Tuesday 21 December 2004
My husband Richard and I arrive at Athens airport after the most exciting and prolonged approach I've experienced in some time. It's dusk on the shortest day of the year, and it's been raining, so we opt for a taxi rather than the new metro. It costs E 30 which we discover later is the standard fare. Traffic is very slow, nose-to-nose, but I like the way Athenians have lights everywhere, even coiled around lampposts and the trunks of trees.
I'm here to do "research" for my tenth book, The Fugitive from Corinth, set in May of AD 80. I've already written a rough first draft but this is a "road story" and I want to make sure I've got settings and distance and mood correct before I start my rewrites. The places I need to visit are Corinth, Lechaeum, Cenchrea, Isthmia, Megara, Delphi, Eleusis and Athens.
Our hotel, the St George Lycabettus, is at the foot of a conical hill called Lycabettus in the fashionable wealthy area called Kolonaki. It's a five star hotel I booked through Expedia and very nice. Our room is luxurious but no Athens view. I begin negotiations for an upgrade. (My sister-in-law has given me some tips: 'Be nice. Ask for an upgrade.')
That night we go out without any fixed plan and we end up, of course, in Plaka, the touristy area at the foot of the acropolis. We are lured into a taverna and start with mezedhes (snack) outdoors.
Soon it gets pretty chilly so we move inside. We are about to leave when two musicians turn up and start playing at the almost unheard of hour of 8.30pm. Usually things don't get started until 10.00pm.
The only other people in the restaurant are half a dozen girls in their late teens plus the owner and his wife and a couple of waiters. The musicians are excellent and pretty soon the girls get up to dance. One of them is very good at wolf-whistles and using a lighted cigarette on the floor as a prop. The wife joins the musicians on stage and starts to sing. Not since old footage of Dean Martin have I seen someone singing between puffs of cigarettes!
[The 17+ books in the Roman Mysteries series, including The Fugitive from Corinth, are perfect for children aged 9+, especially those studying Romans and/or Greeks as a topic in Key Stages 2 & 3. There are DVDs of some of the books as well as an interactive game.]