I put a lot of effort into planning our trip around Iceland... so much so that I didn't have much holiday-planning time/energy left to research Greece in quite so much detail! Greece is not a country which has ever been at the top of our list of places we wanted to visit, but I had a week of holiday to take in October this year, and thought we might appreciate going somewhere warm and sunny after a potentially cold and wet trip to Iceland. There aren't many places which are reliably warm and sunny in October, but Greece looked like it might fit the bill. The only problem was that I didn't wanted to end up stuck in a beach resort... but when Tim found that Bradt have published a guidebook to the Peloponnese, we realised that it would be possible to plan a holiday which involved visiting some of the historic sites of ancient Greece. That sounded like our sort of holiday, and when we realised that there were reasonably-priced flights from Heathrow, a loose sort of plan started to come together
When I started trying to plan our itinerary in more detail, I began to run into problems though! The Bradt guide is really good, but a lot of it is written on the assumption that you have a car. We have a copy of the Rough Guide to Greece as well, but it's an edition that was published before the worst of the financial crisis, and so its section on public transport refers to how easy it is to get between two places by train... but when you check the actual Greek train website, you find out that trains are no longer running on that particular route. There is a network of buses across Greece but it seems to be set up in a very confusing way; each region has its own bus website, so you have to work out which jurisdiction your route falls into before you can even start to look for a timetable. Some of the bus websites have timetables in English, but some of them don't... some of the websites give the prices for tickets, other websites don't.... It probably all makes perfect sense if you speak Greek, but we are still trying to master the alphabet so it felt like very hard work! In the end we decided to admit defeat and hire a car for the second half of our trip, once we leave Athens
Anyway, today was all about travelling to Athens and although our flight wasn't until 12.15, the fact that it was from Heathrow meant that we had to leave home around 07.30. The journey to the airport all went like clockwork and we even managed to successfully use the self-service baggage machines. It was once the machine had finished printing our baggage labels, that it suddenly flashed up on the screen a message to say that our flight was going to be delayed. Oh dear!
Initially it didn't seem like it was going to be a terribly long delay and we were told that take-off would be at 12.50, with gate information at 11.55. We had a late breakfast at the airport, then checked the info boards to find that gate information was now coming at 12.15. 12.15 came and went with no gate information... We did eventually get a gate and were herded into a queuing area, which seemed promising, but then we were left to stand there for a long time for no clear reason. By the time we got on the plane, we were running about an hour late and by the time the plane actually took off, we were nearly two hours late! The reason for the delay was apparently the weather at Heathrow, which felt like a pretty poor excuse. It was a bit rainy and cloudy, but I would imagine the percentage of days on which it is rainy and cloudy at Heathrow must be pretty high
The delay was frustrating, because it was already quite a long flight (around 3.5 hours) and there is a two-hour time difference between Greece and the UK. When the flight was scheduled to depart at 12.15, it was due to land in Athens at 17.50, so a two-hour delay would probably mean it was dark by the time we arrived, as well as meaning that we definitely weren't going to be checking into our apartment at the time I'd prearranged with the owner
Apart from the delay, the flight was excellent though. We were flying with Aegean, which is not an airline I'd ever heard of before to be honest, so I didn't really know what to expect. I can confirm that the service is definitely a lot better than Ryanair There were three separate trolley services, with the first one serving free soft drinks, the second one providing free food and alcohol, and the third serving free tea and coffee! I am generally quite excited if I get a free bread roll on a plane, so this rather surpassed my expectations! Not only did we get a bread roll, there was also a triangle of some Greek variation on the theme of Dairylea, a packet containing two chocolate digestives, and a very hot foil container with an actual meal in it (pieces of chicken with something that tasted very similar to Ebly wheat, although it was a slightly different shape). I also received a tub of salad, which I ignored, and a small bottle of wine, while Tim got a can of Greek beer.
The plane itself wasn't quite as posh as Icelandair, but there were some screens which gave us an indication of where we were flying. It was cloudy for a lot of the route but cleared up for a while as we flew down the Croatian coast, so I was able to see Zadar and a lot of the more northern islands. It was cloudy again as we flew over Split and Dubrovnik, but brightened up by the time we got to Albania and began to head inland. We flew over some really spectacular mountains, past two huge lakes (one of which I think must have been Lake Ohrid on the Albanian/Macedonian border) and then finally began to fly down across Greece towards Athens. From the glimpse we got of Athens as we were coming in to land, it is absolutely huge!
We made up a bit of time while we were flying, but it was still around 19.30 by the time we were getting off the plane and then we had a bit of a wait for our luggage. Athens airport is a fair way outside of the centre of Athens and the easiest way to get into the main city seems to be by metro. There are only two metros an hour, so by the time we'd reclaimed our baggage we had to wait for the 20.30 one, and the tickets cost €10 each. Normal metro tickets are only €1.40, but there's a special inflated price for journeys which begin/end at the airport! It was a nice train when it arrived and one of the few airport metros I've ever been on that had a proper baggage rack for big suitcases
We were on the first metro for about 45 minutes, which was the time it took us to get to Syntagma Square in the centre of Athens. From there, we had to change to a different metro line for three stops. The apartment we're staying in is just across the road from the exit to a metro station on this other line, so thankfully it was very easy to find the correct building once we eventually arrived
The apartment is really lovely. We've got a nice living room...
...a well-equipped kitchen...
...and two bedrooms in case we fall out with each other
After Iceland, it feels like a lot of space at a very reasonable price; about £60 per night
It's been a long day but it's good to finally be here, and we're looking forward to actually seeing some of Athens tomorrow!