After a 25-hour journey, we landed in Athens on Saturday afternoon feeling fairly fresh. This was probably due to the fact that during our nine-hour stopover, we checked into the Premier Inn in Abu Dhabi for a few hours’ sleep. (This involved traipsing back and forth through Terminals 1 and 3 trying to find the right exit for the hotel. Glen’s fault, not mine.)
At Athen’s airport I wanted to go through the EU Passport holder’s line (I have a British passport). A couple in front of us asked if they could go as a couple (one with EU, one non-EU) and they were given a sort of ‘well, you can try’ answer and off they went. We didn’t see them again. Glen refused to follow their lead so we joined an exceptionally long queue with all the other non-privileged people. In the end it didn’t matter so much because our luggage was one of the last pieces out so we were standing around a while.
A taxi driver was waiting for us when we got through everything and out into the Meditteranean heat. We then had a 40-minute drive from the airport through the city, during which time I managed to check the pronunciation of the 20 Greek words I know. They’re really going to come in handy. We’re staying fairly central so the drive gave us our first view of the Akropolis. Wow, we really are in Athens.
Glen had booked us a comfortable and spacious apartment not far from the National Gardens (although he had thought it was closer to the train station and therefore easier for him to get to the conference venue by public transport). Two bedroom, second floor apartment with kitchen, bathroom etc. The hosts left us a bottle of white wine and a bowl of cherries, apricots and peaches. Mmmm cherries.
We resisted the urge to sleep so after a shower and a moment to get our bearings we head out to explore Athens.
Athens in an Afternoon
First stop: National Gardens. Incidentally, the circuitous route we ‘chose’ took us past the Prime Minister’s and President’s residences and then into the gardens…where we saw a tortoise. Did not expect that. One surprising but lovely thing we noticed about Athens are the fruit trees everywhere. Orange trees are the most popular, with fruit littering the ground where it’s fallen. Mulberry trees are also popular.
Through the gardens we popped out the other side near the parliament building and Syntagma Square. Lots of tourists in this part of town with a lot of touristy food places. Nevertheless, we were drawn into a Greek bakery by the sight of galaktoboureko in the window, one of Glen’s favourites. I also bought a chocolate/biscuit/nut slice thing and a sesame bar. All very rich, I couldn’t finish mine.
We wandered through the Plaka district (the old town) and remarked on how it look like Paris/Le Castellet/La Spezia/[insert other old town names]. All pleasant and chill and easy. We passed an ouzo distillery called Brettos. It’s the oldest ouzo distillery in Athens at over 100 years old. While neither of us drink ouzo, the different coloured bottles on the wall drew us in. I figured, while in Greece, I may as well have some.
We took our place at the bar in this small place. There were about 10 other people there and it felt full. I chose an ouzo, Glen a gin fizz and then ordered a meze plate (cheese, salami, bread and olives). Really, we just wanted the meze and conveyed this to nearly the point of desperation to which the waitress replied that ‘don’t worry, no matter what, you’ll get the meze plate.’ We were happy. I only drank half my ouzo which was enough for me, we finished off the meze and went on our way.
Saw lots of old ruins dotted about the place, old churchs and columns and walls, which have all been built around. How else are you supposed to build a city when there’s all this history here? We wandered here and there, even stopping into a tablecloth store and buying a table runner and placemats. (We’re now old.) We saw the Agora and another small church and walked through the flea market before finally succumbing to the numbing in our legs and walked home.
Just before we got home a man walking a dog overheard us talking and asked if we were Australian and struck up a conversation. He’d lived in Melbourne for a few years with his partner of 18 years (who’s now dead). He told us how conservative Greece can be, yet this year’s Pride parade (which we missed by a week) was held in front of parliament in one of the busiest and most popular parts of the city. (Every other year it’s been held somewhere out of the way. Some progress.) He also told us about the stadium (where the first modern Olympics were held) and how, on Monday, there’ll be a big music festival to celebrate a composer who was a major figure in the fight against the dictatorship. Our apartment is barely a block away so we’ll probably hear it from our balcony, but he did suggest grabbing a bottle of wine and finding a spot on the grassed area around the stadium and settle in. Hopefully we’re back from Delphi in time.
Despite the bad rap that Athens gets, I really enjoyed the few hours we spent wandering around. The parts we saw were easy to get around, very relaxed, and accessible for non-Greek speakers.
It’s daylight savings in Greece at the moment so the sun stays up late, later than us. We got back to the apartment at 6ish. We sat for a while, me on the balcony with a glass of wine and watching the rain come down. Glen then decided he needed food but didn’t adequately assess the rain situation (and I thought it was only spitting). He found a supermarket so we set off.
We got drenched!
We took refuge at a kebab shop where we had two skewers of meat, some chips and a piece of bread. They even gave us tequila shots. We sat outside at a table under an awning and watched part of Athens closing down while another part opening up as people had their drinks and went on to other places. Reminded me a lot of Italy where people always seem to be outside.
The rain eased. We found the supermarket and bought groceries then came home. We were in bed by 9pm and asleep soon after.