Dave the motorhome is safely behind locked gates (well not technically locked as you’ll see below, but you get the drift) at Camping Athens (N38.00920 E23.67271). We’ve finally made it into the big smoke!
I was woken this morning by the bin lorry as it trundled past us and picked up an over-flowing bin on the other side of the road, the only sign of yesterday’s day-trippers, all other trace of them had gone and we had the place to ourselves as it was now 9.30 and even the French motorhome in front of us had left.
Checking our email we had a message back from Thomie and George who we met on a beach many weeks ago, they told us to get in touch when we got to Athens as they live here, so we had. Amazingly they were free today (it’s not a bank holiday here in Greece), and could meet us and take us to see some sights, how lucky are we? We packed up Dave and made tracks for Athens.
First stop was a petrol station for some diesel. We pulled in and Jay jumped out to meet the man (no one fills their own cars here!), but no one appeared. The pumps were all sat there ready to spew out the precious fuel, but being English (and honest) we didn’t touch them. Another car pulled into the forecourt and as the driver unlocked his fuel cap I suggested to Jay to copy what he did. After five minutes of them both walking around looking lost, peering through the glass into the shop and cafe we decided to leave – this time the local driver copied us and left too. Of course that was the cheapest station on the route, but when we did fill up, it was with €1.33 a litre diesel which was only a couple of cents more, but still loads cheaper than the UK.
We followed the signs to Athens, at one point driving through a busy little town as I suspect I missed the sign for the turning onto its ring road, but arrived at Camping Athens just before noon and remarkably unscathed. The traffic built up as we had got closer to the city, but we were on a road that varied between two and four lanes in each direction, so it never got too bad. The campsite is around seven kilometres outside of Athens and when we checked in at reception we were given loads of maps and information on how to get to the main sights. The campsite staff had found a tortoise roaming the grounds and had put it into the reception until they could move it to somewhere safer (it seems this happens quite a lot). Jay got to pick it up and Charlie got a really good sniff but was hungry for more so we had to hold him back in case he scared the poor thing to death.
We reversed Dave into a shady spot, got the camping chairs out and relaxed. Showers followed by a quick walk up to the nearby supermarket (which very kindly had a chilled drinking fountain outside it) was all we managed in the heat, it really is no wonder people snooze in the afternoons here. A few emails later we’d arranged to meet Thomie and George at 8pm in the centre of town near a metro stop. Just after 5pm we kissed Charlie goodbye (he’s not allowed on the public transport here) and crossed the road outside the campsite to catch the bus to the metro station. As we stood at the bus stop I looked towards the city and there it was, surrounded by a mass of white buildings – the rock of the Acropolis, crowned by the ruins of the Parthenon. A wave of excited shot through me, it was so strange to see it just there at the end of the road.
The bus dropped us at the clean and new looking metro (built for the Olympic games in 2004) which whisked us into downtown Athens. We got off at Syntagma Square (the main square so our guidebook says) and wandered over to see the pom-pom shoed guards watching over the tomb of the unknown solider in front of the Parliament building.
After the obligatory snap with an unsmiling chap, we then wandered around the streets of Athens marvelling at the sheer volume of souvenirs that were available. I suspect we were in the main touristy bit, either that or all Athenians wear slippers with pom poms, t-shirts with their name written in Greek on them and have a house full of fridge magnets!
We walked around the base of the Acropolis through the alleys and stairs of Plaka. Frequently the rows of souvenir shops and tavernas would give way to ruins surrounded by a fence, some with signs, others with no way of knowing what they were, except old. Feeling a bit lost Jay spotted some free maps of the area and grabbed one, this guided us out in the direction we needed to go to our metro station rendez-vous. It was 7pm and by now we were feeling hungry, the touts tried to lure us into the tavernas, but we just wanted a snack. Then Jay spotted that the map was provided by Smile Gyros – on the back was a menu which included kebabs in pitta bread for €3 – winner!
Using their own map to guide us there (I suspect that is the marketing ploy) we found ourselves in a lovely little place, the staff were all very friendly and the food filling and tasty. Some tables were reserved when we arrived, as we ate people arrived and were greeted like old friends before sitting at these tables and discussing their day.
With full stomachs and fifteen minutes until we were due to meet Thomie and George we headed off, finding the metro station with a couple of minutes to spare. Thomie pulled her car into the pedestrian crossing gap in the row of taxis outside the metro, and we piled in.
We have had a great few hours with them whizzing around the streets of Athens, asking loads of dumb questions that have been niggling us such as why do we see so many motorbike riders with their helmets on their arm? First stop was Lycabettus Hill which offers an amazing panorama of the city. Maybe I’ve been in Dave too long, but it looked as if we would never get up the narrow, steep streets that Thomie flew up, I held my breath as we raced around sharp bends, eventually arriving at a huge car park. From there we walked up to the church (surrounded by a cafe) and looked out over the city as the sun set – it was perfect timing.
George told us how the city housed 10,000 people 200 years ago, but now the number is around 5 million. In front of us the white apartment blocks spread out, looking like a huge puddle of spilt milk, as Thomie said, they have not wasted a single space. After a hundred or so photos, we set off back down to the car. As we were driving out the the car park a Labrador ran in front of the car, Thomie easily avoided it, but it had something in its mouth and as we all looked closer we could see what it was – it appears that Charlie isn’t the only pooch around here with a love of tortoise. George saw the owners and let them know what their pooch was up to, and they were trying to make it drop the poor creature as we headed off to the seaside.
At Palaio Faliro we were greeted by a marina full of very expensive yachts, not what you’d expect to see in a city in economic crisis, some of them were registered abroad, but a lot of them were Greek – as are many of them in the other marinas, Athens has several along its shore. After walking along and deciding which one we would buy if we won the lottery, we followed the sound of laughter and music to the waterside bars which were packed out. We found a seat upstairs in a bar and chatted over some drinks. Jay had a bottle of Fix as we had just driven past the old Fix factory, which is in the process of being turned into an art museum.
By now it was getting on for 11pm and being soft, like we are, we headed back to pampered pooch Charlie. After more whizzing around the streets of Athens, which Jay particularly loved as he didn’t have to do the driving, we pulled up at the closed gate to the campsite. Pressing the security buzzer a man wandered towards us and slid the gate open, it seems it was shut, but not actually locked – probably a good thing here as they Greeks love to stay up late. We said farewell to Thomie and George, as they needed to get back to their pooch, Stratos. We had a fabulous night and loved being treated to our own guided tour of the city – to places we would never have got to see otherwise. We hope we get to see them both again one day soon, although I’m not sure George will be rushing to the UK after Jay told him that we drink our beer warm!
PS – It’s now 1.20am here and time to head to bed, our big plans to be at the Acropolis super early tomorrow may not happen!