Piraeus, now and then

25 May to 6 June 2018

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After so long away from any city or even big town we were very much looking forward to some time in and around Athens, waiting for Stefan’s dad to arrive. We took Pintail into Zea Marina in Piraeus, Athens’ port, and settled her on pontoon B, surrounded on all sides of the circular harbour by apartment blocks. It was good to just stay in one place for two weeks and the perfect place to visit central Athens from.

We were certainly ready to enjoy all the modern conveniences of city life and Piraeus did not disappoint – copious and well-stocked chandleries, a service centre for our liferaft, familiar shops for replacing worn out shorts, even an Ikea to buy a new blind. Favourite though by far were some of the things we each miss most from home: for Stefan, good Indian food; for me, going to the cinema. Our choice of film, Adrift, about a couple caught in a hurricane in a sailing boat was more training film than entertainment!

We were slightly overwhelmed by the local supermarket with travellators between its four floors and marina views! The shelves were stocked with way more choice of products than we have had anywhere else in Greece. We did, however, visit it many times – mostly to enjoy its air-conditioning. The temperature was rising outside and the city airless compared to life at anchor.

We really liked the Piraeus area – it’s really a city all of its own. We spent time on its small beach and walking around its coastline.

Its streets on its many hills reminded me of the streets of San Francisco.

Piraeus has been Athens’ port for 2500 years and over the big hill from the marina was the main port. Ferries and cruise ships of all sizes constantly coming in and out.

Whilst it doesn’t quite rival the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Piraeus has its own small archaeological museum with some interesting local finds including a bronze battering ram from an ancient warship and stone measuring cups for selling liquids.

The huge bronze statues of Athena, Artemis and Apollo were impressive

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and we even found one that looked a bit like Stefan’s neice, Summer!

But it was the many grave sculptures here that fascinated us. Intricately carved in marble these memorials usually depicted the deceased surrounded by their family saying a final farewell.

Death must have been big business for the stonemasons of ancient Greece and tombs of this quality must surely have only been the preserve of the very wealthy.

The museum also taught us a lot about the much more recent and poorer side of life in Piraeus. Turkey fared much better in the people exchange of the 1920s. The impact of the arrival of 1.5 million refugees into Greece and especially into the Piraeus region had a very big impact. Shanty towns sprung up with the refugees living in very poor housing. The conditions they lived in were in sharp contrast with those of the upper class Athenians.

In the 1960s Piraeus was known as a seedy, crime ridden area – the perfect setting for a number of Greek films. We sat watching clips of some, including Never on a Sunday, and decided we should watch more Greek films – these melodramatic stories interspersed with musical numbers are captivating even in Greek.

An area of Piraeus was redeveloped for the 2004 Olympic Games. It was really sad to walk around the Peace and Friendship Stadium and surrounding sports venues and find them completely abandoned and in decay.

The stadium was definitely peaceful but certainly had no friends! It made us quite proud of the way the Queen Elizabeth Park in London has become just a vibrant legacy of the 2012 games.

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There were some signs of life though. The volleyball courts were being used by a local club and it seemed that, formally or informally, the buildings might be housing the current refugee communities.

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Having thoroughly explored the area, with Jim’s arrival we were ready to say farewell to city life for a while and celebrated our time in Piraeus with our neighbours and new friends followed by just one last curry!

It was time to introduce Jim to life at sea on board Pintail…

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