Travel Dates May 2003
We said farewell to Pam and left the Argolid regretfully. Eighteen months later we had a drink with Pam in a suburban pub in Adelaide. We thoroughly enjoyed the three days we spent in Mycenae. The days were unhurried, the people were nice, we had wandered where and when we felt like going and had a marvellous relaxed interlude in our trip. And somehow we managed to absorb some of the atmosphere and feeling of this ancient part of the world. I will always be fascinated by the Mycenaeans; I can understand Schliemann’s drive to discover so much about the era.
We enjoyed our lazy wanders from Mycenae and were a little wary of re-entering the traffic chaos of a major city again. We were right to be concerned. As soon as we were near to Athens the traffic closed in and driving became a chore again instead of a pleasure. Some, but very few, of the street signs were in both Greek and Roman characters, but despite having maps we became thoroughly lost and frustrated. This was one of the rare occasions where I hadn’t booked ahead in a major city; we learn by our mistakes. Eventually we found our way to the centre and, after several fruitless attempts to find a reasonably priced room in a good hotel we found one at the "Central Hotel". Apparently 4*. Well, maybe it would have been if the lift had worked consistently and the pool had not been under noisy refurbishment. Suffice to say that we wouldn’t stay there again.
However, the location was great, close to the meat market and a shopping area, not too distant from the Acropolis. Lorraine's dad was a butcher and meat inspector so the meat market was a bit of a shock for us, brought up in Australian standards of refrigeration and hygiene. But nobody seemed to have problems with it and we had been eating the gyros next door without problems, so we came to accept it as just another cultural difference.
We enjoyed wandering around the surrounding streets, just watching and listening to the people, browsing through the shops and eating gyros and other local meals for lunch. There were many similarities to the people and practices of Istanbul with one very big difference - there was not the constant pressure from rug salesmen and other street vendors.
I must admit that I found the Acropolis a little disappointing; maybe I’m being unfair. The photos don’t show all the scaffolding; remember that it was May 2003 and they were getting ready for the Athens Olympics. I still enjoyed my day wandering around the Acropolis and the nearby Roman ruins, but I didn’t get that same feeling of wonder at past civilisations that I had in the Alhambra, or Rome, or Pompeii, or Istanbul or Mycenae. The place seemed touristy and oddly staged. But don’t let that stop anyone – I’m still glad I went. Let’s face it, you can’t leave it off your "must see" list if you’re only ever going to get one chance to see Europe – and at the time I didn’t think I’d ever be back.
In the evenings we ate in open-air cafes in the closed off streets in the centre; I'm afraid I neglected to note the street names. Pleasant, with unremarkable food and drinkable wine but a good atmosphere among the people. I decided to use the net to book Venice, after our problems finding the Athens hotel, but I had a lot of trouble finding an internet cafe. The first one I found was up five flights of stairs - and was closed. A sign down the bottom of the stairs would have been nice. The second one had keyboards totally designed for the Greeks; it had never occurred to me as a possibility, although I suppose it should have been obvious. I had become used to the little variations in key positions on European keyboards (the first thing you do in each new country is discover where they've hidden the @ key:-), but I couldn't handle these. Finally I found one that charged like a wounded bull - by the minute. So I used http://www.venere.com/ to do a very quick search and booked in a 4* in Le Mestre in about five minutes; it later turned out to be a good choice.
It took us three hours to leave Athens, so I saw much more of the outer suburbs than I first intended. The roads system just didn't seem to want to let us leave:-) Every time I wanted to turn left I would find it was a "no left turn" and similarly if I wanted to go right. We seemed to have chosen a route that had only one logical way to go, directly opposite the way to Corinth and Patras. As I had a booking on the Ferry to Venice I didn't really want to drive there through Bulgaria. But, eventually, we arrived in Patras after a more interesting trip than we intended.
We ate a lovely meal at a restaurant on the shore of the gulf, as the sun set in a beautiful sky. Then my lady needed to use the facilities. We had seen one of these before, but to find one in a top restaurant was a real surprise. Not even a tap in the toilet.
The Ferry was old and slow, but comfortable. It left in the late evening. I enjoyed the quiet, unhurried trip over two nights and a day, but I must admit Lorraine became rather bored. The sea was glassy smooth for the whole trip. I was fascinated by the total lack of habitation on the Albanian coast; in the entire trip we saw one small coastal town. It seemed so sad to see a country so totally isolating it's citizens from the world