The problem with using Google maps for your travel plans is that it doesn’t have a clue most of the time. Even in London you’re much better off with Citymapper. If you’re trying to get from Athens to Kyllini digitally you are fucked before you’ve started. I knew it would be possible analog in a day though, even with a late start. I struck out on the dot of noon.
Vasileous picked me up from where I had gone wandering in search of coffee, down by the sea in Artemidas. Here the prevailing wind is evidently very persistent.
Vasileous is a very precise man. I closed the boot of his yellow Skoda uber and he opened and closed it again with an air of reproach. We drove to the station in companionable silence. On arrival I was deliberately out of the car and round to the boot quicker than him. I had my bag waiting on the pavement and the boot shut when he got to it. He glared at me. Then he opened the boot at me and shut it again. I smiled and tipped him on the app.
My first hard wordlearn is “Thank you”. It’s a starting point. Efcharisto. Of charity towards you. It’s a start.
I got on the train, then changed at the place that looks like “Kate Axapval”. God I’m ignorant of Greek. Then onwards to the end of the line. Kiato. Duolingo will be totally pointless in Greek as in Arabic. By the time I know the basic alphabet I’ll be in Chelsea. So I’m trying to hack the basics by being convivial and remembering my more youthful wanderings. An hour at Kiato propelled me seawards to an unpronounceable place that served me spaghetti right by glittering waves. I was just back in time for the bus.
The bus threw us all out at Patras. Last time I stayed in Patras it was because I’d missed my ferry to Ithaki. This might have been a decade ago. A big fat man with a moustache insisted that the cheapest possible price was £100 to stay in his knocking shop hotel. He started bidding at about £150. This was before phones could do what they do now (Nokia era? It all blurs. Time. Time. Time.), so I had to walk round the corner to a bar with wi-fi (that existed!), tether my laptop – (still not traveling light. Did I have a portable modem?) – and yeah somehow I bought a room online for £40. I remember I had other options nearby but I wanted to defy the guy. When I went back to the man I pretended like it was a totally new interaction. “Hi I’ve got a booking with you.” He didn’t like it. I should’ve been smarter.
He likely put me in that memorably shit room on purpose.
All night long through paper thin walls I heard the same three working girls encouraging their tricks to get that bollocks over with quicker. “Ooh ooh aahaah yes yes finish just fucking finish please I’ve got stuff to do aaaaa yeah you’re so good etc whatever”. I shared a bathroom with two of them and one was directly above me. It was a strange night. I knew I wasn’t going to stay in that port again. This is why I had already booked my ferry from Kyllini tomorrow and not from Patras. Trouble is, Patras is the beaten track. The internet has no obvious routes to Kyllini. It’s only an hour’s drive though so I know it’s going to be possible.
The first taxi driver I speak to is burly and friendly – also with a moustache… Could that still be a thing here after all these years? Having scoped the distance and the going rates, I’ve decided that taxi is not my best option. I’d be paying a minimum of €40, and this is high season so probably much more. The burly guy is willing though. He downs his beer. “Ninety euro!!” he proclaims. “Nineteen?” I say, pointing at my ear like I’ve misheard. He laughs. “Ninety… … … Ok eighty. Eighty, no less.” I smile and point at my watch. “Maybe later,” I say in oops in Italian. He understands and goes back to his friends, his cards and his beer. I ring the local taxi firm. “Ninety five!” “Twenty five?” “Ninety. Five.” *click*
I make a cardboard sign. The beery taxi man lends me his pen. It’s all very convivial. He doesn’t want to have to take me. He’s having an evening with his friends. It would be worth it for eighty. He’ll help me on my way for free. It passes the time. The sign may or may not say what I think it says. He helps make some of it. I know it says “I am English. Kyllini.” I think it says the same in Greek. It might say “I’m a bastard!” But I trust these people. The waiter goes away and returns with a sharpie. For a confusing moment, the portside lads in Patras all welcome me in helping me fashion a sign with which I can escape. I finish with a sweaty smiley face. “It is beautiful,” one of them remarks with joke indulgence.
I go down the road as I don’t want them to see me fail in my hitchhiking after their companionable work. After a good twenty minutes walk I find a good spot with traffic lights ahead and room to pull over behind. I stand with our multilingual sign bright in the evening light. I’ve checked that “direction-thumb” is the language here. It is. Nevertheless: nobody stops. Some people honk including a train driver. The tracks are near the road. Just opposite. I’m catching people as they drive out of the station car park. But nobody stops, even if many make eye contact and smile. I’m in direct evening sunlight. It’s over 30 degrees.
One thing I notice is how full the cars are already compared to how it is in England. There are very few people traveling solo here. Everybody drives alone in the uk.
An hour passes. It’s a hot evening.
Towards the end of the second hour a young woman approaches walking down the pavement. She is at the edge of her territory, holding two plates. She has a staff badge. She beckons me to her nearby roadside bar. There are no clients at this bar. Sport plays on the screens. She has a plate of warm potatoes and olives and another of cold meat and cheese. She puts them in front of me. “It’s ok. For everybody.”
“Nobody does this here,” she says. “It won’t work.”
I buy a beer, thank her and persist. “Nobody does this in England either.” I know her English and context isn’t good enough to grab my next utterance but I say it anyway: “But I made it work in fucking Oxford once,” I say.
Then I tell her I honestly don’t know how else I’m going to get to Kyllini. I ask if she has an idea. Turns out she does. Booyah.
The ferry to Zakynthos has a bus that serves it. The bus goes to Kyllini but isn’t listed as doing so. The bus doesn’t go on the ferry. It drops ferry passengers at the port on a huge empty concrete platform. Then it goes back to Patras. One of them leaves at 8pm. She shows me where it leaves from. It’s half past seven.
I get there in time and buy a ticket.
The bus gets to Kyllini and it’s a slightly odd interaction with the driver. For a moment I worry I might have to actually go to Zakynthos and then come back tomorrow morning. It is resolved though, and I get my bag from the hold and walk my wicked way across the concrete concourse and off to the cheapest hotel in the area. You even have to put your own sheets on. It’s far from the worst place I’ve ever stayed in but it’s further from the best.
I spend some of the money I didn’t spend on a taxi and a good hotel by having fresh sea bream and calamari by the windy sea.