Athens: The Greek capital in 1980   

Rubbish photo of the Acropolis

I first went to Athens aged just 16, in the days when flares and dodgy haircuts ruled.

It was 1980 and I was on a day trip with my mate Chris during the height of the August holiday season. Together we were spending a week in a very down-at-heel ‘resort’ on the Greek mainland called Markopoulon, near Oropos.

Our mums and dads had packed us off on a Laker Airways charter flight from Gatwick, back when parents could do that with 16-year-olds and not be charged with child neglect.

The holiday was our reward, although a very cheap one, for having completed our O Levels.

It cost just £99, booked at the local travel agency in Caterham Valley, but for that we could only specify the country of our destination. Our tour operator would pick the hotel on arrival, which inevitably meant that we’d end up with the crap nobody else wanted.

Chris at the hotel
Chris at the hotel

And crap is what we got. The hotel, the Alkyonis, proved to be a charmless 60s-style block. Our room housed furniture that looked as if it had been made by blind people during their first carpentry lesson. The loo kept blocking and the view out of our back window took in the bins.

We were separated from the beach by a road, although ‘beach’ was a particularly generous term for such a drab stretch of gravel and stone.

Still, we were abroad, the first time without parents or school teachers to guide us, able to drink and smoke without them knowing or nagging.

The heat was intense and fair-skinned Chris got terribly sunburnt, resulting in a ghastly blistered back that needed constant doses of calamine lotion. We tried to find shade on a nearby island and then narrowly avoided drowning when our pedalo got caught up in some choppy seas and filled with seawater.

Our day trip to Athens was on a typically sweltering day. My memories are few but I recall viewing the city from the hills, heat haze making the skyline shimmer.

Me on the beach outside the hotel
Me on the beach outside the hotel

We climbed the dusty Acropolis with hundreds of other tourists, and then watched bemused as the soldiers known as the Evzones paraded in their skirts and bobbly shoes outside the Parliament building, their firm legs an attractive sight to a horny adolescent.

And I remember the city being tatty and dirty.

We perused a few souvenir shops, which were full of statues of Greek gods sporting the most enormous penises. It was all very weird.

Things change.

Many years later and Greece has gone through economic hell. I’m no longer terrified of flying as I was back when we flew to Athens last time. And we don’t bother with tour operators these days.

I was about to return to Athens