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?)

One thought on “Athens Travel Journal – Part 1

  1. Bored with photos of the Acropolis? Don’t be daft. Your photos never bore me.
    But at least this one had a few folk I recognized this time.

    Thanks for such an enjoyable evening – and I could miss the rugby!!! But I do hope the Hurricanes won the semifinals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *