Athens Diary 2022

29th of January

The first day was a marathon starting with a 3am gathering to reach the airport. Some of the participants’ mornings got better upon the realization that the (apparently) super famous Jack Plooij also had boarded our plane. After the initial excitement passed, the lack of sleep hit, resulting in a good nap during the flight and having waking up in the goddish city of Athens. After reaching the one and only Zeus Hostel and getting a well deserved rest, the group could break the ice through completing the crazy 88 challenges which shortly became a perfect excuse to try the infamous ouzo and act like weirdoes to strangers. The Secretary’s buddy group (completely UNdeserved) victory, unveiled the prize which was a in-person access to the meeting with the Turkish Embassy. The rest of the group, amidst the sadness and sorrow of having lost, explored the nearby bars…

30th of January

We started off the day in front of the parliament to attend the change of guards. Every Sunday at 11pm there is a traditional ceremony which includes many important looking men in fancy uniforms with serious faces marching in a rather remarkable manner. Next stop was the Roman Agora! The roads leading towards the ancient site were almost impassable caused by unprecedented amounts of snow on the roads. While avoiding skiers, snowmobiles, huge piles of snow and hungry polar bears, we eventually made it to the Agora. Unfortunately, although completely understandable, the Greek authorities decided to close the sites due to these extreme weather conditions. Following this disappointment, we encountered another one when the group tried entering the national gardens. The sign at the entrance assured us that it could cause a life-threatening situation if we decided to walk through this beautiful park. However, the extreme weather conditions turned out to be quite local since the next entrance we tried was completely free of snow and we were therefore able to enter the park anyway. Some people went for a traditional Greek bun or Greek yogurt while chucking a Greek coffee, but others ran late after multiple free shots. Anyhow, the ‘guys guys guys’ arrived safely at the pana.. panathe… they arrived at a Stadium. It was here where the first ‘modern’ Olympic games were held back in 1896, thus for a student association that strongly supports fitness and sports an obvious place to visit. Several SPIL members even held a small 100m sprint competition. Without a timer it was hard to say if our winner was faster than Thomas Burke, who won the 100m sprint in 1896, but at least we had the unique opportunity to feel like true Olympic Athletes. However, after we had visited the stadium there was one more physical task laying ahead of us: Lycabettus hill. Athenian sunsets turn out to be astonishingly beautiful and therefore it was undoubtable worth the hike. During the evening we gave our feet the best medicine: Greek nightlife.

31st of January

The final day of the month started very early, especially for those doing the wake-up call at 7:15 AM. By the time we were supposed to meet our tour guide for the morning, George Kokkos, everyone had properly woken up and was ready to start this beautiful day. We met George, a Greek with much experience abroad as historian and archeologist, and – most importantly – was the author of the amazing Heroes of Philosophy. The tour George gave us lasted, including his short coffee break for which the whole world had to stop turning, for about 2.5 hours, during which we were shown examples of beautiful archeological sites in Athens, both from recent and ancient history. After the tour ended at the cozy Monastiraki Square, the group split up into two parts. Partly forced by COVID-19, for one group this meant that they were going to visit an NGO who offered yoga classes and fitness facilities for and run by refugees, while the other group would visit the Acropolis Museum and afterwards the Acropolis hill with the famous Parthenon as the absolute highlight. The second group was as fortunate as one could have been that day in Athens, with the weather being a very pleasant 15-20 degrees with clear skies and no wind. The visit to the Acropolis Museum offered insights into the incredible history of Athens and its mythological sides. Filled with Centaurs, Gods and storylines about legendary battles carved out in marble, the SPIL’ers were fully prepped to ascend the mighty, legendary and majestic Acropolis. When arriving at the entrance of the fort, some of us feared the hordes of tourists, selfie-sticks and tour guides, but no. There were none. Zero. It felt like a fairytale; being able to actually sit down, ponder about the place and see one of the wonders of the world without being disturbed by tourists asking if you could take a picture of them. For the people from SPIL who visited the Acropolis that day, it was an unforgettable experience. There must be hundreds of pictures of the Parthenon with the ocean-blue sky and snowy mountains in the background. After the Acropolis visit, some of us descended a bit to watch another beautiful Athenian sunset, after which some went for ice skating (in Athens, don’t forget), while others started bar-hopping early…

1st of February

On Tuesday, our day started at 10:30, with a meeting with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Unfortunately, due to a minor, still pretty much unknown virus circulating in the whole world lately, only a few participants got the opportunity to join the meeting in person. While our luckiest spillers sat in a room with two employees of the IOM, the rest of us followed the meeting online from different traditional Athenians cafes. This 2-hour long zoom call allowed us to get to know the work of the organization as well as the current trends in the migration crisis that started in 2015.

In the afternoon, some of us decided to be a bit cultural. A large part of the group visited the The National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens (EMST). Let’s say some of us were quite disturbed by the multiple rather interesting pieces of the museum. We will definitely all keep in mind the amazing art performance of people rubbing balloons on their heads and the shrill sound  made by those. In the meantime, another part of the group decided to visit the Athens War Museum. Located in the center of the city, the museum offers a large exhibition on the history of war of the Greeks. Regardless of how one spent the afternoon, we all met at 5:00pm at the Serafeio Cultural Center.  There we met with the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), a non-governmental think tank that aims to conduct research to best orientate the European policy-makers on what the public wants. They gave us a quick explanation on the current Greek-EU relations and then we got to discuss with some Greek students about what future we want for Europe. This conversation allowed us to rethink Europe and meet some nice Greeks who later showed us the best bars of the city…

2nd of February

This beautiful day began with sleeping in, because our programme began quite late at 12.15. This was very beneficial, considering that we still carried our tiredness with us from the very early flight. Our beautiful committee member Sheno did the wake up call very graciously, lightly waking us up from our dreamy sleeping world. Suddenly we  received a sad message that our Dutch journalist Conny Kersen unfortunately had to cancel his meeting with us, because he had COVID-19. We were very sad that Conny could not come, but thankfully one of the brilliant committee members called Nuno had contact with the Greek political party SYRIZA. They said that we could have a meeting with one of their representatives. We again split the group into two smaller groups. In the morning one group went to the acropolis and the acropolis museum. The weather was not as pretty as with the first group but that did not hold them back. The other group went to the yoga lesson. After a turbulent ride on the metro, we managed to get there without stitches. We were warmly welcomed by the two girls who worked there as volunteers and one refugee. We started with a q and a where we could ask questions about everything related to the NGO. It started a bit strenuous but when discussing the circumstances of the refugees, people became very passionate and we got into a very interesting and proactive conversation. They gave us a lot of insight information about the different dangerous routes in which refugees flee and the typical dilemma the refugees find themselves in. Do they stay in the country illegally or do they flee further with unseen consequences which could result in very dangerous situations? After this fruitful conversation, we got into the yoga lesson. I have never heard so many cracks within a period of fifteen minutes. This lesson was very much needed to find our inner peace again in this very busy travel schedule, and to remind us that sometimes we need to stay still in order to continue. After those activities, we had some much needed free time until 5 o’clock. We met again in the cultural Centre of the Serafeio, and met Maria Arvaniti Sotiropoulou from the Greek branch of the IPPNW and Panos from SYRIZA. He made a grand entrance, being accompanied by three female members of the committee. He directly directed himself to the public, just as the real politician he is. He was a very charismatic and passionate man, talking very fiercely about his party and their mission in life. He told us about their three colors, red for socialism, green for climate and purple for feminism, and talked about the great problems in Greece and how his party would try to solve them. Then his colleague Maria talked about the nuclear mission and how Greece participated in the non-proliferation regime. 

3rd of February

On Thursday everyone was woken up early for a meeting with the Bank of Greece, which for some was a challenge after the night before, when we all partied in the hostel common room watched by a mysterious smoking old man. Apparently we were entertaining enough to look at for several hours. After the Bank of Greece told us all about economics and financials (but skipped debts?), it was time for another meeting. This time we went to a beautiful building in the old city center, where the Institute of International Relations from the Panteion University was stationed. A Greek professor explained to the participants what kind of international relations they analyzed and discussed there, and left room for questions. After this meeting, people were given free time to stroll around the city, visit special places, the beach (however the bus didn’t go there so we were ushered out at the port of Athens) and the acropolis (again). In the afternoon, everyone met up at the Benaki Museum of Greek Civilization, where we waited like true dutchies because after 6 o’clock the museum was free. Since it was the last full day of the trip, there would be a closing dinner with all participants in a Greek tavern. After our chair, Nina, speeched we ate tasty Greek dishes. When the dinner was done and everyone went outside, the SPIL anthem was sung loudly or mumbled by some. To end the day, we all went to a bar (which should have been a karaoke bar that turned out to be non-existent) and spent our time drinking and partying until the wee hours.

4th of February

After a long night of injuries and stolen bags (which were returned eventually), we woke up early to pack the last things in our suitcase. A nice cold one-minute shower ensured us to be fresh and clean even for the last day! Our first activity started off in the impact hub where a dutch diplomat talked about the dutch diplomacy in Greece. Afterwards we held an interesting Q&A, in which we also asked what we could possibly ask the Turkish embassy. Just like us, the Dutch diplomat was in shock that we could manage a meeting at the Turkish embassy. After this interesting meeting, we had a little time to buy lunch/breakfast and some last souvenirs. And then the activity everyone had waited for the whole week: the Turkish embassy! 5 lucky people were chosen to come to their premises as covid did not allow 40 people in person. When entering the building (or palace one might say) we sat down and stood up for the Turkish diplomat. Due to the lack of communication skills, the Turks did not quite understand that the other 35 people were planning to watch the meeting online. Therefore, a hybrid meeting was not possible and the other 35 (unlucky) people started with their free time. Soon we realized that the Turkish diplomat was not a regular diplomat, but had some top positions at NATO and the UN. We felt truly honored that he wanted to host us and answer our, somewhat controversial, questions. Back at the hostel we grabbed our bags and went to the airport where we had our last “delicious Greek” dinner. After 3 hours we arrived safely on the Dutch ground. For one last time we shouted “SPIL OUT” and that is where our amazing trip ended…

The Short-Trip to Athens has been, if you would ask us, one of the highlights of this year. Although the Covid situation had cause many tear and sweat drops on our forehead, the actual trip definitely made up for all of that. Our dear committee started off deciding on the destination. Following some discussion it turned out that the goddish city of Athens was on top of our list. During the destination reveal borrel, our committee’s Greek dancing skills made their introduction which noticably impressed the crowd. Afterwards, we filled our bellies with some drinks, but one committee member famously decided to empty hers in front of the bar. Anyhow, we continued working tremendously hard to convince all of our Greek friends to meet with us, but some were not as excited as other. Apparently, the invention of e-mail has yet to be fully implemented in some Greek organisation which made it even tougher to organise activities during these uncertain times. At some point the situation got so bad that a so called ‘doomsday’ meeting even resulted in the real possibility that the trip would not take place. However, for some reason the Greek authorities loosened some restrictions and therefore could proudly state that the 2022 SPIL Short-Trip would go to Athens after all. The trip turned out to be a huge success as a whole and therefore it is hard to come up with one specific highlight, although I should mention that one comrade really stood out from the crowd: Panos. On Friday the 4th of February we safely returned at Schiphol which became known as the end of our amazing journey.

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