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Athens - Day 1 - Welcome to Athens

GREECE | Friday, 20 July 2012 | Views [846]

Archeology in Motion at Acropoli Station

Archeology in Motion at Acropoli Station

I still can't make up my mind about the transportation system in Turkey. There is something like 10,000km worth of railway tracks in the country and none of it goes anywhere I want to go. The only way to get from Çanakkale to Istanbul is by a 6-7 hour bus and from Istanbul to Athens. I've googled this 3 months later and there are domestic flight services from Çanakkale to Istanbul and Ankara.

So a bus it is. Finding a way back to Istanbul is no problem as there are plenty of bus operators with shops around Çanakkale selling tickets. Instead of entering one of these shops, I cunningly decided to look online to see if there are discounts. Hurrah, the bus operators do indeed have online sites, and it turned out I could save money assuming I actually had any Turkish language skills. Even with the help of Google Translate, it's just too difficult to know what's being booked.

With tickets booked from an office, I awake early at 7 just to make sure of catching the 9am bus as I'm not even on the right side of the Bosphorus. I need a ferry ride across to western side at Eceabat for the bus, only to discover that the bus has to cross over from the eastern side anyway. When we finally arrive in Istanbul, I've no idea where I am. It certainly wasn't Büyük Otogar, the main bus station I was expecting. I have to get another bus into Sultanahmet. Sultanahmet, the one place in Istanbul I'd recognise and the one thing I'm certain people at this station will understand. Another hour bus ride later and I finally get to my hotel at 6. It was a good thing I decided on a stopover in Istanbul before flying out to Athens.

I have to get up early again for my flight from Istanbul to Athens. It's a straightforward journey on the tram from Sultanahment. The security in Istanbul Ataturk airport is tight. Not only is there the usual baggage and x-ray checks for boarding. The same thing happens on entering the low level entrance from the tram stop, then again on entering the airport proper.

The flight to Athens is with Olympic Air. Was it just me or do the Olympic Air stewardesses have the hottest uniforms in the airline industry? Maybe it's just because I haven't seen girls in uniform for a few weeks.

It's a 1035 flight from Istanbul and lands on time at 1200 and now I have to get a train from Athens Airport to my hotel in central Athens. There's no nice easy air conditioned walk from the airport to the train station, so it's out into the baking 35c heat. Feel the joy of a 10 minute walk with a 7kg backpack. At least it wasn't humid. Trains are reasonably priced in Athens, €8 for the ticket and the inspectors are serious about people validating the ticket before boarding. Showing no mercy to the two clueless backpackers on my carriage. Something like €50 fine for not having a validated ticket.

The train takes me to Syntagma Square, which also happens to be pretty much the centre of Athens and a major inter-change station for the Athens underground. I'm staying in an area of Athens called Omonia, so I change here for the red line. 

After checking into the hotel and a bit of a rest, it's about 3.30 before I venture out to explore the area. You know it's a bad area when even the locals avoid it. The places is not the nicest introduction to Athens. In the next four days here, I witness drug deals in the streets, drug arrests involving a dozen police officers, drug addicts congregating around a abandoned building site getting their high, an assortment of beggers and plenty of "working girls".

It's also too late to really take in any of the attractions, but I do go to the tourist office in Syntagma Square and find out there's no tourist card. The kind of 72 hour tourist pass with discounts, which was a bit disappointing because of the many sites and museums I'd planned to visit. The only thing remotely like this is a 3 day travel pass. A good excuse for skipping the shortest of walks in the heat.

I also had quite a bit of fun exploring the underground stations of Athens. because they have this thing know as "Archaeology in Motion". Basically, the underground stations contain exhibits related to archaeology. Some are displays of archaeological finds, some are glass displays showing findings during the building works of the undergrounds and replica statues from the Acropolis in where else, but the the Acropoli station.

Rumours of the destruction of Athens seem to have been greatly exaggerated. I was expecting Athens to be in flames due to the ongoing economic crisis. Without a doubt, the place is certainly muted and not exactly heaving with tourists. But it's all very safe, which might have had something to do with the very heavy police presence around Omonia and Syntagma. Which is not to say that 5 years of recession has not had an impact on Greeks. I see people begging on the streets, not the usual assortment of professional beggars trying to con tourists, but people who are obviously homeless and in a terrible state. In the evening I sat in a packed cafe and watch people going through bins and rubbish tips. It marks a guilty start to my trip in Greece.

Tags: athens, bus, canakkale, istanbul, turkey


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