Uneventful flight from Rome to Athens; there is plenty of free space, as the departure was delayed they serve us lunch at 14:30, and I hungrily wolf down my ration of penne al sugo di olive and roulé of salmon. As we prepare to land, I observe the sparkling blue waters of the Aegean as we approach the mainland……..hang on…….on closer inspection, the waters are steely grey, a fierce wind is whipping up the waves and the clouds are covering the barren hills…. this is winter!! Temperature around 5C, and the locals are evidently not used to this!
Surprise as I emerge from the aircraft – this is not the old Ellinikon airport I knew, but a completely new airport with acres of marble and granite, called Eleftherios Venizelos. Efficient and quick, particularly as I only have my carry-on trolley. My Man in Greece has an appointment this afternoon, so I have to make my own way downtown. It turns out there is a direct bus to the central Syntagma Square. The airport is out in the countryside and it takes well over an hour in heavy traffic. I amuse myself reading the Greek signs (I can only read the capital letters!!) and thereby getting an etymology lesson:
bibliotheka – bookshop
typosgrapheios – printer
sigara – tobacconist
exodos – exit
At Syntagma Square I take the metro to the hotel – another surprise – only two or three years old – more acres of marble and granite – not a single graffiti in sight! The Greeks are certainly benefiting from EU dosh and, naturally, a grand plan for the 2004 Olympics.
I meet my Man in Greece for dinner. He is a friendly guy of my same age; appropriately named Achilles. I have met him a few times before, but only briefly; I am glad to be able to get to know him a little better. He takes me to a rather posh restaurant called Dionysos just at the foot of the Acropolis – you certainly can’t fault the setting: vast plate glass windows with a view of the floodlit Parthenon and the theatre of Herodes Attikus just beneath. Magnificent!
We dine amongst the great and the good, and the food is excellent too: assorted _meze_ (dolmas, moussaka, spanakopitta, kalamares and others), a grilled sea-bass with courgettes and greek salad. Maybe a little over-enthusiastic in the olive oil, but this habit is typically Greek. A good bottle of Santorini white wine and a Metaxa brandy to finish. The conversation ranges widely from talking shop to bambini to stock market woes to Iraq. A very pleasant evening!