“The early morning animation is somehow an indication of the tempo at which Greece lives; you rise each morning to a new day, a new world, which has to be created from scratch. Each day is a brilliant improvisation…”, Lawrence Durrell
On the last day we deliberately woke early because we wanted to return to the busy commercial street close to the hotel and visit the central market called the Varvakios Agora which was only a hundred metres or so away and housed inside a huge building with a dangerously crumbling facade that looked as though it might catastrophically collapse on to the street in a pile of masonry and debris on the pavement at any moment without taking account of pedestrians walking below.
It was still early and the market was barely open but we dodged inside alongside the delivery vans and the first few customers of the day and went first to the hall of the butchers. This was as far away as it possible to get from the sanitized, styrofoam, plastic wrapped supermarket meat that we are familiar with in the United Kingdom. You can’t pretend that these cuts don’t come from an animal when the entire skinned body is hanging in front of you! It smelled authentic as well as the aroma of fresh flesh, blood and offal just filled the air and butchers in scarlet stained aprons attended their stalls and invited us to inspect the merchandise. We looked but explained that we wouldn’t be buying because Easyjet might have had something to say if we tried to take a sheep’s head or a goat’s carcass on board the plane later today in our hand luggage.
We made our way into the seafood section with seawater an inch deep sloshing over our sandals so that we had to pull up our trousers so that they didn’t get drenched at the bottoms. For sale here was just about every conceivable fish in the oceans, ranging from the smallest of sea creatures to massive shark and tuna steaks as well as nearly every possible variation of sea floor dwelling crustacean, mollusc or bivalve known to man. It wasn’t like the fishmonger stall at Morrison’s that’s for certain!
On the streets outside the market there were untidy little shops, just kiosks really, selling fruit and vegetables, cheese, olives, nuts and herbs and spices and whilst we couldn’t really transport meat, fish or cheese, we did purchase some little bags of spices to take home and after the transaction was completed I began to worry about taking these little multi-coloured bags of suspicious looking powder through customs later this morning.
The whole of Athinas Street was rather run down but was full of character and vibrancy with roadside kiosks, shoe shops, bakeries, coffee bars, army surplus stores, pet shops, each with a menagerie of animals, and hardware stores.
All of the shops were preparing for the day’s trading – transferring stock outside onto the pavements where it would stay for twelve hours or so collecting dust and grime from the traffic along this busy street before the displays would be dismantled and taken back inside overnight. This was the beating heart of Athens in contrast to the tourist main shopping street of Ermou or the overpriced flea market at Monastaraki and we liked it.
There wasn’t a lot of time to hang around however so we returned to the hotel for our breakfast and then we packed our bags, checked out and paid the bill and walked back along Athinas and Ermou towards the airport bus stop at Syntagma. Even at half past eight in the morning the sun was flooding the street with bright light and heat and we were forced to walk in the shade so that we didn’t get too sweaty as we carried and pulled our bags.
We were taking the bus once more because we still weren’t too confident about using the metro and we were a bit edgy again but we needn’t have been because the one hour journey to the airport inevitably passed without incident and by mid morning we were checked in and in the departure lounge and ready for our four hour flight back to Manchester.
We had enjoyed our fifth back packing adventure to the Greek islands in as many years, we had returned to some old favourites, Ios, Antiparos and Katapola and added some new islands to our travelogue, Koufonisia, Paros and Egalia. We had had a wonderful time and we had been fortunate to miss the strikes and the travel disruption but as we waited we agreed that next year we just might do something different!
Other Market stories:
La Rochelle, France