THE NEXT PART OF THE ADVENTURE.....
Trip Start May 13, 2010
25Trip End Jul 05, 2010
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This morning it was necessary once again to use my Cell phone as an "alarm clock" and I got up about 06:00. I got dressed and cleaned up and got my Packs organized as quietly as possible, as the other three in the room were still sleeping. I left the Hostel at about 07:10 for the short walk to Termini (about five minutes) and bought my ticket at one of the machines. I just missed the train that left at 07:20 but got the next one. It wasn't really that crowded so it was a quiet trip.
The "airport experience" is often a bit of a chore these days, and this occasion was no exception. I followed the signs to Terminal 2 and had no problem finding the EasyJet check-in counter. I took a few minutes to get my Packs re-configured for air travel, snapped the Daypack and main Pack together and put the Netbook and other valuables into various pockets in my Tilley Vest
Security followed the usual routine, but for some reason they wanted to run one of my Bags through the Scanner again. When I reached the departures areas (Gate C16) I looked in vain for a restaurant that had a “normal” breakfast, but finally had to settle for a Cornetto (Croissant), Juice and Coffee. While I was waiting, I noticed an attractive young lady in the boarding area wearing black stockings, cut-off Blue Jeans, leggings and a black top. More about her later.
When boarding commenced, it was a bit chaotic as the Staff insisted on running all the carry-on bags through the sizing frame (which had been done already), and that slowed the process considerably
At the end of the boarding gangway, there was a large “kneeling” Bus waiting to take passengers to the plane. They were boarding the plane via both the front and rear doors and it didn’t take long to get everyone seated. I managed to get seat 6C (aisle), keeping in mind that there are no reserved seats on many of the Euro budget airlines. There was a couple from New Zealand seated beside me. They had just been in Vernazza and were spending two weeks in Greece before heading home. Unlike flights at home, there were no free peanuts or coffee offered – everything was for sale. I got a Blueberry Muffin and a Coffee. Some of the other passengers bought reheated Panini sandwiches or Pizza (many on this flight were Italian so the menu choices seemed to reflect that).
Many people have asked me if I was worried about travelling in Greece, considering the recent civil unrest that’s been taking place there recently (including several deaths)
The flight to Athens left about 20 minutes late, but we arrived in about 1H:40M. It was kind of exciting to fly over the ocean and see the wake of boats below us looking like a silver ribbon in the sun, and also the sparse dry land with neat rows of olive groves and other crops. The weather was warm and a bit hazy but it was a nice flight.
Upon arrival in Athens, we were again transported by Bus to the Terminal. Our luggage was supposed to be on Carousel 8, but it seemed to take a LONG time to arrive. While I was waiting for my Pack to appear, I got talking to the young lady I had noticed earlier (she was standing right beside me). She was from Thessaloniki (which is in the north, the second largest city in Greece and the capital of Macedonia), but now living in Athens and working as an actress. She had been in Rome visiting friends for four days. She offered to help me find the Metro and also (surprisingly) gave me a ticket (I tried to object, but she insisted). We had a nice visit on the Metro ride, and one of the other passengers kindly snapped a picture of us
I didn’t have much trouble finding the Sygrou-Fix station, but got a bit turned around on Farilou Street. With some help from people on the street, I eventually found the Hotel Acropolis Select at about 14:00. Although the Desk Clerk spoke excellent English, I had a bit of trouble understanding because of her pronounced accent. There was a sign beside the Elevator stating that the Rick Steves group would be meeting at 18:00 in the Conference Room and then heading out for dinner at a local Taverna.
By this time I was hot and tired, having been travelling since about 07:00. I had a shower and got cleaned up. I also figured this would be a good time to update my Diary, and if possible the Blog. The Hotel charges €5.50 per hour for Internet, so I’ll have to use it carefully. It will be interesting to meet the group, although it’s going to be strange not to see the familiar faces from the Photo Workshop at the breakfast table and I’ll also miss the breakfast conversations about composition, lighting and other photographic subjects.
The group was somewhat similar to those that I’ve travelled with on previous RS tours, and it seems like it will be a nice group to travel with. There was one couple from Vancouver but the rest are from various parts of the U.S. After our meeting and a few drinks, we headed out for our first group dinner at God’s Restaurant which was a few blocks up the street from the Hotel. The food was very good and several of the dishes were put out for “communal sampling” at each table. I sat with a couple from Tennessee and a person from California that works as a computer analyst.
After dinner I headed back to the Hotel for a rest, as I was starting to get a severe headache, mostly in the back of my neck (tension or more likely fatigue?).
10 May 25 - Tuesday
I was up early today, as I wanted some time to get organized before breakfast. The breakfast turned out to be quite a treat, and more than I had expected. There were bacon & eggs, hash browns, beans, tomatoes, toast, cereals, French Toast and just about every other “normal” breakfast item
After breakfast the group headed up the street for the walk to the Acropolis (the entrance to the site was within easy walking distance from the Hotel) and a meeting with our local Guide, Faye. Our lead Guide disappeared for a few minutes and we found out later that he had to go to a different ticket office to get our tickets, as the staff at the main office were “on strike” that day. We learned that the strike resulted from the fact that the Greek government had just told the workers that they’ll all be laid-off in October, and new staff hired at lower wages. When we got to a parking lot part way up the hill to the Acropolis, we found several TV news crews and a satellite van parked there. We had a few minutes to roam around on our own before re-grouping for the tour.
As we walked up the ancient steps that led to the entrance to the Acropolis, our Guide was providing a steady narrative on the history of the site. She had an incredible amount of knowledge and provided an interesting tour. Unfortunately, I had a bit of a “mishap” near the top just before the entrance. While changing Lenses, I accidentally dropped my Camera (without the Lens attached, thankfully) onto the hard stone surface. It seemed to work normally after that (judging by the small images I could see on the LCD) but the shutter noise sounded a bit abnormal and some of the displays in the viewfinder also appeared slightly “different”
While I was touring the site, I gave some thought to my Camera situation. I could take a chance and continue using my present Camera and hope everything works out. However, I still have the majority of my trip ahead of me, including some of the most scenic parts of Europe (Santorini, Switzerland, France & Germany). The other option would be to try and find a Camera store in Athens and buy another body (possibly the same model if the store has some “old stock”). I asked the Guide if he knew of any Camera stores and he suggested I have a look on Ermou Street after the tour ended.
After the formal tour of the Acropolis area, we were given a short time to look around on our own. During that time, I spoke with a couple from Calgary that were travelling with their children for nine weeks. He had taken a year off work in order to make the trip.
At a pre-determined time our group met back at the parking lot below the historic site
One thought that occurred to me at the end of tour of the Acropolis, was that it was really good that we had started early, as the site filled up quickly with a lot of other tour groups (from Spain and other parts of Europe, but mostly from the Cruise ships) and when we left it was packed!
Our official guided tour ended at about lunch time and we were then on our own for the rest of the day. The historic site exited onto a street with a lot of restaurants (no surprise there) so I decided to stop for lunch as I was getting hungry. I picked one place at random that seemed to be frequented by “locals” and ordered a Gyro. I was expecting meat and vegetables wrapped in a Pita shell, but what was served was a huge mound of meat, vegetables and French fries on a plate (I wasn’t able to finish it all)
During lunch I was treated to “entertainment” provided by the “sidewalk scammers” (most appeared to be African). They were selling everything from cheap folding Umbrellas to Sunglasses and Purses. Often the merchandise was carried in a wrapped-up bed sheet, which was unfolded at the desired location. This method provided the benefit of a fast exit, which happened as soon as the Police appeared. There seemed to be a strong Police presence in that area, and the officers were dressed in the normal blue uniform with external body armour, but some were dressed in camo pants with a plain green T-shirt with “Police” written on the back. There appeared to be somewhat of a “cat & mouse” game happening, as the scammers disappeared as soon as the Police arrived, but then re-appeared with the bed sheets as soon as the Police left. During lunch I was approached several times by children of various ages (their appearance suggested Roma or Gypsy) playing the accordion (not very proficiently in some cases) and expecting a “donation”.
After due consideration of my Camera options over lunch, I decided on “Door #2” and purchasing another Camera (if I can find one at an acceptable price)
When I got back to the Hotel, our Guide was in the Lobby and I mentioned the lack of Camera stores. He suggested a store called Public on Syntagma Square, as he had bought a Camera for a family member there. I went back to the room, got re-organized and then headed out again on my quest
Although that area seems to have lots of “high end” stores (jewelry, shoes, clothing, etc.), I couldn’t locate any other Camera stores. I was almost ready to give up completely and was making my way back to the Metro station when I spotted a Camera store about half a block behind the Public store on a side street. They had an excellent selection of good Cameras from both Canon and Nikon. One of the staff could speak English, so after speaking with him for a while, I decided to go ahead with the purchase.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have any of the tax refund forms on hand, and would have to get them delivered from one of their other stores (which was supposed to take an hour). While I was waiting, I visited with the staff and other customers in the store, including a Greek-American woman who was moving back to the U.S. (DC area) as she felt that the “quality of life” wasn’t good in Athens anymore. Three guys from India were also shopping and they wanted to buy a Nikon SLR in a hurry, as they had leave for Santorini in a short time
I got a big shock when I tried to pay for the purchase. Neither of my credit cards were accepted. Finally in desperation I called TD Bank, but they indicated they hadn’t seen the purchase come through, so it hadn’t been declined on their end. I was on the line with them for a while, as the shop keeper was trying to complete the paperwork for the group from India. Finally the shop keeper phoned his Bank and they said they had blocked the transaction as they “wanted to make sure that I was the authorized person to use the card”. At that point we tried the purchase again (I was still on line with TD Bank) and it went through right away (the girl in Toronto saw the transaction immediately, once the Greek Bank removed their “blocking”). The shop keeper had been blaming my Bank for the problem, so was perhaps a bit embarrassed that his Bank had caused it. What an annoying experience!
After that I went back to the Hotel, had a much needed shower in the diminutive half-Bathtub and washed some clothes in the sink. I got the new Camera set up (somewhat difficult as the owner’s manual was in Greek), and of course had to charge the battery. It took longer than expected and was only at 75% at 20:00.
I decided to have dinner at the Hotel tonight as I wasn’t in the mood to go out. Although the restaurant appeared to be a bit “high-end”, I wanted to try the food. I was surprised to find the dining room about half full, with one tour group from Japan as well as a high school history group from the U.S. (they had just arrived from Turkey). I ordered the Greek Salad, Pork Souvlaki and a glass of wine. Unfortunately, that was a bit of an ambitious choice, as it was more than I could finish. I had one cup of coffee and then went out for a short walk.
After a quick walk around the block, it was back to the Hotel to get organized for departure tomorrow. One observation was that although the Hotel is very deluxe, the surrounding neighborhood seems somewhat “depressed”, with old VW Hippie vans, old and cracked sidewalks and some dilapidated buildings. However there was a good assortment of nice restaurants and Bars on the side street leading up from the Metro stop.