It isn’t often that you come across things for free, especially in a big city. I suppose that is why I stood feeling sceptical as our guide for the day entered the hostel.
His name was Jimmy and he was about to lead the free walking tour of Athens. Loud and obvious, his Aussie accent and quick wit reassured me that this was going to be a good day out.
Coffee in hand and a trail of 15 people, we set off with complete trust and reliability – I amazed myself at how easily I found it to follow blindly.
Canadians, Brazilians, Germans, Polish but not another English in the group, that felt nice.
As we walked the city streets, Jimmy pointed out the typical ancient monuments and the columns that most of us were here to see. It was the contrast of ancient beauty and modern normality that fascinated me.
The confident and endless knowledge of Jimmy made for quick learning of the history of Athens, some of which had to be taken with a pinch of Salt. When stood on Mars hill, a fantastic spot for overlooking the city, he told us that birds never fly over the Acropolis; we stared at the ruin with a mythical belief. Unfortunately, later that evening as I wandered the grounds, several swifts flew against his word.
The four hours that we walked brought with it fascination on every new corner. The stadium, where the first modern Olympic games were held, stood proudly the sunshine as we wandered past. With most of these attractions, almost all of them could be seen without paying an entry free. I was glad of my zoom lense this day.
At the end those I had walked with became strangers once more as we dispersed in different directions. Jimmy, who gave this tour 7 days a week with no falter in enthusiasm, relied heavily on tips but only ever made this clear at the very beginning. Watching the money reach his hand made it clear – a genuine love for your work, for people and a natural gift of the gab will go a long way, especially to tourists who wish for a memorable trip in Greece. My guess is that he walked away with 200 euros for 4 hours of his time.
I had a new experience and I’m confident that I saw things I would most likely have missed without his guidance. And apparently, these FREE walking tours are all over Europe, check it out; just type in the city you wish to see into Google and see what comes up!
Observations found along the way:
* Italian influence is apparent, almost every Gelateria is home to the delicious ice-cream I have grown to love. The same can be said for coffee, find Illy in most cafes.
* Thirsty? Sit down for any bite to eat and wait for the tap water, free of charge, to be put on your table.
* You can’t feel guilty for speaking English (and only English in my case). I doubt there are many foreigners that turn up with a Greek speaking tongue.
* Get your coins ready in a bar, payment is expected as soon as your drinks reach the table.
* Public transport is reliable and cheap. Buy a bus ticket for 1 Euro 20 and see how far you can get in 1.5 hours.
* Don’t trust that taxi men know where you want to go. I spent an hour in the back whilst my driver searched his Satnav, rang his boss and circled the same roads over and over. It should have taken 10 minutes. He shouldn’t forget where that hostel is in a hurry!
Would I go back to Athens? No. It’s great to see the sights and soak in the history, but in truth underneath it all it resembles and offers what every other city holds.