Athens at Christmas
At Christmas 2005 we went to Athens in Greece. It was my first time to the country and the plan was mainly to stay in the capital the whole time.
We flew there and back from Heathrow on Olympic Airways. We had a stroke of good fortune with the flight out. We were delayed by snow on the way to Heathrow and, when we phoned them, Olympic agreed to change us to a later flight.
When we finally got to the airport we found that our original flight had since been cancelled and all the passengers delayed for 24 hours. We were able to leave on the later flight and arrived in Athens later the same evening.
We did most of the main tourist things in Athens; we visited the Acropolis and its museum, went to the Pantheon, and the toured some of the other ancient monuments. We looked around the markets, watched the famous changing of the guard and ate a lot of great Greek food.
Athens was enjoyable enough for a few days break, but compared with Istanbul (still fresh in our minds) it didn’t really “grab us”.
The one trip we made out of Athens was a visit to the Diakofto-Kalavyrta railway. The railway is situated outside of Athens in the Peloponnese Mountains and we caught a regular train from Athens station to get to reach it.
At Diakofto we changed to the little two carriage train that was waiting in the next platform. We couldn’t find anyone to buy a ticket from so we assumed we could pay on the train. It was crowded as hell so we waited on the platform for about 20 minutes and then squeezed our way into the last carriage just as the doors were closing.
The railway works on the rack principle. The little diesel train climbs 22km through spectacular scenery on the hour-long journey to Kalavyrta assisted by its cogs biting the racks in the track. The line is very impressive and it crosses a series of river bridges and threads through gorges and tunnels as it climbs.
It was a little “tight” in the carriage though, but we could just about see out of each side. It wasn’t exactly comfortable and probably nearer to a Tokyo rush hour experience than to a relaxing day out.
It wasn’t totally unpleasant though and the scenery certainly made up for it. The whole crowded train seemed to groan with delight as the train turned another corner and some more dramatic scenery came into view.
When we arrived at Kalavytra we still hadn’t got a ticket. We approached the guard but we couldn’t make ourselves understood. We went to the ticket office but found it closed. We gave up and wandered around Kalavytra for a while. We found a nice tavern and had a relaxing lunch of lamb and rice.
After lunch we returned to the station in order to catch a train back down to Diakofto. Although there were no seats spare, the return train wasn’t quite as crowded. We clambered aboard and found a space to stand where we could at least move our arms about a bit. About half way down the mountain we were approached by a ticket collector.
I smiled at him and asked him politely for a return ticket. I thought it best to be honest and buy the ticket for the whole round trip. He listened to me quietly and then he just went berserk at both of us. He was shouting in English and Greek and everyone else was looking.
Basically his message was that the trains had already sold out for the day (long ago?) and we had had no right to board any train in the first place. I countered with the argument that we couldn’t have known that as there were no signs and nobody to ask. He shouted some more and tried to get some of the other passengers to support him. They weren’t interested. In the end he stormed off muttering to himself.
It wasn’t really that much of a Greek tragedy for us. We had had a return trip on the climbing train and, although we had been shouted at a bit, we still hadn’t paid the fare.