I’m sure you know that feeling of leaving a place that you love so much. That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, tinged with a dose of melancholia. Strangely though, I don’t feel that today. Although I’m saying farewell to Naflpio, one of my most beloved places, I know that it’s more of a ‘See ya later’ as opposed to a definitive goodbye. I know I’ll be back soon – probably not this year and maybe not next year, but soon, and for the rest of my …………….. Get a grip woman!
Later this morning I’ll be heading back to Athens which is always an effective distraction. I’ve packed up my stuff, organising it the best I can with bottles and jars of honey and booze wrapped up in redundant clothing. My bus ticket is purchased and I’m almost ready to go. First things first though – breakfast and another fascinating chat with Maria. The conversation flits from one topic to another and we end up talking about the traditional costumes of Greece. I was telling Maria about the Clean Monday celebrations on Skyros and how I’d noticed one lady’s costume was different to the others. I was very curious to find out the significance of her costume but no amount of Googling had shed light on this. She told me that the costume could be that of a single woman which is sometimes different to those of married women. I’ll definitely have to investigate further as I really want to find the answer to this.
Maria told me that when I get back to Athens I absolutely must go and visit the temporary exhibition of costumes in the Acropolis Museum. She hadn’t seen it herself but she had been told that it was fantastic. That’s another thing on my list for my 4 days there. My first mission tomorrow though, is to go and watch the Evzones do the weekly parade and changing of the guard in Syntagma Square. I’ve seen the Evzones many times before. I’ve seen them in their dark blue winter uniform and also in their khaki summer uniform, but I have never seen them in the stunning white costume and tomorrow being Sunday will be the day! Truth be told I’m becoming a bit of an Evzones groupie which is rather frightening behaviour for a 64 year old grandmother!
On my way to the bus station, I swing by the post office to send postcards to my family. It isn’t open today being Saturday but I bought a bunch of stamps a few days earlier so just need to pop them in the box. Each postcard to my two youngest granddaughters tells them something interesting about the places that I’ve visited, hoping in some way to pique their interest in Greece. Last year I’d taken three of my teenage grandchildren on an island-hopping holiday and the two little ones asked when it would be their turn. I told them that in order for me to take them to Greece they have to pass a test. I told them that before they come to Greece they have to learn to like eating olives. Right now, that doesn’t appeal to their 7 and 8 year old palates but let’s see what they’re willing to do to travel to Greece!
I can’t prolong the torture any longer. Maria the housekeeper is now at the hotel and waves me off. I’ve really enjoyed my stay here at Polyxenia and have been made to feel really welcome.
At the bus station, there are just a handful of people alongside a large pile of boxes and postal bags ready to be despatched onwards. You can’t forget that the bus service isn’t just a facility laid on for tourists, but the lifeblood of small communities right across the country.
The bus is right on time and after loading my case (carefully) into the undercarriage, I find myself a window seat on the left. Why the left I don’t know. I always choose aeroplane seats on the left side too. Being Saturday, it’s market day today and you can truly see how the market has developed over the years as the bus drives the length of the stalls. That is until they continue around the corner and we continue on the straight. Excuse the strange hue that makes it look like a photo from the 1970’s. Photo taken through tinted windows!
Out past the incredible sight of acres of orange groves and a short while later we arrive at the bus station of Argos. After Argos, the residential areas begin to look rather ramshackle. It’s hard to judge from a speeding bus but that is the impression that I get. I’m always looking at the towns and villages with a view to building my fantasy property portfolio!
I don’t know why but I expected this journey and the landscape to look familiar. I then realised that when I left Nafplio last time I headed to Galatas and then onto Poros and Methana. From there I caught the ferry back to Athens so I haven’t done this bus journey before. However, before we reach Isthmos, I immediately recognise the rocky outcrop of Acrocorinth sitting high above Ancient Corinth. It reminds me that I really must finish writing up my trip from when I stayed here in 2017!
After a stop at Isthmus bus station, we are once more flying over the Corinth Canal. Soon after we are following the coastal road back towards Athens. Much to my annoyance, on the approach to Athens city I feel a gallbladder attack about to begin. I discovered that I had gallstones just less than a year ago and it’s proving to be very troublesome.
The usual MO of my gallbladder is that it sends me a 30-second warning with a few twinges in my upper abdomen. Shortly after, it will manifest itself into a full-blown attack that can totally incapacitate me and sometimes send me rolling around on the floor screaming for mercy. Fortunately, on this occasion, the pain begins to dissipate. It’s just as well because as I arrive at Kiffissou Bus station it is clear that there is going to be a scamble for the taxi’s. The bus station is heaving, but as soon as I’ve retrieved my luggage I spot the taxi queue and stake my place with an air of confidence. Show any signs of weakness or self-doubt and you’ve had it! The taxi’s come thick and fast and before I know it my case is being thrown into the back of a taxi without even being asked the destination.
The taxi driver was an ‘interesting’ chap. A bit of a chancer too if truth be told. I told him the name of the hotel and the street. He didn’t know or pretended not to know either. I got my phone out and thumbed Attalos Hotel, Athinas Street into Google Maps for him. He looked at my phone but this didn’t really seem to help. Whilst holding a cigarette in one hand, his phone in the other and his elbow on the steering wheel, he tries on his own phone. Several minutes later, he shows me the screen which thankfully shows the Attalos. I asked him how much it would be. He told me 25€ because it was rush hour. I told him that the last time I did this journey it was 8€. He then employed the same distraction techniques that I use on my grandchildren by asking me if I had kids. He didn’t really listen to my answer but then pulled up photographs of his family on his phone to show me. “My baby” he tells me pointing to a tiny baby. Jesus, I must look like a real soft touch!
When we arrive at the Attalos, I do give him the 25€ just for the sheer entertainment value of the trip. The driver looks surprised and happy so at least I’ve made someone’s day. Now I can breathe.
Coming to the Attalos is like coming home again. I receive a lovely welcome and am even more thrilled when I see the fantastic room that they’ve allocated to me. A room on the top floor with the closest terrace to the Acropolis. In one respect, it’s slightly wasted on someone that gets dizzy looking over the edge of a high building! I can just about inch my way to the edge of the balcony to take the photo.
Once semi-unpacked, I follow my usual ritual of heading towards Plaka for a nice meal and a glass of Prosecco. I try to find somewhere different each time and this evening I decide to eat at Diogenes Restaurant in Lisikratous Square. The Diogenes has a cafe and a restaurant. The restaurant section is marked by its white cloth-clad tables. The waiters in their white shirts and black waistcoats are bustling between the tables and it takes some time before I catch the attention of someone to ask for a table. Any longer and I’d have walked away. I’m eventually acknowledged and seated.
With my earlier gallstone alert in mind, I’m conscious to choose my meal wisely as I don’t wish to provoke it. My life has become so dictated to by my gallbladder that I really should name it. I get a sense that if my gallbladder had a gender it would be male. I’m not quite sure why. I think that I’ll call him Stavros. I order a small bottle of Prosecco, fava hoummos and a fillet of grilled cod which seems like a good low-fat option.
Wow, there’s nothing like that first sip of Prosecco when I arrive in Athens! It’s quite a momentous landmark in my travels and is a way of acknowledging and celebrating another successful trip. And what a trip it has been! Skyros and Kalavryta seem like a lifetime ago.
The beautifully presented fava hoummous starter is brought to my table. After taking only a few mouthfuls, Stavros sends me another warning message. I hope that these are just warning shots and Stavros just wants to mess with me. Several minutes later I know that he’s in an obstreperous frame of mind and is about to send in the big guns. I take a painkiller to try and stave off the worst of it but I know that this time, it isn’t going to relent.
I get the attention of one of the waiters and tell them that I need to leave the restaurant and want to pay right away. He tells me that the fish is nearly ready but I tell him not to worry about it – I’ll pay and then go. After asking me if there is anything he can do to help (I clearly don’t look good!), he brings the bill and card machine. I’m really trying my best to look as though everything is OK whilst secretly praying that I can hold it together until I get back to the hotel. I leave the table to head back towards Monastiraki. Just as I turn the corner, a man is coming the other way with my cod in a takeaway box. Bless them. It was lovely of them to go to the trouble but I’ll have to consign this meal to the ‘might have beens’. Next time I’m in Athens I will try this restaurant again. Hopefully ‘sans’ Stavros.
Having been diagnosed with gallstones for about a year, I have established a routine of how to handle the attacks. A dose of Co-codamol and a hot water bottle pressed onto my abdomen certainly helps. The latter isn’t part of my travel kit so I swing by a pharmacy to buy one. Back at the room which thankfully has a kettle, the hot compress and painkillers begin to take effect.
What a bloody start to my stay in Athens! I’ve been on a low-fat diet for nearly 4 months. I haven’t eaten cheese for a year and butter/spread have also been banished from my diet in order not to ‘poke the bear’. During this trip, grilled chicken and fish have been a staple along with Feta-less salads. It’s not that this isn’t delicious but I really miss what I ‘can’t’ eat.
Anyone that knows me, knows that I have a love for bougatsa which I can consume every day of the week, given the opportunity. God do I miss bougatsa! Instead of having this scrumptious, custardy pastry for breakfast, I’ve bought 0% fat Greek yoghurt from the supermarket and paired it up with honey and fruit. Lovely as it is, breakfast isn’t the same without bougatsa! Let’s be honest, food is part of the whole travel experience in Greece and Stavros is getting right on my nerves!
Anyway, this is part and parcel of real life. I won’t go on anymore about the trials and tribulations of this aged traveller – not until tomorrow anyway. I’m going to have a strong word with Stavros and tell him that he’d better not get in the way of me and the Evzones or there will be trouble!