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1:49pm on Monday, 4th August, 2008:

Acropolis Now


Today we docked in Piraeus and went to Athens, as did five other cruise ships full of people. It was therefore rather crowded upon arrival at the Acropolis.

Our guide was somewhat idiosyncratic. She issued us all with little radio sets tuned to the same frequency, which we were familiar with from our trip to Pompeii a couple of years ago. Sadly, our guide was not familiar with them, and acted at all times as if she were leading a small group for a private tour of the ancient ruins, rather than a group of 50 people vying with 50 other groups of 50 people for space.

Problems began when we got to the entrance and she handed out tickets. She kept saying things like "11, not 12" and "under 18" and "we are 19" without any indication as to why. We were group 11 and the tickets would have cost us 12 euros if we hadn't already paid for them in advance, but she was saying the numbers at random. Maybe it was Acropolis Bingo or something.

We went through the main gate single file while our tickets were checked. The path forked. We could hear the guide shouting (yes, shouting) into her microphone "number 11, over here!" but she gave no directions as to where "here" might be. Was it left or right? "Follow me! Number 11! Here! Here!". OK, but where?! We chanced left, and found her under a tree about 30 metres away, using the paddle with "11" written on it as a fan. There were a few other people in our group there, but most were wandering around looking for where the exhortations to "Come here! Here! Number 11" were coming from. Finally, my elder daughter leaned over to the guide's microphone (pinned inside her blouse, for extra muffledness) and said: "after you've given in your ticket, turn left and come up the hill". The guide was horrified! "We are not at the top of the hill!" she exclaimed. Nevertheless, the instructions did the trick, and the group assembled.

We went towards a ramp leading up to main area of the Acropolis. This was a pinch point: people were able to go up and come down at most two abreast. Our guide decided it would be a good place to tell us about the marketplace, the ceiling that was being restored, and the Persians. Other guides began to berate her things in Greek, and she berated them back. Then, she got out her mobile phone and called the coach driver to instruct him to come back for us half an hour later than planned, because we had got behind time. One of the American men on the tour took her number 11 paddle off her and managed to shepherd some of the stragglers she'd left behind up to the main area. One of these fellow passengers clearly hadn't seen the note that accompanied the description of the trip that read: "Warning! Involves strenuous walk!", and it was only the fact that we were moving so slowly that stopped her from keeling over dead. Eventually, she had to come down in an emergency lift for ("I showed them my knees").

Once in the clear area, our guide told us to "number 11, come here!". I should say that she was talking the whole time, by the way, and didn't just call us "number 11": we were also "my party" and "my people", as if she were leader of some political organisation. I also suspect she may have been hard of hearing, as she would ask us all a question, we'd all say "yes", and she would say, "no? OK" and then carry on. Every time she stopped, she never once gave directions to where she was, it was always "here" or "follow me", and only occasionally would you get a glimpse of the paddle with 11 written on it.

I haven't told you the worst part yet. This was her pronunciation of English. She added "a" to every word she uttered, unless it already ended in a vowel sound or if it was a single, unstressed syllable. So it was: "both-a east-a and west-a" but, thankfully, not "here-a". Listening to her speak was an exhausting experience in itself, and when you mixed in the Greek she would sometimes use because she didn't know the English word, not altogether understandable. I did understand her when, after one particularly strident altercation with another guide, she said, "this place is full of too many Spanish people and they talk too much". Gawd knows where that came from.

Needless to say, when we got back to Piraeus we left the coach out of the door she wasn't standing next to, so she got no tip.

The Acropolis itself was stunning, by the way. The Parthenon was covered in scaffolding and only 3 people were working on it, sure, but it was still impressive and well worth the trip. I have to say, though, it's probably just as well that Lord Elgin bought the marbles when he did, because we almost certainly wouldn't have had much of them worth looking at today if he hadn't — the building is in a shocking state of disrepair.

Still, times are changing and there's now a museum with a controlled environment to house the marbles should we return them. Personally, I'm fine with doing that — just as soon as the French hand back the Bayeux Tapestry.

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).