Trip Journal - Greece




Igoumenitsa -- 18 September 1998

We were already up when Ruairi knocked on the door to tell us that we'd be arriving an hour earlier than expected. We'd been under the impression that Greek local time was GMT + 1, but it was really + 2. We skipped the showers (long lines) and went straight to breakfast, which was included in our cabin price. Ruairi had somehow wrangled his own ticket so he came with us, like Jack Dawson in Titanic, ha ha. Breakfast was very nearly over, so the selection wasn't great, but the important thing was that I got coffee.

As we left the ship, customs officials collected our passports from us. They took them to the Customs House, where they entered all the passport numbers into a computer. We all waited outside like sheep for at least an hour for them to call our names. Seemed like an awfully inefficient and insecure system to me. Ruairi went to Tourist Information while we were waiting and got a very unwelcome reception. I think that set the tone for the rest of his time in Greece. Paul and I went over after we'd picked up our passports and found the man who worked there curt, but that was only because they were having coffee with the exchange guys next door. they gave us a listing of all the campgrounds in Greece (from 1996) and a map for Greece. We were set.

We had drinks at an outdoor cafe near the port while I checked out the camping situation. Paul and I didn't have to be on Corfu until the next day and Ruairi elected to stay and camp with us. Then he'd head East the next day. There was a campground 8 km away. Paul and Ruairi rode out on the bike to check it out while I watched the gear and read the Greek English-language paper. The Greek alphabet is something most of us only know from math and fraternities. This was really my first brush with another alphabet. I had learned the pronunciations for the various letters on the boat. I'd be all proud because I'd sounded out an impossibly long word, then be deflated when I realized that, after all that effort, I had no idea what the word meant. But I enjoyed the challenge.

Paul and Ruairi came back, giving the campground the stamp of approval. They loaded up Ruairi's bike with about half the gear and Paul and they took off again. While Ruairi returned to pick me up and the rest of the gear, Paul set up camp. Ruairi drives like a typical biker from the U.K. He weaves through traffic, which we Americans find a bit dangerous. I thought the ride was pretty fun, even though I had to hold one of the backpacks on my lap. The bike felt really stable and comfortable, a nice travelling companion.

We arrived at the campsite with a roar. It's a little pink oasis -- almost too cute. The campground is terraced and built up with a pink limestone. It's right on the beach. The facilities were the best we've seen yet. We may have been the only non-Germans there. I think Germans must own it, as a matter of fact. The "street" names were Carlstraße and Hansstraße. A group of German biology students had set up a research lab and were studying the marine life in the area. The old Greek woman at the camp grocery store dressed all in black spoke better German than I do, with hardly a trace of accent.

First things first. We put on our suits and went for a swim. For ever after, nothing will ever compare to the water of Dubrovnik for me, but this was pretty good. No real waves, warm and fairly shallow. We paddled around for a while, then showered (sans soap) in the ultra-luxurious shower stalls. The actual shower was partitioned off from the dressing area, which had its very own private sink and mirror. Very fancy. And very clean.

We brought our food to the eating area, but it looked as if you really had to buy food from the cafe. Paul and I ordered pommes frites (french fries in German) and Ruairi had mousaka, which was quite tame. There was very little Greek food on the menu. Ruairi really wanted hummus, and every time Paul or I said "pommes", Ruairi's eyes lit up and he would say, "What? Did you find hummus on the menu?" A little thunderstorm and downpour blew in while we were eating, but it passed quickly. After lunch, Paul went to a different table (near an electrical outlet) to work on the website and I wrote in the journal all afternoon. Ruairi came and went. He'd go talk to people about his planned route across Greece and then come back. I knew that he was bored, but for once in my life, I didn't give in and entertain him like I normally would. I pleased myself. While I sat in the cafe, I realized how much better we've become at deciphering subtle body language and tone of voice into their appropriate emotions. I think it's because 90% of the time, we have no idea what's being said. So we have to rely on the other cues. We're certainly getting a lot of practice.

Dinner was fantabulous. I say that at the outset because just listing what we had won't make it sound very wonderful. For me, it was the fun of preparing a meal together with friends. It was having hot food at a campsite, which we hadn't had since before the wedding, when we gave the camp stove away. Ruairi had Knorr packaged dry soup, and Paul and I went to the camp store and bought pasta and four-cheese sauce and some beer. We cooked it all in Ruairi's little billy can and ate it out of whatever we had available. It was wonderful. I can see why in olden times the act of sharing meals together carried such weight.

It started to rain a little, so we took the dishes down to the kitchen to be washed. Later, we went to the beach and sat with the marine biology students. They were quite nice, although a little shy. Later, when the rain began again, we sat at the cafe and drank beer. Ruairi brought out the Croatian everclear again, which Paul had capful or two of. I longed for Sado's lady drink. But we had chocolate, so things weren't too terrible.

That night, as we crawled into our tents, Ruairi asked how much ours had cost, and bragged that his had only cost $20.00 used (and looked it). We were the ones gloating in the morning, though. It had rained throughout the night and Ruairi's tent and everything in it got soaked.

Corfu -- 19 - 25 September 1998

We agreed that Corfu would be our "real" honeymoon, and that we wouldn't take any pictures or write any journal about it. And we were pretty good about it too!

Athens -- 26 September 1998

I couldn't imagine coming to Greece without seeing the Acropolis, but neither one of us wanted to spend more time than necessary in a big city. That's why we only spent 8 hours in Athens. We had taken an overnight ferry from Corfu to Patras, then a bus from Patras to Athens, which took three hours with one rest stop and got us somewhere in Athens by 11:00 a.m., only we weren't quite sure where. It took us a little while to get our bearings because the bus, which was affiliated with Minoan Lines (our ferry), dropped us off at their downtown office. It turned out to be pretty central; it just took us a while to find out. We walked to Pacific Ltd., a travel agency at 26 Nikis, which also had a left luggage office. They would hold all our stuff for 500 drachmas per bag. There was also supposed to be a great bookstore in Nikis street, which I really wanted to go to, but in the end, there wasn't enough time. Not that we were in dire need of books; I just miss bookstores.

Next we nearly drove ourselves insane trying to find Tourist Information, and firmly cemented my dislike for Let's Go: guidebooks. Their map was incorrect. Of all the places to make sure you've correctly placed on your map, TI ought to be at the top of the list. Once we finally found the place where TI was supposed to be, we were thwarted again. The office had moved to the end of the street. We went there and were told at that office that they no longer provided Tourist Information, and that we should go to Amerikis 4, a couple of blocks away. So we schlepped over there, feeling hot and bothered and resenting our time being needlessly diverted away from the Acropolis. But we had to get the ferry schedules to Crete, because we weren't even sure that a boat would be going today. In which case, we'd have to find a room. Mercifully, everyone at the office was really helpful, and in short order, we had a map of Athens, the ferry schedule and a price list. There was a ferry at 7:00, which was all we needed to hear. We almost raced to the Acropolis, out of the sheer joy of at last being free to play. We saw a sign "Acropolis" with an arrow painted on a wall so we followed it. It led us up an alleyway of stairs through old stucco houses. It was quite picturesque. When we got to the top, panting with heat and exertion, we knew who had painted the sign. There were lines of stalls selling cold drinks. You have to admire their initiative. Once you got up to the "high city", which is what Acro-polis means, you were totally parched.

The most surprising thing about the Acropolis is how slippery a place it is! All that ancient stone has been worn down by Socrates, Plato and all the rest of the merchants, priests and philosophers who have come here. The first thing we came to was the Arios Pagos, a huge chunk of incredibly slick rock, whose ancient purpose is unfortunately unknown to me, but which provided much hilarity as we watched people slide down it. One woman couldn't make it down. She was about my mother's age, and a young man in his 20s carried her down with much bravado. The woman couldn't stop laughing, shrieking actually, it was wonderful to watch. The young man got a lot of applause. Paul and I gamely climbed up for the view. Athens is huge, and unfortunately, can't claim it has a beautiful skyline. It's a huge and crowded old city, and it has a pollution problem. We took off our sandals for the return trip, which worked great as long as we avoided the broken glass. Then we slipped and slid the last couple hundred meters to the entrance to the Acropolis. Happily, it was Cultural Heritage Weekend, and the entrance fee was waived. However there were still no dogs, strollers, water, packs or singing (?!?) allowed. I hummed under my breath as we came through the entrance. It was pretty thrilling to be walking in the actual Acropolis, awing in fact. At the entrance, there were a lot of stairs, on which tourists were reclining or posing for pictures. Dogs were asleep in the shade (who let them in?) and cats were prowling around. There's a lot of scaffolding, which is unfortunate but apparently necessary. After all, Athens has been an important place since the 16th century BCE. Things are bound to get a little run down.

There was a competition between Athena and Poseidon to see what the city of Athens would be named. (Aren't you glad Athena won? What if the city had been called Poseidonville?) The Gods on Olympus decreed that whoever gave the city the most important gift would win. Poseidon knocked everyone's socks off when he struck his trident against the rock of the Acropolis and drew forth salt water. But Athena gave the gift of the olive tree and won. An ancient olive tree still stands in front of the Parthenon.

Democracy came into being on the Acropolis in 507 BCE. In 490 BCE, the Athenians built a temple on Acropolis, which the Persians attacked 10 years later. For some reason, Pericles, ruler of Athens at the time, took some of the taxes paid by the Delian League to protect themselves from the threat of invasion and used it to beautify Athens. This is one of those "minor" details they left out in history class. Then, he seemed like such a nice guy; he was responsible for the Golden Age of Greece, but he was also a thief.

The Parthenon (Virgin's apartments) was the first building to be completed under Pericles' grand plan. The floor of the building bows up slightly and the columns bulge out in the middle. This was done intentionally because when viewed from a distance, straight lines appear to bend. Interestingly, the Parthenon was once converted to a Catholic Church, and later, a mosque.

The Erechtheum is a two-story building which was finished in 406 BCE. Just for reference, this was just before Sparta defeated Athens. This building was devoted to Athena, Poseidon and another wacky guy called Erechtheus. He was half-man/half-snake, and somehow managed without legs to be a heroic fighter. The Erechtheum has a porch whose roof is held up by six maidens, the aryatids. This area once housed a wooden statue of Athena. The caryatids you see there now are just copies; the real ones are in the Acropolis museum. (All but one, the British museum has the sixth.) We went to the museum next, which was wonderfully cool after the mid-day sizzle. Security was very tight. For some reason, you weren't allowed to photograph people with the artifacts. It's very strange. A lot of the artifacts that they have there are things that the Athenians threw away after the Persians got their hands on them, thus defiling them. We wanted to get to the Athenian Agora, which was the marketplace, and presumably where Socrates played gadfly and said, "How many things there are in the world that I do not want." Unfortunately, the gates closed at the quite unreasonable hour of 2:30. The same was true of Pnyx, where the Athenian Assembly met. It was disappointing.

We wandered back through town, had some very expensive ice creams on sticks and found ourselves wandering around the flea market. Then we walked to the Parliament building to see the changing of the guard, which was really amusing. Two very tall soldiers in pom-pommed red clogs and skirts do an elaborate crane dance with each other. They slowly slide their feet forward, then raise their legs high in the air, point and flex their toes, then step down. I don't know how this could be useful on the battlefield, but it's very entertaining. After the new guard is installed next to their little guard houses, another soldier (dressed less elaborately) comes out and straightens rifles, tassles, etc., quite meticulously.

Then it was 5:00 and we had to get to the ferry; no time for the bookstore. We picked up our left luggage and headed for the subway. We had to squeeze through cafe tables to get there, and once, I knocked over a huge metal stand holding the menu. It came down with a huge crash. But I got it righted again, said I was sorry and fled.

The subway only has one line at the moment, but it goes right to the pier, which is nice. There is a joke that every time they dig to expand the subway, an ancient Greek's bathroom is discovered and they have to stop and call the archaeologists. We bought our tickets and when we validated them, we discovered it was only 4:30. I'd somehow gotten the time wrong. we could have gone to the bookstore after all. We couldn't figure out which platform to wait on. Neither one had signs. We finally asked someone. But the train was very nice, and not too crowded. It took about 20 minutes to get to the Port of Piraeus. We bought our tickets for the ferry and then settled down in an outdoor cafe to have a beer and relax. A girl and a man playing an accordion were making the rounds at the tables. Before they got to us, Paul had already decided he would give them a few drachma. He figured he'd let them play a little music first and see how it was. He caught the eye of the girl and smiled, but to his surprise, the girl turned away and the man followed. We decided that they must have expected us to give them money to go away, not to play. How sad.

We bought some great feta and tomato basil sandwiches to take on the boat and then made the long walk to our part of the pier. Just as we were trying to estimate how late the boat would be this time, we looked up and saw that it was already in port. That may be the only time in Greek history that that's happened, and we were there to witness it. We climbed on board, stowed our gear in the cabin (two bunk beds, no sink or bench this time), and then went into the lounge to eat dinner. A man and his wife were sitting on couches that had the only free seats. The man especially was very unwilling to move over to make room for us. It wasn't until later that I realized he was staking out the couches so he and his wife could sleep there. Then I noticed that everyone in the lounge had luggage with them, and were probably all sailing deck class. I wonder what kind of a night they all spent. We went back to our snug cabin to read, and at 6:00 a.m. the next morning, we arrived in Crete.