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Published: August 8th 2007
We walked over the border and hitched a bus. The bus was heading for Ioannina, the largest hub in the area, so we had no choice but to go there. Once we arrived we sussed out the buses headed to our destination of Kalambaka and found one heading there at 3pm, 3 hours away. We set up temporary camp at a near-by restaurant where the waiter didn't speak English but did speak German. We get some food and wait. I soon grow tired of waiting and thought I might go for a wander to check out a castle that's apparently in the area. I check it out and head back. Ordinarily I would be impressed by this ancient walled old city jutting out into the lake with snow capped mountains looming above, but that day, I had seen my fair share of ancient walled cities.
On the way back I figured I might as well grab the bus tickets. I ask for them and he says "Yes there is a bus leaving at 7pm"
"No, I want the bus leaving at 3pm"
"It's gone". I had no idea what was going on. I looked at the time on my phone,
"It doesn't go for another hour and a half" His patience was wearing thin.
"It's 3:30! Do you want the tickets for 7 or not?"
It hit me like a ton of feathers (as I'm sure it would hurt just as much as a ton of bricks) For some reason Greece is 2 hours ahead of Albania and we hadn't compensated. A classic travelers mistake. I reported the news to Rohan and we began to look at our options. The best idea we could come up with was hiring a car and driving all the way to Athens at our own pace. I asked the man in my rough German about the nearest car hire place and he said the nearest one is 2 kilometers away. He suggested talking to a taxi driver and see how much it would be to go there as he assumed not much. I follow his lead and after a short discussion we were away. Once at the car hire place(s) we realised about the Greek trading hours and saw that they wouldn't be open for another hour. So another camp was set up in the nearest cafe and more waiting we did.
The girl who was serving us, said later that because of a large national holiday they probably wouldn't be open and sure enough they weren't, except one which had no cars anyway. The hour glass was running thin and the sun was slowly creeping behind the horizon like a stealthy dog trying to sneak on to the forbidden carpet. The 7pm bus would get us into Kalambaka too late so we decided to stay in Ioannina. We purchased our tickets for 7am the next morning, making sure our watches were in sharp synchronisation with local Greek time.
The trip to Kalambaka was long for the distance but was through the mountains so rather picturesque. Our main priority in Kalambaka was to see Meteora. Think of Halong Bay in the cold wet mountains and thats Meteora. Huge pinnacles reaching for the sky with 14th century monasteries perched on top, it's quite an extraordinary sight. We talk to a taxi man who was willing to drive us up to some of the monasteries for a good price. The one we went to was amazing. The monasteries were good but the most amazing thing about them was they were built right to
the very edge of these pinnacles. You could look over the edge of the viewing platform and see right down to the valley hundreds on metres down. The view across to the other monasteries was simply breath taking aided by the mist that was creeping its way through the valley without ruining the view. A highlight of the trip.
We got up at stupid o' clock the next morning to catch the train to Athens. In fact we got up so early that we discovered this thing called a sunrise which is a lot like a sunset but in reverse. After nearly 6 hours of attempted sleep, we were in Athens. We caught the metro to Syntagma Square, right in the heart of the city, where I left Rohan in search of accommodation. It took me a while to get around to all the places in the area and found the best place was, of course, the first place I went to. We unloaded our stuff there and settled in for the next 4 nights.
Athens was for me, without a doubt, the best city we went to on the trip. That title was held by Sarajevo but
Athens far exceeded it. What's not to like? The city is littered with ancient sites and history. The Plaka (the old town), is a mélange Cafes, restaurants, shops, flea markets and buildings that have practically been there since the dawn of time. The life style is laid back and relaxed. At night the city comes alive with a whole other lifestyle emerging. despite hearing about it again and again, we found next to no pollution in the city. The air was clean and the water quite drinkable. We don't know if it was that time of year of if things have improved but it was surprisingly clean. The Greeks may not be the warmest and fuzziest bunch of people but we always felt welcome. They helped out when they could and there weren't nearly the amount of rude ones that we had heard about. All in all, I loved it.
The first thing we did, like big fat tourists, was go to the Parliament House to watch the changing of the guards. This is probably the best changing of the guard I've seen. London, Stockholm, Riga, they are all the same. This is small, unpretentious (somewhat) and you kinda
get the feeling like it has to be done. That night, after checking out the sunset over the Acropolis from our roof top bar, we head out in the Plaka for a Greek meal. Now the service left a lot to be desired and the food was not something to write home about (oops I just did) but the atmosphere was perfect. Soon after we sat down, the two man band comes out and serenades us with the Greek music. It was great. We stayed out pretty late at the restaurant, which is one thing I love about Athens, how everyone stays out late at cafes and restaurants till around midnight.
Our first full day saw us go to the most famous site in Athens and pretty much all of Greece, the Acropolis. We climb up the ancient marble stairs and reach the top where the sight of the Parthenon greats us. Out of all the ancient buildings I have seen like the Temples of Angkor, The Pyramids of Giza and Nizwa Fort this is by far the most underwhelming building I have stood in front of. I have seen a million pictures of it standing gloriously atop the
Acropolis like a stunning display of ancient construction and technology. However as I stood there looking at the 2500 year old building, I felt let down. The problem is, you can't see it. They have taken down most of the northern wall to fix a previous stuff up in preservation back in the 20's. The rest of the building is either surrounded in scaffolding or being held up by cranes. There was one small corner that was scaffolding free but even that had a big ugly grey building in front of it. What a shame that this tribute to civilisations past is basically in total ruins. Some will say I'm winging and that this is necessary to the preservation of the building. True but they have been "working" on it for the past 7 years and there is no sign of it even starting to be rebuilt. What have they been doing? 5000 years ago the Egyptians built an entire Pyramid in 20 years. The whole time we were up there, I never saw one worker do anything. In fact, I rarely saw a worker at all. If anyone knows what is taking so long, I would love to know.
Bitching aside, the view was amazing. Its amazing how big the city actually is but the funny thing is how once it gets to the hills, it stops. No houses scattering their way up the hill, like a line everyone has agreed on, they stop.
Over the next 4 days we wandered from sight to sight. Theatre of Dionysos, Roman Stadium, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, the list was endless. We were also blown away by the amount of ancient excavations around the city. It seems every time they dig somewhere to build something, they stumble on something that goes back hundreds or thousands of years. Thats the way things are in Athens, they just keep building on top of older stuff. We even took a trip to the port town of Piraeus to see the ships come and go from all parts of Greece and Europe.
Apart from the sights, Athens for me is all about the vibe. There is an feeling of exuberance as I walk around, like a city that doesn't have to prove anything but still tries to. It's constantly trying to improve itself, although excruciatingly slowly... but surely.
thats it for the trip. As is usual when Rohan and I travel, our over zealous plans changed a lot and we never quite made the original locations of Malta, Southern Italy and Tunisia, but hey, that happens. One thing I was most disappointed about was not making Macedonia as that was the only former Yugoslavian country we didn't get to. As it turned out, we didn't have time and going through Albania instead was more logical. We hitched a flight from Athens back to London and on our flight was a special guest. Stelios, the owner of Easyjet, was joining the commoners. Theres a lot for peace of mind when you fly with Stelios, you know the pilot would not dare crash the plane when he is on board. He's a decent guy too, although he didn't know how many planes he had in his fleet when we asked him but he said it gets more every month.
So what for me now? Well after a couple of days in Guildford to reorganise, I head to Copenhagen for a few days before I make my way to my new home, Berlin. I'm relocating to Germany to start an
intensive German course. I feel stupid walking around Europe only speaking English when most other people speak several languages quite well.
Untill next time PEACE CAMO!
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