The first time I flew to London on my own I was 17, full of the hopes and dreams of youth and high on fantasies of big city life. The reality- staying with a nuclear physicist in Tooting Bec and being abandoned by my sisters’ mates in a club in Vauhxall after they got chucked out- was not enough to put me off moving there as soon as I was physically able to.
My parents waved me off at the old Athens airport- a kind of 3D caricature of a Greek airport complete with fag-smoking officials eyeing up the tourists, stray cats and dogs splayed across the floors and baggage belts and plastered Scandinavians singing along to Greek music over the tenth bottle of cheap (basic tax!) ouzo- with two massive boxes of Marlboro lights. Fag – can you even imagine!- and free bloody Mary in hand, I felt like a proper adult, and in retrospect I am glad I got to experience inflight chain-smoking since it makes it slightly more bearable that they are still reminding us, 15 years later, not to smoke. Just in case we hadn’t noticed.
Once ensconced in London, flying back to Athens at Christmas became a yearly routine. After Easyjet came into being, and we all had to adjust to no free booze or lukewarm cat regurgitations (‘food’), I found myself on a flight with Stelios- a successful Greek businessman!- who took the time to personally befriend almost everyone on the plane, much to the dismay of myself and my new plane-chum, a slightly pissed Scottish bloke, as it meant we had to keep hiding the bottle of whiskey he had smuggled on and were proceeding to down. This was before they got all sophisticated and added trollies of wildly over-priced mini bottles and coffee, which I still can’t resist forking out for.
These days, impecunity and bargain-hunting being stained into me like bad tattoos, I only ever fly indirect to Athens. Not only is it fractionally cheaper- well probably not, once you’ve factored in extortionate cabs fares to the airport at stupid o’clock in the morning- but you get to travel through places like Geneva- which is where I’m penning this, in order to stay awake and not miss my connecting flight. Thus you get to imagine what life would be like if you actually had to worry about things like locating ‘the ski belt’ or were seriously in the market for a fabulously elegant watch that reflected every aspect of your (multi-faceted and complex, OBV) character. Personally I think they are the worst thing to advertise at an airport. I’d be terrified of traveling with one of them – after no sleep and three mini-bottles, a neighbour could probably saw your hand off with a plastic knife and you’d never notice.
Anyway Swiss airports, especially at Christmas, reek of understated silvery competence and self-assuredness, full of perfect little pyramids of Lindt chocolate bells twinkling alongside zillion carat rings and tastefully decked fir trees. In other words, they immediately make you feel even more frumpy, frazzled and bleary-eyed than usual- a glaringly obvious ‘stop-over’ interloper in this gleamingly competent world. Although one year their competence failed them and I ended up spending the night before Christmas eve staying up til all hours at a souless hotel in Zurich with three other passengers after we missed our transfers. It wasn’t in vain though; this story has a happy ending. The two guys ended up getting together and are still a couple 3 years later- aww!! Serendipity, etc etc.
At least Ryan air don’t fly to Greece, because of course I would be forced to go with them, and for the time being I’d rather a two hour stop-over flying Swiss Air (free chocolate!) than endure their particular brand of cattle-class torture. Incidentally Ryanair-hatred has replaced TV as the go-to conversation starter in recent years; the ubiquity of horror stories- one friend got stung with £60 for printing out a single piece of boarding pass paper which he had on his iphone- gets perfect strangers engrossed in lively tale-swapping.
Arrival in Athens, although not as much as fun as it used to be at the old airport, still has its charms. Parents eagerly anticipating their long-lost (read: 3 months) offspring greet them with uninhibited joy over an emotional hug. Younger kids talk up their successes at university through a high altitude hangover fog and omit the 95% that would have the poor parents fainting, or throwing them out. Older kids get to feel like real kids again and promise that next year, there WILL be a boyfriend in tow. And then you get home and promptly get ill after picking up a flu bug on the plane. So, happy holidays everyone!