Thursday, April 11, 2013

A rough 24 hours in Athens...

For the first time on this trip, I have had a bad experience... 

I arrived in Athens by train around 5:30pm yesterday afternoon.  I had instructions to call Marinos, my host in Athens, on arrival so he could tell me how to get to the apartment and meet me there to let me in.  This is pretty much the standard procedure when renting an apartment.  The only person who met me at the station was the kind and lovable Vera.  Unfortunately, there is only one payphone at the Athens train station that takes coins, and it wasn't working,  So, I had to buy a phone card (most of the public phones here take only cards) in order to make this one short call.  Marinos informed me that he would not be able to meet me, but was sending someone named Gabriela, whom he referred to as the "chamber maid."  Hmmm...maybe that's a translation thing.  He also told me the easiest way to get to the apartment was to take a cab...which seemed strange since the description of the apartment says the public bus #22 stops right in front of the building.  But, after 5 1/2 hours on the train I was ready to get settled in, so I got a cab at the station, showed the driver the address (he spoke no English, but seemed to understand), and hopped in the taxi to head to my apartment. 

Let me just take a moment here to describe riding in a taxi in Athens: it is like an amusement park ride, given the speed and jerking around, but without the fun or the security of knowing you are safe despite the death-defying thrills.  Lanes seem to be considered as just vague suggestions of where you might want to consider driving.  At least 3 times we went between 2 other cars creating our own third lane on a two lane road...usually at what I think was around 60mph.  This was in the city center, not an interstate.  We jerked around pedestrians and other cars, we came to screeching halts (during which my driver would lay on the horn and scream out the window), followed immediately by a take-off so fast it would throw me backwards against the seat.  We careened at high speeds down narrow, winding, one-way streets with cars parked on both sides so close that an ant wouldn't have fit between the side mirrors of the cab and any of the parked cars (which, thankfully, had their side mirrors folded in). Apparently people driving motorcycles don't follow road signs because twice we met one coming the wrong way up a one-way street and had to slam on brakes, my driver screaming and honking the whole time, to avoid a head-on collision.    

Miraculously, I arrived at the apartment in one piece and Gabriela, the chamber maid (?), was waiting for me.  Unfortunately, she speaks no English other than "hello."  Problematic!  More problematic: she couldn't get the apartment door to unlock.  She tried and tried and tried, but couldn't get it open...all the while telling me "hello" with a pained expression on her face.  Finally, she called Marinos on her cell.  She handed me the phone and he apologized and assured me I would be inside in 10 minutes.  I thought he was coming over, but he didn't.  About 15 minutes later a man with a toolbox showed up instead.  I thought maybe he was a locksmith, but this turned out to be an optimistic assumption.  He tried shaking the key around in the lock several times, but no luck.  So, he opened his toolbox and took out a file.  This is when I began to doubt that he was a genuine locksmith.  He filed the key down and tried again, but nothing happened.  So he filed some more, tried again, filed, tried again, filed...this went on for a good 30 minutes.  Based on the pile of shavings accumulating on the floor, he must have filed 1/4 inch off the key on both sides, but it still didn't work.  Then he put the key in the lock, took out a big hammer, and banged the key in as far as it would go.  It was at this point that I became absolutely sure he was not a locksmith.  The key was now stuck, so he got a pair of pliers, wedged his foot against the door, and pulled with all his might until it came back out.  Then he filed it some more.  Gabriela paced nearby, giving me a nervous "hello" every so often.  

At this point, I was seriously considering grabbing my luggage and leaving...this is what the voice in my head was telling me to do.  But my cab was long gone and I didn't really have any idea where I was or how to get anywhere else.  Miraculously, after this last filing of the key, it worked.  But then the "locksmith" guy and Gabriela got into an argument in Greek over something to do with the door.  I have no idea what they were saying, but he finally pulled some WD-40 out of his toolbox and sprayed the lock.  Gabriela escorted me inside and called Marinos back.  They talked for a minute, and then she handed me the phone.  He assured me everything was now fine.  I was still feeling unsure about the whole thing and made him wait while I tried locking and unlocking the door several times.  It worked, although it was a bit tedious from either side of the door.  You had to get the key in just right...but I thought it was workable.

I still had him on the phone so I asked how to access the wifi since Gabriela would have just answered "hello" to my question.  He said he would email me the code.  I explained that this was no good, since have to have the wifi to access my email.  So he explained where the modem was and said the code was on the manufacturer sticker on the modem.  I found it and the manufacturer sticker did indicate a password.  Good!  He then informed where to find the switch for the hot water and said that I would need to turn it on 15 minutes ahead of needing it.  No apartment in Rome also had a hot water switch, although it produced hot water right away.  Glad to finally be in the apartment and ready to make contact online, I hung up with him feeling a little better about the place.  Gabriela gave me a final "hello" and left. 

I dropped all my stuff, got out the tablet, and began trying to get online.  There were 14 available networks and I realized I had failed to ask for the network name.  I tried the code from the modem on all of them, but nothing worked.  I tried the number for the network key on the modem with all 14 networks, and still nothing.  I was not happy.  It was already dark, I hadn't eaten dinner, I didn't have a map or know where anything was, I don't speak the language, and I couldn't get online.  I was regretting not listening to my inner voice earlier.  I would come to regret it even more later.

I loaded my tablet into my bag, got the door unlocked and stepped outside the apartment to re-lock it.  The hallway was completely dark.  I tried the switch on the wall in the hallway and nothing happened.  Earlier, Gabriela had pointed to a small light mounted above the keyhole and showed me how to turn it on and off, but because it was light outside at the time I hadn't realized this was necessary because none of the lights in the entryway, hallway, or stairwells were functioning.  Not good.  I also realized that the main door to the building had no lock.  Again, because Gabriela met me standing in the doorway to the building, I hadn't noticed before.  And I was so happy to finally be in the apartment when she gave me the key, it didn't dawn on me that she was giving me only 1 key.  This is the 7th country in which I have stayed in an apartment, and the only one in which I wasn't given a key or code to enter the building, which always stays locked, in addition to my apartment key.  This building had a hole in the door where the lock had once been.  Doubly not good! 

I left the apartment on foot hoping to find a public phone or restaurant with wifi nearby so I could call Marinos.  I didn't see a bus stop until I had gone about 3 blocks down a steep hill.  I continued on foot, but had no luck finding a cafe.  I did, however, find an internet/billiards/gambling bar down the street.  They didn't have wifi, but they did have a bank of computers I could pay to use.  I asked if I could Skype and the guy said yes.  I paid the fee, got on a computer, and used Skype to try and call Marinos.  I got his voice mail, which continually cut me off while trying to leave a message.  I called Tanya in the US, and I could hear her, but she couldn't hear me.  This probably explains why Marinos' phone kept cutting me didn't know I was leaving a message because there was no sound from my end.  I tried to get the guy running the place to help me, but he put on the earphones and then just shrugged his shoulders and walked away.  I did manage to navigate to gmail (no easy feat when everything on the screen is in Greek) to send a message to both Marinos and Tanya explaining my plight.  I left and finally found another bar (much nicer, no gambling) with wifi, but no food.  I was able to talk to Tanya and had a reply from Marinos with the code (which was not any of the codes on the modem, by the way), but still not the network name although I had asked for it in my email.  He also said not to feel unsafe because there was no "criminality" in the area.  I found that a little hard to believe since the entire neighborhood was covered in graffiti, but I've learned to somewhat overlook graffiti and not judge, as it seems most of Europe is graffiti-laden. 

I returned to my apartment, stopping to get fast food take-out on the way, navigated from the unlocked front door to my door in the dark corridor, and began trying to get in.  It took a few minutes, which are uncomfortable in a strange, dark corridor, but the key did finally work.  I again tried to connect to every available wifi network, but still couldn't get online.  I finally gave up sometime after midnight and went to bed, vowing that if the wifi wasn't fixed the next day I was moving out and finding other accommodations.  I'm staying in Athens for 6 nights, and while unlit corridors aren't pleasant, having no wifi for a week is a deal breaker for me. 

By this point, I was exhausted and went to sleep pretty quickly.  At around 2:00 in the morning, I was startled awake by someone banging on my door.  It was a man, yelling something in Greek that I couldn't understand.  He was banging and pushing on the door and then tried putting something in the keyhole to open it.  I was terrified!  I grabbed a chair, but the door didn't have an inside handle to shove a chair under to prevent it from opening.  Instead I grabbed a coat rack nearby and wedged it between the door and a piece of furniture.  The man never got the lock undone and finally gave up and went away, but I didn't sleep a wink the rest of the night.  I stayed up reading and listening for every noise.  Around 4am, a couple of drunk guys were yelling on the street underneath my window, but at least they weren't in the building or trying to get in my door.  Around sunrise I finally fell asleep and slept fitfully until about 11:30am. 

That was the final straw!  I should have listened to my intuition from the beginning.  From the minute the guy extracted the file from his toolbox to fix the lock, it was telling me to get out.  Needless to say, the first thing I did when I got up was go back to the bar with wifi and book a hotel.  I am now at the Novotel Athens and feel much, much safer.  When I emailed Marinos to telling him I was leaving and why (and to ask for a refund), he said the guy trying to get in was probably just the drunk guy from upstairs who sometimes can't find his own apartment.  He again assured me it was safe.  Right!  With no lock on the exterior door, no lighting, a questionable lock on the apartment door, and a guy upstairs who gets so sloshed he can't find his way home, I don't know how he can continue to make that claim. 

I will say that I have stayed in many apartments during this trip and this was my first problem.  In part, I feel a bit to blame.  I usually read all reviews on Airbnb and am careful about the places I book.  That apartment was a new listing, had only 1 short review (although it was positive, it didn't mention safety), and was almost too good a bargain.  Now I know why.  The pictures were cute, and in fact, once inside, the apartment wasn't bad at all.  It was newly renovated and had everything I needed...but the neighborhood, wifi, and safety issues were just too much.

So, I have now been in Athens for over 24 hours and have seen nothing (and have no pictures to share) because I've spent all my time so far dealing with the bad apartment and moving to a new hotel.  I have nothing to report other than my harrowing night.  Actually, I do have one photo.  This morning, I took a picture of the coat rack blocking my door before I removed it. 

If you have to do this at 2:00 in the morning, you're in the wrong apartment.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds pretty bad! I'm happy that you got out of there and got a hotel. I enjoyed talking with you tonight and look forward to Skyping with you on Saturday. Love you bunches!