Athens Travel Journal – Part 4

Saturday 23 April, 11 am, at the convention

We’re about to have a guest speaker, and I’m not sure whether they’ll be speaking in English or Greek, so this seems like a good opportunity to catch up a bit.

So, after Zeus’s temple we wanted to try and find the Lykia where Aristotle taught.  It was quite a distance away, but we worked out the route on the map and set off confidently.  And of course, got it completely wrong, and ended up walking about a kilometre in the wrong direction before we realised.  (In my defence, the map showed a stadium, and we did pass a small stadium, so I thought we were on the right track.  But it turned out that the stadium on the map (which was just one of those cheap tourist ones you get for free at the airport) was actually meant to be the Olympic stadium, which is a wee bit bigger than the one we passed.  (Also in my defence, you try reading street signs written in Greek and matching them to a map that’s written in English and see how well you do!)).  Eventually though we figured it out and backtracked.  The detour wasn’t entirely a waste of time though, because we came across the site of an old temple (can’t remember now which god – they all start to blend into each other after a while – it might have been Artemis, I think?), and another little Byzantine church.  That’s one of the cool things about Athens – it’s never boring, because there’s interesting little spots scattered all over the city.

Anyway, we set off on the right road this time, which took us past the parliament buildings, guarded by the guys in skirts and pompoms.  We stopped to take some photos, and were about to move on when the two guards started thumping the butts of their rifles on the ground.  It turned on we were just in time for the start of the changing of the guard ceremony.

I’m sure it’s intended to be a very solemn and dignified ceremony, but I’m afraid we got the giggles.  They did this elaborate march towards each other (even weirder than the stomp shuffle of the flag soldiers up at the Acropolis), with a combination of high kicks and a movement that looked exactly like they were trying to scrape dog poo off their boots.  The combined effect was very much John Cleese doing his Ministry of Silly Walks routine, but with the added bonus of bouncing pompoms on their feet and knees, and skirts that were way too short to be doing high kicks in.

When the guards met in the middle there was the usual military pomp of presenting arms and being inspected (by a guy in normal camouflage style uniform), then they stood and waited while another three guards approached from across the road, all doing the Silly Walk.  Then everyone presented arms yet again, one of the new guys escorted the old shift back across the street again, the other two new guys were inspected, and they Silly Walked their way back to the guard posts.  Definitely worth stopping to watch the ceremony, even if only because we got such a laugh out of it (with no offence intended to the Greeks, of course – I’m sure you’d find just as much humour in some of our traditions!).

I feel like the guy in front isn’t as committed to the silly walk as the other two.

The dog is supremely indifferent to all the stomping and scraping going on behind him – he just wants a shady place to sleep.

We found Aristotle’s Lykia not far from the parliament buildings.  All that is left of it are the traces of a few walls, so not a lot to see, but it was still really interesting to imagine (helped by the descriptions on the information boards) the buildings that would have once stood there.  And anyway, just the thought that you’re standing where Aristotle once stood is so amazing!  There’s so many places like that in Athens, that make you realise that people whose names you only know as legends actually existed, and lived right here.  It makes them all seem so much more real.  Like on Friday, when Katherine took us past an otherwise unremarkable wee square, and mentioned that that’s where Diogenes had his home (according to legend, in a large pot).

The site was surrounded by gardens, and a gardener was working on them as we walked around, but otherwise we had the place pretty much to ourselves. I suppose it’s not as spectacular as the big name tourist sites, hence the lack of crowds.  I don’t mind, it was to our advantage to have the place to ourselves, because we could take our time looking around.  As we were leaving, the gardener came over and presented us with a rose each from the bush he was pruning – I got the impression he was pleased to see visitors actually interested in the site.

We walked back to the Plaka area, which is very touristy – pretty much every shop that isn’t a cafe is selling souvenirs.  Amongst it all we found a little shop selling prints and watercolours.  I stopped to have a look and found a nice little pen sketch of an Athens street.  When I went to pay for it (only €15 – did I mention how cheap everything is here?) I realised that the shopkeeper was actually the artist.  So that was cool, to not only have another picture for my wall of art, but also to have bought it direct from the artist.

While we were in Plaka, I thought I might as well take advantage of the cheap prices to buy a few wee presents for the kids.  So I got Nephew #1 a t-shirt with the Pythagorean Theorem on it (written in Greek, of course), and Nephew #2 one that says “This is Sparta!”  And for Niece, a bag with cats on it (ok, so I may have ended up buying one of those for myself as well… :-) ).  Hopefully they should appreciate them.

By that time, we were starting to feel walked out (Lytteltonwitch calculated we’d walked about 21 km in total that day), so we headed back to the apartment to sit down for a while and get organised for the official start of the convention in the evening.

The convention venue is just around the corner from our apartment, in a little museum.  The evening was the usual business of registration, browsing (and contributing to) the book buffet, raffle tickets and supply store, and of course, lots of catching up with friends I hadn’t seen since Melbourne (or even Dublin!).

Tuesday 26 April 2016, 11 am, Athens airport

So much for keeping this journal up to date, but the last few days have been so packed, I just haven’t had time.  So, where was I up to?  Friday night at the convention, I think?

The highlight of the evening (other than seeing so many old friends, and meeting new ones) was a shadow puppet show.  Shadow puppets are a traditional Greek art form, with (I gather) a few regular characters that show up in every story and behave in predictable ways (a bit like Punch in the English tradition).  The one we watched was written specifically for the convention, and was all about one of the regular characters, Karagiozis, learning about Bookcrossing, and being carried by an owl to China to find out the fate of the books he’d released.  The plot involved a dragon and a monkey and was pretty incomprehensible even with the aid of the English surtitles (the play was performed in Greek, of course).  Despite not entirely understanding what was going on a lot of the time, it was still great fun to watch – the puppeteers were very talented, handling a dozen or so different puppets (actually, I think they said it was about 30 actual puppets, representing about a dozen characters – each character had multiple puppets, depending on what they needed it to be able to do), each with a unique voice.

Sorry, not the best photos, because I was a few rows back so was trying to take pictures between the heads of people in front, while simultaneously trying not to block the view of the people behind me. But hopefully they’ll give you an idea at least of what the puppets were like.

There was an author talk on Friday too, by an author who is also a translator.  He talked (in English) a bit about the challenges of translating, and of having his own books translated, which was really interesting.

And of course, being Greece, there was a tonne of food.  Each of the Greek bookcrossers had brought along a few dishes, and as almost all of them were traditional Greek dishes, I wanted to try as many as I could, so even though they were all just bite-sized snacks I was still feeling seriously full before I managed to work my way all the way down the table.  Among many other delicacies were the biggest olives I’ve ever seen (I’ve discovered that even though I don’t usually like olives, I do in Greece – they taste much nicer here! :-) ), and all sorts of little pastries and cheese balls that we got to know pretty well over the next few days (the snack table seemed to be being continually refilled).  There was only one dish I didn’t like: a sort of tasteless mush that apparently is traditionally eaten with dry bread leading up to Easter (which of course is later here than in the rest of the world – Orthodox Easter is next weekend) – I suppose it’s the equivalent to Lent (which I suppose makes sense that it doesn’t taste very nice – if it’s meant to be for Lent then you’re probably not supposed to enjoy it).

Saturday started with a yoga class on the balcony.  As expected, I was terrible at it – every time the instructor said “turn to the left”, I’d get confused and turn right (yay for dyslexia), and then get the giggles because I was facing my neighbour who’d turned the correct way.  Not really the most conducive to being calm and focussed.  Plus, having had so little sleep, I had to struggle not to just fall asleep when we did the meditation bits.  Yeah, I don’t think yoga is for me, really.  But it was interesting to try.

Next was another author talk.  The author (who spoke in Greek, but had a translator repeating everything in English), wrote children’s books, and mentioned how most of the schools in the distant islands don’t have libraries because of funding shortages, so it’s difficult to get books into the hands of children.  (As a result, the NZ and Australian bookcrossers have been talking to the Greek bookcrossers about whether we could sponsor a school to help buy them some books.  It looks like it might be a complicated process though, so I don’t know whether we’ll manage to do it.  We’re certainly going to try though – even a few hundred dollars would go a long way here.)

Athens Travel Journal – Part 3

Friday 22 April

Another long and super busy day.  Last night, of course, was the pre-convention dinner.  We made it there only a few minutes late (at the expense of not having had time to go home and get cleaned up and changed first, as we’d hoped to), and quickly spotted the other bookcrossers. Of course, we weren’t the last to arrive by a long shot, a large group being guaranteed to be impossible to completely organise, but eventually everyone was assembled and the food began to be brought out.  I won’t even attempt to list what we ate, because there was so much of it!  Every time we all thought it must be the last dish, something else would appear, until finally, when we must have sampled every traditional Greek vegetable dish there is, they announced that now we’d have the meat (!).  Not a lot of meat got eaten, despite it being delicious – nobody (except the Greeks, of course) had any room left.  And then, when we insisted we couldn’t fit any more in, the waiters cleared the tables… and brought out desert, and orange syrup cake.  I think I ate about one mouthful of it before giving up.  One thing for sure, you’ll never go hungry if you let the Greeks do the ordering!

It was a very late night, with us not getting home until after 11, and we had plans for an early start this morning.  Bronwyn and Robyn opted to sleep in, but Lytteltonwitch and I headed out early to find breakfast, then went back to the Acropolis as it opened at 8, to beat the crowds.

It was so worth going back! It was wonderfully crowd-free at that time, so that it was actually possible to pause and admire details without having someone with a selfie stick get in your way.  An unexpected benefit too was that we got to see the flag being raised for the start of the day. A group of soldiers slow-marched in with the flag (they had a weird lopsided sort of march, with one leg being raised and stomped down, and the other sort of shuffling), then after much ceremony and presenting of arms, the flag was raised as they sang what I presume is the national anthem (though they sang it so tunelessly, it was hard to tell – they sounded like a bunch of rugby players)… and then was lowered again because they’d got the rope tangled.  But they got it up smoothly on the second attempt, then did their stomp-shuffle slow march back out again.

I got kind of obsessed with taking photos of this temple – it was so much more interesting than the big Parthenon building. But so as not to bore you too much, I’ve only included a handful of the photos here (ok, so it’s a pretty large handful, but trust me, you’re only seeing a tiny fraction of the number of photos I took!)

This cat was chasing another cat, which you can just see sitting on a branch at the top of the picture.

As an indication of how crowded it was the first time we climbed the Acropolis, I didn’t even notice you could see the sea from up there, because I never got near the railing on that side. This time there was actually time and space to admire the view.

While we were watching, we got chatting to an elderly couple from California.  They were incredibly well-travelled, and had even been to Pitcairn (I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’s visited there before!).  Made my own travels seem pretty tame in comparison, but we compared notes on a few favourite places.

After we’d had our fill of the Acropolis (and watched the feral cats chase each other up an olive tree), we walked down to the Theatre of Dionysus on its lower slopes.  As well as the theatre itself (or amphitheatre, though I learnt today that “amphitheatre” actually just means “shaped like a theatre”, so it’s a bit tautological), there were all sorts of other ruins to see on the lower slopes, so we spent quite a long time wandering around them.

The fancy seats at the front were obviously for the rich people (and apparently, just like nowadays, if you paid enough you could get your name on your seat at the theatre).

The tickets that we’d bought for the Acropolis also let us into various other historic sites, so we decided to take advantage of them and see as much as possible. So first we went to the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, which was seriously impressive – massive pillars, the scale of which was impossible to capture in a photo – just believe me when I say they were huge, and felt like they were towering over you.

Hadrian’s Arch (yep, the same Hadrian as the wall between England and Scotland – he got around a lot)

None of the photos I took really show the scale of this place, but trust me, those columns are big. The people in the foreground are quite a distance away from the columns.

Too tired to finish this off now – I’ll write up the rest tomorrow.

Athens Travel Journal – Part 2

Thursday 21 April 2016, 3 pm, Athens

In a seafood restaurant, having just gorged on greek salad, boiled wild greens, eggplant dip, fried zucchini, squid, sardines, mussels… just a light lunch :-)  We’ve been on the go all day, so I still haven’t managed to sit down and write.  But, briefly back to the story now:

After we’d had drinks in the roof garden, and it got too dark for photos, we walked around the area some more, ending up at a souvlaki restaurant.

At the restaurant there was a moment of crisis when Lytteltonwitch discovered her wallet was missing and the pocket of her bag was hanging open.  We figured out what must have happened was that we’d stopped to watch some buskers in quite a crowded square, and someone had obviously pick-pocketed her in the crowd.  A couple of other things were also missing out of the same pocket of her bag, either taken at the same time as the wallet, or fallen out of the open pocket later.  Luckily, she didn’t have much money in the wallet, and a quick phone call back to New Zealand got her cards cancelled, so not too huge a loss (except to her pride in being an experienced traveller, perhaps).

The meal was amazing – we got Panost to order for us, so we had a traditional dish that I’ve forgotten the name of (I knew I should have written this up sooner) that was a sort of filled pasta that I think was fried – it was crispy and very tasty anyway. Then there was fried zucchini strips, and then, when we were already feeling full, huge platters of meats – kebab, doner (which I never realised was a different thing to kebab – I spent too long in the UK, where it’s just called “doner kebab”), pork, chicken, and loads of pita bread to go with it.  Greeks are definitely very big eaters – we were all struggling to make any sort of dent in the platters, and ended up with a few doggy bags to take home.  It was about 11 pm by the time we got back to the apartment (this is on top of the 31 hours of travel, remember), so I was very quickly asleep.

This morning Lytteltonwitch and I decided to try and retrace our steps of the night before, just in case we spotted any of her lost gear.  We didn’t have any luck, but it was a nice walk, and I was pleased we didn’t get lost, considering we’d been so tired the night before when Panost was guiding us around.

The gods of the eight winds. We were meaning to come back and find out which god was responsible for Canterbury’s nor’wester, but forgot…

We’d arranged to meet the others back at the apartment at 9, so we could visit the Acropolis together. We were a little bit late getting back, having been distracted by a little Byzantine church (one of the ones we’d seen last night), which was open, so we snuck a look inside.  It was so amazing inside – everything either painted or gilded, icons everywhere, and so ornate (we weren’t allowed to take photos, so you’ll just have to use your imagination).

And of course we had to stop for a quick breakfast, of something similar to a pain au chocolat from a little bakery we passed along the way.  And then a further distraction when we spotted Skyring and Mrs Skyring sitting in a cafe.  So we never did make it back to the apartment, but the others set out towards the Acropolis hoping to meet us on the way and found us chatting to the Skyrings, so we all caught up in the end.  The Skyrings had only just arrived, so they were off to their accommodation for a nap, but the rest of us, plus a couple of the German bookcrossers who the others had bumped into, headed up to the Acropolis.

5 pm, Tourist Police station

We’re here attempting to report Lytteltonwitch’s pickpocketing, so she has it documented for insurance.  There’s quite a queue, so we may be here some time, so I’m grabbing the chance to sit and write some more.  I’m determined not to let this journal get too far behind (tricky, considering how much we’re packing into each day!).

So, where was I? We’d met up with the others, and stopped for a quick coffee at a roadside cafe (where, due to a miscommunication/miscalculation, we ended up paying twice for some of the coffees, so the waiter must have thought we were very generous tippers!).

A dog watching us from a balcony above the cafe where we stopped for coffees.

Next, we climed the hill up to the Acropolis.  In hindsight, we probably should have gone up earlier, because by 10 am when we got there it was swarming with tour groups. But despite the crowds, it was amazing.  They’re still in the middle of the restoration, so there’s scaffolding around one end of the Parthenon, but even with that it’s still an incredible structure.  And the other temples too are amazing, and the views out over the city, and just the sheer antiquity of it all. It’s amazing to think that these buildings have been here for thousands of years, and that chances are the site was used way before that too.  When you are up on top of it, you can see why the site was chosen for a temple – it feels so high above the city – definitely where you would expect the gods to hang out.

And for such huge structures, there’s so much detail in the carving. Of course, a lot of it has been lost to the centuries, but there’s bits remaining here and there that tell you what they must have been like.

We spent a few hours up there (and took so many photos!), then walked down the hill to Monastiraki Square, where we were meeting up with another Greek bookcrosser Katherine. The square is full of life (don’t worry, we’ve all been watching our belongings closely after Lytteltonwitch’s experience), with buskers, many many beggars (we’ve got quite good at shooing them away, and haven’t yet had to resort to the Greek swearwords that Bronwyn picked up from her kids :-) ), and stalls selling everything from shoes to fresh fruit.  The fruit was incredibly cheap (or, at least, it seemed so to us – I’m sure it’s much more expensive to buy it there than from a less touristy market) – we bought a whole kilo of strawberries (which were amazing – so sweet and juicy!) for just €2, and sat in the sun eating them while we waited.

Katherine took us for a long walk around the city, (Lytteltonwitch’s Fitbit reckons we’ve walked about 17 km in total today!) and to a museum devoted to the jewellery of a famous Greek jeweller.  Some of us was quite spectacular, but I was starting to flag a little, so I was glad when we went on from there to lunch (which I think I described above).  We were all feeling pretty tired, so lunch was long and leisurely (and very pleasant) but eventually we had to move, and set off walking again – I’ve got no idea where we ended up going, but I know we saw all sorts of interesting little churches (including one where the basement was used to manufacture gunpowder during the war of independence, and another where, along with the usual saints, the porch was decorated with images of the ancient philosophers (whose names, I’ve learnt, I’ve been pronouncing completely wrong all this time)), and every sort of architecture from the ancient to the very modern, often right next to each other, and streets lined with orange trees.

Inside the city’s cathedral, which has just been restored following the 1999 earthquake. Hard not to make comparisons with our cathedral…

Apparently this is where Diogenes lived in his barrel (which may actually have been a jar, which is even weirder)

And cats everywhere (feral cats are definitely a feature of the city – they’re everywhere you look, even sunning themselves on the stones of the Acropolis. Most are pretty mangy looking, so I wouldn’t want to touch any of them.  We met a woman this morning who was feeding one colony. She said she has 6 cats at home, and when she can afford it she buys extra food and feeds the strays (I couldn’t help thinking a better form of charity would be to catch them and get them sterilized) – I noticed she was wearing gloves to touch them.)

We ended our long walk by meeting back up with Panost and yet another Greek bookcrosser (whose name I missed).  The rest of the group were going with them on one of those hop-on hop-off bus tours to see some more of the city, but Lytteltonwitch and I opted out so we could come and get a police report.  We also want to go to the pre-convention dinner tonight, which the others are skipping, so we wanted to make sure we’d be able to get back to Thisseo on time (although that’s looking less and less likely, because we’ve been here an hour now, and although Lytteltonwitch has managed to get a statement taken by one officer, she still has to wait to see someone else who’s responsible for actually writing up the report).

At least I’ve achieved something while we’ve been waiting – I think I’ve got this journal up to date now :-)

Athens Travel Journal – Part 1

Tuesday 19 April 2016, 10 pm (Bangkok time) – somewhere over Indonesia, three hours from Bangkok

I woke up from a half-sleep just in time to see one of the islands of Indonesia below us. It’s pitch dark, of course (according to the flight info screen thing, it’s 11 pm locally), but the islands are outlined in light. At first I thought the moon must be out and reflecting off surf or something, but then my sense of scale kicked in and I realised it’s the lights from villages stretching around the coast in a thin line.

A pretty uneventful trip so far. A very full plane, but it’s Emirates, so pretty pleasant as far as long-haul flights go (this leg is 9 hours, our longest for the trip).

Christchurch-Sydney was 3 1/2 hours, just long enough to watch a movie and have the first of two dinners (we got another dinner at the beginning of this flight (which is actually technically the same flight – Sydney was just a refuelling stop for an hour and a half – long enough to stretch ours legs with a walk around the transit lounge)).  By the time we got onto this flight I was sleepy enough that another movie didn’t appeal, so I listened to an audiobook while eating second dinner, and woke up again several chapters in (oh well, it was only a Shopaholic book, which I’d specifically picked off the menu as being one where I’d be unlikely to care if I fell asleep and missed some of it).

We’re over the middle of one of the big islands now, and in constrast to the coast, there’s almost no lights – I can just see one off in the distance.

Descriptions of flights are always the least interesting parts of these travel journals, so I’ll spare you any further boredom and go back to my audiobook, and write more once we get somewhere interesting.

Midnight, over the South China Sea

So many fishing boats down there – the sea is dotted with lights.  The squid boats are incredibly bright, even from up here. From the map, it looks like we should be passing over Ho Chi Min City soon.

A bit later

Ho Chi Min looks huge! Just a sea of light in the distance.

And a wee bit later again

Directly over the city now. The lights are obscured by what seems to be smog – it’s only of the city (the lights of the surrounding roads are clear) and is darked than the light fluffy moon-reflecting clouds over the sea.

Wednesday 20 April, 4 am (Dubai time), somewhere off the coast of Pakistan

Dawn is catching up with us – there’s a definite glow to the sky behind us. We’ve had a lot of turbulence since just before India, but I’ve still managed to get some sleep despite that.

Bangkok was just another quick refuelling stop.  We were allowed to get off the plane if we wanted, so of course I did, just so I could say I’ve been to Thailand (even if it was just in a transit lounge for half an hour). It was cool seeing all the signage in the Thai alphabet – ok, so I’m a language geek, but there’s something about a different orthography that makes a place seem so exotic :-) It was good to be able to stretch my legs a bit too, but my real reason was to add another country to my count :-)  It was very warm – even at whatever middle of the night time we arrived you could feel the heat through the airbridge.

In another couple of hours we’ll be in Dubai, where we’ve got several hours’ wait, because we’re actually switching flights.

8 am, Dubai

This airport is huge! And incredibly busy and so full of shops. Neither of us being particular shopping fans, we’ve had a quick wander around, had a (very expensive) snack, then retreated to a quiet corner where there’s wi-fi to wait for our next flight.

As far as I can remember, I’ve never been through Dubai before – any other flights via the UAE have been through Abu Dhabi. The two airports are very different – Abu Dhabi is relatively small, and very Middle Eastern in flavour, whereas Dubai seems very western – the food options all seem to be big international chains like Starbucks and Burger King, and the building itself could be any airport anywhere in the world. Even the signage is in English first and Arabic in smaller characters below.  And, as you’d expect from an airport that’s such an international hub, passengers of every nationality, almost all in Western dress (as opposed to Abu Dhabi, where Arab robes dominated – I’ve only seem a couple of people wearing them here).

11 am, just out of Dubai

So much for our uneventful trip. We ended up leaving Dubai about half an hour late, because for some reason our plane was parked way across the tarmac, so we were all loaded onto buses to be taken out to it. And then the buses (which had no seats, only standing) had to wait for ages for various planes and other vehicles to pass. Then, once we finally reached the plane, despite the fact they carefully sorted us into sections of the plane before loading us onto the buses, they sent the buses to the wrong ends of the plane, so (after climbing a very long set of stairs up to the plane – you don’t notice how far off the ground the doors on a 777 are until you have to walk up to them!) there was utter chaos as everyone tried to squeeze past each other to get to the end where their seats were. The cabin crew were trying valiantly to help, but basically all they could do was stand there and occasionally try to stop arguments (like the two elderly Greek men blocking the aisle while they passionately argued about who was allowed to stow their bags in which overhead locker.  Lytteltonwitch and I got the giggles over it, it was all just so stereotypically Mediterranean, and our laughing set off one of the cabin crew, who was trying to stay professional, but kept laughing at them too.  It actually seemed like the crew had all just resigned themselves to the fact that it wasn’t going to be a quick take-off, because they were all exchanging smiles and rolled eyes at the chaos around them.) But anyway, we’re finally in the air, so in another four hours or so we should be in Athens.

The sun was so bright (and the heat already quite intense) when we were out on the tarmac – I’d forgotten just how glaring the light can be in the desert.

Annoyingly, on the one leg of this trip we’re doing in daylight, I’ve got a seat over the wing so I can’t see anything of the ground below :-( I’m sure when I booked the tickets I picked a better seat location than this, but either they’ve changed the seating allocations (I can’t remember exactly which seat number I picked) or I just mis-read the seating diagram.  Oh well, it’s not the end of the world – I’ll miss seeing the Mediterranean from the air, but I can always watch it via the camera feed to my video screen (and anyway, it looks like we’re flying over cloud at the moment, so there’s probably not much to see right now even if I had the perfect seat).  I’ll just have to watch a movie instead.

11 pm, Athens!

We’ve managed to pack an incredible amount into one short (or long, given the time now!) evening. We arrived in Athens half an hour late, as expected, but got through immigration relatively quickly (helped by the fact there was no customs inspection – very weird to us New Zealanders, so used to having everything scrutinised by biosecurity). We managed to negotiate the Metro system to the correct stop (mainly by remembering the sequence of initial letters of the few stops before the one we wanted, because remembering the actual names was impossible! (quite literally all Greek to me…)), and followed the map I’d printed off to the AirBnB apartment we’re staying in. Things got complicated for a bit at that point, because I discovered than the phone number I’d written down for Bronwyn (who’d done the booking for the AirBnB) was wrong (it turned out to be MeganH’s – I had scribbled them both on the same bit of paper in Auckland, so when I copied Bronwyn’s into my notebook I must have somehow swapped them over).  So we couldn’t call her to let her know we were waiting outside.

One of the building’s other occupants spotted us standing on the doorstep in the hot sun and let us in to the shade of the lobby, but as we didn’t know the apartment number, that wasn’t much progress. Luckily though, Lytteltonwitch discovered she still had one of Bronwyn’s emails in her phone’s memory, and it had her number in the signature, so we were finally able to call her and get in.

After much needed showers and cold drinks, I accompanied Robyn, the fourth occupant of our apartment, to pick up a few snacks from a nearby supermarket (it’s such fun looking round supermarkets in other countries – so many weird and wonderful products).  When we got back, MeganH and Leith arrived (they are staying just a few blocks away), and local bookcrosser Panost.

I’m almost falling asleep as I write here, so I’ll finish this in the morning.

Thursday 21 April, 9.30 am, sitting in an outdoor cafe under the Acropolis

The Acropolis is amazing and totally dominates the city. Every corner you turn you see another view of it. Our first glimpse was as we walked out of the Metro station yesterday on our way to the apartment from the airport. I was looking around trying to orientate myself to the map, and suddenly there it was, looming over us on its huge rock. I many have squealed a little bit in excitement…

To continue yesterday’s story:

Panost took us out for a walk. I was struggling to keep up with the group because so often I wanted to stop and take photos – everything is so picturesque. Even the back alleys are gorgeous!

And serious antiquities scattered all over the place (including a couple of churches that seemed like they were sunken into the ground. Panost explained that actually it was just that the surrounding roads have been built up over the centuries, so that now the street level is about a metre higher than it was when the churches were built. That sort of time period is impossible to get your head round!)

He took us to a hotel with a roof garden with an amazing view over the Acropolis, so we stayed there for a couple of hours watching the sunset and taking a million photos.

Leith, MeganH, Lytteltonwitch, Robyn, Panost and Bronwyn.

A little church hidden among the buildings below the balcony where we were sitting. There’d been absolutely no sign of it from the street outside.

The pigeons are different in Athens! (though they do have the ordinary variety as well)

Not a pigeon :-) It came in the fancy drink someone (can’t remember who now) ordered.

The Acropolis reflected in the windows of the bar

(Are you bored with photos of the Acropolis yet?)

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Got home this afternoon after 30-odd hours spent on planes and in airports.  I’m incredibly tired, but attempting to stay awake at least until dark, to ward off the worst of the jet lag.

Italy was amazing (as was Greece, but I think I already posted to say that :-) ) and we had so many adventures!  I’ve taken a million photos (I had to buy a new memory card because I filled up the two I had with me), and written a long and detailed travel journal, which I will attempt to transcribe over the next few days (because we all know if I don’t do it straight away it will never happen) and post here.

Or maybe I could just spend the next couple of days sleeping…