I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

That Was The Greek That Was

Well Friday night was a washout. Stayed in my room for a few hours, couldn't be bothered trekking down hills in the rain to anywhere for a Friday night by myself in central Athens so figured I'd just eat in the hotel. Went to the bar and they told me they didn't do food. Had the place to myself for 2 beers worth of time before heading to bed, foodless, and to watch WWE NXT Takeover REvolution which was fucking fantastic.

Slept pretty badly. Probably as a result of dehydration and general lack of calories throughout Friday, but it wasn't helped by being woken up by the shagging couple upstairs at 0430. Tried to drown them out with some BBC R4 which didn't work very well, eventually nodded off for some shitty quality sleep and managed to crawl out of bed to get breakfast at 0915. So much for my plan of a long night's uninterrupted kip followed by an early checkout for lots of Athens viewing but, ah, whatever.

The weather and breakfast were both much better than on Friday. The olives didn't smell so bad and there was more of everything, presumably because I hadn't turned up with only 5 minutes to go. Hadn't taken my bag and wasn't in a hurry, I figured I would have a shower and pack and then go for the 1111 bus. But y'know what? Fuck that bus. I've walked around Venice without a map so I'm pretty sure I can navigate Athens. Bag on my back, up to the Acropolis and down the pedestrianised bit past the man walking his dog while riding a segway (what?) and hey presto, I come out exactly where I want to be, at the Temple of Olympian Zeus. €2 off a surly ticket guy and I'm in, for a wander around some pretty pretty ruined ruins. The sky is blue, it's warm, and the ruins look excellent. I bring out the Hipstamatic filters to see if I can pretend I know how to compose a photo, and get annoyed by photobombers.

Back out via a photo of the arch, I walk through the natural gardens, which is nice enough. There are lots and lots of dogs. I go past some yellow building which looks fairly interesting, but I have no idea what it is and am not of a mind to particularly find out. My spidey sense tells me I'm heading in the right direction for the Panatheniac stadium and after some statue of a bloke on a horse, there it is. It looks magnificent.

Surly ticket seller gives way to surly ticket checker and surly audio guide distributor and I am standing in the world's only stadium made of marble, a place 2400+ years old which holds 60k+ people and was home to quite a lot of the first modern Olympics in 1896. It's amazing. I slowly peel around the side of the track listening to the audio guide, stopping to look at the original royal box, climbing up a bunch of rows but refusing to go up the way way way too steep second tier. It's so much better than the Samaranch egotism of the Barcelona stadium and museum.

The views from every angle are fantastic and you're allowed on the track, but I don't go in just yet, choosing instead to follow the audio tour guide. Past the half way point there is a large door and there isn't just a story, but you go in, through this cave-like tunnel, up to an area where naked women used to dance around flames to try and make sure they'd snag decent fellas, and then up into the changing rooms where there is an exhibition of actual Olympic flame torches from masses of games - Summer and Winter - plus official posters. It is a bit jarring to see the 1936 (Nazi Berlin) and 1948 (London) posters next to each other. I am in awe of the sporting history and getting goosebumps.

Back down through the tunnel I really can imagine what it must have been like - well, of course I can't, but you know what I mean - to have been an athlete stepping out in front of a ravenous crowd of so many people ready to watch the pinnacle of human sporting achievement. There are stories from 1896, where 70,000 people packed in from a city which at the time only had a population of 128,000. Holy shit!

Everything is marble. Some of the architectural members are originals from 2400 years ago. The drainage system is 1800 years old and has never had any work done to it. You can see all of Athens's other major landmarks from the seats - the Acropolis and Parthenon, St George's cathedral, the mountains, etc. I learn that the length of one side of the track is 185 yards, a distance which used to be called a 'stade', and that's why places where sports take place are called stadiums. I learn that the 1900 and 1904 Olympics were both shit so there was a bonus 1906 "intermediate" games, in Athens, to show Paris and St Louis how to do it - followed by the 1908 where we Brits changed the length of the marathon because reasons.

I am totally overwhelmed by how much I enjoy the whole place, and finish the tour by walking a full circuit of the track in lane 4, and wishing there was someone around who could take a photo of me standing on the podium.

It's a shame to leave, but leave I do. I decide it's kinda time to try and get a Guinness, since all this proper tourism is making me quite emotional. Back through the natural gardens I wander up to Syntagma square oppoosite the parliament, figuring a photo of the legislature of the home of democracy is probably the done thing. The guard is being changed by the tomb of the unknown soldier but I cannot be arsed to watch it, especially because it's so much worse than the Moscow version. Sorry, Athens, but it is.

Past the square and all the groups of protestors and hordes of other folk I'm in winging it mode. I stroll through lots of pedestrianised streets, where "pedestrianised" means "also two way for motorbikes", and nearly trip over numerous stray dogs. I'm totally guessing my way towards Monastiraki where I believe the James Joyce Irish pub is. After a while on lots of side streets which appear to constitute the ancient hardware store quarter of Athens I decide to give up and check a map. I am about 10 minutes walk from the pub but have indeed gone slightly wrong.

The walk from where I am to where I want to be takes me past yet more bona fide tourism - the super-bustling fruit, veg and fish markets. They smell incredible. The streets are really fucking busy and I'm really quite enjoying myself. This has to stop, and sure enough does when on one of those streets where its pretty impossible to figure out how traffic ever gets anywhere, I get stuck behind two locals who seem unable to cross the fucking road. Jesus Christ, the cars are going to slowly it would be impossible to get hurt. Just step out! Someone else arrives and does just that, kinda barging the girls out of the way, and I cross in their wake.

All along the walk I'd been prepared to go in the first Guinness vendor I saw, but actually I saw barely any pubs. Maybe bad luck, but I think more likely that drinking is done in districts (unlike England with its "pubs everywhere" philosophy). Just before I reach my destination, another Guinness-pimping boozer looms but since I'm only a couple of doors away I hold firm.

I grab a seat at the bar and order a pint of Guinness and a plate of fish and chips. The drink is divine, and both the fish and the chips are giant hefting great examples of their ilk. I nom the lot down like a bastard and then ask the barman how long it'll take to get to the airport. I suggest it's about an hour, he says 'noo, nothing like it', asks me what time I'm flying, skirts around the point, and convinces me to buy a second pint. It was not difficult.

In my pad I write ATHENS in big letters, with a box next to it, which I tick. I take my metaphors very seriously. I am inordinately happy with all kinds of things, and tell Mike by text - who was kind enough to tell me that this weekend I have won the Internet - that there is yet another decent blog post title on its way. I hope he's satisfied with this one.

My flight is delayed. So is the previous one. Mine is showing anything between 30 and 45 minutes, while the 1430 is now not leaving until 1735. Since I was aiming for the airport at about 1615 anyway, I hatch a plan. The airport does, of course, take about an hour to get to, because I'm right and I know my stuff and that barman shouldn't have doubted me. The tube journey is spent standing because it's busy, and I am wondering why the busking kids choose to use accordions. Second only to fucking bagpipes, the only way they're getting euros out of me is if they promise to fucking stop playing their cunting instruments.

Airports are easy to navigate and before I know it I am in the BA lounge, asking if they can fit me on the delayed flight. Probably not, unless I have a flexible ticket, is the answer. I say I presume the delays are a knock-on from yesterday's London airspace issue and she looks at me like I'm some kind of fucking idiot while telling me that no, it's totally unrelated. Sitting down, I see her print out a boarding pass and wonder if she has managed to get me on the early flight but alas no, she's just telling me the plane has changed and so has my seat. Damn it. For this flight I've had seat 6A, 18A, 21A, 10E, and now 12J. I feel dizzy :-(

And, uh, that's it. I fly in some indeterminate amount of time to Heathrow and that's country 50 done. I need to buy some ouzo, and then bask in my own narcissistic glory. Here, almost certainly, endeth my blog for 2014 and right now I have no travel planned for 2015 until July. It surely can't stay that way for long...

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