In October this year I hope to return to Athens, a city I lived in for four very happy years in the 1980s, for this year’s TBEX Europe conference. I haven’t been back for 30 years and am wondering what it will be like.
You know how it is when you look back on a time that you remember with great affection; everything is seen through a prism of filtered sunlight. Greece had come through the tough times of the Military Junta, was a new member of the European Union, Prime Minister Papandreou promised allaghi ‘great change’ and the drachma went a lot further than the British pound in those days.
Tourism was taking off in a big way. Packages holidays were very popular and people were discovering the joys of cheap summer sun on the islands and mainland in a big way. I’d first gone to Greece on a very cheap package holiday to Corfu, staying in a basic hostel not too far from a beach that Lawrence Durrell described beautifully in his evocative book on the island ‘Prospero’s Cell’.
On subsequent holidays to Greece, we’d often stopped off in Athens en route to the islands. I remember my very first visit with good friend Pat, seeing the skirt-wearing soldiers strutting their stuff in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Syntagma Square. In those days you could go right up to them and admire their big thighs in their white tights, as they winked at giggling female tourists. Their pom-pommed feet shot into the air in a march that was obviously the inspiration for John Cleese ‘silly walk’.
It was August – the worst month of the year to be in Athens, and the heat was like being wrapped in an electric blanket. Trying to cool down we staggered into the National Gardens nearby, past huge palms towering over us like giant sentries. Its dusty paths lead past dull green trees and drooping shrubs. The deafening sound of cicadas zithered all around and the sun shot blinding darts of fire through the shadow I loved it.
Going to the Parthenon for the first time was truly a dream come true. As a young girl I used to spend hours reading the Larouss Encyclopedia of Mythology and it was the black and white images of Greek gods, goddesses and ruined temples that first inspired my desire to travel. Trailing up the Acropolis with lots of other tourists wasn’t quite how I had imagined it, but in those days there were far fewer than today AND I don’t remember any scaffolding. We wandered all over the site and picked a couple of bits of marble as souvenirs. You can’t do that today!
We finally tottered back down the hill to Monastiraki and found a little Kafenion in the shade where a welcoming bottle of Fix beer quenched our raging thirst. (So many jokes in those days about going for a ‘quick fix’ – sadly no longer brewed in Greece.) Next stop was Piraeus and the island of Naxos …
Three years later I moved to Athens and had the best time of my life. On my return visit in October I will be reuniting with 3 friends from those days to start research for a book on The Quirky Traveller in Athens – watch this space for updates!