After months of planning and years of dreaming, I found myself on a flight to Singapore, the first leg of my journey. Leaving home was as tear-filled and traumatic as expected, but it’s amazing how quickly you can pull yourself together and get on with the task of travelling.
An hour into the flight I was sitting there bopping my head and tapping my feet (literally) to my excellent Aeroplane Playlist that featured such classics as ‘Hungry Heart’ and ‘We Gotta Get Outta This Place’. I was feeling great and looking forward to whatever adventures were ahead of me. After a couple of hours the greatness wore off a little and I became uncomfortable and restless. My poor nose was dried out, my stomach was bloated after the massaman curry I’d eaten (Singapore Airlines…it was a choice of curry or curry) and I just wanted to go to sleep. The joys of air travel! I thanked my past self for having the good sense to reserve exit row seats so that at least my legs weren’t suffering too.
After a stopover in Singapore where my connecting flight was delayed by an hour, I was on my way again, this time headed for London. I dozed on and off for 14 hours next to my exit row companions, who, thankfully, were as uninterested in chatting as I was. The most conversation we had was the occasional ‘excuse me’ as we awkwardly tried to pull our tray tables from within the arm rests.
Killing time in Heathrow
I was slightly worried that the delay in Singapore would make me rushed to make my flight to Athens. I was envisioning buses between the many terminals of Heathrow Airport and long queues at Customs. As it turned out though, the plane landed at the same terminal from which my Athens flight would be departing. I simply picked my bag up from the carousel, walked over to the check in desks and got rid of it again. I spent the next two hours trapped in Heathrow’s Terminal 2 – a small, rectangular space containing a handful of fancy, typically English stores like Ted Baker and Cath Kidston, and an even smaller handful of fancy food joints.
I was hankering for a McDonald’s burger (that’s right – hankering!). It would be cheap, satisfying and I could totally justify it to myself because of the ordeal of travelling. But there was no McDonald’s. There was a Heston Blumenthal restaurant, a mediterranean cafe and a restaurant called the Original London Pub. After doing about three laps of the terminal trying to decide where I would be happiest to part with my money, I settled on the London Pub and ordered a full English Breakfast. The waiter promised fried bread and fried eggs, and I figured, “I’m already feeling greasy from the flight, so what’s a bit more grease?”
When it came, though, I got a small bit of dry toast, one piece of bacon and poached eggs that had a slightly processed look about them. And it cost £12. Twelve pounds! That’s about AU$25! Bloody Heathrow.
The flight from hell
When the time finally came to board the flight to Athens, I was dazed and delirious. I had been awake for about two days. It came as a shock to be surrounded by young couples and families looking fresh and bright, their children running around excitedly at the prospect of a beach holiday. This was very different to the subdued crowd on my last flight, who, knowing their fate, gritted their teeth and boarded in silence. I felt out of place with my oily skin, ratty hair and, probably, vague aroma of sweat.
As the plane took off, dozens of children were either crying, squealing with excitement or watching loud and inane cartoons on their iPads. I was in hell.
I tried to remove myself from the situation by snoozing, but found that impossible as the mother sitting next to me had to keep getting past me to take her child to the toilet or get sweets from the overhead locker. I just smiled politely and willed it all to be over.
When the meal came, the mother and I began chatting and I discovered she was originally from Germany but now lived in England with her Greek husband and three very cute daughters. She and her husband were very helpful, giving me tips about where to go in Greece and how to get to my hotel. I forgave them a little for being so fresh and excited.
Intrepid but lost
When we arrived at Athens Airport I decided to start my intrepid travels off right and get the metro to my hotel, rather than lazily hopping in a taxi. I bought a ticket from a man who waved me away when I asked which platform I needed. The metro turned out to be quite straightforward, it just took a long time and involved changing lines. Upon arriving at the correct station, exhausted, with my huge backpack strapped to my back and my daypack awkwardly hanging off my front, I summoned my last burst of energy and strode off – in the wrong direction.
It was getting darker at this point, as it was about 8.30pm, and the area had a slightly dodgy vibe. I could see no sign of my hotel, so I asked a man at a service station for directions.
“It’s behind you!” he said. I began trudging slowly back the way I had come. I was sweaty, exhausted and wishing I had just taken a bloody taxi. I couldn’t see any street signs and I was getting a little concerned as I passed homeless people and men loitering on the street. And then suddenly it was there – the Hotel Neos Olympos!
I checked in and walked up three flights of stairs, my two backpacks weighing me down so that I thought I would break. I got into my room, sat down on the small, hard bed and gave a huge, exhausted sigh. Then it dawned on me that I was in Greece! My travels had begun.