July 11, 2011

Greece: “I need to negotiate the stairs…”

I flew into Athens late Saturday and took the new metro line into the city. (Pretty awesome, as they only completed it eight years after the expected date.) My hostel was pretty great, air con and everything, and met up with some people from the dig. Sunday I visited the new Acropolis Museum (which opened pretty much the week after I left last time) and it was so amazing – really integrated modern design with historical artifacts, and underneath was the “Acropolis neighborhood” excavation, which they displayed through glass floors. At the end I saw someone who looked to be conducting surveys, and it turns out his name is Dionysus and he’s studying museology and giving a presentation on visitor’s suggestions and reactions to the Acropolis museum. Of course, I was happy to help. ALSO I read his nametag and his last name is Phlebotomos, which he told me is the profession name for bloodletters.  Sunday night I had drinks with the archaeo folks but left them for dinner as I wanted to go to Kostas and they wanted to go for Mexican. However, after the long walk to my old neighborhood, I was dismayed to find Kostas to be closed and my other two fallbacks full of catered parties for the Special Olympics.

I walked dejectedly down a small alley and my attention was caught by a large woman in a see-through nightdress lounging over two chairs. She said something in Greek that I didn’t catch and I asked her to repeat it in English; after a brief conversation about the situation in the main square I decided to ask her about nearby restaurants. She asked if I like meat or fish (I didn’t know there was such a choice) and when I replied meat, she said, “Oh! You can go to O Stavros!” (O is the direct article for masculine nouns, including male names.) “They have meat, and also fish, and it is close. Is just to the right, down the steps, and across the street.” I asked the name of the street, and she stood up, making everything under the nightdress jiggle and sag. “No street! To the right, down the steps, you there. Tell them Fat Katerina send you.” I said ok, and thanked her, and started to walk in the direction she had pointed. She leaned over her little porch and pointed again, “Down the steps! Tell them Fat Katerina send you, the one who make the jewellery, the bracelet, the earrings. The fat one.” I ordered fried zucchini and tzatziki and it was delicious, and only 8 euros.
Monday I took the once-per-day-every-other-day-not-Sundays flight to Astypalaia (1 hour at 10,000 feet) and it is SO cute. We are 2.5 km downhill from the main town, so we have to walk half an hour uphill to the lab every morning, but in exchange we get to be next to the beach. I am getting quite a tan – it’s so hot in the afternoons all one can do is jump in the sea. There are also little restaurants and a friendly supermarket and stray calico cats who love me. I made a huge pot of tzatziki too! We get fed every day except Sunday, nice Greek food – not the most delicious, but filling, and each room (for four) has a kitchenette. After two days of training, I got to excavate today. Pretty much, each burial is a baby in an amphora. What we have to do is remove the potsherds, which then leaves a giant dirt clod with a skeleton inside. We go in with scalpels, tweezers, and other specialized tiny equipment to excavate the skeleton – very different from pretty much all other excavations, as it’s half dig – but very small – and half immediate conservation. Anyway, the skeletons are adorable and tiny, and we still have to figure out why they’re here and how they got here. Lots of fun. And after excavating, we go to the beach.

June 7, 2009

Athens, Day 73: Skippy and Pippy, the Passport Patrol

After a medium-late night in Gazi Friday, we spent most of Saturday sitting around thinking about doing things. I had two gyros for lunch at the Varnavas place and then sat around some more. In the mid-afternoon, after sending Felicity off, a bunch of us went out to do some last-minute shopping. Paige, Aida, and I went to Syntagma to look for CDs (I got Cretan music, bouzouki, and some cheap hipster CD) and knockoff bags (Aida got a Real Prada bag), we wandered towards Plaka and Tourist Alley with a stop in every shoe and bag store for Paige. I also ended up buying the cutest book ever called “i love…”. On every page there’s a bird with a red heart balloon saying “i love [something]”. It’s adorable. We attempted to have dinner at Kostas, but it was inexplicably closed, so we went to Ep’Avli (the place with the amazing chocolate cake), which was still quite good. I think if Giorgos from Kostas cooked the appetizers for Ep’Avli, they could have a really amazing restaurant.

After dinner we decided to go out somewhere, but since Aida was leaving at 2 am and nobody wanted to buy anything, we couldn’t go to a bar or club. We (me, Anna, Sarah B, Aida) walked down Markou Moussourou and ended up sitting at the Zappeion for a few hours. I made everyone read aloud from “i love…” and then we went around saying things we actually loved about Greece: the old people, how they talk to strangers about family first off, the kolokithokeftedes, the gyros, the food in general, the sky, the view out the apartment window. We were just hanging out when two policemen came over and demanded “our papers”. Of course, no one brought passports to the park. We don’t bring passports anywhere. We just kind of sat there while they took out a flashlight and looked at us, and realized they were wearing incredibly tight pants. Eventually Anna realized she had her student ID, Sarah had a photocopy of her passport, and I had my international student card. Aida had nothing and told them so. The police were not satisfied, but took them anyway. One pulled out a little notebook and started writing down our names. They asked how long we were here and where we lived. We told them that literally, we lived five minutes away and that we were literally leaving the country in a matter of hours. This didn’t seem to help. As they copied down our names, they asked for our father’s name. We have no idea why. I was the first.

“Your father’s name?”

“What?”

“Your father’s name.”

“First or last?”

“Your name is Hackner Stacy?”

“Other way around.”

“So his name is Hackner.”

“His name is Mark.”

“Eh?”

“Mark.”

“What is?”

“Markos. Markos.”

“Oh! Markos. He is Greek?”

“No.”

Sarah was a bit worried because apparently there’s a German terrorist with the same name as her dad, but apparently they didn’t care too much if they accepted that. We asked if there was a problem, and they said “No, there is no problem.” And then they took their tight pants and left.

We still have absolutely no idea what was going on or what they’re going to do with the little list they made that excludes Aida, whom they stopped caring about when she couldn’t produce an ID. I wondered if it’s because today is Euro and Greek elections, but apparently they had questioned Nick in a similar manner before. It’s likely they were just bored and saw some girls sitting on the bench and decided to use their police power to check us out and be annoying. Halfway through I had to stifle giggles both because of the irony of avoiding police until I literally had 10 hours left in the country and was doing nothing wrong and because of their actually ridiculously tight pants. We left the park a little later; Aida and Alli left, then Anna and Sarah R. People are slowly trickling out. I’m taking a cab with Nick, and we’re leaving at the same time as Sarah, who’s taking the bus. After a very long day (especially long because it was too hot and buggy to sleep), I will be home.

Another point: the election. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in the rest of Europe – I’ve read one news article about the process. Athens has been plastered in the past week with campaign posters: the big groups are New Democracy (Νεα Διμοκρατια) with Giorgos Papandreou (we think he’s from the Papandreou legacy) and PASOK (ΠΑΣΟΚ), the socialist party. (That’s one of those acronyms, like Israel’s NATBAG, that has been put into English letters that don’t actually mean anything in English.) The communist party, KKE, has put up the most posters, but isn’t as big a factor (except in the north, their old hangout). Apparently there are lots of smaller parties too, but I don’t know them. Yanna told me she’s voting for one of them, as New Democracy has really let the people down so far. We’ll see what happens.

June 5, 2009

Athens, Day 71: “When you are just learning, it is cute to make mistakes. Now it is not cute.”

Since I last wrote, I have finished my paper (on costumes) and taken my Greek oral exam; all I have left now is the Greek written final. Today is our last day of actually doing things. We have the exam (before which I will have a gyros), then we’re watching “Zorba the Greek”, then an Athens Centre “graduation ceremony” and dinner.

On Tuesday we had a nice free morning during which I went to the Museum of Costumes, found out that the Franz Ferdinand concert was canceled, and finished the paper. After class we had an optional screening of “Iphigenia”, which was very long, very 1960s, and all in Greek. I sort of looked at the subtitles, but there weren’t very many of them; in that very 1960s style, there were about 30 minutes of talking in a two-hour movie, and the rest was sweeping landscapes. Then they took us out to dinner to a restaurant called Café Abyssinia, which was Middle Eastern and delicious (I wish they’d told us about it before). Wednesday we went to Aegina, and it turns out we weren’t taking the bus on the ferry, but walking on to the ferry and getting another bus there. Since we left at 7:10 instead of our usual 7:30 or 8, I had to wake up before 7 and was tired and unhappy. So I whipped out my sheet and took a nap on the cold, hard deck. Only when we were woken up ten minutes from shore did I try to find the bathroom and discover there was an indoor section with many available sofas. On Aegina (whose ancient coins featured a turtle, by the way), we saw the site of Kolonna (a Helladic fortified city built over by a Classical temple and then a Byzantine fortification) and the sanctuary of Aphaia, which was quite picturesque and had most of the columns still standing, as well as some preserved bits of color. In the little museum is an entire bottom of a pediment painted red, and some decorative blocks painted blue, red, and green. I mean, if you didn’t know it already, I’ll tell you here that Greek temples and statues were not always shiny white marble, but garishly painted. I don’t think they were as tacky as the Romans though. We also went to Palaeochora, which they told us was a medieval village built on the inland hillside to escape from the pirates and now it’s a ghost town, so I was really excited; in actuality it was a bunch of tiny medieval churches on a hillside. They were very cute, and the one had a little upstairs room that probably should have been locked that still had medieval roofing stuffed with straw. The rest was just running around a mountainside. Then they let us free to go to the beach, but since it was so ridiculously hot Mariana and I just sat at a café, where I fell asleep on a pleather sofa and then stuck to it. Wednesday night Anna and I finished the rice.

Yesterday we went to the Benaki Museum, part of which I’d already seen on Monday. I’m happy with the style of museum-ing Christina does – instead of giving a lecture in every room and suddenly realizing it’s 12:30 and we’re all very hungry, she tells us what to look for and then lets us free. I saw it all in about an hour, after which I came back here, refined my paper, and took a three-hour nap. I think it was one of those times where I kept trying to wake myself up, but it was just too hot and I was napping directly in a sunbeam. The oral exam was ok – we just had to talk about ourselves and describe a picture in groups of three.

Last night Anna and I finished the pasta. (Or, more accurately, are still working on finishing the pasta.) Afterwards we went out to James Joyce, an Irish bar, where at closing time the bartender took a liking to us and took us to another bar that played really good music. We danced until about 4, then came back here and ate leftover pasta.

 

Fun fact: we use zucchini and onions in every single dish we cook. Pasta with zucchini and onions. Rice with zucchini and onions. Chicken with zucchini and onions. If we haven’t run out (we usually have them for lunch), we put in tomatoes, and, if we remembered to buy one, some cauliflower.

June 2, 2009

Athens, Day 68: “Is magic.”

I asked Yanna today about why the Greeks only like Greek food, as she’s our best place to get answers for cultural questions. She says it’s because a) it’s the best, b) nobody trusts any other kind of food, and c) putting an ethnic name on somewhere is often just an excuse to have overpriced food. Then another woman in the office butted in and said, “You don’t understand – Greek food is not just food. Is not just for eating. Is good for everything – like medicine, good for health, good for living.” She continued to expound on this – they all believe that food is as much for he soul as for the mouth. If so, oregano must be some kind of Panacea (who, by the way, was one of the daughters of Asklepios along with Hygeia).

Currency: 1.43 dollars/euro

Weather: low 80s, breezy (sometimes)

June 1, 2009

Athens, Day 67: Brief cultural interruptions

I meant to update when we came back from Thessaloniki (sometimes called Salonica), but then I became very busy with my relaxing. It was about an 8-hour drive to Thessaloniki, and we stopped once at Thermopylae (where there is a monument and not much else – the coastline has silted in and is now a completely un-strategic place for a battle), once for lunch, and once for a bathroom. Thessaloniki is a really interesting city: it’s much smaller than Athens, and much younger (both the town and the people). There are a lot of communists there, remnants of the civil war. They also love food a lot more.

CULTURAL INTERRUPTION #1: A conversation with an old woman related by Paul.

Paul: Is there anywhere in Athens to get Chinese food?

OW: Why do you want Chinese food?

Paul: Because it’s different, and I like it. I’ve had so much Greek food already.

OW: But Chinese food is bad.

Paul: Have you ever had Chinese food?

OW: No.

Paul: Then how do you know it’s bad?

OW: Because it’s not Greek.

This explains why there are so many tavernas and so few of anything else. I’ve only seen two Italian restaurants here. You can walk down a street where every restaurant has the same 20 dishes – mostly delicious, to be sure, but all the same. They like to fry things, and they think the only acceptable spices are salt, pepper, and oregano. Put a little too much oregano in something and they think it’s spicy.

Back to Thessaloniki: back in the 20s, Greece and Turkey decided to do an “exchange of populations” to get the Christians in western Turkey and the Muslims in eastern Greece back to the countries where they wouldn’t be causing minority problems. The northern Greeks resented the newcomers, many of whom spoke Turkish or the Pontic dialect of Greek (which is apparently not mutually intelligible with modern Greek). According to our textbook, they were called “giaortovaptismi” or baptized in yoghurt, a snide reference to their (much better) cuisine. [Parentheses added by the textbook’s author.] Anyway, a lot of these people ended up in Thessaloniki and thus it has much more adventurous and wide-ranging cuisine, what one might call “contemporary Greek”. The first night we ate at a restaurant that practically drowned things in cream, and the second we went to a decent Chinese restaurant.

The first full day in Thessaloniki we saw a monastery with a Byzantine mosaic and an equally ancient tour guide, the city walls (where Christina tried to sneak us into a tower, with some success), the churches of Aghios Dimitrios (patron saint of the city), Aghia Sofia (a much smaller version of the one in Istanbul), and all things related to Galerius, the Roman ruler of the city in (I believe) the 3rd century CE. He had a huge palace with awesome mosaics and a weird octagonal room, and he also built himself an arch and a round mausoleum that now causes cultural confusion. Right near the arch was a delicious bakery (Thessaloniki also has more Turkish-style baked goods), the spoils of which we ate on the way to the archaeological museum (an optional trip). The museum’s prized artifact is the Derveni krater, which depicts four different states of drunkenness. They also had lots of gold things. After the museum we walked back towards the hotel via the port, where we got to see the White Tower and a statue of Phillip II, complete with only one eye. I split from the group and went to the Jewish Museum, which was much smaller than I expected considering the huge Jewish population that was once there (50,000 before the war). They did have a pamphlet in Ladino, though. I also tried to go to the Museum of Greek Folk Instruments, but it had apparently moved across town.

thessaloniki

Christina gets decapitated by modern art in Thessaloniki

Thursday we took the bus to Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia when it was ruled by Phillip II. It had a gigantic agora that apparently causes confusion to anyone studying agoras, as it was used as a workspace as well as a market. It also had some palatial houses bordering the agora. These were pretty impressive. When I see residential complexes at archaeological sites, they usually have rooms no more than ten feet by six feet; these had 30×30 courtyards surrounded by rooms just as big with intricate pebble mosaics. These were the mansions of ancient times. After that we went to Vergina, a tumulus that houses three tombs, one of which may belong to Phillip II and one of which may belong to Roxane and the young Alexander IV. The tombs were absolutely magnificent. They had turned the interior of the tumulus into a museum to house all the grave goods, which included massive amounts of gold, armor, and even the trappings of the funeral pyre. I think Pella and Vergina were the best two sites we’ve seen thus far.

CULTURAL INTERRUPTION #2: Fyrom

Greece has trouble with its neighbors. Of course everyone knows it has problems with Turkey, but it also has problems with Albania, Bulgaria, and a place called Fyrom. The EU doesn’t really care that much, apparently, because why would Greece start a war with a country so insignificant and virtually powerless? But still. Fyrom is the “Former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia”, and Greece doesn’t take it lightly that they are claiming the name Macedonia. Greece already has a region called Macedonia – it’s the homeland of Alexander, right? And it’s in Greece, right? And Phillip had his capital at Pella, and it’s all here, it’s all in Greece, right? SO STOP TAKING OUR NAME. Vergina is a big deal for the Greeks because it’s showing that the great line of Macedonian kings were from northern Greece and not Yugoslavia. It’s the tomb of Phillip β Makedonon, and of Roxane and little Alexander, wife and child of Alexander Phillipou Makedonon, Alexandros Magnos. Except that the forensic data isn’t quite so clear. We know Phillip II had an eye injury, but it’s unclear if the middle-aged male in Tomb 2 actually has one, or why he would be buried with a woman outside his burial chamber when wives typically shared the chamber. There’s a lot of debate, and, at the bottom of it all, it’s inconclusive. Just don’t tell the Fyroms; they’ll have a field day.

Friday we went to the Museum of Byzantine Civilization, which was very well-organized and allowed me to take lots of pictures for my paper. Afterwards we left Thessaloniki and drove two hours south to Dion, which had some great Roman buildings and a bath with the biggest hypocaust I’ve ever seen. It also had a palatial residence with something like 8 fountains inside the house. The city must’ve been huge, but most of it was left unexcavated as an “archaeological park”. It also had the only squat toilets I’ve encountered so far. Then we continued our drive back to Athens.

CULTURAL INTERRUPTION #3: “I could write an essay called ‘Where’s the Flusher?’”

I’ve already discussed Greece’s plumbing problems, and how once every couple of days Anna and I have to take out the bathroom trash that contains not Q-tips and tissues but used toilet paper. Additionally, some places think it’s acceptable to not put a seat on their toilets; I have no idea how small children avoid falling in. I have a hard enough time with it, but at least now I’ve realized why my quads are so built up. There is another problem with Greek toilets we’ve been discussing recently: the wily Greek toilet designers like to hide the flushers. Often they’re on top of the toilet console, like some American toilets. But occasionally the console is above the toilet. In this case, there is often some kind of spring-loaded button underneath it. But sometimes you have to pull it, not push. And sometimes the button is on top, making it difficult for short people, especially when you have to reach up and then pull, grasping the toilet as you do so. And, in the case of the Athens Centre computer center’s bathroom, the console is across the (albeit small) room, and you have to yank a chain. But first you have to find it. Every bathroom stop is a new game of hide and seek.

Saturday I went shopping with Paige and bought some shirts and more books, then cooked dinner (the final curry). We went out at 9 to see “My Life in Ruins” at the Zappeion’s outdoor theatre (the movie would have been cute and funny if we were at home, but here, knowing Greece the way we do now, it was just hilarious.) Sunday I went to more museums than should be physically possible, taking pictures and notes for my paper (on Greek identity as represented through fashion). I started off at the War Museum, then as I was heading to the Benaki, noticed that the big Syntagma changing-of-the-guard was going on. There were maybe 30 soldiers in formal military dress with wind instruments leading a contingent of 50 evzones (the guards with skirts and pom-pom shoes). They did their funny little pom-pom shaking march, and I followed them down to Syntagma, but the crowd was too big to see the ceremony. I went back to the Benaki, which turned out to be free for students, then the Folk Arts Museum and Jewish Museum (both for the second time). I tried to go to the Centre for Folk Arts, but it was closed on weekends. On the way to my next stop, I discovered the oldest Turkish bathhouse in Athens (the Bathhouse of the Winds) and took a tour of it, then proceeded to the Museum of Popular Instruments, where I learned about Greek bagpipes and drums and oboes et cetera. I tried to go to the central market to get a lamb to roast for dinner, but it was closed on Sunday but, since I was in the area, I decided to go to the City of Athens Museum. It was in some sort of palace and was mostly paintings and drawings of Athens from the 1830s and 40s, when all there was was the Acropolis, Syntagma, and some buildings in between the two. I think one featured some goats grazing on the hill that is now our apartment.

Tired and hungry, I trudged back to our former goat path, heated up the leftover curry, and spent the rest of the day reading a novel on the sun porch. Later at night I worked on my paper and I now have five pages.

Today I went to the Museum of Greek History and Costume, which was interesting but unhelpful for the paper, and then the ticket office where I found out the Franz Ferdinand concert had been canceled. Again, I trudged (well, ran so I could at least get some exercise) back here, grabbed a gyros, then sat outside reading again. And that was the weekend.

CULTURAL INTERRUPTION #4: Sarah’s paper

Sarah is writing her paper about culture shock. We got that packet before we left, the one that has a handy little graph of arrival in the country, a happy “honeymoon phase” followed by “irritation and alienation” before adapting and then leaving, only to experience reverse culture shock. Apparently this has been a difficult experience for many people here. But let me tell you, I have not experienced this. I don’t even think it’s because I’ve traveled so much before, or that this is my third time spending more than a month out of the country (and yes, I know I’m very lucky in that respect). I think there are two reasons: first, that I know I’m going to be satisfied and happy and enjoy everything no matter where I go, and that fundamentally, my goal in life is to learn anything and everything, and I can’t do that if I’m busy judging and having cultural mood swings. I understand that Greek culture and American culture are different, but I’m not disenchanted with the Greeks after living here, nor am I overly enchanted. I’m learning, that’s all; each culture has benefits and drawbacks, and each must be evaluated for its own merit. I mean, yes, I think America is a pretty sweet place and I can’t imagine spending significant portions of my life anywhere else, but that’s because I’m used to it. I know its ins and outs, what makes it tick, where to find things. And now I’m getting to know that about Greece too. I can’t say I’m not excited to get home to a place that has air conditioning, proper plumbing, fat-free milk, pedestrian crossings, and runs on time, but it doesn’t have gyros stands on every corner, it doesn’t have such pride in its cuisine that it refuses anything else, it doesn’t have siestas, or good feta, or fresh vegetables all the time (organic tomatoes the size of grapefruits!). Maybe I was just born to be an anthropologist.

Currency: 1.42 dollars/euro

Weather: 80s but breezy

May 25, 2009

Athens, Day 59: Some French word. Another French word. (posted a day late)

The first week with Christina was fun. She’s much nicer and more personable than the other two professors, and she’s absolutely adorable. Since she’s also teaching out of her area of expertise, she does tremendous amounts of research every day to keep on top of things. Since she’s an English professor, she loves poetry and reads to us during class; a lot of our outside reading is poetry as well. She also appears to have a weak spot for homosexual poets, and, being British, pronounces it “homo-sex-yoo-al”. (She’s also a professor of medieval studies, so I think that’s why they sent her here, although we only spent two days on the Byzantines.)

On Thursday we went to Eleusis, the site of a mystery cult. To this day, what happened there is still a mystery, although they do have great schematics of the architectural changes to the temple. We also climbed Acrocorinth, the Ottoman/Venetian/Frankish fortress above Corinth. I just removed an incredibly large splinter I got from running through the tall grasses there. Anna, Jose, Jodie, and I decided to run up to the fortress part after everyone had agreed to meet at the top. We had a pretty good view and nice ruins to climb on, but after about fifteen minutes we wondered why no one else was there. I then ran to the other peak, where it turns out everyone else had gone to hang out on the not-so-awesome ruins. Those, however, where the ruins of the fortress whorehouse, which made another tour group’s prayer circle at the top seem a bit out of place.

Friday night we went to see a one-woman workshop theatre piece at the Athens Centre. It was quite strange and inconclusive, but afterwards we chatted with Christina for a long time. Then we had another “family dinner” for which I made really spicy curry chicken.

This weekend we’re in Poros, an island an hour west of Athens across the Attic Bay. Unlike the other islands, this one really only gets Greek tourists. The feel is completely different – everything is from the 50s-70s and there are pine-tree lined roads and no view of the open sea, making it feel a lot more like Appalachian lake country than the Greek islands. It’s still really relaxing and super cheap though. Yesterday John rented an ATV and has been driving it gleefully around while the rest of us sit at the beach. Yesterday we went to the beach right near the hostel (rooms for rent, really, owned by a British woman), which had free chairs and umbrellas but not much beach, and today we went to “Love Bay”, where we had to pay for the chairs and umbrellas and watch lots of overly-PDA couples, but it had an amazing snack stand. We wanted to see the Temple of Poseidon, but it’s difficult to get to; John reported back that it had no standing columns and even Eric lost interest. (This trip features Eric, Sarah, Mariana, John, Nick, and Justin.) Last night we walked the 2.5 kilometers into town (easier than on Santorini, where the roads were narrow and always busy) and ate at a place called Garden Taverna. As much as we don’t want to go back to the same place twice… it was really good. And cheap. So we’ll probably go back again. After dinner we watched “Pirates of the Caribbean” on my computer until everyone started falling asleep, probably due to having woken up at 6, sitting in the sun all day, and having the most delicious rakomelo while watching. Eric fell asleep sitting up and, since we couldn’t wake him, decided to draw on him instead, and he is now the not-so-proud recipient of a skull and crossbones (my work) on his arm.

Later: We ended up going to a different taverna, and today for lunch we went to a cafeteria with amazing pastitzio before the ferry. This week we have the Thessaloniki trip, so I’ll once again have no internet. I’ve started my final paper. We’re on day 60 out of 72 days here, and I can hardly believe it. I’m spending next weekend in Athens, and a week later I’ll be home.

Currency: 1.40 dollars/euro😦

Weather: hot and full of insects

May 18, 2009

Athens, Day 53: “Do you know how to find the Hard Rock Cafe?”

No updates in the past few weeks; I’ve been busy. I actually posted the London update a week late when I was in Mykonos with my family. That was a nice little break from everything, and I learned to ride a scooter. I definitely like Santorini better than Mykonos, though, as it has actual industry (wine and goats) rather than just a seasonal tourist economy. We were there right at the beginning of the season, and hardly anybody else was there, which may have been the reason for the hotel’s over-attentive maid service (seriously, do they really need to clean the room three times a day? And fold the dirty laundry that I’d left in the closet?)

Anyway, the week before Mykonos we took a three-day excursion to Olympia and Delphi. Delphi was a really great site – the place where the Pythia oracle communicated between the people and Apollo – with a beautiful view. The whole thing is on a steep slope. At Olympia we had a race in the stadium (the original home of the Olympic Games to Zeus) in which I tied for second.

olympia2

That was also the week everyone got sick. Anna and I cough in unison in our sleep. However, we discovered an amazingly strong Greek cold medicine called Comtrex that seems to have a serious painkiller component. On the Tuesday we left for the trip, Vassia (the Athens Centre representative who accompanies us on the trips) gave out the pills to anyone who was sick; we stepped off the bus at Osios Loukas Monastery able to hear nature very clearly and unable to stop giggling. I took some interesting photos.

dog

Like this one.

Last week we finished Alain’s course. Tuesday was an excursion to the Lavrio silver mines, which were clearly marked and had a bus parking lot. However, we seemed to miss those and instead took a 25-minute hike through the woods to a gate suspiciously missing its padlock. We entered the gate and scrambled down a hill that was even less than a goat path, evading bees, mosquitoes, and ancient mine shafts (which someone very inconveniently covered with brush like jungle traps). It was boiling hot and we sat there in misery while Alain lectured, apparently unaware of how unhappy we were. David also came with for that, so I have no doubt he was even more miserable. We also went to Sounion, the southernmost point in Attica where there’s an awesome temple of Poseidon on top of the promontory over the sea. It was also ridiculously hot there, with no shade, but at least a beautiful view. Wednesday I took my family on an evening tour of the Acropolis, and I think I did a pretty good job. It was especially nice as it was in the evening, so there were less people, it was cooler, and the sunlight was perfect for photos (and yes, I remembered my camera this time). Friday we had an exam with an easy essay part (one about Apollo, one about the silver trade) and a torturous short answer section, with words we’d never heard like opisthodomos (a back porch found on some temples) and omphalos (a belly button, namely the navel of the world at Delphi).

This weekend was relaxing; Friday night we went to a nice club in the median of the big highway we have to cross to get to Syntagma. It’s half outdoors with a Spanish/garden theme. Saturday night we watched “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, which makes so much more sense now that we know the Greeks. It’s clearly a movie made for American audiences to enjoy, but it has little jokes that I think it takes a Greek (or someone who’s more familiar with Greece) to get. Last night we went to a hookah bar and Crepa Crepa, and on the way back at 1 am, I suddenly heard my name. I turned around and was, for the first time in my life, literally speechless. I found myself facing a friend from middle school who I probably haven’t seen since 9th grade – and he recognized me. I tried to speak and was unable to for probably 30 seconds, before asking what he was doing here. Turns out he’s vacationing here with his fiancée (???) and they were waiting for her friend to get in from the airport on the bus (hence waiting by the bus stop at 1 am). Small world, small world.

This morning I went to the Plaka and discovered that tourist season is upon us. I helped out two confused tourist groups (one from Brazil looking for the cemetery, another from Seattle for the stadium). I also discovered that it was museum free day and went to the Jewish Museum and the Folk Museum (which had an amazing collection of costumes). I did some shopping, had a gyros, then came back here to my boiling room. Later I might make a recycling trip, then our first class with Christina.

Gyros count: I have lost track. Perhaps 20. I’m giving up the count.

May 10, 2009

Athens, Day 39 (posted a week late): “It’s like Jesus stopped halfway through a miracle.”

Hello from London! I was too exhausted the last two nights to post, so I have a lot of catching up…

I woke up at 6:15 Friday morning and left at 6:30. I walked to Syntagma and arrived at 6:45 to wait for the 7 am bus. However, when I got there I was informed that since it was a public holiday (May Day) the buses ran on a Sunday schedule, which meant the first one would be at 9. Reluctantly I took a taxi, bled money through my ears and arrived at the airport much earlier than expected, which meant I had to sit around for a long time. The flight turned out to be 4 hours instead of 3 (and England is two hours behind, not one), so I was very confused for about an hour in the air until I checked the time zones on my iPod. When we landed, I took the express train and then a taxi to Stephen’s house in Belgravia, where I’m staying in the lap of luxury (hot water! flushing toilets! a kitchen that’s not in the bedroom!). I showered and changed into fresh clothes, had some pasta, and then proceeded to the British Museum. I met with the director of physical anthropology and got a tour of the department and saw the new shipments in from Sudan, which he was busy cataloguing. I found out that the BM freezes all new acquisitions for a few days to kill off any moths or fungi that may have come in with them (especially considering the nature of human remains and associated organic materials and the conditions in which they were packaged in Africa…) Afterwards I toured the museum by myself, checked out the anthropology library, and then decided I’d have to make the BM a two-day extravaganza. I went back to the tube and got on, going towards the Victoria and Albert Museum. However, on the train I discovered that my map had a list of museums, and one of these was the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street – the opposite direction. Here I discovered the beauty of traveling alone: I got off the train, went to the other platform, and got on a train going the other way. No problem. The museum was two floors of a late Victorian house, with antique furniture etc. The museum guide was a Dr. Watson re-enactor; I discussed “A Scandal in Bohemia” with him before proceeding to the top floors, which had wax models of various scenes from the stories. Afterwards I did indeed go to the V&A, where I saw a wonderful exhibit on haute couture hats and and another on Baroque furniture, which was a bit more tiring (Baroque art can get repetitive…) Suddenly realizing it was 7 o’clock and I’d been out on my feet for a considerable amount of time, I headed back to the flat, where they had prepared some Marks and Spencer microwave curry for me (which was delicious). I also had a long chat with Sammy, the nanny, who took me for a drive around Hyde Park and Regent’s Park; she also told me all the good cupcakeries.

End of Friday curry count: 2

Saturday morning Sammy drove me up to Primrose Hill with instructions for the day. We first stopped at a cupcake shop where I had a mini chocolate for breakfast before climbing the hill, the top of which gives one an excellent view of the city. I walked down and, after wending my way through the area of town that houses Jude Law, Kate Moss, and Simon Pegg, found Camden Lock, a super-hipster area that had all sorts of vintage stalls and street food; I had a second breakfast of a lamb samosa. I wandered around for a while and ended up buying my first pair of shoes this year (my only pseudo-resolution lasted til May – great!) I also bought two mini cupcakes from a new cupcake start-up; they used excessive fondant, which was actually delicious, and the cakes were pleasantly dry; one was chocolate and the other apple-cinnamon. I wandered around Camden for a bit, then took the train (this station had a sign warning passengers about pickpockets) to Holborn station again to find the Hunterian Museum. After getting lost and taking some nice architectural photos of King’s College, I found the Royal College of Surgeons and with it, the museum, neatly hidden away where nobody would ever think to look. It was full of awesome medical curiosities, skeletal pathologies, and a history of surgery and medical practice. I got to see bones with rickets and syphilis and the digestive tracts of snakes, among many other interesting things. I spent a good two hours there before deciding I was hungry and needed lunch. I wandered around the Seven Dials area, grabbing an excellent panini before going back to the BM, as I had forgotten to see the Rosetta Stone. I couldn’t really get close to it, so I went to the bookstore and bought a bought called “Necropolis: London and Its Dead”, when Georgia, one of my Megiddo friends, texted me saying she and her UCL archaeo friends were going to a pub in Camden. So I hopped on the tube again, back to where I had started. I met a bunch of recently-graduated archaeologists, including Rob, another Megiddo area supervisor I didn’t even know was living in London (working on a second masters). We went to their pub, Lock 17, although they complained that recently it had become infiltrated by hipsters and the quality decreased – indeed, they ran out of limes at 6 and refused to make any drinks that needed limes, which was half their menu. Eventually we left and went to a club one of the guys used to work at, so we got free entrance; I stayed til about 10.30, when I started to get worried about getting home before the tube closed. Everything worked out and I got back just after 11.

Cupcakes eaten so far: 3

Sunday I woke up late(ish), had curry for breakfast, and went all the way across town to Greenwich, where I saw the National Maritime Museum. It was interesting, although not as pirate-filled as I was expecting, considering the book I read by its curator. Afterwards I headed up a beautiful green hill to the Royal Observatory, where I set my watch to the Millennium Clock and took pictures astride the Prime Meridian. I started feeling a bit ill then (perhaps that was a hint of what was to come), so I had quick lunch at a noodle bar and then went home, noticing that on the ride on the DLR (Docklands Light Rail, which runs above ground), I saw many of the places I read about in “London: The Novel”. I had a nice long rest, the family left for the country house, and I decided to take a walk in Hyde Park (the original!) and have dinner in Notting Hill.

Hyde Park is a beautiful park. The dimming light shone through the spring-green trees, Indians played cricket, kids played soccer (football), and it turned out to be much, much bigger than I thought. [“Necropolis” tells me it’s also a giant plague pit, which is why there are no tube stations under it.] It took me an hour to get to Notting Hill gate. A beautiful walk, but a long one. (The most direct route to get back from NHG to HPC on the tube takes eight stops.) I had a nice vindaloo for dinner, then took the tube back on an indirect route in order to see two ghost stations. And indeed, like in “Neverwhere”, they’re only there if you look for them…

Curries eaten: 4

Monday I woke up ridiculously early but tried to deny my wakefulness for a few hours. I eventually decided to have another breakfast curry and then go to Harrod’s, just to look. For the first time all weekend, it was foggy and spitting outside and I needed my Marmot jacket. I spent a while wandering the food halls, buying a “Curiosity Cola” (apparently an old recipe before Coke took over, with a nice hint of natural flavor) and a red velvet cupcake (too moist). I wandered the Hall of Luxury for a while, only because it’s called the Hall of Luxury. Then Dad called to say they arrived early, we had lunch at Mango Tree, and I left for Heathrow; I arrived back at my apartment at half past midnight.

Total cupcakes: 4

Total curries: 5

April 29, 2009

Athens, Day 34: Have you read that book on corpses?

We have started a “new quarter” with a new professor, Alain. He is quite different in that he has actual lesson plans, syllabi, and the reading always matches up to what we discuss in class; on the flip side, he has lots of projects and presentations for us to do that seem to actually count for a grade.

Yesterday we visited the Acropolis again, and today the National Museum. After the museum Paul took me and a few of the other science-interests to meet Sherry Fox, a bioarchaeologist/ex-forensic anthropologist at the American School of Archaeology. It was pretty awesome. She explained the basics of bioarchaeology, and tidbits from her years as an expert witness in trials. She says the best place right now for all that is Arizona State, which is quite unfortunate as, well, it’s in Arizona; however, all the best people are there, including Jane Buikstra. After that we came quickly back here, had a gyros, then a Greek quiz; in class we discussed the symposia, prostitutes, the role of women in Classical Greece, and at one point had on the board “exposure [of babies to the elements] – homosexuality – prostitution,” which Eric and I thought was hilarious.

I’ve been spending most of my free time (that is, the time not spent doing the tremendous amount of class reading) planning my trip to London this weekend. I think my plan will be to go straight to the BM on Friday, have my meeting, then meet up with my archaeo friend Georgia if she’s free then; Saturday visit the Royal Hunterian Museum (Sherry’s suggestion – I believe it’s one of the organs-in-jars type of museum, I think like the Académie des Sciences or the Mütter) and maybe the BM again, as they’re close by; Sunday go to Greenwich to the National Maritime Museum. The rest of the time I just want to wander around. I’ve been looking at maps and realizing what a complex city it is, and how I really would like to spend the summer there. (I also realized today that although Athens and I have become familiar, I’ve only just been south of the apartments once. Every other excursion has been to the Akropoli/Omonia/Monastiraki areas.)

Tomorrow an excursion to Corinth and then the long weekend.

Gyros eaten: 11

Weather: 70s and partly cloudy

Currency: 1.32 dollars/euro

April 26, 2009

Athens: Spring Break! A Multi-Day Post (have patience…)

Day 26: All our journeys are epic.

Since we left so soon after, I didn’t get to write about Greek Easter on Naxos. After my conference call, we hung out for a while and then, at 11, realized we were very tired and decided to go to sleep. I lay around and while watching Battlestar Galactica (the hostel had internet!), kept wondering why there was singing in Greek. Suddenly I realized it was midnight (the start of Greek Easter, and the point after which one can say Χριστοσ ανεστη (Christ has risen) instead of just Καλο Πασχα (Happy Easter)) and there was a lot of noise. In addition to the singing (of a priest, presumably, as it sounded churchy), a ship blew its horn for about 20 minutes, kids set off fireworks, and there was general riotous noise. On Sunday pretty much everything owned by Greeks was closed, but it turns out Naxos has a sizeable Italian (thus Catholic) population who choose to open their restaurants for the few tourists who are actually there (us). These places still served the traditional Easter lamb, which I ordered; they delivered to my table a pile of ribs with meat over fries. I tried very hard but couldn’t tap into my instinctual meat-ripping tendencies, so John had to finish off the lamb. The fries, by that point soaked in lamb fat, were delicious.

We also took a walk back to the port to see the Shrine to Delian Apollo and nearby tide pools. Then we attempted to find the Venetian citadel, which led us through the streets, twisting and turning, passing by numerous uninhabited (possibly abandoned) adorable houses nestled into each other. Occasionally there were socks or pants on a laundry line. Suddenly we found ourselves facing a very old doorway and, just inside, a Venetian castle. Further up the hill was the fortress, at which point we decided to split the group, as I wanted to go back and (for 3 euros) see the castle. It was built by a French crusader, De la Roche, who later Italicized his name to Della Rocca to fit in with the local Venetians. Built in the fourteenth century and refurnished in the sixteenth, the Della Rocca family still lives in part of it. I am quite worried for the Della Rocca family, as the ceilings/floors definitely hadn’t been redone in the last 600 years. They had an amazing collection of old furniture and clothes, and the museum guest part of me put up a valiant mental fight against the conservator part, as none of the antique books or papers were kept in cases and were open to the elements and the hands of tourists.

Later in the day it was cloudy, so we went to the beach still clothed. This turned out to be a mistake, as it became quite hot. That night everything opened again, and we found a nice restaurant at the port and followed it with a short trip to the kitron bar next door, where we all shared kitron drinks and spiced raki (much better than plain raki).

Monday we took some wasting-time walks and then left for Santorini. The ferry trip here (mostly the last 20 minutes) was awesome – the ferries pull into the caldera side, so we got to see the entire cliff and all the little buildings latching on. It’s adorable. Ridiculously adorable. I don’t know how people can live here and actually get things done with all of the adorable going around. Once again, we were upgraded from the hostel part of Manos 2 to the hotel (Manos Villa), which has a pool. It’s also cute and family-owned, and the owners know everything and are so helpful. We walked the 1.5km to Fira last night to try to find Lucky’s Souvlaki – we were told it was on the main square. However, try as we might, we could not find the main square. We walked for an hour through twisty streets (which I didn’t remember from last time, thus making me upset and confused at my lack of memory), getting hungrier and hungrier. Finally we found the main square and still couldn’t find Lucky’s, so we decided to ask in one of the souvenir shops. Turns out we had walked by it on our way into the twisty area. Also turns out it was closed.

At this point we were very hungry, so we found a taverna that had moussaka for Mariana and ate there; since our dinner was so early, we waited around for another forty minutes, then bought gelato to eat and watched the sun set over the caldera. (WE ARE ON A VOLCANO, OK. A VOLCANO.)

Today we caught a bus to the black sand beach, hoping to do that and Ancient Thera at the same time. However, it turns out Ancient Thera is at the top of a mountain and the bus does not, in fact, go there; also, the black sand was not sand but tiny pebbles. The group was split on the idea of a pebble beach; despite the pain of walking on pebbles, I quite liked it as it was not sand. (I hate sand.) We stayed there for two hours and then decided to go to the red sand beach. The only way to do this was to get a bus back to the Fira bus station and then a second bus. We decided the time frame was perfect for another shot at Lucky’s. This time we made it! I recognized him and told him my story and had the best souvlaki ever. (We’re definitely going back tomorrow.)

lucky

Lucky

When we got off the bus at the red sand beach, we couldn’t see it. Someone told us it was a five-minute walk in one direction, so we started walking. Unbeknownst to us, we took the most difficult and complicated route. We walked along a tiny beach littered with old fishing equipment until we came to a parking lot. Then we followed John up what seemed like an unused goat trail, which brought us to big piles of rocks we had to scramble over. Suddenly we were at the top of a steep hill, looking down at a beach nestled at the base of tall, red cliffs, and we thought, “How the hell do we get down there?” We kind of scrambled, with much falling and cursing flip-flops and everybody who didn’t tell us to wear hiking boots to get to the beach. Eventually we got down somehow. Unfortunately, it was very windy and the beach was a granular mixture of rocks and sand (basically, very small rocks). We still sat there for three hours because of the bus schedule, and every so often we’d look up at the cliff and see some tourists staring at us, possibly thinking, “How the hell do we get down there?” On the way back, however, we noticed that there was, in fact, a trail; someone had even drawn arrows on the rocks. It was much easier, had actual rock-stairs, and nobody fell. After we reached the parking lot, we noticed that you could actually take the road back to the bus stop (instead of the rocky fishing beach route). On the way we passed Ancient Akrotiri, which was has unfortunately been closed since someone was killed by falling debris a few years ago. (I’m really glad I got to see it the last time I was here, as it’s a pretty awesome site.)

goatpath

the goat path

After cleansing ourselves of the very small rocks, we had dinner in Fira again, at another taverna. Afterwards we went to a bakery where I bought some cupcakes. Tomorrow these shall become Breakfast Cupcakes.

(A note on the buses of Santorini: I have seen the entire fleet. There are four of them. Three are modern tour buses, and the last is from the 1960s and smells of sweat. They each take about an hour to complete a route. To get on a bus you have to wait at a bus stop and wave it down; we still have no idea how to get off, as our method of standing and waving at the driver was futile. One can buy tickets on the bus from a kid who goes around with a money belt and some little paper tickets.)

(The story of Lucky Souvlaki, in case you didn’t know before: when we were here 10 years ago, we found this amazing gyros place. It was so good we went there four times in two days. I shall now attempt to beat that. Lucky himself is enthusiastic, likes to tell stories, and acts partly drunk all day. Apparently his wife is Peruvian and he spends a few months of the year in Peru. He has three children, and his oldest daughter is three months pregnant. I found out all this from about 10 minutes in the shop; I’ve found that Greeks will always love to talk about their families with strangers.)

(Another tidbit: The correct Greek pronunciation is “YEE-rohs”. However, when you order, you call it a “YEE-roh” because it’s in the vocative.)

Day 29:

Wednesday turned out to be extremely windy, so our volcano tour was cancelled. However, we only found this out when we went to buy cable car tickets. So, with nothing to do in Fira at 10 am, we split the group; John, Sarah, and Mariana decided to walk down to the port anyway just to check it out, and Priya and I went to the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, where we learned all about the various volcanic eruptions and saw the artifacts from Akrotiri. Afterwards we all met up and went to Lucky’s. Then we went back to Villa Manos, and Priya and I decided to make an archaeological day of it and went to visit ancient Thera, which is up a mountain above the black sand beach. We took a taxi there, and saw the site (it’s mostly Hellenistic, making good use of the local volcanic rock). It was incredibly windy, so I spent most of the time with my sweater zipped up and the hood tied around my chin. It closed at 2.30 and we decided to walk down [the incredibly tall mountain with the windy unpaved road traveled by scary Greek drivers]. Quite soon we encountered a car and decided to stick out our thumbs just in case. The car stopped, and we stepped in. The couple in the car were from Taiwan, also visiting Santorini for three days; they dropped us near the bus stop, where we realized we could catch the 2.55 bus.

Except that there wasn’t a 2.55 bus, so we sat and waited and waited until the 3.45 bus came. It took a shorter time than expected to get back to the hotel, so we all had naps and then decided to go out for dinner in Oia.

To my detriment, I was in the camp that was voting against going to dinner in Oia. Actually, I was the camp. I was outvoted and we ordered a taxi. Turns out not wanting to go was wrong, a bad choice, a very very bad choice, as Oia was the cutest town imaginable. The only thing that could have made it cuter would be if it were only inhabited by Himalayan kittens and butterflies. All the tourism brochure photos of Santorini were taken in Oia, because the rest of the island apparently just isn’t cute enough. We followed a sign that said “sunset” and watched the sunset from in front of a blue-domed church and behind a field of flowers, in front of which was a windmill perched on the very edge of the caldera. And I forgot my camera. We also realized that, if only we had a small Greek girl and a butterfly to frolic in the field, we could snap it and win the photo contest. Unfortunately, these critical elements were missing, and Jordan will probably win with his shot of the accordion man outside the Athens Centre.

Thursday morning we took our caldera trip (finally) after much confusion over whether the boat would be canceled or would actually refund us (at this point I wished we had a New Yorker in the group who could go and demand things, in that declarative way they have), and while we were in the process of buying new tickets, we found out we could still use our tickets on the new boat (which turned out to be a replica of an 18th-century schooner). While we were sitting there waiting for it to leave (there was some problem with the port authorities and the weather) we made up stories about the old sea captain who kept poking his head out the cabin window, the quite attractive first mate who ran around telling everyone not to worry, we will leave soon, the sea wench dressed skankily who kept making rounds about the deck, and the cook, and older woman dressed sort of like a red bat. (Turns out the first mate was the tour guide, the cook was the French tour guide, the sea wench still had an unsure purpose, and the captain was, in fact, the captain.) We left eventually, and had a nice hike around the volcano. The hot springs, unfortunately, were farther away from the boat than expected (so I had to swim to get to them) and infested with jellyfish, so I spent about three minutes there freaking out about the jellyfish before swimming back to the boat and wrapping up in my beach sheet. (I guess I haven’t written this yet, but instead of bringing a beach towel, I brought a sheet – the sand shakes out easier and it dries quicker. Also, I can wrap up in it for warmth, as many photos now can attest.) I took a donkey back up the cliff to Fira, after which I went to Lucky’s and had two gyros. TWO. If anything is a more magical experience than one Lucky gyro, it is two. I think it was the perfect amount – three would be overly magical and into the territory of nauseating (think of a unicorn vomiting). We got back to Villa Manos at 3 and were promptly driven to the port, where we waited for our boat.

donkey

I’m on a donkey.

The boat – a Flyingcat 4 high-speed catamaran – turned out to be a mistake. It had no deck, only interior seats, so we couldn’t watch the ocean except through the windows. And it moved so quickly. I felt nauseous as soon as we started moving. (I noticed they provided seasick bags on every seat.) Fortunately it was a short ride. After we left the ferry, we went to the bus station to find a bus to Rethymno, where the hostel is. The bus was an hour and a half. I would say I made a mistake booking us in Rethymno, but this was the only hostel I could find. It’s quite cute and friendly – also, traditional hostel style (shared bathrooms, dormitory-style bedrooms), which is slightly objectionable to everyone but me.

john

Sleeping on the ferry

Friday morning we took the bus back to Iraklio (aka Iraklion, Heraklion, Heraklio) and then another bus to Knossos, the central palace of the Minoan civilization. It was indeed impressive. I found that I have a new party trick: a woman came up to us offering tours in English, which we refused. “But it’s 2200 square meters,” she said. “You will never be able to see it by yourselves.” We looked around at each other, trying to figure out how to get rid of her. “I’m an archaeologist,” I said. She looked deeply unhappy and turned away dejectedly. The site was quite big, but we still got through it in two hours. It had been partly reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evans in the early 1900s, and since then there’s been continuous restoration. The oddest part was that we kept finding cement blocks covered with sticky laminated paper printed with a wood design – eventually I realized that these would have originally been wood beams, but in the reconstruction they used cement. Another interesting part was the Minoan style of columns – they’re wider at the top than at the bottom. After the site we ate at a restaurant called Minos Café, then took the bus back to Iraklio and then another bus to the Cretaquarium.

The journey to the Cretaquarium was, in keeping with our others, an epic journey. The bus dropped us off at the side of the road, and we followed a sign saying “Cretaquarium”. This led us to an abandoned, graffitied guardhouse with another arrow sign saying “Cretquarium”. We walked by numerous abandoned, decrepit buildings, including one Minos Inn (which we looked inside – imagine the near-final scene from “Children of Men”), following signs.  One building was not abandoned, but apparently a pound for large, loud dogs. We imagined all the ways this could quickly turn into a horror movie. Suddenly we rounded a bend and saw the Greek Institute for Marine Research, and then the aquarium. It was nice inside – very well-designed, but quite small for being the “largest aquarium in the eastern Mediterranean”. Doesn’t give much hope for the rest of them. It was primarily about Mediterranean fish, so there were very few colorful and cute species. My favorite, of course, was the seahorse tank. Most of the tanks were unlabeled, so we didn’t know what most things were. They had a petting tank where we got to touch sea cucumbers, urchins, and starfish. At the end we watched a documentary on the deep sea, dubbed in Greek from a BBC David Attenborough documentary (with English subtitles). Then we sat in some chairs shaped like starfish, and proceeded back to the main road. Unfortunately, we took too long exploring the abandoned buildings (I think it was once a resort, and the aquarium settled there because it was cheap oceanside land – maybe a bankruptcy deal?) and taking photos. We missed the bus by about two minutes, and had to sit on the sidewalk for another forty waiting for the next bus as it began to drizzle. Fortunately this shortened our wait time for the bus back to Rethymno, where we arrived and promptly went to one of the Lonely Planet-recommended restaurants.

Gyros count: 9

Day 31: It is always time for a chocolate biscuit.

Back in Athens. Yesterday we stayed in Rethymno and went to the beach. I had gyros for lunch; not only was it not magical, it was decidedly un-delicious and I was severely disappointed. After Lucky’s, there can be no other comparable gyros. In the evening we tried to watch “Shaun of the Dead” on my laptop, but the sound quality was bad so we went to have some wine and hang out with the other hostel guests. They were pretty friendly, and we ended up playing cards for a while with a French guy named Maxim. Earlier, we met a Pakistani guy named Ali on the beach; he played Frisbee with the rest of the group while I read, and then he and Priya found out that Hindi and Urdu are mutually intelligible. Anyway, we have no idea how long Maxim has actually been at the hostel, his reason for travel, or anything except that he loves coffee, card games, chocolate Euro-cookies, and wears really fashionable clothing (as he was taking it all off the laundry line). There seem to be some people who just go to hostels to meet people, and I think that’s interesting. It’s quite a different travel experience than being bundled up in a hotel room. When you share a bathroom, everyone is forced to be friendly and entertaining.

A comment on Crete. Unlike the Cyclades, which are made for tourism, it has its own industries (which appear to be mostly goat-related) and internal tourism. Not all of it is cute; in fact, not much of it is. It’s much bigger than I expected, and rather more like the rest of the Mediterranean than the nearest islands. The main draw was Knossos, not any scenic things, although Rethymno did turn out to be quite cute.

Today was uneventful. Our ferry was called the Knossos Palace, and it had a swimming pool (unfortunately closed). It was cold and windy outside and there was no indoor deck seating, so we moved into a stairwell and just sat for the last three hours of the ride. I wrapped up in my sheet. (I haven’t mentioned it before, but instead of a beach towel, I brought a sheet. Not only does the sand shake out easier, it’s also much bigger, dries faster, and used it to wrap up when I was cold on the beach and on the ferries. There are many pictures of me entirely covered by my sheet in various locations around the Cyclades.) We arrived at 5.30 and took the Metro to Monasiraki, where we had crepes and then got back on the train; we got back to the apartments at about 7. My feet hurt, as my Chacos hurt me from so much hiking and I was forced to wear flip flops for our extensive walking today. I also did a massive load of laundry (and by “did” I mean put in a bucket to soak).

The point of this is: I successfully planned and executed a vacation for myself and others. Yes, I’ve booked tickets to various places in the US to visit friends, and I’ve looked through guidebooks when we’ve been on family vacations to decide what to do. But here I made all the arrangements. Everyone went along with my plans, because I took a stand. (I’d like to thank the academy, namely, my parents for providing me with the necessary vacation planning skills of excessive guidebook usage/planning ahead and also play-it-by-ear/have fun. You know which of you is which.) Nobody died, nobody got lost, nobody starved or complained. It did get a bit annoying when I had four people each asking what time such-and-such was, but I guess that’s what I get for putting myself in charge. Of course, not only did I always know when such-and-such was, but I knew where it was, how much it cost, and all the local restaurants. (I have no idea how people travel with children. I hope I was a good child to travel with.) I think we all had a pretty good time – sometimes people got a little tired of my adventuring when they were hungry, but John usually countered this by asking directions. (The two times I ever asked for directions, they could never understand me, even when I asked in Greek and showed them a map. Somehow he always found the English-speaking locals.) Yes, the islands were fun, and cute, and picturesque, and had nice ancient things, but I think the overwhelmingly positive moral of the story is thatyes, I can. I can take myself places. I didn’t even worry so much because I was the dictator in a supposed democracy and I always thought two steps ahead.

Now for a week of intense reading and food budgeting.

Gyros count: 10