Part 1 of a Greek Odyssey

I have arrived in Athens, safe and sound. I didn’t have my own Internet access on Thursday, which explains why most people won’t have heard from me. That was sorted on Friday though. The first thing that needs to be said to put any potentially concerned minds at ease is that the strikes and public unrest you may have heard about gripping Athens at the moment doesn’t affect me – I’m far from the scenes and don’t need public transport to get to work either.

That said, time to start at the top: the flight. Olympic Airlines is not the most comfortable airline I’ve ever flown. There was a black control box under the seat in front of me, limiting my leg room a little (and that’s so generous on economy class already). I rang the bell twice in rapid succession at about 2AM to ask flight attendant for some water (I was at the window and the guy next to me was asleep). Both times, the attendant stoop up, deactivated the light on her control panel and sat back down again – I was less than impressed.

In any event, long and uncomfortable flight aside, I arrived without hassle and discovered the joy of an EU passport in Europe – there was a dedicated line which made rapid progress, as the customs official merely looked at each one – no stamps or anything of the sort. I breezed through there, got my luggage easily, told a customs guy there was a satellite decoder in my bag and was waved through and was collecting my Hertz Seat Ibiza in no time.

Driving on the wrong side of the road presented a bit of a challenge, but I adapted early enough – and good thing too, since the only way from the airport is by highway. A tolled highway nogal – good thing I got Euro’s before I left. I passed through the toll after exit 18 off the highway, knowing my hotel is between exits 18 and 17. However, the little sign that says “Holiday Inn Attica” is mounted on the offramp, which I saw as I cruised past it. No trouble, I figured, I’ll take exit 17 and turn round. When I did that, I saw a small tarred road lead off back the way I wanted to go – and like an idiot I figured it must go where I want. So I took it, and it did take me to the hotel – the outskirts of the hotel. The road travelled around the hotel complex with no way in, crossed under the highway and then travelled around the complex on the other side of the highway. I drove back and forth like that for half an hour, and then finally made my way back to exit 17 – where I made my next mistake.

I turned onto the highway in the wrong direction – towards Athens. I paid another toll, managed to turn around on exit 19, paid yet another toll and finally got to my hotel. Not too bad for more than an hours work to cover 15 km’s and three toll crossings…

Having finally got to my hotel, I found they weren’t ready for me, despite our travel office’s request, so I waited until 10AM to check in. Finally though I could shower, shave, change and prepare to find Multichoice Hellas. I had a map provided by my contact at MCH, and I set out to find the place. Suffice to say, I got lost again, but a friendly security guard used his two English words and some sign language to finally point me in the right direction. The fact that there are no signs on the streets (in Greek or otherwise) and that MCH is actually signposted as NetMed made it a little trickier, but I finally arrived.

There were a bunch of Internet related issues, as mentioned above, but those are now sorted, and I’ve settled in quite nicely. The guy I’m working with is a great guy, and some progress is being made.

The city of Athens itself I haven’t seen much of yet – that’s for later today. What I have seen is very pleasant – there’s a certain feel of home I appreciate: A certain less-than-fully-first-world feel. There are cracks on the pavements here and there, some of the cars are older than two years and little, almost indescribable things like that. It makes me feel like I’m at home – certainly more than in Australia 🙂 That said, it really is a beautiful place, and nothing is dirty or broken or rundown – just not quite as fully “first-world” as Australia was – more like SA.

One enduring image that stuck me of Athens was the view from the windows of the plane as we flew in – Athens is ringed by mountains, and at 6AM there was a blanket of cloud hiding draped behind them, being held at bay from sweeping over the city and into the sparkling blue harbour. It reminded me somewhat of the table cloth over Table Mountain, but only since they both involve clouds and mountains – it was really very striking in its own way. I can only regret I can’t describe it very well. People who live in mountainous areas will have seen such a thing before – and indeed a similar effect used to develop behind Helderberg Mountain in Somerset West – but to see this as the sun was rising and playing over the filmy clouds was really a beautiful thing to behold.

This has probably gone on long enough, so I’ll end it here by mentioning supper – I ate at Goody’s on both Thursday and Friday evenings. I had the Golden Burger and Goody’s Grill respectively. Very tasty, but I found it quite odd that the fast food place had a Heineken draught beer tap – which is apparently not unusual here. How odd. I didn’t have one though – I tried an Alpha beer last night in the hotel bar, which was a nice enough lager, but sadly a lager. Lager appears to be the national beer preference here – how disappointing 🙂

All right, enough rambling, disconnected thoughts on Greece, Athens and uncomfortable airline seats – I’m sure I’ll write some more next week. Until then, allow me to use one of the few Greek words I now know: “Yassas”, useful both as hello and as goodbye.

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