I wake to a grey winter day. There’s a stiff wind outside and the hills surrounding Athens are blanketed by snow. Morning visit to the offices of my Man in Greece. No chance for any sightseeing, he’s in a grim industrial area outside the city centre. Well, as grim as most industrial areas, but I notice the streets and pavements are potholed and in need of repair. The traffic is terrible: total stoppages are said to be frequent due to heavy pollution.
Usual discussions presenting our new products, market situation, activities of the competition. I study more etymology: “competition” in Greek is “antagonismos”! We then go out to do some market research in a couple of supermarkets – an opportunity for me to grab a 1 kg pot of delicious Greek yoghurt and a bottle of Metaxa 5*. Soon enough it’s time to head for the airport. We enter the brand new Athens ring road, financed by EU cohesion funds (the Greeks are desperate to spend as much EU dosh as possible before the East Europeans get in). In just twenty minutes or so I get to the “aerodromos” with plenty of time to spare for the flight back to Rome. I while away the time catching up with email and news in the AZ lounge.
More airport waiting in FCO, I finally board the chock-full Venice flight, an hour’s drive home and I arrive at last at 22:15.
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!
This week’s trip is a short hop to Greece. Fly in today, fly back tomorrow. A visit to our local distributor, who is a good one, but given the size of the country, does not do an enormous amount of business. But I’ve promised him long ago that I’d visit him, so here’s the opportunity.
I’m looking forward to the trip: I was last in Greece twenty years ago in 1983, as a fresh-faced neo-graduate exploring the roots of European culture and Byzantine architecture. Of course sun, sand and s*x had no attraction for me… Anyway, I wonder how the place has changed.
My itinerary today takes me VCE-FCO-ATH, with AZ. I arrive punctually in Venice, only to discover that the Alitalia flight is delayed and I risk making the connection in Rome. The check-in lady efficiently reschedules me on an AirOne flight. I go to gate, only to find THIS flight is delayed too! Aargh! I’ll have to sprint for it in Rome!