Walkabouts and wonders

"A life not examined is a life not lived" – Socrates

Athens arrival

First sight of the Acropolis

Hurtling by bus along night-time streets, I’ve seen little of the city except a mix of signs n greek and roman scripts, interspersed with the names of recognised brands. But for that ancient script, I could be in practically any city in the world. But the people; they are different – to an anglo like me, they are a curious and attractive mixture of laconic and animated. The airport bus is crowded with the mix you might expect; travellers and airport contractors including a group of security men and women making their way home. But though distinct, there are easy exchanges and laughs between groups, couples and individuals, as one or another overhears a third; smiles come easily but there isn’t the flamboyance I have seen amongst Italians – this is more economic, more focussed; friendly, but quick and sharp, as if their warm openess is accompanied by cool, mindful appraisal.

Originally, I wasn’t going to take a cab – the bus had brought me along broad highways to Syntagma Square, where I was to catch a metro to nearby the hotel. But the taxi driver waiting on the pavement, tall and smiling (with just a hint of wolf) captured me so cleanly it was easy to say,”yes” to his 10 euro pitch. As we set off, he makes a single comment about the plight of his country – pointing at some imposing marble buildings that I would not have recognised,”Beautiful parliament buildings, eh? Full of mafia politicians.” I reply that they are everywhere, and he nods vigorously; that subject dealt with, he plies me with questions about London, football and the weather in the UK, interspersed with observations on the places we pass, quick and each with directions from my hotel; the Acropolis, the University, the Museum and my local train station. Pleased with the tip that he knowingly asked for, he thanks me and is away into the night, in search of further fare, while I walk into the hotel.

Other impressions I have – the short-skirted nightwalkers in the narrow streets that the taxi took as its shortcut (at least I hope it was a short-cut!) the odd unfinished buildings and the rubbish and graffiti that surround the hotel entrance. But, in truth, these can be found in most cities, if you insist on looking. My encounter with the taxi driver and others along the way, too brief to mention, suggest this trip will be well worthwhile.

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