Arriving an hour later than our scheduled landing into Athens airport, we hiked the 25km’s of shiny, immaculate corridors it took to get to the baggage claim. Luggage retrieved, a quick side-step round the elderly lady lying on the floor with blood pouring from her face (weird) and we were through to the arrival halls. A taxi driver had been booked for us, so seeing my name on his little placard, I waved and headed over to him. He greeted us brusquely, grabbed one of our bags and power walked us to his car.
Mr Taxi Man was angry. He’d been working since 6am and because the plane was late, he was still working at 11pm. I apologised and said next time I was flying an Airbus to Greece from the UK I’d change my flight plan through Europe so all the Athens taxi drivers wouldn’t have to stay up so late. A long, silent ride into Thissio ended about 40 minutes later.
I’d been told the fare was 43 Euros but the meter read 32. I handed him 35. Mr Taxi Man got angrier. He wound down his window and started yelling at the booking rep of the apartment we were renting, who was standing on the curb by the front door ready to greet us. Grabbing our own bags out of the boot, the rep explained to us the taxi fair from the airport was a flat rate of 43 Euros in Athens but drivers had to let the meter run by law. I’d already handed over another 10 Euros before I got out, but the explanation was welcomed.
I’d splashed out about double what I’d normally spend for this apartment, just for a change and a belated birthday present for myself. It turned out to be not quite as special as it looked in the photos. Not the end of the world, but a bit disappointing.
Definitely the end of the world though was the plumbing situation. You can’t flush toilet paper in Athens! You have to let it pile up in a bin beside to the toilet. Let me just say, if ever you want to get closer to your partner, to take your perhaps stilted relationship up another notch of the totem pole of intimacy, a visit to Athens is one answer. Why had I never read this before? Nothing in travel is ever a surprise anymore. It’s all on Trip Advisor and Yelp and Google Reviews. Plus I knew people who had been to Athens. Why had none of them ever mentioned it? What kind of world wide conspiracy was this?
A fitful sleep was had while I tried to process this tragedy.
We left the apartment the next morning, conspicuously carrying our very tightly tied plastic bag full of soiled toilet paper, and set about being tourists. Well, first we found a bin, then we set about being tourists. The Acropolis and everything around it – the Dionysis theatre, The Odeon, The Ancient Agora and The Stoa – was our first stop. In the ticket queue, a young Australian girl with a woollen beanie asked me to explain the multi site deal. I thought it strange she’d chosen a wool beanie on such a hot day, so was eyeing her suspiciously, but then she said she was from Perth (where 30 degrees would be winter), so I relaxed. Slightly. I mean, what’s so hard to understand about a bulk deal? Tickets in hand, we laughed at the irony of my 30 euro one being simply a register receipt, when the free student tickets were made from fancy, thick paper with a silver stripe down the side. Moving to the drink stand, we laughed less at the 4.50 euros price for a lemon crushed ice drink. But it was 30 degrees, and we were hot and stuck up an ancient hill, so we paid it.
Normally at places of such amazing historical import, I would be adamant a guide was needed, so you don’t just stand there wondering what the hell you’re looking at. This time, since my travel companion hates things like that, I bought a little travel book and did lots of internet research before we came.
Now, because I read up, I knew the above was the Erechteum, the most sacred spot, with eight marble columns in the shape of a woman (a caryatid) holding up the roof. It was here in history’s first ever audition for Greece’s Got Talent, that Athena beat Poseidon in a contest to see which god could do the best magic trick that would in some way benefit man. Poseidon threw his spear, trident, whatever, into the ground and made a stream and Athena made an olive tree grow. The judges ruled humans could get more from the fruit and wood of the tree than the stream, so ta daaa, Athena won. Instead of a cash prize, the city was named after her. Fast way forward to early 19th century and Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, comes along and takes a few of the marbles off to Britain (Elgin Marbles ring any bells?). So alright he had a permit, but still, it’s not right mate. Today they are in the British Museum and poor Greece would like them back please.
And there’s the olive tree. THE olive tree. That Athena planted. See, the story MUST be real.
With everything on the hill walked around, marveled at and photographed, we headed down to the Agora, a big stretch of green where some little known Greeks called Socrates, Euripides, Aeschylus, Plato, Aristotle and Aristophanes used to hang. At The Stoa, a long stretch of marble lined with both Doric and Ionic columns, we were told off while trying to choreograph a ‘leaping in the air’ photo. The attendant lady yelled out “There is no running!” but I heard “There is no clowning!”, which of course became the catchphrase of our next few days.We then got told off a few minutes later for taking a photo in an area where it’s apparently forbidden.
We lunched at the Acropolis Museum (kind of small and maybe something you could miss if pressed for time), simply because that’s where we were when I felt like I’d fall over if I didn’t eat soon. It was pricey and the menu a bit too sophisticated for my boring taste buds, so I chose ‘meat pasta’ off the children’s menu. This turned out to be the world’s most tasteless Bolognese. Like it actually tasted of nothing. My digestive system was equally as unimpressed and the horrors of not being able to flush your toilet paper magnified intensely as I rushed to the museum loos, followed by the Parthenon toilets half an hour later, and then the apartment toilet for the rest of the evening.
The National Archaeological Museum was next, where someone else got told off for clowning right before we were about to clown once again. All ideas of any kind of clowning ceased from there on in.
I must point out, The National Archaeological Museum is a fascinating look at the ancient world, showcasing all sorts of objects dating back to 17th century BC. That’s 17oo years before Christ. Christ (that time I meant Christ as in ‘far out!’ not just repeating Jesus’ surname once more). There were safety pins that were almost 19,000 years old and that’s just about too much excitement for my brain. Something to note, if you’re an EU student, it seems every single historical site, museum or gallery lets you in for free.
So what’s the matter Athens? Why are you in such a bad mood? Why is everything so serious in your ancient sites? As you can see here, we had a much better time checking out your modern, urban culture?
There was one guy however, just the one, who flew the flag for cheerful Athenians. Roaming around Thissio, after being told off for wanting to take a photo of a wonderfully higgledy piggledy bookshop (don’t worry, like the rebel I am I circled back later and snapped it with my phone – above) I walked into a rock n roll t-shirt shop. The guy behind the counter, who looked sort of like a Greek member of the Rolling Stones, told me to take my time and have a really good look around. Then he asked me to look at his photo album, full of all the famous people who had been in his shop. I say photo album, but it was about as the big as those ancient spell books you see witches pouring over in fantasy films. Or Charmed.
“Where are you from?” he asked as I flipped the pages and tried to look interested.
“Ohhhhhhhh. Australia. You know Kylie Minogue?
“Well no, not personally.”
“She’s been in my shop.” He came over to flip his Book of Shadows and showed me a picture of what looked like a late 90’s Kylie.
“And how about the other one, what’s his name, the stupid one?
I thought. A stupid Australian?
“No. No. Who’s that? Not him. The other one.”
“Who’s that? Oh. Oh. Wait. Russell Crowe.”
This was my first happy person in Athens. I didn’t have the heart to tell him Russell Crowe’s a Kiwi.