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Athens sets bar at Olympic height for fun

Norman Helber
Special for The Republic
Dec. 5, 2004 12:00 AM

The whole world seemed to doubt that Athens would be ready to host the 2004 summer Olympic Games. An usher at one of the events proudly informed us, "No one believed the Parthenon would be completed in time for the games in 438 BC. No one believed the stadium would be done for the games in 1896. No one believed anything would be ready for the Games this year. It's always something."

Athens was ready.

The Athenians were wonderful hosts. They made the charming city not only inviting but easily accessible. It was a short stroll from the luggage claim at the airport to get on an ultramodern, clean and fast connecting train, which for 12 euros soon had us in the middle of the downtown Plaka-Monastiraki area. The public-transportation system connecting all the Olympic venues was well thought out and supported with frequent trains, trams and buses. To top it off, the system was free for anyone who had Olympic tickets for that day.

Olympic tickets were available everywhere. Official box offices were located outside the venues. Most of the tickets were reasonably priced, ranging from 10 to 100 euros. The city provided space for the resale of tickets, most of which were available at discounted prices in the public squares.

Without exception Mary and I were treated with affection by the locals. They were sad that not many Americans attended the games. They missed the "spirit of America." The younger people were quick to tell us that although they have no respect for the current government in the United States, they love the American people.

There were more than 55,000 well-trained, brightly attired volunteers placed in key locations to help with directions and information. A volunteer told us that they were situated so that a visitor would never be more than 50 meters from a volunteer. They were equipped to handle the crowds and did so in a very efficient manner. One volunteer gave us her cellphone to call Arizona because there was no public phone nearby.

The city was clean. The stores all had sales. The locals were friendly. Security was everywhere. We couldn't have asked for a better atmosphere.

The improvements made to the infrastructure of Athens will make this remarkable city even more user-friendly for years to come. I know we'll return.

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