“If my ship sails from sight, it doesn’t mean my journey ends, it simply means the river bends” – John Enoch Powell
Distance travelled: 2,427km (Total: 19,531km)
Flights taken: 1
Flights missed: 1
To travel in Greece is to be delayed. Without a doubt, things operate on time often enough, but too often there is interference from the two most disruptive forces in the country: the weather and Greeks. Usually, ferries are most vulnerable to weather delay, which the Greeks are now very careful with after some accidents a few years back. In October 2008, the last time I visited Greece, I found myself stranded in Crete after winds buffered the southern islands for days, crashing walls of water into the island. I was on my way to meet my good friend Margaret on Santorini, and she had flown in from Barcelona via Athens. So desperate was I to reach my heavenly island that I spent the day trying to call every airline I could to see what else was available. In the end, I bought a ticket on a large smelly and uncomfortable boat, which sat delayed for hour after hour and, despite question after begging question from me, they refused to give me information about the likelihood of departure, shrugging as if this was good enough. All this happens at the same time as the locals arrive to board, and the trucks back up to unload onto the boat they know will depart.
If the weather doesn’t delay you, then the Greeks themselves will often step in and give it their best shot. Today, I arrived in London and passed through into Terminal 5 only to be told that my flight to Athens was delayed by 3 hours. The Greek airport staff were on strike, and nothing could leave or land in Athens from 12-4pm, when I was due. Since my flight to Santorini left 3 hours after my flight into Athens was to arrive, this left me doomed.
When I finally found the (apparently secret) number for Olympic Air (the BA lounge staff were no help either; I had to trawl the internet myself), the reservations clerk was unmoved: tough luck, we did not cause the delay and I had booked a non-refundable ticket. So I had to cancel my flight and book for early the following morning, and into the Electra Palace in Athens for the night (where I have stayed before, and tonight they were offering a rather nifty rate).
Finally, I arrived in Athens over three hours late, at 5.15pm, to face an enormous taxi queue: at least 200 people stretched in front of me, and Greek dude muscled beside me. (Greeks like to push in if they can: i had to be vigilant!). Once I reached the front of the queue, I was lucky enough to get a cute driver called Nick, who explained the taxi delay: the buses and trains were also on strike, so everyone was driving today. Even he had waited 3 hours in Athens airport to pick up this fare! They protest, he says, because of the higher taxes that the government wants to impose to help fund Greece’s attempt at financial recovery that adorns every major newspaper around the globe. Nick doesn’t agree with the protests, and is alarmed at how the whole world knows of Greece’s problems via the front page news: “do they look at us with half an eye?” he wants to know.
It took twice as long as usual to reach Athens, and I checked in, asking for a 4.45am wake-up call and some breakfast to my room. “No problem”. As well as this, they upgrade me to a room overlooking the Acropolis as I am a return guest: hurrah!
My first meal in Athens has traditionally been at Psara’s, a fish taverna in the Plaka, sitting right under the Acropolis. Sensational food, especially the octopus and the zucchini fritters, lures me back and I head out from the hotel to Psara’s. Tables sprawl out of the two indoor spaces, out onto the street and up some stairs. I am the only customer there, and 5 men stand around, laughing. I order some taramosalata, Kreta salad, and zucchini cakes, which are all as good as I remember but, sadly, the service is even worse than I remember. I resolve not to return, and tell the waiter so.
By now, I am seriously jetlagged, and as I stagger back to the hotel I notice graffiti on many of the beautiful houses in the Plaka: is this new? Have I missed this before?
Despite being desperate for sleep, I force myself to stay awake long enough to lay out the clothes for tomorrow, to shower, to even wash a couple of things, charge my phone, and set my alarm as a back-up. Then: unconsciousness.