparently, they spent obscene amount of money etc., explain the current state of Greece.
If we keep out the poor economy story away, Acropolis hill and the surrounding areas, allegedly, one of the oldest and most important places in the human history, are well preserved, maintained and taken care of. A museum has been built right on top of archeological excavations, close to the Acropolis hill, that unearthed an underground city, with transparent glass floor for visitors to see the unearthed city underneath, while exploring the museum. Undoubtedly, a brilliant idea. Many underground metro railway stations and Airport, where during construction a lot of archeological artifacts were found, have shelves full of those spoils.
Santorini / Thira, A Greek Island:
Apparently, Athens is only an entry point into Greece for Tourists, due to its International Airport. Tourists typically head to one of the several popular Greek Islands right away. We spent a couple of days at Santorini, a small half moon shaped island of around 30 KM in length and a KM or two in width. A less than one hour flight from Athens took us to Santorini, in the middle of sea, to an almost unmanned airport. There is absolutely nothing, other than what tourists need, on that island. The island has only car/bike rentals, fuel stations, hotels and restaurants and an airport and seaport. Every place on one side of the half moon is categorized as sunrise point and of course, the other side as sunset point. With sea in every direction and a few small islands in the vicinity, sunrises and sunsets are routinely mesmerizing.
The island is formed due to volcanic eruptions over the years. So, very minimal vegetation and absolutely no drinking water at all. One has to depend completely on packaged water. Interestingly, contrary to our common sense, vendors don’t exploit the situation and the price of packaged water is same as in Athens. Sand in beaches is either red or black, again due to volcanic eruptions. And, water is crystal clear. At a 20 minute cruise distance from the island is a well studied, live volcano. I have seen a fuming volcano for the first time in my life, and spent an hour roaming around on it, visiting the vents through which lava had erupted at various points of time in the past. With nothing other than driving around (mind you, one end to the other end takes not more than an hour) and watching sunrise/sunset, drinking abundantly available home-made wines, and exploring Greek delicacies (Gyros-Pita, Moussaka, Souvlaki, Baklava etc.,), one can have a perfect lazy holiday. Riding the 4-wheel All Terrain Bike for one whole day is the best thing that I did on the Island.