The night before departure
All last minute checks made by the group; passport- check, foreign currency- check, inter rail ticket- check, rucksack almost the same size as yourself- check, insides squirming from a mixture of nerves and excitement- check! The night before departure was not a good night if you believe in signs from above- just as we were leaving I turned round with my bag and knocked a white Angel statue holding a globe from my shelf, thereby breaking her wing…a bad omen?!
Day One- Wednesday 21st July
Leaving London for Athens; Picture the scene; Becky, Lexi, Kat and Hannah; four female university friends, excitedly chatting about the big trip that they have been planning for months, laughing and joking on the way to the airport…ok, so it would have been nice if that is how we had actually looked. In reality we appeared more as 4 turtles crawling their way across London to the airport! Clearly we had not anticipated quite how heavy these rucksacks were going to be, with myself at a great disadvantage of being only 5’1 and the rucksack therefore almost the same length as my entire body! How glamorous we must have looked, sweat moistening our brow, cheeks red with exertion, hair windswept from the London traffic smog. On the plus side, it seems that backpacking is the quick and simple way to lose weight, simply walk for miles with it strapped to you for a ‘I lost 20 lbs in 3 weeks, thanks travel sack!’ scenario. I swear, the travel sack diet is going to be the new slimfast!
After a slow and painful process, the 4 of us did manage to make it to the airport, with the weight of our small children in tow! Relieved to be on the plane, we were entertained by the film ‘Valentine’s Day’, if only because Ashton Kutcher graced the screen with his physique every few minutes! We landed in a very humid Athens, to brilliant sunshine, with the heat of the day shimmering over the tarmac of the airport. After what seemed like the longest, hottest bus journey in the world, and after passing several hundred McDonalds, Starbucks and Burger Kings (Athens has not escaped commercialisation), we arrived in the tourist centre of Athens, at Syntagma Square. Next stage- finding the youth hostel- simple right? Wrong! After checking at tourist information, and being harassed by street vendors, we finally managed to get on another bus to take us to the area in which our hostel was situated. Unfortunately, all small streets in Athens seem to merge into one massive giant maze, so we ended up wandering for about 20 minutes in the wrong direction. All of us now hot, tired, sweaty and grumpy, we eventually located the Pagration Youth Hostel- with no sign posts to anything to indicate its position on the map!
The hostel was warm, (or rather stifling) and friendly, with lots of different people milling around the seating area, chatting about their travelling experiences. We were given the key to our dorm room, along with pillows and sheets, and crawled up the stairs to our home for the next 3 nights. We were placed in a dormitory room of 8, so the 4 of us would get some roommates over the next few days. Our initial roomies were a mature French couple, who seemed friendly enough. We gratefully dumped the weights of our rucksacks onto the bunks and went exploring. If you get the chance to go to Athens, I would not recommend that you stay at our hostel. Firstly, it was unbearably hot, with no air conditioning in the entire building, and when the heat of the day reaches 40 degrees and over, air conditioning is a welcome feature! Secondly, although it wasn’t really needed, any hot water for a shower was 50 cents for 7 minutes, so the best option was to brave a freezing shower! Also, on hostelworld.com, the information stated that breakfast was included in the price for the hostel- in truth, ‘breakfast included’ meant that you had access to the tiny kitchen, in which you must provide your own breakfast! So, generally not the best start to the trip!
Abandoning our dead weight rucksacks, we left the hostel in search of something to eat. Wandering the winding streets, we eventually came to a burger bar and decided that the closest thing to the hostel was the best option! We all had a pretty good burger, accompanied by an extremely ancient Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig film. Upon our return to the hostel, a new roommate had arrived; Max, a really laid back, bubbly guy from America. We sat on the balcony swapping tales of the day’s events, whilst accompanied by thumping music and flashing lights from the Greek guys opposite our dorm room. After several attempted conversations with the opposite neighbours in broken English, we all decided to settle down for the night. Easier said than done when it feels like it’s about 50 degrees in the room. Lexi cut her losses and curled up for the night on the balcony where it at least felt marginally cooler than inside. Hannah, Kat and I stubbornly tossed and turned until we must have eventually drifted off in some kind of heat-induced sleep.