Friday, 13 May 2011

Leaving Athens-Doing it on the Roads

We were advised yesterday (Tuesday) of the general strike that was happening in Athens. According to the hotel receptionist this was going to be big but was a common occurrence in Athens and apart from the disruption to all public transport it should not affect us too much.

The only thing alive and well at 8 in the morning in Athens is the traffic ( even more of it as the public transport was disrupted) and so we decided to walk the distance to the car rental place. It was highly recommended on the web by those traveling and not familiar with driving in Athens. The company, a family affair, pride themselves on assisting people to get out of the traffic and onto the motorways.

Along the way we took a stroll through the Central Markets that were a hive of activity at that time in the morning. Huge amounts of beef, chicken, pork, goat, seafood and (sorry Charlotte) de- feathered whole chickens, feet and combs included were for sale along with huge quantities of feta and nuts and spices. The NZ Metro mag says that in New York pork has become very fashionable however all the bits here were for sale and it would seem like it was fashionable here first!

Like many things Greek there is always some confusion and this began with the name of the rental car company. It was called Swift (should have given the name away really) and when we arrived it had become Avanti but the guy inside assured us it was Avanti Swift. Yes -fast bike or bike fast whichever way you look at it.

We signed up and returned to our hotel via the metro to check out .Interestingly it was chocka at 11.30 in the morning and a tight squeeze to get in the door- something we are getting used to. We were surprised it was so full but then realised that many had protest slogans and banners. At the stop before ours, literally everyone except us got off the train such was the solidarity!

 We had seen a large number of army that morning and police seemed to be everywhere, arriving in big vans around Syntagma Square. The night before we had seen a group of police with riot shields, helmets, and long shin pad type things, standing around on a corner and we watched them for a while but nothing seemed to be happening. But happen it did and I hear the disruption and unrest was significant and reached TV 3 news. We had left town by then but it was lovely to get so many emails asking if we were Ok.

The car arrived (he parked on the footpath while we did some more paper work) and because he had forgotten the GPS we had to head back to the office with the guy driving. Many of the roads were closed because of the strike and protest march so normally a  5min trip took nearly 30mins as we must have gone down every tiny back road  (again up on the footpath where we had to) to collect the GPS that we so very much needed. Thankfully the nice lady voice on the GPS speaks English but she does get a bit angry if you don't go the right way!  The service from the rental company was fantastic however the car leaves quite a lot to be desired.......Brent has slightly different terminology to describe its features or lack thereof. The car is a more like rent a dent, brakes are noisy and yes not much faster than a bike but it’s got us to Poros in one piece!

Navigating the traffic was an experience however once out of Athens it was a lovely drive on the highway. Only one wrong turn along the way but unfortunately we ended up not on the coastal route but on the toll road. Never the less it was a pleasant drive and we arrived in a very underwhelming township of Corinth. There is nothing much there and quite dreary however the Corinth Canal does not disappoint. An amazing engineering spectacle.

We continued on to the island of Poros travelling via an incredibly cheap car transportation ferry. We were treated to a fine display of cruise launches tied up along the huge jetty that runs alongside the main part of town. It was the annual boat show and they were a truly amazing sight. The people watching to accompany this type of event made for a very interesting evening.

We are in a lovely little hotel (for 2 nights) less than 50 metres from the waters edge with an amazing view. We have wandered up through the houses on the hilltop this morning for some fantastic views including the departure of most of the launches from the boat show returning to Piraeus- a real spectacle.

This hotel also has its own little quirks. Having a shower earlier I pulled on a cord with a frayed end which looked like a broken washing line. Unfortunately it was not what I thought but an emergency cord and I had the hotel receptionist high tail up two flights of stairs to our room. I of course was oblivious to all of this and left Brent to answer the door!
At lunchtime the taverna that we could look down on from our hotel balcony was cooking large octopus on a grill. We ventured forth for dinner and had a lovely meal. (no not 8 legs!) Sitting so close to the water there was never a dull moment with luxury yachts, hydrofoils, fast ferries and little passenger ferries going to and fro. The waiter was born and bred in Poros, went to school here and spoke very good English, Italian and of course Greek. He was a lovely guy who liked fine things, was impeccably dressed and when he went home for his siesta (7pm-10pm) off he drove on the most well looked after scooter I have seen in Greece so far.

 We ended a lovely evening by wandering up through the small alleys and pathways meandering our way up to the clock tower (incidentally it chimes on the hour through the night) and watched the sun set and soaked up the tranquillity.

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