Mary Irvine’s Classical Tour of Greece – Part One

An Armchair Classical Tour in Parts – Part the First

25 Athens - tomb of unknown warriorHi there,

I believe I promised I would take you on a Classical Tour of Greece. I’ve been on two organised tours, one very basic – as in accommodation, guide and restricted to the central part of Greece and one more up-market, i.e. more expensive, which went down into Southern Peloponnesus. The former company no longer exists, the latter does and it is this one I took in the company of a young friend of mine.

I have also revisited most of these places again – some several times – either by public transport or car.

Because it’s a longish journey I propose to do it in sections, so I don’t tire you. In between I’ll digress into something non-Greek. By the way I haven’t forgotten about the kamaki.

Getting there

Greece 2010 squareA friend recently reminded me that it was 24 years since we had ‘done’ the Classical Tour and suggested we have a repeat for the silver anniversary next year. I’ve known Abi since birth – hers, obviously. She must have been elevenish when we embarked on this adventure together. She knew I often visited Greece (this was before I decamped to live there) and had heard me speak of the wonders of the Classical Tour. Must have sounded quite exotic to a young child!

On being asked if she could accompany me sometime I told her I thought her too young             (5? 6?)  to appreciate the tour but to ask me again when she was older. She waited and then, ‘I’m old enough now.’


‘To go with you to Greece.’

What choice did I have? I’d promised! Never promise a child anything you can’t follow through. Been told that by my dad!

So off we went. The adventure began at the airport. Abi’s parents had driven us there and goodbyes had been said. Abi and I approached passport control.

‘Are you the mother?’

‘No. No relation. She’s the daughter of some friends.’

‘Do you have a letter giving you permission to take her out of the country?’

 Now, remember this was before mobile phones. There was no way we could contact the parents apart from a police alert! Abi was close to tears. I wasn’t far behind.

Greece 2010 statueFortunately the officer was understanding and realised I wasn’t trying to do a runner with Abi!

The flight was uneventful. We flew into the ‘old’ airport in Glyfada, a suburb of Athens. In those days there were three airports, almost in a row. The International, the Olympic Airline one and the former American Army Base, which was later used for Charter flights. You had to make sure you knew which one to tell the taxi driver. I quickly learned ‘Αεροδρόμιο Ανατολικό’! I.e. East Airport.

I once asked a taxi driver to take me to the ‘αεροδρόμιο aμερικανικό’ as I was flying back on a charter flight. He said, ‘ Όχι, είναι κλειστά.’ (No, it is closed.) and proceeded to take me to the International one, where I refused to get out of the taxi and repeated that I wanted to go the American Base. Must write about the taxi drivers sometime…

Meanwhile, back with Abi. We arrived at the hotel which overlooked the sea. Very nice twin bedded room – this was the upmarket tour! We attended the ‘Welcome’ meeting. Didn’t book any of the tours. I knew we could do the sights on our own, in our own time and much cheaper, even if we used the taxis – the cheapest in Europe!


01 Temple of Zeus, Hadrian's Arch, AcropolisA Full Day!

The next day we took a bus into the centre of Athens – Syntagma Square (πλατεία Συντάγματος). Did the Parliament Building (Βουλή των Ελλήνων) – have been caught up in several demos there when I came to live in the city. Watched the ceremonial changing of the evzones (Εύζωνες). Every two hours on ‘odd’ hours. For extra fun watch then coming down the road to the left of the building as you face it, Queen Sophia Road (Leoforos Vasilissis Sofias), past the flowers (τα λουλούδια) – very picturesque. The clogs tend to slip at times….  In the picture they’re wearing winter dress. In winter they wear the same style but more white and blue. They all seem to be tall, handsome young men. Never yet met one who enjoyed this particular duty – not that I met that many, of course.  A friend of a friend gave me the information! National Service (Εθνική Υπηρεσία) is compulsory in Greece and can last anything from six months to two years – lots of variables.


Greece 2010 365Temple of Olympian Zeus/Acropolis

From Syntagma we walked through the Royal Gardens to the Olympic Stadium of 1896 – what a glare from the Pendeli marble – , said ‘Hello’ to Baron du Coubertin and then up Queen Olgas Road to the Temple of Olympian Zeus (Ναός του Ολυμπίου Διός).That’s the photos with the big columns. Abi is the one standing near a resurrected column for sizing purpose. I liked the one she took also showing the Acropolis and Hadrian’s Arch. From there we walked up to the Acropolis. Abi got in free. I had to pay.  There was very little roped off so we could wander freely. Nowadays you have to keep to set paths. We did the museum nearby, very small. Thought at the time a new one was needed.


Greece 2010 marketLykavitos/Plaka

Greece 2010 street 7We then jumped into a taxi and shot over to Lykavitos, the highest point of Athens. It was lunchtime by now. We had set off early! The funicular took us to the top and we admired the whole of Athens, far out to the suburbs. On a clear day you can see Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf or so I am reliable informed, never having managed to be on Lykavitos at such a time.

06 (another) Temple of Zeus, AcropolisThere is a 19th century church there dedicated to St George so we paid our respects to him as our patron saint. We didn’t eat at the restaurant there. Far too expensive and I hate being ripped off. However, thought it about time we ate so another taxi to Metropolias Square, had a quick look round the Cathedral there and then went into the Plaka, the ‘old’ part of Athens, and chose a taverna at random. I’ll say this for Abi, she was game to try anything edible! Off again to mooch around all the tourist shops and then down Pondrossou  Street to Monasteraki. More tourist shops and some expensive leather and gold shops. Then a bit more culture with the Tower of the Winds, a sort of early meteorological station with a hydraulic clock and representations of the planets known at that time. We got ‘free’ entry as the Acropolis ticket covered this.

Got back to the hotel in time for a meal. The rest of the group expressed concerns about our safety. One of the ladies spoke to Abi referring to me as Auntie! Don’t know who got in first to disabuse them of any blood tie. Without further ado Abi and I retired. It was then that the footprints on the wall first appeared…


To be continued…

Thanks to Abi (and Dan) for the photos! X

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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