Back into the warm Greek sunshine again

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Europe » Greece
October 26th 1974
Published: October 6th 2021
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Joan and I took off from Hammersmith on a Saturday morning at the horrible hour of 8am by tube to Victoria Coach Station, where we had no problems getting on the non-stop (ugh!) London to Athens bus run by Pimlico Travel (GBP21.50 each for the entire trip). The bus left at 9.15am and was due in Athens late on Monday, a three-day trip. We reached Dover by midday, with an unnecessary stop-off of 3 hours before picking up a hovercraft over the Channel. French customs were no hassle, but there was a big blow-up by the bus driver over an American gal with a giant cello, which delayed our departure from Calais until around 4.30pm. Rain started to fall, and we had light rain all the way through the night. We crossed the Belgian border at 6pm and 3 hours later, we scored a meal of rump steak and mushrooms, washed down with a very welcome beer. It got dark very early so the only activities were reading and playing cards. We had a slow run through Belgium which didn’t get us to the German border until just short of midnight, where we were woken by a Customs man just as we were about to finally make it to sleep ...

Sleep was pretty hard to get overnight, but we finally both flaked somewhere between around 4 and 8am. A couple of navigational balls-ups by the driver in Germany meant the loss of a couple of hours overnight, which was incredibly frustrating on a long trip. We had breakfast in Frankfurt, then made it across to Munich by around midday. While it was still drizzling, the scenery from then on through Austria was spectacular, with the contrast of yellow and red trees against the heavily snow-covered mountain backdrop. Hills and bad roads meant a slow Austrian trip, whose borders in and out were crossed at 2pm and 10pm respectively. We had a big hassle at the Yugoslav border with a Greek Cypriot guy that we had befriended being tossed off the bus as he was deemed ineligible for a transit visa. We had a really slack meal of greasy sausage, ham sammos and beer at Zagreb, which matched most of the other meals earlier in the day. We finally made it back to the bus by 8pm and made further futile attempts at sleep.

We finally ended up with a reasonable night’s sleep under the circumstances – I think we even managed a continuous 2 hours at one stage! When you are sitting up in hard seats, you certainly need a variety of sleeping positions to stop getting sore bones. Yugoslavia certainly lived up to its reputation of being pretty boring scenery in the countryside. There were typical unproductive looking collective farms, except for a 30-minute spell as we approached the mountains and a river near Niz. We had a hassle at lunchtime when a restaurant tried to rip me off on prices, but this was sorted out, and I must confess the kebab and salad was probably our best meal for the trip. We passed through Skopje and reached the Greek border by 5pm. Clocks went ahead by an hour, and we got away by 7pm local time. With a meal stop at Larissa, it took us until 4am next morning to reach the centre of Athens, by which stage we were totally knackered. However, the great full moon outside on a clear night was a great sight to arrive to. A taxi from the bus stop took us to the Serreon Hotel near Omonia Square, where we were fortunate to pick up a double room straight away.

We finally crashed out in a nice comfy bed by 5am, and were out like a light, but woke again around 9am and there was no sleep after that. We got up and left the hotel around 10am and made our way down to the Plaka, where we were encouraged to stay at John’s Place by a friendly old Greek lady, who offered us a great rate. First stop was the Tourist Information and the Post Office, before making it down to a great little snack bar for a brunch of moussaka, spag & salad out in the open air. It felt beaut to be outside in a short-sleeved shirt again, even though the day was mainly overcast. Then it was back to the hotel for a nap after lunch and then a late arvo stroll down to the Acropolis and Roman Agora, a visit during the service to a Greek Orthodox Church, and a stroll around the markets. The evening comprised a meal of shish kebab and salad at a little tavern in the Plaka, to the accompaniment of some great bouzouki music from the band and some grooving by the young locals.

We finally scored a really good overnight sleep, but still got up early to make it down to the Acropolis site by 8am. We had the place almost to ourselves for almost an hour, and this was in bright sunshine – a photographer’s delight! We returned to the hotel via the Agora and the markets, where I purchased a bouzouki cassette, much to Joan’s great delight - not! We chatted to a couple of American girls over breakfast, then went up to Constitution Square for further travel enquiries, before a lunch of kebab rolls, chocolate pudding and yoghurt. I booked a flight to Israel late afternoon (USD114 return) and then we went up to the Plaka for a donner kabab dinner, which included chips, salad and beer.

We got an early start next morning at 7am to catch the train from Omonia to the seaport station of Piraeus. We reached the latter just before 9am and spent an hour buying food for the boat trip. The ferry to the island of Kythnos (cost 97Dr) was due to leave at 10am but finally got away 2 hours later, with nobody seeming unduly concerned. We spent most of the 4-hour trip talking to the only other non-Greeks on board, Aussies John & Maria, ex UNSW architecture students – a really nice couple. The boat trip got a bit rough, with a wind blowing up and the sky becoming quite overcast.

We arrived at Merichas, a typical small island port, almost isolated, with only a few fishermen and some women about. I rejected a request for a tip from the guy who ferried us ashore from the boat, a decision I was to regret, as I found out later that I had alienated the only local who spoke decent English! There was not the usual flurry of people pestering us to stay in their rooms, in fact it was quite the opposite. Apparently, the conflict between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus has basically shut down all the ‘minor’ Greek islands, and on smaller islands like Kythnos, all accommodation and eating places had shut up shop. After considerable communication difficulties and some prudent sign language, we were finally offered a room by a little old lady – this was at the top of her house, and while clean it had no obvious running water. Dinner was similarly a bit of a gamble, with a set menu of unknown identity or quality offered by a friend of hers, for which we held out a handful of drachma and she took what she thought was a reasonable fare. We thought the first night’s dinner was pig’s trotters and rice, but we didn’t dare ask! We retired early for a quiet night – not a lot of nightlife in Merichas!

We had a late start next day, with the gusty conditions and overnight rain giving no incentive to rise any earlier. It later became quite sunny, but with a very cold wind, as Joan and I set off just before midday to walk to Dropidis, one of only about half a dozen villages on the whole island. The trip took about an hour but was well worth it – it was a pretty little village with whitewashed houses nestled into the hills. Very few people were evident, but it had a real ‘Greek island’ feel about it, with very narrow paths zigzagged between the whitewashed houses. We finally found someone on the island who spoke basic English, but the news was not encouraging. Because of the Turkey-Greece conflict, they advised there would be no boats leaving Kythnos for another week. This was not good news at any time, but especially when I was sitting on an air ticket to Israel, leaving in exactly a week’s time! We then took the bus to Kythnos village, which was fairly similar, but not as pretty. We walked around for a while, but Joan got very cold, so we retired to a cafe for a coke and snack for a couple of hours before catching the bus back at 5.30pm. I was by then quite convinced that we were the only two tourists on the total island. It was fish soup and some sort of stew for dinner, which included an interesting ‘chat’ (in Greek!) with a local fisherman.

The following day was yet another very gusty day, so again there was no incentive to get out of bed early. We were finally up and about around lunchtime and were feeling pretty hungry by then. The only place open served up some revolting concoction of inedible meat and a very strong cheese, neither of which we were able to swallow down, so we ended up making do with stale bread and Dale’s present of a jar of Vegemite, along with a tomato and some coke shouted by a local. We then made the acquaintance of an older couple, Staivros and Maria Stenakis, and got more details on boats out of Kythnos (or rather, the lack of them), along with details of other aspects of the island. We were by then resigned to spending longer there than we had originally planned. They were kind enough to give us some free eggs and apples, along with a chocolate bar, which at least filled some gaps. Later in the afternoon, we took a skinny dip off a secluded rock, and with the water quite warm, it gave us a good opportunity to clean up a bit. We had a late visit from the lady downstairs, presumably to tell us there was nowhere to eat tonight. We found out later that there had been a funeral elsewhere on the island, and that was why Merichas had been all but deserted all day, almost as though a holocaust had wiped it out. We ended up at chez Stenakis again for dinner, where Maria cooked us up some fried eggs and tomatoes, which we downed with some local wine. We chatted with them for an hour or so, giving Staivros the opportunity for some nostalgic storytelling in his broken English, before retiring around 9pm.

We were woken next morning as we had been several times before by the local horn-blowing bus driver doing his regular rounds of the island. We finally rose late morning for a round of clothes and hair washing. Joan was either badly bitten by some bug or had an outbreak of hives, as she had spots all over her body. The village had returned to normal after the previous day’s memorial service shutdown, but there was still nowhere open for lunch. We ended up with bread, eggs, and some horrible miscellaneous delights prepared by Maria downstairs, but we were thankful for anything. The wind had dropped right off, and the sun was quite pleasant, so we found another secluded beach for a few hours where we swam and cleaned up once again. We made it back for some chocky biscuits and a Pepsi, along with a game of cards before dinner. This was a much nicer concoction of meat and potatoes, served up again by Maria’s friend.

Next day was an unbelievably early morning for us – we had even had a swim before 9am, after doing some public relations with the local fishermen and almost breaking my back assisting to lift gas cylinders. We scored our first breakfast of fried eggs, then sat in the sun for the morning, just reading and watching old Maria downstairs manually do all her washing. We were just about to catch a bus to Loutra around midday, when we heard of a cargo boat going across to Piraeus. We hassled for some two hours with the captain, the local customs agent, and eventually assisted by Staivros, before they begrudgingly agreed to take us with them. To do this, we had to be furnished with a ‘Permission Note’ from the customs agent, all printed out in Greek script, which remains one of our most treasured souvenirs of the total trip. We spent the afternoon arranging food for the trip and watched them loading all the produce onto the boat, while ‘chatting’ with our new fisherman best friend. We had a great vege casserole for lunch and spiced meat balls for dinner – it seemed that just as we were about to leave, the quality of the meals took a sharp rise! At 9pm, we paid Maria 440Dr for the 4 nights accommodation, said goodbye to the Stenakis’s, then made our way onto the “Ag. Nikolaoe”, where we set sail an hour later in magnificent, calm conditions ...

The calm weather certainly didn’t last too long! The captain had set us up for the night lying in a cramped outside area on top of some produce with a thin blanket to share, but first came the light rain, and then the heavy swells started throwing up spray at us. We finally had to evacuate to a tiny inside cabin, which while very cramped was at least warmer, and with the only other ‘passenger’, a Greek woman, spending most of the night puking over the side, that at least gave us a bit more room. I got a total drenching when I went out at one stage to check our luggage, and I guess it’s fair to say it was a pretty uncomfortable night, spent mainly cold and wet. The weather cleared overnight, however, and it was a magnificent sunrise that greeted us as we entered Piraeus harbour early next morning. We reached Piraeus around 5.30am, and found the harbour quiet and calm, which was a bit of a surprise. The captain refused our offer to pay for the trip, so the villain ended up a good friend.

We took a taxi to the station, and then straight away made it down to the wharf for the ferry to Aegina, the closest island to Piraeus, which left at 7.30am and arrived an hour later. We had a most interesting 30-minute trip through to the other side of the island, with the bus crowding us all in like sardines, with the locals all yabbering and thinking the whole thing a great big joke. The latter part of the trip was through hilly pine-clad slopes, which had their own beauty. We spent a considerable part of the trip chatting to Dimitri, a Greek-American over here on holiday. We found some expensive rooms to let, but at least we were finally able to have a long hot shower. We bought a great lunch of bread, salami, tomatoes and apples, before crashing for about 4 hours back at the room. Up late afternoon, we wandered around Agia Marina, with its “wide bay fringed with curving golden strand”. Actually, we felt that the atmosphere was in fact fairly morbid – stacks of hotels, bars, restaurants etc all closed up, and the place was almost deserted. The overcast day no doubt didn’t help the atmosphere. We met up with Aussie gals Pat and Vicki, who later joined us for a meal at a local restaurant some 5 kms away. In contrast, this had a great atmosphere, being filled with very vocal locals, and the meal was great too – steak for Joan, and calamari for me, along with chips and salad for us both. Added to that was some gifts of local wine and fruit from the incredibly hospitable proprietor. We had much fun finding a lift back, eventually having the four of us crammed into a 3-wheel minibus, with many laughs.

The following morning was clear and sunny, so we were up early for a quick dip. We took in a breakfast of bread, salami and tomato, before making it down to the local beach for a couple of hours. Lunch was at a restaurant up high overlooking the bay – another calamari meal, but this one was much more tender. We packed up and were away from Agia Marina by 3pm, and back in Athens 3 hours later due a good set of bus/ferry/train/bus connections. The boat trip was highlighted by the viewing of a local soccer game on the telly that had more fouls and fists than passes! Athens was preparing itself for elections (the following weekend we think), with political propaganda everywhere. We stayed at the Christ Hotel in the Plaka district and took in a meal nearby before retiring early to clean up after our week of ‘roughing it’.

The next day was an overcast day, which was good for tying up a few loose ends. First stop was American Express for a mail stop, then to Student Travel to book Joan’s and my onward trip to Brindisi and my return Israel flight. We withdrew money from the bank and found the address of a laundromat, albeit some distance away. After purchasing 36 Chrissy cards for us both, we had an unsuccessful hour’s walk to the Blood Bank to find them all booked out for the day. However, we compensated by finding some really tasty ham, egg & tomato rolls at a good price for lunch. A foul thunderstorm hit Athens late in the day and thoroughly soaked us as we walked for a full hour to the Laundromat only to find it closed. We then sought a decent place to eat for our last dinner together for a week, but we similarly had no success. We finally had a very mediocre moussaka meal, followed by a similarly ordinary sweet at the cafe downstairs, and returned early to the hotel in a somewhat despondent frame of mind.

We were up early next morning to the alarm at 7am, and down to a much closer laundry at the Plaka where we were able to get an extensive clothes wash done, but even this was not without hassle, and we had to really push them to have it completed by 10am. It was a sad farewell with Joan because my short Israel deviation had been planned long before I even knew we would be travelling together. I took a bus out to the airport, accompanied by a rather immature and painful American called David. Fortunately, there were minimum hassles at the airport and surprisingly no security check, so I was ready to go some 90 minutes before departure. I finally boarded the Olympic Airways flight around midday and we were on our way to Tel Aviv some 20 minutes later….


6th October 2021
awesome blog
8th October 2021
Coffee shops in the Plaka

One of our favorite places

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