The Seventy-Two Hour Rule
Michael and I have learned it's impossible for us to have a remotely accurate sense of a place until we've been there at least three days.
Michael and I are currently living in Athens, Greece, and we got off to a rocky start.
We arrived in the city after taking a two-week cruise through the Mediterranean. We needed to get from the port to our apartment, and in Greece, the rideshare app of choice is Beat, not Uber.
But none of the Beat drivers could find us at the cruise ship terminal. We’re always reluctant to take cabs, especially in cities like Athens where the cabs don’t have meters (and you have to negotiate a price in advance), but this time, we had no choice.
Naturally, the price of the cab was three times that of the rideshare in what I now realize was a cab-monopolized cruise ship terminal area, but hey, whatever.
And naturally, once we arrived at our destination, the cab driver insisted he had no change, and wouldn’t take a credit card, so we had to pay even more than the already-ridiculous price we’d negotiated.
This is a good example of why I really hate the cab industry, and why — despite the many problems with the gig economy — I much prefer using rideshare. But fine, okay. These annoying incidental costs are the price of travel.
But the driver also dropped us off in the wrong spot — six blocks from our apartment — something we didn’t realize until he’d quickly zipped away.
The surrounding buildings were all completely covered in graffiti — much more than even Spain and Italy, where we’d just been, which are also in the middle of serious graffiti epidemics.
Just what have we gotten ourselves into? I thought.
And the road between that spot and our apartment? Naturally, a pop-up Saturday public market had popped up to completely clog the ridiculously narrow street.
Michael and I were wearing our big backpacks and also carrying two bags each.
Despite how overloaded we were, we began maneuvering our way past the many stalls, with their precariously perched stacks of oranges and open racks of fresh but delicate eggs.
And, of course, the old lady with the wheeled cart who had to block the entire street so she could pick her olives from the different bins one…by…one…by…one.
This went on for six blocks.
I’m in a Goddamn movie comedy, I thought. This kind of thing is funny when it happens to attractive, charming movie stars in romcoms. But I was feeling neither attractive nor charming — just increasingly grumpy.
Finally, we arrived at our Airbnb, which was extremely underwhelming, despite fabulous online photos and rave reviews.
There were orange trees growing right outside our window, and I picked one and ate it — and found it was incredibly bitter.
Oh, that figures, I thought. I think I hate Athens. Why the hell did we ever decide to come here?
We unpacked, got some dinner, and went to bed early.
And the next day, I woke up to the smell of orange blossoms — at least as sweet as jasmine, maybe sweeter.
Yes, the oranges growing outside our window were bitter, but there were still oranges growing right outside our window.
Michael and I ventured out to explore our new neighborhood in the light of the different day, and we discovered we lived in Exarcheia, which is known as Athens’ “anarchist” neighborhood. It has a long and storied history as home to the city’s radical thinkers and counter-cultural ideas.
I saw all the graffiti in a different light too. Taken altogether as a pastiche, it worked. In this case, it wasn’t an off-putting sign of decline and decay, but an emblematic show of neighborhood identity, an interesting proclamation of freedom and nonconformity.
Knowing the history of the neighborhood, the graffiti was even — dare I say it? — kind of beautiful.
We also saw that the area was rapidly gentrifying from its sometimes violent past, with a seemingly endless number of vibrant sidewalk cafes, along with bookshops, stores selling vinyl records, comic book stores, and computer shops. The area is (optimistically) known as Greece’s Silicon Valley.
Two blocks in one direction led to a lovely, lively park. Two blocks in another direction led to a rocky, tree-covered hill, which offered a stunning view of the Acropolis, which itself was only another twenty-five minute walk away.
In retrospect, even having a farmer’s market right at the end of our street seemed kind of, well, fabulous.
And I remembered something Michael and I often say to ourselves (but also frequently forget):
You can’t judge a place until you’ve been there at least seventy-two hours.
In fact, Michael and I have officially coined our own “rule” to remind ourselves of just this principle: The Seventy-Two Hour Rule.
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