I wake feeling a little fragile, which is not helped by the fact that this is our only ‘early’ morning in order to catch our next flight. After breakfast and a shower however I perk up considerably and am hoping it’s just a touch of sniffles due to the sudden temperature change. Steve and I discuss possible destinations on the airport bus and I confess that I had wondered if Athens was to be part of the plan. Once we get to the airport and my guess is confirmed – it’s a miracle! I feel 100% better now.
Sitting on the plane without a book and having eaten Aegean’s actually rather nice airline food, I idly flip through the in-flight magazine, stopping at a picture of a roof-top bar. ‘Ooh,’ says I, ‘look, this place has a view of the Acropolis. Do you think we could eat there tonight?’ Steve makes a rather out-of-character less-than-enthusiastic noise and I wonder if he’s coming down with my cold…
When we get off the packed commuter Metro, I look behind me and there’s the Acropolis: Omig! It’s quite an awe-inspiring sight even from a distance and apparently, we’re going up there tomorrow. It’s great to be back in warm sunshine again, and surrounded by mountains. We check in to the hotel and relax before dinner; I find I have a slightly odd curved stripe on my back where I can’t reach with the sunscreen, and my feet are starting to look like I constantly have my Birkenstocks on.
We go upstairs to the hotel restaurant for dinner, emerge into the still beautifully baking sunlight and – Ta Da! – it’s the terrace from the photo in the magazine. Oh no, we’ve got to eat here, looking at the Acropolis, twice a day for the next four days? We’ve gone from sipping Sangria and watching the world go by on La Rambla, to sipping JD and watching the moon come up over the Acropolis. What a hardship is this travelling malarkey… I take at least 50 photos before dinner is served, as the light changes and the Acropolis and the surrounding monuments gradually get lit up. It’s funny how quickly the moon seems to move, you could almost watch it.
Whilst I’m busy snapping away, Steve happily tucks into a huge Greek side-salad, served with our scrummy meatballs: mmm, goat’s cheese.
Tuesday 29th September – Athens
I’m hoping this morning that the banging headache I now have is due in part to the consumption of red wine and whiskey last night; it must be, since it improves greatly after a liquid intake, and Steve is feeling a little fragile too.
Thankfully, our climb to the Acropoli is much less like hard work than I had anticipated, though I’m glad we haven’t attempted it during the hottest part of the day. There are loads of people around, trudging up the last section of mountain, and slipping on the steps highly polished by the heavy footfall over the years. It’s such a huge site, which you can’t appreciate from ground level – and work continues to try to restore and maintain the main Parthenon building to the state it was in during the early 19th Century. Steve seems equal parts horrified and amused by the lack of H&S and takes some footage with which to torment his H&S man on our return.
As you can imagine, I take lots of photographs, including the obligatory ‘here’s Steve at the Acropolis’ and inevitably, I end up on film too. We both stop to marvel at the smaller amphitheatre where events are still held (‘smaller’ however is relative considering where we’re standing) and of course, Steve wonders – out loud no less – what it would be like to play a gig there.
On leaving the Acropoli, we almost haggle for a dress for me, but nothing is going to divert us from the now urgent business of finding some pain killers. That taken care of, we wander up past Syntagma Square to watch the presidential guard dance. In their short skirts and pom-pom shoes. And their bug guns with bayonets; I’m not laughing. This is the famous changing of the guard in front of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, so actually rather solemn and we had been warned that the steps in front of the tomb could get rather crowded – but there was just a handful of tourists there with us. I put the camera on sport mode (single shots really don’t do this justice at all) and kept the shutter button pressed. The dance is actually very precise and quite skilled: in order for it to work, the guardsmen have to be in perfect time with each-other and for half the ritual they are both facing outwards.
Refreshment calls so we head back down to the square itself in search of large beers and a sandwich. Steve also orders a cheese pie which I am assured is a traditional dish. I’m sure that, in the murky chilliness of home, a confection of semi-puff pastry with lots of melted cheese would be just the thing to set you up (in fact, sitting here now in said murkiness it sounds perfect). In the bright sweaty 29-degree heat however, it’s more than my gently roasting brain feels able to contemplate. I manage one incredibly stodgy mouthful, before murmuring ‘mmm, lovely I’m sure’ and returning to my beer.
Wednesday 30th September – Athens
I have been intending to rise early and try to catch a sunrise on film: this morning I don’t manage it either. Given the weather however, I strongly suspect the best light is highly likely to be in the evening anyway. This morning I can easily ignore the headache and am confident that will get easier as we head towards the port of Pireaus and therefore water.
Taking a wrong turn when we get off the train, we manage to end up the industrial area so our impressions are of a very different atmosphere to Athens! Steve’s GPS-nose however soon puts us right and we end up in the centre of town and back to normality. After the obligatory beer in the central square and a stroll round the market and the main shopping district, we return to Athens.
The heat is almost oppressive today (it was already very warm before 9am and reaches 32 degrees later), so no photos are extant, especially since we decide to ditch the cameras in the hotel and go for a slow stroll back to Syntagma Square for – you guessed it – more beer. I stop in several bookshops along the way, knowing what’s waiting for my return; it’s lucky for the holiday money fund that Diana Gabaldon isn’t big in Greece yet.
Having returned to the hotel with more than enough time to freshen up before dinner we use the time… traditionally. I then decide that I’ve photographed the Acropolis to death over the last couple of nights and really don’t need to take the camera to dinner tonight - which means I all but miss the most glorious sunset yet (Steve manages to get it on video).
Thursday 1st October – Athens
I wake up this morning feeling perfectly fit and healthy. Whatever has been ailing me for the last couple of days must have been destroyed by yesterday’s heat. This turns out to be a Very Good Thing Indeed, as walking up the hill to catch a cable car is strenuous enough when you’re feeling fine. We are headed to St George’s Greek Orthodox Church, founded by Fr. Ignatius in 1834 and at 277m it’s higher than the Acropoli. It is hard work trekking up here but the view and the church are absolutely worth the effort.
Steve particularly wants to spend a half hour immersed in his favourite period of history, since we’re right next to the war museum anyway, so we take a spin round their WW2 exhibit. Then we take a walk via the National Gardens en route to the Olympian Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Gate. We learn that this was a Greek temple until the Turkish occupation, who built a mosque in the corner. I am reminded of the Christian appropriation of Pagan festivals; after all, why reinvent something if there’s a perfectly suited site already in existence? Just needs a little adaptation…
What next? Oh yes, beers… in Syntagma Square… – and then off to retrace our steps of Tuesday, to find me a dress. We stop off briefly in the old quarter for an iced coffee and a chocolate milkshake, while I try to find – unfortunately unsuccessfully - a small memento of Olympiacos to take back to the folks at work (we are their main sponsors, apparently).
Since we’ve set up something of a tradition now by eating dinner at the hotel looking at the Acropoli, it would be wrong to break the habit on our last night. The waiters are very generous to us with the local wine (Greek wine turns out to be very nice; we are surprised it’s not more widely available elsewhere) and therefore, my note-writing becomes ever more scruffy as the evening progresses. Essentially, I spend the time speculating with the couple on the next table, where our final destination will be – or more specifically, where is the stop-off point.