Athens from 24,000 feet! What an awe-inspiring sight that was as the Aegean Airlines pilot started his approach to Eleftherios Venizelos Airport. Headed to the Greek capital on business, our little family nucleus was excited to see for the first time one of the world’s wonders up close and personal. And boy, how personal is the city named after the goddess Athena. For those who have never been, or who have not returned to Athens recently, here’s the first increment of a five-day business excursion to a masterpiece, a legend, one of the oldest cities on Earth. In town for the Digi.travel EMEA Conference & Expo, we crammed a lot of business and pleasure into this much-anticipated trip. Here’s a running log intended to show the reader the high spots of our short visit.
Landing at Eleftherios Venizelos proved uneventful, as all of the airline passengers hope their flight will be. What I can say (again) is how much we are always impressed by the flight crews of Aegean, who never fail to make air travel more pleasant and personal. I have a story about the return trip to tell, but suffice it to say this airline is one of the world’s best. As for the airport itself, the best that can be said is that Athens travelers find it easier to find things here than at most international destinations. Neither beautiful or ugly, EV is a neutral experience. When our good friend and colleague, Panos Fotiadis, who is Sales & Marketing Director at Travel Media Applications met us on arrival, I was instantly reminded of just how friendly and intelligent the Greek people are. “Welcome to Athens Phil,” with that smooth vanilla accent the Greek language tints English with – then we are off down a surprisingly unclogged Athens expressway.
A center for the arts, as well as for learning and for philosophy, the city’s ancient lore includes echoes from Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum, and the scores of philospher kings who made this the literal cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy. At first glance the city is sprawling, intriguing, and very “lived in” in appearance. Panos had insisted on coming to get me, my wife Mihaela, and our little son Paul-Jules even though the hour of our arrival was late. Exchanging hugs and “good-night” wishes, he delivered us to a marvelous downtown stay, Airotel Group’s Stratos Vassilikos, a five-star property a short distance from the center of the city.
Tired but excited, Paul Jules could not resist a double spin around the revolving doors at the entrance to the hotel. To be honest, I would have joined him in a merry-go-round experience were we not expected by good friends and colleagues, and if the conference agenda the next morning had loomed less large. Still, the smile the reception staff gave out little boy set me at ease, I must say. I am not sure what other people expect from hotel staff, but I know our standard starts and ends with Greek hospitality, so arriving at the friendliest place in Athens’ center meant a lot. To give you an idea how our first day ended, here’s a play-by-play from the moment we walked in at Stratos Vassilikos.
10:30 a.m. – Paul Jules tests the hotel as a playground potential, while Phil and Mihaela are greeted by the smiling front desk manager. “Good evening Mr. Butler, welcome to Stratos Vassilikos”, he said. I wish for the life of me I could remember who was on duty that night, but like I said, we were wasted after the long day of traveling.
10:40 a.m. – The manager calls Tom Magnuson’s room for Phil. The Founder and CEO of one of the world’s largest independent hotel chain answers, “Hellllllllllooooo,” in a very sleepy voice. Feeling pretty stupid and happy my friend had made it I said; “Oh God Tom, go back to sleep man, I am so sorry.”
10:41 a.m. – Undaunted by my failure I started to ask the man to dial another friend I knew could not be asleep. “How about Henri Roelings,” I asked knowing fully well the founder of Hospitality Net never sleeps. Just then the manager looks up after picking up the ringing phone with a huge smile; “It’s Mr. Roelings sir,” he said. Taking the phone from his hand, I said in my best all British Savoy Hotel voice: “This is the front desk sir, is there some way I may be of assistance?” To which, Henri replied with a cheerful, amused, and surprised tone of voice: “No __Way,” somehow recognizing my voice anyhow.
10:58 a.m.– All is well as Mihaela, Paul and I step onto the terrace of our room overlooking the real Athens. Starring there down a back street lined with the lives and times of the city, I was struck by what is most interesting to me, the reality and humanity of “place” and how we all live in proximity. Don’t get me wrong, a view out over Heraklion harbor on Crete, from Lato Boutique Hotel, for instance, is breathtaking. The Hilton in Athens overlooks the Acropolis too, but Athens is not just about the Parthenon ghosts.
11:15 a.m.– We head down to the bar to meet Henri, who has already made his three-millionth pal of the bartender. “Mythos for God’s sake, no thank you no Heineken for me,” I chive. Mihaela and Henri, their weariness subsidies over red Burgundy wine.
11:50 a.m. – The bartender intrudes momentarily to interject a “last call” request. Surprised, the man who travels to Davos and beyond (Henri) exclaims, “No way!” A global media take, the “word traveler” conscience cannot comprehend how any five-star hotel bar can close based on the schedule of the last subway train, for this is the reason the bartender gave for an early last call. Unsympathetic to the humane efforts of a hotel manager to get his people home, Henri is right once again.
12:04 a.m. – We all follow Tom Magnuson’s and Plateno Group’s Tomasz Janczak’s good example, Digi.travel Athens starts early in the morning, and we’ve late preparations to make.
12:15 a.m. – I embrace a last absorbing few moments on our ample back terrace, as Mihaela checks on Paul Jules, who’s asleep on the pull out in our small suite. Athens has a magic last at night, I can tell you this for sure. But goodnight from day one of our business excursion, I’ll download all our pictures and start painting you the bigger tapestry tomorrow.