I just took my first overseas trip since covid began. Not long planned, just a sudden realisation that I could join my husband for a few days of his work trip in Greece and use up a travel voucher that was about to expire. That gave me two nights only. Not long to orientate oneself in a foreign city. But Athens is a place that feels like home to me so I dropped right into a sense of place the moment we touched down.
I chatted with the taxi driver from the airport who spoke slowly enough for me to understand: yes, I had seen the new museum and agreed it was wonderful, the acropolis hill amazingly beautiful lit up at night, the spring weather, the view we would have from our balcony… It was more friendly that the taxi ride I’d had to the airport in my native country, that’s for sure!
For the evening we found a local shop for some simple supplies to make at home (our airbnb home, that is!). A glass of wine on our beautiful terrace enjoying the silky warmth of a Mediterranean spring evening. I mulled over the map, familiarising myself with this side of town.
Hubby had to work, so we grabbed an early coffee together at a place we knew. We giggled about a time years ago we’d had breakfast there and they made his omelette with sugar instead of salt 🙂
It was cool, a little light rain even. I wanted to run across the Philopappos Hill and back via the ancient Agora and pass by the Acropolis so this was perfect weather. I have always loved walking in this area, but running would take me everywhere faster and give me a sense of vitality. I found myself hopping over rocks, running through the olive trees and spring flowers, pausing regularly to take in the view, and then picking a path for the descent. On my way back I ran past the tourist shops and restaurants just opening up, a little self-conscious with my red sweaty face (and shorts much smaller than any Athenian woman would wear!) but happy in my own experience.
Later, lunch with Hubby’s colleagues where we sat outside, shared dishes in the Greek way, and the whole thing felt quite safe — and also quite different to the social-distancing habits I have at home. It felt such a treat being served food, not cooking for myself, and veggie options are so easy in Greece.
The next day after a bit of shopping I went to my a favourite local café. Although it’s in Plaka, the historic/tourist district, it’s a little out of the way and frequented as much (if not more) by locals than by tourists. The tables are shaded by trees and away from the hustle and bustle of the streets which in high season are thronged with visitors. I sat a long time, enjoying my coffee, relishing the slower tempo, the novelty of sitting with nothing to do and no need to be productive. Two men at a nearby table were looking at a stamp collection album, a smart couple read newspapers over coffee, and a local school group gathered nearby, boys jostling one another while the girls looked disdainful — that’s the same in any language!
I visited the Parthenon for the umpteenth time, but of course it’s not something anyone ever tires of! This time it was strange to have a covid passport check, but otherwise it was quite timeless.
Leaving was sad. After several years of staying in UK and pretty close to home, travel had felt so strange a prospect which made me feel quite anxious. But as soon as I’d done it and broken the seal, it felt so normal. Parting from Hubby was less easy. We’ve worked side by side at home for most of the lockdowns, and been in each other’s company more often than not. Flying home while he stayed on for more than a week felt very lonely. The flip side is to know the reunion would be all the sweeter!