Greece 2011, Piraeus – Planes, Buses, Taxis and Ferries

In the weeks and days before flying to Athens to start a holiday in the Cyclades I began to wonder if it really was a clever idea to fly into a city in the grip of economic crisis and social disorder with regular demonstrations and disruptive strikes by the transport sector which we would be completely reliant upon to get from the Greek capital to the islands.  But we put on our holiday blinkers and ignored the concerns and reluctant to spend more money on an alternative flight to Santorini went through with the original plan.

On a previous arrival at Athens airport I was metaphorically mugged by a taxi driver and paid a fortune to get to the city and the last time we left Athens Kim was literally robbed on the metro so we didn’t want to chance either of those options this time and took the only alternative form of transport available, the X96 express bus to Piraeus.

The man in the ticket booth was rather terse and didn’t have his ‘welcome to Athens, nice to see you’ head on this lunch time but I suppose anyone would be grumpy if it is their job to sit in a stuffy wooden box all day answering the same dumb question over and again.  The cost was €5 which was an eye watering 56% more expensive than two years previously and I hoped this wasn’t indicative of an average inflation rate over this time or else this would put the holiday budget under extreme pressure.

Island Hopping Greece

A bus ride in Athens is a unique experience, it has to be said.  The roads were busy but the driver of the Solaris flexibus seemed totally oblivious to other vehicles as he charged along at high speed, switching lanes, clattering over tram lines and tossing the passengers about like the Saturday night lottery balls on hard unyielding plastic seats.  It was like being in a car chase at the movies, anyone in the way had better watch out and at one stage I had to take a look to see if Sandra Bullock was driving.  Corners didn’t slow the bus down and the only respite from the madness was a few infrequent stops on the way to the port, which we reached after about fifty minutes.

The metro would have been preferable but you get mugged on the metro and as this was our first time back in Athens since the robbery we were understandably on edge.  We had taken improved precautions to protect our possessions but we still felt nervous and slightly anxious.  We continually scanned the bus for potential robbers and pickpockets and held on tight to our wallets, cameras and bags and after every stop we suspiciously scrutinised every new passenger that joined us.

Gyros Pavement Restaurant Piraeus

In our experience dining options around the port are seriously limited and after we arrived in Piraeus there was about four hours before the ferry to Paros so we had made plans to visit a taverna/bar that we knew and to have a long lunch to fill the time.

This involved a walk along the busy harbour front and this was not as easy as it sounds because Piraeus simply has to be one of the most traffic crazy places in Europe that makes an Italian city look like Emmerdale on a late Sunday afternoon and there was a mad confusion of snarling traffic that almost defies description. Cars, buses and lorries were all growling aggressively through the streets with absolutely no regard for traffic lights, lanes, rights of way or pedestrians (especially pedestrians).

Swarms of yellow and black cabs drove around with complete disregard for anything else and for anyone foolish enough to irritate them it was like poking a stick into an angry wasp’s nest.  The madness was being ineffectively choreographed every now and again by traffic police blowing madly on whistles and waving arms in a totally manic way that quite frankly was completely unintelligible to absolutely everyone whether in a car or on the pavement and all in all didn’t seem to be helping a great deal.

Leaving Piraeus

It is easy to imagine that Piraeus is simply a suburb of Athens but it is in fact a completely separate city, the third largest in Greece, with an interesting history all of its  own.  Most of this we fail to appreciate because we just hurry through on the way to somewhere else.  In 493 BC, taking advantage of the natural harbour and strategic geographical position, the Athenian politician and soldier Themistocles initiated the construction of fortification works in Piraeus to protect  Athens, ten years later the Athenian fleet was transferred there and it was then permanently used as the naval base for the powerful fleet of the ancient city.

Themistocles fortified the three harbours of Piraeus with the Themistoclean Walls turning Piraeus into a great military and commercial harbour. The fortification was farther reinforced later by the construction of the Long Walls under Cimon and Pericles, with which Piraeus was safely connected to Athens.

Piraeus was rebuilt to the famous grid plan of the architect Hippodamus of Miletus to a pattern that has been replicated in many cities in the USA and in Milton Keynes in England.  The walls were destroyed after the defeat by Athens to the Spartans in the Peloponnesian war and the port of Rhodes assumed predominance in the Aegean.  Later the walls were rebuilt but destroyed again by both the Romans and the Goths and during the Byzantine period the port completely lost its trading status.

Today, Piraeus has regained its importance and is a mad world of taxis, trams, back-packers and local people all competing for the same piece of tarmac.  This should not have been surprising because it is the largest passenger port in Europe and the third largest worldwide in terms of passenger transportation where nearly twenty million people pass through every year.

There were certainly a lot of people about this afternoon and there was a long queue to get on board the Blue Star Paros and in the usual way foot passengers were competing for space with cars and commercial vehicles.  We didn’t want to sit inside so we made our way to the top deck and found a seat outside at the back of the boat to catch the sun and we made ourselves comfortable in preparation for the four and a half hour passage to the island of Paros, one hundred and eighty-five kilometres to the south east.

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8 responses to “Greece 2011, Piraeus – Planes, Buses, Taxis and Ferries

  1. Dear Andrew,

    You end this interesting piece on Athens by saying of the ferry “We didn’t want to sit inside so we made our way to the top deck and found a seat outside at the back of the boat to catch the sun “.
    Top deck, eh?
    Brave.
    No doubt you will tell us tomorrow if the weather changed as you got out of Piraeus harbour! If so, I hope you both wore suitably warm clothing.
    Of Piraeus: I agree it is a mad place.
    I was there in 2001 and a stray dog followed me everywhere. It broke my heart to say goodbye to it.
    It bore a strong resemblance to the dog in the Athens riots that I featured in a recent Daigressing.
    A thought about people selling bus tickets in Athens.
    The only time I have been blatantly – indeed, BRAZENLY – cheated on my change in any bus station anywhere, was in Athens bus station when I bought a ticket for Corinth.
    I can see the guy now: a supercilious smile on his face, knowing that the pending – almost immediate – departure of the bus, meant he was going to get away with it, as I would not call the cops.
    And finally on Piraeus: for people of a certain age it is synonymous with the sublime Melina Mercouri and NEVER ON SUNDAY song from the film of the same name!

    Here is that film. What a grand trailer this is, incidentally.

    Talk about whetting your appetite for the movie!

    Mercouri is 38 years old here: at the peak of her sensuality, when she was still in great physical condition. Before long, her chain-smoking was to take a real toll on her looks. She died aged 73 in NYC.

    The song became hugely popular as you know. I was just 12 years old when it became a hit, and I confess to not realising for about three years what it was exactly that she did not do on a Sunday!

    How much better trailers were then, than they are now, BTW!

    Today, they are little more than an orgy of jump-cutting.

    Kindest,
    Dai.

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  2. I think you are all such heroes..first of all the treacherous bus drive and then a long journey across the sea.
    I just hope that it was worth it when you got there..is that the next episode?

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  3. How nice!
    Piraeus,’the place over the passage’.
    Thrilling details,with smooth flow of writing.
    I wouldn’t bother though if some kind of short reference to Piraeus’ long history (26 centuries behind) and its past acme,was included.
    Anything about the Themistoclean fortification and the Long Walls under Cimon and Pericles that connected Piraeus to the Ancient city of Athens,would be very much appreciated by most of your readers.
    I estimate, it is totally interesting to compare past with present.
    Looking forward to the next episodic adventures …

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    • Thanks for reading and for the suggestion. Like most tourists I suppose I have always wrongly thought of Piraeus as a suburb of Athens. I have made some changes to incorporate your comments – Andrew.

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      • Hi,Andrew.
        Hope you and yours are keeping well and that you still cherish fondly some moments you spent in the Greek islands.
        I was looking forward to your new Greece-related posts and now, I gladly see them to unfold one by one before of my very eyes.Please allow me to take my time and start reading them gradually,with the hope of opening pages,written by a new,contemporary Henry Miller … (The Colossus of Maroussi) – Account of Greek journeys.
        You know,I am becoming fed up with the tart comments and the caustic references concerning Greece’s difficult moments and its epic drama …
        I would like to read something pleasant,something to cheer me up, anything to cheer me on…
        I went through your Piraeus post again,which is enriched with plentiful historical elements and I was really delighted to see how skillfully you have managed to incorporate long history in only some lines.
        So much change in tone !
        Well,when next time in Piraeus,try to save some time and visit some posh areas and some places of interest.Piraeus is not just the port and its busy surrounding area.I am certain sure you will very much appreciate:
        The Archeological Museum,The Municipal Theatre,Marina Zeas,
        Mikrolimano,the Hill of the picturesque Kastela where you will be able to enjoy awesome views of the Saronic Gulf,the Park of Prophet Helias.
        It will be quite an experience for you,trust me …
        Thanks kindly
        Doda

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      • Thank you for the comment.
        I hope the story of my island hopping adventure can help to cheer you up. It is such a shame to see a proud country struggling so hard. Greece and its people are very badly misrepresented in the UK press and I am sure that it is the same in France and Germany but I have nothing but positive things to say about everywhere I have been so I will be glad if I can redress the balance by a only a small contribution.
        It is a strange coincidence that you mention ‘The Colossus of Maroussi’ as I ordered it from Amazon last week and am waiting for it to drop through the letter box. I read it a long time ago and was reminded of it just a few days ago.
        I will remember your advice about spending more time in places like Piraeus – next year we are thinking that maybe we will have a Greek journey around the mainland which is somewhere where we have so far never spent a lot of time. With the island ferries becoming so much more expensive then this maybe the time to do it. I look forward to any recommendations that you may have?
        Regards
        Andrew

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  4. Thank you Andrew for responding and for your strong concern for Greece.
    Sometimes,even a small spiritual contribution has enormous influential power.
    It is really sad that there is so much dirty propaganda against Greece and its people.It seems,it facilitates their purposes and their future schedules…
    I will never forget,though,the article published in ‘Le Monde’ on the 22nd of July 2011 :’The Great our Debt to Greece’,by Francois de Rose Ambassador of France.
    I wish everybody could have read the big truths of his advanced thoughts. Normally, they avoid highlighting what awakes thinking people.
    Anyway,do you believe in the power of telepathy? If you don’t,now,you have to …
    It was some ten or fifteen days ago that I was trying to find something in the Lawrence Durrell’s book ‘Bitter Lemons of Cyprus’ .This book was right next to Henry Miller’s book ‘The Colossus of Maroussi’,on the same bookshelf.I have to admit that it is one of my favourites.I don’t know why,but automatically, when I saw it,I thought of you and your Greece-related books and posts.
    So,when I commented on your post the other day I felt like mentioning it.
    Isn’t it unbelievable?
    Greetings from the storm-tossed Greece

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