After 2 weeks of disconnect on an island in the Aegean, the car ferry reached the port of Piraeus at 05:00 in the morning. Driving through the deserted streets of Athens in the dark felt surreal, given the daytime traffic I was used to navigate in that city. Just half an hour later I parked in front of the hotel. In the darkness, a few lost night owls met early runners in the park leading up to the acropolis. From Areopagus hill the views were spectacular, the illuminated golden temples contrasting the deep blue sky of the night. A group of Arabic speakers smoke sisha under a rock. Four American guys in shorts and tanktops that seemed to spend a lot of time in the gym took pictures. Two girls in love joined a little later as the first light of the day started to appear on the horizon. A moment of calm, before the sun rose slowly to bathe the city in its light, street by street. From the night’s black appeared the white city of Athens, and with the daylight life started, people appeared, and after a breakfast in a nearby café the acropolis hill started to fill up quickly with tourists. I had visited Athens for the first time 25 years ago. It was a different city and I was a different person, taking first steps in travelling. Every time I have come back since, a calm overcomes me despite the tourism, the heat (it’s normally peak summertime), the traffic. It’s the admiration for the past that becomes visible, tangible around here, and the respect for the achievements of a civilization that has shaped our western world like few others. The day ended with a stroll through the semi deserted Psiri and Keramikos districts. Many places were closed for vacation or the customers had still not come back. I had a pin on my Google map from a long time ago, and what looked like a posh but empty restaurant from the outside ended up being a very cozy dinner in a courtyard with contemporary Greek delicacies and excellent wine.
The next morning, leaving Athens to the west, a long list of options for a day across the Peloponnese awaited. This tiny patch of land is so packed with history and beautiful nature that it would take weeks to see it all. Unfortunately there was a ferry awaiting that night. The Corinth canal was the obvious place to start. Bungee jumpers looking for a kick from one of the bridges alternated with yachts crossing the turquoise waters in this man-made canyon. The nearby castle at Acrocorinth proved to be quite a steep climb in the heat, and the slippery rocks on the trail didn’t like the beach shoes a lot. Still, the views were spectacular. The next former kingdom was just a few valleys to the south, half an hour by car. The lion gate of Mycenae and the legendary Agamemnon were childhood memories. Both the citadel as well as the mausoleum nearby were an impressive testimony of this thousand’s of years old civilization.
Rolling into Nafplion at lunchtime, a seaside restaurant dished out a simple yet very delicious fish and vegetables lunch. The bill was surprisingly small, and the people very friendly. Somehow I sensed this had to be appreciated, as the time in Greece was coming to an end. Another half hour drive away, the archeological site of Epidaurus was another gem on this journey. Remains of baths, temples, a stadium, a pretty big hotel and what today we’d call a food court laid in a pine forest. Mens sana in corpore sano. Hiking up a small hill the wonderful theater appeared, and having seen a few of them by now I must admit this one was the most beautiful so far. It’s not only very well preserved and has a very beautiful background landscape. The acoustics are spectacular! There were few tourists, and of the more civilized sort, allowing to actually enjoy the place. I sat on the upper ranks for quite a bit, soaking up the magic of the moment, letting the mind wander around. So much so, that I realized it was already very late and I’d barely make it to the port on time.
After a speedy drive to make good on time, I reached the port of Igoumenitsa in the dark. Port cities tend to offer limited romantic moments, and this was no exception. The ferry terminal was crowded with Italian tourists, Bulgarian truck drivers, Romanian families in big old German cars or vans, packed with goods, Gypsy clans waiting to board the ferry that arrived an hour late. Inside it was surprisingly dirty, as it was not an old ship. Falling asleep on a couch I hoped to still have my wallet, phone and car keys with me in the next morning.