Carrie's Adventures

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Went to go and visit my former boss George. I have heard so much about his island while I was on the ship, Akis and I figured it would be better for me to go and see him there than to see him and Vasso in Athens.

The day trip consists of a Ferry ride from the port across to the island.

The time it takes on the ferry depends on which boat you take. As it turns out, we took the second slowest boat across making our trip each way 1hr and 35 minutes. Hey, I guess you can enjoy the ride. The quicker boats include the 'Flying Dolphin' which takes about 45 minutes from shore to shore. I think on the way home we were lapped by the dolphin!

The lowdown on the island is as follows from a website regarding Greek Islands:

AEGINA (EGINA or ENGIA) (pronounced Ayeena) sits in the Saronic Gulf just 20 miles from the mainland. It's so near you can even see it from the Acropolis on a clear day. It's a small, roughly triangular island about eight miles by six. To the north and west are fertile coastal plains, noted for crops of pistachios, almonds and figs. To the east and south are hills rising to the conical Mount Oros (Zeus, Profitis Illias) and a long rocky ridge with narrow fertile valleys on either side.
The islanders that don't commute to Athens either work in tourism or grow pistachios olives and citrus. So many now commute that the island suffers suburban problems of lack of parking and nightime traffic noise (mopeds mainly). Mainland weekenders give the island a party atmosphere, especially in the capital and it's popular with tour operators thanks to easy transfers, hotels galore, a photogenic temple at Aphiaia and many sightseeing excursions to the mainland. There is a small artistic community with a reputation for fine ceramics and it's well worth seeking out their small shops in the back alleys of Aegina Town.

The town itself is really quite quaint and it is a real contrast from the mainland. Despite the comments that there are issues with traffic and noise, I didn't find it all that bad and we went on a Saturday. First impressions were from the harbour...

And of course the next order of business was finding coffee. The coffee place was located right on the water with the traditional White and Blue that is associated with Greek architecture. It was very nice to see what all of the calendars and postcards brag about... Here I met Vasso!

After finishing the coffees, it was time for a swim. We headed down the coast and ended up doubling back as the place we went was full! There really is no bad place to be as you can pull over just about anywhere and swim. This is where we ended up.

We rounded out the day with lunch ~ at 4:30pm. I guess I am starting to get used to this. It was also my first experience with Ouzo. Again, the food was good and the scenery amazing!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Acropolis

The plan was to leave the house by 9am to catch the bus to Athens to see the Acropolis. Well, as usual, I was off to a late start and Akis and I left the house by about 10 or so. This meant that by the time we arrived at our destination we were experiencing the heat of the day. I don't think it is the heat so much as the humidity that is the kicker.

Anyway, we boarded the bus and headed to the train station. Once there we jumped on the train for 6 stops to Thisio. This is what is known as old Athens and has ruins from these early days. In addition to the historical monuments, the area contains homes which are in an older style and it feels like you have stepped into a small village.

The challenge with this is that there doesn't appear to be much in the way of signage for the great monument on the hill. As a result, we had to take 2 attempts to make it up the hill ~ the first resulted in us being on the wrong side of the fence. Akis then asked many locals for directions and we eventually found the entrance only to realize that we had come all the way down the hill and needed to make our way back up again.

As we made our way back up in the heat of Athens, we discovered some marble artifacts that have been dated to as early as 350 BC. Can you imagine, this stuff has been around for almost 2500 years! And unlike North America, the artifacts are out in the open ~ not contained in glass or other 'do not touch' containers.

On the way up we passed the amphitheatre.

Upon entering, I learned that it is actually the rock which is called the Acropolis, not the building. The building itself is the Parthenon which was built and given to Athena. What I wasn't expecting was the incredible amount or restoration that is going on. As a result there was scaffolding and cranes around to support the monument while this work is going on. In addition to repairing the damage from the the military assault (the building has never been damaged as a result of an earthquake) they are also repairing earlier restoration work which was apparently done incorrectly.

In an adjacent building there are also 6 sculptures of women. There is a bit of contention over this one as one of the ladies is not authentic, but in fact a copy and the original is in a museum in England. 'Damn British won't give us our stuff back...' was the phrase uttered under a greek breath as we walked past.

I also learned that the flag flying here was not always Greek. There was a time during the Second World War when the flag was replaced by a German flag. With a feeling of national pride a fellow Greek scaled the wall and removed the German flag and replaced the Greek flag. After being detected, to escape from being caught, he fled the scene by jumping to his death over the wall he had just scaled.

After wandering and taking in the history, we made our way back into the village for lunch. The heat however had taken a lot out of me and after lunch (4pm) we headed back to Piraeus for a nap. Apparently the area we were is quite lively during the evening. We did discover that the day gets noticibly more comfortable after 6pm and this has become our 'going out' time as we hibernate in the house with the fan during the heat of the day.

The next stop will be Aigina ~ an island about an hour from Athens and the home of my boss George. Plan is to catch the 8am ferry tomorrow morning and head over for the day to visit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Greek Wedding...

When Akis first heard that his friend Stratos was getting married, he decided that it was important for me to be here to see a 'true Greek wedding'. I must say that while the outcome is the same, there are a number of things that are different and Akis swore that I was like the Japanese tourist until I reminded him about how he ran around while he was in Canada taking pictures of squirrels!

First thing that was different was the timing for the wedding. We got up on Saturday, and I spent what I thought was a leisurely morning before getting ready for the wedding. We needed to be out at his parents for 1pm, so I figured that the wedding must be around 2 or 3pm. Hmmm, no. The wedding itself starts at 8pm ~ this means I spent the afternoon at the parents new house having lunch and checking on the progress of Akis' home. Lunch was at 3pm, something I am still not used to and the food was great. Everything you get at the Greek restaurant only better. The only challenge was the volume of food. Yes, it is true, Greek mom's want to make sure that you will never starve. Along with my 2 plates of food, Akis' Dad made sure that the glass which was suppose to be for the Soda Water was always full of beer. I rolled away from the table.

Akis house is coming along ~ I didn't take photos, but will the next time we are there and give the scoop.

After meeting some of the rest of the family ~ Grandma and Grandpa (who speak no English and we just sort of grinned at each other as Akis played traslator and live next door) and his cousin Jenny, it was time to get ready. Dressed and ready to go we piled into the car and made our way to the church. Once we got there, it was time to take in the differences....

1) The groom and everyone waits outside for the bride to arrive. This includes the groom holding the bouquet of flowers for the bride and giving them to her when she arrives. The bride was driven in a car that refused to stop at the church until it's third time around (must be something with the number 3), when it finally pulled up to the curb and let her out.

The Church:

The Groom and his sister:

The Bride:

2) When you get in the church, there is no ~ bride side, groom side. You make your way in, and you stand. Yes, stand. Had I known this when picking out the outfit, I might have chosen different shoes as the ones I had were not worth of the half hour stand!

3) The ceremony is performed in 'high Greek', or something like that. I had come to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to be able to understand what was going on, but I thought that Akis would be able to tell me. Apparently the priests are speaking a dialect which no one, not even the Greeks understand so we just stand there and wait for the ceremony to come to completion.

4) The wedding party ~ doesn't really exist. In this wedding there was one friend at the front of the church ~ Maid of Honour type role ~ and then the family from both sides. The family actively participates in the ceremony by performing duties such as fanning the bride or wiping the brow of the groom. Role of the Maid of Honour seemed to be one where she assisted the priest in performing a ritual of moving one head piece from the groom to the bride and vice versa. Still not sure on that one...

5) The rice! Once the couple is married, they run around the wooden table at the alter in what looked like a formal version of ring around the rosie. During this time, everyone had received their wee packages of rice and we tossed this ~ well threw as far as our arm would go ~ at the bride and groom. Only problem with this was you don't know the capabilities of the people behind you and their arm... So needless to say, we were pelted with rice!

6) Gifts are received at the church not the reception hall. So you saw someone shuttle all the gifts from the church to who knows where...

7) The announcement of the couple, cutting of the cake and the first dance were done with great efficiency ~ within 10 minutes of arriving. I guess this means that they can move onto the food!

8) Dinner was served at the reception at 11:30pm. I haven't gotten used to the dining schedule of the Greeks. I seem to be way off as this is what seems to be an acceptable eating hour. I tell you, my stomach, while today was full from the massive lunch, is often hungry much earlier than 10pm so I have to have my wee snacks.

9) Music was all Greek. So yes, I did get up and dance, although it did need a lot of encouragement from Akis. That being said, it wasn't that bad. Let's say, I don't think I was the worst one out there!!

Over all, it was a really nice day. I definitely learned some new things and enjoyed watching the closeness that is very much apart of the Greek culture. Opa!

Vasillis and Akis

Akis, Stratos (groom) and Vasillis


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hanging out in Greece

I've come to discover that everything as I knew it in Vancouver is different here in Greece. First the time. I am not sure who started this, but it has been a great source of confusion for me and generally I am pretty good with numbers. So when Akis said to me we will go out in the afternoon to his friend's house, I expected that we would be going out sometime between 1pm and 5pm. This was not the case. It would seem that the day is broken into the following timeframes: 8am-12pm is the Morning, 12-4pm is considered noon while 8-11pm is afternoon, and after 11pm is night. This also means that their eating patterns are different from ours. The regimented lunch between 12 and 1:30 does not happen, nor is dinner consumed prior to 9pm. As such, I am finding that I am falling victim to the snacks as I am trying to hold out for lunch and dinner.

The noon time seems to be filled with time sitting around the cafeterias drinking coffee. This is a common ritual and now that school is out you also see the youth partaking in this tradition. The coffee shops (aka cafeterias) are very common and each seems to have it's own unique style. They are not the cookie cutter Starbucks or Timmy which I have grown to love, but rather a jazzy version of the coffee shop down the street where I have noticed some places actually employ a DJ to mix music during the day. Incredible really. Think Martini bar meets coffee shop in the middle of the day.

Yes, this particular cafeteria has a pool and for a Friday there were seats to be had. However, Sunday is truly considered to be a day of rest. Much like it used to be in North America before the full fledged adoption on Sunday Shopping, the shops shut their doors with only some taverns, and coffee shops opening for the day. As a result, the Kiosk doubles as a Macs Milk or 7/11 and you can get anything you may be in desperate need of from here. As a result of everyone having the day off, the same cafeteria was packed on Sunday ~ we had to hang around like vultures ~ hoping to score a seat. The key is once you get your bum in a chair, you don't move it... and I mean you don't move it for hours.

The other great thing is eating out. We have had lunch out a couple of times and of course the specialty is Greek. The food is good and it always seems to be in mass quantities. I really do wonder how these people stay so fit looking... Anyway, my first exposure to 'authentic' Greek food was great. You sit on the terrace, order food and just hang out.

The outside of the restaurant is exactly what you think it would be. What I wasn't expecting was the deliver service. Similar to Pizza, Souvlaki can be delivered. The scooters/motorbikes have a box on the back of them which the order is placed and they then tear off up the street looking to deliver you your meal. Sounds like a deal to me!

Getting to Greece

When Marc said that I would be able to fly with Gulf Air to Athens from Bangkok, I didn't question him at all. Again, booking the flight in Hong Kong, this proved to be a bit of a challenge as we needed to provide payment to the travel agent in Bangkok, not in the form of a credit card, unless it was presented in person. This posed a bit of a challenge as we were still in Hong Kong and the Travel Agency was closed Monday and Tuesday to celebrate the King.

Needless to say, the relationship that has been fostered at the Westin came in very handy as Marc was able to get them to purchase the tickets and then charge us after the fact. And voila, when we arrived there the tickets were. I tell you, there has been some creative and resourceful thinking that has gone into overcoming some of these challenges.

What Marc had also told me was that I was going to connect through Bahrain. Pleading somewhat ignorant, I needed to look up where Bahrain was ~ especially since I was going to need to overnight there. Yes, I am spending the night in a Middle Eastern oil country. I was to expect information on the hotel with my ticket, but this was not the case. Images of being stranded in a Muslim country in the airport flashed through my mind, but I figured with Mr. Gold Visa in hand, the worst that could happen was I would have to pay for a hotel.

Arriving at the airport in Bangkok, I was there a full 3 hours before the flight. Now those who know me, know I am last minute girl. As I checked in at the airport, I was advised that my weight limit was 20kg. WHAT?!? The bags were 20kg and 27kg each. So the next question became one of paying for the overweight. Yes, they would take my payment and at roughly $20US per kilo, they cut me a deal and only charged me for 15 and not the 27 I was actually over. Can honestly say this was the most expensive overweight I have ever paid. Never paid this much even when I moved to Australia!

The next challenge was assuring them that I would not be remaining in Greece. Without a forwarding ticket out of the country they were hesitant to let me check in. I let them know about my letter of employment which has me in Oslo on the 13th of July and after some debate and disagreement that I don't get the ticket from my company until a week before, they trudged off with my papers, passport to make copies. While the part about the company giving me a ticket from Athens to Oslo was not quite the whole truth, I figured I had better get a ticket before trying to get into Athens. Nothing worse than coming all this way to be denied entry. After not getting into Mexico, I figured it is better to not take the chance.

Other great news was that the plane was delayed an hour. Yippee! 4 hours at the airport before leaving ~ so much for being last minute. We arrive in Bahrain, and then go on the hunt for someone who might know what I am to do next. Another woman travelling back home to Athens was unaware of the stop over so she and I found the Customer Service folks and were soon on our way to the hotel via a shuttle. Once in the hotel, we were provided with dinner, but wait it was 10:30pm... A quick bite of chicken and rice and I was back to the desk to find my room. Still not made up? By this time it didn't matter. Friend sleep lobby. They changed my room and I was off for some sleep.

I managed to find internet the next day and book a ticket online ~ so that eliviated that stress. Now just 4 hours in the plane and I can settle in. But wait... another delay? The flight is not leaving at 9:20 but rather 11am. Again at the airport by 7:45, I had more time to kill watching the folks pass by. I could only hope Akis was checking the flight status as his mobile wasn't working and all I had told him was that I would be at the airport at 2pm.

Rarely have I ever seen 'plane rage' but this flight could definitely have qualified. The Greek woman who I spent time with was accused of being rude to a woman's child, after telling the child to be careful after kicking her suitcase. The child's mother was then 'tattling' ~ there is no other work for it ~ to her husband about this woman being rude to her child. The glares were brutal and apparently on the flight from Singapore, a fist fight had actually broken out and the police were called. Who knew road rage had morphed?!?

Upon arrival in Athens, the passing through customs was merely a check of my passport and a stamp. So the anxiety that they may not let me in was for nothing... Hey but I am here ~ time for a coffee.

Bangkok, Thailand

Early Monday morning, Beth and I pack our things and head down to settle the bill at the hotel. We have opted for the slightly more expensive hotel transport, but this additional $15 means that we won't be heckled into going to their buddies place to check out some art.

The drive was about 40 minutes to the airport and it was very different to see it in the morning ~ everyone commuting to work and school on scooters. This is the primary mode of transportation as there is no public transit.

Arriving at the airport, things are pretty relaxed. We flew on NocAir which had very affordable flights up to Bangkok ~ $40 US. Arriving in Bangkok, the temperature is definitely warmer as we gather our bags and make our way to the cab. It was interesting to note that the cabbies don't run the cars in the airport but rather push to avoid creating additional exhaust.

The ride to the hotel was a bit strange in that we were pulled over by the police. At first I thought the cabbie had been speeding, but then I noticed that everyone was being pulled over. What is going on? Oh, the king ~ apparently the shut all roads down including the freeway when royalty travels. That must be the life.

We arrived at the hotel, got checked in, gathered our requested items from the concierge like out plane tickets and made tracks to check things out. Beth seemed a bit at odds, as the city wasn't quite itself ~ too quiet. We headed out for lunch opting for a wee Thai place over the Tony Roma's that was on the street. All beverages come in these small glass bottles. It felt like something that we would have gotten at home a number of years ago but not now ~ not nearly super-sized enough for us in North America!

After leaving the restaurant, we headed to yet another spa to indulge in a foot massage and Thai massage. I tell you, this sure can become addictive! After feeling like we couldn't move from the pampering we started to walk back to the hotel ~ again wondering where everyone was. As it turned out, the King was going to be passing and the roads as a result have been blocked to traffic ~ there was no one out there... except the police guys who need to keep the road closed. The blurry car is one member of the royal family. I think the first one held the King, but we were too busy looking trying to figure out what was going on to really know.

This king is a truly loved individual and I had thought that all of the posters and references to him were for this particular event (60th year of reign) but in fact Beth had told me that the people adore him and any time there are signs/posters and shrines to the King that can be found around the city.

That night Beth and I made our way to the night market ~ yes another market. But this one had an additional venue of a stage and beer garden. While we didn't partake, I can see how folks could come here and be quite entertained. There is a number of food vendors around the garden and you can purchase the beer by the 3L and they pour the draft into your own mini cooled beer tap. Rather cool.

The other marvel of Bangkok and maybe Thailand is the tuk-tuk. A form of transportation, this open air, slightly larger than a scooter is what some may consider a death trap, or others may consider and extreme sport. I suppose it all depends on who is driving. Generally a bit cheaper than a cab, you need to have the art of negotiation as these are not metered and you heckle for the price. That said, Beth and I took one home from the market as no trip could be complete without a ride in a tuk-tuk. As you can see below, some of them work pretty hard looking for their customers!

The next morning it was time to say good-bye to Beth. Hard to believe it went by so fast. It was really good to see her and Marc and know that they are settling into their life in Hong Kong well. I did have the morning and afternoon to myself so I managed to muster up the assurance that if I went to Khao San Road by myself and find some purchases that I would be able to find my way back to my belongings in the hotel. It is a pretty neat area where I had my final Thai lunch which was more like Chinese sweet and sour chicken, but hey, I am not complaining, I had it good!