U2: 360

U2 360: The Mattnificent Tour, U2009-U2011

U2 360° Journal > The Challenges of U2010

The Challenges of U2010: Athens

In the summer of U2009 I embarked on the most ambitious vacation I'd ever taken. I followed U2 around on the 360° tour, seeing them at six shows in four countries (Sweden, Germany, Poland, Croatia) and traveling through an additional four countries (Denmark, Netherlands, Hungary, Italy) in the space of three weeks. The logistics were a bugger, but I made it happen. It was virtually flawless, a masterful piece of travel. I challenged myself by putting myself in places I'd never been before (Gothenburg, Copenhagen, and Zagreb among them) while mixing in some favorite familiar spots, like Krakow, Venice, and Amsterdam.

Temple of Poseidon
The Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sounion, Greece

Cut to one year later and it was time for another 360° adventure, but on a smaller scale. This time, it was "only" Greece and Turkey. But the challenges were astounding. For one, my wallet was stolen after the show in Athens, right outside the train station by the Olympic stadium, shortly after buying a gyro.

Backing up a bit, I was packing, planning, and plotting, right up until my departure. I wasn't ready. Time worked against me leading up to the trip, with a last-minute rush to get my mom's bottom teeth removed taking precedence. She has dementia, but she's the sweetest little mom a guy could possibly ask for. Her well-being gives me peace of mind, so getting that out of the way was one less thing to be concerned with while on the road. But I also knew I had put myself at a disadvantage, not having things as together as I'd have preferred.

And, of course, we can't forget the entire North American leg for the summer of U2010 was postponed because of Bono's back surgery. That also put a cloud of doubt over the plausibility of the fall European dates.

Back to Athens: After the fact, I found out the metro line that goes to the Olympic stadium is a favorite for pickpockets. No doubt, having tens of thosands of potential targets gathered together in one place made the area all the more appealing.

It was a late night. After scouring around for my wallet, I had no choice but to hop on the last metro train back to downtown Athens and I was up 'til four in the morning. I strategically picked a hotel close to the metro line that goes to the stadium, only to find out upon my arrival in Athens that entire section of metro was closed for remodeling. So it was I navigated my way back to the hotel via Google Maps on my BlackBerry Torch, walking from a far-off train station and all the while on the phone with AmEx, Visa, and my home bank, cancelling credit cards and making arrangements for emergency cash.

That was 4:00 in the morning on Saturday. On Sunday I was en route to Istanbul.

Here's a little more context in regard to the timing: It was the final days of Ramadan. There was a wingnut in Florida talking about burning 100 copies of the Qur'an. The citizens of Athens were taking a break from protests in the wake of austerity measures seeking to put a plug in the sinking ship of Greek economics.

Among the trip's unexpected quicks: A day of sightseeing outside Athens was curtailed when the bus got a flat tire, so I had to wait for a replacement bus. It didn't help that the ticketing girl on the new bus forgot to tell me when to get off for the Marathon site. Then I wound up waiting at a random stop for the next bus, which turned out to be the exact same bus I had gooten off some 30 minutes earlier. And there was that exact same ticketing girl.

Yeah. Nonetheless, that was still a fun day. I enjoyed it. I revelled in the challenge of making my way through unfamiliar surroundings and circumstances.

But I also encountered an unusually high number of shady characters in Athens. Most of them were old guys who wanted me to rent their timeshare, typically on Santorini. "Get out of Athens," they'd say. "Go to the islands. You have to see the islands."

Maybe next time. This trip had severe time constraints that wouldn't allow it.

There was also the crafty individual who posed as a waiter at a restaurant where I had just enjoyed a fine meal, down by the Acropolis. He offered me a card for a free drink. But we had to go to the bar for him to get one for me.

It turned out to be a scam. All of a sudden I was looking at a €10 tab for a can of cheap Eastern European beer and a skanky woman trying to entice me into buying her an overpriced beverage. Temptation: Non-existent. Until the official bartender came in with my faux friend, it was only me, the woman, and her female friend in the tiny little bar. No atmosphere.

That led to a little tirade after which I stormed out, half of the beer left at the bar, and the €10 back in my pocket.

That's some background on what happened in Athens. Next... Istanbul.

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