From Thessaloniki to Athens

Trip Start Feb 04, 2011
Trip End Nov 04, 2011

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Where I stayed
Embassy hotel

Flag of Greece  , Attica,
Sunday, April 10, 2011

I was a little concerned about the quality of Greek trains after my Italian experiences on trains so I upgraded to first class for only a few extra euros and I think it was worth it. I had a window seat and unlike those shabby trains in the Balkans, this one had a restaurant car and really friendly staff. In fact, even at the ticket counter at the station, where in most countries they employ ogres, there were also friendly staff. I must say that contrary to a lot of negative feedback I've read about the Greeks, I've only met nice and helpful people. Maybe it's because I came into the country embracing it as something of a second home, being from Melbourne and all that.

Now I was about to arrive in Athens which is notorious for being a disastrously disorganised city with the worst traffic and pollution - all of which are true. The main station is a mess and as there was no metro station I was forced to take a taxi - in a country where I don't speak the language. Fortunately I had a map of the hotel so not much communication was required. Sometimes though, I get taxi drivers who seem like they've never driven a taxi before and there's nothing worse than having to give directions to a taxi driver who should know these streets better than I do. Therefore I always have Google Maps ready to show them. Even this map (with the street names written in Greek) was confusing for him and he had to call a friend, just like being on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

My best attempt at speaking Greek didn't help as he couldn't understand my accent and the only word he understood was Akropoli, which doesn't help because it's the name of a metro station, a museum and probably several hotels, restaurants and pharmacies. After all, the Acropolis is the main tourist attraction and the fact that my hotel had an English sounding name (Embassy Hotel) didn't help either. Embasi? Ambasati? Monastiraki? Souvlaki? Clearly we weren't getting anywhere but eventually he decided to use logic (ironically the word "logic" is Greek) and he took the map to read. We got as far as two blocks from the address on the map and as it was all just too complicated for him, I told him I would walk the few blocks and I got out. Honestly, if you can't read a map or find streets, don't become a taxi driver. 

That's when it got worse. The hotel didn't exist. Great. Now what do I do? I found the hotel's phone number and called them from my mobile phone, which usually costs about a million dollars per minute because it's on global roaming. They explained to me that the address on Google Maps is wrong and I should take the metro to Ampelokipi station and call them again for further directions. No problem. I have heavy suitcases, one of which I'm dragging on one wheel, and the metro is nowhere near here. No taxi driver would take me as they couldn't understand my few words of Greek so I had to walk a few kilometers to find the (hidden) metro station with no obvious sign or logo, and then change trains to another line during Athens peak hour. I'm going to kill someone at that hotel. It took two hours to find the hotel and when I finally arrived, the receptionist knew it was me.

"Please don't be angry with me. This happens to so many people who use Google Maps to try to find us. It's so frustrating for us as they won't update the address. However, good news. Because of the trouble this has caused you, we've upgraded you to the top floor apartment suite". 

Once again, patience had paid off. The apartment suite had two balconies, one of which had a view of the Acropolis. This was going to be my haven for two nights and so I headed off for a quick snack and later slept like a baby. The next morning I met Jay at the hotel and he offered to take me out to lunch in Plaka, which is at the foot of the Acropolis. Jay has been living in Athens for eleven years so it was good to be with someone who could string a few sentences together in Greek. It's funny that only the day before I had been dragging my luggage across Athens, cursing everything about this city and wishing Greece would be kicked out of the Euro Zone for its incompetence. Now I was in an outdoor tavern and it was a sunny 25 degrees. I decided I like Athens, with all its problems and chaos. At least there's always moussaka!   

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