but there we were,, boarding our overnight Qatar flight to Athens , and travelling in the front of the plane for a change….for the dubious privilege of arriving at our destination half a second and 30 metres before those poor passengers in cattle class…… and I’d paid 3 times as much as they did.But we did get to disembark before them…. we were actually first off….tht’s gotta be worth something, right….and so had a very good chance to get to the Greek Immigration and Passport Control counters before everyone else did. Everyone else that is except for most of the passengers off the plane from China that had arrived an hour earlier. Having experienced the chaos that passes for normal at Athens passport control, I have to concede that there have been some minor improvements since my last trip 18 months ago. As an example, the authorities have invested in some ‘sheep runs’ in the passport control area…. you know, those crowd control queuing ropes that go back and forth, and make you believe that the queue is shorter than it really is. Progress indeed, but so ‘un-Greek’ like….. in the past, everyone just pushed and shoved to get to one of the manned desks. Anyway, after Yineka-mou and I had scurried off the plane to get a head start on our fellow passengers at the passport control, we find at least half a plane load of Chinese people still waiting ahead of us. Out of the twelve checkpoints, only three of the were manned! And one of these was for EEC passport holders only…. so two desks only open for 400 or more foreigners….. is this due to the ‘Austerity Measures’ that Angela Merkel has enforced on the Greeks…. or is it just ‘business as usual’.
Whatever, by the very slow pace by which the two passport officials were processing the incomers, it looked like we were in for quite a long wait in the queue. However, one should never underestimate Greek ingenuity…. and their ability, nay, willingness, to (if they even have one) to ‘buck the system’. I’d noticed a scruffy looking guy in jeans, runners and a hoody, walking up and down the line assisting people ( assisting is not quite an accurate word to describe his actions, but will suffice for now)….. is he an unnoficial official? Forgot his uniform?….Sold it to help pay off the national debt? Who knows, but ‘hoody’ suddenly appears alongside me in the queue and asks me, or rather tells me, in Greek, to show him my passport (To diavatirio sas parakalo). After a quick squiz he asks me, again in Greek language, if I am a Greek Australian…… Ι find it difficult to lie, hard to believe though that may be for some of you (Mallacas), so instead of answering his question I truthfully tell him my name instead, but saying it in Greek instead of English…. Θωμάς Θωμάς….. while really emphasising the pronunciation. “Ella, Pame” he says, Come, lets go, and indicates we should follow him, which we do, and jump the queue of waiting foreigners and go to the front of the, by now, ‘queueless’ EEC desk, where the underemployed immigration official accepts our passports and without even looking up, gives us the ‘stamp’ that allows us into the country…..” Kalos Orisite stin Ellada” ….” Welcome to Greece”
Having had some bad experiences with Athens taxi drivers in the past, I’d used the new service by a company called DOPIOS…. not unlike Uber…. which allows you to prebook, and prepay, taxis from the Airport to the City for a flat rate of 35 euros… with no chance of getting ripped off. After making a booking online, they then email you details of your driver, name, photo, phone number etc. You can even request what he will write on his ‘welcome board’ at arrivals….. I had toyed with the idea of asking for ‘Sir Thomas & Lady Thomas’ or the less pretentious ‘Professor Thomas’ ….. but settled for the more mundane ‘Mr Edward Snowden’…….no, just joking . Our young driver, 28 year old Pagniotis, was waiting for us as we left the arrivals exit, and helped us take our luggage to his cab. I’d pre-ordered a sim card for my phone, and Pagniotis even helped me set it up, and so by the time we’d left the airport I was already online and contactable with my new greek phone number. Great service by Dopios, and highly recomended if you ever visit Athens…. and why wouldn’t you!!!! http://www.welcomepickups.com/
We arrived at our destination at about 12;30 pm, in just over 30 minutes…. the Athens Way Hotel, 7 Ippkratis Street, on the edge of ‘edgy’ Exarchia, in central Athens. We usually stay at the ‘Fresh’ hotel near the meat and fish markets, but felt I needed a change of district, as I know that area too well. And despite Exharchia’s (unwarranted?) bad reputation as ‘anarchist central’ , it has many really good restaurants and bars…. and the most imaginative and politically motivated ‘graffiti’ ( another greek word you didn’t know you knew! ) in a city that is saturated in the stuff.
After a quick shower and change in our ‘apartment’ style room…. not as large as the internet photos would suggest ( ultra wide angle lens?), but quite adequate for our two nights stay…. we head up to the 6th floor ‘cocktail’ lounge and bar. Wonderful views of the surrounding districts from up there, including Lykavitos Hill and the snow capped mountains beyond. I have arranged to meet our friend Nick, who we haven’t seen since the time in the ’70’s when we all were crew together on the SS Australis. Nick was a ‘Third Engineer’ officer onboard and a great bloke who we shared a lot of fun times with. I give him a quick phone call, and about an hour later Nick turns up at the bar….. we have a lot to talk about and catch up on, and YM has a LOT of questions to ask of him ( we are still friends with his ‘ex’ fro back then). Later that afternoon, after giving the ‘Cocktail Bar’ a bit of a bashing, we all end up at Taverna Rozalia at the bottom of Valtetsiou street near ‘Platia Exarchion’ ( Exarchia Square)…… a very popular local taverna. They has sold out ( they said) of the roast lamb, and sorry, no goat left either, so we ended up with roast red veal, Dolmades, and Patates Tiganites ( chips to you!) plus the obligatory Koriatiki Salata ( Greek Salad)…. delicious, but by this time I could have had a Hungry Jacks burger and been almost as happy, as the combination of Mythos beer, Thesloniki wine and Mitelini Ouzo was kicking in nicely….