“Greece is what everybody knows….It is what you expect the earth to look like given a fair chance…. It stands as it stood from birth, naked and fully revealed. It is not mysterious or impenetrable, not awesome, not defiant, not pretentious. It is made of earth, fire and water. It changes seasonally with harmonious undulating rhythms. It breathes, it beckons, it answers.” Henry Miller
We drove leisurely to Luton and found the airport overspill car park quite easily, just off the M1, and parked the car for the duration of the holiday. This cost £95, what a rip off, £95 to occupy a piece of tarmac measuring just six square meters or so. I mean it was more than the cost of the flight to Athens and that really annoyed me. In fact I can fly to some European destinations for as little as 1p each way but it costs nearly £10 a day to park the car; and this was relatively cheap compared with other UK airports. I was hoping Greece would relieve my stress!
Earlier in the month some terrorists had threatened to blow up some aeroplanes and had successfully disrupted check-in procedures at all UK airports so security was on high alert but Luton was quite well organised and the extra safety measures weren’t too much of a problem. After boarding our plane we had a good flight to Athens, I had a gin and tonic of course and that helped pass the time and so did the sudoku. The Easyjet flight was a bit bumpy at times but we arrived on schedule. Well I say arrived on time but that’s a bit of a con isn’t it? The airlines schedule a three-hour flight to take four, to give themselves a huge margin of error and then claim they made it on time. I’m not complaining though, I like the budget airlines for making all this travel possible.
We took our bags from the luggage carousel, left the airport arrival lounge and joined the queue for a taxi. When it was our turn to be directed to a vacant vehicle by the man in charge of allocating transport we gave clear and precise instructions to the driver how to get to the hotel. It was immediately clear that these were not clear and precise enough and he had no idea where he was going and he had to make a number of animated phone calls to establish its location.
It was a bit nerve racking being in a speeding car on a Greek motorway while the driver used his mobile phone to make a phone call with one hand whilst holding a map in the other. Anyway, he eventually sorted it out and we arrived at our hotel without major incident. It cost 30 euros, which, was a bit of a rip off but to be fair we weren’t very convincing in our plan to pretend to be familiar with Athens and try to fool the driver into giving us a local’s rate! There is a code of regulation for taxi drivers but as most drivers are certain that the average tourist is unfamiliar with it they feel confident to ignore it! Even as far back as 1939 Henry Miller, when using a taxi in Athens, wrote in the ‘Colossus of Maroussi’:
‘I had changed my francs into drachmas and it seemed a tremendous wad that I had in my pocket and I felt that I could meet the bill no matter how exorbitant it was. I knew we were going to be gypped and I looked forward to it with relish.’
The hotel was a nice place with pleasant staff who gave us far too much information to take in all in one go after a long day travelling but it was situated perfectly right next to the Acropolis and the Plaka and we had a comfortable room but with a bit of a makeshift bed for me; It didn’t really matter very much because suitable compensation was forthcoming in the form of a complimentary bottle of red wine. I opened it and tried it immediately of course and it was drinkable in a Greek sort of way and I made appreciative noises that are exaggeratively appropriate when getting something for nothing. Well, I say for nothing, which wasn’t exactly true of course because the room was quite expensive.
We were all very hungry and in anticipation of our first holiday meal we dumped our luggage without unpacking and ventured out into the city streets to find some food.
It was hospitably warm and the Plaka was friendly and inviting, colourful and vibrant and all the tourist shops were open and there were many lively restaurants and bars to select from with their check cloth tables and rattan chairs set out across the pavements in an obstacle course sort of way. After a short walk we choose a pavement taverna on a busy street and Sally and Charlotte wasted no time in ordering their first Greek salad.
After dinner we continued to explore the Plaka for a while, the atmosphere was distinctly Mediterranean and we all agreed that we liked being here. We went back to the hotel in a contented mood and I finished the wine, Sally and Charlotte got into their comfortable hotel beds with their freshly laundered sheets and I struggled into my cramped little camp bed, I tossed and turned theatrically a few times to emphasise my inferior sleeping arrangements but on getting no response I fell quickly into a deep and contented sleep.