Returning to Athens after the earlier roadtrip in Greece was bitter-sweet. It felt like returning to an old friend and I was looking forward to exploring it some more. However my arrival was a little frustrating as it took well over an hour to find the hotel and somewhere to park. Driving in the city is a testing experience so stay patient and calm.
Talking of frustrating, taxi drivers can test the patience of a saint, half the time once provided with the intended destination they merely turn down the fare. One driver booked to deliver me to a restaurant one evening, dropped me off informing me it was down a nearby street and it was the closest he could get. Walking up and down the street twice there was not any sign of the restaurant! This is one aspect of Athens that really needs a little improving.
It was noticeable that the piles of garbage were removed from most of the city however which was very pleasing. Tales of how dirty Greece is are quite common but many cities in the United Kingdom are worse than Athens, and most of the destinations visited on this trip were very clean.
Paying a visit to the Athens Biennale which is an interesting art exhibition in the middle of a very rundown area of the city was worthwhile. Run entirely by volunteers and showcasing an extremely eclectic mixture of art displays some of which relates directly to the current crisis. It was an interesting afternoon although my guide was probably perplexed by the visit by this obvious art philistine.
“which explains why my inner child was grinning from ear to ear”
Hellenic World and its virtual reality and interactive exhibits really blew me away. Taking a tour of ancient Tholos was impressive enough but returning to a fully functioning Olympia after my earlier visit fired my imagination like almost nothing before. It is possible to direct the guide to start, stop, turn left or right and really explore the ancient cities anyway you prefer.
Apparently the children love it, which explains why my inner child was grinning from ear to ear. It is an impressive project, one that is still not finished and I hope to witness its continued progress in future.
After the ordeal of the taxi drivers it was a very pleasant surprise how efficient the Metro is. There was some improvement work being undertaken but even so the trip to Piraeus was simple, quick and painless.
My reasons for taking the Metro was to catch the passenger ferry to Hydra as the last couple of days were spent visiting the Saronic Islands. Due to bad weather at this time of year the ferries were a little unpredictable with several crossings being cancelled.
Spetses is the other island that had the pleasure of my company while I scratched the surface of their many attractions. Cars are not allowed for travelling around either island, so mopeds, walking and even mules are the most popular forms of transport.
The is;anders have built their towns around picture postcard harbours, filled with luxury yachts, traditional fishing boats and Spetses included sea taxis.
“she really appears to have been an impressive and formidable woman”
Each island only has one main town, the rough, streets winding upwards to the outskirts. The streets of Hydra in particular are clear of vehicles as they are not allowed to be driven at all.
Spetses is home to the Museum of Laskarina Bouboulina, dedicated to one of Greeks greatest heroes. A freedom fighter in the Greek War of Independence in 1821, she really appears to have been an impressive and formidable woman. Her descendant Philip Demertzis Bouboulis is the current curator. It is filled with artefacts, which belonged to her and Greek history, a small but fascinating place to spend an hour or two.
During the visit the ceremonies for Ochi Day on 28th October were taking place. This commemorates when the Greeks refused the Italian ‘request’ to enter the country and they entered WWII. Witnessing the parades of school children, naval academy students and marching bands on Hydra I felt quite privileged. It is a respectful ceremony with the laying of wreaths at memorials and but still appears to celebrate the youth of the country and its future.
On a visit to Rhodes a few years ago it was a surprise to see how many feral cats roam the island, Hydra seems to eclipse it, home to a huge population. They are everywhere and although they do take care of themselves they are also fed by locals and tourists.
Being able to witness sunset on both islands was quite special as the weather played ball and the sun appeared for most the time. Those two separate sunsets on consecutive evenings alone made the visit to the islands worth it, after all who doesn’t love a sunset?
It was with some regret that I boarded a plane back to Amsterdam and finally Manchester even if Olympic and KLM treated me pretty well.
It was a great roadtrip although I would suggest anybody following in my tyre tracks gives themselves a little more time to really enjoy the stops and sights along the way.
It really felt like a taster session to me, and hope to get an invite back one day soon to really explore the towns and regions that deserved much bigger parts in my great, big Greek roadtrip.
I am very grateful to the Greek National Tourism Organisation for organising this trip and the agencies that made it possible by providing accommodation, transport and meals. All opinions expressed however remain my own.