It may have been a bit premature to speak so highly of the efficiency of the European air traffic control system. In the air, it is every bit as good as that in the US. However, the paperwork on the ground is something else.
To preclude any potential delays, we submitted our flight plan the afternoon prior to the flight. It had to be submitted with three different routes of flight before it was finally accepted. Then, on the morning of our proposed 8 AM departure, we were advised that our takeoff slot was set for 10:30 PM. This was not acceptable. After several phone calls, however, the airport office suddenly received a fax that all was well and we were cleared to leave immediately. Finally, the clearance we were given before takeoff was for a completely different route to any of those which were filed the day previously. We were happy to get into the air.
Our route of flight took us down the west coast of Italy. There are many more coastal islands than we ever realized. They consist almost entirely of mountains with homes dotted here and there and a few small villages concentrated in coves at the edge of the sea. As we approached Rome, the communication between the controller and other aircraft accelerated considerably until it was rapid fire similar to that in Atlanta or New York. It was was quite hazy from 11,000' so we could not see Rome in the distance. However, we had a good view of the Island of Capri and of the small village of Positano on the Amalfi coast, one of the most enchanting spots in the world.
There was a line of weather as we approached Athens but the radar again did an excellent job of guiding us through it without any problem. For the last half hour, we picked up a substantial tailwind which, on descent, gave us a speed of over 270 mph--really woofing!
Landing at a major airport such as Athens is not a problem. The controllers vector you into the sequence but allow extra space behind the larger jets, due to their increased wake turbulence. Moreover, the runways are unbelievably long so we can keep up our speed until just before crossing the threshold. Once on the ground, there is always a maze of taxiways but ground control is very helpful in guiding you to your parking spot. It is almost like a video game but more fun!
Bear, Sher & Lar in the shadow of the Acropolis
Athens is very modern but also a very historic city. Their famous structures date to 500 BC. It is very humbling to stand beside such ancient buildings, especially when we think 200 or 300 years is old. Each city had its own acropolis. It was their fortress for defense from outside attack The Acropolis in Athens served very well. After climbing the hill for our visit, we could not imagine anyone still having the energy to do battle.
Athens is currently preparing for the Summer Olympics which will take place here in only five weeks. We are glad they were not scheduled sooner because it will be a zoo here next month. Olympics are best watched on TV unless you love to stand in lines.
The Athenians complain about the traffic but it is no worse than any other major city. A rental car is a liability here because you could never find a place to park. It is amazing that anyone drives a car because, once they move it, they lose their parking space. The taxis are many and fares are reasonable. We were warned about the one hour ride from the airport and wondered about the fare. However, it turned out to be only $30, a pleasant surprise. In New York, the fare would have been $100.
We have been asked about our adjustment to the various time zones. Actually, it has not been a problem. The gradual adjustment, one or two hours at a time, is considerably less than the sudden change of a direct flight to Europe. Also, we lose the time on the day of our arrival when we are tired after a day of flying. It is quite easy to turn in a little early and awaken to the new schedule. It would be more difficult to adjust to the mealtimes of Europeans. They have lunch in mid-afternoon and dinner at 10 PM. When we have dinner at 7:30, we have the restaurant totally to ourselves. It is like having your own private restaurant with excellent service.
In Florida, Sherry and I quite often go to a Greek restaurant for a Greek salad.
We thought Greek salads should be even better in Athens. We soon learned,
however, to order the villager salad as all of the salads here are Greek.