When trying to decide where to go holiday this summer, I was influenced by a number of Greek friends I had made whilst studying in the UK during this last year who had encouraged me to go to Greece. I actually spent the first four years of my life in Athens. My parents had moved there with my dad’s work when the war broke out in Lebanon in 1975 and the company moved their regional headquarters from Beirut to Athens. As such, I spent the first few years of my life there but hadn’t really been back since 1988.
We booked flights with BA
in Club Europe and I asked my mum to reserve 767-300s each way. To my horror, she managed to put us on an A320 for the outbound flight. Fortunately though the return was on a 763 so that was going to have to be alright.
The outbound flight was BA
640, leaving Heathrow Terminal 1 at 08:20. We got to the airport around 7am and for the first time, went to what I believe is the fairly new premium check-in area. Here is a photo of it.
I was in seat 6F
, a window on the right hand side of the aircraft. After proceeding through immigration I went to the lounge and checked email and had some snacks. Here are some photos of what I had to eat as well as the lounge:
At around 07:35 I proceeded to the gate and we were bused to the aircraft. I took a couple of photos as we were driving around the tarmac. Here is a BA
747-400 snapped just before we got on the bus:
As we approached the aircraft I noticed that we were going to be traveling on Airbus A320-232 G-EUUE
, delivered to BA
in August 2002. Boarding via the air stairs took ages and so that gave me an opportunity to get a couple of photos of the aircraft:
13 July 2006
Departure time: 08:20 (scheduled), 08:40 (actual)
Landing time: 13:55 (scheduled), 13:50 (actual)
I took my seat, 6F
, and within about 20 minutes we started our taxi out. It was delayed by the fact that a Lufthansa A300-600 (which was right behind us) was having trouble with its brakes. Have no idea what the problem was, but here is the aircraft in question:
The safety briefing was done in English and they also played a pre-recorded version in Greek. The takeoff runway this morning was 27L and as we taxied out I took a photo of G-BNWB which was parked at the gate. Interestingly enough, I also saw this aircraft on the way to LAX
a few weeks later and another photo of it is available for viewing in my LHR
We had to wait for an Air Canada A340-300, a BA
757-200 and a TAP Air Portugal A319 to pass us by and take off as we were holding short of the runway (not sure why) but we eventually got under way around 08:40.
After takeoff the cabin crew came round with hot towels and then brought the breakfast service. No menus were provided but the first course was a plate of fruit and some muesli:
This was followed by eggs and sausages:
In general the food was quite lousy but I didn’t care too much because I was excited to be en route to Athens.
I got bored throughout the rest of the flight so I decided to watch a bit of Seinfeld on my laptop before the battery died!
At about 1:35 pm we started our descent for Athens and came in to touch down on Athens Airport runway 3L. As we taxied to our stand I noticed a couple of interesting aircraft, including an Air Universal 747-200 and what I believe was a former Olympic Airways 737-200.
We taxied to the other side of the complex and parked next to a Thai 777-300. Deplaning was done in the Middle Eastern fashion with people getting up before we parked and that sort of thing. Immigration was a breeze and so was baggage collection. It even gave me a chance to try out my Greek reading:
Unfortunately leaving the airport was a bit of a problem because my mother made the mistake of speaking to the customs officer in Greek and he used that opportunity to make us open all of our bags, only to then not bother looking at them. Oh well – at least he was able to amuse himself.
Taking a taxi to the town was a bit of a hassle. There were literally 100 taxis queued up and far fewer customers. But still we had to wait for about 30 minutes before we were able to get one. Typical Greek inefficiency at play.
Overall, the flight with BA
was fine but hardly anything special. I expected to be given a menu and perhaps a choice for breakfast. They should also block the middle seat on the right side of the cabin as well as the left. Oh well.
My time in Athens was absolutely a blast. One of my dearest friends from Oxford is from Athens and I spent most of the time with him and his friends. Having dinner in a Greek restaurant is a relaxed affair, often taking up to 3 hours to enjoy a fine meal and then following it with going to a club by the sea in Glifadha or going somewhere else for some dancing. As it happened, on my first night there it was my friend’s sister’s birthday, so we ended up doing just that sort of thing and I didn’t get back to my hotel until 5am. The same thing happened on subsequent nights.
In the middle of this, I also had time to go and visit the house where I was effectively born. It is situated in the north of Athens and since my parents hadn’t been there for ages we had a bit of a tough time finding it, but we eventually did and I managed to remember certain aspects of it. Ironically, we also ran into an old neighbour on the street in front of the house and he was very surprised and very happy to see us. He invited us up and we ended up seeing other people that my parents used to know. It’s so refreshing when something DOESN’T change over the course of 20 years.
Here’s a shot of where my old house was:
And here is a shot of the city just for the sake of including a photo of Athens for the trip report:
In short, I haven’t really tried to describe how much I liked Athens but in short let’s just say that I think it has so many of the good things (intangible and tangible) that I like about Lebanon and I would like to live in Greece one day. I’ve actually taken the first step by starting to learn Greek!
After Athens we went to Paros (one of the Greek islands in the Cyclades). Unfortunately Paros Airport has a very short and lopsided runway, which means that only very small (Dash-8 size) turboprops can land there and as a result there are only about 90 seats per day from Athens to Paros. That being the case, we weren’t able to get plane tickets and so we had to take the ferry from Piraeus to Paros.
Paros is also very nice but in a much different way. I effectively did nothing during the 5 days that I was there except for relax on the beach, swim in the sea, swim in the pool, eat and read. We stayed near what I believe is the biggest town in Paros, Naoussa, and I have included a couple of photos of the time I spent there:
Town of Naoussa:
The car I hired:
One of the restaurants – see if you can spot what I found funny
The trip back to London started first with a ferry ride back to Athens. Our flight was scheduled for 7pm from ATH
and our ferry was meant to arrive at Piraeus (the port near Athens) at 16:20. We were advised by the Greeks that since the ferry system is hopelessly unpunctual that we should take an earlier boat if we didn’t want to miss our flight. I personally would have died if that had happened because I’d have missed the 767-300! So we ended up taking an earlier boat to Rafina, a port closer to Athens airport.
Traveling by Hellenic Seaways in Greece is more of a pain in the ass than anything else due in large part to how disorganized the system is. The boat I was on took us from Paros to Naxos, Mykonos, Ios and then Rafina for a total journey time of 5.5 hours that would get us into Rafina at 15:20 thereby allowing us to get to Athens Airport by 4pm at the latest.
The journey started off with a ride in a 1996 Mercedes E-Class taxi with 400,000 km on it to the port at Paros. From there, we got onto the boat called “High Speed 2” which is operated by Hellenic Seaways and looks something like this:
Here are a couple of photos from the journey:
Naxos (I think):
The ferry from the terrace outside:
And the interior:
With heavy winds and a delay at Ios, we didn’t reach Rafina until 16:30 and from there took a Volkswagen Passat taxi to Athens airport, arriving by 5pm.
Here is the departures board at ATH
And the check-in area:
Overall I must say that the new Athens airport is quite nice, albeit quite out of the way from the city.
We checked in and I was very happy to learn that the aircraft was indeed going to be a 767-300. I was assigned seat 5K and after going through security and immigration, proceeded to the BA
lounge is very small and in fact there weren’t enough seats for everyone to sit down. There were 3 computers and a selection of newspapers and snacks though. The other interesting thing is that there were proper BA
timetables on offer! I used to collec their timetables but hadn’t seen one in circulation for at least 5 years!
Here are a couple of photos of the lounge:
Departure time: 19:00 (scheduled), 19:00 (actual)
Arrival time: 20:55 (scheduled), 20:30 (actual)
By 18:30 they had called the flight and we went over to the gate. I saw that G-BZHA (del 1998) would be operating the flight. Inside the plane looked to be in fairly decent condition but of course had the anachronistic overhead bins. Here are some shots of the cabin:
What is nice is that on BA
763s in Club Europe the middle “E” seat is blocked so the layout is effectively 2-2-2. I had a pretty good view from seat 5K but couldn’t see the whole engine unfortunately.
We were parked next to an Olympic Airbus A300-600 and the crew was getting the aircraft ready, I noticed that outside the window the baggage truck had dropped some cases onto the tarmac:
We taxied out to the runway (3R) and with a roar, the RB211s starting churning quickly and we gathered pace. We took off smoothly into the Greek sky and were treated to a lovely view from the right side of the aircraft:
After about 5 minutes the crew came round the cabin with hot towels and the beverage service. My father had a scotch on the rocks and I had a vodka and orange:
As you can see the F/A wasn’t being parsimonious with the bottles of whiskey.
Soon after, the BBC World News became available for viewing on the CRT screens on the ceiling in the aisles:
And subsequently, menus were passed out. I rested the menu on my laptop keyboard (the same laptop which I am using to write this trip report) for the sake of taking a photo:
As you can see, the main offerings for dinner were chicken and lamb.
First course was a tabbouleh salad (which wasn’t particularly good – leave the tabbouleh making to the Lebanese in my opinion) but here is a photo nonetheless:
I asked for the lamb and my dad had the chicken, thus enabling me to take photos of both.
I must comment that the lamb was actually really good and I was surprised to have been offered a menu as well as a choice since there was no such thing on the outbound. Unfortunately the meal was made slightly unpleasant by the fact that the gentleman sitting in 4K, was loud and wouldn’t shut up.
After the main course came the dessert and a plate of cheese and biscuits. The chocolate mousse was very good but slightly too rich for my liking:
And the cheese:
After dinner I went back to door 2R
in order to take a forward facing photo of the cabin:
Upon returning, I swapped seats with my mother (who was in 5F) so that I could speak to the gentleman in 5D, who was a Frenchman from Brittany. I practiced my French with him and we spoke about what sort of things I could do on holiday in Brittany and I also took the opportunity to ask him some things about his work (he works for a travel agency in London). All in all we had a splendid chat and we kept on talking until the moment that we started our descent for Heathrow, at which point I went back to my original seat in order to look out the window.
We came in for a landing on runway 27R and taxied over to Terminal 1. Just after we pulled off the runway, the F/O made an announcement along the following lines:
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to London Heathrow where the local time is 8:30pm and the temperature is 28 degrees celcius. As you can see, we’ve arrived well ahead of schedule and we have just learned that a gate is available for us, so we expect to be on stand in about 5 minutes. Also, three cheers to our pilot for his first 767 landing in over 5 years. Of course, you wouldn’t have known that from how smooth it was, but none the less, congratulations are due.”
That last little bit from the pilot was my cue. When we deplaned, I went up to the cockpit and asked the F/A if I could ask the pilot a question. She started to say something like “oh I don’t think that will be possible” but my timing could not have been more perfect. As I was asking her the question, the pilot popped out himself and said that he would love to have a chat with me.
We moved over to door 1R (deplaning was from 1L) and I asked him what aircraft he had been flying before he came back to the 767s. He told me that he was previously on the Airbus fleet and had decided to move back to the 76s. He also said that landing a 767 is much different from landing an Airbus, because the 767 is thrust neutral (not the exact terminology) and so when you idle the engine, the nose droops down and you really have to pull up on the stick in order to touch down with the right attitude, otherwise you’ll bury the nose wheel. We then went to talk about the RB211s and he told me that on a TOGA for instance, you get a lot more thrust at the high end (or something like that). I don’t remember the terminology he used completely (partially due to the fact that I was on the verge of having an orgasm at the joy of all this) but I think I have captured the gist of what he said. He then invited me into the cockpit (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). He put me in the captain’s chair and we also spoke to the other pilot about a couple of different things. To be honest, we did have a good conversation but I can hardly remember what was spoken about because I was just so happy to be in the cockpit. But in brief, the dusking of the 763 fleet, FADEC and 763 destinations were discussed. I then asked if it would be alright to take a photo and they both agreed and so here I present you all with British Airways Captain Michel of the 767-300:
Afterwards I expressed my sincere gratitude and said goodbye, and was presented with a 767-300 postcard. At this point, I was so happy I wasn’t even thinking of anything else (such as missing the bus back to Oxford). For the last 2 years I had dreamed of getting on a BA
767-300 before I left the UK and it became effectively too late, and not only had I gotten on one but I had traveled in Club Europe, had an excellent flight, and to top it of I had gotten a post-landing cockpit visit!
That makes the rest of the trip report too boring and I won’t even bore you with the details of it. All I can say is I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to visit the cockpit and chat with the crew and that if the pilot of that flight (whose name I have written down but escapes me now) is reading this report, I owe you one mate. He could have easily said no I’m afraid I can’t talk to you or let you in the cockpit, but he didn’t and as a result he made one aviation enthusiast very, very happy.
PARIS, FRANCE...THE BEIRUT OF EUROPE.