Postcard from Greece 2002

A warm wintry hello from Athens, the latest destination in my footie tours with Ireland as they take on Greece.  So what is it like here?  Traffic is still the chaotic mess of legend, not helped by the motorcycles and scooters that go everywhere, even up on pavements.  There are almost as many cyclists as there are stray dogs running around Athens.  Where do they all come from?

My hotel is in a sleazy looking backstreet of Omonia Square, the centre of Athens city.  It’s populated by hawkers selling cheap ciggies and fake handbags and you approach the area with intrepidation.  But it’s perfectly safe and I’ve had no trouble, even when finding my way back after midnight in near darkness.  Only the main streets are lit at night and the late closing shops are otherwise the only source of light.

Olympic Games less than two years away

You know things are desperate in London when Athens has a better public transport system.  And with the Olympic Games less than two years away, that is now very much the case.  Athens metro only opened within the last couple of years and runs cleanly and efficiently.  That said, you need to know where you’re going as there aren’t many maps on the platforms.

With the said Olympics coming, Athens is now challenging Berlin for the title of Europe’s biggest building sight.  Refurbishment and construction work is going on everywhere.  And often hampered by the fact that any digging almost invariably uncovers some archaeological discovery and work is either suspended or plans are changed to build around it.  In many places there are seemingly open holes which are actually contain ancient artifacts of some sort.

Naturally, visited the Acropolis and Parthenon as you would.  If you’re thinking of doing the same, my advice would be to A) wear a pair of comfy shoes as it’s a long trek uphill to get to, B) don’t do it in the amidst the heat of the midday sun, especially as all food and drink are banned within the Acropolis.  And C) wait until all the reconstruction work is complete.  Whilst the Parthenon delivers on initial impact, it’s grandeur rapidly fades when you see huge chunks of it are covered in scaffolding or simply missing.

As for the match, it was a tepid 0-0 played at a half-empty Panathanaikos stadium.  Not a bad result for Ireland considering half the first team were missing.  Only 100 or so Irish fans made it here when previously it would have been about 30 times that.  You would have thought that more would have taken the opportunity for a bit of winter sun (a sweltering 24 degrees in November, beat that!) especially as the drink was so cheap (approx. 5.00GBP for a round of 4 beers).

great pride and solidarity

I guess that the Irish bandwagon (paddywagon?) has ground to a halt in the wake of 2 defeats and Mick McCarthy’s resignation.  Nonetheless we’ve had a fab time, taking great pride and solidarity in being the few who came and getting on famously with the locals.  By the way, the Greek national team are sponsored by a company called Onan!  Presumably it has a different meaning in Greek (look it up in a posh dictionary if you don’t know your Old Testament).

Nothing much to add really, other than to say that there are great views of Athens to be found atop the Parthenon.  At least there would be if the smog wasn’t so heavy.  There a lot more work to be done before the Olympics come here in 2004.  God help the marathon runners if the air isn’t cleaner by then.

Addio sas (‘goodbye’ in Greek)



(photos by Andre)

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