Medea & Other Friends I Made in Athens (Part 1)

3-4 September 2022. To Athens with Love.

Impending big events are often not conducive to getting a good sleep on the previous night. This trip was certainly no exception. Despite my efforts, it was a rocky night. I may have gotten 4 good hours in. At best. It was akin to a kid trying to sleep on Christmas Eve. But adrenalin can only take you so far, as I was eventually to find out.

The flight to Toronto on Air Canada was uneventful after a few moments of concern that we’d suffer a weather delay that would threaten our connection. But the 15 minutes we ended up saddled with was doable. Barely. Pearson International Airport in Toronto is a nice facility, but I have to say that you folks need to get working walking sidewalks to shuttle passengers in both directions between your US gates and your European gates on the far side of the port. With that 15-minute delay we suffered, it made for some unnecessary stress. Also, we didn’t realize that we also had to go through passport control in Toronto. Another slight delay that we weren’t prepared for. Nevertheless, we made it onto the flight after what seemed like a miles-long boarding queue.

The Air Canada flight from Toronto to Athens Eleftherios Venizelos Airport was a loooong nine and a half hours. We flew on a Boeing 777-300, and the plane was completely packed. That said, Air Canada took care of everyone. They fed us well enough (wine was even included in the meal – take that, Delta!), though the vegetarians among us felt the fare somewhat lacking. The seats were comfortable – just not comfortable enough (or able to recline enough) to get a good night’s sleep, even with a neck pillow. Next time, take a melatonin or a Dramamine, Michael.

The intrepid explorers at the beginning of a long flight.

On the flight, I watched The Northman and Everything, Everywhere, All at Once – both really good films for entirely different reasons. The selection of entertainment was very good.

The Greek Ministry of Culture and Tourism says that Greece is having the best tourist season ever, and I believe them. When we booked the flight months earlier, I honestly thought that we’d be arriving at the end of the season and the crowds (particularly the children) would be less. This is normally the case in early September as families head home for the children to start school. And from what the locals told us the crowds (and children) were reduced from just a few weeks prior, just not by all that much. I’m glad that I paid to ensure that we had our choice of seats on the flight out and back. I gave Aaron an aisle seat in our row because he’s the tallest of us and needed the extra leg room. I took the other aisle seat because I’m old, on BP meds, and pee a lot. Est quid est.

“The sea was sapphire coloured, and the sky
    Burned like a heated opal through air,
    We hoisted sail; the wind was blowing fair
For the blue lands that to the eastward lie.
From the steep prow I marked with quickening eye
    Zakynthos, every olive grove and creek,
    Ithaca’s cliff, Lycaon’s snowy peak,
And all the flower-strewn hills of Arcady.
The flapping of the sail against the mast,
    The ripple of the water on the side,
    The ripple of girls’ laughter at the stern,
The only sounds:—when ’gan the West to burn,
    And a red sun upon the seas to ride,
    I stood upon the soil of Greece at last!”

Impression du Voyage, Oscar Wilde

None of us got much sleep on the flight. So, when we landed in Athens, we were already beat. Seeing as we flew against the Earth’s rotation, we also got to experience our jet lag on the front end of the trip. Lovely.

The taxi from the airport to our Airbnb near the Plaka took almost 40 minutes. It was over 32°C (90°F) in Athens, so we were both exhausted and hot right off the bat. Props to Athens taxi drivers, btw. Negotiating the narrow streets and the aggressive traffic (especially motorcyclists and scooter drivers) is not for the faint of heart.

“NUAD” (not “NUDE” you gutter dwellers) Thai Massage was available in our building. Incidentally, dig that gorgeous plum and gold number in the window of the couturier that shared our building.

A final note on the taxis: as of our trip, Greece was still requiring passengers and drivers to observe COVID protocols, which means wearing masks (actually on all public transport, including planes). Pharmacies, clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes also required them. It’s also just common sense. If you’re an anti-masker, get out of my cave. No. Really. I’ll make you cry.

The cabbie dropped us near our building, and we wrangled the luggage inside. A word about Greek (and, I’ve heard, many European) elevators. They are tiny. Like, a bit larger than a phone booth (remember those?). One adult and a couple of pieces of luggage could fit (un)comfortably in the one we had. So, three of us went up the stairs while one fed the luggage into the elevator several times. The Airbnb was an oven when we got in there, so we dropped off our stuff, peed, cranked the air, filled a water bottle, and went for a short wander.

Our group posing before the Gate of Athena Archegetis at the entrance to the Roman Forum.

We didn’t walk much farther than the Roman Forum. And even though we didn’t enter it, we were able to see much of the site from outside the fence at ground level and from the streets above. I finally was able to see The Tower of the Winds, which has fascinated me since I first read about it in a 1967 National Geographic. It is considered to be the world’s first documented meteorological station, and has sculptures of the eight wind deities of the compass – one on each side. It’s emotionally exhausting seeing so many things that I’ve only been able to read about for the last 50+ years. And we’d only just begun, as Karen Carpenter reminded us in 1971.

We ventured out into the Plaka, which is probably one of the most marvelous neighborhoods in the world. Located at the foot of the Acropolis, when you stroll its streets, you are quite literally walking through thousands of years of history. Some of the oldest remaining Athenian homes are located here, mixed hodge-podge with archaeological sites and Byzantine, Venetian, Islamic, British, and modern architecture along with a multitude of shops catering primarily to the tourist trade, as well as a gazillion estiatoria, bakeries, kafe shops, and tavernas.

Gate of Athena Archegetis
The Roman Forum, Athens, looking northeast. The Tower of the Winds (aka the “Aerides”) is top center right.
Lycabettus Hill is top center left.

To be continued …

— Να εχεις μια ωραια μερα. —

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