The thing is, I was totally immersed in Ancient Greek language, literature and history at that time, having done my ‘public exam’ in Classics only a few months before. So to find myself setting foot in old Piræus was like coming home. It was a hot, bright, bustling harbour; vendors and hustlers meeting the ferry, children offering to dive for coins from the dock-side, delapidated vehicles of every kind, even some with engines. And livestock being herded all around, presumably to or from the markets. No exaggeration to say almost nothing had changed in 2,500 years.
The local youth hostel was by no means primitive though. In fact we made reservations for a month later, the night before the ferry left for Brindisi – but for accommodation on the roof this time; no sissy matresses for these lads! Because we already knew from the student grape-vine that spending good money on rooms was out of the question. It was going to be ships’ decks, roof-tops and beaches from now on, with our sleeping bags, no tents. Remember: it was July and August when the nights were warm and rarely wet. And nobody had even heard of a ban on sleeping rough in those days; it was just what less-affluent visitors did and we were made welcome wherever we laid our heads.
We took in the beauty of Athens’ golden age, the mysteries of ancient Mycenæ, the sunset at Cape Sounion – and a violent thunder storm at Epidavros (known for its amphitheatre) where we had chosen to sleep on the ‘quiet’ sandy beach and had to find shelter in short order. We decided that if we were going to be rained on we fancied taking to the sea – hence the ferry to Delos, where Apollo is in residence during the summer to inspire the local Oracle; the eponymous centre of the league of city-states under Athenian control, and close to Mykonos, the modern centre of sun-worshippers’ interest in the Aegean Sea. That ferry was our introduction to the ubiquitous trade in ‘loukoumia’ – or Turkish/Greek Delight – which tasty though it was, became a byword for nightmare as the vendors screamed their wares at us deck-dwellers throughout every voyage, day or night. Our student response soon became equally strident – that they should sling their hooks or words to that effect. Look out, here comes more louf**kingoumia!
Mykonos as every traveller knows is the island of canvas-sailed windmills and ……wind; which caused my two companions some embarrassing mal de mer as we took the next leg of our trip. They stayed uncomfortably on deck while I tucked into the ship’s meat (provenance indeterminate) and French-fries. [And while I’m on the topic, not to add to their nausea, I’ll mention that our daily diet had rapidly become bread, yoghurt and cheese, with the occasional mbirra (as beer was dubbed before the tourist trade took off) and snacks of every conceivable fresh fruit.] One poor fellow was also nursing some nasty sunburn which made lying down even less pleasant. But the wind dropped as we neared Rhodes, which promised a wealth of new sights and sounds. (Loukoumia! Bog off!)
….to be continued