Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What I did on my not-so-summer vacation, part 2

Welcome back!  Good grief, that first post was exhausting to live and to read and to write.  But we haven't even gotten to the best parts of the trip yet.  So, here's another installment.  Not sure if this will wrap the trip up or not.

How I Got There

Before talking about the next two ports, I have to share a side story about getting to the trip.  I'll be repeating myself for some, not for others, so bear with me.

On February 15, Kate and I paid the down payment for our 10-day cruise and started planning this epic adventure.  I went ahead with the idea knowing that I had gotten 2.5 weeks of vacation time last year and was due for 3 weeks in 2013.  Convergys rewards its employees for being around a while.  Then Convergys decided to take all of their USPS project employees and dump them on the DirecTV side of things.  Okay, that was annoying, but they offered me a slightly less stressful job for comparable pay and agreed to not make me work on Sundays.  It was very nice of them to do.  The only problem was that all that vacation time that was coming to me suddenly was...not.  I was going to start accruing vacation time in August and have "maybe a day and a half" by November according to multiple sources.  That wasn't cool with me.  I started interviewing immediately and every single interview included a conversation about my upcoming trip.  I got offered a job at Ancestry.com and let my boss know that I'd be leaving in two weeks.  They decided to "accept my resignation immediately" instead.  That's okay, I had a job starting in 12 days and they were fine with my vacation plans.  They would even pay for more of it than what I was getting at Convergys.  I started on September 9.  On October 16, I got fired.  That's a story that has various perspectives on it that I won't go into, but let me say that the State of Utah had to talk to them when I applied for unemployment and their letter on the ruling essentially said, "We talked to your employers and we can't figure out why you got fired, either, so here's some money to cover unemployment benefits for the time you were out of work."  On October 28, I started my new job at Myler Disability.  In the interview, we got sidetracked by talking about world travel and the HR manager promised to take care of me getting the time off, even though I wouldn't get paid for it.  I was fine with that as long as I had a job, any job between October 28 and November 23.  I felt completely unhirable, but I was only out of work for 12 days this time.

Okay, so that's the rundown of why I got to this point in the story.  A day or two after getting fired, I was in full panic mode.  I had to pay rent and buy food, but I also had to finish paying off the plane ticket.  I could almost certainly do that, but have nothing left over for food, train tickets and souvenirs.  I had nothing as a buffer zone for any emergencies other than the traveler's insurance.  Then I remembered that a friend was raising money for roof repairs on GoFundMe.com and I got an idea.  I wrote an impassioned plea to anyone out there saying that I didn't usually do this, but if anyone wanted to help me get through this trip, I would be immensely grateful.

My first donation came in an hour later, $100 from my younger brother.  I burst into tears, called him and asked if there was anything I could do to thank him.  He made it very simple:  Find him Greek cats.  More on that later.  I had other donations trickle in--$30 from a Boston friend, $20 from my old visiting teacher, $100 from someone who just went as "The Doctor" (and who I have never identified as of yet) and $100 that came from the advance payment for an editing job that I'll get back to just as soon as I'm done with this journal.  In total, I got $350 from friends who really did wish me well.  My sister also paid attention months before when I said that I essentially wanted "trip money" for my birthday and handed me $40 before we parted ways on November 16.  Another friend mailed me two 20-dollar bills.  Kate knocked $50 off what I owed her credit card for the plane tickets.  I also sold several articles to AuthorsPublish and made some honest money.

One day, I was checking the mail and found something addressed to me from a company that I had only heard of.  When they were working out the transfer, Convergys employees kept reporting that they were getting random checks to reimburse them for healthcare costs.  Not everyone got them, so when I didn't receive one, I thought it probably had to do with the fact that I had a concussion and pneumonia in the same year and used a lot of healthcare as a result.l  Well, that envelope in early November contained a check for over $2000.  I paid rent and utilities and the plane ticket, bought tickets for the Colliseum and booked our hotel and still had plenty of money left over with money on its way from my new job. Meanwhile, unemployment sent me a few hundred dollars that were coming to me and I got random direct deposits of what I assume is paid vacation money from my old job.

So that is the set of monetary miracles that got me to the trip when I wasn't sure that I'd be able to pay rent until I found another job.


So, most people slept off the rest of Thanksgiving and got up for Black Friday sales on November 29.  Not us.  The day before our trip, a waiter tried to tempt us into coming to Thanksgiving dinner at my favorite restaurant in Provo.  Kate and I smirked and said, "We'll be in Greece."  He didn't press the subject.

Many people have asked me where I would like to re-visit of all the places I've been to.  At the top of my list is Greece.  I got back from BYU one Christmas and Dad announced that as a reward for my hard work, he'd cashed in frequent flyer miles and was taking me to Athens.  We spent days in Athens, went to Delphi, even took a tour of the Peloponnesian Islands.  We went to a restaurant where all of the dishes were found in texts by people like Herodatus and Homer.  It was fantastic.

Katakolon was our port of call and I was stoked to go to Olympia for the first time, but Kate asked that we stay closer to the ship.  I decided that was fine because other than Istanbul and Olympia, I had been to all of the touristy places that we were bound for.  Not to sound uncharacteristically nice or anything, but this was Kate's first time seeing something more foreign than the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and I wanted to make sure that she didn't miss out on anything she really wanted to do.

Katakolon is so a tourist town... Wait!  I forgot my sparse pictures of Sicily...

And Cape Vaticano...

 And of course the famous volcano, Stromboli.  (Though personally, Volcano Day for me was when we got to Pompeii.)
 Okay, back on track.  Where was I?  Oh, yes, Katakolon.

I woke up early to catch the rosy-fingered dawn's early light over Greece (Yes, I borrow Homer for Greece-related posts!) and was not disappointed.

We disembarked in our first port of call and found the town a short walk from the port.  This was nice, as my ankle didn't like walking very much as usual.

It was nice to read some signs and half-understand thanks to Messrs. Davies and Talbot from high school.

Other signs were not so...native.

 And they catered to the tourist population, albeit in slightly different color schemes...
I don't remember Dora being quite so...sepia.

One of the coolest things about Katakolon was that they had a museum of ancient music.  We went in and found that they had recreated musical instruments lost to everything but friezes and sculptures.  They had very early versions of modern instruments and it was just the sort of thing that I adore.  We tried to go to a similar museum that was for ancient tools, but it was closed.

Kate wanted to put her feet in the Mediterranean Sea, but Peleponnesian muck abounded on the beach and so did beggar children.  Not real beggars.  Well-dressed beggars whose parents sat nearby with the latest technology (You don't believe a beggar who claims to be hungry when Mom is sitting there with an iPad and granola bars).  This is where I remembered Nikolaos Liggris from my Greek class in high school who was always telling his cousins, "ochi."  Basically, I sent them away with "No way, kid" every time.  Not very nice, but I was the cruel American and this kind of stuck with me for most of the trip.  More on that later.

(The beach at Katakolos, with our ship on the right)

We decided to turn our thoughts to shopping, then.  Kate and I have several friends in common who were needing European Christmas presents and I had claimed dibs for scarves in Istanbul for some, so Kate got to look for fun Greek stuff for them.  First store we stopped in was run by a very tan blonde woman with strangely good English.  It turned out that our first Greek shop owner was a Seattle woman who married a Greek man.  The guy next door was from Canada.  I didn't let this familiarity stop me from providing her with my custom.  I fell in love with a blue and white ribbon-threaded scarf and got one in gold for my favorite mission companion.  At other shops, I found hand-embroidered table linens for my mother, lavender-scented soap for a friend, thyme-flavored honey for my father, an oil painting for my visiting teachee. 

I did insist that Kate let me buy her some authentic Greek food.  We found a cafe near the Seattle woman's shop that had all my favorites, including souvlaki.  I bought us two souvlaki and water bottles and we settled down to eat.  Immediately, Greek Cats started showing up.

Okay, so remember my generous brother's request that I find him Greek cats?  He spent some time in Greece when he was younger with a friend and found cats everywhere.  I'm not sure if this still applies, but at one point, there were laws keeping you from feeding stray cats in hopes that this would thin the herds.  This town was no different and it got worse when Kate accidentally dropped some of her souvlaki on the floor.  We both agreed that if we took my mother, my brother and Dana on a trip to Greece, we'd never get anything accomplished because we'd spend too much time cuddling kitties.

 Spot the cats fleeing into the store.

So, we headed back to the ship after our souvlaki and shopping sprees, stopping to get a couple of things that we had waited to get until the end  The housekeeping staff had welcomed us back with the most adorable towel arrangement ever.

Let me stop for a moment to talk about shipboard entertainment, since I really don't remember what days some things onboard fell on.  They had many different types of shows, from a musical to magic shows to acrobatics.  One night, I was propped up in bed with my ankle elevated when Kate announced she was going to the acrobatics show.  I told her to have fun and went back to reading The Curse of Challion.  She came back smirking and told me I had to catch the late show.  I wrapped up my ankle, grabbed my cane and went to see the acrobats.  One was a dancer who specialized in hula hoops.  She was entertaining, but not really all that interesting.  The other performer was muscular in ways that Hercules would be envious of and flexible in ways that boggled the mind.  He brought out a sailboat prop halfway through the show and began bending himself around various parts of it and balancing.  Then I paid attention to the music and realized why Kate had been smirking.  He was performing to the Autobots theme from Transformers.  A few nights later, they had another pair who did some amazing things with aerial silks and pairs dancing.


The next day, we made it to possibly my favorite city I've ever been to.  When I swore off soda and sweets in February, I reasoned that, "When I was 20, I climbed the Acropolis like a 20-year-old.  I'd really like to go to Greece in my 30's and feel like a 20-year-old when I climb the Acropolis again."  I was proud of myself on that count because I did not get out of breath hiking to the "top of the city" as it translates.  My ankle hated me for it, but what can you do?

We disembarked at Piraeus and found that there was a handy subway line that went to the Acropolis (complete with a sketch of it on the subway map for people who couldn't be bothered to read the Greek alphabet), but the stop was on the other side of the port.  On the way, I found a street that shared a name with my old Greek classmate Nik...

 And lovely Greek churches...

 And sidewalks that recall the awesome mosaics of the past...
And then, I found what made me stop dead in my tracks and take a picture of graffiti again.  You'll remember that I mentioned in my account of Milano that I collect murals and graffiti, whether it's a contribution to Philadelphia's MAPS project or "I will miss you..." scribbled on a corner in SoHo.  Props if you translate it before my explanation.
Like I said, I studied Ancient Greek for my high school language requirement.  I've read the New Testament in Greek.  So when I found "Love one another" written in Greek on a wall in Athens, I added it to my collection.

We found the subway, got our tickets for under a euro and hopped the train to He Akropole.  First thing I noticed about Greek subways?  Courtesy.  In Italy, I was crammed into cars with dozens of other travelers, trying to lean on my cane and hang on to the railing at the same time.  In Athens, I walked onto a train and immediately got offered a taken seat.  I was admiring the Athenian cityscape outside the window when I eavesdropped on a conversation behind me.  It was not in English and it was not due to my fledgling ability to listen to Modern Greek with Ancient Greek classes.  It was because they were having a conversation in Spanish.  I turned around and said "Que raro oir el idioma Espanol en Grecia" (How weird to hear Spanish language in Greece).  Turns out I had been given the seat next to a family from Argentina.  It was fun to make friends in a foreign language that far from the familiar.

So, we got to the Acropolis and enjoyed some American music played on Greek instruments at the bottom.  This group of musicians was amusing because they never seemed to play something Greek.  On our way up the hill, we heard everything from Popeye the Sailorman to Happy Birthday.  I told Kate that if I heard any of them play "Enter Sandman," I'd give them 10 euros.  Sadly, that never happened, but on the way back, I found another Greek playing actual Greek music on a violin and tipped him, saying "Beautiful music" in Greek.

The first time I went to the Acropolis, it was predictably crowded, but there were parts of it that I never got to actually visit due to construction.  This time, different parts were under construction.  I'll just share a few pictures and post commentary where necessary.

Actually, let's start with this flag.  I thought it would be cool to have a picture of a flag in front of the Parthenon.  

No, seriously, I could not get a picture of the dang thing unfurled.  More on that later...

The tree in this picture is a famously long-lived one that was supposedly a sign of Athena's acceptance of the Athenians as her own people.  I hiked all over the Acropolis trying to find it.  It wasn't by the Parthenon, by the Temple of Warlike Athena (her two aspects are virginal and warrior princess, really).  I was about to give up when I saw it over the heads of those ubiquitous Japanese tourists.  I snapped a picture, but Kate agreed to find our way over there so I could take a proper picture of it next to the temple to Higeia.

You see that flag in the distance?  That's the one that, for the life of me, I couldn't photograph unfurled.  You'll see what I mean in a few more pictures because, literally, I took 18 and it was funny.  Then Kate came up to me and said, "Hey, look at this picture I got of the Greek flag..."  She took ONE PICTURE and it cooperated.  

 See?  If Francis Scott Key had been Greek, this flag would have made him slit his wrists.

Hi there, temple of Zeus of Olympia.  We think you're special, too.  And you look so cool surrounded by all that Athenian modernity.
 What's a trip to the Parthenon without a selfie?  By the way, that's the blue scarf that I mentioned loving in Katakolon.

 There's a train line (for construction) to get to the top.  I glowered at it, since my ankle was hurting a LOT by this point.

 One of the things that had been closed off before...
And the stoa, where the original stoics would gather.  It just means colonnade.

We also have a picture somewhere that I haven't been able to find yet that furthers my quest for cats for my brother.  There are barriers to keep destructive tourists away everywhere, but we found a cat sitting blithely on a Doric column near the temple of war-like Athena.We just laughed.

Okay, I'm signing off.  Next come the Turkish cities and those were just too cool to tack on to the end of my adventures in Greece.