Friday, 16 August 2013

Hellenic adventuring

After the wedding (see last post), I hung about in Wales for a few days, and then headed off to Greece with some of the other guests, all friends from my uni days. We had an early flight, so I napped a bit in the car as Kev drove us to London. We'd booked a car to drive around Greece, which turned out to be a bit smaller than we'd been led to believe. We still managed to squeeze all the luggage into it, and straggled out onto the Athens ring road. This is the finest road in Greece, and perhaps the only safe road, too. A few years ago it was revealed that owing to some boneheaded error the country's legislators could only legally set speed limits on this road. They may have fixed that by now. The speeding wasn't too bad by British standards, and there were so few cars on the road that it wasn't a serious problem. Although I was on the right of the car, I kept trying to place the car so I had the same view as when in the UK, so was rather too far to the right! We eventually got onto the smaller roads, and I happily got caught behind a caravan, where I stayed as long as possible, maintaining a safe stopping distance. That's a safe stopping distance according to the Highway Code over here, not whatever is used in Greece!

We were staying in my parents' flat, which last saw visitors two years ago, so on arrival we had to wash this, hoover that and dust the other, while wondering at the new bits of building which had fallen off since the last visit. I make it sound like a war-zone, but it wasn't too bad. The whole building is concrete, and a lump the size of a couple of clenched fists had come off the roof of the kitchen balcony as a result of some earthquake. We avoided that balcony. We had a positively sun-drenched time, made a bit awkward as it transpired that my suntan lotion was not, as I had blithely assumed, waterproof. D'oh. We tried all the local beaches: the one five minutes' walk away, the one seven minutes' walk away, and the one four minutes' drive away! That last is more exposed than the other two, but one can dip one's head beneath the waves to see the ruins of part of the ancient city of Epidaurus, which was slightly submerged. As I say, the place is tectonically active.

We had a few day-trips. The renowned Theatre of Epidaurus and associated Sanctuary of Asclepius are just down the road, while Nafplion and its associated fortress are only about forty minutes away by car. We also popped over to Mycenae, and I was surprised how much the site had changed since I was a boy. It seemed almost wholly wheelchair-accessible now. We ambled down to the depths of the well (which is down a winding and unlit flight of stairs, so not frightfully wheelchair-friendly), and the bottom had even been drained of its heretofore usual stagnant puddle. But most of the time we spent swimming or on the beach.

Of an evening we pottered along to the local restaurants, of which the others' favourite was probably Para thin halos (By the seashore from a line in The Iliad), as after a week of Greek food pizza came as a welcome relief. Greek restaurants typically have boards outside with photographs of what's on offer, and the previous night we had stopped at the Verdelis, and gone in on the strength of one such picture of a pizza. On attempting to order one, however, the waiter gave a confused look, and said there was no such thing on the menu, and implied with his expression that the very question was grounds to doubt our collective sanity. Then they messed up Hanne's order, which arrived about the time the rest of us had finished eating. To be fair, there was a chap grilling seafood at the front, and he kept bringing bits of octopus (or squid - don't ask me, I didn't spy too closely with my vegan eyes) to keep everyone happy.

Kev was delighted by another restaurant, the Akroyali, where the difference between British and Greek approaches to eating out was highlighted. On Kev asking for something on the menu the waiter flatly replied, "No." So Kev asked for something else, and the same thing happened. Nary an apology, just a flat statement of fact! On the last couple of trips to the village I've gone along to a local cocktail bar with my guests, and this occasion was no different. A difference became immediately apparent, though. On my previous recent visits I have been in the village in September or October. The cocktail place has been quite quiet, and we had all assumed it would be busier in the summer. It was, but not in the way we expected. All the local schoolchildren were on holiday, so the restaurant was - to our bemusement - full of teenagers (Greece lacks Britain's restrictive drinking age).

On the last day I madly suggested we visit the Acropolis in Athens. This ranks right up there as one of my all-time stupidest ideas. Provided other drivers behave in a fairly sensible fashion I stay clam. When they start behaving like jerks I get angry, and when they are just suicidally stupid I become apoplectic as well as alarmed. The lanes in Athens are narrow. Narrow even by the standards of the countryside. When there are three the rightmost is pretty much useless, as there's a parked taxi or bus every thirty yards or so. So the option is the fast lane or the middle lane. They are equally deleterious to maintaining one's calm unless one is stoically unflappable. Of course, this is just the city. If you drive on Greek mountain roads you will see little shrines on spindly metal legs - or more expensive ones on dressed stone plinths - which commemorate where someone has plunged off the side of a mountain.

In the UK you generally don't use your wing mirrors all that much. Lane changes are their main use. But using them at all in Athens evaporated my nerves in minutes. Glance in the right one and espy a guy on a moped slinking between densely packed cars with about four inches to spare. Move a bit out of his way, and check the other wing mirror. See half a dozen moped drivers have tried to squeeze through on the left, and now have two inches to spare. Try to move back, and more of them have appeared on the right. Repeat this for an hour. My mates are under orders to punch me until I'm in a coma if I so much as think about driving through Athens again. It makes London driving seem a happy memory of courteous and friendly people.

We didn't die. Or kill anyone. Somehow. Apart from that, and the 35 Celsius heat (which the aircon in the living room brought to a night-time low of 27) it was a lovely time. Enjoy a few photos.

Kev and Hanne:

 No Stanley Kubrick films were harmed in the taking of this photograph. Peter:
Their expression has nothing to do with my mentioning the rats which used to live where they're standing. Absolutely nothing!

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