Sunday, July 24, 2011

Athens to Meteora

The ferry from Santorini arrived past midnight and my train to Meteora was leaving at 8.30am.  I spent eight hours in Athens.  Five-and-a-half of those were in my hotel room and three of those in my hotel room bed.  There was a later train, but the five-hour journey would get me into Meteora in the dark.  Buses also drove the route throughout the day, but there is just no comparison to train travel.

From all that I've heard, the acropolis is about the only thing going for Athens, and in mid-July it's teeming in the humid heat with tourists.  I abandoned plans to see it so that I could spend those two extra nights in Santorini, which sounds like complete folly, but, as much as I would like to stand in the agora where Socrates challenged his listeners to think, it's a decision I don't regret.  I'll leave it for another trip.  There is certainly reason to return to Greece.

And so at 6am, with insufficient sleep under my eyelids, I hauled myself out of bed, put away as much breakfast as my addled body could stomach, checked out of the Savoy Hotel, and was wheeled to the train station by my backpack.

The train into the shrub-studded mountains of central Greece passed through charming, unkempt rural stations, the sidings always loaded with ancient wooden cattle cars with boards missing and paint so peeled by the sun that they looked as if somebody had whittled them for tinder, feathering them with a knife so they'd take a spark.  A man a few  seats away gently whistled, tousling the string of prayer beads which so many Greek men carry.  My carriage was less than half full, none of them tourists, all of them Greek and sharing casual comments with one another.  It was a pleasant change after spending the last three weeks in major tourist spots.

We passed the only indication on my trip so far that Greece is in econominc troubles: a long stretch of modern highway half complete, a ribbon of clean new concrete spreading over compacted earth and supporting columns with sections of bridge missing, empty tunnels punched through hills, cranes standing idle, and the entire site deserted.

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