Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Greece: Hold my Hand!

We landed in Athens and I felt as if walking on something unreal. The ground was good and solid but this was the first time I had come face to face with the mystical, the mythological, the magic of Greece itself. Once I'd left the airport, of course, which had surely seen better days and would be replaced by a new facility before long. Circling in to land I could see the Acropolis, the 1st Olympic Stadium and the port of Piraeus laid before me but I still hadn't touched ground. Now I was here and my friends and I only had to get to our hotel for the next six days before we could turn loose on what was for me 20 years of pent up anticipation.
Our hotel was the Esperia Palace at 22 Stadiou Street, maybe two blocks from Syntagma Square where the Greek Parliament and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are located. If I had to count stars I'd say two, meaning neither flea-bitten or grand but clean and comfortable enough for three bachelors in their 20s needing little more than separate beds and hot showers. Our one friendly warning was not to wad up too much toilet paper because the pipes were on the thin side and clogged rather easily. We weren't worried about TV reception or cable, either - we were in Greece! - but there was an evening of live entertainment one night when the latest political protestors took to the streets which we enjoyed from the comfort of our upper floor windows.

My partners and I knew we wanted to see as much as possible but made no plans ahead of the trip as to what and when. The first day was largely just getting over jetlag and wandering the immediate neighborhood but not before setting up several trips at the front desk which provided pick-up service in the lobby each morning for every tour we had selected. With that all set, our entire week planned, it was time to see, smell and feel the majesty of Athens. There might have been cars, buses and neon in the streets but this was still Athens!

Continuously inhabited for over 7000 years, who knew where to begin for our "half day at leisure" self-guided tour. The Plaka, of course! The oldest city market still in use on the planet. Shops, stalls and customers along with all manner of thieves, pickpockets and the tourists they preyed on gathered in the same spot since the time of Athena, patron goddess of the city. Everything is up for negotiation all around and I tried my hand at picking up a couple of thick wool sweaters before moving on with our walk around town. We found out where other things were that we would be seeing later in the week such as the National Archaeological Museum at Omonoia Square and how to get to the Acropolis before deciding it was time to grab a drink before find something to eat.

We pulled in to a random watering hole on a main road and were instantly greeted by the owner who ushered the three of us to a corner table with a carafe of fresh water. As soon as we were settled he took our drink orders and left quickly, after which three lovely local ladies immediately took his place and joined us. Huh?

Before the owner could return to ask us our pleasure, one of my buddies looked at me and said "Quick, hold my hand!" WHAT? Back with our heavily watered drinks the owner and ladies decided they had sized us up wrong, we paid for our drinks and boot-scooted out of there faster than they could blink!

They weren't nearly as perturbed as we were. We were tourists, this was Greece. "Whatever!"

Gotta go!

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