Athens — "I'm very sorry sir, but I can confirm that your hotel in Athens no longer exists." We were due to fly to Athens in a few hours, and the manager of our hotel on the Greek island of Santorini was apologetic. "It's not uncommon these days," he continued, shaking his head; "between high debts and the bleak economic future, many hotels are just shutting down. This is Greece today."
So it wasn't an e-mail scam or a bad joke — my first guess on receiving an e-mail from Priceline informing us that our Athens hotel had "closed forever." That seemingly superfluous "forever" was not, as I had suspected, an Internet scammer's poor English, but rather a sign of just how bearish the travel industry is on Greece's economic future.
The cab driver from the airport did his best not to allay our fears. He gave gruff monosyllabic answers to our questions (we took the hint). The one exception was a warning he gave while driving down a main street in Athens: He motioned to his right and said, "This side of the city is bad. Don't go." Then, signaling to his left: "This side of the city is good . . . during the day."
On our right — the forbidden zone — we saw many boarded-up shops, graffiti on walls, litter on the streets, loitering men, and police officers every few blocks (some in riot gear). On the left . . . we saw much of the same, only not quite as bad.
Why were we here anyway? Oh yes: to see the Acropolis. It's to see these world-famous ruins that tourists like us brave pickpockets, riots, and surly cab drivers. Going to Greece and not visiting the Acropolis is considered sacrilegious. It's like going to Memphis and skipping Graceland.