Friday 25 June 2010

Athens Days 1 and 2

After our enforced break last year, due to Angus's birth, we were champing at the bit to get back into the Pampered Chef incentive trip fray this year. With Marie and Michael generously flying in as the international babysitters once more (and Michael deciding to paint hall, stairs, landing and downstairs bathroom as an added bonus), Sharon and I were free to fly down to London on the Wednesday evening, meeting Hannah and Gavin and Lesley and Jackie at Edinburgh for the flight down. The Cairns and the Wallaces were staying at the Jury's Inn at Hatton Cross, which necessitated a tube ride there and a taxi back in the morning (£22) as we arose at the ridiculous hour of 0415 for what was supposed to be a 0620 flight. Typically, check-in doesn't open till 0500 so we had to wait for that and then, to compound it, the French air traffic controllers went on strike, leaving us sitting on the runway for 90 minutes. Still, at least there was no volcanic activity this time!

On arrival at Athens we eventually located the coach and were driven to the Astir Palace Resort in the Vouliagmeni district of Athens, to the south of the city on the "Athens Riviera." The achievers were split across two hotels: the Westin for the Level 1 and 2 achievers and the Arion for the Level 3 achievers. Our top-floor room was fine and comfortable, although with a view across the car park to the marina to the south-east rather than of the more appealing private beach-front to the north west. Just spoiled by Sharon winning the suite twice!

Sharon located the gym in the Arion for a work-out to keep her new mean figure in shape while I sweated a twenty minute walk into Vouliagmeni in search of a supermarket. Food labelling was a challenge in the Greek alphabet! I had to stick to what I knew else depend on an English label. We entertained the Cairns, McLeishes and Wilsons in our room before strolling up to the Westin for the first night's dinner and recognition by the pool. The wine flowed freely and everyone followed suit as we enjoyed an excellent selection of dishes from the buffet. I didn't get to try all that I fancied as I was too full. Sharon was recognised as being an Executive Director and for being joint top in developing directors. She is now part of the Pampered Chef elite and elicits excited whispers when she favours someone with a word or a nod! I can remember when Sharon was like that on the first trip, delighted to be speaking to those whose names and words she had read in the KCN! All credit to her: she has listened and learned, worked hard and applied her own abilities to make her business a success.

We could both have slept longer in the morning but it was a treat to be able to wake up, check the time and doze off again without any wails, yells, thumps or demands that we make breakfast. However, we did have a embarkation time for the Friday boat trip so we had a quick breakfast before nipping up to the Westin from which our private cruise ship was departing for the island of Hydra. The journey time of 2.5 hours was a little longer than most of us would have liked, but it did afford the opportunity for those who wanted to network and catch up to do so, while the rest of us chatted or lay in the sun or the shade and dozed.

Hydra town's natural harbour is like a notch in the middle of the island's north coastal cliffs, so the entrance was quite splendid, the houses and shops crammed up the steep slopes of the small bay. There were plenty of donkeys (and the odd truck), there being no motor cars, allegedly, on the island. We strolled up a few quiet streets with white-washed houses and returned to the more flagrantly tourist outlets before taking our place for lunch. The wine on offer was very curious, leaving no taste on the tongue but plenty round the sides of the mouth. Jane said the nose reminded her of patchouli oil, which is not something you'd want to be drinking. That said, the Greek salad and fried fish and broad bean curd and pitta breads all went down well, with many of the group happy to sleep away the afternoon on the return leg of the boat trip.

In the evening, at my suggestion, Sharon rounded up a few of the Scottish contingent for a picnic down by the water, despite Philip's latent hotelier's sense of unease about guests being allowed to consume food and alcohol on the premises. All in all it was a pleasantly relaxing evening, drinking wine and nibbling on stuffed vine leaves, tzatziki, aubergine dip, ham, smoked salmon and cheeses; chatting as the sun slipped down towards the sea. And we had the luxury of a long lie in in the morning.

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