Our time in Athens was incredible, standing in the shockingly blue waters of the Mediterranean, eating world class gyros, collecting pink rocks along the beach, and basking in the ancient glory of the Parthenon.
Our hostel was a mere twenty minute walk from Acropolis, so we journeyed there on foot, stopping in shops along the way and eating fresh cherries we picked up at a fruit stand. It was as we were leaving Athens that we began to have trouble. We visited Acropolis on our last day in Greece, cutting our schedule uncomfortably close to our flight. By the time we left, there was only an hour before we had to be at the airport. Wanting to save some time, we decided to take a taxi back to the hostel, being that our fare the day before had been so cheap.
After a few minutes we were able to hail a cab from the bustling square at the base of Acropolis. We spoke to the driver in English as we crawled into the cab. He began driving and asked us where we were from before even asking for our destination. When we told him we were from the U.S., he asked if we spoke Greek – using perfect English. I shifted in my seat, suspicious.
“Between the two of us, we speak English, German, and Spanish,” I responded, “but not Greek.”
He nodded and finally asked for our destination, two blocks away from the square in the wrong direction. We gave him the address of our hostel, to which he said, “No, no. I cannot take you there. I will take you to Omonia Square,” which was still an eight minute walk from our hostel.
He then pulled out a card, written all in Greek, and my stomach flipped. My previous concern had been confirmed. Before embarking on our journey, I had done quite a bit of research on common European scams on tourists. Many of the articles I read claimed that if someone was reading you something that you could not read, be-it in another language or fine print, you were likely being conned. When he began to read, all I could think was, “How do I get out of here?”
The driver claimed that all cab fares went up to 11 Euro per Kilometer after 2 on Sundays. I looked down at my phone; it was 2:15. Leigh and I exchanged a look. The previous day it had been 70 cents per kilometer. We knew the fares went up on Sundays, but not until after 10PM and to a flat rate of 3 Euro per Kilometer. We watched the meter anxiously, not knowing how to get out of the situation we had found ourselves in. I pulled out my wallet when he stopped two blocks short of Omonia Square, wishing we had walked from Acropolis.
“Forty-five Euro,” he says, looking back at us.
I look down into my wallet, that is all the cash I have. I pulled out two 20 Euro bills and took the 5 bill Leigh held out, watching them as I passed them over the leather seat. He lowered his hands out of my line of sight before speaking again.
“No, no,” he said, holding up the bills, “It is forty-five each! This is only thirty.” I looked at the bills, appalled. Had swapped one of the twenties for a five.
By now, Leigh had become frustrated. “Forty-five each?!”
He nodded, pointing at the card.
“We don’t have it, sorry,” she said.
I reached for the door handle, prepared to run; but he began to drive, saying “I will take you to an ATM then.”
He drove around for another fifteen minutes, passing six ATMs along the way, each time saying, “No, no. It’s Sunday.” He stopped and allowed my friend to use the ATM, then claimed we owed 180 Euro ($202), double what it had been before.
“I only have a hundred Euro,” she said tersely.
“Fine, fine. Discount,” he said, holding out his hand. She handed him the money and we got away from the Taxi as quickly as we could, not thinking to get the cab number and report him to the police.
We had booked our hostel in the safest neighborhood in Athens, knowing that it was the most dangerous city on our trip; and even the nicest neighborhood was dangerous and riddled with prostitutes. This driver had left us in the most dangerous neighborhood in Athens, a neighborhood that the attendant at our hostel warned us not to go into, a neighborhood that was an equal distance from our hostel as the Parthenon had been. We ran through the neighborhood, not stopping to orient ourselves, just trying to get out. As we ran, we were shouted out at from doorways and forced to cross the street to avoid a group of men who followed us. We ran faster as a man in a sparkling gold suit pleasured himself on the sidewalk, following us with his eyes and moaning in my ear, an image that still haunts my thoughts.
When we finally got back to our hostel, we had no cash, lost 145 Euro ( $164), and were running late to the airport; but we sure had a story worth telling.