Mum managed to survive her first and only overnight bus trip. I’m not sure that she got a whole lot of sleep, but then no one ever does on overnight buses. Even with all the practice I’ve had, I never get a good night sleep unless the bus is mostly empty and I can stick my legs on the seats across the aisle. The steward asked if we were going to Sultanahmet, but we wanted to go to the ‘büyük otogar’, the big bus station, as we were headed directly to the airport. I hadn’t booked flights to Athens online as the flight we wanted left only two and a half hours after our bus was scheduled to arrive in Istanbul, and knowing my luck had I booked the flights in advance the bus would be delayed. As it turned out the bus arrived early. We took the train from the bus station to the airport – I love how easy this is in Istanbul. In Melbourne the lack of public transport to and from the airport is embarrassing.
Of course, when we arrived at the airport we discovered that there was no open agency that sold tickets for Olympic Air flights – their window didn’t open until the flight was due to leave. I didn’t want to fly a different airline as they were all either a lot more expensive or they left from the other airport in Istanbul. Eventually we found someone who was willing to break the rules and sell us a ticket, even though her agency doesn’t officially sell them. It cost us more than if we’d bought them online, but at least we didn’t have to wait eight hours until the next flight! That was a first for me, buying tickets at the airport.
After a short and uneventful flight [at least until the rather bumpy landing], we arrived in Greece. As Greece is in the Schengen Zone, Australians don’t need a visa – we can stay for 90 days in a 180 period. Sounds good…unless you”re travelling for more than three months in the 25 countries of the zone! For this trip it was sufficient, and I’d been out of Schengen long enough to be let back in. Customs was easy aside from the fact that my passport, now somewhat battered from its travels, no longer scans and I always have to apologise for the long name my parents gave me as the typically cranky officials glare at my while typing in all my details. Mum was gloating that I apparently ‘held her up’ at Customs, but given the amount of time her inability to cross roads has held me up I think I’m still way ahead. We withdrew some Euro from the ATM and I realised that I’d have to explain the conversion of another currency to Mum and, unlike in Turkey where the conversion is close enough to 2 lira/$1 to keep it simple, this would be a little more complicated.
I dislike taking taxis from airports – they’re always such a rip-off – so I’d done a little research online as to how to get from the airport to the city. Like in Istanbul it’s damn easy: there’s a train from the airport itself that goes to th centre, or there are buses. We took the train. It cost €7 each, but €14 sure beats €35-40 in my opinion – money that could be better spent on far more enjoyable things. I also like to take public transport as it’s a nice way to be introduced to a city. Mum trusted me to get us to the hotel we’d booked, and the hotel had a little map that showed where it was. So, we took the train to Syntagma Square and I taught myself the Greek alphabet on the train so I’d be able to get us from the square to the hotel. Mum was quite impressed with this, but there’s a bit of similarity with Cyrillic and I’d had enough practice with that. I think she might have been a little disappointed that I didn’t get us lost! Most of the street signs are in Greek on one side and the Latin alphabet on the other, but I was looking for the Greek names to help me learn.
We stayed at Acropolis House, which is set in an old building that was undergoing restorations while we were there – a lot of 19th century frescoes had been discovered under the plaster and so room by room they were fixing this up. It was managed by a lovely woman who liked to tell us stories about her grandchildren, and she gave us a map of Athens to get us started.
While Mum relaxed, I compared the map with the Athens In Your Pocket app I’d downloaded and worked out what was where and where to go. [If you’re travelling in Europe you’re likely to come across the InYourPocket guides, either the apps for smart phones or the hard copy booklets. They’re amazing, and regularly updated. You can also download them as PDFs at http://www.inyourpocket.com]. Our first stop? A bookshop to buy a guidebook for Greece, as our planning had got us to Athens and no further.