qatarperegrine: (travel)
Our Greece pictures (plus two short video clips) are now online here.

Justin also took some panoramas we haven't processed yet, so those will go up... someday....
qatarperegrine: (travel)
Marjorie's Law of Greek Public Transportation:

If you ask a helpful information desk employee about the bus and they tell you, "Right across the street, every 20 minutes," that is a sure sign that there is a public transportation strike in progress.

If you ask a helpful hostel desk employee about the bus and they tell you, "There's no buses or metro today, and I think the airport's closed so your flight will probably be canceled," that is a sure sign that all public transportation systems are running perfectly.

n=3.

Happily, the latter example happened when it was time for us to fly home, so we got to the airport with no problems.

One picture before I head to bed:
qatarperegrine: (Default)
I think Delphi was the highlight of our trip to Greece, so it's just as well we went on our last day. We finally arrived at 11 last night, spent the night at a nice little hotel, and then spent almost all day today wandering around the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, where the Oracle used to hang out telling passers by that they'd kill their fathers or conquer the known world or what have you.

Anyway, lovely site. The ruins are all covered in wildflowers right now, which is probably terrible for the stone but looks lovely! And ruins aside, it's a gorgeous landscape: towering mountains and vast olive-covered valleys sweeping down to the sea. And it was spitting rain much of the morning, leading to very dramatic clouds between us and the mountains. What a beautiful location! If the world were to have an omphalos, I think the Greeks weren't far wrong in declaring that Delphi to be it.

In other news, Greece is outraged today over newly announced austerity meaures -- largely higher sales taxes, it sounded like. Our extremely affable hotel owner chatted to us about it over breakfast, in between casting aspersions on his least favorite tourist nationalities and blaming Germany for everything wrong in Greece. It always surprises me how okay it is in Europe to open up conversation with complete strangers on a topic like how bothersome the Italians are. Not that Americans don't have prejudice, of course, but I think we're more reticent about them. :-p

In the afternoon we took the long-distance bus back to Athens and then attempted to catch a local bus back to the hostel -- the same one that failed us in the other direction. It was only after waiting 20 minutes that it dawned on us we'd seen no buses in either direction, despite the fact that 11 lines pass by that stop. Sure enough, the bus system had shut down again -- along with the metro and lightrail, and generally most public systems including state hospitals. I'm a bit baffled by Greek workers' use of the strike. It's not like the bus drivers are having disagreements with management or asking for higher pay or anything; they're just generally voicing displeasure with the government. However, I suspect the lawmakers are a lot less affected by a shutdown of mass transit (not to mention the state hospital system!) than most Athenians, so unless their goal is to irritate all those commuters into an unstoppable Communist uprising, I'm not totally sure what their game plan is.

Apparently the airport itself shut down for 4 hours too, so if the strike continues tomorrow, we're in trouble. Hmm, perhaps that WAS the plan behind the strike -- to keep us from leaving. I'm pretty sure that my daily crepe expenditure could keep the Greek economy afloat indefinitely.

At any rate, if we're lucky we'll be heading to the airport in the morning, and my next post will be from Qatar.

Agoraphilia

Mar. 5th, 2010 10:53 pm
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This was supposed to be the "We're in Delphi!" entry, but alas, we are not in Delphi. Instead we are in Bus Terminal B, or the Lissiou KTEL Station as it is known in Greek, leading me to wonder why the guidebooks insist on giving it a name sure to baffle taxi drivers.

We were to take the 5:30 bus, but it appears that protests have started up again, and thus our local bus TO the station never arrived. We eventually hailed a taxi, but he had to detour around the protests outside Athens University (extremely anemic --a couple dozen people milling around with one sign among the lot of them!), and thus we pulled up at the station just as our bus to Delphi left. The next one's in 2.5 hours, so overall, not a disaster. Justin said he's mostly annoyed that we don't have a cooler story for why we missed it, so I promised to tell you we ran over some protesters.

We had a great last morning in Athens before the bus debacle. We walked around the Temple of Zeus, then up to the Theater of Dionysus (where Sophocles et al's plays would have premiered) and then down the Areopagus Hill (where Paul preached the cool sermon about the temple to the unknown god) to the Agora. The Agora was definitely my favorite thing in Athens. It's basically a park that's full of awesome archaeological detritus amidst nice paths through trees. You can pretty much wander around at will, except for a couple specific areas (like the temple of Hephaestus, the most complete Doric temple remaining). When I got to the stoa where Socrates is said to have hung out a lot, I just jumped over the stone wall and wandered around the stoa, peeking down wells and investigating nooks and crannies. It was pretty much everything you'd hope an archaeological site would be.

We got so carried away with our morning itinerary that we never made it to the archaeological museum. Oops. The one downside of coming in the off season is that most sites close at 3, so there's really only so much you can see in a day.
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When I was in Spain this summer, my friend Ryan and I started talking about the stuff you need to know that's never in guidebooks: What's the polite way to summon a waiter? At what time of day do people switch from "Good day" to "Good evening"? What do you do if a restaurant is full? Do you hand storekeepers money directly or put it down on the counter? How do you say no to touts? (My inclination is always "No, thanks" in the local language, but it seems that in some languages "Thanks" implies "Yes.").

Then again, figuring these things out is part of the fun of being in vacation. I always enjoy figuring out little things that remind you of other places you've been (e.g., oh, this is a money-on-the-table culture) and the ones that seem unique to that place (e.g., in Greece your waiter brings your bill at the same time as the food, very efficient. In fact, I'd say this country has the best restaurant service I can think of).

Another unique thing about Greece, by
the way, is that we have yet to see a towel that doesn't have a Greek key design border. It's like the same towel has been following us for days.

Today's our only full day in Athens; we arrived on the ferry at 6 am, checked into our hostel (hooray for the off-season, when hotels let you check in ridiculously early), and took off for the Acropolis. They've got some cool buildings up there, even if it did give me flashbacks to my 6th grade history diorama of the Parthenon. (It's thankfully less toothpick-y in real life.)

Also highly recommended is the newly opened Acropolis Museum, a beautiful modern structure with glass floors so that the archaeological remains found when constructing the museum became part of the museum itself. The top floor is the size and orientation of the Parthenon (which you can see out the window), and the remaining friezes and so on of the Parthenon are displayed around it, between an 8x17 rectangle of minimalist metal pillars that echo the Parthenon's structure without trying to cheesily mimic it. It's beautifully done. They definitely deserve to have the Elgin marbles back.

Now we're enjoying a self-indulgent snooze before dinner and perhaps a wander out to the local planetarium for something else non-archaeological. (Poor long-suffering Justin!)

Parenthetically, I'm really really glad we came to Greece in February/March. The weather's been perfect for sightseeing, clear but not too hot. I can't imagine spending hours wandering around the Knossos or the Acropolis in the summer -- not to mention how many other tourists there'd be. So, knock on wood, this has been pretty perfect timing. I guess that's the benefit of planning your vacation so last-minute you can check the 10-day weather forecast before you book it!
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Today was our officially archaeology-free day, since Justin reminded me as
I put our itinerary together that I always THINK I want vacations to be an endless string of archaeological sites, but actually I don't. So we bummed around the very pretty Venetian port town of Chania, alternating who got to choose each activity. We started at one of two maritime museums, then moved onto a small archaeological museum (oops, I'm bad at archaeology-free days), then a small zoo with a couple of the local species of mountain goat, then a mosque that got turned into a church, then the Venetian batlements and lighthouse. These were all interspersed with much sitting in cafes and wandering around old parts of the city. Crete has a really interesting history, partially because at some point it's been conquered by pretty much everybody, so there was a lot to absorb.

We're now back on the ferry back to Athens. I explored this one a little more than the last; it has two restaurants, a casino, a disco, and shopping on board. Justin tells me the one in the other direction had a swimming pool and a movie theatre, too. I guess this must be what cruises are like! It's a shame we're only on board till 6 am!
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I was surprised, when I started reading up on Crete, to realize that two familiar Greek myths take place here and not in Greece at all: Theseus and the Minotaur, and Icarus and Daedelus. Both of these stories revolve around the mythical King Minos, for whom the Minoan civilization was named. Whoever it was who really ruled the Minoans from Knossos, though, did so a millennium before the Greek pantheon rolled into town. It seems that the Minotaur story may have been invented much later by Greeks who saw the labyrinthine storerooms of Knossos, and its frescoes of sacred bulls, and put the two together.

At any rate, we escaped Knossos's maze of twisty passages all alike, having encountered no wildlife more threatening than a few grey and black crow-like birds.

Then, after a tasty lunch of crepes and gelato (hey, they can't all be spanakopita), we took a 3-hour busride to the pretty Venetian town of Chania (news flash: Venice had an empire??). The coastal highway makes Highway 1 in northern California look downright sane. Because the Mediterranean's tides are so minimal, the road can be shockingly close to the sea. That's true here in Chania, too. I'm writing this from the roof patio of our hotel (the whimsical Pension Teresa, where our room is up a flight of 45 stairs that somehow manages to spiral in both directions), looking down on old town. The entire neighborhood rings around the harbor, only a couple feet above the water level. Yet, judging from the age of these buildings (directly opposite me is an Ottoman mosque) flooding must not be a problem.

Speaking of Ottomans, we just enjoyed an amazingly delicious dinner in a former Turkish bathhouse (hamam), now Turkish restaurant named Tamam. Thought my friends in Doha would appreciate the pun.

Finally, in pregnancy-related news, while I've felt a couple questionable flutters in the last few weeks, I think I experienced my first outright kick today, on the bus to Chania. I like to the little dude was complaining that I was obscuring his view of the truly spectacular coastline.
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The first thing that happened to me upon arrival in Crete at 6 this morning was that I tripped and fell while running across the street to see a Venetian arcade, skinning my hands and elbow pretty badly and bruising my knees.

The second thing that happened to me in Crete was that I got stuck in an elevator.

The third thing that happened to me in Crete was a bad bout of morning sickness.

Happily, after that, things took a turn for the better. Since our hotel let us check in at 6:30 am, we were able to regroup, ice my knees, bandage my hands, sleep off the morning sickness, and even watch a little Olympic hockey.

Then after brunch it was off to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, which though under reconstruction is still showing 400 of their most noteworthy artifacts. Most of these are Minoan, which you may or may not recall is the first European civilization. Minoan art turns out to be seriously impressive: back when the Egyptians were making very stylized frescoes and the Harrappans were making cute clay things, the Minoans were crafting beautiful bull-shaped flagons and incredibly intricate gold jewelry (Google the Minoan bee pendant).

We finished the afternoon at the CretAquarium, the largest aquarium in the east Mediterranean. Impressive stuff, especially the shark tank and the octopi.

All in all a successful day. Other fun discoveries included that the Greek word for "Thank you" is "Eucharisto" and that Oregano is the best flavor of Lay's ever.

Tomorrow we hope to go to Knossos, knees willing. If not, there are worse things than lounging around Chania.

Update: knees bruised but not swollen. Woot. Knossos, here we come!
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Day 1: today's travel challenge was that we had a confirmation number for our ferry to Crete, but by law we needed paper tickets. These can be claimed from the ferry company's office, but by the time we got from the airport to the port, the office was closed. A man in a nearby travel agency pointed us towards a kiosk that was still open. Phew. I'm an intrepid enough traveler to put myself in a situation like this -- where I can't see how we can get what we need but am relatively confident that there must be some kind of system that won't leave us stranded -- but not so intrepid that it's not at all stressful.

We're on the ferry now, after a quick dinner of authentic Grecian spanakopita, courtesy of Starbucks. This ferry is something else. From where you board there's an escalator up to a fancy hotel-like reception desk (made of marble!), whence a bellhop shows you to your cabin. Our cabin definitely ranks up there in swankest rooms we've stayed in -- it even has a teeny private WC and shower. Given that our last overnight boat experience was the ferry from Ko Tao to mainland Thailand, in which we slept on bedbugs-infested pallets jowl-to-cheek with dozens of other backpackers and Thai travelers, we feel pretty spoiled.

Next up: 3 days on Crete, seeing the ruins of Knossos and lounging around pretty seaside towns. And hopefully picking up a little more Greek. While it's surprising how little the language has changed since 2000 years ago, biblical Greek still isn't all that handy for ordering spanakopita or telling endless touts that you're actually ok without a clearly counterfeit Sony camera, thanks.

Unrelatedly, three separate Qatar Airways employees asked me how many weeks pregnant I am. Apparently in the last week I've gone from people being surprised I'm pregnant to people worrying I might be past the 32 week cutoff for flying!

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August 2011

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