Imagining Athens as a puzzle with pieces from other lands

Just imagine if the following scenes happened in Athens: Scene one: A sunny day with the beaches of Athens full of palm trees, tropical birds and pristine sand, like in Phuket. Scene two: Athenians cycle or play soccer in large parks downtown, like in London. Scene three: After work, people dance in the streets of a colorful old neighborhood, as in Havana. Scene four: Motorists on Alexandras Avenue give way to other drivers and stop at red lights, as they do in Rome. This is sheer fantasy, of course, an idyllic Athens made up of bits and pieces of cities abroad. Greeks’ favorite destinations in Europe are London, Paris, Prague, Vienna and Rome, according to the Greek League of Travel Agents. Here are some features they envy. London: «Wide streets, lots of large parks, well-organized museums and a well-developed museum policy. I’d really like to see this aspect of London in Athens, and the respect that Londoners show their fellow citizens. «I like the way entertainment is promoted in the British capital, being directed at everyone, including foreigners. Some time in Athens there should be entertainment guides to show travelers that as well as tzatziki and souvlaki, they can enjoy a good musical performance in Athens,» says Akis Antoniou. Paris: «When I hear the words ‘European air, European atmosphere’ it is Paris that comes to mind, not Athens. «I like the architecture of the museum-city that stays lively because it combines the absolute harmony of the past and present without looking like a cheap circus. That is what is missing from Athens. Every corner of Paris has some element of art and culture, which is reflected in the way people dress, talk and behave. «I would like to see that air of culture in Athens,» says Yiannis Tranakidis. Prague: «With its combination of Renaissance and Baroque architecture, it is a picturesque city. Unspoiled by time and people, it retains its historical continuity. It is like visiting the past without losing yourself in it. That’s what I’d like to see in Athens. The cultural life of Prague is enviable, there are many places to walk, and when you stroll along its cobble-stoned streets there is an air of freedom and intellect,» Christos Karayiannis told Kathimerini. Rome: «What can you say about a city that has maintained its river like a jewel? The natural environment is well-tended, and there is a huge effort with ongoing projects to maintain the city’s history, and citizens respect their history. Every corner of the city reminds you of another era. I would really like not to feel uncomfortable in Athens when I drive or go into a store. In Rome you enjoy driving, walking and shopping, because people respect you and show you consideration. They make you feel sure you are not being cheated as a consumer. Besides, Athens is more expensive,» says Giorgos Makris. Vienna: «I envy the Austrian capital its beautiful historic center with impressive palaces and large parks. All of the buildings are preserved, intact. The city seems to dance to the rhythm of classical music. The people are disciplined and organized without any excesses and hysteria. The roads are excellent, and there are many cultural activities, not directed at the elite but at everybody,» Giorgos Zanakis told Kathimerini. Can’t our beaches look like Phuket? Exotic islands, Cuba and north Africa are big attractions for many Greeks. Package tours and natural beauty draw travelers to Phuket, Cuba, Bali, Tunisia and Morocco, the five most popular destinations. Cuba: «I envied the beaches with their incredible sand and the beauty of the greenery, but most of all I envied the Cubans their lack of anxiety, their serenity, and good mood. It’s lovely to see people dancing in the street, making the best of what they have, and not being miserable and complaining. It’s easy to get around and you feel comfortable walking anywhere. There’s no fear of crime at night in Havana, because it is heavily policed,» Sotiria Aroukatou told Kathimerini. Bali: «Apart from the gorgeous scenery, I envied the friendliness, patience and politeness of the people, which you won’t find readily in Athens, but above all the harmonious coexistence of Hindus, Muslims and Christians. And they have excellent hotels,» says Nikos Kordilas. Phuket: «I’d like the beaches of Athens to have the exotic beauty of Phuket and to be able to haggle like mad at all the stores as if it were absolutely natural and almost mandatory,» said Electra Dardagani. Tunisia: «The desert bewitched me. I would like it if Greece had a desert. Northern Tunisia reminded me of Greece and Carthage. I was amazed at how well the Roman ruins were preserved,» commented Victoria Tzalla.