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Published: March 4th 2020
There was a time when we were growing up, when summer holidays involved heading off to Spain. If it wasn't Spain, it was almost definitely Greece. Whilst the above fact registered with me, it didn't really affect my world. I was much more likely to be spending my summers round the Beechwood Avenue Cricket Academy than either destination. My first ever flight in my mid 20s was to Greece. Corfu, to be precise. Other Greek Islands followed. Kos and then Rhodes. I suspect that the party continues in Falaraki to this day. As a result I have a soft spot for the nation, although it dawns on me as I write, that was 33 years ago. I haven't set foot in Greece since. The Man in the Middle unsuccessfully tried to persuade me to join him on the Tricky Trees Band of Brothers pre-season friendly outing to the spiritual home of Olympiakos last summer, but the prospect of 35 degrees and blazing sun didn't appeal. He came back with glowing reports, despite a heavy defeat in the football and an earthquake that brought pictures crashing down in his hotel in Piraeus on his final day. It could have been worse. There
was no reports of him spilling his beer. It was time for our 33 year absence to end.
The car was parked up at the Thistle Hotel by Terminal 5. When British Airways comes in on price from Heathrow, it is a good choice. Decent parking and the option access through the fence into the business parking for a small charge and you can arrive in style using the Pod. I never tire of the automated personal transport cars, that follow the guided rail route straight into the departures area. We had cleared check-in and security within 15 minutes of checking out of the hotel. Brilliant! Every airport should have a Pod. The Terminal was full of people wearing the vogue travel accessory - the face mask. I still wonder at the variety of styles available. The way I see it is that if you are that paranoid about the possibility of the current Coronavirus - stay at home! The brilliant sunshine highlighted the azure blue waters, as we flew down the Croatian and Montenegran coastlines. The metropolis of Athens glistened in the afternoon heat, as we circled to land. We headed out to find transport to the city
Panathenaic Stadium, Athens
The Other Half leaps into action
centre. After my recent strike experience in Turin, I had already checked that we were unlikely to encounter similar problems on arrival. As fortune would have it, the big transport strike that crippled Athens had taken place the week before our trip. The choice of transport was a taxi at about 50 Euros, the Metro at 10 Euros and the bus at 6 Euros. There are no prizes for guessing our choice. Turn right out of the Arrivals and follow the concourse. A ticket booth is in situ by the bus stops, which does offer change. However I think it was fair to say, the ticket vendor wasn't over pleased at being offered a 50 Euro note by the guy before me. We boarded the X95 bus, which has limited stops on route to Syntagama Square. My advice would be secure yourself a seat, before validating the bus ticket on the machines scattered along the bus...... and don't expect an orderly Northern European queue! The Greek alphabet is somewhat challenging, but the ticket machines helpfully show you a big green tick and the word "successful" so you know you won't fall fall of an inspector during the journey. The estimated
travel time was about an hour, but our driver was obviously due a break and polished it off in about 50 minutes. The traffic was busy, but in Athens terms was probably light. If you have plans and the day turns out to be congested, I could see it taking significantly longer.
If we believe what we read, Greece is suffering in an economic sense. Whilst there were plenty of half finished building projects, the majority of premises seemed to be going about their everyday activities. The common theme however was amount of graffiti. It was everywhere and the "artists" seemed to make no distinction between an open or closed business. All were fair game. My cyrillic reading skills extend to no more than a few key football necessities, so it was difficult to assess whether the graffiti was threatening or just a protest. The bus came a halt on the south side of Syntagama Square near the Eurobank. We were in the hotel - handily placed within a 5-7 minute walk on a quiet side street off the Square. The first job was to arm ourselves with transport tickets for the duration of the stay. The price for
a European capital city is a steal. In fact, a mere 9 Euros lands you a 5 day combination ticket and that has to be one of the great travel bargains out there. The tickets can be bought from the machines at the Metro stations or ticket offices. An open ticket office mind seemed a rate commodity. The machines have instruction in a multitude of languages, but be a big careful not to be too distracted and keep your eyes on your wallet during the transaction. We set off for the Olympic Stadium on the Green Line, where I had my eyes on a basketball match. The Olympic complex constructed for the 2004 games lies about 12 stops north of the city centre. The journey took about 25 minutes. The graffiti boys and girls had decorated both the inside and outside of the train. The Olympic complex comprises of an outdoor swimming pool, a number of indoor arenas and the main stadium. A huge sculpture tunnel that seemed to serve no specific purpose curves the length of the area on the same side as the Metro. Rust was peeking through the white paintwork and the pristine finish is fading. Groups
of youths were sat around playing music, skateboarding or just hanging around. A moped raced from one end to other, but drew no interest from the security patrols or a police car. The sun was dropping over the city and sky turned orange. I walked over to the main stadium to take some photographs, whilst assessing in which of the indoor arenas was likely to host the basketball game. The ticket office transpired to be the 2 person portakabin to the left as you exit the Metro. The other more extensive section of portakabins were the football ticket offices.
The Arena hosted a amongst other events, the 2004 Olympic basketball final. A capacity of 20,000 meant getting a ticket was not likely to be difficult, but as always in foreign lands it isn't exactly a straightforward process. A midweek run of the mill Greek Basketball League game against opposition from Crete still demands identification documents to be handed over and individual names printed on the 10 Euro tickets. The formalities concluded, we entered the arena. There was limited interest in the elaborate ticket and once identified as foreigners, the body search was abandoned as not worthy of the effort.
AEK Athens Basketball Club share the venue with rivals Panathinaikos Basketball Club. This was immediately obvious as the green team had deco6most surfaces with their stickers. Basketball is a popular sport in Greece and the Balkans, but the public save most of their enthusiasm for the European League games. As a result a midweek domestic game with a 6 pm start for TV hadn't captured the imagination. The visiting team from Crete brought o spectators, which wasn't the biggest surprise. I was guessing that the crowd numbered about 2000. AEK are one of the country's big sporting organisations. The name means Athletic Union of Constantinople and was founded by a Greek refugees who were removed from the current Turkish territory after the war with them for control of the region in the aftermath of World War 1. The visiting Cretan Kings ..... a word name courtesy of their sponsor ...... romped to an early lead. The home spectators hurled their abuse at the officials, who were viewed as being over generous to the opposition with their decisions. The home team American imports were struggling to convert ball into points, which possibly explained why they had been discarded by the US
draft system. A band of 200 or so AEK ultras incessantly banged their drum and ran through their organised array of songs in a bid to raise the tempo. The tactic finally paid off and the Cretian team surrendered their advantage. AEK won by the narrow margins - 84 to 83 - in the final seconds. I think it is fair to say having seen Michael Jordan, Charles Barclay, Magic Johnson, David Robinson and Shaquille O'eal live in the NBA in our time, it wasn't the highest standard of games. However for excitement and a close finish, you couldn't really match it. We retreated back to the city centre for an executive kebab.
I had read a review, which suggested visit the other classical sites and then go to the Acropolis. The review based this opinion on the others being a bit of an anticlimax after the scale of the primary site. We therefore adopted the small to large approach and arrived at Hadrian's Library as our first port of call. The short walk took us down one of the main shopping thoroughfares - Ermou Street. The major international brands are represented, although we were a touch surprised to
see Mothercare, which has recently closed all UK stores. Marks and Spencer seemingly can't keep stores open in such as Durham, but clings to the Greek High Street as a luxury brand! The Church of St John sits out of place midway down the pedestrian street. In amongst the shopping hordes, buskers play. Watch where you put your feet. They cunningly leave the pot for collection a couple of feet in front of them. A clear beaker with a few coins is almost unnoticeable. The sound of coins scattering across the pavement is followed by demands for compensation to replace the 20 Euros lost in the cracks of the paving slabs. The 20 Euros, which of course were never in the beaker in the first place.
A combination ticket is available for entry to a number of sites, but winter brings half price entry into such as the Acropolis. The combination ticket is 30 Euros and has no winter discount. We therefore opted for individual entry tickets. Hadrian's Library was 4 Euros. The history of Ancient Greece was intertwined with that of the Roman Empire. At home, we tend to think of Hadrian's major achievement as building a wall
to keep Scots in their place, but as we have seen in other blogs he had a mark all over Europe. The Hadrian's Library was constructed around AD 132 and is a fairly small site. The crowds were low, so we wandered at leisure for about 45 minutes. The books and most of the infrastructure are long gone. The stone and marble from many sites has been borrowed as building materials by the locals for centuries. Cats are commonplace in Athens. They wander the main tourist sites at will. I was however surprised to see a group of 6 tortoise basking in the sun in the corner of Hadrian's Library. We moved on to the Roman Agora, which is about a 5 minute walk away. The Roman Agora was built around 11 BC and you enter at the end where the Gate of Athena is situated. The centrepiece is the Tower of the Winds. The 12 metre octagonal tower is somewhat older and is essentially a timepiece. I read it is classed as the earliest known meteorological Station. The next port of call was the Ancient Agora, whi h is on a mammoth scale compared. There are too many features
to mention, but your eyes are drawn constantly to the Temple of Hephaestus on the hill. An old super highway leads through the site, which was the original approach to the Acropolis high above. We walked down through the old neighbourhood of Plaka to Hadrian's Gate by the Temple of Zeus. We skipped paying the entrance, primarily because you can see the main core of the temple from the perimeter fence. A couple of photographs later, we were on our way to the old Olympic Stadium.
Ancient temples and relics are one thing, but ancient stadiums are in a different league. The stadium is nestled in between 2 hills as a sort of natural bowl. It was laid out in the 6th century BC, but remodelled in marble around 144 AD. Over the years of course, the locals borrowed the marble for their own building project and it fell I to disrepair. We know today as the stadium for first modern Olympic Games in 1896. The sightlines are significantly better than those in the 2004 version. Marble thrones adorn the curves - the seats of royalty. The entrance was 5 Euros, but it included a free aud6tour in a
multitude of languages. A number of visitors amuse themselves running on the track and standing on medal podiums at the open end. The Other Half recreated a jumping photo perfected on the beaches of Western Australia to create a bit of an action sequence for ourselves. I read ironically after our basketball game the previous ni, that AEK used to play here outdoors in the 1960s.
We wandered back through the National Garden, catching the end of a changing of the guard performance outside the Parliament on Syntagama Square. We would return a few times over the course of the next few days, although the really big bash from the Ministry of Silly Walks is on Sunday at 11 am. We changed and wandered in depths of Monastiraki to dine at Masters Bar - home of a very fine pizza. Aappendix 1 Greece EKO Basketball League AEK Athens 84 Rethimno Cretan Kings 83 Date:
Wednesday 26th February 2020 @ 1800 Hours Venue:
Nicos Galis OACA Olympic Indoor Hall, Olympic Stadium Complex, Athens, Greece Attendance:
Tot: 0.051s; Tpl: 0.025s; cc: 8; qc: 27; dbt: 0.0071s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb