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Piraeus . . . Once Again | Traveling Classroom
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Monday July 4th 2022

Piraeus . . . Once Again

We have come to the last day of our visit to Kefalonia. Usually, we load our backpacks, carry them down to the ferry landing, and then compete with other passengers for available seats. Fortunately, upon arriving in Sami, we learned it is possible to take a bus to mainland Greece. All we do is take our backpacks to the nearby bus station, where they are stowed in the cargo hold of an Athens-bound bus. Then we sip a morning espresso and wait for the ferry – no fuss, no bother. When the ferry arrives in Patras, we climb onto our bus and ride in air-conditioned comfort.

Arriving in Athens is another story altogether. The Kifisos bus station (the one for all southern bus routes) is a huge portal jammed with dozens of buses and hundreds of local taxis continuously coming and going, while thousands of people carrying luggage try to avoid the traffic. Instead of paying a taxi to drive us to the port of Piraeus, we decide to take a local bus to the nearest Metro station. The electric train takes us directly to the port, and we quickly walk up the block to the little hotel where we will spend the night.

KTEL bus station on Kifisos can be a strange and confusing place

After leaving our gear in the room, we venture out again to get our bearings and to find out exactly where to catch our early morning ferry to the Cyclades. Happily, the dock is just a short walk across the waterfront boulevard of Akti Miaouli – named for Andreas Miaoulis, who commanded the Greek naval forces during the War of Independence.   even closer to our hotel than the train station. Pleased with our brilliant choice of hotels, we go looking for places we can go for dinner tonight.

No sensible person would choose the Piraeus waterfront for evening dining. In fact, it looks like the last place anyone would want to be at night. Even in the bright afternoon sunshine, it is a gritty, down-to-business sort of city where everything and everyone has some connection to the port. All the city roads seem to feed into the port, where freighters, cruise ships and ferries are waiting to carry away their cargo of passengers and goods. Along the waterfront, are many invitations on signs and billboards, and often from men standing on the sidewalk in front of ticket offices: “Mykonos, Paros, Santorini, Crete: Buy Your Tickets Here!”” Book your cruise to Turkey.” “Special Prices!”

Piraeus Docks

The docks of Piraeus are always crowed with ferries

Piraeus is the largest passenger port in Europe.  About 20 million travelers pass through its gates each year, usually on their way to another travel destination. We have been among those millions more times than we can count. Piraeus is a temporary stopping point, a chance to grab something to drink, a bite to eat, put one’s bags down for an hour, maybe two, before shipping off. Once in a while, such as when the ferry workers go on strike, travelers must stay longer than planned. But no one seems to intentionally stay near the waterfront for any longer than necessary.

But this is only a small piece of the city. Since we have friends in Piraeus, we know some parts of the city that most travelers never see. We also know a bit more about the history of the old city, which was the same bustling place 2500 years ago as it is today. Then and now, Piraeus was the main port of Athens, the biggest in Greece and one of the most important in the Mediterranean Sea.

Themistokles was the first to realize the importance of Piraeus to the city of Athens. He turned it into the city’s main port, instead of the Gulf of Faliro, which was used by the Athenians until the 5th century BCE. Wanting Athens to have a fortified port he built the wall of Piraeus. Later Pericles completed the fortification by building the Makra Teiche (Long Walls), which protected both sides of the road all the way from Piraeus to Athens.

The city of Piraeus was planned by Ippodamos of Melos, and built in the middle of the 5th century BCE. Ippodamos’ designs were used as guidelines for re-planning the city in 1834, so it is in some ways the same as it was. Thousands of years ago one could sit on the crowded docks and watch men unloading cargo from distant places – eels from Boeotia, apples and pears from Euboea, garlic from Samothraki, mattresses from Corinth, cheese from Sicily, and sailcloth, fabrics and papyrus (paper) from Egypt.

For centuries this city has seen people and things come and go, from both ancient worlds and new. On the waterfront one can here any number of languages among the crowd, and the merchandise is as diverse as the people. On the streets behind the harbor, hidden away by tall buildings housing the offices of shipping companies, banks, and captains of commerce, there are tiny shops selling goods from every corner of the Mediterranean world. The locals go about their daily errands and chores before the afternoon meal and nap. At the coffee houses, old men drink Greek coffee from small cups and stare at passersby. But every so often the loud bellow of a ship’s horn reminds everyone that the dock is not far, and that another trip is about to begin.

Piraeus Ferries

Ferries departing for distant ports

Our next journey begins again tomorrow.

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