“You have to decide the kind of life that you want to live, or the person that you want to be.” Those were the words, or something similar to them that my taxi driver said to me, as I sat in the back, en route to Athens International Airport. The story he told me during the short 30 minute night-time journey left me with a feeling of incredulity.
He lived and worked in Athens as a taxi driver but also owned a holiday home on a Greek island, which provided a valuable source of income. He told a tale of oil rich Arabs from the Middle East that had arrived on the island with literally holdalls full of euros, and my driver had provided transport for these visitors to the island. They would offer him 10,000 Euros to go and get drugs, girls or whatever they wanted. Money was no object whatsoever.
My taxi driver was clearly an ethical and righteous man and refused their generous, but outrageous offer. As we parted company at departures, I pondered his account of the corrupting influence of money and the Aristotle-like wisdom he had offered me – all included in the price of taxi fare! Later, before I caught my flight back to Thessaloniki, I encountered Miss Mykonos 2018 with a small child in tow, which was a salutary reminder that however glamourous your day job may be, we have all got mouths to feed and bills to pay.
In the preceding days, I had spent three enjoyable nights at the superbly appointed Hotel Sir Athens in Greece’s ancient, political and philosophical capital, having joined my friends, Emmanouil and Antigoni in the city whilst they attended a conference. Eleni, the boutique hotel’s part-owner really looked after me and made me feel very welcome. Sir Athens was modern, comfortable, well equipped and conveniently situated.
I really loved Athens, or at least parts of it. I wasn’t so enamoured with the endless, uniform rows of air conditioned accommodation blocks sprawled out across the city marching towards the horizon, but if ancient culture and civilisations are your thing, Athens has it by the bucket load. And understandably, it has tourists by the bucket load too, and whilst not on the same scale as Venice in terms of visitor numbers, be prepared to rub shoulders with crowds of adoring travellers from all over the globe.
The Acropolis pretty much stands at the top of the list, including the Theatre of Dionysus, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Temple of Athena Nike and of course, it’s crowning glory: The Parthenon. Don’t forget the Acropolis museum just across the way though – it is superb. Three main floors of ancient antiquity to keep you endlessly fascinated, and it is not to be missed. The Areopagus is nearby and the fascinating Temple of Zeus is located in a different part of the city.
Having suitably feasted on the sights and sounds of both ancient and modern Greece, I decided it was time to return to my hotel. However, I soon discovered that I was having trouble explaining to the Greek taxi driver where my hotel was, so I phoned Eleni and gave the phone to the driver. After a fairly animated discussion between the two of them in their mother tongue, the location of the hotel was identified, but having seen her WhatsApp profile picture on my mobile, the taxi driver then exclaimed in English to her, “You’re beautiful!”
Well, that’s the Greeks for you, and as an Englishman, I suddenly felt very dull and inhibited although I couldn’t argue with his conclusion about my host. That eclectic mix and splash of local culture and colour is surely what travel is all about, and I love it. Greece and her people will always have a special place in my heart, and I’m sure to return.
And if you haven’t yet sampled the delights of this enchanting country ringed by the sparkling Ionian, Aegean & Mediterranean Seas, then as soon as you are able, I encourage you to book your flight and go and see, not just things and places, but meet the people that make it so unique. I had the distinct feeling that this short trip to Greece was going to live long in my memory. Kalinikta Hellas.