The next stop on my trip was Patra, a port town on the west coast of Greece where I planned to spend a couple of days before getting the ferry to an island called Zakynthos.
Full of optimism, I said goodbye to beautiful Nafplio and boarded the bus, ready for a four-hour journey.
One of the things I love most about travelling is that it gives you the time and space to indulge in some serious thinking. Buses and trains are the best place for this – it’s something about the constant movement – you can let your eyes glide over the scenery, sometimes taking it in and sometimes seeing nothing at all. Meanwhile your mind has a chance to run wild, sometimes thinking profound thoughts, and sometimes thinking nothing at all. It’s a luxury we rarely get in normal life.
I passed the bus ride to Patra in a dream-like state, lost in my mind. I replayed memories, analysed regrets and wondered at my future. I won’t burden you with the specifics of my mind (that would take a while!) but suffice to say I had plenty to think about. It was like a therapy session, and it only cost €14.
After a quick bus changeover, which saw me running desperately for a bus that was pulling out, dragging my backpack behind me, I sat in my designated seat and was just sinking back into my reverie when I became aware of something dangling next to my face. I turned to see a large hand, complete with swollen sausage fingers and dirty fingernails, hanging over the seat, just centimetres from my face. It belonged to the man behind me, who was talking loudly on his phone. I noticed that his other hand was gripping my headrest, so that his large fingers were practically underneath my head.
Shocked at this rudeness, I sat up, turned around and gave him a sharp look that I believe said, “How dare you? Please move your horrible hand at once!”
Continuing to talk on the phone, his brief glance replied, “What are you going to do about it?”
I tried to ignore it for a while, but his hand was waving around while he talked, and eventually I couldn’t take it anymore. I picked up my bag and huffily moved to a spare seat – hoping that no one would get on and make me move. Luckily no one did and I was able to continue my therapy session in peace.
Still no navigational skills
Upon arriving in Patra, I had the address of my hotel but no map. I went into the bus station and asked at the ticket office if there was a tourist information centre.
“No,” was the curt reply from the girl in the booth.
“Do you have any maps?”
I had no choice but to go to the taxi rank and get a ride. When I showed the driver the address of the hotel, he gave me a small smile, and said, “sure,” before driving me 500 metres up the road. That cost me €5. I made a mental note to download some offline maps to my phone.
Anywhere but here
Once I had checked into my hotel room, which was cold and soulless after my cosy room in Nafplio, I went back out into the town armed with a map that the hotel receptionist had given me. I wanted to find out if it was possible to do a daytrip to Delphi with a local tour company, so I wandered around in search of a tour company office or travel agent. I passed many offices that were now in disuse, with windows smashed and rubble piled inside. I got the feeling that Patra had seen better days.
Eventually, I stepped inside an open travel agency and asked if they had any tours to Delphi.
“No tours to Delphi,” the man answered apologetically. “I think there’s a local bus though.”
I checked the bus schedule and found that the bus to and from Delphi runs only once a day. I could go for two hours before returning, and if I missed the bus, I’d be facing a very expensive taxi ride. I decided that Delphi just wasn’t going to happen.
Resigned, I sat in a cafe where I was served by a very snooty girl, and tried to figure out what I would do here for another day and a half. Patra so far hadn’t made a good impression on me – it seemed run down, dead and offering nothing of much interest. The thought of spending another day here didn’t thrill me.
Still, according to the map Patra had a castle and a couple of cathedrals, so I thought I had better give it one last chance.
I climbed a very steep flight of stairs (more stairs – my legs were still sore from the last castle!) that led to the castle. When I got to the top I found that the castle had closed at 3.00pm.
I lazily strolled around the streets, passing some nice houses and some derelict ones. I found a nice old basilica and decided to take a look inside. The caretaker observed me warily as I wandered around craning my neck at the ornate ceiling. As soon as I left he locked the door behind me.
I made my way back into the centre of town where the main shopping street was. There were lots of shops – all the high street stores like Zara, H&M and Marks & Spencer – but they were all closed, and only a few people drifted around the city.
“There’s no way I’m staying here another day,” I thought to myself, and went up to my room to lie down.
The golden hour
I spent a couple of hours pottering around in my room before going out onto the balcony, which overlooked the main street. I noticed with surprise that the shops were open now and there were quite a lot of people down there, drinking and laughing. Music drifted up through the air. It all looked very festive. I decided to go and investigate.
I saw with shock and delight that this lifeless city had transformed into a buzzing metropolis. There were people everywhere; groups of uni students, families with young children and elderly couples, all dressed very stylishly and stopping constantly to say hello to friends they met on the street. The bars and restaurants were full, with tables spilling out onto the street and music pumping.
The buildings looked better now too, even the shabby ones, as shafts of golden sunlight gave the city a warm, magical appearance. I floated around, feeling happy to be part of the atmosphere. The people seemed friendlier than before, smiling at me as they passed and, as usual, gaping slightly at my height.
I walked down the pier just in time to see the sun set – a red, fiery disc that was soon hidden behind the mountains. I sat on the end of the pier and looked out to sea.
“This place isn’t so bad,” I thought. “I think I’ll stay tomorrow after all.”