I knew things were going to be different when, on Friday, the pilot for my flight to Athens announced over the loudspeaker that we would have to sit on the tarmac at London Heathrow for an hour because Athens air traffic control had lost its radar capabilities due to a power failure two days previously and it wasn’t due to be sorted out for another two days. I haven’t been following all the goings on in Athens recently, but I’ve caught the general idea. The Greece economy is in the toilet. The government is trying to cut wages and raise taxes. The citizens, and especially the immigrant workers, are livid. Greece wants Germany to bail them out and the Germans want nothing to do with it.
My one hour residency on the tarmac was extended to two and a half hours before we were finally clear to get on our way. It wasn’t nearly as unpleasant as I had expected because I had my window seat and a friendly seat mate. Still, I found myself wishing I was in America where the limit on time spent waiting on the tarmac was set at one hour. Nevertheless, I arrived in Athens safe and sound and was picked up by the driver who has been helping out the female members of The Village during their travels. We headed to Asini, a small town outside of Nafplio on the Peloponnesian Peninsula. Unfortunately, I arrived late enough that the sun was no longer available to light up the landscape during the drive, but I quite enjoyed imagining how the lights along the way played into things. There were a few forts up on the hills that were beautifully lit and stood out along the way that I was later able to see in daylight and combine my imagination with reality.
I arrived at the house in Asini to hugs and smiles from the girls after a two and a half hour drive. This, I thought, was what I had been needing since my last trip home in July. I was promptly provided with a glass of white wine from a plastic bottle sans sulfates. I raised an eyebrow to the plastic bottle, but was informed that it was two euro a bottle, quite tasty, and left you feeling healthy in the morning as opposed to suffering from a sugar hangover in the morning. What more could a girl ask for? I was given a brief run-down on the things that had happened since their arrival a week earlier and then skirted off to The Bear, where we indulged in more wine and classic Greek starters—roasted aubergine (egg plant) and courgette (zucchini), meatballs, baked octopus, and fried cheese. Upon our return home on Friday night, I had family bonding time and then slept as soundly as possible given I was being surveyed by a mosquito as I drifted off.
Saturday morning was met with a discovery of five mosquito bites on my forehead—in a line. Apparently, the stinker stuck to the line of my covers while I attempted to hide from him. Things were looking up though. We were destined to head to “The Egg” for a hike. While the weather looked slightly ominous, it held off long enough for us to get to our destination and back with sufficient time to bask in the beauty of the cities, farmland, and sandy beaches below us. When we finally made it to the bottom of the hill, we decided to continue our adventures in search of an old monastery that still holds services on occasion. It was humbling to stand within the walls of an anciently erected church and in front of all the painted religious images on the walls. While the initial intent for lighting the candles to provide light during our explorations, I couldn’t help but say a prayer before we left. Sometimes, just the act of prayer is comforting, even if I’m not sure what I’m praying for.
Later, after regrouping and cleaning up we headed to Nafplio for lunch. Taverna Vasilis was recommended by our rental car organizer and, after stuffing our faces full of an assortment of cheeses, spinach pie, roasted chicken, lamb, and mousaka, I can see why. I haven’t had food that good on this side of the Atlantic Ocean since my first night in Aberdeen with my dad. Everything had all the right flavors and lots of it. It was sensory overload after becoming accustomed to food in the UK. I was in love.
A bit of souvenir shopping followed and I was also able to pick out a birthday present from Merry Beth. However, I have been instructed to not actually undo the bubble wrap packaging until my actual birthday, so I have since tucked it away in the closet so that I am not tempted. Is it odd to be tempted to open a present even if you picked it out in person and already know what it is?
Anyway, Saturday evening, Merry Beth, Stephanie and I headed into Athens. To say the vibe was different from Asini is the understatement of the year, but what struck me the most was the difference between Athens now and Athens two years ago. The last time I was in Athens, it was the peak of holiday season and the visitors were gallivanting about carefree and happy. The street vendors hailed from every corner, just yearning to convince you they can make a good deal for you. The attractions were packed, the streets bustling, and the energy upbeat. This weekend, there were very few tourists compared to the past. Although some of that fact can be attributed to the fact that it’s October, not the whole fact can be chalked up to seasonal change. The buildings were covered in graffiti and the streets were packed with garbage and immigrant workers playing hooky from their duties. It was rare to see many shops open and especially rare to see vendors in the streets trying to lure visitors with their evil eye souvenirs and olive wood utensils. The whole of our group seemed to feel that trouble was brewing and so we treaded carefully.
Lisa arrived in Athens late Saturday night and after an hour of trying to navigate the poorly marked streets of Athens, crazy throngs of cabs near the discos, and overflowing garbage cans we made it back to the hotel for a glass of wine and some girl talk. Even though Lisa and I haven’t known each other more than a couple years, it’s amazing how comforting it is to have a friend from home who knows me outside of my life in Scotland. I also really like hearing how things are getting on at home, but not making the drastic changes I feared would happen in my absence. As the French proverb says, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose.”
Sunday morning, we all woke up early to tour the Acropolis and the Plaka before I needed to catch my flight back to the UK. Another indication that things are far from normal in Athens was that the Acropolis was closed. One of the biggest attractions in Athens was closed… because of the “employees decision to abstain from their duties.” It seems the whole of Athens was crumbling under the weight of the empty economy and it wasn’t even the day for the organized strike throughout town (scheduled for this Wednesday, October 19). However, we did manage to see some of the sights around the Acropolis, though, and take in some of the views from up on the hill. Additionally, the new Acropolis museum was open, so it wasn’t a complete bust. It was amazing to see many of the remaining sculptures from the Acropolis and the Parthenon up close and personal instead of craning my neck up to the sky to squint at them from the ground. The decision to bring the actual sculptures indoors for preservation and display and keep replicas at the actual site may have been a bit controversial, but I greatly appreciated seeing the delicacies of the sculptures within arms reach, even if we’re not allowed to touch them.
I left Athens Sunday afternoon with all the drama of late flights, napping on seats, running through Heathrow, waiting around for more late flights, and running out of battery power on my iPod to make for an interesting weekend wind down. It was by no means a relaxing weekend, but it was filled with laughter and I spent it with the ladies of The Village, so I couldn’t have asked for anything more.