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Archive for the ‘Greece’ Category

Flashback: Athens

(Because we’re not always able to get internet access as we travel, inevitably we’re not able to blog when things happen.  So we’ll have to “flashback” at times, for some experiences are worth going back for.)

Athens.  As most of us remember from our Civ class, Athens is the cradle of Western civilization.  In ancient times, Athens was the center of all things progressive, technologically advanced, architecturally brilliant, and educationally superior.  And as someone who’s pretty jazzed about ancient history, I was particularly excited to visit Athens and walk around the Acropolis.  This is the city of some of the world’s greatest philosophers, architects and inventors, whose ideas still influence us today.  That’s pretty fabulous considering these people lived about 3000 years ago.  So when we checked into our hotel in Athens, I made sure my camera was juiced up and ready to fire away.  I was going to burn some serious pixels.IMG_3964

One of the things I learned from our day in Athens can be summed up in a simple formula: thunderstorms + rain + marble + mass amounts of tourists = quite a spectacle.  It was one of the biggest storms to hit Athens in quite awhile and as has been the case with our trip through Europe we were right in the middle of it.

It was pretty cool, actually, to stand huddled under a tree along with a Canadian woman who was traveling throughout Europe (newly divorced, we surmised) and chat about travel and the experience we were having.  The rain started as a light rain, picked up volume, and soon started coming down in sheets.  It was wild to watch the little trickle of water passing under our tree turn into a stream and then a small river.  Before we knew it, we found ourselves perched atop a small island that had emerged as the runoff swallowed all the dry ground.

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This picture barely captures the downpour.

Certainly the Acropolis was fantastic.  The Parthenon was brilliant.  Standing in the Cave of Pan to wait out a small drizzle earlier in the day was pretty cool.  But how many people get to stand under a tree at the base of the Acropolis and watch a massive storm blow over that unleashes an absolute downpour?  There we were, getting drenched even under a tree and umbrella, talking to a fellow traveler, watching hundreds of unfortunate tourists navigate the slippery marble steps of the Acropolis.  All captured in pixels.IMG_4132

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Acropolis covered in storm, with poor trapped tourists trying to get down.

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Do Not Pass GO

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When I was really young I loved to play Monopoly.  Moving the miniature metal car or boot around the board, landing on a railroad, buying properties, accumulating enough wealth to financially (and emotionally) crush your opponents – something about it resonated deep with the worst of human nature – and there was something fun about that.  Certainly holding $52,000 in your hands is a bit heady for a seven year old.  I mean, think about how many Stretch Armstrongs I could get with that.  But embedded in the very design of the game was a philosophical framework – a way of understanding money – that was definitely less than noble.  This was no “social capitalism” or the creative utilization of excess wealth to improve a community/city/society.  No, this was about literally impoverishing those who shared the board with you and running it as a tyrant bent on nothing else than total financial superiority.  Karl Marx’s worst-case scenario comes alive in a board game.  And I can tell you from personal experience that there are few places you’ll find the worst of human nature more than when playing Monopoly with your siblings.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love my sisters and brother, and I can honestly say I really like them as people too.  But when you’re the littlest in the family (that is, until your little brother comes along much later) games take on seriousness that at times can feel like life-or-death.  In my case, you already get the beat-down from your older sisters, so the only real level playing field is on a game board.  Or so I once thought.

More often than not when I played Monopoly with my sisters I would end up impoverished, crying, or both.  There’s nothing like landing on your sister’s Park Place (that she just put a hotel on) and watching her gloat as you count out your last $50.  On very – and I mean very – few occasions when the dice would roll my way, I would come out on top and gloat so ostentatiously that ultimately I would end up on the wrong side of a headlock: and then enter the crying.  As you can see I was somewhat scarred by the painful results when capitalism meets Lord of the Flies.

One of the places on the Monopoly board that you didn’t want to land on was Jail.  Whenever you did land on Jail (or got the card that sent you there) it says in big, bold letters, Do Not Pass GO.  GO was that place that rewarded you for making it around the board still intact, and for passing GO you got $450.  Often it was GO that saved my bacon, but as I said above, I’d end up giving it to my sisters anyway.

When we arrived into Athens from Croatia we had a Do Not Pass GO experience, resulting from a lost Lonely Planet guidebook, two hours waiting for nothing, and a night spent huddled together on airport benches.  But the experience made it into the blog, so that means it’s a memory worth having.

When you deplane from a long flight, you’re not necessarily thinking straight.  I know this is often the case that is why before landing I ensure whatever possessions I have in the seat-back pocket I make sure I have stowed in my bag.  I was literally looking at the Greece guidebook when the “please remain seated” light dinged on, and thought to myself, “Don’t forget that is there when we land.”  Which of course I completely forgot.  My system had been developed over many years and hundreds of thousands of miles of air travel and I had honed it down until it worked flawlessly.  Except for when I broke from routine (there’s a life lesson in there somewhere…).

When I remembered I had forgotten our Lonely Planet guide in the seat pocket we had taken just about 30 steps off the plane.  The airport personnel had watched me walk by but when I turned around and came back to try and get our guidebook they stopped me.  Due to security reasons I couldn’t get back on.  Seriously?!  I mean, I was just there – you saw me walk by you ten seconds ago!  Here’s my boarding pass.  As you can imagine my pleading was to no avail.  It was a ridiculous policy but I was forced to capitulate.  There was no going back.  So we turned and headed down the jetway, stunned.  Do Not Pass GO.

Our Lonely Planet guidebooks serve as our map and compass.  Without them we are, to us, walking blind.  They show us how to get around, where to stay, where to go, how to get around, and the little tidbits of information that make traveling through a strange place a bit more manageable.  So when I left our Greece guidebook on the plane it was a big deal.  So we waited.  And waited.  Waiting for the promised, “I will tell the flight crew to get it for you and bring it to Lost and Found.”  A lot of good that was.  In the end, after numerous times of inquiry we were curtly told, “No book” and waved off.  Expecting any real service from chain-smoking baggage control women at 12:30 am is pointless.  So we trudged off, having wasted valuable time for getting into Athens and finding accommodation.  Do Not Pass GO.

We slept in the Athens International Airport by a large illuminated billboard for fashion jeans.  The armrests were bolted onto the chairs and there was no respite from the hard, compressed plastic seats.  We hunkered down the best we could and I really wondered how hardcore my wife really was: how up for this little ‘adventure’ was she?  Almost in answer to my inward question she just smiled, pulled out her travel pillow and did the best she could to get her body prone across the seat and her luggage.  She covered her face with the hood of her jacket, got as horizontal as the seat would allow, and cling onto her little travel pillow for dear life.  I have to say, she rode that night out the best as can be expected.

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Yes, Cara is under there somewhere.

I could go on.  I could tell of the stranded couple two rows behind us with whom we would exchange forlorn glances throughout the night, or of the airport custodial crew that would bang the nearby trash cans so loudly it sounded like a convoy of buses hitting the terminal.

But what I will end on is a happy ending.  One, we knew we were having an experience that we would always remember and one that was so part of our RTW trip.  Of course we were going to have to have a forced bivouac in some random airport somewhere.  Second, I learned that my awesome wife can roll with just about anything and is the easiest, most enjoyable travel mate I have ever had.  Lucky me.  And lastly, I booked us a five star hotel for the next night, complete with clean sheets and fluffy towels – and all that for half price.  Get Out of Jail card.  “Proceed Directly to GO.”

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On the metro to our hotel.

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