Cradle of civilisation
Sunday, 16 March 2008
The ferry arrived in Patra yesterday lunchtime, and I easily found the railway station. But when I tried to buy a ticket to Athens, the man at the counter said that there had been an accident, and that it would be half an hour before he could tell me whether there would be any trains to Athens. He may have added something in Greek to the effect that the line had caught fire, or that a tower had fallen on it; my Greek is about two and a half thousand years out of date.
I had been followed to the station by three American students, who also asked for tickets, but the ticket seller suggested to them that they could catch the bus at the bus station we had passed on the way to the railway station. I decided to do this as well.
The bus trip was incredible, and much faster than the train would have been. We drove along the north of the Peloponnese, looking out across the water towards northern Greece, until we reached Corinth; then we drove along looking south across the water towards the Peloponnese. The sky was blue, there were mountains; it was terribly beautiful, and a nice confirmation of all those maps of Greece I’ve looked at over the years.
The American students were on the bus with me. They were studying architecture and construction science at a university in Texas; they were studying abroad in Italy for a whole semester, and were taking their spring break in Greece.
When we got to Athens, things were less attractive. The bus station was, as usual, full of lost luggage and lost souls. From there I caught a local bus to Omonia, which the Guide describes as a “home to pickpockets, prostitutes and drug dealers”. The garbage collectors, like those in Naples, must be on strike: everywhere you look there are six foot piles of garbage, and small drifts of garbage everywhere else. The window cleaners’ strike appears to be in its third decade.
The hotel didn’t improve my mood. It’s called the Hotel Joker; the lit sign on the side has a malfunctioning R. I only reconciled myself to Athens when I visited the pub next door. The staff were friendly, the beer was cold, and they were enthusiastically playing that Greek music which I had always thought Greek people only pretended to like just to placate their mothers.
This morning, the first place to go was the Acropolis. And it was as easy as catching the metro to the station called Akropoli, climbing the escalator and looking up. Unfortunately, the staff there were also on strike: the Acropolis was not opening until midday.
This gave me plenty of time to visit the temple of Olympian Zeus and the Pnyx and the Hill of the Muses, from where you can see the gleaming white buildings of Athens stretching out to the hills, much less grubby from a distance. I also had a brief preview of the new Acropolis Museum, which is due to open fully this year. When twelve came round, I briefly considered leaving the Acropolis for another day, but that was a crazy idea, and so I went there straightaway. Spectacular, of course. I ran into the American students on the way down the hill.
After that, a late lunch, and a wander around Syntagma and Plaka, which the Guide tells me are the heart of Athens. It’s Sunday, so all the shops were closed, but there were markets and pubs and a happy carnival atmosphere. I stumbled across the Roman agora, and the Kerameikos, which is where all those famous Greek amphoras were made, and which doubled as the red light district, before the area around my hotel took over, of course.
Tonight, the pub again, I think. Tomorrow, the museum, and the inevitable second trip up the Acropolis.