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Athens, Day 8: Ventured to another venue: Hellinikon

Today’s “General Protest” has public transportation closed throughout the city. The Metro (subway) did remain open for the sake of the Games, but they were extremely busy as they covered the lack of buses running through the streets. Thankfully, taxis were still running (and making major money in doing so). Even more thankfully, the Special Olympics shuttle system was still running. It’s a series of chartered buses that run constant routes from venue to venue. It’s there for fans, volunteers, VIPs and guests, and officials. The shuttles are very comfortable, air conditioned carriages that move directly to the venues, with no additional stops or crowds. Why we didn’t use this system at the beginning of the week (instead of the Metro) is beyond me.

The protest is supposed to carry through tomorrow too, but as long as we have those shuttles, there is no concern for any major effects on the Games. Though, this evening there is a steady stream of sirens and heavy traffic moving past our hotel. I can only imagine how crazy it is near Parliament right now

Hellinikon: this is the venue that I should have went to the first few days. It’s located at the beach! The beach, complete with an absolutely gorgeous ocean view, picturesque clouds, and cool sea air. Ahh, felt a little like home.

Hellinikon is the site of gymnastics, badminton, handball, football (soccer), softball, Young Athletes and MATP programs. Yeah, a lot going on down there. Half of the team has been assigned here for the week, so there was no need for me to come down, but it was a venue I wanted to see, and today’s schedule was casual enough to allow it.

My new favorite sport? Handball. I had never seen it in person until today, and I love it. It’s a cross between soccer and basketball (though you can’t use your feet). There’s a ton of strategy involved in the games, and the athleticism is quite something to watch. Which, as I’ve told you before, our athletes are amazing. I watched a few matches; the game between Germany and Kenya was fast paced and down to the last minute. So much fun!

Badminton was entertaining, but we spent most of the time watching a very well organized artistic gymnastics competition. Again, I’m thoroughly impressed simply by seeing athletes from all over the world in one location. And to watch them compete with one another, and to watch their coaches interact with the athletes and other countries' coaches, was great.

A very touching moment: one of the female gymnasts is deaf, and the announcer took a moment to teach the crowd how to “applaud” using sign language so that she could appreciate it. And from that point on, after each of her routines, the whole crowd signed their applause. I cannot begin to describe the smile on her face.

The day ended with an absolutely gorgeous scene. As our shuttle was pulling away from Hellinikon, the sun’s rays were cascading through the clouds in the sky, casting rays right over the venue and the surrounding beaches. Took my breath away. But, and I apologize, I didn’t take any pictures. Edie (Alaska) asked me why, to which i could only reply “some things you just have to appreciate without a camera”. And I’m very glad I did.

It’s fun not obsessing over pictures while I’m here. There are about 100 shots that I passed on, today, simply because I opted to just relax and enjoy what was happening rather than fuss with a camera. But, as you can see above, I did get my picture of the US Embassy (taken from our shuttle as it drove by). I can’t remember if I told this story on the blog, but on my first day here I walked past the embassy. Seeing it, I stopped to take a photo. I was immediately confronted by two very well armed security guards, letting me know that I could not photograph the building. I pointed out some people across the street, taking photographs of the same buiding at that very moment, only to be told that it was okay to shoot from there, but not from the sidewalk right in front (where we were). Ridiculous. But who am I to argue with two guys holding sub-machine guns?

Tomorrow I head back to OAKA to check in with the venues there (athletics, aquatics, basketball, tennis, volleyball and powerlifting) Though, if it’s anything like the past few days, I expect it to be another quiet and easy day. I want to spend some more time at tennis. Mattel is also conducting a Young Athletes exhibition up there, and I really want to see it.

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