Day 1 – The first day in Athens

So – 30 hours after leaving Canberra, I arrived in Athens, at the Claridges Hotel. I’m still amazed at air travel. Yes, they pack you in (we are allowed less room than they give each sheep in the live export system – but they don’t kill us on arrival), but…. in 30 hours, including a few in transit spots like Canberra, Melbourne, Singapore and Dubai airports, I’ve travelled some 12,000 kilometres.
That averages out at, er, quite a lot.

My bike arrived with me, which is a first. I chatted with various folks on the way here, and all those who lived in/had-been-to Athens told me that the (insert marginalised ethnic group of your choice here) would steal the soles off your footwear if you didn’t take care. Why they’d want the soles off my cheap and nasty Rivers sandals I don’t know, but there you are. So, before rebuilding my bike, I strolled through Athens looking for a bike shop.  And breakfast. The pub doesn’t provide one, and gets zero out of ten. I didn’t bring a bike lock, because weight.

Still struggling with time lag, I’d woken up at 5:30 am, then showered, and set out to explore before the hordes of tourists hit the scene – and Athens is geared for them – though now they (the Athenians. Do pay attention) take our money, and we no longer burn the place down, or get into much rape and pillage.

I found a bike shop in the Flea market at Monastiraki, but had a couple of hours to kill before it opened; so I walked some more. Past Hadrian’s Library, past the Archeon road – which was the main drag into Athens back in the day, and through a gazillion other remnants of the long distant past. It’s a living history lesson, this place. It’s got problems, of course. Narrow roads, intense traffic, and the town makes no concessions to pedestrians at all. Footpaths just disappear, and cars, scooters and delivery vans use them where they exist as an alternate road, or somewhere to park. It’s not an easy place to walk around. It’s also full of (mostly young male) migrants from the more Eastern states of the EU. Unemployed, angry, bitter and disillusioned, they wander the streets, gathering in alarming, but still courteous, numbers in squares and parks.

And there are beggars. Lots of. And insistent/persistent. It cost me 20 Euros in an hour, but then I’m a soft touch. Hard not to be in the face of such need and poverty. People living rough, in cardboard shelters wherever they can – some within metres of we privileged few, eating and drinking and facebooking. It’s really, really confronting after the gentility of Canberra, but the locals have grown used to it, and no longer see.

Oh – and everyone smokes. Everywhere. All the time. I feel like I’ve had a pack myself just from breathing.

I got me a bike lock and walked back to Omonia, where my hotel is, striding along the road so many conquering armies had marched over millennia. Eerie, and humbling – let’s you know how tiny and transient we are.

I put the bike back together, and took it for a test spin back to Monastiraki. Awesome fun. Traffic cops over-rule traffic lights, blowing whistles and waving white-gloved arms, whilst being partially ignored by traffic. Which moves slowly – narrow streets and vehicles stopping wherever they like to unload/pick up stuff or people meant that I could keep up with the flow easily, and just needed to fend off the hordes of scooters and motorbikes that were also threading their way through traffic. Boadicea had the right idea; sword blades sticking out of my wheels would have helped no end. Well, until they jammed in the forks. Dammit – you get the idea.
Back to the bike shop, where I had my tyre pressure checked, then back to the main roads, identifying my way out towards Corinth in a day or so. That reminds me – I should send them a letter…….

A short nanna-nap, then another walk with history. Awesome. Just think of the stuff the Greeks gave us – democracy, philosophy, universities, maths, theatre, an alphabet, etc…… A cleansing ale with something to eat, then back to the pub. It’s only 7:00 pm, but I’m weary. I’ll finish this, then read until I fall asleep. Tomorrow is my last day here, so I’ve got to pack heaps in.

This is a bit rambly, but there you go; as the timelag vanishes and I hit my straps it may get more coherent. Or not 🙂

See you down the road.

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