Well, yesterday I left Hotel Wilson, that quirky 3rd floor hotel set just back a bit from the Promenade and pebbly beach of Nice. A kind man carried my big bag all the way down to street level. When he found out I was Australian, he confessed his love for Koalas, he told me to him, they were the best animal in the world! Where was he when I was checking in?
So up the main thoroughfare towards the station again, (when I say up, it’s not really up hill, it just gives you that impression because there are a couple of bridges going over the road). The day before, in a fit of trying to be organised, I bought a train ticket ‘to the airport’ for €1.80. I say ‘to the airport’ because I was told it was 10 minutes walk to the airport from the station. Not wanting to repeat the Monaco mistake of seeing a train with the right destination, but the train being a wrong brand and having to buy another ticket, one that would work with that train, I gave myself plenty of time. I was also mindful that only two platforms at Nice railway station are ground level, so you have to negotiate an escalator down and set of stairs up to get to the others, (not high on my wish list, given a. the size and weight of my luggage; and b. my incredible grace, or lack of). As I approached the train station, I saw a bus that seemed to have the destination of the Airport, I stopped and asked the price; €6 seemed an investment in my happiness.
Arrived at airport, for the record check which terminal you need to get to, if you happen to get off at the first one you get to thinking it might be terminal one, don’t sweat, there is a free shuttle bus to the second terminal, ironically named Terminal One. It actually seemed a relatively boring airport, until you have checked in your bags and gone through customs. Then, and only then, do you see all sorts of magnificent things that are not going to travel well with your carry on luggage, but could have possibly travelled quite securely in your bigger case.
For my flight to Athens from Nice, I flew Aegean Airlines. On Tuesday, 27th September, 2016 that was the only direct flight. One of the first things that I noticed as I got to my seat was there was no screen in the back of the seats, on further investigation, there was, in fact, no entertainment at all, no tv screen popping down from the roof, not even audio! The meal was ok, a small pasta dish with two chicken meatballs, a roll with butter, cracker with cream cheese and some sort of Greek biscuit. There was a small child who screamed the entire time, and while I understand that flying can be frightening and painful (ears) for a small child, this was the same small child I saw both before and after the flight at both airports throwing a tantrum because she didn’t get her own way, therefore my sympathy level was non-existent.
We landed and had to get buses to the terminal (I just can’t get used to that). I went past the glass box called ‘the Winston Smoking Station’, a glass box smoking folk gather in to swap fumes with each other, and on to get my bag. Again, Greek customs was ‘relaxed’ to say the least. This time there were two customs officers just waving folk through the doors. No one got stopped.
I got a taxi, well it happened to be a black limo-like Mercedes van. The back had two rows of three seats facing each other and darken windows. It was the same cost as a normal taxi, but the driver was well dressed and he turned out to be a really nice guy. We had a long talk about how important your family is and that the secret to happiness begins with you being at one with yourself, (life philosophy lesson chucked in for free). During the trip, I got my first sight of the Acropolis, lit up and floating over Athens. Quite the first impression!
After 9pm I got to Hotel Cecil, great name, huh? Checked in and went up to my first floor room. I opened the French doors to see an air conditioning unit on my tiny balcony. Looking down to the side street below, I felt a little disappointed and I thought maybe I wasn’t in a great area of the town, it looked old and unloved. But I was wrong. Apparently Psiri is a bit like St Kilda in Melbourne. Yes, it has had a ‘shady’ past and parts look unloved, but since the 1990’s, Psiri has morphed into the hip and happening place.
Greek breakfasts are a little unfamiliar to me, ham cheese, bread, butter, boiled eggs still in the shell (I had thought they were raw and was waiting to see someone eat one) and coffee in a huge urn, like the one’s we would use for boiling water. After breaky, I went on a mission to find the Acropolis. During the day, you can see the neighbourhood for what it is, a vibrant part of the city, lovely trees on each side of the street. Just up the street a bit are the meat and fish markets. If you find those areas in a city, there are bound to be locals, therefore you see a place that is real, not all staged for the tourist.
My mission failed because I went in the wrong direction, but succeeded because I found a girl at the metro entrance selling Vodaphone SIM cards 3 Gb for €4. Bargain! So now I could check where I was, quite obviously heading in the wrong direction, as I headed back in the other way, I spotted a hop on hop off bus. Really, these buses are quite efficient in getting around a fair few places white the option of spending time where you choose, and you get the commentary (in your language) via the headphones provided. Just a hint, remember to unplug your headphones before enthusiastically leaving your seat to get off.
This morning, I visited Zeus’ temple and the Acropolis, Parthenon, etc etc. I then went for a wander, thinking I was heading for the Ancient Agora, but went in to the wrong part of the parklands. Now just a heads up about parks. Watch out for men weeing behind trees. Yes, I know, ewwwww. In the maybe 30 seconds I was in that park I saw two men weeing. Dead set, I saw the stream of it! One even bent over afterwards and wiped his shoes with a tissue. Double ewwwww!
Okay, back to the Acropolis, €20 entry, (Zeus’ leftovers €6, Hadrian’s Library €4, don’t know about the Agora, wasn’t keen on the area after seeing the blokes weeing). The Acropolis involves a walk up a cobble stoned road for about 500m. Just a warning, a lot of the ground going up, and on top of the hill/cliff is very smooth rocks, so smooth that if your shoes don’t have a good grip, it can be slippery. The difficulty level would be amplified in the rain. You are not allowed to eat or drink. Nor, it seems are you allowed to take a photo of a small stress ball in the shape of a horse….. Now I would’ve remembered if I saw that sign, so I am still wondering why.
So having sworn off parks and gardens for the rest of the afternoon, I found myself in market precinct. It was on narrow streets that seemed just to invite you to see where they came out. Surprisingly, I found myself in the street I am staying in. Given that toilets in Europe seem to be well hidden (and seemingly disguised as trees if you are a man), I popped into my accommodation for a quick break and a long drink of water. Refreshed, I went and found the ‘HOHO’ bus and did the complete loop.
I have to say that when I flew into Athens a couple of weeks ago and was driven to Piraeus, (the port), the Athens I saw during that trip was sad, shops were empty and apartment buildings were half built and abandoned. The Athens I have seen today, is very different to my first impression. The roads, traffic and parking are still outrageous, I have to say, I have got the road crossing sussed now. When you can cross and when you can’t seems to be dependant on a combination of road rules, luck and ‘a vibe’. If all else fails (road rules included) just wait until there are a few folk ready to cross at the same time….. never fails.
Tomorrow I start my flight home…….. I may be a slightly different colour when I get home, because of my time in the sun, but I think the real change in the last few weeks is deep within me.