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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Twas the Season

Merry Christmas everyone! I am obviously a little bit late, but if it counts I had the idea for this post before Christmas. This first picture was when we went to Porto, Portugal. We were at Taylor Port Cellars tasting port and having a tour. This was at the beginning of December, so it was sort of a kick off to the season.

This picture is at the Munchen Christmas market. I think no matter how big every single town in Germany has a Christmas market with lots of food, gluhwein (hot spiced wine), and christmasy items. The one in Garmisch was very small, but we went about half a dozen times. They had great gluhwein that they poor amaretto in over a sugar cube and light on fire. I had the same thing at some other markets as well.

The Munchen market was HUGE and they had this HUGE thing set up. I don't know what it is called but many people have the smaller version as a decoration on a table or something at Christmas in their homes. I know Barb has one, but it is no where near as big as this one. :)

We also went to the Christmas market in Nuremburg for the day. But unfortunately I was feeling really sick that day so it wasn't nearly as enjoyable as I'd hoped. I'd heard so much hype about that one specifically because it is so big and I'd been looking forward to going since we arrived in January. Although even though I felt awful I am still glad that we went.

We had dinner at a restaurant in town with any of the housekeeping department that wanted to come as a Christmas party (not paid for by the hotel... phooey). But it was still a nice time to get together outside of work with most of the Americans and a fair number of LNs. This is everyone who was there. It is going to be very hard to say good bye to all of these wonderful people that we have grown to love over the course of this year.

This is a billboard at the train station. However this picture is on ever piece of paper that has anything to do with skiing in Garmisch. And I even saw the picture in a magazine on an airplane. Do we look a like? I think we do and it isn't me. It continues to freak me out. Although the bigger the picture you can see that this woman's two front teeth come to a point in the center and mine are flat.... other then that I would have thought they found a picture of me and photo shopped it. I've thought about setting up a booth to sign autographs while the ski championships are going on. :)

So we did our best to partake in Christmas festivities. Although it just wasn't the same as being home. I really had no idea how much Christmas would suck being away from home since this was my first time EVER not being at my house on Christmas morning and seeing everyone else in my extended family around the holidays, something I always look forward to. So Christmas itself was a little depressing being at work on both Christmas eve and Christmas day just as if it was any other day. And in fact was even a more stressful day because we had more people requesting their rooms cleaned with the "please prepare room" card then we've ever had. No thought from the guests that it was Christmas for the housekeepers too and we may want to get out of work as fast as possible. Oh and Christmas was my friend Reneé's birthday, so I got up really early to make her crepes (her favorite) before work, but she was afraid I'd forget and not wake up, so she left on the shuttle and wasn't in her room when I went in with the crepes. We took them to her at work and she still loved them.

I guess I'm ending this post a bit negatively. I really did love the Christmas markets, especially the one in Garmisch because it was just so small and intimate and people would gather nightly after work for an entire month approaching Christmas. But if I knew how I'd feel being over here on Christmas I may have thought about scheduling a trip home. That being said I intend to be on US soil next December 25th.

And now it is too late to wish you all a Merry Christmas, but Ryan and I both do hope you all had nice Christmas seasons and that 2011 has thus far been a great year!

I ❤ Berlin

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ukraine pictures

The only place I took pictures was at the top of the city hall tower we climbed. Ryan has all the rest.

This first picture is of the restaurant we ate dinner at before we left on the night train. Easy to pick out from up above with a car on the roof. :)

The second building to the far left you can notice is black. There was a fire a long time ago and this building turned back and never was cleaned or naturally shed the black. I thought it was interesting and I really liked how this building stood out very uniquely.

The snow covered square on the ground below is where they used to execute people. It is interesting they've left the square there.

The ice rink that we had a lot of fun skating on at night.

The beautiful city of Lviv!

Friday, January 28, 2011

For those who have not given up on me

I guess it has been awhile since my last post, eh? Well as most of you know the lack of writing doesn't mean a lack of doing. I have so much to write about I don't even know where to begin. But since I don't have a ton to time I'll stick to our last two days which were spent in the Ukraine.

For Christmas I wanted to plan a surprise trip for Ryan. He has been wanting to go back to Paris where we've only spent less than 24 hours a few summers ago while on our juniors abroad trip. But when I probed him about that he said that since our time is quickly diminishing he'd prefer to see a new country if we had the chance. So I headed to a map to get ideas of where we could go that we haven't been. To find a new country we haven't been to we are having to travel further away, which is starting to require more flying. I was very excited to find a pretty cheap flight to the Ukraine that fit our Wednesday and Thursday weekend perfectly if we flew into Lviv and out of Kyiv. Why not? We'd heard from someone at a hostel in Budapest months ago about how much they loved the Ukraine and it was somewhere we had not been. So on Christmas day I wrote Ryan a letter and part of it was telling him I had a surprise trip planned for him but if he wanted to know where he had to figure it out. I gave him the latitude and longitude coordinated for Lviv and told him that was where we would fly into and then told him how many degrees we'd move to travel home from. Since I found the coordinates online I didn't think it would be too hard for him to figure out, just more fun than telling him straight where it was. However he kept searching and couldn't find it so finally I said I'd tell him if he was tired of searching. I'm more of a lover of surprises than he is anyway. So then I just told him, but he was excited all the same. And that is how we came to have a trip to Ukraine.

We had requested a half day at work on Tuesday, but ended up being given the whole day off. We flew out of Memmingen, which is called "Munich West Airport." It is actually a totally separate very small airport in the town of Memmingen, which is very separate from Munich (1.5 hours by train separate). But for us driving it takes the same amount of time as going to Munich's airport. Thank goodness we had no surprises at the airport with our luck I'm always nervous these days.

We arrived in Lviv at 5:30. They are an hour ahead of our time. Pulling up to the airport in the plan was interesting because we wondered where the terminal was. As it turns out the "terminal" was the small very old building that looked more like a small train station than an airport. But they let us into the country so we were still feeling good.

I had arranged for us to couchsurf here and had directions from our host how to get to his apartment. The bus was easy to catch outside the terminal and a very nice man who had been on our flight asked the driver in Ukrainian to signal to us so we'd know when to get off since the majority of people don't speak English. As it turned out with my instructions from our host I could have figured it out anyway. And we easily found the apartment which we were thankful was very warm in contrast to the below freezing temperatures outside.

Our host, Andriy, was very nice but also fairly quiet. He fixed us tea and then disappeared for a little while. I think he was trying to fix his fridge which he said had just stopped working. But eventually he came back to the living room to chat. We had brought him a postcard of Garmisch and some small euro coins both of which he collects from his surfers. We chatted about traveling, couch surfing, and where we were from. Then I spotted an accordian on the floor and discovered it was his from his childhood and when he was at his grandmother's over new years in the Carpathian mountains he'd found it and brought it home. He let both Ryan and I hold it and try to play. I've always thought it looked very difficult having to play different buttons with each hand while pushing and pulling the instrument. Well my assumptions proved correct. Ryan made it sound much better than I did and Andriy was very impressive with what he can still remember. It was very fun though and something I hope I never forget.

Andriy asked if we wanted to rest or what we'd like to do. We asked if there were any good restaurants near by. First he recommended the one almost on the door step of his building, but then asked if we'd want to go to a party his roommate had invited him to. We thought what he meant was it was friends getting together at a restaurant for dinner. We thought it sounded nice and he'd said his roommate was from Pennsylvania. Andriy called Michael to make sure we could still come and then we headed to catch a bus downtown.

I should explain the buses. I loved them, but some locals I guess get tired of them. If you want it to stop you have to put your arm out. Then to climb in and sit if yoru lucky, but most likely stand in the aisle which gets very over crowded. Then you put down money on the carpet next to the driver (it is raised up not on the ground) or you pass it up to people in front of you. The bus cost 1.75 UAH. One US dollar is equal to 7.98 UAH, so the bus is so cheap. Even for our half hour-plus ride from the airport. I guess we weren't there long enough to get tired of it but I really did enjoy the experience. Oh and if you were sitting in the seat next to the driver or standing near the place people put money you are expected to give change. On one ride I was in that front seat and he sort of motioned for me to pick out change but I didn't know what coins where what so I waited for him to hand me the change and then pass it back.

When we arrived at the "party" it turned out to be "English club" at the youth center Michael works at. He is a missionary for the Free Methodist church, so we more or less arrived at a college youth group where everyone speaks English to practice. So we felt safe, comfortable, and really right at home. The night's theme was "Roll It." They were making tex mex burritos because another leader, Shannon, is from Texas. Some dessert rolls and sushi. Then they played some games and watched videos on you tube having to do with rolling something that were all funny. It was a very fun night and everyone was really nice. So nice in fact that a young woman named Olia came up and started talking to us and offered to be our free tour guide the next day. She said she loved showing people around and would meet us at the apartment at 10 the next morning. We couldn't believe her generosity.

After "Roll It" Andriy asked if we wanted to go hear some music. We said that sounded great. We wandered to one of the only places that seemed to be open. I'm thinking Lviv does not have a hopping night life. Downstairs in the building was a cool exhibit with drawings a man has done on drafting paper or even scrap paper of intricate towns. Everything was really tiny and there was so much detail, but it was all just sketches. We didn't ever understand why he did this or why it was being displayed but it was cool all the same.

Then we went upstairs to a room very full of smoke and two musicians at the front. We realized how lucky we are Bavaria passed the same law we are now accustomed to at home of no smoking inside public spaces. What I'd say was going on here was a coffee house. People were packed around table drinking tea, coffee, and beer while these people performed and then after awhile more people went up to join and then even more people would come up with instruments and they all just jammed. Obviously all very unplanned and very cool. I loved it.

We weren't sure what to do when Andriy went to the back of the room. Ryan looked around to find him and he sort of waved in our direction a "here I am." But we didn't know if he wanted to go or was sitting with friends. Eventually he did come up and ask if we wanted to go and we said yes and we headed out. On the way out he asked if I wanted to smoke marijuana and I said, "no thank you." Then outside he asked if we smoked and we told him no. He seemed surprised, but he didn't try to make us smoke and didn't even smoke himself so I guess it was nice of him to offer?

We took the bus back to his apartment. It was sooo cold waiting for the bus on the street, which made it feel like an eternity before the right bus pulled up. Back at the apartment Andriy asked if we had a nice time and we said that we had a very nice time. Then I returned the questions which I received the answer, "I guess so. I wouldn't have gone out otherwise. I would have fixed the fridge." So we weren't sure if he was pleased or not to go out, but he had been the one to offer. He was just really quiet and we couldn't read him at all. But he excused himself to go look at the fridge more. I'm not sure what he was looking to fix since the repair man was scheduled to come the following day. And we were tired so we got ready for bed, I read a little bit, and then we were quickly asleep.

We woke up the next morning, got ready, and then just sat there waiting for Olia to arrive. I think Andriy was in the kitchen the whole time we were up, so we didn't really interact with him in the morning. When Olia got there at 10 we discovered Michael would be joining us, which was nice. We also met Greg downtown. Greg, did I mention already, is an American who just arrived in Lviv a week ago to work with Michael's organization for 4 months. So we thanked Andriy for his hospitality and headed out for the day.

Olia was an excellent guide. And I just can't get over how nice it was of her to offer to show us around. We started at the opera house. We learned that a very long time ago there was a river running through the city, but that it was later diverted underground where it remains today. A pity really because it would add so much to the city to have a river running through it today. We also learned that the man would designed and build the opera house committed suicide when he discovered a small crack in the building. He was afraid his work would come crashing down and couldn't stand the thought of such an event. To bad he took to such drastic measures because the opera house is still standing today centuries later. We learned a bit about the various occupations of the Ukraine. Olia's grandmother speaks German from the Austo-Hungarian occupation, Polish from the Polish occupation, Russian from the Soviet occupation, and Ukrainian. There is statue in the city center of Poland's most famous author that the Polish people erected in recent times. Olia said you always know the people standing near it must be Polish and that there still is a large population of Polls in Lviv. Also the Polls still seem to think the Ukraine belongs to them.

It was also interesting talking to Olia about the difference between the west of her country where Lviv is and the east. Olia believes that the west is the true Ukraine. The people in the west speak Ukrainian, celebrate Ukrainian traditions (dancing, holiday celebrations, singing, eating, etc) and have the utmost pride for their country. The east is quite contrary. They speak Russian and in fact many people don't even know how to speak Ukrainian if spoken to by someone in the west. Michael's group has had to find a translator when speaking to people from very far east in the Ukraine. People in the east have no idea how to celebrate a traditional Ukrainian Christmas or Easter holiday. And many people in the east would prefer to be a part of Russia and have no patriotism for the Ukraine. Of course Olia has some bias having been born and raised in Lviv, but she made very convincing points as to why Lviv is a true representation of the Ukraine. And both Ryan and I were very happy with our choice to spend our time in Lviv after hearing Olia's point of view.

After touring around for awhile Michael was hungry and it was approaching the time he'd have to leave us, so we flipped a coin to decide between the restaurant Olia wanted to the one Michael wanted. Olia won the coin flip and we were pleased with where it led us. There was an open door from a main square that led us down a corridor to another wooden door that was closed. Olia knocked on the door and then exchanged some password phrases with the man who opened the door who was dressed in uniform holding a gun. When he let us all file into the building he got a canteen out of a cupboard with a small tin shot glass. Then he filled it with a Ukrainian honey vodka for each of us to drink before we headed down the stairs to his left. The vodka was delicious. Down the stairs we were in a basement room, which opened into another room, and another, and another. Michael informed us, once we'd selected a table, that if you find open and unoccupied cellars or attics you can just take it and pay the fine. Sometimes the fine could be $100 or maybe $1,000 but once you pay it the space is yours forever. This restaurant has done just this and recently took over yet another adjoining open cellar to expand. The whole space was originally a hiding place for young men who were out to fight the soviet forces. It is all still decorated accordingly. Olia recommended the Borsch, which is a Ukrainian soup. However it had meat in it so I had a mushroom soup instead. Ryan and I also shared an order or dumplings stuffed with potatoes that we tasty. And from Olia's suggestion I had a glass of juice made from dried fruit she said. It was the most peculiar flavor. It tasted smoked. Not bad, but not something I'd look for again.

After our nice meal Michael had to head to work and Greg headed off to where he is living. Olia showed us just a little bit more. She made sure to point out the way to get to the High Castle because she had wanted to take us there for a good view of the city but we didn't have time before she had to go tutor some little girls in English. And then she took us to buy our train tickets. Thank goodness she did because I am not sure we'd have been able to do so on our own without speaking Ukrainian. After waiting for some temporary computer problems to be fixed and waiting in line for awhile we had out tickets for departing Lviv at 9:49pm and arriving in Kyiv at 7:00 the following morning. Perfect.

We had to say goodbye to Olia but offered out profuse thanks before we did and had her write her full name so we could become friends on facebook. What did we do before social networking? We probably would have had to exchange actual addresses. Now that is a crazy thought, eh? :)

At this point Ryan had to use the bathroom and we were both cold so we headed to a coffee shop. Olia had said Lviv is known for their great coffee shops. The one we chose was very nice. Ryan had a coffee and I had a delicious roobious tea infused with grapefruit. Mmmmmmmm. It was the perfect way to warm up and decide our plan for the rest of the day.

After that we headed to the City Hall to climb their tower for a view of the city. We wanted to make sure we did this in day light. When we made it to the top it was cold but thankfully not windy or I'd be scared the chill would be unbearable. It was a great way to see the city from high and smack in the center. After many pictures and having a look from each side of the square tower we headed down.

We stopped at the tourist information office to get directions to the train station on the tram for later that night and pick up a map of the city to use the rest of the day.

Then we headed up to the High Castle. Today there is no castle, but a large hill that provides a nice view of the whole city and beyond. When we got to the top it was really nice with blue sky above us. Outside the city limits it was very open snow covered land which we had had a glimpse of flying in. The whole area is very flat except for the hill we stood on. We didn't stay up there long before heading down into town again.

We stopped at several booths in town (not all in a row but throughout the day) that were selling Ukrainian donuts. Olia and Michael had told us this was a special Christmas treat and we should try them if we saw them. Christmas in the Ukraine starts on the 24th and goes till the 14th of January. They follow the new and old calendars and the old calendar has New Years falling on the 14th, so they literally celebrate for nearly a month. Sounds awesome to me. Michael said he hadn't had a donut the whole time he'd been living in Lviv, about 10 months, and then had at least 30 or more in the last month. He said it isn't uncommon or unrealistic that people gain 20 pounds in this time either. Yikes!

When we'd been on top of the city hall tower we'd seen a car on the top of a building. I had remembered that the restaurant Michael had wanted us to go was in a building with a car on the roof. I figured they must be one and the same and suggested to Ryan we find it and have dinner there. We walked all around the area it must be in, but when you are on the ground it is much harder to spot a car on the roof than when you are on a tower. So eventually we had to go to a tourist office and ask for directions. This restaurant is one of 9 in the city owned by a single man and he owned the one we'd been to earlier in the day as well. They all have some sort of significance to the city. And I'm guessing none have great signage because this one we had to walk in an unmarked door and up some stairs which led to the restaurant. The restaurant was about 4 level high with a couple rooms with tables on each level and each decorated with a different theme pertaining to the city. The room we sat in had lion's legs and feet coming out of the ceiling as if the animal had stepped through from the floor above. The city Lviv was named after the founder's son who's name was Lion or what translates to it and sounds like Lviv or something (I can't ever remember the specifics). And in nice weather you can sit on the room and there is even a metal spiral staircase that leads to the car perched on the very top of the roof. Olia said we were lucky to get such nice weather, but it was still super cold all day long and by this time it had even started to sprinkle snow on and off.

We shared a baked fish and salad for dinner. Ryan had a Ukrainian beer, which was fine not great. I had a glass of semi sweet Ukrainian red wine that tasted like very sweet dark purple grape juice. Ryan thought it tasted like communion juice. Well it was bad for wine but not bad for juice. And we shared a baked pear with a honey ginger glaze for dessert.

After dinner we went ICE SKATING! It was so much fun. Oh and so cheap like everything. I mentioned the bus. But our train tickets for an overnight train in the upper class were about $30 for both of us. And ice skating was about $4 with skates for an hour in the town square. We'd seen the rink set up the night before and walked by several times during the day and I had really wanted to go. I've always wanted to go ice skating in the center of a city and when I was in NYC it was close to $30 for an hour and I wasn't willing to pay that. It was very very fun skating with Ryan to American music under the night sky in the Ukraine. I'll never forget it. And we have pictures to make sure I don't.

When our hour was up we had to run back to get a shot glass at the only open shop in town that was attached to the restaurant we'd eaten at. We didn't love the shot glass, but we get one everywhere we go and since it was the only open shop it would have to do. And then we stopped into a cafe to buy a couple slices of really tempting cakes to take for our train ride. Then we walked to where we had to catch our tram.

Aboard the tram I didn't know how much it cost for a ticket and there was a little window to slip the money to the driver. I put in 3 UAH and Ryan held up 2 fingers. We received 3 tickets though so I guess they were on 1 each. Oh well we paid 10 cents to much in USD. I tried to give someone the extra and she just looked at me like I was really odd. Oh well, I tried to be nice.

Thank goodness the tram didn't pull away when we got off at the train station because half way from the tram to the station Ryan realized his gloves where still on the tram and I would have hated if he lost them. But when he ran to get them a nice man already had them in his hand to give to Ryan.

We had about 20 minutes to wait for our train to arrive. When it did we handed the woman our tickets at the door to car 9, which she kept and indicated with her fingers that our beds were in cabin 5. I don't know what it would have been like to sleep in the cheaper area and I don't even know how much those would have cost, but I felt like we were riding in luxury for super cheap as it was. There were four beds in our cabin. We had the top two. There was a pad for us to roll out on our bed with a pillow. Then we each had a package of clean sheets, pillow case, and small towel, and a thick blanket on a shelf. I was just so impressed. And the woman we'd given our tickets to came around if anyone wanted to purchase coffee or tea before bed. Seriously it was way nicer than I expected. We weren't sure if they announce when we needed to get off so unfortunately neither of us slept perfectly because we kept automatically waking up worrying about the time. However at about 6:30 a man came around opening the cabins making sure everyone was up and asking us to take our bedding apart and then gave us our tickets back. So if we are ever taking a night train in the Ukraine again we'll know they do wake you up. Although the beds were also pretty short especially for Ryan so it wasn't the type of situation we'd want to do ever night of our lives, just to give you an idea.

When we got off our train and walked out of the station we realized that without Olia as our translator and tour guide we were a little lost now. So after pacing back and forth for 10 minutes around the front of the station we went back inside to ask how to get to the center of town. She pointed in the way of the metro. Although with our map in our travel book we were trying to find a cafe open 24 hours and near the bus stop for the airport. We we started walking. We walked and walked and walked. Then we realized we walked too far. Then we finally decided that it probably wasn't there anymore since the book we had is now 11 years old. Ooops!

So we just started walking. I thought we were walking toward the center of town, but I don't think we were. But eventually we found a place for breakfast and it turned out to be really good, so bonus I guess. And the spoke enough English to tell us to go back to the train station to find a bus to the airport.

After eating it was time for us to head for a bus. As we approached the train station we saw on a street below the station there was a large market. Well I'm a market fiend so I said we had enough time to walk through. They had everything from clothes, to food, to laundry detergent in many different booths. Obviously where locals would come to stock up.

Oh I just remembered something else Olia told us. She said that although people in the Ukraine are very poor they spend a lot of money on their clothes so it doesn't look like they are as poor as they are. She said every woman has a fur coat and let me tell you I believe her because I've never seen so much fur in my life. And so many people wore those round fur hats that you see in photos and on movies that just sit on top of a head and oddly don't cover your ears. Do you know what I'm talking about? Well I was excited to see lots of people wearing them. People make around around.... well I forget, but it wasn't much and at least half or more go towards their rent. Michael pays the equivalent of $100 a month for his room in his apartment and said it only costs that much because they have internet in the apartment. Just to give you an idea of what it is like in this country that obviously is still trying to turn around from a difficult past.

Okay so back to getting our bus. We left the market and walked to where the buses were. I had written airport Borysil in the Cyrillic alphabet and showed it to a woman waiting for the bus. She didn't speak English but conferred with some other women and they pointed us into the train station and up the stairs and straight ahead. Just to be sure we had the right instruction we went to the info desk in the train station adn again we were pointed to the same place. We headed up the stairs and straight ahead and eventually discovered the train station had an entrance on each side. We exited the building and headed to a bus. We showed our piece of paper I'd written on and were pointed forward. We got on that bus and showed our paper and were pointed one more bus forward which was a charter bus, but finally it was the correct bus. It cost 25 UAH each for the 40km ride to the airport. That is about $3 so although it was more expensive that Lviv it was still super cheap.

Driving away from Kyiv we discussed and were again very glad we spent out time in Lviv. Kyiv was a very big city. It would have been cool to see the Caves Monastery (as the name indicates it is a monastery built in caves) and St. Sophia's Cathedral which is supposed to be really incredible. However overall Lviv had so much character and felt much more comfortable that the really huge city Kyiv is.

At the airport we headed inside to check in. Unfortunately we weren't in the right terminal and due to time we ran to the other terminal about 400m away. With backpacks and boots it was quite a work out. But we made it and there were still plenty of people checking in so we were in no way late. Phew... it felt good to know everything went so well. We made it to Lviv, enjoyed our time, successfully made it to Kyiv on a night train and now were in the airport for our flight home. Yay! And had just enough money left to share a tea before we boarded the plane.

We are so glad we went to the Ukraine and if our travels someday in life take us back to Eastern Europe it would be great to visit again. Lviv is obviously very up and coming. They are hosting a soccer tournament in 2012 and already starting to transform the city for the event. I think it would be great to see how things change and develop.

So back in Germany...

Before heading home we went into Memmingen, the town the airport is in, to get some lunch. I'd read in the magazine on the airplane that Memmingen has a great walled old town that wasn't at all destroyed in the war. I'm so glad we did go into the town because it was super nice and very cute. We found a great restaurant where Ryan had his fav German dish, cheese spatzle, and I had a baked flat bread with lachs on it. It was so so good. I'm sad so many people think Memmingen is just a town with an airport that Ryanair flys out of because it has such a special and historic characterfilled town.

Then it was back to Garmisch. And for some reason I felt much less tired than I normally do when we return from a trip. And it felt like we'd been gone much longer than a weekend. It was a really great trip. And I am glad Ryan enjoyed his Christmas present!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Our last day in Athens

We were up, dressed, and had eaten breakfast ready to check out at 10 this morning. We went to the front desk to pay and store our bags until later. And then she told us how much we owed. I’m starting to think Ryan and I have some sort of curse on us because she was going to charge us 5 euro more than the rate the manager had told us it would be through email. This is the same problem we had the last time we stayed here less than a week ago. AND they told us we had to pay to store our luggage even though there was no charge the last time. After getting nowhere with the woman at the desk we went to their computer and sent an email to the manager as a reply to his email where he had told us what the price would be. And we told him we’d pay when we came back for our bags. This place needs to figure some things out. It was frustrating when this happened the first time but for the second time I thought it was just poor business. We ended up being able to get on Ryan’s email later in the afternoon and received an email back from the manager saying that we were only to pay the price he’d quoted us when we returned for our things. He acknowledged that there were obviously some things he needed to work on with the hotel, but then went into a speech about how much taxes are for businesses in Athens and how he needs every cent he can get in the off season just to make ends meat so they started charging for bag storage. I’m not sure why that information was necessary, but I was glad he stuck by the price he had told us we’d be charged and we didn’t argue with the luggage storage although I still don’t love the business practice of charge more for every little thing. I’d rather just have a set price where we know exactly what we get and the pay it. Don’t make everything a la carte… I’m not ordering at a restaurant for goodness sake.
We didn’t have anything specific planned for our last day. We just set off to enjoy ourselves travel book in hand. We first went across the street with the rest of our tickets from the Acropolis pass we bought at the beginning of the week. With that we got inside the gates at the Temple of Zeus. There wasn’t much more to see from the inside that we hadn’t seen from outside the gates, but we walked around anyway. Then we decided to try the walking tour laid out in the tour book. At the end of the day I realized we’d been to the majority of where it took us on our own, but it was still nice to follow the path it guided us on. We went to a Palace that was used for the headquarters of the Olympics when they were held in Athens and there were military bands playing out front. Then we walked through the Plaka neighborhood. The tour took us up on a hill that had very cute narrow paths leading between houses that were all white. Some had rows of olive oil cans with plants growing out of them. It was very pretty but also smelled like pee so that took away from the ambiance a bit. We wandered through a free museum inside the Old University. It wasn’t really that interesting to us. Then we stopped at a café to have some Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts and plums, well we thought it was plums but turned out to be just one lonely sort of dried sort of not dried plum. But it was good. Next we went inside the Roman Forum, which had been closed the last day we were in Athens. Again, nothing more inside the gates than what we’d seen outside. And the same thing at Haydrian’s library. Although we did get to go in a room and see a headless statue of the goddess Nike. I think it is interesting the Nike is pronounced Neekee and the goddess of victory. I never knew that but I’m sure Jack Bowerman did when he started Nike. But I wonder why they don’t pronounce it the way the Greeks do?
Away from the ancient sites we wandered through the Athens “Flea Market” which felt very little like a flee market and more like people who had normal stores inside garages on a small street. But it was fun to walk through and we found a place with gyros so we each had one as a lunch snack. I thought they were cheap on Santorini, but for these two it was only 3,40 euro so I guess I was wrong since we were paying 5 euro for two on the island.
We made our way back out of the market after we’d seen all there was too see, to the extent we cared to see it anyway. And then continued to follow the directions of the walking tour in the book. We were heading toward Athens cathedral and a little church next to it. On the way we came across another tiny church. We went in all three of the churches, but it was interesting that only one was free of scaffolding and construction. Athens cathedral was the worst with even the floors being completely covered with plywood. After that the walking tour was pretty much finished except that we didn’t start exactly at the beginning so we headed to Syntagma Square to end where we should have began. At the square is the nicest hotel in Athens that was built a long time ago as a mansion for the Queens visit or someone important like that. Then it was turned into a hotel where many other visiting politicians and dignitaries stayed. In the 1940’s the Nazi’s turned the building into their headquarters. I would have loved to see a room in there.
From the square I had decided to take Ryan for a treat I knew he’d enjoy, so I started leading him through the streets while I followed a map to a restaurant recommended in the travel book we had. The restaurant called “Doris” was supposed to have good donuts like the ones we had had the night before and Ryan loves donuts and he loves honey. We found the place without a problem and as with the rest of Europe we sat ourselves at a table. I went to the bathroom and while I was gone the waitress came to set a paper tablecloth and drop off two glasses of water. But when I returned we sat and we sat and we sat with no menus. Then Ryan went to the bathroom and while he was gone the waitress came and said something in Greek and I asked for menus, which she said she would bring. Ryan came back and we sat and sat and sat some more. Then he went to get us menus. We quickly decided what we wanted. Then the waitress nodded toward us to another man working there and they obviously were saying something about us, so they knew we were there. Then another person eating in the restaurant came over to ask if we needed help with the items on the menu. That was nice of her but it was all in English and we understood the dishes, so we thanked her but said no. And then we waited and waited and waited. We were there I think nearly half an hour and then I said we were going to leave. The first page of their menu said that they’d been giving quality service for 2 generations. Well they were slacking today. And there was another restaurant I wanted to get to before we left Athens. So away we went.
In a few minutes after I maneuvered us through some more streets we came to the restaurant I am so thrilled we had our final meal at. The book said it was right on the corner with no sign, but only double doors down into a cellar. The description was spot on. But a good sign from the get go was that the very small place was packed. There wasn’t even a vacant table for us but we were seated a table with another couple. This restaurant had no menu, but we were brought bread and wine right off the bat without blinking an eye. The wine was brought in what looked similar to a tall tin camping mug and our glasses were closer to a shot glass size than a wine glass. Oh and the wine came straight from one of the barrels that lined the wall of the cellar. The couple at our table were delivered food that looked very good and then the waiter called Ryan over to the stove where they showed him our few options. We chose the chick peas…. Good choice….. a salad with tomato, olives, cucumbers, red onion, and a few spicy peppers that were a bit much for Ryan….. another excellent choice…. And then we asked for the fish that we saw on some other table….. such a good choice. This meal tasted and felt like something at a dear friends house that was having a casual dinner party. This tasted like true homemade authentic Greek food and we both couldn’t have been happier at the end of the meal. The fish were small. It seemed like anyone who was fishing in the States for fish would throw anything this size back, but that is what we were having for dinner. They were grilled with skin and bones but were headless, which Ryan appreciated. I don’t know what they rubbed on them, but it was truly exquisite. I could eat this meal over and over again. I can’t get over the setting of this literal hole in the ground, with wine barrels, no menu and full of very Greek people enjoying very Greek food. The tour book called the restaurant a gem and I’d say that is an understatement.
When we left I asked Ryan if he’d like to go back to Doris and order some donuts to go. He said he would so we headed in that direction. Order to go was not a problem. They cooked our donuts right away and we even ordered a rice pudding we eyed in the case as well. As it turned out these donuts weren’t as good as the ones from last night, but we still managed to finish them off. And the rice pudding seemed to disappear pretty fast as well.
Back at the hostel we took care of our bill and collected our bags. Then it was back to Syntagma Square to catch our bus to the airport. That ride took 30 or 40 minutes I think.
We walked up to the desk to check in for our flight and the agent seemed puzzled. I all of a sudden got a not so good feeling. She started asking when we arrived in Europe and then about if we flew from Porto to Frankfurt to Athens. Then she got on the phone and told us we needed to go talk to the Lufthansa counter behind us because our entire round trip flight had been cancelled when we did not show up in Porto. Both Ryan and I were thinking and saying “Are you kidding us?”
So we talked to them and they confirmed that when you don’t show up for the first leg of a journey EVERYTHING else gets cancelled. Even these women agreed they didn’t necessarily think it makes sense. We said that we had called Lufthansa to say we wouldn’t make the Porto flight, but there was nothing in our reservation of that phone call so our only option was to pay 50 euro each for them to reinstate our tickets. Argh!!!!!! Really??????? We realized that these women couldn’t do anything and they even said that it would be up to us to take it up with Lufthansa on our own. So after a long drawn out process of them working on the computer, making some phone calls, and us handing over a credit card we had tickets in our hand for the flight that WE ALREADY PAID TO FLY ON. You can trust me when I say that Lufthansa will definitely be hearing from me. And I also can say that I DO NOT recommend them as a great airline the way that I once did. And feel free to tell your friends.
Now with 100 euro less in our bank account we are back in Germany. Oh but we also weren’t able to sit by each other on the airplane because the whole process took so long and we were probably the last to check in. Each of us had a middle seat in the very last two rows of the plane and I had to sit next to a man who smelled very European… that means he smelled bad.
I can only hope that we will not have anything else happen unexpected. We are currently on the S-bahn from the airport on our way to the Hauptbahnhof and then I just want to get on a train to Garmisch and be home as soon as possible. No more travel, no more customer service issues, no more being taken advantage of and no more depleting our bank accounts on things we don’t feel we should be. Tomorrow we have yet another day off, which at this point I am thanking my boss for. We can recover from the trip, I can get laundry done, and then tomorrow night there is a Winter Kickoff thing on the base that sounds like it could be fun, so we plan to check that out.
I can’t say that the trip was perfect. Obviously we didn’t get off to a great start and it didn’t end particularly well with several bumps along the way. But we made it to Greece. And now we’ve made it back. I saw the Parthenon, a dream come true, and made many other good memories with a good friend by my side the whole time. So I’m still very thankful and feel quite blessed to have had this opportunity.
AND…. Haven’t I done such a great job blogging in the present instead of months in the past? ☺

A long trip to Corinth

We woke up the next morning later than I expected, but then I realized how late we had gone to bed the night before. We got ready, had the free breakfast at the hostel and then headed to find the bus to Corinth. We knew the bus ride was about 1.5 hours, but what we didn’t figure into the equation was that we had to walk to the metro, take the metro to a area of town where we could find a bus, take that bus to the main bus terminal, then take the longer bus ride to the new area of Corinth, and from there take another half hour bus ride to “Old Corinth” where Paul spent time and with the ancient ruins we wanted to see. We left to hostel around 10 and arrived in Old Corinth around 2:30, so much for 1.5 hour trip.
When we walked up to the gate of the ruins and museum we saw that they were only open until 15:00. We of course though that we’d see as much as we could in that half hour but the woman working in the ticket booth informed us we didn’t have enough time. Maybe she saw our disappointment because she then said that we could walk over to the temple ruins for 10 minutes and then come back. Most of the ruins are more ruble than anything else. The temple we walked over to has several columns standing so that is the most intact structure on the grounds. Even with our 10 minute allotment I felt like we saw what there was to see outside of the museum which also sounded sparse.
So it was 2:30 and our bus back to New Corinth didn’t come until 5:30. We headed into the tiny town to see how we could kill several hours. I realized we have become very good at simply killing time. We looked at some menus of restaurants. We wandered into a gift store. And then we saw a many pull up with a small white pick-up truck with the bed full of freshly picked apples. I thought it would be nice to select a few so we chose 2 of each of his 2 varieties. When we tried to pay him he said he would not accept anything for only this small amount that he only charged 5 euro for a whole bag of apples. I thought that was so nice of him.
Then we decided to eat. The restaurant we went into gave us a menu but when we tried to order things off it the items we requested they did not have. So then he pointed specifically to what they did have and we ordered Spanikopita and grape leaves stuffed with rice. Both of them were fine, but other than the fact the were warm I didn’t think the stuffed grapes leaves were any better than the canned ones we’d been eating. After we finished our food the waiter gave us a plate piled with mandarin oranges. We saw on our many bus rides lots of citrus fruit trees and I’m assuming the restaurant grew them because they were giving the few tables of customers in there a plate full of them. You know Ryan and I, we hate to be rude, so we finished off every last one of those suckers. ☺ And then since we wanted to kill some more time still we ordered Greek yogurt with honey since the Greek yogurt at the winery had been so good. And this did not disappoint. They even threw a few pomegranate seeds on top. I am wondering if you can get this yogurt in the States because it is so good. Of course it does not follow my no animal product diet, but we all know I fudge a little when it comes to dessert.
Eventually we paid our bill (which was way more than I expected or thought worth the quality of food or service) but when we left it was nice that he dumped another pile of oranges on our table for us to take with us saying that he had more than he knew what to do with.
From the restaurant we walked up to a church that we didn’t know anything about, but figured it was in Corinth so we’d snap a photo and walk around the building. On a pillar out front they had verses from 1 Corinthians about faith, hope, and love, but the greatest is love. I do think the style of the church buildings in Greece is very beautiful and definitely different than the enormous cathedrals we have seen throughout most of our travels.
From there we headed back to the bus stop to wait for the bus. While we waited we read together from 2 Corinthians. We’d started and finished 1 Corinthians already. We just thought it was only appropriate to spend time in God’s word in a place St. Paul obviously had a place in his heart for since he spent so much time here and wrote some very powerful letters to. It is interesting though that in his letters he was calling out the Corinthians on their sexual immorality. There was a large hill behind the town that you could hike up but we one did not have time for and two just didn’t feel up to the climb. But at the top beyond an excellent view was the Temple of Aphrodite (the goddess of love) and this is where the Corinthians would go to for the prostitutes that lived in the temple. And then while we were sitting at our meal in the restaurant the waiter and his uncle I think sat down to have dinner with a couple of Asian tourists that came in after us and he started saying that he was going to marry one of them and she was saying no and he started talking about how they had to eat this big meal to have strength for that night… Ryan and I were sort of just wide eyed and didn’t quite know what to say to all that. But the thought crossed through my mind how much this attitude sounded like the Corinthians of so many, many years previous that Paul was preaching to.
Our bus came, but it did not take us back to the New Corinth bus station it just stopped in the center of town. But thankful it wasn’t too far of a walk and our bus driver gave us good instructions on how to get to the station. Right on the corner of where he dropped us though was a stand with a woman making Greek donuts. I’ve had these before at the Greek fest in Bellingham and when one of our Greek co-workers in Housekeeping made them. They are shaped like balls and then they smother them with honey and cinnamon. Oh they are soooooo good. ☺ So of course we stopped and bought some for strength to get us back to the station. We arrived without incident at the bus station and had 20 minutes to wait for the next bus to Athens which passed quickly. And then 1.5 hours back to the city.
We were very glad when the bus stopped in the city right by a metro that we were able to hop off at. I did not want to go all the way back to the terminal to take another bus and then the metro. So it didn’t take much longer to get back to the hostel. Ryan and I are just not night people. We got to our room and were done for the night. I realized I smelled bad because I forgot deodorant (not sure why I’m including that but I just did so lucky readers) so I went to take a shower. Then I just sat in my bed working on blogging and I’m not even sure what Ryan was doing….. maybe he fell asleep even before I put my computer down. But we were both sound asleep pretty early. Even though it turned into being more traveling than we thought it would be we were both glad that we went to Corinth. There is just something special about being in the places that we have read about in our Bibles for such a long time. Sometimes it helps the words on the page come to life just a little bit more.

Back to Athens

Around midnight we pulled up to the Piraeus port in Athens. We headed out of the boat with the two girls we were planning to share a taxi with. There was a procession of people all heading for taxis and they had a roped off area for a line to wait as the numerous cabs took turns pulling up and taking the first group in line. We were quickly in a cab and on the road. It didn’t take long however to realize our cab driver spoke NO English and had no idea where we wanted him to take us. We showed him the address, we told him it was across from Haydrian’s Gate, and then we just “Acropolis” and yet nothing seemed to be registering. He pulled off to the side, I have no idea why, and another cab pulled up and tried to translate but he still didn’t seem to get it. We continued on and he got on his cell phone, which he handed to me. Whoever was on the other end spoke great English and I said again the address, the gate, or the Acropolis. Then I gave the phone back. The driver still seemed confused. We pulled over one more time and again none of us knew why and there was no hope of communicating with the driver. Ryan and I looked at the meter and it was getting really high. It hadn’t occurred to me that after midnight the fare went up significantly. And I was not happy that each time we pulled over he was not shutting the meter off. Later Ryan read in a tour book that the majority of people come away from Athens with a story of feeling taken advantage of by a taxi driver specifically when picked up at the Port. Finally things started to look familiar and we were heading past where we wanted out and on to the Acropolis. So we started saying “stop, stop, stop” until he got the message and literally stopped the cab in the middle of the road. We handed him the money that the meter reader showed we owed and he started demanding more. All we could gather was that it was because he helped us with our bags, but by help I mean he put them in the trunk and took them out of the trunk and wasn’t even letting us do it ourselves. So eventually after trying to argue we just walked away because we already paid nearly 3 times as much as when Ryan and I took a cab to the Port a few nights before. I hate being taken advantage of!
So we led the girls to our hostel and as we assumed there was room for them as well. We said goodnight to them, found our room, and were quickly asleep.