It's beginning to look a lot like the Olympics -- and that's bad news for Athens drivers.
Come Aug. 1, officials will institute Olympic traffic restrictions. This will effectively create a citywide squeeze for the car-loving Athenians. Major roads, including the route for the marathon race, will have dedicated Olympic lanes. Then there is a special lane for buses. The rest of the public can use what's left, which in most places will be a single lane.
The result could be lengthy traffic jams during the Aug. 13-29 Games if Athenians insist on sticking with their cars.
That's why officials are begging residents to hop on the subway or the other new rail links. A suburban rail is scheduled to start running July 30. And a tram should start taking passengers on Monday.
"I am asking the understanding of the residents . . . and their help to favor public transportation instead of their cars," urged transport minister Mihalis Liapis.
Kosher Cuisine on the Way
The much-lauded Mediterranean cuisine is being adapted for Jewish visitors at Athens' first kosher restaurant.
The Kol Tuv Glatt Kosher restaurant, in the central neighborhood of Monastiraki, will open its doors in time for the Aug. 13-29 Olympics, the owners promise.
The menu will offer elegant Greek and Mediterranean cuisine as well as international specialties by a professional Greek chef, says Rabbi Mendel Hendel. The menu will include well-known Greek specialties such as moussaka (eggplant casserole), pastitsio (baked pasta with bechamel cream sauce), souvlaki (meat kabobs), briam (vegetable stew) and spanakopita (spinach pie).
"Keeping kosher is not just about the foods one is permitted to eat but about a disciplined way of life that creates community, strengthens identity, and ultimately lends itself to richer involvement in the greater experience of living Jewish," said Hendel. "Particularly when traveling, keeping kosher helps the Jewish people affirm their identity regardless of their surroundings."
The restaurant is another visible change in Greece's once homogenous society, which has changed significantly since immigration from the Balkans and Eastern Europe began in the 1990s.
But it seems Athens is still not ready for a mosque.
Efforts by Muslims to build the city's first mosque since Ottoman times have been hampered by bureaucracy and objections from the powerful Greek Orthodox Church.
Lost in a Masquerade
Besides the construction and traffic headaches, there aren't many signs that the Olympics are less than a month away. But organizers have a plan.
Not much can be done with the city's many drab concrete facades, so organizers will instead try to cover the blemishes with banners, balloons and even ribbons. In all, organizers plan to dress up 342 miles of streets in Athens and five other cities hosting Olympic events.
Under the "Look of the City" program, organizers plan to display more than 20,000 banners, 900 decorative ribbons, 87,000 square feet of bridge covering material, 102,000 square feet of special materials for fabric banners to cover buildings and 12 illuminated inflated balloons around the center of Athens.
"What we want is for the spectators, the visitors, even the unsuspecting tourists going around Athens and the other Olympic Cities, to feel that they are at the center of a great sports and cultural festival," said chief Athens organizer Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki.
Eight of Athens' aesthetically challenging buildings will be covered with huge colorful photographs of ancient sites, stadiums, olive trees and monuments.
"We want a festive and colorful image to be transmitted," said Angelopoulos-Daskalaki.