Athens 2004: Me! At the Olympics!

An Epistle Home: Getting to and living through the first days in Athens.

Ah, the miserable, long dark and fallow time between end of the WNBA season and the return of women’s college basketball. Can there be a better time to pause and reflect on the glories of the summer gone by? Or, in my case, to get off my lazy butt and write a bit about my time in Athens covering the Olympics. For those who aren’t up to date on my schedule and miscellaneous adventures, I found myself as a last second journalist in the land of Greece. While I did manage a quick check in, I was woefully remiss with any updates. A quick recap of me, the early days, in Greece:

A 6:30pm flight (with an hour delay out of JFK) got me to Vienna at 10am…their time. You need to do the math, if I do it my head hurts. I like the concept of flying into the future a heck of a lot more than the reality. Of course, if you ARE going to spend extended time on an airplane, it might as well be Austrian Air. First, they don’t seemed to have gotten the TSA memo, ‘cause dinner still served with metal utensils. AND, it was downright tasty. And did I mention the free cocktails? I mean, free is FREE, right? The plane was “of an age” and I had some weird flashbacks as I flipped the little seat ashtrays tops back and forth. Who out there remembers “smoking sections” on planes. Yikes, suddenly I want my lungs x-rayed.

I will, though, play the cranky old flier and recommend that we create “children sections” — or at least the option to jettison children who violate the unwritten Long Flight Plane Rules. As in silence is golden. The plane, being “of an age,” had those “stewardess call buttons” (yes, of THAT age) that rang throughout the entire plane. How do I know this? Because a little “angel” of about 10yrs had joyously discovered the fact and was determined to see just how long he could make the cadmium-red clad Austrian Air attendants scurry up and down the aisle and severely whisper to his mom, “He can’t do that!” His mom, of course, had thrown up her hands saying, “I’m not in charge!”

A couple of hours to wait before a 2 hr. trip to Athens prompted a quick geographic reality check.. *insert American Capitalist Observation here* So really, I ask you, does Vienna with its coffee history REALLY need to import a Starbucks? Apparently they do, because as I waited for my flight out, I observed travelers put green aproned barristas through their paces. Sigh. *end A.C.O. comment*

After successfully negotiating the brand spankin’ new Athens airport, I had my first encounter with the soon to be legendary Greek phrase not found in tourist guide books, “Ten Minutes.” During the my time in Athens, I discovered that when an official or volunteer ever said, “10 minutes” they weren’t actually lying, it’s just that’s what the schedule said. The reality was that “10 minutes” can mean anything between 2 minutes to an hour AND 10 minutes. I arrived at my little media bus stop at 3:50 and was ecstatic to hear the words “10 minutes.” Unfortunately, it was one of the longer 10 minutes I was to encounter. Fortunately, the bevy of volunteers that were there provided lots of good company. That would be a constant throughout my stay. It was there I discovered that, in Greece, English IS the second language.

And hour or so later, when my bus did finally arrive – and it was MY bus, since I was the only one on the Greyhound-esque beast – we zipped out and up to where my media housing was located. Agios (Ay-ee-os) Andreas – St. Andrews to us tourists – a former military housing site. Imagine, if you will, the old tv show “The Prisoner” but without the bouncing ball chasing down escapees. Tiny little two-person houses with twisty curvy roads that humble my frail sense of direction. Scattered throughout are almost grown-up houses where – I was told – military folk have made permament residence.

There was a big commisary where breakfast was served daily. It took me three days to figure out how the get from my house-room in Green Area K House A (GK1, for those interested in housing shorthand.) by foot, while avoiding the walls. Because walking was much faster than the “Prisoner-esque” little choo-choo train that takes us round and round and round the various compounds.

The most attractive part of the compound was the onsite taverna, a great place to grab some real food late at night. And I mean, late at night, many of which I had, and no, it’s NOT what you’re thinking. Though my specialty is women’s basketball, I was also covering volleyball and beach volleyball – both men’s and women’s. So, figure that’s 5 events to get to. And, of course, they’re on the OTHER side of Athens. To get there you use the official transport system of the Athens Olympics, “Lego Travel.” I call it Lego Travel – you can only go so far before you need another piece to connect to. Micro-managed doesn’t even BEGIN to cover the travel scheme. Consider a trip down to Faliro to catch the Volleyball.

20 minute mini-train to the shuttle into Athens. Wait “10 Minutes”

40 minute shuttle bus to the MPC (Main Press Center) and IBC (International Broadcasting Center). Wait “10 Minutes”

25 minute shuttle to the Faliro Shuttle Hub. Wait “10 Minutes”

10 minute shuttle to the venues at Faliro Costal Zone Olympic Complex which features Handball, Volleyball and Beach Volleyball. There’s the additional taunting factor to be added. Let’s say you’re going to Handball….On the way to the Failro HUB you actually pass all three venues. Then, when you get on the shuttle, you actually PASS the Handball venue,  then Volleyball and hit Beach Volleyball first drop off. By the end of the 16 days, photographers, who were lugging more equipment than any three teamsters would be allowed to carry unsupervised, were all but weeping in frustration.

If I want to get down to Helliniko, where the BBall is (and where, oh Greek Gods of the Olympics willing) I’ll be tomorrow), I take the 10 minute shuttle back to the outer hub. The 15 minute shuttle to the OTHER outer hub… then the 5 minute shuttle to the arena.

Haven’t seen much of the Greek world yet… spent yesterday acclimating myself to everything….including jet lag… and figuring out how to get a day pass (since my credential is only good for vball). Thank goodness most of the Greeks speak English, ’cause, frankly, it’s all Greek to me. My Spanish and bad French is absolutely of no use to me…. The Greeks have been infallibly kind and patient… My main complaint is about signage… Bigger and better color coordination…. and information on BOTH SIDES of the sign….

Caught some beach volleyball – dang, it is hot in the afternoon – and wondered if when the women play, a team of men in skimpy speedos runs out and does and dance routine full of hip gyrations. I’m guessin’ not.

Indoor volleyball, where the Brazilian fans (of the women’s team) were loud and raucous. And seemingly equally split along gender lines.. interesting thought…. went away and came back to catch the US women’s match against the Chinese… had to leave before the end, because of the 2hr journey home…. No idea how it turned out – since there’s no “daily news” and email/internet hadn’t been set up yet. Being AT the Olympics means keeping track of everything is tough…. Little tv in my room runs commentator-less Olympic feeds all day… multiple channels so i caught some badminton and ping pong and sabre (YEOW!).

Busy recovering now – and planning my day for tomorrow. THINK BASKETBALL!!!!

Hope all and any who are in Florida are safe….. I miss having instant access to everyone.

Oh, and the US women’s BBall team won their first game, I hear. Ain’t we lucky to have them?

OPA!

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