Athens

Trip Start Sep 03, 2007
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209
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Trip End Jun 17, 2009


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Flag of Greece  , Attica,
Friday, December 5, 2008

Alarm clock at 6am - ouch, but at least there's time for a breakfast, check-out and then in the taxi at 7.30. It's only a short drive to the airport where the first job is to pay the airline rescheduling charges. At the Emirates desk an unsmiling, disinterested clerk goes through the motions and only really speaks to insist on the right payment, without her having to be bothered getting change. We have made a few flight changes on our trip and this is the first time an airline has charged us for rescheduling a flight with them.

We join the Emirates check-in queue and after forty five minutes we are checked in by someone who at least speaks to us in a friendly way. As we queue we see a desk marked 'Excess baggage payments' which really portrays a picture of a passenger friendly airline. Our (slightly overweight) bags are passed through without any penalty and we go on to the baggage security and then an, also unsmiling, immigration check.

The departure lounge is huge, brimming with designer shops, has limited sitting areas and I struggle to find a shop that sells water. It, of course, has big duty free shops and a JW rating of 5. In the limited seating area there are no internet facilities or anywhere to plug in a laptop, something which is surprising for a modern terminal in the internet age. The Emirates airline has two of the new giant Airbus A380 aircraft, which I haven't yet seen. I make enquiries and these flights left earlier this morning. Oh well, I'll maybe see them another time then.

Time comes to board and we go down steps and onto a bus, to be taken across the airport to where our plane is. This is also surprising that, in a brand new terminal, passengers have to be bussed to their plane.

The Boeing 777 is packed and the seats are still cramped. It takes off forty five minutes late, the meal service is slow and there are serious problems with the in-flight entertainment on this new aircraft. Five hours later we fly over the blue med and land in Athens, our Emirates experience over.

We join the 'All Passports' queue at immigration, until an officer spots us and after checking that we have a British passport, sends us through the (unclear) EU entry point, dismissing my request for a stamp on my passport - spoilsport!

Bags appear (thank you), we change our dirhams into euros (what, no new currency to play with?), even manage to bash an ATM that 'compatibly' issues money and then take a taxi into the city, 30km away.

The weather is warm (down to 18deg - but we'll cope!), sunny and there's no sign of the dreaded Athens smog. The taxi driver chatters on in the ever friendly Greek style and we roll into the city and check into the hotel.

Our room is small and comfortable and we drop the bags and go onto the roof, where we look directly up at the ruins of the 'Acropolis' in the afternoon sun. It's 5pm here and we've reset our clocks two hours backwards, now being only two hours in front of UK time. We're hungry and go into the restaurant for salad, feta cheese, souvlakia and of course, an ouzo.  Kalispera (Good afternoon) - welcome to Greece!

We returned to the room for an early night, where there was nothing much on the Greek tv but old episodes of 'Mr Bean', which we chuckled at , helped by chunks of Cadburys chocolate that I'd found in the Dubai duty free.

Saturday December 6th.

The room was very warm overnight and we open the windows to give more air. The aircon is only for heating in the (cold) weather.

We rise just in time to put in some laundry and go for breakfast, a good continental buffet. Norah was still suffering with a cold that she'd picked up somewhere, I suspect on the flight to Dubai, so we have an easy day at the hotel, relaxing and planning ahead, as at this time, for the first time in over fifteen months, we don't know where we're going next. There's some insider information that knows we are considering heading to Portugal for Christmas and New Year, the thing is how to get there? Send all suggestions on the back of an Iberia flight voucher to.............

We have dinner in the restaurant and afterwards, while watching tv, see a news item on the BBC Worldwide channel that there has been a clash between police and immigrant protesters in the streets of Athens. So much for a quiet stay!

Sunday December 7th.

Another hot night and after breakfast we take the open topped tourist bus for a ride round the city. We board it just up the road from the hotel at the Acropolis stop and then head towards the city centre. We pass the ruins of the 'Temple of the Olympian Zeus' and then the Parliament Building, guarded by Greek soldiers in their traditional uniforms. It is sunny, around 18deg and a bit cool in the breeze. We see the stadium where the first ever Olympic games where held in 1896 and then on through the busy (but moving) city streets, passing through large squares.

There are large numbers of police everywhere, which we take as an aftermath of yesterday's demonstrations but there is no sign of any trouble.

We stop for a coffee and then walk back to the Parliament Building to watch the hourly changing of the guard, an interesting display of controlled, slow motion, marching.

We reboard the bus and travel on to our start point, walking back to the hotel in the cooling afternoon sun past the wide road along the base of the Acropolis walls. As we enjoy a drink on the hotel roof we see a lot of smoke in the city centre and a helicopter hovering over the area.

We discuss our options for moving on and decide to head for southern Spain on Tuesday and then into Portugal. Whilst I was booking the flights online, Norah watched the tv news and both CNN and BBC were reporting serious riots in Athens. It seems a youth had been shot by police and hundreds of rioters were on the streets, smashing shops, setting fire to cars and offices and attacking the police. Now we know what our smoke was. As I said, so much for a quiet stay!

Monday December 8th.

Another relaxing start but watching tv before breakfast we see that the riots have continued all night, now developing into a political issue and that a national strike is planned for Wednesday. Time to move on.  Its a cooler, 16deg but sunny morning and we go for a walk to the Acropolis to see the fabled 'Parthenon' temple.

From our hotel we can see that they are doing restoration work and there is a crane in the centre of the columns - they're definitely not using original Greek construction methods here! We walk up the road, past the restored 'Dionysus Theatre' and arrive at the Acropolis entrance gates. One sign informs us that the museum is closed, as all the exhibits are being transferred to the new Acropolis Museum, which will open in February and another sign informs us that the Parthenon Temple is closed 'due to a strike' - they never had those in Greek days! Oh well, so near.....

Norah is still fighting her cold and returns to the hotel whilst I walk up the hill opposite the Acropolis, the 'Hill of the Muses'. I pass caves cut into the rock and reputed to be Socrates' prison and on the top of the hill is the 'Philopappus Monument' and great views over the Acropolis, Athens and down towards the sea in the south.

There was not much more we wanted to see in Athens but the protests on the streets, which we knew were not far away, decided us to go back to the hotel, where we have a light lunch and an easy afternoon sitting on the roof, before the developing breeze makes it too cold and we go indoors to start packing.

The live tv reports show the street battles, just a few blocks away and the heated political debates now going on. There are street protests in many Greek towns and even affecting embassies abroad. This seems to have gone way beyond protests about the police shooting a youth (who was attacking them) and looks like a deep seated national issue.

We eat in the hotel and have an early night trying to sleep, not easy with a police helicopter flying low over the hotel every few minutes. It's a sad end to our visit to Greece.

 
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