Feta Up with Life

Where is every seventeen-year-old Brits favourite destination for snorting copious amounts of cocaine from sun loungers? For balcony hopping in half-built concrete hotels until dawn? For losing their virginity after a foam party against a palm tree to a pink-eyed shot seller from Chelmsford? The answer: Greece. Having scrapped more plans this year than the architects of HS2 and the third runway at Heathrow combined, my annual three-month exploration of a place far-flung had to be reduced to a fortnight in Faliraki – well sort of.

Yes, I had decided to spend a whole two weeks of my life in clubbers paradise but would attempt to see a little more of the country than just the inside of a soiled nightclub toilet cubicle. I set myself some strict rules for the trip: islands, beaches, and resorts of any kind were banned and instead mountains, monasteries, and archaeological sites would be my only vices. That was the plan at least.

In order to access the less accessible areas of the country, I decided to rent a vehicle from Athens airport. Hoping for something small, cheap, and easy to navigate around the narrow Greek streets with, maybe a Fiat 500, I was slightly taken aback when I was ‘upgraded’ to a five-seater Nissan Qashqai; knowing this increased the chances of losing my €750 deposit to a scratch or a dent by more than 99.5%. This is what my rental friends were relying on and what I would attempt to avoid at any cost.

I concentrated the first few days of my trip on the tourist attractions of Athens and the surrounding area, as I eased myself into the Greek way of life (Ouzo at lunchtime and do bugger all for the rest of the day). The Parthenon, a stone’s throw from my cramped city-centre accommodation, was just as impressive and majestic as I had imagined it to be since seeing a picture of it for the first time on my Geo Safari as a child, despite the fact it was undergoing major scaffold-obscuring restoration.

The short walk to the top of the site was a very sticky affair, as October proved to be far hotter than I had envisioned – well into the thirties and with little shade to conceal my pallid forehead. Tourists were at a premium, though, so this was about as peaceful a Parthenon exploration as one could conceive, and it also afforded the opportunity to get one’s bearings from an exceedingly heady position.

I could spot the Panathenaic Stadium a few kilometres away and, having marvelled and gawked at photos of it online, eagerly set off in that direction. The only stadium in the world built entirely by marble, disregarding Luton Town’s Kenilworth Road, it was the location of the Panathenaic Games for over eight hundred years. This was a religious and athletic festival held in honour of the goddess Athena, whom I attempted to honour by completing my own lap of the track. Sweating profusely and almost splitting my trousers on the crown of the bend, I highly doubt that any honour was bestowed.

The following day, having now fully acclimatised to the Greek weather, I ventured twenty-six miles north-east of the city in search of a town with almost as much history as the jar of Bovril at the back of pantry: Marathon. In 490 BC, a great battle took place close to the town in which the Athenians held off the invading Persians. Following the scuffle, the Athenian army ran back to the capital, in full armour, to cut off another Persian force sailing around the coast. And so began the pointless exercise of running just over twenty-six miles in unfathomable heat for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Having failed at doing exactly that in Ghana last year, I decided to undertake the more sensible distance of three kilometres around the town before stopping off at the Marathon museum to stare at medals, running shoes, and torches from Olympics gone-by. Again, being the only visitor that day, possibly that year, I was treated to a detailed guided tour from an exceptionally under-stimulated curator that was thrilled to have any form of human interaction whatsoever – socially distant of course.

Upon my return to the capital, I went in search of vegan sustenance and sticky carpets (in that order) finding an outstanding plant-based restaurant called Peas, in which I treated myself to a buddha bowl consisting of tofu, quinoa, avocado, sprouts, and roasted vegetables – otherwise known as a hipster’s breakfast. For dessert, I scoured Athens for their equivalent of Carmarthen’s fabled Drovers Arms and boy did I strike gold. A billiard hall called Lucky Man provided the perfect ending to my time in the cap, glueing my shoes to the floor and fuelling my body with Mythos for the long road ahead into the Greek wilderness. Let’s go folks.

J

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