Don't underestimate the Greeks, advised the hotel receptionist. 'We may sit drinking ouzo in the sun but when the pressure is on we work all day to get things finished.'
The pressure is certainly on for the Olympics, which are due to take place in Athens in June 2004. Greece has only just begun the giant - it is tempting to say Herculean - organisation and construction task required. One of the smallest countries ever to host the modern Games must create a mass of new facilities including many of the necessary sports venues, rail, air and road links, hotels and other accommodation as well as the complex temporary infrastructure needed for the Games themselves - the so called 'overlays'.
Greece has never been one of the richest European countries and there is a lot to do.
The timescale to the first athletic test events, considered crucial for dress rehearsal, is as little as one and a half years, though some works will not complete until spring 2004.
Something like £1.2bn is to be spent directly on the Games over this time, with another £1.14bn committed by the Greek government towards associated infrastructure projects.
The cynical perception of jaded Athenians, only recently riding the trains on a new metro first promised for 1998, and still waiting the new airport and its highway link, is that it cannot be done in time.
But at a special two hour press conference early this month the Athens Olympic Organising Committee Athoc 2004 was at pains to prove the opposite. A welter of data and statistics was presented to show not only that matters are in hand, but that work is ahead of similar schedules set in Sydney for the 2000 Olympics (see chart).
Despite reported concern and 'yellow card warnings' about delays issued last year by the International Olympic Committee, ATHOC says its masterplan is operating and running. It claims its transportation strategy is coming together, its agreements for infrastructure signed, and its own construction and planning team in place.
The ball was set rolling at the grand opening last week of the first section of the Athens peripheral expressway, a new motorway which includes a critical link to the airport at Spata.
Gibb subsidiary Gibb Hellas is independent engineer for the build operate transfer project.
Gibb chairman Jim Dawson says the new motorway is 'stunning and built to world class'. It now takes less than 30 minutes to reach the airport from traffic congested downtown Athens, he says.
Keeping the infrastructure programme moving over the next three years will be one of many tasks for the Athoc works and projects section, says its general manager, civil engineer Theodore Yiannacopoulos. His team will carry out monthly critical path schedule checks and push for action wherever it sees delay.
The Committee has signed 15 Memorandums of Understanding with ministries and government which, he says, will become tight agreements.
'There will have to be more resources put in. There is only one solution; the projects must be finished on time.'
Construction is being undertaken by a variety of ministries.
Big transport works such as the new expressway and major road upgrades for a so-called Olympic Ring are commissioned and overseen by the Ministry of Environment, Physical Planning & Public Works.
Electronic traffic management for greater Athens is being installed and road upgrades are under way around football stadiums in four other cities: Thessalonica, Patras, Volos and Heraklion on Crete.
The ministry will also look after major extensions to the new Athens Metro, almost doubling the just opened system. It will also oversee the creation of more than 20km of surface tramway with a mixture of public and private finance, and construction of five athletic venues including the environmentally controversial canoeing centre in the Schinias national park.
Upgrading existing facilities is the task of the Ministry of Culture's sports secretariat. Its timescales have been helped by the fact that 70% of the sports venues were redeveloped for Greece's 1996 Olympic bid.
These works include refurbishing the open air Olympic stadium in Athens, the Panthesselian and Pancretan stadiums, the Patras stadium and others for Olympic football matches.
The ministry is also building a new broadcasting centre, a tennis centre and riding centres as well as upgrading several swimming centres and other facilities.
The Ministry of Transport & Communications is dealing with suburban highway improvement and new trolley bus connections.
Athoc is commissioning and controlling some major construction projects itself. The Olympic village is to be under its remit - a $300M construction project which will accommodate 17,600 Olympic athletes and the thousands more who will follow on for the Paralympics.
But a third logistically complex thread of the Athoc construction division's operations is to define, organise and operate the 'overlays' - temporary facilities needed for the weeks of the two events.
Each venue must have locations and resources for security operations, ticketing control, the media, medical services, sanitation, catering, merchandising, finance, sponsorship and environmental matters.
'In all there are 30 functional areas to think about for 37 venues, ' says Yiannacopoulos.
'Our conceptual approach essentially follows the methods developed for Barcelona and for Sydney, ' he says. That is a standardised format for venues which is then individually tailored, rather than letting each location devise its own solution.
'We have advisers from Sydney and visited there for seminars and during their Games. There is no point in re-inventing the wheel, ' he says.
To intertwine all these threads the team is using 'all the normal project management tools, ' says Yiannacopoulos. 'Primavera, QA and QC systems, cost control and document control.' He has a team of 25 engineers already and is recruiting 18 more. Others will join the team later.
Last week also saw interviews for international firms bidding for technical advice and project management roles in Athoc.
Contracts are due to be let shortly for monitoring of the Olympic village, the non-event venues such as media and training centres, and the event venues.
'These will be advisory and management control roles, ' says Yiannacopoulos.
Some 18 or so firms are thought to be bidding, including Symonds, Gibb Hellas, Maunsell, Brown & Root, Bechtel and Mott MacDonald. Germany's Lahmeyer is another likely contender.