Athens Portraits [6]: Greek families hit the beach

more than a year ago
Bright and early every Sunday morning in the summer, Plateia Egyptou in downtown Athens sees a gathering of the clans with a difference. Athenians of all shapes, sizes and nationalities form little groups of friends, families and hangers-on loaded up with swimsuits, beach mats, umbrellas, beach balls, cool bags and packed lunches waiting for coaches that represent an escape to the seaside and few hours respite from the grimy city heat.
They usually travel in family groups – sometimes spanning several generations – and stake their claim to their particular patch of beach as soon as they set foot on it. Beach mats are laid, folding chairs erected, towels spread out, rubber rings and arm bands inflated for excited youngsters, and the air is filled with the scents of a thousand different brands of sun cream.
As the kids go rushing into the sea in a splash of impatience, anxious grandparents keep a wary eye out while many a mum and dad stretch out and work on their tan. Ancient fragile aunts are helped to their beach chairs and ever-so-gently sat down where they can enjoy the sight of their extended family splashing in the shallows for the next eight hours. A helpful uncle is sent to the nearest shop to stock up on ridiculously over-priced cheese pies, bottles of water and cans of sugary pop.

By midday, mums and grandmothers start pulling out a seemingly endless supply of plastic containers and tin foil packages containing anything from cheese and ham sandwiches to left-over moussaka, and fathers try in vain to persuade their offspring to come out of the water for a sit-down in the shade and a bite to eat.
After lunch, the air is filled with a medley of sounds including Auntie’s gentle snoring, the wailing of toddlers worn out by too much sun sea and excitement, parents’ frantics cries of “Kostaki! Elenitsa!” as older kids head for the waves with a belly-full of leftovers, and the relentless tock-tock-tock of the teenagers’ game of beach tennis to show off their sun-kissed bods to the opposite sex.
By the time the sun starts sinking towards the horizon, the coaches have arrived for the return trip and dozens of parasols and beach mats are gathered up, inflatables deflated and rubbish discarded. Kids are dragged from the waves at the last minute to make the trip back to the sweaty city in their soggy, salty beachwear.
Back at the beach, all that is left are a few discarded peach stones, some scrunched-up tin foil and a forgotten beach ball. Until next Sunday.


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