Thursday, May 10, 2012

And Now It's History

Herodotus, Father of History 

The trip home was harrowing.  There was a delay getting out of Athens due to a bird hitting the engine on the inbound flight leaving a dent in the casing.  As a result, the Greek officials would not clear it for take-off.  It was clear the British pilot believed the damage to be well within the permissible limit for safe travel, but he had to contact the BA people in London to get beaurocratic permission to fly.  By the time we took off, everybody but me and Dwight were worried about making connections in London.  Dwight and I figured we had plenty of time since we'd requested wheelchair transport to speed up our connection time.  BA and American Airlines between them managed to queer the whole process and as it turned out, we were the only people on the flight from Athens NOT to make the connection to the DFW flight.  Instead, AA routed us to Boston where we would spend the night and continue our journey Sunday morning.  Bummer.  We missed a visit with my sister and her family in Dallas, among other things.  Airlines were being airlines.  We spent 24 hours either in an airport or an airplane.  At least TSA saved us from dastardly terrorists; we went through 3 security checks. 

Once we arrived in Boston, we discovered AA would not hold our bags for transfer the next day, so I had to contend with two 50 pound bags in addition to our carry-on bags.  Fortunately, they had trolleys available. Not wanting to complain about everything, I have to complement the wheelchair attendant in Boston.  She wheeled us all the way through the airport, and being concerned that we had no place to stay, wheeled us across the bridge, through the parking lot, to the Hilton Hotel, waited while we checked in, and wheeled us to the room.  We looked forward to a few hours of sleep.

After an uneventful Sunday, we arrived in Durango, were met by our son Sam and our dog Ollie.  How good to be back in our Colorado mountain home!  I think Ollie was as tired as we were after spending a jolly holiday with Sam and making many doggie friends in Telluride.  We're now all recovering and returning to life as usual.  Is there anything better than coffee and the Durango Herald in the morning, a fast internet connection, lunch with friends, and day-to-day duties?  Life is sweet in paradise!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Packing Again

Zeus or Poseiden -- take your pick

We’ve had two very pleasant days in Athens and we’re packing again for an early morning departure.  Yesterday we visited the National Archaeological Museum, and I was in heaven—Dwight less so, but I think he enjoyed it, too.  Those of you who know me know I go bananas when I’m able to see actual objects that I’ve shown to students in slides.  The Museum was packed with such objects.  It was also accessible, although you had to make an effort to find the accessible entrance.  The lower floor is devoted to sculptures from Archaic to Classical times.  The second floor has a suburb collection of vases from the same periods.  I took a million photos.  For dinner, we went to a tavern recommended for its rooftop terrace with a view of the Acropolis.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have reservations and were only able to be accommodated on the first floor, but it was a nice meal nevertheless.  Evening is a special time in Athens; the heat of the day fades and dusk makes all of the antiquities, especially the Acropolis, looks magical.

The Agora of Athens
Today we visited the Agora.  It, too, was a special visit.  We were able to find some good advice from a website which specializes in accessible travel.  Greece and the rest of Europe seem to be making an effort to increase accessibility in tourist areas.  In fact, we were waved through the gates of both the Archaeological Museum and the Agora without having to buy a ticket…a minor thing perhaps, but appreciated. One can really get a feel for ancient Athens by walking along the Panathenaea and wandering around the temples of the Agora.  In a way, it’s almost more “real” than the Acropolis, a place where people went about their daily lives.  After the Agora, we had another stroll down the streets of the Plaka, a light meal next to the New Acropolis Museum, and a taxi home.   Dwight has really done some walking in the last two days.  All along, he has been pretty game on this trip.  I’ve told him that when we get home, I’m going to put together a collage entitled:  ”Dwight in the bars of Italy and Greece.”

In spite of all their difficulties and sometimes surly attitude, I’m still drawn to the Greeks.  I don’t know why, but this city thrills me.  At least I’m not alone; a lot of people have been drawn to Greece because of its ancient history and our own attachment to their achievements.  For good or ill, we wouldn’t be who we are without the ancient Greeks.


·         I’ve never seen so much graffiti in my life!  Why does it give young people a thrill to deface buildings with graffiti?  They seem to have given up on controlling it here.

·         The Greek cars and motor scooters are twice as angry as any little angry Italian cars.   They seem to live to play Mexican standoff and “No Entry” signs only exist to be ignored.

·        Our taxi driver this evening claims to be an American citizen (Florida).  We asked him about last year’s taxi strike.  He said it cost him about $12,000 and now he can’t claim his Greek pension because he owes the pension fund for back taxes.  He also said now he can’t yet claim US SOCIAL SECURITY because of the strike.  He doesn’t own property in the US; he said his two sons were born there but now live in Athens; he talked like he never actually lived in the U.S.  This is not the first example we’ve seen of this sort of “Dual” Citizenship.  Most of the world claims some sort of ties to the U.S.  Everyone we've met in waiting for their Green Card.

·        Speaking of immigration, in the Monastariki section, we were approached by innumerable beggars and sellers of useless merchandise (although I did buy a useful walking stick from one entrepreneurial Bangladeshi commerçant).  There were even a significant number of children begging.  How and why did they all get to the “poor” country of Greece?

·         There are innumerable political rallies going on at the moment in preparation for Sunday’s elections.  That should be interesting. 

My mamma used to say the best part of any trip was getting home.  I’m looking forward to it.  I wish we could be there without 14 hours in airplanes!
Cheers!  See you in Durango.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

To Athens or Not to Athens

La Plaka

Debarkation day dawned, as it always does.  We overstuffed out backpacks and added a couple of plastic bags and were ready to leave the ship.  Among other things, deciding to take the second cruise had cut back on my trip-planning time.  I had read an article about the pleasures of Piraeus and its fishing/yacht port and had booked a hotel a block and a half from the port.  My thinking at the time was that we would rent a car and explore the outer regions of Attica without fighting the noise and dust and non-accessibility of Athens.  Hindsight:  bad idea, and I should stop thinking.  The hotel was only a block and a half from the port, true, but it was on a 60 degree incline and there was no way Dwight would ever get from there to the port.  On top of that, the taxi driver was rude and overcharged because he only got a short fare and was not taking someone into Athens. Dwight set up his computer in the room while I reconnoitered the area and came to the definite conclusion that we would have to change hotels; there was nowhere in the area he could even get to for lunch.  

I thought about calling my travel agent to fire her but was too busy trying to find us another hotel, this time in Athens.  The poor hotel owner in Piraeus was having a bad day (broken hot water pipe) and our leaving just added to his distress, adding to my guilt.  Unlike the ship, at least we had a decent internet connection.  All the usual travel sites had information and recommendations ad naseum.  I called the hotel we stayed in last year which we’d liked; they had rooms but wanted twice what we paid last year.  I turned them down on principle:  just another mistake in a long line of mistakes.  The next property I called had good reviews on Trip Advisor, but I didn’t read the reviews carefully enough.  The 4 ½ stars looked great, but it’s a budget property and it does budget stuff in a 4 ½ star manner.  When our taxi pulled up in front of the new hotel. the Aristoteles,  in Athens, I knew I had made a mistake, but, what the hey, it’s cheap.  What could we do…stand on the sidewalk with our luggage; find another taxi and say, “Take me to another hotel”; go to the airport and get on a flight. We walked in and booked a room.  We’ve both agreed that this hotel would be a real find were we young students once again—clean, cheap, adequate accommodations.  I have to add--an internet with blazing speed, which is a joy.

We were basically relieved to find a port in a storm and Dwight and I have become pretty resilient through years of travelling.  Weve' settled in to make the best of our days in Athens.  I did, however, call our travel agent and leave a nasty message; she hasn’t returned my call.    

After a shower and a nap everything looked brighter.  We took a taxi to the Plaka area, had a lovely stroll on a beautiful evening, a light dinner at an outdoor café, and back to the hotel.  At least the taxis are running now, a big difference from last year when we had trouble getting around.  The taxis now are plentiful and relatively inexpensive.  We’re looking forward to a Greek experience, but next time I’m booking everything through Paula at Fantasy Travel.  

A Relaxing Day in Mykonos

Bypassing Delos once again as we had last year, the Marina anchored at Mykonos in the morning even though the winds were kicking up swells and white water in a big way.  The waves were actually higher than they were last year when the Captain of the Nautica elected not to anchor there because of the winds.  One of the passengers, who had taken it personally when the Captain of another ship cost him a visit to Guernsey Island, told me it’s always the Captain’s discretion whether or not to anchor in a particular situation.  Since we have an Italian Captain at the moment, that didn’t give me comfort given what happened to the Costa Concordia.

 Mykonos is advertised as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe.  It shows.  There are wall-to-wall people, lots of whitewash, lots of tourist shops, and lots of cafes.  We made our way along the quay where Dwight found a nice café where he settled in with an ouzo while I reconnoitered.  This is beginning to sound like a pattern.  As promised, I managed to get turned around and lost in the maze of little streets that all look alike, passing through Little Venice and seeing about all there was to see in a short time.  If Disney has not recreated this already, I’m sure they will. (I'm just bummed because we didn't go to Delos.  Between taxi strikes and tour guide strikes, the Greeks are fast losing my good will. They should get a little motivation from the Turks.) I found a nice restaurant within shouting distance of the tender embarkation point; we ate well, and rocked and rolled our way back to the ship.  All-in-all, a pleasant day in the Greek sun spent on the island of Mykonos.  

Back on the ship, we had to have our bags packed and out in the hall by 10:30.  It would be hard to say good-bye to our home for 20 days, but, on the other hand, we were looking forward to a dry land experience.  Packing is always a pain. 

Shipboard in Santorini and Showtime in Turkey


The hour of truth came yesterday when it was time to admit I really didn’t have my last presentation prepared.  It was time to spend the day aboard ship and fight with the slow download speeds of the ship’s internet to cobble together a lecture, one which was relevant to our upcoming stop in Delos.  I spent most of the day with my laptop in Horizons, the top of the ship bar/coffee shop; one can’t complain about being anchored in the Santorini caldera, one of the most beautiful locations in the world.   I finally finished (more or less) about happy hour time.  Back in our stateroom, I got a call from Dottie, our Cruise Director.  It seems that the scheduled call in Delos was being cancelled because of a strike of guides at the National Historical site.  Go figure.  Someone’s always striking in Greece.  Anyway, they wanted me to eliminate all mention of Delos in my talk so as not to rub salt in the wounds of the passengers who would miss the island.  (In case you haven’t noticed, Dottie is never going to be my new best friend.)  Back to the drawing board.

The Library at Ephesus
When we arrived next day in Kusadasi, I was determined to enjoy the day and forget about the afternoon talk.  That talk had been dogging me for months already.  Dwight and I had arranged a car rental.  Since he had stayed on the ship in this port last year, I thought he deserved to see some of the beautiful countryside.  We headed toward Ephesus with the idea in mind that we would visit either the Temple of Artemis or the House of the Virgin Mary.  I turned off at the Ephesus turning on the bottom of the hill thinking Dwight may be able to catch a glimpse of the theatre or Library if we entered at the bottom.  We were offered a ride in a horse carriage; both of us interpreted the driver to say we would drive to the top of the hill and from there be able to overlook the ruins.  Not so.  We were driven to the top and dropped off with instructions to walk down to the car.  Ooops!  From last year, I remembered a steep and uncomfortable climb down the hill, but the driver insisted there was a fully accessible ramp leading down.  We gulped and bought tickets.  We toured the upper area which was sandy, flat and accessible, but when the path started down, we quickly realized that Dwight would not be able to manage it.  No problem—he got an idea of the layout of ancient Ephesus, some fallen stones and columns, and then he returned to the entrance shops to sit in a café.  I continued down the hill, picked up the car and drove up to pick him up. He was feeling no disappointment after an ouzo (or two?) and a nice spell of tourist watching.  What crowds!

By this time I was getting a little anxious about the time.  My talk was schedule for 4:00 p.m. and I needed to get back on Marina in time for lunch, shower and nap.  I’ve gotten used to using my cell phone as a watch, but that no longer works here.  So I bought a “genuine, fake Rolex watch,” and learned that it was close to noon already.  By the time we got back to Kusadasi the watch had stopped.  I asked in a jewelry shop about a battery and the storekeeper told me the trouble was that I had not bought a GENUINE fake, I had bought a FAKE fake.  Such is life on the tourist trail.

Back on the ship, small crowd at the talk, dinner on the fantail…all in all, a successful day and my tour as Guest Lecturer is over. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Crazy about Crete

The Center of the World on Crete

Crete could easily be my favorite stop of the whole cruise.  We docked in Agios Nikolaos, a small port about an hour’s drive from Heraklion, the major city and usual docking site of cruise ships. We had docked in Agios Nikolaos last year, so knew that there was little of interest in the town.  I booked a rental car via the internet a couple of days prior to our arrival.  (The difference in cost from those cars we rented upon arrival and those I pre-booked on the internet was around 50 Euro…planning ahead pays off!)  We had no particular itinerary in mind but one of the ship’s excursions was bound for the Lassithi Plateau, so we decided to head there as well.

Zeus' Birthplace
After only a few kilometers on the autoroute we passed a sign advertising the archeological ruins of Malia, so we decided to stop.  It was a good stop.  Just a few hundred yards off the main highway, the ruins occupied a flat seaside area.  Dwight was able to find a comfortable bench in the shade overlooking the site while I wandered around a bit.  It was a Minoan palatial site with a number of residential areas as well.  All of the artifacts had been removed to the Heraklion Museum and the site didn’t have the drama of Sir Authur Evans’ reconstruction at Knossos, but it was interesting nevertheless.
My Donkey and Friend

After visiting the ruins and enjoying a freshly squeezed orange juice, we left the main road and headed into the mountains to find the plateau, an agricultural plain located at about 3000 feet.  On the way we passed the ship’s buses.  They were having lunch at a restaurant overlooking the plateau but after lunch they would head back to the ship.  We continued on.  One of the main attractions of the Plateau is the Dikteon Andron, the cave where Zeus was born.  I couldn’t miss that!  While Dwight waited in a small café at the bottom of the hill, I started up the rocky path to the grotto.   Aided by a patient Greek donkey, I found my way to the cave and paid my respects, being grateful for the aid of the same patient donkey on the way down.  We ate a delicious lunch of fresh moussaka offered by the tavern mistress after my arrival at the bottom and made our way back to the ship via a twisty, windy road on the other side of the mountain.  A great Cretan adventure!