Incidentally the best thing about putting all this old stuff in a blog is I get to re-read it myself and live it all again without having to move out of my study. Of course, all names have been changed. I wouldn't want any of these people tracking me down!
Peloponese and the Ionian Islands (c) Robert Hale 1995
I've been to Greece a few times and the pattern has always been roughly similar :- fly to Athens, leave the city as quickly as possible, go hiking in the islands, end up back in Athens and leave the city for a second time as quickly as possible. From this you might form the opinion that I don't like
Jenni, the tour leader, had met us at the airport - a model of personable brisk efficiency. She was in her early twenties with short dark hair, a nice smile and the kind of tan that only holiday guides can get other than from a bottle. Throughout the day she had done exactly what all good tour leaders should do, which is to say that she had organised everything invisibly and given the totally false appearance of having done nothing. Tour leaders have a terrible job. There is so much work that they have to do, especially on the first and last days of a tour, but they must still be around whenever you want them and look as if they are having as much fun as the punters even when they aren't. Jenni was managing the trick with skill. From the airport, at two O'clock in the morning we had transferred to our Hotel, the Hotel Evripides in
We had arrived at the hotel at about three in the morning local time and the hotel seemed to be fairly basic by normal standards which made it positively palatial by the standards of trips I was used to. The only real problem with it, the reason for which would not become apparent until our return visit, was the noise. Considering that it lay at the junction of a minor side street and a very minor back street it sounded as if it was in the middle of a monster truck racing circuit. A swift night-cap of John's booze deadened the noise a little but not enough to make sleeping easy so that our already brief rest was broken into ten minute fragments of almost sleep.
Then the alarm call came and it was time to be up and about to visit the Acropolis which is of course more or less mandatory for
We were joined at the gate by our guide for the tour who spoke with the kind of over-precise English that only foreign tour guides ever really manage.
"Please take every possible care when you are walking, the marble steps are sometimes extremely slippery." she said cheerily leading us up the sometimes extremely slippery marble steps. Once through the gate the ruins are the second thing you notice. The first thing is the crowd of people that you are going to have to get through to get to them. These may be impressive ruins but the thousands of people that fill them are more impressive, representing as they do almost every nation on Earth all gathered to look at the ruins of a long dead civilisation. There was an air of smugness about them, an air of 'that couldn't happen to us'. I wonder if the ancient Greeks used to run guided tours to the ruins of Atlantis ?
Once you have managed to get through the entrance, which is the major bottleneck, the people thin out a little into more clearly defined scattered tour groups, each one following its own guide speaking the appropriate language. You can take a moment to survey what is certainly a spectacular sight. The most impressive building in the Acropolis is the Parthenon. This is the one that you always see on post cards, the rectangular array of columns perched dramatically on top of a hill with the visitors artfully air-brushed out. At the moment it is being renovated and reconstructed so that bits of it are scattered around like numbered Lego bricks waiting to be slotted back into place. So as not to spoil the viewing pleasure of the public the crane which sits inside the Parthenon and which will be used to pick up these pieces, has been painted in the same shade of grey as the marble of the monument itself. It hardly shows up on the photographs at all.
Away to the left as you approach the Parthenon are the restored temple of Athena, the restored Caryatides and the restored Erechtheum - all restored because of the previously described incidents of war, occupation, vandalism and outright theft. There is also museum on the site in which all of the best of the surviving original pieces are displayed.
After the Acropolis our brief guided tour took us back to the city via various other sites of interest. ("This is the hill where
The two Johns - who knew each other already -, myself and Drew sat at a pavement eating Souvlaki. The second John was a tall amiable bearded bird-watcher. Throughout the trip he would suddenly raise his ever-present binoculars to his eyes to track a distant, almost invisible, speck and then declare in satisfied tones 'Greater Crested Warbling Grebe' or some such thing. He was also a classical music buff, as was John number one who corresponded with him and exchanged tapes from time to time in spite of a major schism on the subject of Beethoven. Drew was a quieter one, harder to fathom although apparently easy-going enough. Even at the end of the holiday I had little more idea about him than I did there, right at the start.
The tables had been laid out in a row along the low railing topped wall that surrounded a churchyard filled with orange trees whose branches were bent low under the weight of the fruit and the blossom. No sooner had we started to eat than a thin cat with large sad eyes came from the church and put its head and paws through the railings. It 'maeioud' and then waited politely. John the birdwatcher peeled a piece of pork from the skewer and dropped it onto the wall. The cat delicately picked it up and ate it. Then it disappeared for a moment before reappearing with a friend. Between them they probably ate as much of our lunch as we did although both of them refused the slices of lemon.
We took an after lunch stroll down through a market which seemed to be the Greek equivalent of a particularly down market car boot sale. Stalls selling bits of broken cameras were laid out next to stores with cardboard shoe boxes full of used telephone cards. A wooden doll in Victorian clothes had been placed on a rocking chair overlooking a table laid out with seedy Greek pornography showing semi-naked young men with rippling muscles. At other stalls second hand clothes and shoes were piled higgledy-piggledy into mountains that people were burrowing into like miners in search of gold lamé. At one end of this street was the entrance to the
Another cat was begging. I tossed a piece of my mixed kebab a few yards away and it followed it leaving me alone. I had already come to realise that
There were three Johns. The first, my current roommate, was a camera shop manager from the Wirral and was a friend of the second who was an architect and bird-watcher. Drew was an enigma. Keith was an average height average weight I.T. manager. Roy and Louise were a couple of ex-hippies who had, as ex-hippies do, mutated into barn dancing folkies. The third John and his wife Angela were a pleasant couple with a cheerful good humoured outlook. Jenni was the tour leader. She had short dark hair and an efficient way about her. Kate was a small thin slightly older lady from
I went back to my dinner and tried very hard to ignore the small army of cats that had now gathered.