Travelling in the 90s – Athens

Today I’m launching what will be a sporadic series of posts called Travelling in the 90s. I’ll be extracting segments of a very elaborate travel diary I wrote by hand (and transcribed some years later) when backpacking with a friend after we finished our University degrees. I think it’s fun to reflect on:

  • The naivete — and also the wonder — of our 22-year-old selves
  • How dramatically travelling has changed in the past 20 years
  • How little I have really changed at heart

Gee, we had such a fabulous time.

We began our trip in Greece, flying directly from Australia to Athens. This was not a conventional beginning — most Australian backpackers back in 1993 started in London. Us? No… So our first international experience was arriving at 6am on a November morning in one of the most ancient cities on the planet… Where very few people spoke English.

Here’s part 1 — Athens.

***

[Sun 28 November, 1993] It’s currently 3:00 pm local time and I can honestly say: “What a day!” I am footsore and absolutely exhausted. Things that have particularly struck me about Athens:

  1. There are hundreds of stray cats who slink around and beg for food — many of them look very much like Emerald.
  2. All the taxis are yellow regardless of make.
  3. All the ruins have ‘police’ in blue parkas who blow their whistles.
  4. It’s cold….

[Mon 29 November, 1993] We are doing very well and I’m so proud of us! We have not caught a taxi yet, and made it to the bus depot from where we caught this very bumpy bus to Delphi. Part of our independence is owed to this wonderful map of Athens given to us through the tourist window at the National Bank of Greece (thankfully open on Sundays). All the streets are marked on this map and hence our walking tour of yesterday was successful (discounting getting mildly lost in the national garden). The latter route took us through a street we firmly resolved never to enter again.

Athens -- Temple of Olympian Zeus with Acropolis in background

Athens — Temple of Olympian Zeus with Acropolis in background*

It still all feels rather unreal. I know that I’m in Greece and that I’ve seen the Acropolis and the Temple of Zeus, but it’s so hard to really comprehend. I see three months of incredible bliss stretching out before me — no study, no work — and wonder whether it’s real. Of course it is, and this very bumpy bus on which I’m currently sitting reminds me of it.

The Acropolis was amazing. Unfortunately we were not allowed on the Parthenon (ref blue-parkered police) but just to see it there, looming up before me was wonderful. Even the heavy scaffolding and the crane in the centre could not wholly detract. In fact, we could not touch any of the wonders on that lump of rock but it was invigorating just to be there.

All sights of the Acropolis from around Athens are tinged with the same wonder and amazement. They just loom up out of nowhere in the midst of everything! As do all the other ruins around. Especially the Temple of Olympian Zeus — these great pillars were the first ‘old’ things I saw as we entered Athens on the bus from the airport. They are majestic! I cannot write enough of the wonder I really do feel at seeing such ancient things.

Other sights of yesterday included the ‘changing of the guards’ at the parliament house. They are really very silly dressed in their white dresses and red shoes with pom-poms!

Today it is raining and really quite horrible. Nevertheless we got up and ate breakfast, which consisted of four slices of packet toast with peach jam, a glass of OJ and some very sweet coffee. We found the bus that took us to the bus station, and found the bus for Delphi. We haven’t paid yet either – I asked twice about tickets. The first time we were told “yes this is the bus for Delphi – stay here” (or words to that effect) and the second time “no ticket? get on, get on”. So we did.

Greek men seem to be constantly feeling sorry for us. One, early yesterday morning, beckoned us over to warn us about thieves and to ask us where we were going because we looked lost and probably dishevelled, because the bus driver (from the airport) dumped us. Another today seemed to think we were standing in the wrong place to catch the bus into the city. Of course we were because we didn’t want to go there. When I said Delphi he said “Oh!” and gave me a pat on the shoulder and pointed the way we were going…

***

Next stop Delphi!

Anyone else got memories of visiting Athens — or landing early in a city where you didn’t know the language? I’d love to hear your travel tales.

* This is a photo of a photo — because, you know, there was no such thing as digital cameras back then (and I don’t have a scanner — yet). Sorry about the quality.

14 comments

  1. I loved Greece and would love to go back. The scaffolding and cranes were still up when we went in 2001. Isn’t it grand to walk in a place that is so old and so important in history. It’s very humbling. And isn’t it amazing how rapidly technology has changed. I have negatives I want to reprint and slides I want to convert to print. There must be a way that doesn’t cost lots of $$$. I’ll be looking for your next post on Greece.

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    1. I think Greece is still one of my all time travel highlights, and I look forward to sharing my youthful experiences with you all. I wonder if they ever got rid of the crane and scaffolding? Heh.

      We have so many wonderful photos from that trip; it’s going to be marvellous going through them!

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    1. It truly is like a time capsule! I was thinking: these days the first thing you do when you step off a plane is text home to inform loved ones you’ve arrived safely… Especially if you’re a green girl of 22 who’s never stepped out of the country before…

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    1. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but wasn’t sure whether others would find it as interesting as me… I think the contrasts between then and now will be fascinating. I hope you will too. 🙂

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  2. Great idea for a blog series, Ellen. I too wish I’d traveled with I was in my 20’s. And especially to Greece! But, hey. The saying that “there’s no time like the present is so true.” I can quench my travel-bug thirst while I’m still healthy and up to the adventure. 😉

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    1. Thanks, Elizabeth… As mentioned, I wasn’t sure how it would go down, but so far so good.

      Greece is a wonderful place to visit, and I look forward to reliving the trip as I progress the series. I guess I was very lucky to travel in my 20s; it’s an Australian (and NZ) thing!

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  3. Greece is very near the top of my list of Up-coming Adventures in the Near Future. Like Elizabeth mentioned, I so wish I had traveled abroad at a younger age. I’m sometimes overwhelmed at how much I want to do and how many places I want to go.

    I loved reading your travel journal from that time. Your excitement and awe at the splendor of Greece came alive in your words. Great series. Looking forward to more.

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    1. I’m totally overwhelmed all the time — I think the more places you go, the more places you want to visit! Not that I’m enormously well travelled, but I’ve had a few trips in the past 20 years.

      And Greece is totally awesome. I would LOVE to go back… (when are you thinking of going…?) ~heh.

      Glad you enjoyed the extract. I kept it quite short to start with… testing the waters so to speak. There’s definitely more on the way.

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