Short of thoughts today. Rummaging through old files I came across a day in Athens, the first of about ten, and was pulled back to that very hot evening not many hours after my arrival there in August some years ago. My thoughts and impressions at the time were certainly through the eyes of a neophyte still puzzling out the what of Greece and its fabled capital.
From streetside on the Oktovriou-Patission Road…
Athens…The plane was about two hours late leaving Istanbul. From Izmir in western Turkey to Greece’s capital, the 175 mile distance is a complicated journey. Turkish airports, I found, are not quick with information on incoming and outgoing flights. During the two hours of waiting for departure from Istanbul the boarding gate shifted from 104 to 106 and then finally 103, changes not announced by loudspeaker but rather by security policemen standing in prominent places and shouting, in Turkish of course, that boarding would now be from a different gate. Confusion was compounded by an airport layout which has none of the switched gates in sight of the other. Other travelers were as rattled as I, an uncertain crowd of frantic faces, milling about fearing the plane might leave without us.
But here I am none the worse, seated at a sidewalk café sipping iced cappuccino. Haven’t yet gotten my bearings in this large city and can’t tell very well where I am exactly, other than to say it is across the street from the National Archeological Museum. In any case, it is near my hotel.
The hotel, appropriately enough, is called the Museum Hotel. Have some worry now that I might have made a mistake in the choice of a hotel here in Athens. But the reservation was made weeks ago in a distant country. On arriving, the reservation was in place, but now I’m not at all sure about sleeping six nights in a room WITHOUT air conditioning. The early evening temperature in Athens is ninety-nine degrees. My assigned room is bare enough to qualify for ascetic training; two small beds, a table, two chairs, bare walls, an uncarpeted floor illuminated by three naked forty-watt light bulbs. Arriving hot, tired and sweaty I wanted nothing more than a cool shower. There is a shower, however it includes neither curtain nor hook to hang the long, ropy shower nozzle on. In a clumsy attempt to be neat about it, I had a difficult shower and finished with the bathroom floor swimming in an inch of soapy water. Each time I let go of the nozzle it jumped and careened about like an angry snake, spitting water to all four walls.
The café I sit in now is very stylish and apparently one of a chain of cafés in Athens, called Flocafé Espresso Bar. I’ve had two coffees, practically gulping the first, so parched was I with the heat. The menu also lists beer, whiskey and sandwiches. Good to know that such a place is so near my ‘grand hotel.’
Trolley cars pass along the street in front of me, now and then igniting a flash of bluish electricity from cables over the street. Can’t remember the last time I was in a city of trolley cars. I am told that tickets are sold at kiosks near the trolley stops, a one-way fare of 100 drachma. Tomorrow will be my day to try them out. Taxis seem difficult to flag down. The custom appears to be for the driver to slow down with open window and the prospective fare shouts out a destination. If the driver feels it convenient, he stops, even though there might be another passenger already in the cab. Both passengers pay separate and full fares. I imagine this experience is in my future, perhaps as early as tomorrow. I took a taxi in from the airport, which proved a painless operation. Probably overcharged since the fare was negotiated rather than metered, but it didn’t impress me as exorbitant, though I haven’t yet gotten much of a handle on the value of the currency.
Cooler now, and sated with iced coffee, I figure a short stroll will be good, gradually making my way back to the hotel.
In the shower later, I manage on this second attempt to keep most of the water in the right place. I pass an uncomfortable night in my spartan room in the Museum Hotel. Much too hot to sleep without air conditioning, but I am bothered more by a swarm of insects coming in through the open veranda doors and plaguing me with bites and stings. There is also a gathering of motorcyclists in the park below who hang about racing their engines. Will look for a different hotel tomorrow. Sometime after 1:00 a.m. I finally drift off to sleep, my head tickled by thoughts of the Parthenon and Greek salad.