Whoever said flying was now a chore without any spark of humour has not flown on an aircraft full of Greeks! Ok, alcohol may have something to do with it, but it was an interesting flight from Frankfurt with various passengers shouting comments and encouragement that I am sure was meant to be helpful. At the end of the trip which was mostly smooth, they all burst into applause. We took a taxi from the airport to Athens and Marg practiced her Greek and the taxi driver was delighted, almost gave her a hug when he dropped us at the hotel.
Our arrival in Athens went a little way towards explaining the attitude on the plane. To say that there are no rules here is an understatement. Road traffic signs don’t even get to the status of being a suggestion – roadside decoration probably covers it. Somehow everything seems to work, but defies logic. Athenians have a challenge that these Australians have never come across – unbelievable numbers of tourists wandering aimlessly along roads that were originally designed for donkey traffic. Many roads have been closed permanently to vehicular traffic, but as many Athenians use motor scooters or motor bikes, in
the spirit of anything goes, it is not unusual to find motorbikes manoeuvring between the coffee tables or driving on the footpath if the road is temporarily blocked. Athens certainly has a vibrancy that is a joy to be part of.
After a great night’s sleep, and some good advice from the hotel’s customer assistance person at breakfast, we headed off to the Acropolis. But first a little about the hotel; although it was by no means new, the room was quite spacious and Margaret decided that there really must be a god when we discovered twin beds in the room. The elevator was only capable of carrying 4 persons (320 kgs!!) and if you had luggage, the numbers went down dramatically. On the plus side, there was a rooftop area where they served alcoholic drinks and coffee until late at night and the view of the Acropolis about 400 mts away was just breath-taking. Navigation was a little difficult in a city where the streets are very small and run at any angle that suited them 2000 years ago, but we did find the Acropolis Museum after a short time. This is a huge Acropolis specific museum and covers
3 levels of approx. 120 mts x 60 mts. And it would be easy to spend all day here, but we had come to see the ruins so on we went. It sounds crazy, but while the building is clearly visible from every angle, perched atop a huge granite hill, signage to the entry and ticket box is non-existent and we travelled a little further that we should have before realising our mistake. (Marg thinks it was a ruse to get her to walk further, and it was of course uphill all the way.)
The effect of many conflicts over many centuries has left this magnificent edifice somewhat the worse for wear. To their great credit the Greek govt.is now working hard to rebuild/restore it as best they can, and they certainly have a lot to work with, with huge piles of worked marble lying all over the site. As jigsaw puzzles go, this is the ultimate challenge. Although we had spent a fair time in the museum we arrived at the top of the mount and the Acropolis relatively early and the crowds of sightseers was bearable. The views of the building and of the surrounding countryside are amazing.
The sun shone for us and we were able to get a lot of good photos – perhaps too many. Margaret coped extremely well with the BIG UPHILL walk despite the onset of a heavy cold. There are many other places of interest around the sides of the mount including a couple of amphitheatres and other areas of worship, meeting and learning. Lunch was very late that day and we retired back to the hotel to recuperate. Geoff ventured out to do a bit of exploring of the local area and was amazed to find a number of ruins within 100 mts of the hotel. It seemed that you discovered a new roman wall or market place around every corner. Quite a humbling experience.
Day 2 in Athens saw Geoff headed to the post office with two pairs of shoes (silly bugger bought 5 pairs with him and couldn’t get his case closed no matter what when we left Singapore)and a pair of jeans to send back to Aust. It was quite an adventure and he found like-minded Aussies there. They all assisted one another and became the best of friends for the hour or more that it took to
negotiate the intricacies of the Hellenic Post system. The afternoon saw us take the train to the port town of Piraeus. Train tickets can be bought for a 90 min duration and as it was only 15 – 20 mins each way to Piraeus that gave us just under an hour to look around – more than enough. We stepped off the train and were greeted by street vendors selling the biggest, juiciest strawberries for €2/500gm – how could we resist? Piraeus is the centre for both commercial and ferry traffic to Athens although I think if you arrived here to start your holiday, you might have serious doubts about your judgement. Geoff found it grubby with hectic traffic going in all directions. On return Marg was feeling the effects of the heat on the trip and her worsening cold (despite taking a number of prescription drugs that are available over the counter here) and she retired. (What he means is that you can get antibiotics over the counter). Meanwhile, Geoff was gaining more confidence with his navigational skill and set off to find more hidden ruins.
Last day in Athens and we re-packed our bags and made ready
to check out. Marg was in need of some retail therapy and we strolled leisurely towards the seat of the Greek parliament in time to catch the 11.00 am changing of the guard. It is a very quaint ceremony with the guards performing many over exaggerated movements of both arms and legs. The crowd made taking photos difficult especially of some of the finer detail, but we did get some before strolling back to the hotel to formally check out. With the temperature already over 31deg., Marg chose to loiter around/in the hotel, but Geoff took on the biggest expedition so far. Armed with his trusty map (which was by now soggy and falling to pieces) he found Hadrian’s library (which he had walked past several times before) which was open for tourists, and entry was covered by our ticket to the Acropolis. Then onto the Roman market and featured many marble columns and decorative features such a fountain which was full of tadpoles and mosquito wrigglers) and an ancient mosque. There were other ruins on the other side of the road that did not have any evidence of restoration, and he asked at the gate what they were –
this was a Greek market apparently older than the Ancient Agora, but obviously not as important (read spectacular) as the Roman market. Geoff headed on to Ancient Agora, a vast space that was another meeting and trading place. Again there were many features that showed how sophisticated these people were, including street drains carved out of granite, and various small buildings that may have been residences around the perimeter. There were chapels to the giants, and a stoa that was easily 100 mts long that is now a museum; holding so many artefacts and other indicators of life and death in those days. Ironically Athens now had an overburdened sewerage system and the smell assaults your nostrils often as you walk down the street .
By this time, Geoff was feeling like an over cooked grease ball (this is because he insisted on wearing jeans, thick socks and sneakers, unlike any other tourist)and despite it being relatively early decided to head back to the hotel and Join Marg. The hotel were very accommodating, allowing us to make use of their free tea/coffee and washrooms until it was time to take the train to the airport. There is a dedicated line
(although it does stop at a great many stations on the way) and they offer a discounted 2 person ticket for couples travelling to the airport. How civilised is that? 45 mins later and we were doing the “where do we check in” routine, which was really only baggage drop as we had taken the opportunity to do it online in the morning, and finding somewhere to have tea. All sorted, and with a belly full of traditional rustic Greek fare we were onto the plane headed for Kos – 50 mins by schedule, 30 mins with Fangio the pilot. More of Kos in the next instalment.
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