I’ve been in Ireland for more than a month and although I love the Emerald Isle, I’m ready for a change. This morning, I was up at 4:30 and on my flight to Athens by 7:30. Even before my Aer Lingus flight took off, I was dozing.
Four hours and two time zones later we touched down in Athens to a totally different landscape than I’d left in Ireland. Gone were the 40 Shades of Green and patchwork quilted countryside. Now all I could glimpse out the small oval window were rocky mountains littered with scraggly shrubs, an occasional olive grove, and sun-burnt tumbleweeds.
Touchdown in Athens!
The unmistakable grinding of the landing gear being hoisted into position alerts me our landing is near. Looking out the window, I see we are flying into a valley with mountain peaks soaring above us. I know there is a runway somewhere up ahead, but I always wonder! The young Asian kids in the seat in front of me begin exclaiming, “IKEA, IKEA, IKEA”. I look out the window, and sure enough my first recognizable landmark in Greece is the big blue and yellow marquee of the do-it-your-self megastore.
Touchdown! Brakes! More brakes! Then a swift left turn and we are heading to our parking spot. No gate and gangplank for Aer Lingus! We park on the tarmac (Why do they call it that? There is no tar, it’s all concrete.) Rolling stairs are positioned at the front and rear doors, and off we go, heading to the terminal on foot.
Charlotte is meeting me here later today, so I’ve got four hours to waste in the airport until her KLM/SkyTeam flight arrives from Amsterdam. Knowing that I will eventually have groups arriving here for my Exploring Europe tours, I locate the toilets, ATM’s, money exchange, rental cars, public transportation, taxis, restaurants, and other typical airport facilities. Finally, I track down the EU and International arrivals portals (only two possibilities, areas A and B) and then get some lunch at a café.
I notice straightaway the prices are significantly cheaper here than in Ireland and the rest of Europe. My lunch cost about €15 for three courses including my drink. Yesterday in Ireland, I spent €25 plus drinks for my group’s final dinner in the seaside town of Howth.
Charlotte’s flight is on time and arrives by 4:45. We connected within minutes and are in a taxi heading towards central Athens in no time. We’ve planned to stay here for three nights to tour Athens and adjust to Greece. I’ve chosen the Electra hotel group for our stay in the city. For me it is a proven hotel property that is centrally located in a safe and historic area of town. Upon arrival at the Electra Hotel, the reception agent tells us we have the “best room in the house”, gives us our key and we head up to our room.
The room is well… roomy and well appointed. Minutes after our arrival a gentleman shows up with a bowl of fruit and chilled bottled water… that’s a nice touch! We pulled the drapes and slept soundly for several hours. When we woke up, it was dark outside… about 9:30 p.m.
Flashback to 1977
This was my fourth trip to Athens’ Plaka neighborhood. The first had been in 1977 when I arrived with a group of 50 or so friends embarking on a three-week choir tour. I remember waking up that first morning in the Palka to the sounds of the street. All European cities have the same routine and associated sounds… if you are up early enough. Looking down from my balcony, I found shopkeepers washing the sidewalks with buckets of water and old scraggly brooms chatting with one another in a language foreign to me. Old men sitting at the café down the street with their first cup of coffee of the day. Dogs were wearily wandering around trying to find a morsel left from last night’s dinner, and kittens were running to and fro engaged in a skillful game of hide and seek. I’ve always remembered that first morning in Europe and given the chance, try to allow it to “evolve” naturally where ever I visit.
Ok, back to present day… I asked at the hotel desk for a place to get dinner. The lady at reception quizzed me on what type of place we were looking for… fancy, four-star, typical Greek, local, or humble family-owned place. You probably know my answer,
And her directions went something like this, “out the door go left, at the corner-left, then straight, straight, straight (imagine hand motions), then right and straight, straight, straight, at the theatre turn left to the place.”
We ended up on a small square in the heart of the Plaka neighborhood surrounded by local restaurants spilling out onto the sidewalk. It was kind of funny that the lady had directed us to a place named simply “Trattoria”, a term associated with Italy, certainly not Greece. I think Charlotte and I both ordered a Greek Salad (the first of many), shrimp saganaki, and traditional chicken souvlaki with roasted potatoes.
Walking back to the hotel we noticed an almost full moon rising above a nearby church. Here is Charlotte’s photo:
Back in the room and after an long day for both of us, we turn the A/C down to 18°C, pulled the drapes, and sleep soundly all night.