I woke especially early today and I sat with my tea on the balcony to watch the building pantomime. The men arrived early and had their thirty minutes together planning the day’s chaos. Surely it would have made sense to begin work straight away because this was the coolest part of the day but instead they sat around under a tree, a thoroughly disorganised debating society that became steadily louder as more turned up and joined in. One man had most to say so I guessed that he had some sort of seniority but despite expansive arm waving and shoulder heaving the others didn’t appear to acknowledge his authority.
I learned later that they were in fact not Greeks but Albanian migrant workers many of whom come to Greece every year in search of work that is not available or simply does not pay enough in their own country. When they did finally get going they seemed to work quite hard and walls got built quite quickly. In England we are obsessed with workplace health and safety so I was amused to watch these men work without even the most basic protective clothing or equipment to protect them. I am convinced that we are the only EU member state that abides by all the rules and regulations that emanates from Brussels.
My ferry was due to leave at half past ten and against my better judgement I was talked into relying upon the water taxi that was scheduled to start its shuttle service at ten o’clock. I was a bit nervous about this but went along with Sally’s arrangements. We walked to the taxi quay in good time and arrived with a lot of it to spare. I anxiously scanned the sea for any sign of the little boat crossing the bay but it stubbornly refused to appear. After a while, ok actually only a short while, I began to panic especially when the Blue Star steamed into port bang on time! By ten past ten I was certain I would miss my boat and even when the ferry finally appeared at quarter past. I remained deeply pessimistic.
Of course it was full of the slowest people in Greece who took ages to disembark and we finally set off for the ten-minute journey at eighteen minutes past. Sally was cool and tried to persuade me that my watch was fast but I was not convinced and it got very, very tight and I paced the deck nervously. Finally the boat arrived and tied up and I made a dash for the ferry with the girls shouting encouragement from behind and imploring me to run faster.
I made it but I was disappointed that I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye properly. And then the boat was ten minutes late leaving so I needn’t have rushed after all. I waved goodbye to Sally, Charlotte and Paros and then settled down for the three and a half hour journey to Piraeus.
It was a good voyage and it was interesting to sit and watch the arrival into Piraeus. From the sea Athens was laid out before us, nestling beneath the mountains to the north, east and west (Parnitha, Pendeli and Hymettos) and the Saronic Gulf to the south. Out at sea, where we were, the expanse of grey concrete, which formed the outer environs of the city, shimmered brightly in the strong sun and it looked much more attractive than I guessed it would from up close.
The Ferry steamed into harbour, docked and I made my way off the boat and onto the busy dock. My plan was to get a taxi back into the city so that I could maximise my time there but finding one willing to take my fare wasn’t that easy.
There were lots of them about buzzing around like bees in their black and yellow livery but most seemed to be looking for someone else for their business. Eventually I found one that was available and inquired the price. Lucky I did! The driver quoted me €25, which I thought was a bit expensive as it had only cost €10 to come the other way. I queried this but he explained that it was always twice the price to go back. This didn’t seem at all logical to me so I continued to press him for a more reasonable price but he wouldn’t budge on his quote. I found another taxi and asked the price and he wanted €25 as well. Clearly this was a conspiracy and the only ‘knowledge’ an Athenian taxi driver needs is ‘how to rip you off’.
Taxi drivers in Athens are notorious for ignoring regulations of the Athens Taxi Association and If I had taken that cab it would have probably been the biggest taxi swindle that I had ever suffered, worse even that £10 to go half a mile in Riga, or even the €25 on the Venice water taxi to take a journey that would have cost about €3 on the Vaporetto. It seems to me that taxi drivers are outright bandits wherever you happen to go.