The Aegean Journey

May 29, 2018

the end

Filed under: Uncategorized — A @ 8:45 pm

Disclaimer: I wrote this several days ago, while on the train from Kalambaka to Athens. I don’t think it’s one of my better offerings, though it certainly is LONG.

Today is our last day (well, last full day) in Greece. I won’t say “the last day of our trip” because we have a nice long layover, of sorts, in Chicago tomorrow. (I say “of sorts” because our international roundtrip airfare was Chicago to Athens and back, and then we just booked some Southwest flights from Cbus to Chicago and back. The trip was SOOOOO much cheaper that way, instead of booking CMH-ATH and back.)

Two days ago, we arrive by train to the town of Kalambaka, Greece, which borders an area known as Meteora. Meteora is a series of column-like rock formations on top of which are centuries-old monasteries. Christian hermits hid out in caves in these rocks during Ottoman rule, and eventually, enough of them decided they liked each other and that they’d band together and form monastic communities. “Meteora” in Greek basically translates to “suspended between the earth and sky,” and it’s a word that was used by one of those early monks to describe his feelings about life on top of the rocks. (So no, the rocks are not grounded meteorites.) Personally, I find that suspended definition interesting, given the “thin place” description of Iona that I was reminded of back on Patmos. Funny that all three places are homes of monasteries.

Anyway, the rocks themselves are very impressive, and, of course, the views from on top of them are, too. We joined a bus tour yesterday to see several of the places; two of the larger monasteries, then a smaller third one that is now actually a nunnery. (In its early years, women were not allowed on Meteora. There’s another place in Greece that houses the largest population of Greek Orthodox monks in the country, and there are still no women allowed there. Don’t even get me started on all that…) There was quite a crowd of tourists, especially at the first and largest that we visited. Most of the monasteries involve climbing a decent number of steps, and those winding, narrow stone stairways were pretty hard to navigate with droves of tourists. Of course, we got back on our little bus, and our guide said, “Imagine three times that many people. That’s what the high season is like.” No thank you.

One of the appeals of these monasteries is their remarkably intact frescoes. Without going all art history on everyone here, frescoes are cool because the artists painted on wet plaster, so they should theoretically stay put (better than your standard murals, say) for a very, very long time. Now, we’ve seen a butt-ton of frescoes on this trip already, in a number of interesting places: the cave churches of Cappadoccia, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and the Byzantine Chora Church in Istanbul. Most of these were either faded due to age or incomplete because they’d been partially destroyed once Islam became the prominent religion (which does not allow for faces to be shown in holy places). You might say it was fitting that the best ones we saw came at the end of the trip; we saved the best for last.

So, our first day there saw up visiting three of the monasteries (well, two plus a nunnery), along with a few other stops along the road for photos and a chance for our guide to teach us more about the area. Since it was only a half-day tour, we treated ourselves to a big lunch of local foods and then had the rest of the day free. Brandon actually took a marathon of a nap, while I made some serious progress in one of my books I’d checked out for the trip. It was a lazy, un-touristy afternoon, but I think we both really needed the chance to relax. Once Brandon was awake again, we found our way back into town and ate again and then drank some ouzo.

For our second full day in the Kalambaka/Meteora area, we decided to hike up into the rocks and to one of the monasteries. When we’d first checked into the hostel where we stayed, we were told that one of the hostel’s employees leads half-day hiking excursions every day from the hostel up into Meteora, so that seemed too good to pass up. Unfortunately, we found out at breakfast this morning that he only goes if more than three people are interested, so… no guided hike. After studying a few maps and checking the weather, we decided to branch out on our own and make our way up to one monastery that had particularly interested us when we first learned about it on the tour.

And let me say… Hiking is not my most favoritest thing in the world. Sure, it’s one of things you tell people you enjoy doing when they ask your hobbies because it makes you sound cool and outdoorsy and at least mildly athletic and healthy. “Oh, you know, I enjoy playing piano, cooking, writing, petting my cats, playing boardgames. And, uh, hiking. Yeah. Hiking….” And sure, it has its moments. But, at the end of the day, it involves a lot of sweating and a lot of exercise. And I always want to drink, like, a liter of water every 100 yards or so, but I’m already SO FREAKIN SLOW, the last thing I need is to carry around more weight in the form of water bottles. Oh, and there’s that thing where I’m really slow that I just mentioned. Yeah, I’m super slow, and I’m super self-conscious about it. I feel like I have to take breaks ALL the time. It’s so embarrassing. PLUS!! Because I sweat so much and get so hot, I always want to wear, like, shorts and a tank top, and that’s not always the most appropriate attire, depending on your location, your destination, and/or the weather. So then I have to wear hot, sweaty pants or leggings and/or a T-shirt that will make me get a bad farmer tan, which, for some reason, I am also really self-conscious about it.

So… Lots of things about hiking that stress me out. But I let Brandon convince me to do one day with the comfortable, air-conditioned bus approach to Meteora and one day of hiking. And y’all, let me tell you…. the hiking day was by far my favorite.

Yep. I was wrong. All the concerns about water bottles and slowness and clothing and general discomfort seemed to just melt away. The path we took was well marked and well maintained, and it was early enough in the day to still be a pleasant temperature, and we encountered very few other hikers for me to even feel embarrassed in front of. And Brandon was cool about taking extra breaks. I tried to always take them at spots where there’d be some good views, so he could play Ansel Adams and get some more photos.

The monastery itself was quite a treat, too, once we got up there. I did have to borrow one of their loaner wrap-around skirts, to wear over my shorts. (See, this is super fun: Even if I’d been wearing pants, that’s still not good enough. Women have to wear long skirts at these places. Once again, don’t get me started.) Since I’d donned a T-shirt in the morning, my shoulders were appropriately covered, so there ya go. Once inside, it’s not one of the most breathtaking buildings in the area, but the frescoes were fun to look at and, of course, the views were amazing. It’s one of the smaller monasteries, so once you’re up there, you’re pretty much right on the edge of this giant rock structure anywhere you go. We had the freedom to linger as long as we wanted, which was a refreshing contrast to the tour company’s rather rushed schedule at each stop. We didn’t encounter anyone – as far as we could tell – who’d come with any kind of tour group or company, so it was also refreshingly uncrowded. It was so nice to have room to breathe and time to wander.

So the moral of the story is… Hiking is okay after all. Especially if it’s partly cloudy, late morning hours in mid-May, and the trail is mostly in shade.

We eventually meandered our way back down the rocks and into town. Our remaining hours were spent being leisurely again. And eating delicious Greek food again. I’m now writing this on the train from Kalambaka to Athens. We plan to basically stay up all night so we’re able to catch our 6am flight to Chicago, I don’t like all-nighters, but since we’ll be spending a good deal of our time checking out some Athens wine bars and actually just transporting us and our stuff to the airport, I think I’ll survive. Besides, it means I’ll sleep on the trans-Atlantic flight, which is a great way to pass those stuffy, long, claustrophobic plane hours.

May 28, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — B @ 6:12 pm

A last post from B from home. I think Amy has a last post also ready to go so hopefully that will appear soon. I’m just going to include some more photos and some last thoughts. One of the highlights of the trip for me was in the last leg, on our return to Greece. We visited Meteora, which consists of this huge array of columnar rock formations, some of which have operating monasteries perched at the top of them. It’s become fairly touristy, but one our second day in the area, we hiked up to one of the monasteries on our own, and we were the only ones on the path, which was an incredible experience. We returned to Athens before our flight home and enjoyed our last sampling of one of the other highlights of the trip: Greek food and wine.

Overall, I think I would say if pressed, I preferred Turkey to Greece. The highs simply couldn’t be matched: Cappadocia, Pamukkale, the Ifthar meal, the dervish Sema. But I definitely preferred Greek food. The seafood was amazing, and there was such a huge variety of incredible food. In Turkey, after a while the food got a little same-y. Kofte and kebab is good but you can only eat so much of it.

Other highlights: the Acropolis. The Parthenon was cool, but covered in scaffolding (you could walk around to the other side for a less-scaffolded view, which was more than could be said for the miserable Blue Mosque). Still, the perched-on-a-hill setting made this complex of ruins stand out above others. Our cave hotel in Cappadocia and this being our view from the terrace. The architecture, calligraphy, and tilework at Topkapi Palace, and Islamic calligraphy in mosques in general. The well preserved mosaics at Chora Church, and in general experiencing the remnants of the Christian Byzantine world. The underground cistern. Greek food. Turkish breakfast. Being in the actual cave where John wrote the Revelation.

Oh, and all the kedi. (Kedi is Turkish for cat; we called all cats on this trip kedi including the Greek ones, mostly because of our love of this film.) They were everywhere, but especially in the less touristed parts of Istanbul, Ephesus, Meteora, and on Mykonos. So, last photo, our travel buddy Bunny with a bunch of Ephesian kedi.

May 23, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — A @ 5:08 pm

Okay. Amy’s turn to post from Turkey. Unfortunately, the WiFi is spotty at our hotel in Istanbul (and indeed around the whole city), so I haven’t actually had time to read what Brandon most recently wrote. *blush* So apologies in advance if I’m at all redundant.

It has been so nice to spend, like, five long days here in this amazing city. It has such a rich history, not to mention a fascinating blend of cultures. I think my own misconceptions about Turkey had always been that “Turkish” things were mostly things adopted from other cultures (Greek, Arabian, etc) and given a name with the word “Turkish” in it. I’ve learned, of course, how wrong that is. Sure, the old city was a cosmopolitan hub that attracted loads of different people, who brought their foods, religions, customs, and languages with them, but over the centuries, the unique blend they made here became something distinctly Turkish. (If you go through any of the old palaces, ruins, mosques, or museums, you’ll see the word “Byzantine” a lot. Not to get into the whole political history of the area, but suffice it to say, that basically refers to the uniquely Turkish blend I just mentioned.)

ANYWHO. It’s a cool place.

Maybe, for this post, at least, I’ll focus on the things we did today, since I know Brandon hasn’t written today; that was I can avoid redundance. Yes, good idea, Amy.

We started today – our last day in the city, by the way – with a walking tour suggested by our guide book that explores some very un-touristy parts of the city. We got to see the ruins of the city’s old walls, as well as some historic neighborhoods that are today populated by normal people. Some highlights of that walk included a few synagogues (very rare here), a large street market in the Roma (gypsy) neighborhood, and the “Vatican of the Eastern Orthodox church” (yes, the church and administrative buildings where the patriarch – Orthodox equivalent of the pope – and his staff do their thing). Modern-day Turkey is 99% Muslim, so the current highlights and best-restored parts of the city are mosques and residences of past sultans. It’s so fascinating to step away from that hustle and bustle to catch a glimpse of a different Istanbul. (But don’t worry; I fully intend to write about our encounters with Islam in Turkey later! It’s been a really special part of our trip, actually.)

Another fun activity today was a 2-hour cruise on the Bosphorous. I remember having to learn about that body of water in middle school geography, but not much of that stuck with me. It was cool to be on a boat and have Europe on one side and Asia on the other. And to see how they’re pretty much exactly the same. Fun sidebar here: I am apparently very prone to a condition called mal d’embarqument, which is French for “disembarkment sickness.” For hours or sometimes days after being on a boat, my body still feels a slow rocking sensation. Right now, typing this blog post from our hotel room, I feel pretty sure that we’re on an eleven-story-high ship of some kind. Or I’m in a tiny, desk chair-sized dinghy. Either way, my brain and body have the sensation of being on the water.

After some more strolling and yet another delicious Turkish dinner, Brandon and I had a little time for some nargile, the Turkish version of shisha, hookah, water pipe, etc. It was some of the sweetest, smoothest water pipe-ing I have ever experienced, and we thoroughly enjoyed the cozy little “nargile cafe” we found to partake in. And just to brag on myself a little… my smoke ring game is still pretty solid. ;)

The crowning jewel of our last day in Turkey was a traditional dance performance. It combined a variety of bellydance performances with both group and solo performances of the highly varied folk dances from all around the lands we now know as Turkey. Oh my goodness, dear readers, they were wonderful! Of course, all the bellydances were sensuous and sultry and simply beautiful; but the folk dances ranged from graceful and birdlike to fiery and frenetic. I loved all of them so much!! I think the solo male bellydance performance was possibly my favorite, but I also a solo dance of Azerbaijani origins. Of course, the energetic group dances were breathtaking, too…. Yeah, I’m gonna have to get back to you on my favorite.

Well, I think that’s enough to give you a sense of the Turkish flavors we sampled today. I will certainly offer one more post in the near future about being in Istanbul during the first days of Ramadan (in Turkish, “Ramazan”), and I’m hoping to write about our time in Meteora, as well. Hopefully, Brandon will have a thing or two to add before this trip wraps up, too. :)

May 21, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — B @ 4:28 pm

Well, we’ve been in Istanbul for a little while now. It’s been really nice to spend a big chunk of time in one place and really get to feel at home and learn our way around. We’ve done all the major tourist sites: Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, Topkapi Palace, the Chora Church, etc. But honestly, none of these ranked at the top of my best-of list for Istanbul. In fact, many of these sites were downright frustrating due to the scaffolding, construction, and renovation. Turkey doesn’t seem to ever want to take a break renovating its sights and has no problem closing huge chunks of them rather than renovating piecemeal. The Blue Mosque was a miserable mess of barriers, scaffolding, and partitions, so that we could barely see any of it at all. Don’t get me wrong, many of these sites were still enjoyable despite the construction. But, none of them hold a candle to Mykonos, Cappadocia, or Pamukkale, or to my top experiences in Istanbul.

So what were my top experiences in Istanbul? We’re traveling during Ramadan, which if you don’t know involves a sunrise-to-sundown fast for all practicing Muslims. When the sun goes down, Muslims celebrate Ifthar, a big meal with which they end the fast. We were invited by a volunteer for a Muslim cross-cultural center to a big communal Ifthar the first Saturday of Ramadan, which we enjoyed with many Muslims and non-Muslims from countries around the world. This was one of those great unplannable moments, similar to when we were invited to pub by a Dubliner to see his girlfriend play music. This was one of the highlights of our time in Istanbul.

Another highlight was seeing a whirling dervish ceremony at an actual practicing dervish monastery. There are lots of shows around town and around the country of whirling dervishes, but the ceremony we saw was not a show, but an actual religious service, and put the “guys spinning” in context. The dervishes, followers of Rumi, are actual practitioners of the Sufi faith (a mystical sect of Islam), and the whirling itself only takes up about a third of the service. This was really cool to see. It was also really apparent that the dervishers were really “into” what they were doing in a way that would not likely be the case if it was just performers in costume.

On the other side of things, we went to a Turkish bath and I made the huge mistake of not drinking my weight in water beforehand, sweated myself to dehydration, and had a pretty bad time… the massage/bath itself was very enjoyable, but it was preceded by a half hour of great discomfort. It was still an experience I am glad to have had… but Amy said she would just as soon have not.

We have one more day in Istanbul, then we return to Greece for a trip to Meteora (like our Scotland trip was a pilgrimage to Iona, it could be said this trip is a pilgrimage to Meteora) before our return home.

May 18, 2018

Cruising Shadows and Peace on Patmos

Filed under: Uncategorized — A @ 5:20 pm

Okay, so it looks like Brandon has given y’all a fairly decent rundown of things we’ve done since Athens. (So, you know, most of the trip.) Even though we’re in Istanbul at the moment, I thought I’d backtrack and fill in a few thoughts about our cruise and about one of my favorite moments of the trip thus far.

First, CRUISE. Or I could say, “My First Cruise.” Yeah, a self-proclaimed world traveler who’s never done a cruise until age 33 seems a little unbelievable, but BELIEVE IT. That’s how it went down. I had been looking forward to the cruise part of the trip quite a bit, and it didn’t disappoint. Despite my inclination toward motion sickness, I love being on boats and have, at my core, really just always wanted to be a pirate. Okay, maybe in THAT regard, I found the cruise disappointing; no plank-walking or argh-saying or pillaging. But yeah, “sailing for adventure on the big blue wet thing” (name that quote) has always been something I thought I’d enjoy, AND I DID.

The all-inclusiveness “resort-y” feel of the cruise was… good and bad. I liked not having to penny-pinch or do loads of mental math when figuring out if a second glass of wine may or may not be allowed for in the budget. I didn’t like the ease with which I could charge ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING to my card on file. Very dangerous for someone like me. I also didn’t necessarily like every aspect of the shore excursions, but I’m ultimately thankful for them; I wouldn’t have gotten to see those beautiful places without the “package deal” aspect of a cruise. We met someone who lives on the island of Patmos who described the cruise passengers as “shadows”: they appear for a brief while, then they vanish before you know it. I wish we didn’t have to be “shadows,” but I’m glad we got to be there at all.

Which brings me to the second part of what I wanted to write about today: our little pilgrimage on Patmos. As has been the case with me in the past, I actually found that the destination itself — in this case, the grotto where John received the vision for and then wrote the Revelation — less empowering and inspiring than the journey to get there. (I remember the FIRST time I visited the Isle of Iona in Scotland to be that way. One of the most spiritually significant moments for me in that journey actually happened in the port town of Oban, back on the mainland. Now, of course, Iona eventually ended up being a hugely important part of my spiritual journey, but that particular instance… it was not where I felt closest to the Divine.) Don’t get me wrong, the grotto is a REALLY cool place, and I loved being there and letting my imagine run a little wild. “Did John see the sea the same way we see it? Did his sunsets look like this one? What did he feel, touch, smell, hear while he was in this place? Did God speak to him through those sunsets and breezes and birdcalls?” etc etc. However, I didn’t meet God there, like I thought I might. I met God on the path.

Rather, I should say I met a fellow Christian on the path, which, to me, is about as good as meeting God.

Brandon and I had decided to dispense with the cruise company’s canned “shore excursion” and make the walk from the port to the grotto on our own. It was a little frustrating at first, not finding a clearly marked sign of any kind from the village and having to walk on a curvy, uphill, main road with fast cars on it. But once we found the main walking path upwards to John’s quarters, it started to feel like a nice, calm, late afternoon walk on a dusty path among trees.

That is, of course, until a man started up the very same path behind us. And I will admit, RIGHT HERE IN FRONT OF GOD AND ALL YOU INTERNET PEOPLE AND EVERYBODY, that I hold a little bit of a bias against… well, against strangers. Maybe it’s the introvert in me, maybe it’s the long-encrusted residue of childhood warnings against strangers, but whatever the reason, I’m never automatically friendly toward them. I’m especially less friendly toward them when I’m trailing behind Brandon on a dusty uphill climb among trees in the late afternoon without the comforting security blanket of a canned cruise company “shore excursion.” So when this lone man asked me if I speak English, I tenuously offered my standard safe response in these situations: “A little.”

The man told me that the guy in front of me should walk more slowly, so I could keep up with him. I smiled and said, “Yes, he probably should, but sometimes it is also nice to have my own space.” We proceeded to chat a bit, and I decided, without a few minutes, that this guy was not going to murder us or beg for money. He was just a nice guy. Brandon finally engaged with him, too, and when he offered to show us a shortcut to the Grotto, we both hesitantly agreed. We later confirmed that we were both mentally recalling all our various martial arts and self-defense moves we’d ever been taught, just in case “shortcut” was Patmos code for “ass-whoopin.”

Fortunately, however, none of this was necessary. Our new friend just talked with us, that was all. He talked about how he’d lived in America for awhile and how he still has a daughter (maybe two??) who live there. He told us how he saw the cruise passengers as shadows, and I shared with him that I, too, had once lived on a island and felt a little saddened by the brief visits from tourists who couldn’t fully love the place in the way *I* thought it ought to be loved; he then expressed appreciation for us branching out on our own and finding the road less traveled.

Most importantly, thought, he told us about his peace summit he’s hosting on the island on July 7 of this year. We shared our frustrations with the world’s current climate and certain *ahem* PEOPLE’S roles in deteriorating already fragile attempts to bring out something resembling peace in the more tumultuous parts of the world. He showed us his little signposts he’d made — flyers printed on paper and left under “paperweight” rocks at 7-stone-high structures along the path. As we eventually approached the Grotto of the Apocalypse, we exchanged names and thanked him for journeying with us along the way. He told us he went by Frank — “Frankly Frank,” he said, so we’d remember — and we promised to spread the word about his peace summit.

After our very pleasant visit to the Grotto, we retraced our steps, back down Frank’s shortcut and onto the main footpath back to town. We noticed one of his little signposts and thought it would be nice to take a Bunny photo with the printed flyer. Imagine our surprise when we found a second printed flyer, held down by a “paperweight rock,” with a note addressed to “Fast Brandon and his wife.” Frank had written us a note with his blessings on it, as well as his email address. We left him a note with my email address and our thanks again for his companionship on our brief little pilgrimage, as well as a 20-euro note for his summit (hopefully that didn’t get stolen??). The funniest thing was, WE ACTUALLY SAW HIM AGAIN, about 30 minutes or so later, in town!! He told us about his note, we told him about ours, and we hugged and kissed and took photos and promised to stay in touch. We’ve since emailed and found each other on Facebook, and I hope this blog here starts to put Patmos on people’s radars as a place for peace.

It’s a fun story, by itself. And I could leave it right there. But being a person of faith… I can’t leave it there. I had so hoped that I might find God SOMEWHERE on this trip, and I’ll admit that my expectations for Patmos were high. I wondered if perhaps it was also a “thin place, where only tissue paper separates the material from the spiritual.” The Grotto itself was not, at least on this journey, that thin place, but the island was. Encountering a truly kind, passionate, spirit-filled person who was simply walking the path we were walking, sharing the same space and the same journey, was certainly a moment of encountering the Divine. I am so thankful we took our own path at the exact time we did and that “Frankly Frank” was kind enough to speak to us, share some of his story, and befriend us. I am thankful for this encounter and the true encouragement we were able to find by learning of his passion for peace and for God.

I promise I’ll return to more typical “travel blog” thoughts next time. For now, though, I think this is a good time to wrap up.

May 17, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — B @ 4:38 pm

We have failed pretty badly at blogging on this trip. A combination of bad Internet access, being busy, and just plain not feeling like it I suppose. Anyway, I’ve finally included at least a few photos, which you’ll find linked throughout the below.

Amy mentioned the issues with our flights to get to Europe. I discovered there is actually a pretty big silver lining to this. Under this EU law, we are each entitled to 400 euros in cash compensation. Nice. The airlines hope you don’t know this, and certainly don’t offer, but the law is the law!

So, the trip. Amy mentioned Athens. After Athens, we boarded our three day Greek isles cruise. I was most looking forward to the less-touristed island of Patmos, famous for where John was in exile when he received the visions that resulted in the book of Revelation. We opted against the cruise-led excursion and instead walked an old path from the port to the so-called “Cave of the Apocalypse,” where John was supposedly when he received the visions. Pretty cool that we possibly made the same path John did from shore. I am sure Amy will talk more about this as I know it was one of her highlights.

I was a little less excited about some of the really touristy islands, since I knew that being on a cruise meant it would be nigh impossible to avoid the super-crowded times, mainly the times when cruise passengers go ashore. Indeed, Santorini was just absolutely overrun. It was still beautiful, but a bit claustrophobic. That said, Mykonos really impressed me. It is known as one of the main “party islands” of Greece, but I was struck by how it was beautiful in a similar way to Santorini - white buildings and blue-domed churches - but far less crowded, or at least it felt that way. It was easier to get off the main roads and away from the crowds. Here’s a photo. This was one of the highlights of the cruise for me. One of the most idyllic beautiful places I have been. We saw lots of other great things (the ruins of Ephesus, the Minoan palace of Knossos), but Mykonos surprisingly stood out. The other highlight was the buffet on the last night, which was all Greek food. Delicious.

After the cruise, we headed out on our own, flying to Turkey (we’ll be back to Greece at the end of the trip). In Turkey, we visited two of the most incredible places I have ever been. They were: Cappadocia and Pamukkale.

Cappadocia is a large region in central Turkey known for its surreal geologic formations. Here is just one photo to give a sense of it.. We could have spent much more time here, but the time we did was unbelievable. We went hiking out in different parts of the region, all with very different scenery. We also visited an underground city, lots of old Byzantine churches with intact frescoes, and stayed in a beautiful cave hotel. In the town where we were staying, you could walk out to the terrace in front of our room and see the rock formations just throughout the town. Amazing.

The other place in Turkey we visited in Pamukkale, a beautiful series of cascading travertines. I’ll just post a picture and leave it there, so I can get to bed. We arrived tonight in Istanbul, where we will spend a long time. We should really get to feel at home in the city for the length of our time here. Anyway, a photo of Pamukkale. It’s worth noting that these beautiful azure pools of water also cascade along the ridge where you can see people walking, so we could wactually walk to and through and into pools very similar to the ones you see. Hopefully more to come soon, and hopefully more from Amy. She’s the better writer. Hopefully I’ll also have a chance to go through some more photos during our long stay in Istanbul, but hopefully the above gives at least a little taste of the beautiful places we have been. Cheers!

May 14, 2018

Delays and Athens

Filed under: Uncategorized — A @ 1:04 am

Whew! Sitting in a cruise ship, drinking an ouzo-based cocktail, while Cuban-flavored pop song covers are played by a live trio in the background, it’s hard to imagine that we were miserably enduring what ended up being a 10.5-hour layover in Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2. But that’s where we were. Tuesday, our first day of travel, was already going to be long; we knew that. Southwest flight from Columbus to Chicago Midway, then a trip out into the city for lunch and a transfer to O’Hare, Chicago to London overnight, then London to Athens after what was supposed to be a 4.5-hour layover. That journey alone would have been pretty tiring, but we were looking forward to arriving in Athens around 6pm and having a nice Greek dinner somewhere and getting a full night’s sleep before our adventures began.

It did not work out that way.

First off, 4.5 hours is just quite not enough time to realistically to get from Heathrow into the city, actually do something worthwhile, and make it back safely in time for boarding your next flight. Let that be known. So, under our original plan, we understood that that would simply not be an option. So we ate a nice British brunch at a fairly swanky airport restaurant and killed some time on the WiFi and at the duty free shops, and before we knew it, our boarding time was nigh. (Should also bear mentioning that Heathrow is one of those airports that doesn’t announce your flight’s gate until, like, 15 minutes before you’re supposed to be boarding.)

It was about ten minutes before we were supposed to board, however, when the airline announced that there were “mechanical issues” and our flight would now be departing at 5:40p.m. A delay of roughly five hours. We were instructed to go to a certain desk to get our new boarding passes and vouchers for food, and by the time that was finished, one of those five hours had passed. Four hours left til our flight, so still not just enough time to visit the city.

We sat around again, drank coffee, etc. Then we found the flight has been delayed even further, departing around 6:30. But by this time, we’d already killed another hour, so were yet again cut down to about that dreaded 4-hour mark. Had we known even from the point that they initially delayed our flight that it had been delayed that long, we might have had a shot at a visit to London! But… we didn’t. So so so frustrating.

And, of course, it was frustrating getting into Athens that much later than we’d hoped. Our one full day in Athens was already scheduled to be long and very full of exciting tourist opportunities, so tackling it after an overnight transatlantic flight with not enough sleep and then a night of very little sleep after a significantly delayed flight… Well, it was challenging.

But we did it.

Athens is not one those breathtakingly beautiful, idyllic European cities. It’s a modern city, full of cars and ugly buildings and graffiti and tacky shops. Just like any other city. Actually, it was, at one point, the most polluted city in Europe. But, despite all that, it houses some of the most fascinating relics of a time long past. In fact, I think the very fact that those relics are couched in such an otherwise (mostly) unremarkable city gives Athens an extra interesting flavor. It’s like, no matter what, the city can’t escape its millennia-old history. And, I would argue, it probably shouldn’t.

Brandon and I were both most impressed with the ruins of the agora and, of course, the acropolis. Years and years of history and culture absorbed into the marble floors and steps and pillars. It’s really quite impressive. Even with the hoards of tourists, we were able to have a little elbow room and really walk around and enjoy the places.

We also had a great museum visit, where we got to see some really icons of ancient Greek culture. I mean, like, stuff I learned about in art history and Western Civ. Really important pieces. That was cool.

Nestled between museum and ruins, we did a nice walking tour of the heart of the city and got to see some beautiful Greek churches and some really interesting neighborhoods. There’s an area near the acropolis that is a bunch of white houses built into the hillside by a community of people from one of the islands, who were trying to recreate their island architecture in the heart of the city. We’ve since seen some of those styles of building on some Greek islands, but finding that little honeycomb of stone houses in the center of Athens was a really cool break from the bustle of the city.

Our day in Athens ended with a nice dinner in one of the older, quainter (read: “touristy”) neighborhoods. Kind of a haute cuisine take on traditional Greek foods. Brandon enjoyed a squid ink tagliatelle with smoked trout, and I opted for a more pedestrian beef with orzo. We shared a started of sesame-crusted warm feta with fig jam and then a dessert of “deconstructed” traditional orange syrup pie. They had quite an excellent house red wine that was, of course, super cheap and super tasty. We finished the evening at a kitschy bar called Noel. It wasn’t really Christmasy, except for the abundance of Christmas lights inside; in fact, the drinks were all tarot card themed! Anyway, it was a great evening.

Next leg of the trip has been the cruise. That will be in our next post or two!

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