Wednesday, 11 June 2014

After wandering a little about the winding hilly lanes behind the beautiful Orthodox Church Agios Nicholaos, we found our hotel Ideal. It was quite a deal. AC double bedrooms with complementary breakfast, internet connection and TV for just 40 Euros. True to its name, the Hotel Ideal was in the ideal location for the cruise and they really gave us a warm homely service at breakfast the next day. The lady at the desk even came out with us to show which way to go to reach the cruise terminal. There were two Indian restaurants nearby and we were quite spoilt by the choice. As usual, we chose the one less reputed( not found in google map or Trip advisor). The Maharaja restaurant served us one of the most tasty Biriyanis we have tasted outside India. Let me add, my experience at Indian restaurants outside of India is often not so good. After dinner, we went for a walk towards the cruise terminal.
Even few years ago, the Pireaus port area was not quite a safe place to wander about at night. But from the time of 2004 Olympics games, the tourist police have been quite active. The area around the metro is where most of the hotels, etc are. That is the most crowded part of the port. The area near the Cruise Terminal A, where we stayed, is rather quiet, quite unlikely for a port area.We walked near the terminal which was closed at that time, but we didn't see any seedy place or dangerous characters lurking about.

Next morning, after a light breakfast, we went out for our cruise. It was a five minutes walking distance. I thought, however, I would first peek into the inside of the impressive Orthodox church, Agios Nicholaos. Although I have read about Orthodox churches before, I found myself not at all prepared for the atmosphere. It was quite different from the cathedrals and other churches. There was a chanting going on( in Greek maybe), which sounded like the chanting of Sanskrit mantras in our temples. There were incence sticks (dhoop) burning, bells ringing and local people streaming in and out, praying before they left for their jobs. Young girls and boys,ready for their school or college also came in for a quick prayer.
( The you tube link in case you can't see the video)
Standing in a corner, I must say, I was quite ashamed of my behaviour as I was capturing the whole scene in my handycam, instead of praying. I heard some of them saying, "tourist" witha  scorn in their voice.
 I stopped the recording and breathed in the divine air filled with the fragrance of incence and faith. I could feel the interior of our Dakhshineshwar temple; standing in front of our mother goddess I prayed that our journey be safe and happy.
As I came out, the blue and sunny sky greeted me with an assurance of a lovely day ahead...

Monday, 12 May 2014

Before I seated myself in the Jet Airways flight from Geneve Airport and stretched my eyes towards the monotone of the clouds, I had little time to feel the excitement in my heart . I have booked the hotels in perfect locations, taken the routes of the buses, and maps of direction from Google. I have spent days planning so that our vacation be as smooth and trouble free as possible, at least if the luck factor doesn't intervene adversely. Now, it was time to forget everyone around me and delve deep for few moments into the colorful old world of myths and legends, dramatists and philosophers, kings and soldiers that I was traveling to. I took a deep breath as the images from history and stories crowded in my mind, images of Oedipus, Socrates, Homer, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Odysseus, Hercules, Alexander, Minos, Agammemnon and Clytemnestra, the lotus eaters, the Minotaur and Medusa...

The flight was short. We reached Athens in time. Outside the airport we took the Airport shuttle bus X96. Our hotel was very near the Cruise Terminal A from where the Louis Cruises left. We would have to get down from this shuttle bus near the port and take another bus to reach the hotel. Now, we could have taken a taxi. But I didn't want to be fooled by local taxi driver tricks and most of all I love to use the public transport system to get the real feel of the place. The only problem was that in Greece almost everything is written in Greek. And Greek is as Greek to me as it is to you!!
 Yet, I had managed to remember how the name of the stop looks like. It was like remembering signs and relating them with our known signs, the English alphabet. After traveling for a little while through the busy city, which seemed almost like any other except that the signs and words were in Greek, the bus took a most beautiful route beside the Aegean sea. On one side were the hotels, resorts and business centers and on the other was  a beautiful road decorated with palm trees beyond which the sea stretched to the horizon. Although some signs, names and directions were in English also, the bus stops were all in Greek only. We, however, successfully managed to get down at the stop with a little help from the driver. It was the most busy place in Piraeus, the ancient port of Athens. The metro was just beside and in front many small cruises and ferries were leaving from the Aegean.
Aegean sea, The Port of Piraeus
When we were on top of the over-bridge to cross the road for our next bus, I paused for a moment. I wanted to relish the first glimpse of the blue Aegean sea. I remembered the "eternal note of sadness" that Mathew Arnold wrote about
" Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought..."
And I too felt a pang in my heart which I often feel when I confront a thing of immense beauty...