Saturday, October 13, 2012

Greece, Day One

(Now that we are home and no longer limited to a borrowed iPhone for our blogging, we will give a fuller account of our trip to Greece.  As we did with our wedding page, one of us will write the main account and the other will insert comments.  Rick's words will be in black; Jenese's words will be in blue.  We will alternate who gives the main account.  Rick will take the lead for Days One and Two.)

Performing the third of the Twelve Labors of Heracles, my heroic brother-in-law picked us up at 3:50 AM and drove us to the Tulsa airport to begin our Greek odyssey.  Along the way, he caught us up on the latest George Clooney sightings in Bartlesville.  (It seems that the Copper Bar is the place to hold counsel with Batman No. 3.)  

No, we haven't seen him.  But we keep driving past the house he's supposed to be renting.

We flew from Tulsa to Atlanta on Delta.  There was no meal, and the only snack was a single packet of peanuts, trick-or-treat size.  So we pulled from our carry-on bags some Ziplock bags containing coconut flour pancakes and turkey bacon left over from the previous morning's breakfast.  The pancakes were very satisfying.  They were also the focus of attention for the gentleman sitting across the aisle from us and one row back.  I don't know whether his stare was curiosity or envy, but maybe he'll know to bring his own pancakes for his next flight.

Waiting at the gate for our flight to NYC, we sat across from a woman who appeared to be in her early 60's and was wearing a straw sunhat the size of a hobbit door.  Without discretion or shame, she used her finger to thoroughly clean out both nostrils, and then used the same fingernail to clean her teeth.  Once her personal grooming was concluded, Jenese gave me the unhappy news that she had noticed that the husband of Mrs. Booger was studying a map of the Greek islands.  So now I'd to be watching for that giant hat in Greece.

I missed the "grooming", and merely noticed what appeared to be a nice older couple, poring over small guidebooks and a large map in preparation for a Grecian holiday.  I followed their example by studying the Greek phrases in Rick Steve's travel guide.

On the flight to NYC, we were apportioned another packet of peanuts as our only meal, so we were hungry enough to purchase airport food when we landed.  We were quickly seated at Chili's and then ignored.  After about ten minutes, I observed that our boarding time was only twenty minutes hence, so we left.  Jenese ate a ready-made salad with chicken and dates ($11.00) that we picked up from the refrigerator at Healthy Gourmet; I ate an apple we had brought with us.  

For the 9-hour Air France flight to Athens, we were seated in the middle of the row, almost all the way to the back.  I can't imagine there were any worse seats.  There was so little legroom, that I had to sit with my knees at two o'clock.  At least they fed us.  There were two meals and two snacks.  

Even I was cramped, so you can imagine The Rick's discomfort.  And he should've gotten a salad, in preparation for the in-flight meals -- I've had tastier Swanson TV dinners.

There were also plenty of movies to choose from.  I watched Young Adult.

My review:  Charlize Theron was enjoyable, but her character, Mavis Gary, was unlikable, having never outgrown the narscissim of adolescence.  That was intentional and that would be fine, so long as some sort of transformation is the payoff.  Indeed, we are led to believe that this is what is coming, but just when she is about to become a human being, she pulls back and commits to remain just like one of the self-indulgent characters she writes about for the young adult market.  Credits roll.  That renders the entire story pointless, unless the point is that we should respect or even admire her for being "true to herself" -- embracing who she is, even if who she is is rottenness.  Hollywood often values authenticity more than redemption. 

Next, I watched Iron Lady.

My review:  Another impressive performance by Meryl Streep.  (I'll tell her that if I run into her at Wal-Mart in Bartlesville.)  Base on the movie title, I was hoping to see her in a jet-powered metal suit manufactured by Stark Industries, but I made do with the British accent.  However, I didn't like the story being told through flashbacks, which had the effect of keeping the focus on the senility of an aged Margaret Thatcher, rather than upon the things she accomplished.  I think this approach betrays the political bent of the filmmakers who undoubtedly prefer the image of Margaret Thatcher as a lonely old ditty conversing with her dead husband.  Flashing back to those moments when she stood center on history's stage only serves to feed the pity that the audience is to feel.  I also noticed that although the filmmakers take care to show the influence of Margaret's father in shaping her character and instilling her values, there is an absence of any depiction of Christian faith, even though it is my understanding that it was at the core of both father and daughter.  But it's probably for the best when Christianity gets ignored, rather than get the full Hollywood treatment.  

Sitting beside me on the plane was an elderly Greek lady -- one of the few Greeks I would meet on our trip who spoke no English whatsoever.  When she let me out to use the restroom, I told her "thank you" in Greek, thereby putting to use some of those Greek language podcasts Jenese and I had been listening to for the past two weeks.  I counted it as some sort of accomplishment to be the first of the two of us to speak Greek to a Greek.  Jenese would certainly go on to beat me when it came to word count, however. 

I could see that the Greek lady was bewildered by the video system.  The man sitting across the aisle from her showed her how to remove the controller from her armrest and manipulate the buttons to scroll through the movie selections, but then she was on her own.  When I noticed that she was watching Chronicle, I knew that a certain random unnatural selection was at play.  I waited to see how long she would enjoy watching American teenagers react to their newly acquired telekinetic powers.  The answer is about 5 minutes.  At another point, she was watching Young Adult, but she did not prove to be a Charlize Theron fan, either.  Finally, she turned to me, her fluent Greek-speaking seat companion, and sought my help in turning the thing completely off.  But I discovered that I'm no more technologically inclined  than a little old Greek lady, since I couldn't figure it out, either.  In despair, she threw her blanket over the screen to block the light. Jenese would end up adopting the same technique.  

We simply could not find a switch to darken the screen.  How on earth is one supposed to nap to the airline's lovely classical music selections with a blinding white screen burning 18 inches away from one's face?  Tossing my denim jacket over the screen helped.  Until the impromptu frat party burst forth merrily in the row directly behind us.

Passing through Greek customs and border control was effortless.  We then had a long layover before our flight to Rhodes.  The first order of business was finding breakfast.  We walked to the Sofitel, an upscale hotel directly across the street from the airport.  Seeing that a cup of tea in the hotel restaurant was four and a half euros, we returned to the airport in search of cheaper options. We settled on a Sbarro that offered a full breakfast, including scrambled eggs, fried (I guess) eggs, sausages (hot dog weenies), bacon (more like fried Canadian bacon), french toast, fried potatoes, baked beans (no thank you), and roasted tomatoes.  We then made the mistake of going to the soda fountain and getting two cups of water, assuming they would be free.  Because the water was carbonated, we were charged 3.25 euro per cup.  That's $8.40 for two cups of water.  I still haven't recovered from that one.

Silver lining:  The soda water was very refreshing.  But after that plane ride, water from a cattle pond in July would've been refreshing.

We went to a neat little museum inside the airport that contained archaeological finds that were made during excavation work for the airport.  One item of particular interest to me was a beehive dating to the 4th century BC.  (No photography was allowed, but here's a photograph taken by someone who doesn't follow the rules.)

For the rest of our layover, we returned to the Sofitel, which had a nicer waiting area and much nicer restrooms than the airport.  Sleeping on the plane proved to be impossible, so this was our first opportunity to snatch a few minutes of sleep.

And we weren't the only ones -- I suppose the hotel staff must be used to exhausted travelers stumbling over from the airport to crash in their lobby.  Pets are welcome, too.  A gentleman napped in the chair directly across from me, his faithful dog by his side.

It was a one-hour flight from Athens to the island of Rhodes (Rodos).  I was amazed that the bags we checked in Tulsa made it all the way.  We picked them up and caught the airport bus for the 45-minute ride into the town of Rhodes, which is on the north end of the island.  The bus made multiple stops along the way, adding more and more passengers until we were all pressed in rather tightly.  I was standing for the entire ride, but was able to see out the window.  I was surprised by the simple look of the shops and homes we were passing.  It reminded me much more of what I saw in Albania than western Europe.  The flat-topped buildings were all made of poured concrete and rebar and were a dull assortment of right angles.  Also like Albania, the roofs all had solar powered hot water tanks and the sidewalks were made of concrete tiles.  As we got closer to the town of Rhodes, the view became much more touristy.  There were beaches with lots of umbrellas and plastic chairs, and windsurfers on the water.  There were numerous luxury hotels with lots of activity, even though we were now in the "low" tourist season. 

Once again, I was impressed by these European drivers, and the skill they display in tight spaces, whether they're driving a bus or a moped.  I couldn't see enough of the sea, but it was fascinating to look at the buildings, and their arrangement and color schemes, so different from our planned developments.

We were let out at a busy town center, not far from the walled Old Town that we would be exploring later.  We took another bus to get to our hotel, which was 3 km southeast of town.  Even though the driver called out the name of the hotel, we were too dense (Read:  "brain-dead.") to know that we needed to press the stop button, so we had to get off at the next stop and walk along a busy highway for about 200 yards back the way we came to reach the Hotel Princess Flora.  It's a large, 3-star hotel with multiple two-story units arranged around a central pool and grassy courtyard scattered with lounge chairs and stray cats.  Our room was simple, with two single beds we able to push together, a ceramic tiled floor, a small TV, a kitchenette, a bathroom, and a balcony with a white plastic table and matching chairs.  The balcony faced the pool and the courtyard crammed with pink Euro flesh.  (We would learn that we were quite possibly the only Americans in the hotel.  Most of the guests were British or German.  There was also a sprinkling of Russians.  That generally held true for tourists as a whole on Rhodes.  American tourists frequently go on cruises that make a day stop on the island, but few tourists actually stay on Rhodes like we did.)

My fellow Americans, if ever you travel to Greece, allow me to suggest that you take a few days to relish Rodos.  This beautiful island is well worth savoring.

To turn on the electricity, we had to place the magnetic key fob into a slot by the door.  However, the wall AC, which was just like the ones I knew from Albania, still would not work.  I returned to the front desk where I was told by a bemused desk clerk that AC is 7 euro per night extra.  (You won't learn that from their website.)  I paid it, whereupon I was given a remote control for the AC and a fuse that I had to insert into the fuse box.  At least I wasn't handed a can of Freon and a hose.

Took about 10 minutes to figure out how to open the fuse box.  Someone, somewhere, was laughing at us.

We unpacked and then walked to a supermarket we had passed on our walk from the bus.  We purchased yogurt and nectarines for breakfast and then returned to the hotel.  We went to the hotel restaurant for dinner, which was included in the room price.  What was not included, however, (and, once again, not mentioned on the hotel website) was drinks.  When we headed for the drink station where we saw other guests picking up glasses, the hostess who had seated us yelped and then frantically ran toward us and stopped us.  She told us that we must sit and let the waiter take our drink order.  Our waiter, a man in his fifties with salt and pepper hair, soon approached.  I asked him whether drinks were included with the buffet, and he said no.  "Okay, then we'll have two glasses of water," I said.

"Two bottles of water, then."

"No," I corrected him, "two glasses of water.  Can we just have tap water?"

He looked at me with a crooked smile, as if he had caught me walking out with the cutlery in my pocket, and said, "No, you can't."

"Alright, we'll have one bottle of water for the two of us."

He wrote it down and left us.  We headed for the buffet.  It consisted of a cabbage and tomato mix, a huge mound of shredded carrots (which I thought was peculiar), tzatziki sauce, chopped beef in gravy, sliced pork, spaghetti, an unidentifiable thin soup (vegetable broth?), dolmas, and an odd sort of crepe with chopped ham inside and something resembling barbecue sauce and parsley on top.  None of this food was good enough to pay money for, but it wasn't bad enough to justify skipping out on a complementary meal and go in search of good food.  The best part was the fresh nectarines on the dessert bar.  They must grow on the island, because we would see them on the dessert bar every night.

You could say that this buffet was the Greek answer to college cafeteria vittles.  Which, if we continue the comparison, makes the tzatziki sauce the equivalent of the cereal bar, or soft-serve machine.  It may not fill you up, but it sure helps.

The waiter brought the bill for the bottle of water (1.60 euro) in a little shot glass.  I left a 2 euro coin in the glass, leaving our waiter a 40-cent tip for all of his hard work in transporting that bottle of water to our table.

Once we were back in our room, we collapsed into unconsciousness.  Our travel time from the moment our plane left the ground in Tulsa to the moment we touched down on Rhodes had been 22 hours.  It had been almost 30 hours since we had slept.  

1 comment:

  1. An $11 salad? Rick would die first. Thank God the $11 saved on the salad more than covered the cost of two fizzy waters.