Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Come back in time with me

In summer of 2003, the Poulos Family went on a vacation to Greece. I found my notes from that journey, and have transcribed them faithfully, with minimal editing. It appears that I didn't quite finish my journalling, but I did get most of the way through (to Santorini).

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

23 July 2003 – 8:28 AM GMT-5

It's the plane ride home, so I figured I should wrap up this journal—I'm only a little behind, but the cramped conditions are causing me great difficulty in writing. I shall try my best.

So we wake up in Mati and head out to see Thea Aliki after eating breakfast. We drive south with minimal directions to the place, with then palpable tension of whether we'll make our mid-afternoon flight, most of that tension coming from the parental unit, of course. We eventually find the road in a remote part of Attika, avoid the random road construction, and drive up to a marble-covered gated nursing home, complete with fountain and national crest over the door.

Thea Aliki was waiting for us up on the porch/balcony out front and greeted us as we walked up, showering us with kisses. We went inside and found more marble (!), which Dad observed was most likely very slippery when wet—not ideal for a nursing home. There was also big surprise #1—she had gotten cake (very yummy combination of whipped cream, chocolate mousse, vanilla cake, and some fruit, perfect for the multitudinous demands place on food by our family) and soda for all of us! I downed mine fairly quickly, while Mom carried the burden of the conversation, as she was the only one of us who could speak English and Greek (by the end of the trip, Mom would overload the translation sector of her brain and be completely tired of even the simplest translations—thankfully, this point hadn't come yet). We all chatted, she expressed her joy that we came out to see her; we told her it was our pleasure; she recounted some stories; we talked about where we'd been; we gave her a gift from Yiayia and Papou accompanied by a Mickey Mouse birthday party invitation (it was the only card in the supermarket we visited). Then came surprise #2: she gave us a gift as well! It was a beautiful reproduction of an ancient dish in the Benaki Museum, and she had to send someone into Athens in order to get it for us. We continued to talk for a little while but eventually we had to make it to the airport, so we took a bunch of pictures and kissed our goodbyes.

We made it to the airport, dropped off the Scénic, and walked to the terminal. We hopped on the Olympia Airways and flew an uneventful flight in a prop plane to Santorini's airport. After a bit of discussion it was decided that we would rent a car. After a bit of talking to the Europcar lady and picked up our amazing…paler green manual Renault Scénic! It was a manual, to Dad's dismay, but he would manage driving them for the rest of the trip. We drove into Fira, the major city in which we stayed, and drove up this tiny, tiny road with many parked cars, pedestrians, and little room to manoeuvre. Dad was very displeased by this, and turned around while Mom and Theresa went to look for our still-hidden hotel. They found it, about 50 or 60 steps down the cliff face, which is where all seaside development exists in Fira. We lugged the suitcases down there (which much-appreciated help from an employee) and plopped in the room for a bit.

We left for dinner and did our patented "look-at-several-perfectly-good-restaurants-until-enough-of-us-get-fed-up-and-stop-at-the-closest-place" technique with delicious results—we stopped at a place up the stairs from our hotel with a nautical name. I had duck in pomegranate sauce—tasty, indeed. We walked a bit around town, stopped at an Internet Café (which I had to check my chocolate milk with the bartender and where we saw a soundless Homsar VHS tape), and went back to the hotel to rest up for tomorrow.

Monday, July 21, 2003

21 July 2003 – 5:47 PM GMT+2

Well, I'm behind, but now's a good time for me to catch up. I'm listening to "Weird Al" Yankovic, which accompanies everything well, like an excellent wine.

I last left us in Olympia, in the luxurious accommodations of the Best Western. Everyone eventually woke up, washed, ate breakfast, and we subsequently checked out and headed to the archaeological site at Olympia. Of course, as with 96% of the museums in Greece, the one there, too, was closed for renovations. Disappointed, but unvanquished, we bought tickets and walked the grounds. Highlights included:

  • The training area, in which Dad took a picture of Greg and I fighting
  • The hotel area, in which Teeps took a picture of the 'rents à la a picture taken earlier at the Best Western
  • The entrance to the stadium, through which Theresa ran through both ways, with video of her being taken both directions
  • A row of stone blocks on which Mom insisted there were really nice statues
  • The colossal columns, toppled like a stack of poker chips, of the Temple of Zeus, strewn across the ground. In this temple lay, long ago, a statue of Zeus, an Ancient Wonder of the World (#2!) (One column of it was being reconstructed.)
There were other highlights which required a little imagination, such as Phidias's workshop and a few buildings in which some of the official ceremonies took place, but the bulleted places were well-preserved, as was the stadium. The stadium was surprisingly interesting. Although simply a field of brown packed earth surrounded by some green hills (with very little shade, upon which the spectators would sit), it, if not how it was in ancient times, it could function as a stadium right now—it's just very well-suited to that sort of thing. It sounds corny, but I could imagine some event being held there in 2004—and considering everything, I am sure that the Greek Olympic™ Committee is seriously considering such a spectacle. Why not? Olympia, although distant and difficult to reach en masse, is a site well suited for at least one event.

And so we bid farewell to Olympia, and headed out of the Peloponnese, on what the Greek call one of their "national roads." Now, I was not around before the Interstate Highway System, but I have to think that the roads in the heyday of US Routes resembled the current situation in Greece, albeit with less crazy drivers. Imagine, if you will, a two lane road—one lane in each direction, plus maybe ¾-lane wide shoulders (in places smaller, in places larger). Now imagine traffic in both directions. Now imagine a truck PASSING another truck, and simultaneously a passenger car passing another Peugeot or some such nonsense. This is a regular occurrence on these roads. Why they don't widen them to two lanes in each direction (easy in most places) I don't know—but the sight of four cars fitting in a two lane road at high speeds (~90–120 km/hr) is slightly unnerving, especially so regularly. And we were behind a delicious-looking watermelon truck for a long while.

We stopped to eat lunch at a Goody's at a roadside oasis and while Mom ordered food I went next door to the gas station & got myself and Mucci a ➲ sticker, a ⊝ sticker, and for Mucci a Volvo sticker. This meal at Goody's was better than the previous—I had the club sandwich and some fries, and was satisfied. The environs were quite nice and had a bakery place along with the Goody's. I just asked Greg about recollections from the Goody's—he said he was still playing Golden Sun: Twilight of the Dawn at that time and thus doesn't recall anything.

The rest of the drive was a survey of all of the Peloponnese—we passed major construction projects building a number of massive tunnels into the cliff alongside the road, presumably for a new route; we passed right over the magnificent Corinth Canal without noticing; we drove on divided highways and on roads with maniacal passers as mentioned above; we saw cities big and small; we saw the sea and the sky, the rolling hills with mysterious piles of rocks that seem like the archaeological sites we'd visited, and by animals in fields, grazing peacefully. Then we hit Athens—a city intent on oozing out into that, in some ways, still-wild area, but confined by the slow, plodding bureaucracy and lazy attitude that preserves and destroys the country.

The highway met an expressway that met a tollway with toll booths placed far to close to the on-ramp. We paid our way and rode the magnificent new very-behind-schedule Athens Megacolossal Superüberhighway to a smaller road. With a little difficulty and a lot of construction, we made our way to our stop for the night, the coastal semi-resort town of Mati.

I say semi-resort because there was little on the beach for the travelers who stayed only briefly like ourselves. There was a pier with a multitude of boats owned by or on long-term rental from the townsfolk, a restaurant/bar in which we ate dinner but that seemed unprepared to serve food, and a number of what appeared to be condos. Our hotel was one of maybe two—not what I'd expect of most resort towns, but appropriate to a vacation retreat for people who lived in the larger city to the north.

As I said, we ate dinner after checking into our hotel (we were on the 5th floor—ugh) and walked to the pier after that. We stood looking at the small place for a bit, until we went back to the room, and got ready for bed and tomorrow, when we would fly to Santorini.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

17 July 2003 – 4:01 PM GMT+2

The drive was more of the terror-inducing stuff we had experienced before, with curves a-plenty and small towns with narrow roads. I probably slept. But when we got into Olympia, I directed us to our Best Western, and everyone was astonished as two people came out to help us with our baggage up the marble steps.

In short, our hotel was fantastic. Surprisingly affordable, too, considering it is one of the nicest hotels I've stayed in anywhere in Europe. We had Suite G, if I remember correctly. This consisted of rooms 325 and 326. The former was a triple, with a monstrous bathroom, a couch, lots of marble, a TV, smooshy beds, and a balcony with a nice view. And it was fairly sizeable. The double room, 326, was better. It had all that plus a bigger TV, furniture on the large balcony, and a sitting room with sofas and comfy chairs. Very luxurious. Mom raved about the presence of shoe polish in the bathrooms (which we snagged)! All in all, beautiful.

We decided to go with Frommer's (how do I punctuate the possessive of that? I think it's just "Frommer's") and sought out this taverna frequented by locals. We came across this other place in Frommer's, but we didn't really want to eat there. The Frommer's said, though, that our desired restaurant was just behind it, yet we were unable to find it. We went all over the side opposite the train tracks from the touristy side of town, but to no avail. Eventually, we headed back to the one place and gave it one last go—we turned down this dirt road that looked like it was a construction access road to the back side of Olympia's ruins, and lo and behold: there sat our restaurant.

We were one of two groups there—according to the server, who looked like a lanky dark-haired bespectacled nerdy guy. We were there on a Sunday, which was unfortunate—I first ordered chicken, as did Greg and Dad, but they only had 2. Then I ordered lamb chops. But the group before us had eaten 3 kg of them, so they were fresh out. So I ended up ordering some hamburger-shaped meatballs, but they were much more spiced than hamburgers. Overall, quite delicious. We chatted and drank some wine and passed a few hours under the vine-draped cross-hatched wooden walls of their outdoor patio, sitting in the standard uncomfortable chairs that infest all of Greece's restaurants. Everyone's food was good, it was well-priced, and to top it off, they gave us complementary watermelon at the end—an extremely sweet and crisp one, to end a delightful meal. We found ourselves there much longer than we had expected, and didn't leave until well after 10 PM—not late for Greeks, but late for us.

We tipped them and, after getting something to drink, drove home, avoiding the traffic generated by some international concert being held there. We got back to our wonderfully comfy beds, washed up, and went to sleep.

17 July 2003 – Noon GMT+2

At Sparta we stopped at a five-story Goody's for lunch. There I had this chicken sandwich that consisted mainly of four nuggets on some French bread with some vegetables. Not the tastiest, but it was food. We ate outside, and Mom got in a huff because she accidentally ordered two veggie sandwiches instead of one—oh, the horrors! We munched and then went on our way.

We decided to stop by this temple of Apollo en route to Olympia, and in the process, took some of the small roads that we had been occasioning this trip. These roads are quite fun, as they make Mom go completely bonkers. She grips the well-placed handle on the back of my seat and holds on for dear life while Dad winds his way at fairly high speeds up and down small, poorly-signed mountain roads. Very entertaining indeed—except, of course, when she screams at the top of her lungs and goes nutso factorial.

We arrived at the Temple of Apollo at Bassae and were amazed—at the large tent. It is quite a nice tent, but what was under the tent was a mystery, as Mom, Dad, and Teeps had to go to the bathroom before we entered the tent. During this time Greg kept on calling my Evilor (pronounced Ee-vlör) so I gave him the alter-ego Kramden, conjuring up images of grizzled detectives confronting the criminal element in an abandoned warehouse, a dimly-lit parking lot, or high atop a skyscraper bathed in spotlights. Of course, Kramden always defeats Evilor by pushing him from some high precipice (or some manner of tall location), prompting Evilor to cry out, "Kramden! Nooooooo!" or perhaps "I'll get you next time, Kraaaaamden".

After the bathroom expedition had returned, we entered the tent. Inside was an extremely complete temple. I was quite impressed—there were columns, all of them (although some of them had been moved to an alternate concrete base while restorers worked on the foundation), there were inside walls, there were outside walls, there were friezes, there were all sorts of things. Altogether a worthwhile experience and a wonderful detour—and the tent shaded us from the sun! Of course, sadly, as with most things in Greece, the carved decorative portions had been trucked off to England way back when.

After this, we headed to our hotel in Olympia.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

15 July 2003 – 10:50 PM GMT+2

We woke up in Sparta and ate breakfast, then headed west to the ancient Byzantine town of Mystras. We arrived, parked, got water (with Theresa continually advising us to save our old bottles to refill) and bought tickets. The first think that struck me was the upitude of the place. We started down and saw a few non-descript intact, yet barren, churches. We came to the end of the of that lower portion and reached the Peribleptos Church, with actual frescoes inside. I snapped a flashless picture and we headed up. There was a convent about ⅓ of the way up, at which Theresa, Dad, and Mom covered up and Mom bought a cloth thing from a nun. We stopped in at a similar-looking church and kept on going up.

We rested near the church of St. Nicholas and kept on going up—without, apparently, Theresa and Greg. We looked at the also similar church of St. Sofia. Then Mom and Dad looked for Theresa and Greg for a  bit while I sat in the shade. Upon finding them, everyone but me decided to climb all the way to the top to see the Castro—the castle at the top. Greg was kind enough to leave me the GBA:SP and Golden Sun: Star of the Galaxies, which I enjoyed. They climbed down maybe 10 or 15 minutes later, slightly disappointed. We marched down, piled in the car, and entered Sparta for lunch.

15 July 2003 – 3:28 PM GMT+2

Aside: Greek Roads And That Which Concerns Greek Roads

I figured that, being in an airport, it would be just as good a time as any to talk about the state of Greek roads. Also, Greg's GBA:SP died, so I can't play any Golden Sun: Tomb of the Haunted. Oh well. It's not like Greg's been playing EVERY SECOND OF THE TRIP and decided to let me play right AS THE BATTERIES WERE DYING. [☺—ed.] Who's ed? Geez, didn't even capitalize right.*

Anyway; first, Greek construction. Lot of it. No freakin' way it'll all be done for the 2004 Olympic Games™ in Athens. They're building a bunch of tunnels on the mostly-divided highway from Athens to Corinth, but that is one of the least necessary road improvements they could have chosen to do. Their Athens highway is a good start—it's a beltway that ends, kind of like I-190, at the airport. But they aren't even half-finished with the basic parts and have yet to finish the spur into the city. Also, the toll booths are placed wrong—it's a disaster in the making unless the officials can work some intense magic. Although the Metro is nice.

Signage is another problem. The only time is has been comparable to the US is on the Athens Highway—elsewhere, it has been haphazard at best, misleading at worst, and most often nonexistent. None of the atlases have route names or numbers, and that makes sense, because, for all I know, almost no roads have any. You have to work by cutoffs, but that's doesn't work in an urban area. Plus, they have many more fallen signs than America, which'd be great, except for customs. Anyway, that's it for now.

*Editor's note: This is, in fact, from the original text.