The boys had their mid-term break a week ago and we took the opportunity to head down to Greece. As we flew down, the sky was clear and we crossed some beautiful land and spectacular mountains.
Landing in Athens at 2PM was like landing at any other airport, the dash through passport control and to your bags. What always amazes me is how passport control never seems to manage manpower well. I have arrived to find 12 empty booths (like last week when I went through Vancouver) and too often I have arrived to 2 people manning their station and a line around the corner (as was the case in Athens). One would think that with the little thing called an airline schedule that they could plan for it.
Leaving the airport I was struck by the taxis, long lines of yellow Mercedes – at least 70 in a long queue. It would appear that all taxis are Mercedes. I noticed that our taxi had 469K on it but was astonishingly well maintained.
I always enjoy our first drive into a city, looking this way and that, quizing the driver (luckily, his English was excellent). In all cities, you have that first ‘ah ha’ moment, and in this case it was the Parthenon, towering over the city.
We dropped our bags off at the hotel and off we went exploring. First to a wonderful Greek taverna down the road for lunch enjoying great local food and the music from an accordion. It was then off into the old city of Plaka.
Pláka (Greek: Πλάκα) is the picturesque old historical neighbourhood of Athens, clustered around the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis, and incorporating labyrinthine streets and neoclassical architecture. Plaka is built on top of the residential areas of the ancient town of Athens. It is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists around the year, and is under strict zoning and conservation regulations, being the only neighborhood in Athens where all utilities (water, power, cable television, telephone, internet, and sewage) lie underground in fully accessible, custom-made tunnelling. Motor vehicles are not allowed in Plaka, and most streets are narrow enough, not being able to accommodate them anyway.
A few things struck me about Athens:
- The city: the city itself has an interesting feel to it. Safe (we walked out at night every night). Well lived in. Friendly (the people are very, very friendly) but run down – as there are a lot of people crammed into the city.
- The animals: The Greeks have a wonderful regard for animals. Everywhere you go there are cats and dogs. The dogs wander around the town unmolested with people feeding then and petting them everywhere. Our boys loved it, we spent the day wandering and petting dogs and cats everywhere. At one point, we watched a shop keeper come out with a huge heap of meat and kitchen leftovers for the 5 dogs that had congregated outside her shop. And the dogs … you would pet them and they would slowly roll over, loving the attention. Wonderful.
- The people: Very friendly and amazing. We loved the Greek people and their willingness to help (and sell – beware the grandmotherly Greek woman, she is a sales champion who just will not take no for an answer of the smile off her face).
- Litter: One thing we were shocked by both in Athens and Crete was the litter. A local explained that this is a big cultural problem with Greeks still ‘generally’ thinking that littering is not a problem. The Greek government is educating and trying to change that in the school, but as the woman explained ‘The little girl in class said that she understands but her Dad tells her to do it’. Not unlike in Egypt, it is a real problem.
- Flash: At the end of the second day we got hit by a flash rainstorm. Like nothing I have ever seen, it was dumping down so hard that the streets were flooding with 3-4 inches of water and flowing at an insane pace.
And like so many European cities, intermingled in with daily life is thousands of years of history. It never ceases to amaze me.
This is the glass bottom floor and bathroom floor of a cafe. Below is an archaeological dig that goes off in every direction.
An old abandon building caught my eye. Beautiful in its own way.
In the end, we took the advice from our agent and spent only 1 full day in Athens (and the half day on the day we arrived). It was perfect flying out the next day to Crete.