The taxi strike that saved us some cash by forcing us onto a shuttle bus from the airport into Athens was still raging on two days later as we scrambled to find a way to get to the pier. Little did we know we were approaching a decision that would lead to the lowest point in our trip, and probably ever in my travels.
Our options were as follows: take the subway or go with a driver willing to break strike. Frankly, we did not understand the repercussions on the latter. But when we thought about getting on the hot, sweaty subway with our excess luggage, we wanted to cry. My mom, bless her, had brought an extra suitcase filled with my dive gear, (which I sent home filled with cold weather/dress clothes), so she was carrying two suitcases and a carry-on. I had a massive backpack, a frontpack filled with computer and camera gear, and shoulder bag of excess stuff to send home (go ahead and judge me, hardcore travelers with teeny tiny packs). And the subway did not go door to door, meaning we would have had to walk maybe fifteen minutes at the other end, with all our bags, in the blistering sun, not really knowing where we were going! The icing on the cake was the Athens metro’s reputation for pickpockets and thieves. I am by no means an alarmist but after reading countless tales on message boards and from fellow bloggers, (especially noting the downtown to Piraeus line) we just did not want to play that game.
We didn’t even know this was an option, but a solo cruiser we met chartered out an entire bus for himself as buses were exempt from the strike. It cost him hundreds of dollars for what is a pretty short ride, not to mention the waste in gas and resources, but at least no one got hurt.
So we took up our hotel concierge on her murmured offer to find a taxi driver willing to break strike and bring us to the pier. I’m ashamed to admit I thought to myself how very James Bond it all was when we handed over the money before getting in the car and he stashed it in a hiding place under the seat. We thought we were actors in a little play when we arrived at the pier, got out of the car and my mom gave the driver a hug and said, “Thank you so much for doing this for us, you are such a good friend.” We turned to walk away and everything fell to chaos.
A group of men waiting under the overpass swiftly surrounded the car, and before the driver could get safely back in the vehicle they had him by the throat pushed against the door frame. One of them came towards us, shouting and demanding to know how much we paid. We said he was just a friend, we didn’t pay him, but it was an obvious lie. How would that friendship have started, between a Greek man so desperate for money that he was willing to break strike and risk his safety for a handful of Euros, and two American women heading out for an expensive vacation on a luxury cruise line?
It all happened so fast, it’s like remembering a dream. Representatives from our cruise line saw was happening and tried to whisk us away but it was too late. We already saw the damage we had caused. Angry shouts were flying in the air and our poor driver was being beaten by a group of thugs intent on punishing him for being so desperate for income during an endless strike. My mom was in tears and the pit in my stomach was endless. Whatever our intentions or reasons may have been, our actions led to a man being physically assaulted, probably robbed, and maybe arrested.
We were far from the only ones to have this experience, as we heard tales of traumatized children being hauled away by their parents after seeing their drivers get violently ripped from their vehicles. Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I think that our cruise line, Silversea, should have provided shuttle buses to pick up passengers from their hotels.
We My mom paid a serious premium to go with a luxury cruise line, and part of our experience should not have been choosing between breaking a strike, paying a stupid amount to charter a bus for a fifteen minute ride, or taking an arduous and dangerous subway ride.
But in the end, they did not offer that option, and so the decision was ours alone to make, and we have no one to blame but ourselves for the outcome. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20 and we now know we made a mistake, but what was the right answer? What should we have done? What would you do?
Hey Alex, you’ve articulated the dilemma well. I’m anxious to hear people’s suggestions. In my rear view mirror, I wish we had braved public transportation, although I still can’t fathom how we would have wrangled our hundred+ pounds of gear down and then back up those subway stairways. Or found our way thus encumbered at the vast Piraeus pier when even the locals couldn’t tell us where our cruise ship would be. I agree with you about SilverSea’s responsibility, maybe you should send them a link to this post and see if you get a response?
I just sent them the link on Twitter. I’ll keep you updated!
OMG–you poor guys. Horrible trauma. If you had any idea how the other drivers would react, of course you would not have done that. Feel awful for you both. And you are so right, the cruise line is entirely responsible for that. Must have had quite a lasting effect on your level of happiness on such a nice ship.
It definitely put a damper on that day, and we were reminded of it at every port when we saw striking drivers. It didn’t affect us the rest of the trip so we were lucky I think.
I love that photo of the taxis. The debt crisis is really churning the markets here in the US. Stories like this are scaring off tourists, which of course makes the situation in Greece even worse. Safe travels!
It’s true, people are getting scared off! The news story I linked to has stories of missed flights and people unable to see Athens as they were blockaded from leaving their cruise ship. I sympathize with people taking action for a cause they believe in, but for a country in economic crisis I can’t image the answer is to strangle the great income source that is tourism.
Dear Kathryn and Alex…My perspective after living in a country for 25 years that has a similar economic climate and a similar social climate is the following. Neither of you are to blame what so ever for this incident. Greece has been struggling economically for a very long time now..it is a bomb ready to explode. Greece is also a country that gets a great deal of its revenue from the tourist industry. The government had the obligation to provide tourists with some viable means of transportation through their city. A minimal service if you will. I also believe the Taxi services have responsability here..it is not in their interest to traumatize tourists on thier visits to that country causing them to never want to return. countries whose main industry is tourism have an obligation to provide safe service to those visitors even in the midst of social strife. It is simply a reflection of how much everyone in that country is suffering the terrible economic climate, that one man would risk a life threatening beating and the scorn of his peers in order to put food on the table for his family. The political leaders of Greece need to step up to the plate and lead. I know this probably isn’t much help but it is the truth as I see it. Spain too has many strikes in the transportation sector but they always provide minimal services to both the tourists and their own citizens. Safety for all absolutely requires this measure. I too am very sorry for your cab driver..I don’t think my heart could withstand hearing his personal story as to why he was willing to take the risk. Hugs to you both. Put this behind you as best you can and enjoy your time together.
Buen Viaje Laura
Hi Laura, thank you so much for this comment. It’s really nice to have the perspective of someone with some insight. I think part of our problem was the “striking culture” in America is no where near as strong as it is in Europe, and we didn’t really understand how devastating the consequences of breaking strike would be. Your reaction is very level headed, thank you for your kind words.
P.S. Good job reporting your experience Alex.
This post has provoked some serious dialouge. You had no experience to make your decision any differently than you did and you have to chaulk it up as a learning lesson. Your poor driver however knew what he was getting into and the risks involved. Next time you find yourself in this situation or if I ever do I will contact the cruise line first and see what they offer as an option if any.
That’s a good idea. We didn’t even think to contact them, but like I said we had no idea how serious the situation was.
This highlights the problems with unions. Many taxi drivers did not want to strike but were bullied into striking by those with a vested financial interest. The background to this strike can be blamed on the German Chancellor and her European colleagues who are insisting on opening up the closed shop for taxi drivers, and other trades in Greece in return for lending Greece the money to delay bankruptcy. Taxi licences had become a valuable commodity changing hands for tens, if not hundreds, of thousand of Euros. By opening up the trade to others these investments would become worthless, thus fuelling the strike. Needless to say the taxi drivers had absolutely no sympathy from the average Greek citizen, especially those who made their living from tourism. As a result of this strike and others, many cruise ships now avoid Athens.
Wow, great to have some background from someone who knows a bit more about whats going on. With the exception of this incident, we were only mildly inconvenienced by the taxi strike and I hope that it doesn’t keep people from visiting such an amazing country!
I agree with you about SilverSea’s responsibility, maybe you should send them a link to this post and see if you get a response?
It was a long time ago! I think we contacted them at the time, but I don’t recall the response…