Day 13 - Thessaloniki

Aristotelous Square, Thessaloniki

Aristotelous Square, Thessaloniki

My last full day.

I woke up later than usual, opened the windows to my hotel room and it was raining. No need to get a jump start on the day. I managed to make it downstairs at my hotel in time for breakfast. Greek yogurt with honey, bread and jam, coffee. I had a lot of writing to catch up on, so I brought my computer to the lobby and had more coffee and wrote for a couple of hours. I love that I'm keeping this blog alive, but it's a labor of love. There are so many details to get down and I know I'm failing at getting all of the tiny, interesting ones, but those are the ones that will stick with me outside of pen and paper.

As I sat there sipping my cappuccino, I received a phone call from Elena, my grandmother's sister's daughter. I was going to meet up with her and her husband Dimitris for dinner. Another set of relatives I'd never met before, but who were nevertheless thrilled I was in town and excited to meet me. We decided on a place and time to meet, down by the harbor in the same neighborhood I'd gone out to the night before, so at least I felt like I knew my way around, even a little.

The rain let up and I went out. I walked back through Ladadika towards the harbor. I walked past the location I would meet Elena at later. Full disclosure: it was a Starbucks. #Merica I had no real plan in mind for the day. I enjoyed window shopping (lots of fabric and craft stores - not sure why) and peopel watching.

White Tower, Thessaloniki

White Tower, Thessaloniki

View from the top of the White Tower

View from the top of the White Tower

Scary tiny doorways inside White Tower

Scary tiny doorways inside White Tower

Fried cheese wrapped in filo? Yes, please, forever.

Fried cheese wrapped in filo? Yes, please, forever.

I headed toward the White Tower, which used to be a prison and stood with water surrounding it. I walked to the top and took in the view. Pangs of hunger hit me hard. Should I go to the museum? Nay. I went to go get food instead, of course. This was my last full day! My last full chance to fill up on saganaki! I walked back toward Ladadika and strolled by the restaurants. I settled on one and ordered, you guessed it, fried cheese. This time, it was fried cheese wrapped in filo dough. I have no idea how the Greeks pulled that one off, but it was delicious. As were the olives, my last. I was also served bread (obviously) and a tomato paste. I don't know what I was supposed to use the tomato paste for, but I put it on my bread and all over my cheese, so fresh and delicious. Naturally, a beer accompanied.

What to do after that? I went back to my hotel and took a nap. Being awake is hard work.

I woke up and got ready for dinner. It was unfortunately raining again, but not too hard. I didn't bring an umbrella (I hardly even bring an umbrella in my own country), but I just put the hood of my sweatshirt over my head and was fine.

Starbucks. 7:30. Elena and Dimitris showed up. I'd only seen pictures of them on Facebook, but thank goodness for that. Technology, I'm telling you, it's amazing. They welcomed me with open arms and hugs. Everyone keeps telling me how much I look like my grandmother, which is a compliment. She was beautiful. Elena even told me my laugh reminds her of my grandmother, which I didn't see coming, but that works too.

We went to a restaurant right on the waterfront that they used to frequent frequently. Shared a salad and a bottle of wine and I had my last lamb of the trip - a perfect meal to end on. We talked about family and filled each other in on what we do in our day to day lives. Elena was on a trip to Greece when she was 32 and never returned back to the states. Instead, she married Dimitris. Such a romantic story. I told her I'm 32 also and she said, "Dimitris, who can we introduce her to after dinner?" It was then decided that a man living in London would be just perfect for me. I see a bit of a geographical technicality there, but hey, I'm game.

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Ladadika, Thessaloniki

Ladadika, Thessaloniki

We walked around and went to the port where there are warehouses that exhibitions take place. Nothing was open, but it was calm, quiet and the lights of the city next to the water were beautiful.

They drove me back to my hotel. "Remember you always have family here," she told me. We talked about my next trip back because one day was not enough. I'm happy again to have people somewhere who are family and caring and want to connect.

Did I go upstairs and go to sleep? No, of course not. This was my last night in Europe for who knows how long. I found a nearby bar, met a Greek boy named Nicolas and enjoyed the evening.

When I got back to my hotel and set four separate alarms on my phone. One cannot miss their flight back home... can they? That's not insinuating I missed my flight, but I was definitely settling into this nomadic, foreign life. I'd be sad to leave it in the morning and return to my life back home.

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Lamb, of course over a bed of chips. My last supper.

Lamb, of course over a bed of chips. My last supper.

Day 12 - Katerini, Thessaloniki

I woke up early and took advantage of the Meteora scenery for the sunrise. The only other sunrise I've been awake for was the one in Santorini after being up all night. I woke up around 5:30 and dragged my ass back to my rock. I was alone there for about 20 minutes before a couple showed up. Sunrise took awhile because I was surrounded by mountains and the light was slow to creep through to the rocks.

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I sat there and put my hands firmly on the rock. This would likely be the last time I would ever be here and I felt like I wanted to connect. (I'm getting flowery, I know.) This trip has been a whirlwind and I have to continuously remind myself to slow down and enjoy each moment. Pay attention to the small details, savor it. Be, if you will.

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These rocks  know  me.

These rocks know me.

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(Cheryl Crow is on right now. "All I want to do is have some fun." Perfect.)

I went back to the hotel, packed up my life and got into the car. As I was backing up to leave, the man who runs the hotel waved at me. I turned off the engine. "You have to pay!"

Whoops. I'd made all of my reservations online. Some I paid for in advance, some I hadn't. I did not remember that I had not paid for this room. Had he not seen me leaving, I would have stiffed him for two nights. I felt so badly, but he seemed understanding.

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The plan for the day! I was making my way to Thessaloniki, but on the way, I would make a stop in Katerini for lunch with some relatives!

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So, my dad's mother was half Greek. And I was going to visit her first cousin, Elias, and his son, Ignatios, in Katerini. I don't know exactly what that makes me. (But I'm sure after my dad reads this, he'll tell me exactly how man removals I am, etc.)

It was a two hour drive from Meteora to Katerini. The roads took me back to the coast where I pulled off at a beach for a last splash in the sea.

I also noticed a giant cloud off to my left with a mountain behind it. It's the closest look I received of Mount Olympia. Too bad I didn't get to see more than a small peaking through the clouds, but hey, everything else thus far exceeded my expectations, so, no big deal.

I showed up about an hour early. Katerini is much more of a residential town than any other place I'd visited. I parked my car and walked to a nearby establishment. It was a local bar/taverna of sorts. The only customers in there were old men, some talking, most smoking and many playing solitaire. It was a perfect place to sit.

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The only view of Mount Olympia I got. 

The only view of Mount Olympia I got. 

My grandmother's cousin, Elias, and Brown Sara.

My grandmother's cousin, Elias, and Brown Sara.

I walked back to meet my cousin(s). My grandmother's cousin is 91 and still lives on his own. With help, mind you. But that's where we all met. We sat and visited for a spell before heading out to a local farmer's market and then off to lunch. Elias stayed at his house. Ignatios, his wife, and his wife's niece went to an Italian restaurant in the town center. It was delightful! After my long journey alone or just with passing strangers, it was good to connect with people.

Mind you, this is the first time I've ever met any of them, but they followed suit with everyone I've met in Greece: so nice. We ate and talked about family, the economy, school and anything else in between. They are a fine, good-hearted couple doing everything in their power to help their community during this time of crisis. I learned a lot.

He's buying me a freshly squeezed bottle of pear juice

He's buying me a freshly squeezed bottle of pear juice

Prosciutto pizza

Prosciutto pizza

The idea of family is a strong one. It brings people together who might not know each other or have anything in common or might not even like each other. But if you're lucky, you find common ground and your bond is that much stronger because of blood. Blood is thick.

I remember something I read by Kurt Vonnegut about family. I believe that the general gist was, just because you're family, doesn't mean you should force a relationship. I completely agree with this. Yes, blood is think, but don't force it. (Not sure if that metaphor held up.) But if you're lucky, you'll find that common ground and make a connection with people. The older I get, the more I'm learning that connections are important. And I'm happy to have found out that I've found a connection with, while distant family, still family.

Ladadika, Thessaloniki

Ladadika, Thessaloniki

Meatball, souvlaki, saganaki, demi-sweet wine, bread

Meatball, souvlaki, saganaki, demi-sweet wine, bread

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Then I drove into Thessaloniki. I needed to return my rental car at the airport. Did so. I had hoped that I could take some kind of public transit to my hotel in the town center, alas, such thing either 1) doesn't exist or b) would have taken way too long for me to figure it. I treated myself to the second cab ride on my trip. Checked into my hotel and headed out to find food and explore the neighborhood of Ladadika. 

What a fun part of town! It's near the port and has dozens a bars and restaurants within a few block radius. I found a place to go to town on some meat and fried cheese, like I do. Definitely something I was going to miss back home. This was my second to last night of the trip and I tried to stay out to soak up the city and make the most of my remaining time.

I continued to be surprised how different each city/location throughout Greece had been. They all have different cultures, different aspects, different things to do. People keep asking me what my favorite part of the trip was. I don't know. It's like comparing apples and pizza. I can honestly say that I would re-visit each and every location I'd been to though.

Day 11 - Meteora

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I slept in. Slept til 9:30. Yes, that's sleeping in for me. It felt amazing.

Decided to hit up a few monasteries. Grabbed some water, headed out.

So you know when you're packing for vacation and you don't know what kinds of clothes to bring? Can't be just me with that problem. But inevitably, I end up overpacking. Even though all of my belongings fit into a backpack, I brought too many things. I did not foresee that for 12 days in a row, I'd be wearing the same pair of jean shorts. But that's how it goes.

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I drive up the hill and decide to just stop at whichever monastery I reach first. First up was actually a nunnery. I park, walk up to the sign displaying the hours and also written is, "Please dress modestly." Um. Jean shorts. Nothing less modest than jean shorts and a tank top. I wondered just how serious they were about this. I mean, I was already there. Maybe I could play the dumb-American card? So I climbed the steps. I passed a literal busload of women, all wearing full length skirts and tops with their shoulders covered. Damn it. I kept climbing just the same. Maybe I could just quickly pop in, pop out?

I got to the top. And there was yet another sign demonstrating modesty. It showed a woman in a full length dress with her shoulders covered. This is not what I was wearing, not even a little bit. So, out of respect, I did not go into the nunnery. Instead, I took a few pictures and headed back to my hotel for a costume change. I did bring one skirt with me. But it hits at about the knee. So I decided full length jeans was the best bet. Wrong again.

Got to the next monastery. Skirts were required for women. I paid for my ticket and grabbed a skirt out of a giant pile they have waiting for people like me.

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Photography is not allowed within the chapel part of the monasteries. But below are a couple examples to give you an idea of what it was like. The walls are covered floor to ceiling with frescoes. Deep blues, reds, yellow, gold. The ceilings are domed and beautiful wooden doors and seats have been intricately carved. My favorite part was the lighting. Metal chandeliers hang from the ceilings... sometimes with dragons on them? The room smells of incense and Greeks kiss placards and genuflect. I sat for a while in one of the chapels, taking it all in. In my rented skirt.

Okay. I have thoughts and feelings about the whole skirt thing. I get it. And I respect it as a cultural whatever. But, let's move on, folks. The lord has seen me naked. While Daisy Dukes are not appropriate in most of life, forgive me father, sometimes I'm inappropriate. Also, while it showed that men should be wearing full length pants, many of them were wearing shorts. Double standards. It's not like they stopped with a sign that said, "Skirts and pants." No, just skirts.

I went to another monastery and they gave me a shawl to put on my shoulders. Heaven forbid the lord see my friggin shoulders. "You must be careful of the shoulders," the man said. Must I?

Yes, customs are customs. But I don't always like or agree with them. So after one failed nunnery and two skirt-filled monasteries, I called it a day and went back for some more grilled feta.

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Jesus!

Jesus!

Prior to the 1920s when convenient stairs were built for easy access, monks and nuns used rope ladders to access the monasteries. Scary as all shit. Additionally, how do you think they managed to get things up and down? They have a net. And as this is still the best way to lift things up and drop back down, this is still in used today.

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View from hotel room on a rainy afternoon.

View from hotel room on a rainy afternoon.

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Grilled feta, grilled chicken and Mythos, my fav.

Grilled feta, grilled chicken and Mythos, my fav.

After feasting again at the same restaurant with delicious feta, I headed back to the hotel and enjoyed a rainy afternoon inside. Luckily the rain cleared up in time for another sunset. When I got to my rock, I was the only one there for about 20 minutes. I enjoyed the solitude with birds chirping and a gentle breeze blowing.

On top of the world.

On top of the world.

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I pulled over at one point to take a picture of the rocks. And I was not in a designated parking zone. They take that seriously because you're driving on winding roads with blind corners. So while I'm outside of my car snapping a few shots, I hear a car pull up. When I look over to see who it is, low and behold, it's the cops. Um, I did not have my international driver's license with me at the time, so I panicked. I waved nervously, and got back in my car and went on my way. They did not stop me. Phew.

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Skip to later. I'd purchased a couple of Mythos to enjoy while I watched the sunset. After the sun set, I was taking my empties back to the car to make my way back to the hotel for the night. And then I see a cop car blocking my black rental in. UGH! Luckily they were just giving another guy a ticket, but I hung back while they finished up and just hoped that they weren't making a routine stop checking everyone's credentials. 

Short story short, I never had a run-in with the police, thankfully.

Day 10 - Meteora

I left Delphi around 9:30am and set out for Meteora.

Goats outside of Delphi, complete with bells. I kind of wigged out.

Goats outside of Delphi, complete with bells. I kind of wigged out.

There's something sad about moving on from one place to the next. The show must go on, but I have a sinking feeling each time I leave a place that that's the last time I'll ever be there. Will I make a trip back? I don't know. There's so much of the world to see and if I were to go back, would it even be the same? Would what drew me to that place still exist? Or would I rather be filled with disappointment and nostalgia. There's also that fact that the more you relive a memory, the more you destroy its originality from your brain.

I didn't know this was a possible turn the road could take, but it did.

I didn't know this was a possible turn the road could take, but it did.

When I left Athens, right before I got on the train (forgive me if I'm repeating myself, I don't remember what I've said and what I've only thought), the last person I saw was the man at the hardware store who sold me the padlock for the hostel. It was early morning and he was already open for business. You don't see repeats of people when you're on a whirlwind vacation like this, so to see someone that was familiar meant a lot to me.

The drive took maybe three hours? I don't really recall. But it was a perfect drive. Coming out of the mountains, driving along what I would call prairie, it felt like driving in Colorado, just north of Denver with the foothills in the background. Except for the fact that there were mountains all around.

And have I mentioned the air? The air in the mountains is some of the sweetest air I've ever breathed. Aside from being far from pollution, there are flowering trees along the side of the road that infuse the air even as you drive through.

Arriving in Meteora was emotional. I actually even just got goosebumps thinking about it. I had goosebumps consistently for maybe 45 minutes. I cannot believe such a place exists. Dr. Suess was involved, surely.

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I just kept pulling the car over to take pictures. And while I am not a religious person, this is a religious place. And I've never said, "Jesus," in succession so much in my life. There currently remain six monasteries, but I overheard someone say there used to be 22 or 26 or something to that affect. These monasteries were built in the 11th century, Greek Orthodox. Prior to that, for thousands and thousands of years (we're talking 5k to 50k years ago), people had been inhabiting caves in Meteora. People have just always been bonkers about it and it's clear to see why.

My favorite spot was a rock overlook (from where most of my pictures were taken). Depending on the time of day, it would either be packed with tourists and photographers, or it would be just me, left alone to contemplate life.

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Checked into my hotel. Took a walk about the town to find food. And find food, I did.

Probably my favorite dish of the trip was, "Feta cheese on the grill." It arrived in aluminum foil. Just a slab of feta, olive oil, slice of tomato, sliced peppers and oregano. Greece serves bread with every meal (LOVE) and so I sat myself down, enjoyed some demi-sweet wine, cheese and let the goosebumps subside.

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The grill for the restaurant was open as you pass by on the street. I kept walking by, back and forth, and saying hello to the grill master. He was a sweet man. Lived in Brooklyn for years and he gave me an apple.

I went back to my hotel and passed out. Late night, lots of driving and a stomach full of cheese will do that to you. I did set my alarm though to make sure I'd be up in time for sunset. The sun's been setting around 8:30pm here. I got up, drove back up the hill and found a rock. Not my rock, but a good enough rock. The light was golden.

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Day 8.5 - Athens

Plaka, Athens

Plaka, Athens

Okay, so, last night's dinner in Athens.

Well, let me back up. So I finished up writing, and as mentioned, an Australian asked me if I was Jackie. There was an entire slew of Aussies actually, mostly female. I ran into Denise (the actual name of the American girl I'd been talking to earlier). She and I grabbed a couple of drinks and sat at a table with the Aussie guys. Then we were soon joined by three Aussie girls. I guess they were all going on some kind of organized tour of the islands, though they didn't all know each other.

Regardless. We're sitting there talking and Denise asks the girls how old they are. They are all 20. As is Denise. Then the four of them look over at me and say, "Oh." Because they thought we were all just going around talking about age. Then they saw grandma here. So I said, "And then there's the old lady at the table!" They laughed, but no one actually asked me my age. Now here's the thing, I've never been ashamed one way or another of my age. It is what it is. I told them I'm 32.

"32 is young! My mother's 50!" 

Okay. Thanks. It's the first time I've had younger girls look at me like I'm ancient. And then try to compare me to their mother(s). It didn't make me feel old, per se, just angry. Come on girls, have some respect for your elders.

Plaka, Athens - my restaurant

Plaka, Athens - my restaurant

Dinner! Then I decided to scoop up my grandma ass and go out into the city to find some dinner. The Greek gentleman we'd been chatting with earlier asked if I'd been over to the Plaka area (very nearby) and gotten something to eat or drink on the stairs. No, no I hadn't. And I didn't really know what this meant. So, I just started walking in the direction he had pointed. I should mention that the reason there are stairs in this part of the city is because it abuts the hill of the Acropolis. Which is badass.

I wandered around and easily found the neighborhood. I passed one restaurant, but it seemed overly crowded, so I kept walking. Found one that was just adorable. As the tables and chairs that are actually on the stairs are different heights, they cut the legs off of the chairs. It looks silly, but it's a great experience.

Had a glass of wine, bread and spaghetti bolognese. I'd been shying away from having spaghetti, but it's been everywhere since I got here. So I gave it a shot. Delicious. The sauce/meat still had a Greek flavor to it. I think it was the perfect meal for my last night in Athens. Rounded it off with an espresso.

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Cats everywhere. They were actually begging for my food. As you know, you don't feed the feral cats. But some woman at the next table put down a plate with some food still on it and the cat started licking the plate. Feral plate.

Tiny chair

Tiny chair

A useless feral cat

A useless feral cat

Me being creepy

Me being creepy

I asked for the bill from one of the available two waitstaff. About 20 minutes later I decided that he was either too busy or forgot, so I asked the woman. While I was waiting... I saw two roaches. The cats saw them too, but couldn't care less. What?! That's the only reason feral cats makes sense. I shouldn't be surprised about the roaches, but it's still gross. And I then became very aware that I was sitting very close to the ground, surrounded by food.

Paid, walked back to the hostel. Lots of people were out walking around. There was a band playing in the street with the Acropolis it up in the background.

Got back to the hostel around 10:30. And people were already asleep. Which is fine, I get it. But I took my stuff out into the hallway to repack it so as not to make noise. And once again, slept in my clothes. In case you're counting, I'm disgusting right now.

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Invisible band in front of random ruins and Acropolis in background

Invisible band in front of random ruins and Acropolis in background

But as luck would have it, I'm a clean, quiet hotel room and am about to take a shower and change my clothes. And maybe have a nap. There's a chance that I packed in way too much activity into this trip. But hey, if I were just sitting idle, I'd want to do something.

Day 8 - Athens

Chapel at Agora

Chapel at Agora

There's a demon rooster in Athens.

Which is the beginning to any good story.

It lives somewhere above the fourth floor in Athens near my hostel. Who keeps a rooster this high? #europe So I woke up. And there were a couple of people that had wondered into the eight-bunk room after me at around 2am. Their beds are much quieter than mine though. Mine is just the loudest. Anyway, they were still trying to sleep while I, and the rest of my roommates, were trying to get ready for the day. My belongings were still in a locker in the room, packed tightly in my bag, so I took a shower with the bare essentials and did not change clothes til later so as not to cause a ruckus. (I just learned how to spell ruckus.)

It was something stupid like 7am when I was up and at 'em, so to speak. So I went to the lobby of my hostel with my computer and got caught up on some writing... which has already been posted. It's like the future and the past all at the same time. Or it's all the past. Yeah. That.

Then I went upstairs for breakfast just after 8am. And this was my frickin view:

View of Athens/Acropolis

View of Athens/Acropolis

After breakfast I headed out. The hostel is nice enough to provide a suggested walking tour, which I followed, not on purpose, but to a T. I first hit the ancient city of Agora, which if you are unfamiliar, was a large square on the northwest slope of the Acropolis, where social and religious activities, commerce, outdoor theatrical performances and athletic contests were held. (Yes, this is all completely plagiarism. Roll with it.) In other words, it was the heart of the ancient history. But above all it was the center of Athenian democracy, since it was there that the most important administrative and judicial functions and political assemblies took place. And so on. 

It was actually beautiful and so strange to imagine in all of its glory. I'll come right out and say it that most of the day, with each site I visited and each picture I took, it felt like I was reporting directly from a world history text book. But this time around, it wasn't so boring. Remember just looking at column after column and trying to differentiate between Roman and Greek gods?

Ugh. Today was the first time it ever hit me that I named my bulldog after a Roman god and not a Greek one.

View of Sara at Pantheon, Acropolis, Athens, Greece, The World

View of Sara at Pantheon, Acropolis, Athens, Greece, The World

Despite what my photos show, the Acropolis is fucking crowded. So many tourists from so many different places. In a way, it was refreshing to hear other European languages.

My favorite, by far, was this French couple. I was just walking by one of the ruins and this woman pushes her camera, still dangling from her wrist, into my hand.

"Vouz pouvez?" You can? 

(Which I could go off on for a while and point out how meaningful that phrase is to me on this trip as a whole, but I'll refrain and simply let that live within this parenthetical.)

 "Ah, oui!" I responded, without hesitation. Beyond English, French makes me the most excited/makes me feel the most at home. Speaking mostly broken, present tense from high school, I still love everything about it. And I can understand a great deal more than I can speak.

They went and posed for the picture. The husband returned to me.

"Merci!"

"De rien," I responded, like I was the shit. Because I was. Yup. Thank you, mom and dad, that's what private school bought you. Four words from me, but excitement that is priceless.

Ancient theater to Dionysus at base of Acropolis

Ancient theater to Dionysus at base of Acropolis

Accordion player in the street (clearly)

Accordion player in the street (clearly)

Had to stop here for obvious reasons

Had to stop here for obvious reasons

Something I love. They always serve you something salty with your beer. Either chips or mixed nuts of some kind. And also, their stuff is way salty, even for my American tastes. Even at the concert last night, I was standing outside and bought a beer from a street vendor. He then went around to the front of his cart, pawed a handful of peanuts and came around to hand them to me. Yes, I ate them. I don't care. I assume all nuts are dirty. (What?)

Temple of Zeus (the Olympian)

Temple of Zeus (the Olympian)

So. There's an Acropolis museum. As well as an artifact museum... or something. But, I'm in charge. There were no museums today. Because while I'm sure it would have all been very interesting, I wouldn't remember anything except, "This shit is old." And instead I used that money to buy beer. That's better, right?

The accordion player pictured. He was wandering from cafe to cafe playing. I took his picture (not the one pictured, but you get the idea). And he looked at me, said something in Greek and rubbed his fingers together. The international symbol for, "You should pay me now." So I paid him a euro for his photogenic generosity.

My walk continued and I saw more amazing things. Hey. So. In Christianity, there's just the one god. And they've spent centuries building churches and shrines and statues to this one god. BUT, the Greeks? The Greeks have so many gods and so much to build and so much to worship and so much to do. When you look at all the time and effort, it seems beyond exhausting. I don't even know how they erected those towers. I mean I'm sure there were scaffolds involved for each tier, but Jesus... (so to speak).

The Zappeion

The Zappeion

Okay. Then my walk took me to this place called the Zappeion. Now the great think about traveling without a guide or a teacher or your parents is that I have absolutely no idea what this place was about. Except that it was beautiful. It also looked like it was built in the 1950s, so I don't feel that badly for not knowing. But out front, there was a beautiful fountain and these beautiful walls of flowers. I saw a middle-aged couple stop. The woman motioned for the man to go stand by the flowers. And stand he did. He draped the flowers in his face, jokingly, but very romantically.

I shouted, "Bella!"

They laughed.

Because that's the thing about Europe. You can pick your language and yell. And then be gone!

But here's the thing. They yelled back. I have no idea what they said, but they sure enjoyed me calling him beautiful. I laughed knowingly and moved on. Yeah. I don't speak a lick of Italian.

And onto lunch!

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Okay. I was walking down the street back to my hostel thinking, "You know what I haven't had yet? Meat on a stick!" And then I saw meat in stick form and pulled over. The place was called Meatropolis. I like puns. And I like meat. Donezo.

I ordered "Kebab" and "Homemade sausage [on a stick]." I don't remember what they called it. I don't know what kind of meat a kebab is. It was so tender, I like to think it was lamb, or some delicious pork. And that sausage? That sausage was delicious

But as I said, "kebab," to the waiter, all I could think about was Flight of the ConchordsPlease click on that and watch it whether or not you know what I'm talking about. Because that is how I pronounced, "kebab." And for the rest of the meal, I just kept saying to myself, "You're a legend, Dave."

I love how all the dishes I get here in Greece come with a half slice of lemon. Because you know what? Lemon is an amazing taste that we should use more.

The men at the table next to me had a long conversation about genocide. #currentevents

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Walked back to the hostel.

Something about the homeless. I don't know how widespread this is, but I found it in Santorini and now here in Athens. There are homeless people selling travel packs of tissues. (Which, given my runny nose, I find very useful! Thought I haven't actually bought any from them yet.) In Chicago, we have Streetwise, which is a local periodical of some sort that homeless folk can sell for $2. I've definitely bought it before, but never read it. I find selling tissues to be much more useful.

Athens

Athens

Street crap, Athens

Street crap, Athens

Creepy toy store mascot, Athens

Creepy toy store mascot, Athens

Oh! In the square by my hostel there's a toy store. I had to go in. They have a very creepy mascot. I would liken it to our Geoffrey the Giraffe. So I was in that store for maybe 8 minutes. And the entire time, they were playing some version of John Paul Young's Love is in the Air. Which is a very long time to hear that song.

When I got back to the hostel, I met a new roommate. Another girl also traveling alone. (Girl power! Yep, I said it.) She's from Australia. Lots of Americans and Australians here.

I went to the roof to 1) write all this and 2) charge my shit as last night was lost to the wind for charging. Below is a picture of that. I sat with a beer discussing travel, life, politics, Game of Thrones, etc. with two Greeks and one American. All the while, the Acropolis is in the background.

It's pretty amazing.

An Australian just walked up to me and said, "You're not Jackie by any chance, are you."

"I could be Jackie if you need me to be," I say. Cuz Greece.

image.jpg

Hopefully more from tonight later. The night is young.

Day 7 - Athens

Milos airport, tiny prop plane

Milos airport, tiny prop plane

First of all, I forgot to mention that my phone is not all dead. Just somewhat. I think I mainly just need the charging port replaced, but I'm making it work for now. At least until my upgrade is available in August. (Did you want to know about my cell phone contract? I thought so.)

As promised, the rental car guy drove me to the airport. And, as he said, it was a five minute drive.

"Did you do schvimming?"

"Schvimming?" I repeated. Honestly, I thought there was some activity on the island I had missed out on.

Then he pantomimed with his arms. Oh.

"Oh yes! Swimming! I did."

"Was it cold?"

"Not too bad. It's so hot out it feels nice." And it is hot. And the sun is unforgiving. I don't know what I mean by that, but it sounded dramatic and feels true when you're wandering through a landscape parched.

"Yes. I went two weeks ago and it was too cold. Now, it is nice."

The airport is tiny. As it should be. And when it came time to "board the plane," we walked out on the tarmac to our tiny prop plane. I do believe this was my first time on a prop plane. At least in recent memory. Which was fine... but it's so vivid. The flight was a half hour, which beats the three(?) hour ferry it would have been. The magic of ferryboats has faded. Mama wants to get things moving.

Got into Athens. Wasn't really sure where to go, as is normal.

"Which way do we go?" said a man behind me.

"Just follow the masses," his wife replied.

Yup.

I finally found signs to get to the train. The magic of buses has also faded with this one. Luckily it's like Chicago in that you can't go the wrong way when departing from the airport by train. And double double lucky for me, I was smart enough to book a hostel that was next to a train station. And triple lucky (and also probably planned by me a month ago) was that the other train line I would need later on was the same stop. Yes, ladies and gents, I'm amazing.

I actually do feel particularly lucky that I haven't (knock on wood) gotten lost at any point. No, I didn't always know where I was going (shit - I think that might be the definition of "lost"), but it never took me too long to figure it out. That's something I think makes it easier about traveling alone. There is no one else's opinion on which way to go.

Which reminds me. Back on Santorini, I was using a bathroom at a bar. When I came out of the stall, a woman held down the water while I washed my hands. (So nice.) And then I went to get a paper towel out of the dispenser, which is identical to the ones in the states that are "motion activated." So I stood there waving at this dispenser. Then a different Greek woman comes up and pushes a button where the motion sensor usually lives. Oh.

"This is Greece! If it doesn't work, try something else!"

#truth

So I step out of the train station into Athens and this is the first thing I see:

Monastriaki Center

Monastriaki Center

Are you kidding me? Amazing. I was a little disoriented and didn't know which street my hostel was on. So unfortunately, I walked through the square. I have a lot of thoughts on cities and more on foreign cities and even more on tourist destination cities. Basically, walking through a square with your giant backpack and a meandering way about you sucks. "Hello, hello! Would you like? Where are you from?" Men trying to sell things approach you like crazy. But, so it goes.

I found the hostel, checked in and dumped my stuff. However, I needed to obtain a padlock for my locker. Wouldn't you know it, there was a hardware store right across the street! I walked in and asked the man behind the counter, "Do you have a lock?" pantomiming how I both lock and unlock a padlock.

He hurried over to show me the different sizes he has. "For valise?" Yes! Valise! I've noticed a bit of overlap between Greek and French. And by "a bit," that's all I mean. A guy on the train yesterday was also trying to sell pens, or stylos. I thanked the man very much. He handed me the lock and said, "Louketo," and waited for me to repeat. This is, "padlock." He just doubled the amount of Greek I know.

(I just received notification that I have a new order on Etsy for a greeting card. I updated my shipping times to 2-3 weeks before I left. That guy's just going to have to cool his jets.)

My big plan for the day was to make it down to near the ferry port to go to a music festival. I'd been looking forward to that part since I booked this trip and actually planned my itinerary around it. But first, I hadn't eaten all day. I've accidentally taken to just eating one meal a day. I forget to do anything in the mornings and am typically exploring around lunch. So I'll have a mid-afternoon feast that will keep me stuffed through the night. Yesterday was no exception.

I wandered down to a nearby neighborhood of where the concert was going to be and just searched for a restaurant. And I'm so glad I found the one I did. However, I did have one slip-up. There was definitely waitstaff visiting each table. But what I didn't realize is that you had to place your order at the counter. And (as my brother just astutely pointed out to me via text), they'll just assume you don't want to order if you just sit there. Eventually an irritated Greek man came over and said, "Please. Order," and motioned to the back counter. 

And boy, oh boy, did I know what I wanted. I wanted the rabbit with onions. The woman serving it up asked if I wanted rice with that. Meh. Not really. Chips? Yes please. (I'm stopping the show to tell you that by chips, I mean fries. I'm so European. I may even speak with an accent when I come home and ask you where the water closet is.) What I did not expect would be that she'd serve me a mountain of chips topped with rabbit and onions. I've never had rabbit fries before. 

So, from there. took a train to a tram to the venue. Tickets said show started at 4pm, which seemed weird to me. Who's free on a Wednesday at 4pm? I am though. They let people in around 4:30 and the first act started at 5pm. There were... five or six bands that played for the next seven hours. The last two were the ones I came to see. Daughter and Beirut. I've been lucky enough to see both of them in Chicago and it made the experience, while foreign, still feel like a bit of home.

I have to give it to Greek crowds also. They're very polite and forgiving about people walking through. I feel like the past few shows I've seen in Chicago, I'm shoving past, if not getting pushed into an accidental mosh-pit. You know, how shit happens.

Daughter

Daughter

Beirut

Beirut

Took me til about 1am to get back to the hostel. And I hadn't yet claimed a bed in my room because they weren't finished cleaning them when I originally checked in. So, flashlight time on the phone it was. I managed to find the creakiest bed in the room. And with all my stuff locked away and packed up in my bag, I didn't want to get anything out and be any noisier. So I just laid down in my clothes and went to sleep.

A great day.

Day 2 - Crete (in its detail)

Selfie Stick

A big, YES before any of this starts. Yes, I have a selfie stick. Yes, I use it. Maybe I'm proud? Just wanted to be upfront.

Trident

Trident is large in this country. In the United States, we have those piddly little half or third pieces of gum to deal with. HOWEVER, it's Trident, so it's become to be expected. I picked up two packs here thinking it would last me forever, only to realize it was two five-packs of regular sized gum. WHAT IS A GIRL TO DO? Honestly, I found it overwhelming having regulated my mouth to the US version. Trident is not fucking about.

Ladies and Gentlemen


First off. You should know that I did not make much of an attempt to learn Greek before coming to Greece. I'm actually somewhat disappointed in myself that I didn't learn a few phrases. I dislike being that ignorant tourist. BUT. Shit happens. So. On the plane(s) (SO MANY PLANES!) they kept repeating the announcements for both English and Greek speakers. So I learned quickly what, "ladies and gentlemen," sounds like in Greek. I cannot do it justice actually with this alphabet, which proves to me why the Greeks have a different alphabet. Please just look it up. Okay, okay, for you lazy folk. It sounds like, "Keeriskee keeri." But still, look it up. It's a magical language.

Nevertheless. I've been repeating, "[Ladies and gentlemen,]" to myself for the past two days. It's my jam. We'll come back to this later. It's just an ongoing theme.

Driving

Driving here is not as nuts as I was expecting. But it is nuts. As one compares it to Iowa. I am such one. Honestly, no one on Crete is a bad driver. On the contrary, they're all very deftly skilled. Here's the thing I've noticed most. In the US, we have these things called, "shoulders," which is basically an extra lane on either side of the road/highway for people to use to pull over to take a call/change a tire/have an emergency/whatever. But here? Here there are no such thing. They are a separate lane. No, they are not always the appropriate car width, but if you're driving and dragging your ass, you'd better move over into it as much as you can, because the folks behind you want to get by. This was GREAT. 1) It worked in my favor when I encountered slow cars and 2) I didn't have to wait for a pullout to move over as I have had to in other parts of Europe. Now, this does mean that sometimes folks are slightly over the middle line when passing. Phshhh. No big deal.

 

Here's the only time it almost became a big deal for me. I honestly don't know how much over the speed limit is appropriate here according to the police. In the US, basically, if you're 11mph over or the speed limit, they'll let you slide. But here, I have no idea. So I was passing someone, right? And.. I didn't wait for the passing dotted lines. Nope. I gunned it and passed someone while driving over the double center line. I DID NOT NOTICE til later that folks here don't really do that. They respect the double middle lines. I know, my bad. 


But a few cars back was a Jeep. I thought nothing of it as the cars I'd seen that were cops so far had been sedans. Not that long after, I passed someone going the other way getting pulled over by a cop driving a JEEP. I looked in my rear view mirror and there was a Jeep following me. I slowed to the speed limit and he pulled up close to my bumper. In the US, this is code for, "I'm going to be pulling you over very soon and I want you to sweat about it." 

But he passed me. Phew.

However, I wasn't that worried. I don't know why.

Here's the thing. When I rented my car, the guy at the desk handed me my receipt and contract and said, "Hand this to the police if they pull you over." He said it so casually, almost insinuating that I'd get pulled over. So... I kind of assumed I'd get pulled over. And I'd do that stupid American thing I do so well.

 

Music

I didn't bring an AUX cable with me. I meant to, but I didn't have an extra one. And the only one I had was in my car in Chicago. And honestly. I was like, "I'm not going out to my car to get that!" Yep, sheer laziness.

So. I've been listening to the radio here on Crete. It's hit or miss. And it's really difficult because throughout the island you pick up different signals. None of them last that long. And at some parts of the island, there are no radio signals. So sometimes I'd just have SCAN going for ten or fifteen minutes.

I've found that my favorite station(s) are the ones that play EDM (or electronic dance music). They do this in Greek, which I find amazing and hypnotizing. So that's what I search for. I find it depends on the side of the island and the time of the day. But whatever the case, as one does when they are alone in a car for most of the day, I came up with my own words to these foreign sounding songs. 

My Greek EDM masterpiece goes as such:

Ouzo, ouzo, ouzo, ouzo, ouzo, ouzo, ouzo, ouzo. (This is the beat. See? I did it 8 times.)
Keeriskee keeri, (my butchered version of "ladies and gentlemen," but go with it) bring me some tzatziki.
I want some tzatziki, keeriskee keeri.
Baklava is what I want, after some moussaka.
Bring me the moussaka, then bring me some baklava.
Ouzo, ouzo, ouzo, ouzo, ouzo, ouzo, ouzo, ouzo.

Um... guess you had to be there. But it's amazing.

More about driving.

I'm always amazed with road signs about the world. Some of my favorites:

Exclamation point on a yield sign: EXTRA CAUTION! (Maybe. I couldn't quite find a pattern. But I love punctuation. And the exclamation point has gotten too much flack lately.)
Sheep: Cool. I actually saw some. So, I'm happy with this.
Roller skating car: I assume this means, "Watch your shit on this turn," but I also miss roller rink limbo, so I had some nostalgia and didn't pay too much attention.
Wind sock on a yield sign: WINDY. This is amazing. In Colorado, they have a sign on Highway 93 that says, "Gusty winds may exist," and that always felt too existential to me.

What the hell did I do today?

Drove.

I went to two beaches: Preveli and Elafonisi

They are not  near one another. I saw a picture of the amazing palms and strange lagoon area at Preveli and headed that way because it was closer to where I'm staying. Showed up. You have to hike down. It was actually quite the hike. I had one of those moments where I was wondering about by myself and thought, "Well, if I hurt myself here, there's no one to help me and no one knows where I am today. So..." But all turned out fine. Picture will help. I left this beach after about an hour, however, due to the fact that it would hurt my feet to go in the water and there were boxelder bugs all about. Ick. As I was putting my shoes back on to climb back up the trail, a shirtless man I'd seen jogging about said, "You are leaving? You just got here! Is this beach not beautiful?" It is beautiful. But I want to swim and not have my feet hurt and not have to swat away BUGS. So, I climbed. It didn't take more than 20 minutes, but this one woman and I passed each other a few times, both taking turns to rest and breath. At one point I just laughed at her and said, "YEAH!" which is understandable in any language. Translation: I'm out of shape too. Good luck.

So. I then decided to go to Elafonisi, which I was afraid was too far away... because it's at the very southwest corner of the island, while I'm staying near the northeast. BUT, when in Greece. So I drove. Along the way, I got stuck behind a semi. A semi on twisty-turny mountain roads. It was friggin amazing. Annoying because I was going slowly, but amazing nonetheless.

That beach was totally worth it. You can't even imagine a more pristine, beautiful beach. White, black and pink sand. Blue and clear water. And such a friendly crowd. Families and couples and friends playing games. The water. The water was cold. I can't lie to you. I dunked down a couple of times and it actually did take my breath away with how chilled I was. BUT, when I got out, it was still 80 degrees, so I can't complain.

After lounging there for a bit, drove back. Along the mountain roads, there were all kinds of local restaurants. "Taverns." I stopped at one and frickin feasted. I hadn't eaten all day. It was my first real Greek feast. I ordered a 1/2 liter of rose wine, bread, olives, tzatziki and moussaka. I lingered, enjoying it, as one would/should. There were couples about and it was really beautiful.

Before... 

Before... 

Drove home. 

Highlight of drive home: heard Wonderwall by Oasis.

Now I've been here at the hotel for three hours concocting all this friggin writing. My ferry to Santorini tomorrow morning has been cancelled... so I have to figure that out in the morning, but so it goes!

Arrived-ish

Hated to leave the little guy behind, but it is certain he would not fit underneath the seat in front of me.

Hated to leave the little guy behind, but it is certain he would not fit underneath the seat in front of me.

Currently enjoying/tolerating my layover at Athens airport before taking off for Crete. I have seen all of the duty-free sights including, but not limited to cartons of tobacco cigarettes, a fine selection of vodka, whisky and ouzo as well as all of God's Toblerone. Also cosmetics. Why are there always cosmetics? 

The flight was mostly uneventful. The couple sitting next to me was disappointed in their specialty/vegetarian meal. Not only was it not enough food, but the woman's cookies were lost somewhere along the way. "No cookies! And can I have a salad?" I held back many comments which included, "Have you flown before? You can't just order a salad." Additionally, "Listen, lady. Ain't nobody pleased with the food here." Sweet vindication was mine when she threw up through the duration of descent.

There was a baby sitting in front of me. But he was a pure delight. Hardly cried. What a trooper.

There was a baby behind me also. In the form of a 60-something year old Greek man. He spent the first hour of the flight tapping the touch-screen monitor located on the back of my headrest. I punched him and he knocked it off. 

So now I wait. My flight boards in an hour and a half and, would you believe it? There are no bars open in this airport yet. Believe me, I checked. 

Oh! What luck! As if from the Greek heavens above, a bartender just appeared out of nowhere! I shall befriend him soon as I expect his shift doesn't begin til noon. (I know, can you believe I have to wait until noon? What kind of country is this?) I think I'll open the conversation telling of my sincere adoration for Donald Trump.

Some girl just said something in Greek to me indicating she would like to use the stool next to me. Yes, I fit right in with the locals already, with my everything-blatantly-and-painfully-American. I look like I'm going camping. Rolled up track pants, tank top, men's sneakers. Not to mention my neon green water bottle and burnt orange North Face backpack. Yes, this screams, "I'm a local! Ask me for stools in your native tongue."

Where did that bartender go? Was he just checking things out?

Oh. My ankles are swollen to the size of hefty eggplants. I did my best to wander about on the flight and popped a bunch of ibuprofen along the way to keep the blood flowing, but I fear I have obtained cankles for the duration of the near future.

I am, as of yet, unsure what the hell my phone is trying to do.

I believe I have mistook said bartender for a common Greek sandwich maker.

I haven't been out of the country in so long, I didn't remember what the protocol was for leaving the country. Meaning, they just let everyone on the plane without checking for passports.  As if to say, good luck, suckers, hope someone else will take you in. Maybe everyone works this way. It just seems so relaxed. Like there should be a nagging mother waiting at each gate shouting, "Billy! Did you remember to grab your passport off the entry table before you left?!"

There was a bit of a scare in Newark after I boarded the connecting flight. Everyone was notified not two minutes prior to our scheduled departure that the flight would now be delayed for two hours due to "flight preparation." I'm not sure what that means, but within four minutes, we were back to leaving nearly on time. Salad Woman turned to me and said, "That was scary." Again, comments held.

It's a good thing that the flight was not delayed as I've had time to sit quietly pining for my first Greek vacation libation (vacation libation!) and write out this lengthy and uninteresting story of what it's like to be "on a plane" and obtain cankles.