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Athens — Warplanes Buzz the Parthenon

We flew to Europe from India with the drums of war beginning to beat loudly. It seemed only a matter of days before the U.S. would attack Iraq. With the early spring weather too cold for the islands, and the anti-war sentiments growing in Greece, we decided to spend only a few days in Athens before moving on to Italy.

After two months in Southeast Asia and India, Europe was a mixed blessing. Modern conveniences (flushing toilets) and that intangible familiar feel of the West were immediately comforting. But the high costs of the western world had us scrambling to recalculate our travel budget. Athens was a pleasant surprise. Our expectations had been very low, based on friends’ descriptions of the polluted and crowded urban sprawl of Athens. We don’t entirely disagree but, after New Delhi, Athens did seem a bit of a mecca.

We spent these first few days in Europe touring the ruins, which were being feverishly restored to be more presentable for the 2004 summer Olympics. We ate wonderful food, drank exotic liquors from the barrel, and spent hours at the laundry washing the Thar desert sands out of our clothes, backpacks and nasal passages.

With international travel down because of the rapidly spreading SARS epidemic and the impending war, we found Athens to be relatively quiet. As result, we received a great deal of attention from shop keepers — especially an animated jeweler who bear-hugged Will screaming “I love George Boosh!” However, it was pretty clear that he was in the minority.

It seemed we often had the sights to ourselves. One afternoon, our quiet repose atop the Acropolis was interrupted by the roar of jets. An endless squadron of warplanes boomed over us and, as they passed, you could virtually feel every neck in Athens crane upwards, wondering…

Before dawn the next morning, as the first missiles flashed on CNN, we slipped out of Athens under the cover of darkness, our bus passing silently by the U.S. embassy where the protesters were already gathering for one of the many heated protests that would erupt that day across the continent.

With hopes to return to Greece someday for a more leisurely stay, we headed for the Italian coast to hunker down as the war unfolded.

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