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What's So Great about the Hotel Grande Bretagne?

Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens, Greece Everything is great about the Grande Bretagne, Greece's most prestigious luxury hotel. From the moment we walked into the lobby I was filled with awe at the high ceilings, the marble, the wood, the furniture and the amount of activity. I knew from the moment I set foot in the building that I would have to force myself to leave. I loved the way the people at the desk smiled when they spoke to me and how the doorman just stuck a little tag on my bag and told me not to worry about it and sure enough it arrived at my room a few minutes after I did. I loved the elevator which was as elegant as an elevator can be. The lobby is the kind of place you can sit down, order a cappuccino, read the paper and be entertained by the people who walk by and sit near you, all day long and into the night.

Hotel Grande bretagne, Athens, GreeceI especially loved my room with the two giant beds and closets, full fridge and the 100 page handbook of hotel services, menus, history and anything else I might desire were I to decide to spend the rest of my life living there, which I was considering. We were thinking like parents and not like lovers so while my mother-in-law had a big room with two beds to herself in the Cypria we had to ask for a cot which made the room a little more cramped than it needed to be and kept romance at a very low level. Call me immoral, perverted or irresponsible but I would much rather have wild sex in a luxury suite then watch a family picture on the hotel's Pay-for-view movie channel. 

Syntagma Square from the Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens, greeceProbably my favorite feature was the balcony which looked over Syntagma square and from which I could see not only the Acropolis but the Evzones guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In fact on Sunday morning there is a ceremony where the entire legion of evzones comes marching to Syntagma complete with a marching band and we had the best seats in the house, with breakfast and great coffee. My second favorite feature was the telephone which not only had an answering service but also a connection for my laptop so that I did not have to unplug the phone to plug in my modem. Talk about knowing your clientele. And if Andrea got tired of me clicking away there was a business center on the second floor where I could plug in my laptop or if my laptop blew up there were a couple desk-top computers. (Since this was written the hotel has become completely wireless)

Breakfast at the Grande Bretagne, Athens, GreeceBreakfast at the GB Corner of the Grande Bretagne is worth whatever they charge (ours was free). There is a buffet table that looked like it came out of  Martin Scorcese's The Age of Innocence with so much food on it I didn't know where to start. They called it the American Breakfast Bar and sure enough the restaurant was full of Americans as well as Europeans who looked like they just stepped out of a John Le Carre novel planning the overthrow of nations or corporations over bacon and scrambled eggs. And indeed in the past (and for all I know the present), the GB Corner Bar and Restaurant has been a place where high stakes players, spies, diplomats, princes and oil ministers have rubbed elbows with normal people like you and me.

Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens greeceThe type of service they provide at the Grande Bretagne is something we had never experienced before. It seemed like everytime we used a towel a new one arrived to take it's place. We would return home to our room from the Plaka and find the bed covers folded over neatly so we could just climb in and a small chocolate candy placed on it. Not only that but they would place a cloth napkin (or whatever the word for it is. I am sure there is a name for this) on the floor by the bed so we could go from our shoes to the bed without our bare feet ever touching the actual carpeted floor. One day we arrived home to find a big bowl of fruit with a note from the manager sending his best wishes. OK. Maybe it was because they had heard of me and wanted to give me a good impression, but for all I know everyone gets this treatment, in fact they probably do and my feeling special was just self -delusion. And what other hotel do you wake up to find the International Herald Tribune and the Athens News hanging from your doorknob.

Winter room at the hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens, GreeceSo the last couple days we spent most of our time in the hotel. We would venture out for lunch meetings and maybe to shop, and one night Andrea and I went around the corner to the Cafe Neon for fresh pasta while Amarandi went with her grandmother to MacDonalds, two of the many fast food restaurants within a block of the hotel. That's not exactly a selling point with me either but for some people this is important. If you are not into Greek food and you have the money then don't bother leaving the hotel because the GB Corner restaurant will make you feel right at home. And with us the only arguements we had was over which room to eat our breakfast or have coffee or tea in, the GB Corner or the Winter Room.

Grande Bretagne Hotel in Athens, GreeceWhen it was time to leave the hotel we were pretty sad to go. Even Andrea was realizing how good she had it and we had long discussions about our difficult re-entry to the real world where unknown people did not come around to make your bed or pick up your dirty socks or leave breakfast menus for you to check off and leave hanging on the outside of your door before you went to sleep so that you would have it when you woke up in the morning. Perhaps we would never again be satisfied in the real world. But before we could sink into deep depression we were informed that we did not get seats on our wait-listed flight and we would have to stay another day. Yay! 
We celebrated with breakfast on the balcony.

Of course Mike Constantinou could not have been very pleased. Remember him? He's the guy who was paying for this and at this point he was probably wondering if we wouldn't get on the next flight either. Well we did. I was not to thrilled about leaving but it was either the Grande Bretagne or my family. I could not afford to support both. And I don't think Mike was ready to put me up in the old hotel for the rest of my life.

Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens GreeceSo this small chapter of my life ended on Sunday August 7th when my pal George Kokkotos the Famous Taxi Driver showed up in his new Mercedes to take us to the airport in the style we were now accustomed to. Sure a few days before we were like the Beverly-Hillbillies, but you would be surprised at the amount of sophistication that can rub off on you in a place like the Grande Bretagne. As the doorman helped me put my bags in the trunk I realized that the next time a uniformed man helps me with my bags it would probably be a New York customs agent trying to find out how many bottles of Mytilini ouzo or sardines I was  bringing into the USA. Chances are unless someone starts some kind of charity or collection for me, then I will never stay in the Grande Bretagne again. But if you ask me if I had a couple million dollars would I stay there on my next trip to Greece?
Hell, if I had a couple million dollars I would live there.

View of the evzones from the Hotel Grande bretagne, Athens, GreeceAs I sit in my office now in Carrboro, North Carolina, working away on my computer I realize I am doing exactly what I was doing in Greece during the heat-wave. I am in my room with the AC on, writing about Greece. Really the only difference is that when the sun goes down and the air gets cooler there are no outdoor restaurants where I can meet fellow travelers, drink an ouzo and have some grilled octopus. When I look out my window I see my neighbor Josie's little patio and pond and as pretty as it is it's not the same as seeing a platoon of marching evzones. Carrboro, unfortunately, does not compare with Greece and in fact I would take Athens in a heat-wave over North Carolina on a beautiful day anytime. It's kind of depressing really, when I think about it. But Andrea is happy and she is not on my case and just yesterday my mother-in-law moved into her own apartment. And I have a feeling that our three days at the Grande Bretagne left a favorable last impression so that I should be able to convince my family to make another trip to Greece this year.

Parthenon from the Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens, GreeceIf you are traveling with a difficult person and his/her mother, take my advice and do what I did. Stick the mother-in-law in the Athens Cypria Hotel and you and your difficult person spend a couple days in the Grande Bretagne. And if you have a child put him/her with the mother-in-law. There is something about those rooms that invites romance which a cot with a sleeping child tends to dilute. Yeah it's an expensive hotel but if you have the money it is worth it and if you don't have money just think of it as an investment in the future. Not only because it will make convincing your mate to visit Greece again this year a little easier, but because anywhere you can look out your window and see the Parthenon is a place you will remember for a long time.

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