As High As A Kite

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March 9th 2020
Published: March 17th 2020
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"Welcome to Greece. The land of opportunity, taxes, more taxes and even more taxes". I noted this inscription as one of the more understandable pieces of graffiti on a wall in Plaka. It is fair to say that Greece has generally had a hard time of late. The economy hasn't faired well and there have been lifelines thrown by the EU, but all with strings attached. The strings aren't appreciated by all, who judging by this graffiti feel overburdened by the level of tax. The anti EU graffiti was fairly commonplace and often noted, as we wandered around during our stay. What was surprising was the pro Boris sentiment next door to the tax graffiti. Who would have thought that TFB was even known outside our shores? The elusive one turns out to be much favoured in the Agean for standing up to Brussels. A chance conversation in a cafe with a leading light in one of the newer political parties was confidently predicting that we would be OK post Brexit. "Your economy is too big to ignore". If only! We will see. Our friend also had some interesting views on the latest influx of refugees waiting at the border with Turkey - TFB might have been a bit more cautious with his words on that subject.

The first focus of our last day - at least as far as I was concerned- was to acquire some tickets for the football at the Olympic Stadium later that evening. I was not actually concerned about the availability, but it was a case of wanting to avoid the hassle of the process at a ticket office before kick off. I located an establishment that did the online sales for Panathinaikos and we set off. It was a quiet Sunday morning, but the internet said that the office was open. It duly was, but the first words spoken didn't bode well. "There is a problem". The problem was not insurmountable - it just involved money. As part of some draconian measure to reduce football violence, fans of the larger teams are required to join authorised membership schemes to be able to buy a ticket. In Italy where bureaucracy knows no bounds, they will happily accept your passport as a reason to negate the need for a formal registration on the basis you are a visiting national. There was no such leniency in Greece. I begrudgingly parted with my 10 Euros to allow them the privilege of giving me an ID, so I could give them more money for a ticket. The good news was that the ticket seller was a member was not going tonight, so the Other Half was allowed to purchase her ticket using the unrequired member number. I was bit sceptical about the process, thinking ahead about possible checks ahead on the turnstiles of passport ID not matching the ticket detail. There was a smile."You don't need to worry. This is Greece". The land of opportunity. I had seen it written on a wall. We headed back out into the sunshine, armed with a Green Team membership and two 18 Euro tickets.

The location of the ticket vendor was convenient and we were back near the Parliament for the weekend special version of Changing of the Guard. We were usually never far away from Syntagama Square, where the limited version of the event takes place every hour. However, research suggested that the 11 am Sunday changeover was "the show" and not to be missed. Who were we to argue? The crowd was building at 10.30 am, so I would recommend getting there before that to ensure a reasonable viewing position. The section of the Presidential Guard who perform the ceremony are known as Evzones and have been a special unit since 1868. They are allegedly all tall, although I can't say it was that noticeable on the day. The unit guard the tomb of the unknown soldier and once a week put on an elaborate performance of synchronised marching. If you are there during the week, you will notice that the unit is kitted out in their winter uniform (except of course if it is summer). However, Sunday is different and the special kilt with 400 pleats makes an appearance. They are known as a foustenella. The kit also encompasses the hat with a long black tuft and known as a phareon. The outfit is finished off with a highly decorated waistcoat over a white shirt with frilly sleeves. Your average New Romantic would have been well up for this look in the early 1980s down The Blitz. The shoes are posh clogs with pom poms, which click on the flagstones as they March. The soldiers march down from the barracks at the rear of the National Guard and the roads are closed off - so bear that in mind, if you were trying to catch an X95 airport bus at this time on a Sunday morning. The movements are very precise and almost slow motion. The pair of soldiers try to maintain perfect symmetry. Once the guard is changed, the rest of the troop head off back up the road to the barracks. The majority of the crowd disperses at this point, so whatever your original vantage point it is easy to follow them up the road to get some more photographs. We did so and then retired into the National Gardens behind.

The streets were busy in Plaka on Sunday afternoon. This is the quaint quarter of the city centre, where tourists outnumber the locals and most businesses are catering to the visitors. We laughed everytime we passed one particular shop - 50 per cent discount on offer. The price never came down further. We had a snack and an ice coffee - a Freddo in local speak. If you are looking for something a little stronger, you should visit Brettos (pronounced Vrettos). The oldest bar and distillery in Athens - it has been around since 1909. The interior is very photogenic- old wooden barrels and highly coloured bottles. There is no actual pressure to buy, samples are available and they seem to accept that incursions purely for photographs is just part of the territory. It was quite on the afternoon, but apparently gets fairly lively in the evening or if a tour bus descends en masse.

We left for the Olympic Stadium about 5.45 pm. The Green Metro line made it easy to gauge the time of travel and the current league position of Panathinaikos meant the crowd was forecast to be fairly low for the visit of Volos - a small team from up country. I didn't actually realise how low, until I saw the official attendance a couple of days later. The Panathinaikos home ground is under redevelopment and as with the other big clubs - AEK and Olympiacos - they have gravitated to the big white elephant in times of need. Indeed AEK are still here, years after their own renovation project has hit the financial buffers. The Olympic Stadium was built for 1982 European Athletics Championships, so wasn't really "Olympic" after all. The 2004 Games came along and with an extensive refurbishment, it took its place as the centrepiece venue of that competition. It is one of those places football groundhopping types detest. Large and with a running track, it gas some of the poorest sightlines for football in any European stadium. Liverpool fans possibly still love it in memory of their dramatic 2007 Champions League Final victory. The ticket man was indeed right with his "There is Greece" attitude towards tickets matching ID. There was no interest. Once inside the outer perimeter, we had to negotiate another set of turnstiles and then bizarrely found the toilets are outside these having taken our seats. The practicalities of having to repeat the entry process should you need the toilet was very strange. I purchased a pin badge from the equivalent of the club portakabins and joked on that I was expecting a 6-0 win for the home team. They themselves didn't seem that confident on achieving the required outcome. The capacity of the stadium is 70,000 or thereabouts. The registered crowd for this game was 2,053!! I know I am more into the lower forms of the game these days, but Hartlepool would be disappointed with a home gate of that level. The subject of Coronavirus is hot on everybody's lips across the world and Greece has now introduced a 2 week ban on the public attending professional games. My Panathinaikos membership looks like it will be a really good 10 Euro investment then. Can I buy a ticket for the next match? No, it is behind closed doors. I have joked on since our return, that I have already been self isolating in a Greek football ground. There was that much room, we could have stayed 25 seats away from the nearest other person had the mood taken us. The match itself was a stroll for the greens. Volos never really recovered from an early goal and frankly showed little ambition to. A wonder goal from the left foot of a Slovakian import briefly revived their interest, but a red card soon after put paid to any chances. Panathinaikos netted a further 2 goals and played out the rest of the 90 minutes. The man of the match was 2 goal hero, Frederico Macheda, or at least he thought he was, as wheeled away falsely celebrating the second . The ex Manchester United forward, who burst on to the scene as a 17 year old to score on his debut, is enjoying his time as a main man in the Greek Superleague. The wonderkid turned nomad, who had more loan moves than hot dinners in his time at Old Trafford, has finally found his level. He might be scoring goals here, but he realistically isn't going to frighten defenders in a top league elsewhere in Europe.

We made a speedy exit at the end of the game. The size of the crowd wasn't exactly a problem. The Metro station platform was basically empty. We were back in School Pizza near Monastiraki within about 30 minutes. " Welcome - again", said a perceptive meet and greet host on the door. We sat outside. This is the life on the first day of March at 9.45 pm. The restaurant, adjacent bars and the street outside were buzzing with people. I asked the waiter, whether it was always this busy. He reflected and said it was a Bank Holiday tomorrow, so some people were away for the weekend and that it wasn't particularly busy from his point of view. We retired to our high rise bar in the Hotel Cypria for one last evening view of the illiminated Acropolis. It was so called Clean Monday in the morning - the start of the 40 day fast run up to Easter for Greeks. They eat shellfish, a special type of bread, abstain from meat and fly kites. Yes, fly kites! The higher you can fly a kite, the closer you get to God apparently. As we sat on the airport bus, what was not in doubt was that any Greek after purchasing a kite would not be disappointed. Stall after stall, lined the road. Kites in all forms were available. Disney characters. General bright colours. Football club emblems. Despite their big victory the previous night, Panathinaikos could maybe get higher with their kites than they will in the Superleague!

Appendix 1

Greece Superleague

Panathonailkos 4 Volos NFK 1

Date: Sunday 1st March 2020 @ 1900 Hours

Venue: Olympic Stadium, Olympic Athletic Centre of Athens (OAKA), Maroussi, Athens, Greece

Attendance: 2053

Scorers: 1-0 Nagy (Panathanaikos) 3 Mins, 2-0 Kourbelis (Panathanaikos) 45 Mins, 2-1 Jendrisek (Volos) 53 MIns, 3-1 Macheda (Panathanaikos) 67 Mins, Chatzigiovannis (Panathanaikos) 75 Mins

Panathanaikos: Xenopoulos, Johnansson, Schenkveld, Macheda, Chatzigiovanis, Buzoukis, Kourbelis, Nagy, Tuhami,
Olympic Stadium, Athens Olympic Stadium, Athens Olympic Stadium, Athens

Panathinaikos v Volos
Pougouras, Zagaritas

Volos: Garavelis, Dimopoulis, Cadamuro, Ferrari, Dedakis , Mazx Augusto, Muniz, Lyratzis, Guarrotxena, Jaoo, Jendrisek

Additional photos below
Photos: 73, Displayed: 30


Olympic Stadium, Athens Olympic Stadium, Athens
Olympic Stadium, Athens

Panathinaikos v Volos
Plaka, Athens Plaka, Athens
Plaka, Athens

..... view towards Lycabettus Hill

22nd March 2020
Changing of the Guard, Hellenic Parliament, Athens

Love the shoe pompoms, very effective!
22nd March 2020

Great album. Thanks for sharing!

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