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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 5: 29 September

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysMr Lalli is having a harassing time on the public address system. 'Transit passengers wishing to visit in Athens are reminded that we set sail again at nine p.m. Passengers must be aboard by nine thirty . . . I'm sorry . . . eight, eight thirty . . . '

The Greek word for 'strike' is aperghia and we've already run into one. There are no taxis into Athens and as far as I can see no sign of a public transport alternative. For a moment on the dockside I feel a keen sense of isolation in a foreign land. A compatriot approaches: 'Saw you on Wogan!' Turns out to be a native of Manchester on her way to work on a kibbutz, and complaining bitterly about a 40-hour ferry journey from here to Tel Aviv.

A minibus takes me into Athens. Earthquakes or the threat of them seem to have knocked the stuffing out of domestic architecture and we pass row upon row of bland, unremarkable concrete facades. Sad in a city which contains two or three of the greatest buildings in the world.

What I've really come to see in Athens are the Evzones. Not sore throat pastilles, but the bizarrely dressed Presidential guards who, among other things, patrol the war memorial, and raise and lower the national flag at the Acropolis every Sunday. Enormous, specially selected, highly trained, superbly fit fighting men whose uniform consists of tasselled hats, embroidered tunics, short flared skirts, white stockings and clogs adorned with black pom-poms. Any temptation to see all this as rather twee is dispelled by one look at the giants who wear them. The outfit reflects the fierce national pride of the Greeks, for it was originally worn by the guerrillas who fought to keep the nationalist cause alive during 400 years of Turkish occupation. Nowadays the Greeks and the Turks are theoretically allies, as both are members of Nato, but the Evzone lieutenant I spoke to was in no doubt as to who was still the traditional enemy.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 5
  • Date: 29 September
  • Country/sea: Greece
  • Place: Athens
  • Book page no: 32

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