Monday, 14 November 2011

Greece 2011, Antiparos to Athens

When I woke in the morning it was a peculiar sensation but my head was still swaying as though I was still on Captain Ben’s boat and the bed was gently bobbing from side to side and I was happy with this because it was probably good preparation because we were shortly to take another small boat ride.

We had a ten-thirty appointment with the Blue Star ferry back to Piraeus but first we had to get back to Paroikia which meant a twenty minute taxi-ferry crossing to Paros so we skipped breakfast at the hotel, settled up and arrived in port in time for the short crossing to the larger island neighbour and the main port. We sat on the top deck and listened to the rumble of the engine and the growl of the exhaust as the boat negotiated the slight swell and delivered us to the quay side with enough time to spare for breakfast at a harbour side café and a quick trip to the supermarket for a couple of cans of Mythos for the journey.

The Blue Star Paros arrived on time and we made our way to the top deck and despite the fact that it was full to capacity we found seats at our preferred location on the starboard side of the boat so that we would be in the sun for the journey and where we waited for twenty minutes as the temperature rose as the sun got hotter and hotter before everyone was on board and the ferry finally cast off and slipped out of port.

Today the Aegean was clearer than I have ever seen it before and it was easy to pick out the islands of Mykonos, Delos, Tinos and Syros to the north and Naxos which steadily disappeared into the horizon behind us.

The ferry passed through the narrow channel between Kea and Kythnos and we were so close that we could clearly make out the small villages and the whitewashed towns clinging to what are really just mountain peaks poking out of the surface of the water and then shortly after that we could see the mainland and we began the final leg of the journey towards Piraeus. We had been sailing for nearly four hours now and the time had begun to drag but then we could see Athens, a gleaming mantle of white concrete spilling down to the sea and soon we were docked and in contrast to the slow pace of the islands pitched back into the madness of Piraeus.

Despite the robbery experience our plan was to take the metro into the city and we were edgy and nervous as we queued for tickets because in a Greek line it is essential to stay as close to the person in front (even if they are a pickpocket) because if you leave as little as a centimetre of space from the person in front then someone will interpret this as an opportunity to push in. The Greeks see queuing as a waste of time and an inconvenience and dislike it almost as much as the French and several people cut in front of me as I waited in line. I concluded that one thing’s for sure is that if there was an event at the Olympic Games for queuing then Greece and France would be an almost certainty for the final!

We negotiated the metro without any disasters and after emerging from the subterranean world we quickly found our accommodation, the curiously named Hotel Fresh, and settled in. It was a good hotel that I had paid for with Airmiles so seemed almost free and it was in a great area full of character that some of the hotel reviewers didn’t seem to appreciate but we liked it anyway. While Kim unpacked I walked along the main road lined with local shops full of character and found a place selling local wine in plastic bottles and a kiosk selling beer and made some purchases and returned to the room.

Let me remind you however that Athens was in the grip of a domestic and economic crisis so there was an edginess about the city and an unusually large number of police on duty at the main tourist spots as we walked to Monastaraki, The Plaka, Syntagma and Ermous and it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps they were preparing for a demonstration or worse still a riot so we retraced our steps to the hotel and stopped at a gyros place where we planned to have a roadside meal but there was only time for a beer as they took the tables and chairs inside and secured the shutters and closed. We noticed that every shop along the street was doing the same and the demonstration/riot concern returned.

Everything seemed settled enough however so later on we walked again to Monastaraki where we had a final holiday meal and then strolled back along a street of aluminium shutters all daubed in graffiti in various grades of obscenity and back to the hotel where we stood on the voyeuristic balcony and stared into people’s homes in the adjacent buildings as we finished off the plastic bottle of red wine before going to bed for the last time in Greece this year.

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