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Day 15 – Flight home

Filed under: Greece 2008 — 19day @ 01:52:16

Today we woke for the last time in Greece, for we had to go home. I was pretty ready to go home, I felt I had come, seen and conquered. We finished packing and went down for breakfast, but I didn’t want to eat anything because I didn’t want to immediately need to use the bathroom on the plane, which I was sure was going to be the case if I did. So I didn’t.

We waited a while for the bus and there were a few decoys that got our hopes up, but finally we found the bus and made it to the airport. There was no shuttle bus this time, but we ended up underground in huge hallways with, thankfully, moving sidewalks. It was quite epic getting across to our gate, but we arrived and began our next phase of waiting.

Alicia went to get a coffee and apparently bought the last one since the woman who went after her paid for a coffee and no cup fell into place and the coffee just poured down the drain. Alicia would later wish that their positions were reversed, as the coffee just tasted of chemicals. Eventually they announced initial boarding of the plane by a series of row numbers of which we were not part, and then the next call a few minutes later was just “everyone else can board”, so it was a bit of a mad dash.

We didn’t initially arrive in particularly good time at the check-in so the lady said she couldn’t give us our preferred seats, but said she would try to leave a gap in case the plane didn’t fill up. In the end, the plane did mostly fill up, but the gap she left was completely useless. This plane, at the section we were in, had 3 sets of 3 seats. Alicia was in the left seat of the middle section, Laura was in the right seat of the middle section, and they put me in the left seat of the right section, and rather unfortunately there was a married couple assigned to the two seats to my right. Being the fatass that I am, I didn’t want to be in that seat and be the fuel of someone’s story about how they had to sit next to this fat guy and all the usual crap. Laura agreed to move over to the middle seat next to Alicia and I sat in her seat.

Unfortunately, this was pretty cramped, and I was in pain for the next 10 hours. At least there were mostly decent movies, they showed the new Hulk movie, Iron Man, Swing Vote, and The Golden Compass. The first one was meh, the second one I liked (except for the fact that the basic plot of the two are virtually identical), the third was amusing at times but overall not very engaging, but the fourth one was complete crap in my opinion.

They served a meal eventually of another President’s Choice chicken thing, which was pretty good, and later a snack of a sandwich, and having not eaten much in the previous days, were eaten right up. I also had a drink at each opportunity, which were fairly frequent. And my capacious bladder sustained me such that I didn’t need to use the bathroom on the plane. But it was amusing to watch the girls, who had to go frequently. There were a couple of turbulence warnings where we had to sit down again, and as soon as they went off half the plane lunged for the bathrooms.

Also at some point during the flight an announcement came over the tannoy asking if there was a doctor on the plane, which is the sort of thing you expect to see in movies. And when we finally landed, we had to wait for paramedics to remove the person, and never really did hear what had happened. Another odd bit was that when we left the plane, and before reaching any of the regular airport checkpoints, police were waiting to see our passports. We even showed them to a collection of other people since we weren’t sure who we should show them to initially.

We went through the declarations area with our forms, which were far simpler than Alicia had prepared us for. Alicia recalled a form where we had to list all items and prices and amounts (in the case of alcohol) that was fairly rigorous. The form we ended up having to fill out and present was basically, did you bring back more than $750 worth of stuff.

Baggage Claim was a bit chaotic since they dumped two flight’s worth of bags in the one carosel, and there were few openings in the throngs of people. Alicia and I managed to claim our bags quickly, but it took a long time for Laura’s to appear. We finally escaped and met up with Murad, who had been waiting for us quite a long while.

Murad drove me home first, which I greatly appreciated as I was reasonably jetlagged, and I made it back to my apartment. It was a strange sensation, it was of course very familiar, but slightly not, as well. It was weird being home again, and it had only been two weeks. I ordered and ate a pepperoni pizza (sorry Alicia) as my Thanksgiving dinner, spoke to parents and brother on the phone, lasted until around 9pm, and unexpectedly fell asleep with the lights on.


The places we went, don’t know the course the ships took so straight lines it is

Not To Be Continued


Day 14 – ‘Cape Sounion’ Excursion

Filed under: Greece 2008 — 19day @ 00:24:08

We woke up in our own time today since this was one of the very few excursions that didn’t start early, in fact it started at 3pm. So we went to breakfast and back out on the town. We hit the same internet cafe again and we all checked our emails. My mother had sent one proposing that I go to a family thanksgiving dinner on the day I got back from my trip, but I figured I wouldn’t be up to it, and as it happened, I was pretty tired when I got back. But that was yet a day away.

It was hard killing time, as we didn’t want to venture too far since we’d have to get back for the pickup, but we also had visited everything we wanted to in the immediate vicinity. It didn’t help that everything was closed. Every shop and stand appeared to be shut, we weren’t sure if it was for the day or just for the morning. We discovered that virtually the entire population were in cafe’s, as when we went to one we found it packed and choking with smoke. I had a 5 euro peach smoothy that, though good, was certainly not worth it.

Later the girls picked up lunch at a take out souvlaki and gyros place. I didn’t partake because my indigestion and acid were reaching truly bothersome levels. We basically hung out until 3pm and then waited in the lobby for the Cape Sounion person to arrive, and one finally did, and just as we were about to board the bus, we were told that though it was a Transat-related tour, and though it was going to Cape Sounion, it still wasn’t quite our tour, and we went back to the lobby.

Eventually our bus arrived, and we could tell it was ours because when we got on, we were cheered by some of the other passengers, all of whom recognized us, and us them, from previous tours and such. We were pretty recognizable, a rare group of three, and Alicia being Chinese amongst all us Caucasians. Our tour guide, Marina, first took us to the ruined temple of Poseidon. In was incredibly windy there, exposed out on an outcrop of rock, which was the point of building it there, since it’s the first thing you can see coming back. There was the story of King Aegeus who threw myself into the sea when his son returned after killing the Minotaur because he forgot to change the sails from the black ones to the white ones. I think the moral of the story is to always account for forgetfulness.

Temple of Poseidon

I’m surprised the wind hasn’t knocked all this down

We were then taken by bus down to a village where they served seafood and that was their claim to fame. This was another reason I was less excited about this excursion, since I haven’t eaten seafood for more years than I can account for. She described the appetizers, bread with Tzatziki, and a blended fish roe which the description of made my stomach turn. What really made it turn was the sight of the little whole headless fish which were to be eaten whole which was another appetizer. They also had calamari, which I still have no desire to eat. I was pretty hungry at this point, but still acidic. I could have signed up for the chicken alternative, but I had to pay for my previous pizzas. I was at least going to try the main.

The restaurant was called Akrogiali (Alpha-Kappa-Rho-Omicron-Gamma-Iota-Alpha-Lamda-Iota) and all of the above were their delicacies, and the main dish was a whole Gillhead fish. For someone who doesn’t eat seafood, this was pretty hard core. It wasn’t a simple fish fillet with no bones or eyes staring back at me to worry about, it was a whole fish. When it arrived, Alicia and Laura laughed at my expression, but I was trying to make as little expression as possible. At least there was someone else at the table who had the same difficulty, and she opted for the chicken. But one of the other people took off his fish’s head and made it into a puppet, which didn’t phase me really, but Alicia figured I’d have difficulty with it.


I shocked everyone, including myself

As the meal went on, it became clear to the other people at the table that I had issues with fish, which wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but in the end it didn’t matter. I scraped away the skin and began eating one side. Someone told me to cut the pieces very small to help avoid bones, which is exactly the sort of thing it’s helpful for me to know since I really had no idea what I was doing. I eventually worked my way through half of the fish. I did flip it over, but I didn’t eat much from that side. I was curious for a second if there were parts one wouldn’t eat, but Alicia then ate the eyeballs which prompted me never to wonder that question again.

There was quite a bit of house-wine imbibed during dinner, and the alcoholic content of the bus rose sharply. On the way back, people started dancing in the aisles and singing. It was a fun ride back to the hotel. We then prepared for bed for the last time in Greece, as the flight was tomorrow. I was not looking forward to it.

To Be Continued


Day 13 – Shopping and Sightseeing

Filed under: Greece 2008 — 19day @ 19:07:44

We woke up a little later than usual just because we could, since there was no planned excursion for the day. Our first stop was breakfast where it was provided by the hotel on the Mezzanine floor, we didn’t want to take the elevator more that absolutely necessary so we usually took the stairs on the way down. Unfortunately the staircase was of the circular variety and I tended to get just a little dizzy while going down it at any speed.

We signed up for the Cape Sounion excursion the next day, among the downsides to the trip was that it was reasonably expensive. One of the few vouchers we got from the travel agency was a 50% off voucher, however it claimed it was 50% off per couple. We phoned the Transat office and got told off by the woman there because she had no answers and had to give us the number to another person, who was in a meeting when we phoned. We were eventually told that the coupon should work for each of us since we all had one, so we put in the 50% of the money and left it at the front desk and just hoped that everything would work out.

We got underway and made it to our first sightseeing stop, the Agoras, which had a lot of nice ruins about and we wondered around there for a while, and redeemed one of our many ticket portions from the ticket-strips from yesterday. There were a lot of pillars and headless statues around, and some information panels around. There were some good structures around that reminded me of the Parthenon, and looked much better because they didn’t have metal scaffolds all around it.


Most of the rest is in the British Museum

We then walked to the Keramikos Cemetery but when we saw it, we decided not to bother going in since it wasn’t that interesting a site, so we took some pictures from between the gate bars. We next walked, and it was quite a bit of a walk, to the Dionysos Theater, which was at the base of the Acropolis. It was just what we needed since it was a theater with benches that we were permitted to sit on. We took turns taking photos of each other sitting on the benches. Alicia and I sat for a while resting while Laura chatted with another tourist and told him about our bizarre bathroom.


This is as comfortable as it looks

We then when to the region of Plaka to do shopping since it has the reputation of being a shopping district. We wondered a few of the shops, and I had bought an Athens fridge magnet for my mother since her request for souvenirs were tacky fridge magnets. It was around this time that Alicia had a pretty bad fall on a store front. There was marble or marble like stone at the front at slightly different levels and it was all polished by traffic like at the Parthenon, and Alicia slipped and fell on her back. From my perspective, the fall looked very bad, and I tried to cradle her head since it looked like it had smashed into a nearby table on her way down. The fall looked so severe that I was expecting the need to staunch blood-flow, but Alicia recovered herself quickly and basically wanted to get out of there due to the embarrassment. The shopkeep offered her water, which we all thought to be an odd thing to offer after a fall, but whatever. Alicia had a slow developing bruise on her back that bothered her off and on over the next couple of days, but thankfully that was all.

We went to a cafe later and choked on the ambient cigarette smoke around while having a snack. I got a drink, while the girls got “Kind of Doughnut” which is how it was printed on the menu. I think they were dumbing it down just a little too much there. We walked for hours afterward, shopping and poking around. We went to some portable merchant stands (cases on tripods, for a hasty retreat) and Alicia hummed and hawed over a gift, and eventually bought it after haggling, a trick I hadn’t tried since Turkey. As we shopped we spotted more stray or not-so-stray cats. Two ran out of store and started playing in some potted plants, and I took some photos. The shopkeeper came out and grabbed the cats and brought them inside, and seemed rather annoyed at my taking pictures of them.

Later on we ended up at an outdoor restaurant across from the Acropolis and as darkness fell they lit it up. I tried to get some photos but none of them turned out particularly well. I also had another chicken souvlaki and basically resolved not to have it again for as long as possible, as I had hit a sort of chicken souvlaki-exaustion.

Parthenon at night

My point-and-shoot wasn’t up to this shot

We wondered our way back to the hotel, down streets we had been down that day, though you wouldn’t know it. During the day, one street was buzzing with open stalls with shops and stuff hanging in the street. At night, the place was completely abandoned, the stall gates were closed and revealed untold amounts of graffiti, and the street took on a much more seedy, sinister air.

When we arrived in the lobby we asked if they had our tickets for the excursion the next day, as we had left the money there. The guy seemed to me to act as if he had never heard of the money, the tickets, or even the very concept of same. He suggested maybe they were in our rooms, but in a way that indicated that this was merely a way of getting us to go away. As it turned out, they did deliver the tickets to our room, in fact, right on the bed. The girls accused me of jumping the gun with negativity, but it certainly wasn’t looking like things were going to turn out that way, especially with the uncertainty with the 50% off vouchers. But we got our tickets, huzzah.

The girls tried to sleep, but I watched the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre for no other reason that I wasn’t able to sleep. Apparently both of the girls eventually dropped off to the sound of chainsaws and screaming. At the end I turned off the TV as to not get sucked into another sleep-delay-tactic, and eventually fell asleep myself.

To Be Continued


Day 12 – Athens landing, ‘City Tour’ Excursion

Filed under: Greece 2008 — 19day @ 19:06:51

We had to put our luggage outside the door the night before, so all we had to do was take our carry-on bags with us to breakfast. We then met in the lounge for disembarkation information, and when we got called, we left the ship for the last time. We waited around for a long time for the bus though. Our luggage was set out in the bus terminal and we had to go find it to make sure it wasn’t to be left behind. Ours was sitting in it’s own row, looking lonely. In addition, it had tags to indicate that it was coming with us on our City Tour excursion and not directly to the hotel. It had been advised to us to take the City Tour since our rooms would certainly not be ready until the afternoon, so this was a sort of time-killing tour.

We met our tour guide for the day, and she turned out to be a very short woman. And evidently not one with much forethought, since she didn’t bring anything to act as a beacon for us to follow in the crowds. The tour was listed as a City Tour, visiting various sites. We drove past a few which she pointed out. My favorite was “Behind the truck there is a history archway, but you can’t see it”. And true to her word, we couldn’t. How very interesting. We would later spot Hadrian’s Arch later on anyway.

Our first stop was at the Olympic Stadium, where we were told to take photographs and return to the bus, and nothing else. Some people asked if there was time to use the bathroom, but they were told no, not at all, don’t do it. Laura didn’t hear that, which probably provided her the time to use the bathroom herself. We took our photos and went back, not being quite sure where the bus was, but we managed to find it.


Stadium, represents one half of the city

Our next stop was the Acropolis, which was slow to go up because the tour guide had to buy our tickets first. Someone had a small canadian flag which she used to guide us up to the gates, but then had to put away because, apparently, you can’t display foreign flags on the acropolis, which effectively caused our tour guide to be invisible again, since her shortness and the throngs of people around conspired to hide her from view. The only thing of note she wore was a plaid jacket, which she removed later to keep us on our toes.

We finally made it to the top, dodging people and avoiding doing anything to cause the various guards around from blowing their whistles like pissed off lifeguards. The views were less than inspirational due to the construction and restoration going on. This is where we lost Alicia for a while, as the stream that was our tour suddenly cut across a right angle to do a history catchup for around 10 minutes, and Alicia didn’t see it and went along on her own tour during that time. I didn’t actually hear anything the guide said about the history as I was busy peering into the multitudes trying to spot Alicia, a futile task. Laura eventually saw her and brought her to the group just as we broke to look around, and we lost the tour guide almost immediately. And we just went around on our own for what we felt was a long enough time.

It was interesting to see the remaining pillars, but I wish they made it clearer which were the actual ruins, and which were the reconstruction, since I’d rather see what was real than what has been guessed. We had to be fairly cautious walking around, as the marble on the ground has been polished to very slippery conditions by the milliards of tourists who frequented the site over the years. That and the sheer number of people around made navigation difficult at times, and taking a photgraph without random faces in it nearly impossible.


Took a while to get this shot

After what we felt was a sufficient period of time, we started to descend to the gate to search for our tour guide. We did find people every now and then from our tour, but they turned out to be just as lost as we were, so we just kept going. We looked around at a few other nearby sights and finally found the tour guide and a small collection of our group. She eventually wondered off looking for others and eventually we went further down to another staging area nearer to the bus area, but then waited for something like an hour while the tour guide came and went looking for our bus which was nowhere to be found, which was unfortunate since it had all our luggage on it.

Tired and annoyed, we finally returned to our bus to discover that this was it, the end of the tour. I suppose being stuck in traffic for a while and stopping twice was a sufficient tour of the city to avoid legal action, but this was considered by us to be the worst excursion yet, and would prove to remain the worst. It was even worse for some other people we spoke to as we checked out of the hotel some days later: They were actually left behind at the Acropolis, the bus left without them.

We were heading to the first hotel for a sub-group of the passengers, which we were told was 20 minutes away. However, the traffic got insanely worse, due to the closure of some of the critical roads by police apparently due to a student protest. At one point, we were about to go through a light, and a police car drove right in front of us and closed the road.


20 minute seems like 2 hours when this happens

The 20 minute drive to the hotel (and in fact, I think it might have been only a slightly longer walk) ended up taking 2 hours. And we were delayed at that hotel while they sorted something out with an extra bag that they couldn’t account for. Our hotel, the Kaningos 21, was just down the road and around a corner, and took some more time to reach via the traffic choked roads. When we finally arrived, we checked in and headed to the elevators.

The elevators were our first suprise. First, you have to open the outer door yourself. We’re not sure what happens if you open them when the elevator car isn’t there, but we didn’t want to try. The door was sort of heavy and latch-less, so I was thinking it might use a magnetic seal. All thoughts in that direction were interrupted when we saw the inside of the elevator. It says it can fit up to 5 people, but unless you stack them, I don’t see how. Laura, Alicia and I barely fit in together, and worse, the inner door was a folding door that folded into the space of the elevator, so you had to be well away from it while it closed. The inside of the elevator emanated a deep blue which was interesting, but coming from the bright white natural light of the lobby wasn’t that shocking.

Blue Elevator

From white to just blue is somewhat startling…

What was shocking however, was when we reached our floor. The inner door opens and you wait for a second before you realize that the outer door is still one you need to open yourself, which you do, and go from blue, to the horrible dim orange shining from every light fixture in the hallway, and makes your brain want to rupture a blood vessel.

Orange floor

…going from blue to orange is somewhat vomitous.

We went into our hotel room to see what a 4-star hotel is in Athens, and it was pretty disappointing compared to the 4-star on Crete. In this place, there was no pool, no drinking glasses, no 3rd real bed, and a bizarre bathroom. The 3rd bed was a narrow, uncomfortable cot, which I volunteered to take since the girls were pretty good at spooning at this point. In the call adjacent to my cot there was a window with blinds, and I hadn’t explored the apartment yet so I couldn’t guess what could be behind that window. The blinds were mostly closed but there was enough lines visible to assemble an image in one’s head after a couple of seconds, and it was an image of the bathroom.


If you look carefully, you can see Alicia washing her hands

We were pretty surprised at that arrangement. The window was basically right into the shower tub, and you could see the sink and the toilet. The toilet area had a frosted glass wall around it with a frosted glass door. However, even this failed since you could still see quite a bit if you were one to look. *cough*. The bottom of the window lined up perfectly with the base of the crotch, so the window gave you absolutely no privacy, and the blinds were built into the middle of double-pane window, with controls that didn’t quite allow them to close all the way. We adopted the honour system of facing towards the television (away from the window) whenever anyone took a shower.

At this point it was still the afternoon, so we went out to see what we could see before the evening. We eventually hit an internet cafe and found that it cost 2.50 euros an hour, and the three of us could share the computer. So ultimately the cost was far better than on the cruise ship, so we were glad we weren’t able to use it the day before. After the hour we ventured out to see what we could see. As it turned out, we could see quite a lot since everything we wanted to see was within walking distance. We basically redid the entire bus tour on foot, except for the acropolis since we weren’t about to spend more money. When we got those tickets, there was a long strip of other apparent tickets but we were given no information on what exactly they were for. We planned to try to hit some more of those places the next day, and just visited Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Zeus.


A Photoshop-free Lens Flare is still artistic, dammit

We stopped by an information kiosk where Laura asked something, and the guy at the desk didn’t understand english (which I think was only the second or third time we had encountered that during our trip) but he his co-worker to do it instead. He then asked where we were from, and we said we were Canadians, and the guy who didn’t understand english at least understood that and cheered. Hurrah, people like us.

We had tried looking for a place to eat, but the area seemed completely void of proper restaurants. There were little fast-food places, but we didn’t see many restaurants, until we went down a side-street and found a place called TO MEGARO (It was in stylized Greek letters, so it’s hard to know if that’s right, but the letters appeared to be all capital Tau-Omicron, Mu-Epsilon-Gamma-Alpha-Rho-Omicron). It had a guy playing a synth and singing, and it was quite loud, but there were a few other tables of people and occasionally they would get up and dance in the small dining area. We liked the atmosphere and had dinner. Over the course the meal I drank a liter of Mythos and got pretty buzzed for a while, and by the end of the meal Laura and Alicia joined in the dance.

There was a couple next to us that had been dancing frequently, and when Alicia and Laura joined in the dance, they asked where we were from, and we asked where they were from, but we had already pegged them as being native Greeks, and were shocked to hear that were originally Russian and had lived in Canada for a while and were visiting and repeat customers of this restaurant. They had asked how we had even found it since it was kind of tucked away, but it had been the loud music and the fact we couldn’t even find another one.

We wondered back to the hotel, still reasonably buzzed, and got ready for bed. We had decided against signing up for an excursion the next day, but had decided to sign up for one the day after, to Cape Sounion, which I wasn’t particularly interested in but we realized with everything being so close we would eventually exhaust the sights we wanted to see. So tomorrow was to be shopping day.

To Be Continued


Day 11 – Return to Cruise Ship

Filed under: Greece 2008 — 19day @ 23:27:18

Sadly, this was our last day on Santorini. When I woke up, I was mostly recovered from the hike up the volcano from yesterday, and we had to pack and get down to the corner again. But we had a little time to kill, so we put our luggage in the lobby (which was again picked up by handy open-back truck) and the lady at the desk offered to hide our carry-ons. So we went out for a bit and then had lunch, and then went to Cesare’s for more Mythos, and then ended up at that corner again for pickup.


No, they weren’t all for me

We were bussed back down to Eulonda again, where we were to wait for a while. On the way we noticed, and not the first time, all the solar panels on the rooftops. Virtually every roof had solar panels and tanks, which they used to heat water. They were green, not out of guilt, but out of necessity, since electricity is a fairly recent addition to the island. Half a century ago, it wasn’t a tourist spot because it had no infrastructure, but when it was hit by an earthquake, Greece helped rebuild the island and put in a lot of the infrastructure that is still in use today.

Solar Panels

They might as well line all the walls with solarcells

At the docks we spotted Flying Cat 4 again, and we had pity on the poor people who had to ride that thing. We were waiting around for a tender boat to take us to the Aquamarine, and they made it sound like it wouldn’t take long, so I waited for a bit and then had to hit the bathroom in the ’station’. I was expecting TTC subway station quality, but even the TTC knows that bathrooms are most effective when the stall doors can stay closed and when there is any sort of light. I rushed and when I emerged, everyone was still there. And still there two hours later…

We later learned that apparently someone left their wallet at their hotel so that was why the tour operators hadn’t called for the tender boats. Even the tender boat people seemed annoyed at the delay when finally they arrived. We were standing around waiting at one point, when people operating a vehicle rental place told us to move in what I can only describe, again, as a rude manner. Even when our transat rep was guiding the lot of us across the asphalt to the tender boats the guys from the rental place were yelling at all of us to move. I told one of them to fuck off, but I don’t think he heard, or cared. If you set up your business on a sidewalk, you’d better be prepared for the god damned pedestrians.

Anyway, when we were aboard, they did a sort of roll-call, but it all still felt very haphazard. There was even a couple that didn’t appear to be there, but they told us to just launch anyway. I have to wonder what happens to people who are left behind.

When we got got the Aquamarine, we ended up in a line where we had to hand over our passports again and get another boarding card. The line was delayed when a British couple got into a heated argument (well, it was more a one-way thing) with the girl collecting the passports. He was refusing to surrender the passports, and said he’d sooner get off the ship. It went on for a bit until they opened a second line and we got out of there, and down to our room, which was only a couple doors down from our previous cabin.

We were able to collect our passports only a scant hour later, which made us wonder what the point was. If the passports were so we could freely move on the high seas, if we were going from Greece to Greece, I wouldn’t have thought we’d need stamps. We went to the internet kiosks to send more emails home, but found that when we swiped our boarding card, it wouldn’t let us. We suspected that it was because we hadn’t imprinted a credit card on the boarding card, so we went to Reception to do that. They said they wouldn’t do it, because we were only going to be there one day. I asked how we could use the internet kiosks in that case since it didn’t take cash, and they said we couldn’t at all. I thought that was pretty shitty service, but there was nothing that could be done. In any case, we found better in Athens.

We had dinner and went to the Sun Deck to look around. I hadn’t been there at night, and not many people were there, for good reason. It was pretty windy and getting a little cold. Of course, if I find it a little cold, it usually means Alicia is freezing. We eventually ended up in our cabin, which was sort of a mirror image of our other cabin. Alicia took the bunk again, thankfully, and we went to sleep. It was going to be another early morning as we’d have to disembark early for our final port of call, Athens.

To Be Continued


Day 10 – ‘Volcano Tour’ Excursion

Filed under: Greece 2008 — 19day @ 23:25:08

Today was the volcano tour, and it proved to me, once again, how out of shape I am. We started the day in the usual manner, breakfast and waiting by the road for a bus that was very much late. We got taken down to a port and a small sailing ship, but at first it just ran under engine power.


Shawn versus the Volcano

The volcano, Nea Kameni, doesn’t look high, but when you’re on it, it seems to go on forever. It isn’t a cone with a hole in the middle, and the tour guide even seemed to suggest such a form was unfashionable and that this form was better. For certain climbing it was easier than the cartoonish cone form. It’s still reasonably active with eruptions relatively recently, but they said not to worry too much about that. We boated to a Erinia cove, the port, and the tour guide told us, a couple of times, to make absolutely sure we had a bottle of water. I had 500ml on me from earlier, but I wish I had gotten more. We paid our ticket price and started our ascent. We had various checkpoints to reach, and when we made it to each subsequent one, the tour guide would give us some history about the place, and then repeat it in french for the others, while the english speakers moved on. It was kind of shocking to see him pass us on the way to the next checkpoint after us having quite a head start.

The heat was quite hard on me, both the heat from the sun, and the reflective heat from the volcanic stones, which were black and so got hot. Oh yes, and the ground steamed, and when the guide dug up a bit of earth it steamed more and gave it to us to touch, and it was quite hot. No wonder the warning about the water bottle. It took something like an hour, if not longer, but time didn’t seem to move. Each time I made it around a curve or over a hill, there would be the path snaking off and up into the distance… and we’d have to walk it.

I had to take a couple little breaks while making it to the top. Alicia and Laura didn’t seem to have any difficulty at all, so I guess it’s just me. Even all these old people seemed to be okay. The hills of Santorini didn’t prepare me for this. I finished my water with still about a third of the trip left to go, so when we were heading back down again, I had nothing. The way back seemed bad too, sure, it was downhill, but it seemed to take forever. I’m guessing probably due to no stops for the history.

After we made it back, we were dismayed to not be able to find our boat, but in fact it was now triple-parked, and we had to get on a boat and cross another to finally make it back to ours. We then boated to some hot springs, but honestly they were mildly lukewarm springs. After a long delay, I finally went into the water, which was quite cold, and some distance from the spring itself. When I headed for the ladder they put down the side of the boat, someone else was coming up from having put a toe in and deciding it was too cold. I went down with the intention of lowering in slowly, however I missed a step when I was halfway in and fell in all the way. I finally got to experience the refreshing sting of salt-water in my eyes. As soon as I got in, though, they sounded the horn to return, so I only went a little ways into the yellowish water before turning back. I was hampered by both of my legs cramping up all of a sudden, and I was probably lucky that I was in saltwater, or else things might have got a little interesting.

After that we boated to a red beach that is apparently only reachable by swimming, but I clearly saw people walking from around the side to it, and it didn’t look like they swam. I didn’t partake in that bit of the excursion. We had lunch which I wasn’t fussy on so I won’t recall it here, except that I was annoyed at how Laura and Alicia manage to get so far ahead yet people seem to treat me like crap and force in between in line. After lunch it was time to head back, and we had what I thought was plenty of time to get to Oia for the sunset, but the boat unfurled the sails and we sailed back to the main port at Eulonda. Now, the sailing was fun for a bit, but it seemed to take forever and seemed kinda of anti-climatic, I mean, imagine if we were on our way back to the hotel by bus, and they throw it in neutral to coast the rest of the way. On the way back we passed a bit of cliff that apparently is thought to look like an indian head. I agree, it sort of looks like a face profile, but why indian, it doesn’t sound very greek.

Indian head

They said ‘Indian’, I think they meant ‘Native American’

We had the option to get off at Eulonda and make our own way back, or the go to the other port and be bussed back to our hotel. We opted to get off right away, and took the sky-tram up the side of the cliff. There was also the donkey path we could have taken, but Laura didn’t trust the donkeys, and I didn’t want to crush one. Alicia decided she didn’t want to smell like one, so we bought the tram tickets and went up. It was shockingly uninteresting actually, the views weren’t any better than the ones we could get in other ways.

We went back to the hotel and changed, and headed to a nearby bus-stop to make it to Oia. When it came, we got on, and the guy who takes the money was standing there. See, on the buses, you don’t pay the driver right away, you just get on and eventually a guy comes around and sells you a ticket. Laura asked him how much the ticket was, and he told her “sit down”, she didn’t hear and asked again, he just said “sit down” louder. This was another occurrence of the general rudeness I’d seen around. I imagine I’d be like that if I had to deal with tourists in another language, but that’s pretty much the reason I’m NOT in the tourist industry. Anyway, we sat down and bought our ticket, 1.40 euros, which still makes it cheaper than the TTC. And the buses were like coach buses, very nice. Unless you have to stand in the aisles, which is less nice, since they aren’t built for that.

We reached Oia and made for the west, but apparently we were well beaten, since there were already like a hundred or more people lining all the walls and outcrops. We managed to find a small section to watch the sunset for ourselves. But unfortunately, it was hugely disappointing, since there was a band of thick cloud at the horizon. Alicia later bought some playing cards with landscapes on the backs, and we saw the types of sunsets we could have seen, so I guess that’s good enough.

Oia sunset

The oiaset on a bad day

We later ate at a place called Blue Sky, which I can’t really remember at all. We bussed back to Fira, and while waiting we encountered a stray dog that seemed to delight to sit at the cul-de-sac that all the vehicles and the bus needed to turn around at and risk itself getting hit. We made it back to our hotel, updated ourselves on the financial crisis, and went to sleep for the last time in that hotel. Tomorrow would be just a transition day to make it back to the Aquamarine, and finally, Athens.

To Be Continued


Day 9 – ‘Santorini Bus Tour’ Excursion

Filed under: Greece 2008 — 19day @ 22:55:17

We had left money with the front desk to pay for our excursions, since we didn’t have an emplaced Transat representative. Those tickets had arrived and our first excursion was a bus tour to a museum, a small village, a black beach and a wine tasting.

We woke up and went for breakfast, which King Thiras provided. I’m not sure how many rooms the place has, but either it’s very few, or they bank on not everyone coming down to breakfast at the same time, since there were only 5 or so tables, seating 4 each. There was a little buffet of eggs, plain yogurt, peach halves; and the lady proprietor brought coffee, juice, and these thin grilled peices of toast which I quite enjoyed.

We headed down the hill to the main road (determined to be the main road since it actually had traffic on it) and waited for the bus. There was a pretty long delay, and each time a bus approached we’d get hopeful, but it would pass by. But finally a bus arrived for us and found it was mostly full from other pick-ups. The tour guide, her name I can’t remember, seemed nice enough, and used touches of self-depricating humour.

Our first stop was a museum, which I believe was the Museum of Prehistoric Thira. She gave us a bit of a lecture before going in, basically not to touch anything, including the walls, don’t approach anything whenever possible, and breathe only as necessary. Inside was mostly spacious and things were behind glass, but there were some of the larger urns and other pottery behind ropes, with people waiting around who were dressed as if they could have been tourists, but their gaze so intent that you knew they were security.

One of the more interesting items in the museum was a table that was formed by a negative mold of volcanic ash. What is now Santorini was, it is thought, a nearly ring-shaped island, with a volcano in the middle, and as they tend to do, the volcano erupted and the shape of the island changed. The volcanic ash encased a small table. The table itself is gone, but the hollow form was filled with liquid gypsum.


Whatever you do, don’t compare this to Pompeii, the locals hate that

There was a scale model of Akrotiri which only represented a couple of percent of the entire settlement. The rest of it lies under the current villages, who are reluctant to be town down for excavation. The actual site isn’t open to the public after an accident killed a tourist. Since the entire economy of the place is dependent on tourists, they reacted by just closing the whole thing down until they could guarantee safety. As we walked around the museum, the tour guide would remind us here and there to stay away from this, or don’t touch that. A fly landed on a wall near here, she shooed it away with a “Don’t Touch”. Flash photography was forbidden, though she didn’t initially tell us why, until someone, possibly accidentally, took a very blatant flash shot of a wall-segment, and she told us all how vivid the colours were when she was younger, but the flash photography has caused them to fade so much. The guilt was palpable. I ducked out of the museum tour early to use the bathroom, and when I came out, a fairly large line had formed. I’m not sure what it is about bathroom technology in Greece, but it appears that even in a museum, toilet paper and toilet seats are still purely optional features of a bathroom.

We next went up to a mountain to what I believe was the highest point that we could get to, there is a monastery further up by they don’t want us tourist folks bothering them. The view was mostly obscured by wires and generally I found the views looked better closer up. We then went to a small village to take a look around. The place seemed completely deserted, we joked that they were all at work operating as tour guides and bus drivers. We went around taking pictures of things the way only tourists can; whatever might have been mundane for the locals was fascinating to us.

Run-down house

The locals probably consider this an eyesore, but we take pictures

We went to lunch just across from a black beach, the place was called The Best, when it should have been more aptly named, The Expensive. The lunch for the three of us was 50 euros, so around 75 dollars canadian. I think I had a pan pizza, and would have to redeem myself later on. We then went to the beach, which was sort of black I guess. It was made up of volcanic stone, and being dark, was quite hot on the feet. The girls went swimming while I played with a few bits of the rock which were very light and pourous. I just killed time until that portion of the excursion was over since I didn’t bring my swimming stuff.

Black Beach

In summer I imagine it’s advisable to stay on the walkway

Our last stop was at a winery called, amazingly, Santo Wines Winery. Where they make wine. We also got to try some of the wine, one of which was something we sort of compared to an icewine. Now obviously they can’t actually make icewine, but this stuff had a sort of sweetness to it. So Alicia and I each bought a bottle. I later referred to the brand and Vintorini, but was corrected that it was, in fact, Vinsanto. I like my name better. Somewhere along these trips, our tour guide told us a story about how the light on Santorini seemed different. She had bought very expensive coloured glasses from there, and had them shipped to Crete where she spends the off-season time. When they arrived, she didn’t like the colours and thought they sent the wrong ones, but didn’t want to make a fuss, and gifted them to a friend. Later, she found then again and once more ordered them, and the same wrong colours were seen when she opened the package. She phoned them and they assured her that they were the ones she wanted. She realized that the sun of Santorini was needed to make the colours appear the way she remembered. She gifted them again. Unfortunately, not before someone told her she could have just used them in her Santorini place since she spent a lot of time there as well.

We got bussed back to our hotel and watched the sun set again. We were thinking of going to Oia, another town which was famed for it’s sunsets, but we decided to do it the next day. We went to a restaurant called Cesare’s (for some reason). I drank yet more Mythos, another half liter of the stuff. And I think I had another pan pizza, so I’d really have to redeem myself later, I’d have to eat something I’d never normally eat. But what? Dun Dun – Dunnn!

To Be Continued


Day 8 – Fast Ferry, Santorini landing

Filed under: Greece 2008 — 19day @ 00:26:43

Today we had to check out (and finally return our towels) of the Hersonissos Maris and we were bussed down to Eulonda to meet our Fast Ferry, named Flying Cat 4. It was sort of like an airplane on the inside, small spaces, narrow aisles, but the seats were much more comfortable. But it still felt crammed. We were assigned seats by our ticket. I sat in the middle seat of the middle section, Laura sat to my right, and Alicia sat in the left hand seat of the right section in the same row. A guy who we had seen from previous excursions sat to my left and seemed to hunch up as far away from me as possible. I can understand that if we were both large and spilling into each other, but he was a very thin guy, so I’m not sure what his problem was, if any.

I know what everyone else’s problem was though… the boat itself. I think we all figured that because it was supposed to move fast, that it would sort of cut through the water, or skim it. Unfortunately, if the scene passing the window was any indication, it just rolled with any wave that passed by, including those made by canoes. I don’t usually consider myself sensitive to motion sickness… I saw Blair Witch and Cloverfield in the theater with no ill effect, I can read in the car, I can play Mario Kart, etc. But this was the real test. But it wasn’t a fair test, since I normally consider myself quite good with motion, I am decidedly less good with people vomiting all around me.

Flying Cat 4

Abandon hope all ye who enter here

People were throwing up (or doing very good impressions of same) all over the boat. The honeymooning couple we continually ran into had the same story, he was motion sick and she helped him to the back area, where apparently people were lying on the ground as if the casualties of a battle. Once everyone started throwing up, she eventually had succum as well due to the smell and sounds. The trip lasted for 2 hours, and did it ever feel like it did. A worker came out of a closet with a stack of barfbags so high that it would have been comical if not for it being tragic. Laura was completely unphased, while Alicia was getting pretty green for a while and reportedly was at the threshold of vomiting halfway through the trip when her gravol kicked in and she recovered. I expected myself to be fine, and I was fine, but during the last half hour I started to develop a headache, and I can’t be sure if it was due to incroaching nausea, or just because my head felt like it. But once the trip was over, it went away.

It was chaos getting the luggage back though, they had us get off the boat and then all of us had to get back on from another location to claim our luggage and then take it off again, using a single gangway. I got screamed at in Greek for apparently stepping across one of the mooring ropes, and was subsequently skipped over many times for the line to get onto the boat. When we finally got our luggage, we were told by Transat people that everyone going to King Thiras hotel was to dump their bags onto a fairly unofficial looking open-back truck. With the feeling that I might not see the luggage again, I tossed it to the guy and we made for our bus.

The Transat person on the bus described Santorini as the most dangerous island, and thought they meant it jokingly, I could beleive it. The roads are the type to inspire the taking out of more life insurance. The road from the port to the region of Fira where our hotel was located was basically back and forth along a cliff, narrow roads, no guardrails, on huge busses making the occasional blind 180 degree turn. But after a while, I rationalized it to myself… the bus drivers here are basically all doing it for the tourists, meaning they do it all the time, and all the bad ones will have already died from misadventure, while the successful ones have bred, so just sit back and wait for the call for King Thiras.

King Thiras is a 2-star hotel, and did feel like a bit of a letdown after the last place, but that was short lived. King Thiras doesn’t do anything wrong, it just has less stuff. Only a small breakfast buffet is included, no pool (at least traditionally, apparently Transat worked out something with a nearby hotel for the use of their pool), smaller rooms, but where Hersonissos Maris was a moderately-grand hotel (for me anyway) trying to seem Greek, King Thiras was a real Greek place that made itself a hotel. Everything seemed more charming, more real, or as frequently described by Alicia and Laura, “cute”.

Santorini Hotel Room

What can I say? I like feet

The room consisted of a true double bed, so Laura and Alicia got to cuddle again. I had a single to be lonely in. The room had a relatively spacious bathroom, but you still couldn’t flush toilet paper. And, according to the Transat rep on the bus, the tap water wasn’t merely non-potable, but was actually salt water. The room had a nice shuttered window, a nicer shuttered balcony door, and a not-so-nice creepy picture hanging on the wall of weird eyes and naked people. There was also a clock tower nearby that announced the passing of time with very loud noises. Our baggage eventually arrived as well, which was handy. Only 6 of us from our Transat bus ended up in this hotel in the end.

We asked the manager for a good, authentic place to eat nearby. I’m not sure if he was just searching for the words or what, but I got the distinct impression he wasn’t pleased talking to people so much You could ask him something, and he would go off behind his desk and spend a bit doing something while you still wondered if he had actually heard you at all. In any case, he eventually advocated a place called The Greeks, which was an easy enough name to remember.

View of Santorini

I can see my hotel from here

Santorini is a beautiful island, too beautiful in fact. You just want to take a photograph of everything, including stuff that I’m sure the locals only just threw out the night before. Santorini is also a physically challenging island as well, since basically the whole place is like a hill. The stairs are everywhere, and as fate had it, our hotel was up high, and all the shops and such were further down. The place greatly added to my sense of dehydration. I mostly drank water to quench the thirst, but every now and then, as it was at The Greeks, I’d get beer, and always the same beer, Mythos, since it is greek domestic. I guess I developed a taste for it, since I kinda liked it near the end. You can get half-liter cans of the stuff for less than a small bottle of coke.

We wondered around shops for a while and then watched the sunset into the water, it was pretty nice, but also pretty expensive. The locals have set up a mini-economy at the edge of the island for those wanting to watch the sunset. I had a 9 dollar milkshake to celebrate the sun setting, and then it got really quite cold with the wind, and we eventually looked for a place to have dinner.

We ended up at a place called Naoussa. The girls ordered the Moussaka which the place touted as the best around, but then again, so did all the other places. While we waited they offered us house wine, and when we inquired of the price, they said it was free of course, which delighted us. I ordered some feta-stuffed pastery appetizers since my stomach was upset again. They gave us bread in the meantime, and we’d learned in Greece that an order of bread is both assumed, and charged for, per person, this time it was 1 euro each. My actual food arrived and I was politely waiting for the Moussaka to arrive, but it seemed to take forever, and I finally started eating my lukewarm dish. They came by with the Moussaka at last saying that there had been some problem, so they brought me another hot round of my appetizers and a jug of their house wine to do well by us. And at the end of the meal, gave us reasonably watered down Ouzo, which made it a lot easier to drink. We were quite pleased with the service by the end of the evening, but the drinks made it all the harder to get up that hill to the hotel. In the restaurant we ran into that Honeymooning couple yet again, and it was sort of getting embarassing at that point. They apparently had seen us walking in the sidestreet before even going inside. And it wouldn’t be the last time we’d see them either.

We slept our first night in the hotel, and it was reasonably comfortable. We watched BBC world news telling us of the continuing global financial meltdown, and with that in mind, we dropped off to sleep.

To be continued


Day 7 – ‘Spinalonga’ Excursion

Filed under: Greece 2008 — 19day @ 22:47:47

Today was our excursion to Spinalonga island, named for being a spine shape, which it wasn’t, because the people who named it didn’t bother to actually go there first to ensure what they were seeing wasn’t merely two islands doing a very good job at looking like they were one island, which of course they were. Stavrula was our guide once again.

We went by bus to Eulonda, a town on the water, to board our boat that would take us to Spinalonga. Spinalonga was built up as a defensive fort originally, which is the source of the ruins. But it was used later as a Leper colony, much later… as in, the last one died in the 1950’s. Our tour guide reassured us that hardly anyone caught leperosy there anymore (har har) and she had been there many many times. The colony itself was mostly a defensive wall, which we toured, and mostly ruined houses. They had a small functioning church there, and I entered, deposited a coin in the box as a donation (if I recall, it was a 2 euro coin), and thus was permitted to light a candle. The candle is supposed to represent the fire of life or some such. I felt unqualified to be doing it, but at least my flesh didn’t ignite immediately upon entering the church as I had feared.


Mine is second from the left, may it burn forever, or 15 minutes

We departed the island and went along to a red beach, which was very rocky in getting to it. The heat was starting to pick up as well, but I opted not to swim, and instead to irritate Laura and Alicia by taking pictures of them swimming. After the swim we got our lunch which was included with the excursion, which we ate on the ship. It was challenging to cut through the meat on paper plates on our laps. Later we all entertained ourselves by throwing bits of bread (and later, with some futility, bits of pear) into the water to watch the masses of fish swarm to feed.

Feeding fish

I couldn’t help but feel we were messing with their heads

We returned by boat to Eulonda and then bussed back to our hotel. Laura and Alicia went down to the beach, I went down a little later but was already too late, they were out of the water and just sunning. I didn’t want to go in alone (I needed people to distract the biting fishies after all) and just sunned myself. Though I suppose I was starting to burn since I would continually forget to put on sunblock.

It was around this day that my dehydration was starting to get a little more raging, and re-hydration would upset my stomach. I was also starting to get very bad acid at various times of the day, and ended up treating Alicia like a little pharmacy, getting her Pepto-chewables. Of course, little did I know that upset stomachs would be the least of my worries come the following day, when we met a little boat called Flying Cat 4.

To be continued

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