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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.

Santorini

Our boat pulled into Santorini around 9 in the morning. We got off and had to plan, no place to stay, only the plan to go to an internet café. There were a couple people who talked to us when we got off trying to get us to come stay at their places, but we had our minds set on checking things online and I’d previously seen a place that was really really really cheap. So we went to the café and each had the most expensive but worst Greek coffee we’ve ever had and got on the computer. An hour later we had no more of a plan and our internet we’d paid for was done. We left the café to see that the port was deserted. Apparently people come when the boat comes and leaves when the boat leaves. We wandered back to the gate and there were a couple men there we asked about a bus. They said the bus would come at 3pm when the next ferry arrived. Well if we’d have been thinking we would have taken the bus when our ferry arrived just to get us up to a town. He was nice enough though to call the place we’d decided to stay on his cell phone to come pick us up. The place we decided on was the woman who’d been there that morning and a place Ryan had thought looked good online, but the main thing was that they offered to pick us up for free at the port.
In 10 minutes they were there picking us up and in the same amount of time we were being showed to our room. The “Villa” as it was called was a nice place but you could feel the off season with how quiet everything was. Their pool was still full here so at least we didn’t have an empty pool as an eye sore. Our room accommodated four but we remained the only 2 in it the whole time we were there. We had a bathroom attached to the room, a fridge, and a balcony. It was a nice place with a partial view of the water and it was clean, so I’m not complaining.
After relaxing awhile in the room and using the wireless Internet we were thankful to have we started walking in the direction they told us was the town. We were probably about a 20 minute walk from the town of Fira the capital of the island. We walked around for a long time past many hotels that looked closed up for the winter months completely. The island really did feel deserted.
We’d been walking for awhile when we saw a moped and four-wheeler rental shop that was open. So we stopped to ask about prices. We told them we’d think about it but about 5 minutes further down the road we decided if we were going to rent on, and we wanted to, we might as well do it then because they said we could have the remainder of that day free. So we headed back and rented a moped to be our form of transportation. I’m so glad we did because we were able to see every part of the island and on our own time schedule. As soon as we signed the rental agreement we took a spin before it got dark. Then we stopped at the grocery on the road right above our Villa to get things for dinner. We have done a very good job of saving money where we can by not eating out every meal… or really hardly eating out at all. We purchased enough food to satisfy several dinners and breakfasts.
Back at the Villa we opened up our cans of food for dinner. We had fava beans in a red sauce and tuna. When I chose the tuna at the store I thought it was just a can of tuna with a serving suggestion picture on the table, but as it turned out the picture was actually what was in the can. It was some sort of sauce with tuna, green olives, mushrooms, and capers. Not bad, but very interesting and a surprise when I opened the can. And we had some bread we’d bought at the grocery the day before.
The rest of the night was just spent in the room each of us on our computers (I was posting lots of new things on my blog) and then we watched a movie before we tucked ourselves in for bed.
The next morning was more like afternoon by the time we left. I feel like we’d quickly adjusted to “island time” where everything is much more relaxed and you don’t really do much. We set off on our awesome red moped to see the island. Santorini is known for their wine and us being us we knew this meant we’d need to find some to try. Along the road we came to a winery that was under a bakery. As we parked an older woman came down to the door and ushered us in behind her. There were barrels all around us and we asked if they did wine tasting. She didn’t speak any English but she understood what we wanted enough to pour a taste of wine into a tiny little wine glass straight out of a barrel. This was a Vinsanto, a dessert wine that is the most famous in Santorini. Then she let us taste a white, also straight out of the barrel. We liked both, so we got a bottle of both. She filled them right in front of us and corked them herself. We were very excited with our purchase and off we went again on the moped.
We headed to the each side of the island where there is supposed to be the best beaches. We found the 7km long beach that has very dark almost black sand. We walked along it for a bit taking pictures and then drove on to find the red beach. We stopped at a bakery on the way to get some spanikopita and baklava to eat at the beach for lunch.
We arrived at the parking area for the red beach and had to walk on a rocky path not to far and we were able to see the red beach beneath us. The rock and the sand were very red. It was beautiful. I don’t know exactly why it is so red. The whole island was a result of a volcano and of course there is science and history to go along with all of it but I haven’t taken the time to read about it, so feel free to google away if you feel so inclined. We didn’t climb down to the beach we just sat up on the rocks we were at to enjoy our food and the view over the water.
Then back to the bike. We were off to find Lover’s Beach which was on the map next to red beach. But the roads here are not simple. And the terrain is no simple either, so to get to a beach right next to the one you are at it means you have to get back to the main road and then take one turn and then another. To get to this beach we ended up on a pretty long dirty road. When a truck drove by us on the moped the driver was laughing. But it was worth it when we got there. The beach was all by itself. There wasn’t anyone else there. The only building was a very closed up restaurant and bar. It was perfect to just walk along the sand and splash in the water washing onto shore and look back at the only two sets of footprints being out own. We even decided to get in the water since we wore our bathing suits just in case. I could have endured it longer, but Ryan had “certain areas” telling him the water was too cold. So we got out pretty fast.
After we dried off and walked back to the moped we zipped back up the dirt road and headed off to try and find white beach. The island has black, white, and red beaches… not bad for such a small island. We did not find white beach though. We ended up on the southern most tip of the island where there is a lighthouse. We got off the bike and walked out on the rocks there a bit, but then decided to head back for the night before it was too dark and because we were both dressed for summer even though it is still winter in Greece and the nights get pretty chilly.
This night was just like the night before. We had the same dinner of canned goods except we added a can of green beans in a sauce. :) We really kicked it up a notch. We watched another movie and spent yet more hours on the Internet until eventually we were again ready to get some rest for another day.
This trip I think has been the most low key we’ve ever had, at least for this amount of time. I think it is good for me to have so much down town every once in awhile, but it has been sort of hard to get used to. I keep feeling like we should be doing more or seeing more, but if I didn’t have some time to rest I might eventually combust. I’ve been feeling pretty tired lately with our travels and I think I’ve also been on a bit of a short string sometimes, so I hope when we do go home to Germany that I feel somewhat recovered from the constant go-go-go. Although, I’ll probably be back to that mentality in no time.
The next morning we had another delicious “homemade” breakfast of baby pears, plums, bread with nutella, orange juice, and green tea. I think we were doing a good job with our meals even though we didn’t have a kitchen only a fridge, sink, and an electric kettle.
When we set out for the day we wanted to find a few more wineries today. We’d found another the day before but they charged A LOT to taste their wines, so we opted away from that. Today the first spot we came to was a winery with wine museum. We paid the small entrance fee and walked through the museum with our audio guides. It was sort of interesting although not the best exhibit I’ve ever been too. The most unique thing about wines here is the way the vines are grown. Instead of standing up and having the vines wrapped around wires and string the trunk of the vine as it grows out of the ground is wrapped and woven into a basket. It is a circle on the ground and actually looks like a nest at this time of year when there are no leaves. They do this because of the strong winds so that the fruit stays protected. They make sure the grapes grow to the inside of the nest so that the wind can’t harm them. It definitely changed the appearance of the vineyard, which are also much smaller than you ever seen at home.
At the end of the exhibit we got to try three wines. We liked them but they were pretty expensive and so we didn’t buy any.
Not too far down the road we came to another winery. This one had a tasting fee so we shared a tasting of 4 wines. Our favorite was definitely their Vinsanto dessert wine which was served to us with a plate spread with thick Greek yogurt (the consistency of marscapone) with sweet grapes (grapes in some sauce). That treat was so good I could have eaten it all day. And it went so perfectly with the wine. I loved it! But we really got a deal the day before on our vinsanto straight out of the barrel because we paid half the price for a normal sized wine bottle and all these other wineries we stopped at were selling theirs in the normal for dessert wine, but smaller bottle. We left this winery empty handed as well.
We stopped at one more winery. We walked in to more of an office looking room than a tasting room, but when we asked if they did wine tasting she said to make ourselves comfortable. They obviously don’t have many people stopping by because she was opening new bottles to pour for us. I’d say that she was the most knowledgable and informative person who had poured for us so far. I really enjoyed their white wines. They only had one red and it was weak, but Santorini is not known for their red wines which she even awknowledged. And they had two Vinsantos. The way Vinsanto is made is by sun drying the grapes usually for about 2 weeks after they are harvested. And then from those they makes this delicious wine, which is usually in the barrel for at least 10 years. This winery had a lighter and darker version. The lighter one the grapes were only dried for about a week opposed to the darker for 2 weeks. The lighter was also not barreled for 10 years, but only 5 I think the vintage was 2003. The darker is in the barrel for 17 years and then in the bottle for 3 years before it is ready. The vintage we drank of that was 1989. So that was crazy to think the grapes that were grown to make this wine grown when I was 2 years old and now at 23 I was drinking it. And I think that is the oldest wine I have ever tasted. Unfortunately for us the skinny bottle of this nectar of the gods was 45 euro so we didn’t take one home with us. We did however select two of our favorite white wines we tried here and will take those back to Germany with us along with the bottle of Vinsanto we’d purchased straight from the barrel. The white wine straight from the barrel however we drank over the course of our time on the Island with our delicious canned food meals.
After that winery we decided we were done with wine tasting and we motored back to the Villa to put on some warmer clothes since the day was a bit chilly and we were planning to be out till sunset. After a little time in our room we jumped back on the moped and headed to the northern most town on the island, Oia. This is the town where Sisterhood of the traveling pants was filmed and also the town known for the best sunset vantage point on the island. When we reached the end of the road and parked we were amazed at how different this town felt from everywhere else. It was definitely more of what we had expected to find with many small “roads” that were more just alleyways for pedestrians only. All the buildings were white and many of them had fantastic views over the water. We meandered to the end of the town until we were facing the sun head on. There were other tourists there too waiting for God to paint his nightly masterpiece, but I can’t even imagine how crazy it must be during the high season with swarms of tourists about. And whe the cruise ships drop off the tiny streets must be pure chaos. I don’t think I could enjoy myself amongst too many people. It would take away from the natural splendor I think. We didn’t wait for the sun to completely pass over the horizon because the clouds were low and we figured we wouldn’t see it anyway. But we took lots of pictures as it was sinking.
We had to get the moped back that night so we headed south again toward Fira. We stopped at a tourist information place in Fira to find out what the ferry schedule was since we still had not decided when we were going back to Athens. We discovered our only option was the 15:30 ferry every afternoon. And then we decided we would head back the following day.
Since it wasn’t time yet for the moped to be dropped off we wandered down the street a bit and found a gyro place. Since we are in Greece and hadn’t yet had one of these tasty pita wrapped deliciousnesses we decided to treat ourselves to one for dinner. Ryan had the meat one, but I had the falafel. They put fries in them here. We have heard that it is cheaper to take it to go so that is what we did. It was only 5 euro for both, so I’d say that was cheap for our dinner. We drove them back to the Villa to enjoy with more of our freshly bottled wine. And then Ryan took the moped back while I stayed at the Villa to blog.
When Ryan came back he had picked up a few more groceries including some flan because he knows I love flan. So we ended our day eating flan and watching a movie.
The next morning we had to be out of our room by noon and then they would drive us to the Port about 3. We got up, got ready, and packed our bags to bring down to a room we could store them in. Then we headed to the pool for the first time. The sun was out and we were happy. I even felt warm enough to get in the chilly pool water and I dragged Ryan with me. Not long after we got out of the water though they sun went behind a cloud and I started getting really cold. So I convinced Ryan our time would be better spent walking into Fira.
The night before I had realized there was more to Fira then I initially thought. So we walked the 20 minutes or so into the town. It might not be quite as perfect a perch as Oia has on the island, but I think Fira is still a nice little town. They also have small little pedestrian streets and because Fira is the capital it seemed like more of the little shops were still open. We shared a Baklava flavored gelato and then decided to try another gyro shop for lunch. I thought my falafel pita was much better from this place, but I have decided I like döner kebabs better than gyros because whether it is the sauce or the veggies they put in them I find them more flavorful. And on the way back to the Villa we stopped at a bakery and got a couple mini sweets and a cup of rice pudding. I have decided that in Greece food is either swimming in olive oil or it is swimming in sugary honey syrup. I like the food and sweets but I think it would taste better if they toned down these liquids a bit. But who am I to judge this cooking style that I’m sure has been used for thousands of years. But it’s never too late to change… right?
Back at the Villa we shared the rice pudding and then just waited for the Villa lady to say it was time to load up the van. When she did there was a full load heading to the port. I’m sure she wasn’t thrilled to have so much business leaving at once, but on the other hand she can count her blessings to have so much business period during these winter months. It was a nice place though and the price was fair.
At the port we bought our tickets, watched the boat come in, and then walked on board when they gave us the go ahead. For the first hour or two we sat on the back deck taking lots of pictures of Santorini as we pulled away and then the sun as it started to sink. But once her majesty disappeared over the horizon we decided it was time to go inside and find out seats.
I was afraid this ride would feel like an eternity since the last ferry we took we slept the majority of the ride. We managed to fill our time though. We watched a movie, read, and I worked on blog post.
Toward the end of the voyage a girl we’d met and talked to in the van ride to the port came and found us. She and her friend were wondering if we knew where we were staying and how we planned to get there when we arrived. We told her we were staying the same place we had previously in Athens and thought we’d take the metro. She had asked on the boat and they informed her the metro would not be running after midnight. She then asked us if we wanted to share a cab and if we didn’t mind them tagging along to where we were staying. Of course we didn’t mind and actually preferred to split the cab fare if we couldn’t take the metro.

Magnificent Meteora Monasteries

On Thursday night we had stopped at a travel agency to find out what time the ferries were running to the Islands, primarily Santorini one of the southern most Island. And also the one that Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was filmed on. We decided that we would take the ferry that left at midnight the following day so that we wouldn’t lose more time during the day traveling and it would be one night we didn’t have to pay for a place to stay. And this meant we had all of Friday to take another adventure on the mainland.
Many months ago I typed in on google search “best places to see in Europe.” There was one site that give a top ten best. One of the places was Dubrovnik, Croatia, which is why I knew about it to take Ryan there on his surprise birthday trip. And there was also a place in Greece that stood out to me and we looked into now that we are in Greece. The place is the Meteora Monasteries. 10 million years ago there was water in this area of Greece (the central region of Thessaly) and somehow it created these huge towering sandstone cliffs which for hundreds of years now have had monasteries built perched on top of some of them. The picture I first saw online was more than enough to spark my interest. And Ryan and I decided we’d like to include something out of the ordinary on our Greece adventure.
We woke up early (well early for being on vacation) to catch the 8:20 train out of Athens to Kalambaka. That is the town at the base of the cliffs. Finding information about transportation in Greece on the Internet is surprisingly and frustratingly difficult. We weren’t expecting our train ride to take 5.5 hours, but I guess in a way we got lucky that at least it left at the time we had believed it was suppose to. But we definitely got a lot of reading done and we got to see a lot of the Greek countryside. What surprised me the most was that until we got out of the train at our stop we didn’t see the cliffs. The surrounding landscape does not share the remarkable feature of these monstrosities.
As soon as we got out of the train we headed into town to find the tourist information. The woman there wasn’t the most helpful or the most outwardly friendly tourist informationist that we’ve come across. She gave us a pamphlet on the monasteries and getting answers to our other questions was like pulling teeth. But eventually we had enough information to know which monasteries were open that late in the afternoon and that we’d need to take a taxi to get to the top.
So we got a taxi on the main street and he drove us up the very scenic road to the Holy Trinity monastery. Even from the road where we were dropped off it was quite a walk up to the monastery. I can’t imagine the people who walk from the very base of the town to all six of the monasteries.
You have to pay a small entrance fee for the monastery. Inside there isn’t a ton to see, it is very small. But once you walk out the back door the view was fantastic. We took a lot of pictures that I will have to get put up because I don’t know how to describe in words what this place looks like.
I was thinking as we stood up here about how many photos have been taken. And then my mind went to artists whether they are photographers or painters or any other type. They are simply capturing God’s masterpiece in a new way. But He remains the greatest of all artists. He is the one who caused these cliffs to form and He is the one responsible for all the natural beauty we find ourselves surrounded with. I doubt many people who walk into an art museum stop to think that the pieces before their eyes are all just copies of the greatest artist of them all.
From the Holy Trinity Monastery we walked a short distance down the main road to St. Stephen’s Monastery, which is actually a nunnery. The building was larger than our first visit and there are two gift shops with trinkets for sale by the nuns. On the terrace on the back of the building was another beautiful view although you didn’t have the same vantage point of the other cliffs, so of the two I think I prefer the first.
When we decided to leave we weren’t sure how to get down off the cliff. On our brochure there was a vague map and we tried to find the path to climb down but part way along what we thought was the path we decided it was too steep and dangerous and maybe not a path at all so we climbed back up to the road. Then we tried to ask people driving by if they were headed down but no one we asked was. And we were hesitant that if we walked we’d make out train back to Athens that night. So we had to walk back to St. Stephen’s monastery where thankfully there were a couple of police officers who were nice enough to call us a taxi…. Although when we saw them back in town just shooting the breeze we wondered why they couldn’t have just taken us down to town with them. Eventually our cab came though and in not too long we were back at the train station to by our tickets.
Since we still had a little time before the train came be walked a couple blocks to the grocery to by food to eat for dinner and breakfast the next morning since we’d be on the ferry. Our dinner consisted of a can of rice stuffed grape leaves, rice pudding, orange juice, baked pumpkin seeds and a loaf of delicious kalamata olive bread we bought (with a couple extra sweet treats) at a nearby bakery. We enjoyed our dinner aboard the train as we were pulling out of the station.
Thankfully the ride back was only 5 hours, which made it 10:30pm when we arrived. We took the metro back to our hostel to get our bags we’d left there. When we arrived we had a dispute about what we owed them and eventually had to say here is the money we agreed upon with your owner via email and we need to leave to catch our ferry. The next day Ryan corresponded with the owner via email and he said he was glad we paid what we did and he had no idea why they tried to charge us more when we left. It seems like they should figure out a new system because they seemed like they had no idea what was going on when we checked in and out. But it was a roof over our heads with breakfast in the morning and it was cheap, so I guess that is what you get for cheap.
We ran to the metro and unfortunately had to wait about 10 minutes for our train. We got off at our stop and ran to where we needed to transfer to a different line to find that the line was shut down at that point and we’d have to back track and switch at two other points to get on the line we needed. I knew we didn’t have time for this as we watched the clock tic. I told Ryan that if we wanted to make it and not take the ferry the next morning we’d have to try and grab a taxi one metro stop back the way we came.
We decided to go for the taxi. Of course with our luck it had started to rain and that really slows things down in Athens. The taxi driver even said he had no idea why there was the traffic we were experiencing. He was a great driver though and when we reached the port he drove from boat to boat that was docked preparing to leave asking if that was the ferry going to Santorini. Finally at the far end of the port we found our boat. The driver sped us over to the ticket kiosk and then back to the opening of the boat. We had made it. We couldn’t believe it, but we were so grateful.
On the boat we found some less than comfortable seats and watched a movie until about 2 in the morning. Then I tried to fall asleep in the chair and Ryan moved directly onto the floor. After some time I just couldn’t fall all the way to sleep and I saw Ryan passed out on the floor and was jealous so I moved onto the floor as well. The ferry did have cabins that you could purchase a ticket for that sounded awfully good while I was chilly on the hard floor, but we’re young and we’re tough and we can survive a night on the floor to save the amount of money we did.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Egypt and Jordan

Pictures from even further back.

And I am realizing that the photos don't upload in the order I select them, so just try to put my words together with the photo even though it's a little mixed up.

So first off we have Egypt. These are pictures from when we hiked all through the night to watch the sunrise on Mt. Sinai. Then there is a picture of the "burning bush" or what was supposedly the bush that burned. And then a picture of me with our guide, Musa (Moses) that led us up the mountain.







Here we are at the pyramids riding out camels. And our guide made us get off at one point and take weird pictures such as jumping off the camel. And after the pyramids and the Egyptian museum we walked along the Nile and had the privileged of watching God paint a masterpiece right before our eyes of the sun setting.






Here is the ferry terminal we spent literally all day waiting in to take the ferry across the red sea to Jordan.



But when we finally made it to Jordan we were able to see Petra. And I'm sure now that you see the photos you will understand why this is such an incredible place.




Fulfilling my promise

I am keeping good on my promise. These picture might be long over due, but I'm doing my best to get up a good assortment of the visual documentation of our travels. Otherwise you might start thinking I just have a great imagination and all my posts are just made up stories. :) I hope you enjoy. I'm taking advantage of the faster internet connection where we are staying here on Santorini in Greece because it seems the connection is getting worse and worse back in Germany.

Pictures of Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps in Poland







The first two pictures are the Gugenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain the city we flew into on our trip. It is just such an incredible building. The next photos are from San Sebastian. I loved the fish shop that was bustling with people and then this guy just started hacking up a HUGE fish for this woman. It was so fun to watch.







These pictures are from Seville in the south of Spain. It was so beautiful here. I loved Plaza Espana in the first two pictures. And the sunset was beautiful by the river. Oh and isn't if funny how small the beers are in Spain in the last picture. Definitely not what we are used to coming from Deutschland the land of the Mass (1L). And the picture of us is in front of the Bull Fighting Arena. And then a picture of the guys we listened to jam along the river.










Asilah, Morocco! I loved it here and would really enjoy going back sometime. It was beautiful in the old town with all white buildings that were accented by bright colored doors and windows. The beach was spectacular. And it was fun to get a feel for what life is like there outside the city walls amongst all the locals.





Saturday, November 13, 2010

Awestruck on the Acropolis

We woke up on Thursday morning and had breakfast at our hostel. I read that Greeks don't typically eat breakfast, but they had out for us bread, jam, honey, tea, coffee, and fruit (horrible oranges but pretty good itty bitty pears). And when we left we headed just around the corner to the Acropolis.
I'll tell you that I have wanted to see the Parthenon for many years and this is the pinnacle of the Acropolis. In 7th grade everyone was required to do a huge research project for the schools history fair. My project was on the Parthenon and as a visual aid I built a model of the temple out of cardboard.
We paid the entry fee at the gate, which includes many different ancient sites around the city. We headed up the hill and saw a theater and an odeon (I learned that this is not a "theater" because it was used for musical performances not theatrical performances), then we came to the gate to the Acropolis, and then.... dun-dunda-dawe came through the remains of the gate and there stood the Parthenon in all her glory. I instantly new this is my favorite historical site I have seen in all my travels. It was just remarkable seeing this monstrosity towering above the expanse of the city the way it does perched on the high hill. Oh I get chills thinking about it. We just sat and looked at it for a long time.
Eventually we finished looking at the last few sites on the Acropolis. One interesting thing I read in a travel book at that the flag on a lookout point up there was ordered by the Nazi's to be taken down in April of 1941 when the invaded Athens and for the Nazi flag to be flown in it's place. The man in charge of guarding the Greek flag followed the orders but with the Greek flag he took down he wrapped his body and jumped to his death because he couldn't stand the fact he had to put up another flag. Yet within a couple of weeks two teenage boys went up and took down the Nazi flag and hung the Greek flag back up. To this day those boys names are recognized in hero status among the Greek people. And then we walked around the Erecthion which is where Athena and Poseidon had their battle to see who would be the name sake of the city.
Back down the hill and out the fence of the Acropolis grounds we climbed Mars Hill, which I think is better classified as a mound. But it does have a cool significance because this is where the Apostle Paul gave a sermon to the people of Athens when he came to visit.
After all this exploring we were hungry. But at the bottom and all around the Acropolis things seemed to be priced pretty touristy. We found a grocery and made our own Greek picnic out of pita bread, kalamata olives, tomatoes (Ryan had never eaten a tomato like an apple until now), Ryan had some cheese, and we shared a can of Greek beer. And we could have had a better view as we sat starring directly up at the Parthenon on the Acropolis. It was perfect.
After lunch we went into the... well I forget the name of the area but the significance is that back in the day it would have been the city center where everything happened from judicial matters, to grocery shopping, cloth shopping, socializing, eating, anything you do in your modern day downtown. There was a very well intact temple and the Agora (they referred to it as the mall) which has been rebuilt but shows what it would have been like. There is also a church dedicated to St. Paul because of his time in Athens. And lots of other ruins of stuff I can't remember. It was cool to see until we got kicked out at 15:00 because they were closing. This is earlier than all the travel information we had and unfortunately it meant all the other sites on our ticket also closed. However we walked to them all anyway and realized whether we were inside or outside of the gates we could still see everything inside because they were small areas. We saw Haydrian's Library, the Roman Forum, Haydrian's Gate, and The Temple of Zeus. It is all really neat how everything that is so old is incorporated into the city. However here it is all sectioned off by gates whereas in Rome everything seemed to be pretty out in the open and at least didn't feel gated off even if you couldn't get in when it was closed (like the Colosseum).
After we walked by all the sites from our ticket we made another stop somewhere we just had to see. Being the track athletes we are we went to the Olympic Stadium in Athens. It is the only stadium completely out of marble in the world. During the 2004 Olympics in Athens the marathon finished here. It was cool hearing the history with the audio guide as we walked around the stadium. And then we took silly picture on the podium and also at the starting line as if we were starting a race. :) But I have NEVER seen such a narrow track. The audio guide said that the straights are 185 meters and for those of you who know tracks you can only imagine how tight those corners are.
Oh, something about Greece many of you might not know, you can't flush toilet paper because they have bad pipes and it will clog everything up. So every toilet has signs and a garbage right there. Not my favorite part of the country. So at this point of the day I need to use the facilities but felt like going in a cleaner environment than the toilets looked to be at the stadium, so Ryan and I wandered to a 4 star hotel and found a lobby bathroom. It was very nice and clean, which for some reason made me think I didn't have to follow the toilet paper protocol. Oops! No, there was no back up I just realized ofter I didn't utilize the garbage that there was the same sign there as everywhere else. Oh well if I'm the only one who forgets I think the pipes will survive. While at the hotel we thought it might be fun to check out their restaurant on the top floor with a roof terrace. Dinner would have been pretty pricey, but two double Greek coffees were in our price range and a perfect way to wind down (can you wind down with caffeine?). We had a fabulous view of the Acropolis as the sun went down and the sky glowed pink and orange.
After our coffees we decided it was worth it to us to visit the "New Acropolis Museum." the building in and of itself is worth taking a good look at. It is very new. I think it has only been open for less than 2 years. There are three floors and the top floor sits askew so that it mimics the Parthenon up on the Acropolis perfectly. That floor is a "replica" of the Parthenon in terms of size. You walk around the perimeter of the floor and they have metal columns in the actual place the Parthenon has it's columns. The whole building has walls made of windows so up on the 3rd floor it is awesome to see the Parthenon perfectly parallel to you. And on this floor they have the little bit of what remains in Greece's possession of the Parthenon ruins of statues, and the frieze and such. They have it all hanging as it would on the temple itself and have filled most of the gaps with replicas in such a way that you can tell the originals from the copies. Most of the artifacts from the Parthenon I saw at the British Museum in London when I was there a few summers ago for Juniors Abroad. Lord Elgin asked some guy (although the guy claims that not to be true) if he could sell or give or something all these things to the Brits. Well Greece wants them back and of course the Brits don't want to give them back. For years they argued that Greece didn't have a proper place to keep and display them. Well now Greece has a state of the art building and Britains new fear is if they give in to Greece the rest of the world they hold artifacts from will also want theirs back. I can attest though that the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is not clean, is not safe, and that no way should Britain give them back anything because it will be much better off in the safety and care of the UK. Have been to the British Museum I can say it was super cool to see so many things under one roof from all over the world. But at the same time I see why Greece would want this back and it would definitely add to this beautiful museum they now have. I guess time will only tell but I sort of doubt the Brits will give up their hold anytime soon. The rest of the museum was also cool. The whole building has been built over ancient ruins, so outside and inside there are glass floors in places that allow you to see what lies beneath and they are still digging to find more.
After we finished walking around the museum we wandered out to the terrace cafe just to have a peak. It turned out they had a very inexpensive menu so we decided to have dinner there. We shared Spanikopita (spinach pie) and pumpkin soup (Europe loves pumpkin soup in the fall and winter apparently, which is a-okay with me) and we each had another double Greek coffee. I have loved Greek coffee ever since the first time i had it at the Greek fest in Bellingham. Yet when we went back to the hostel after dinner I stayed awake for awhile trying to plan our next day, but then when I wanted to go to sleep no doubt I had some trouble with all that thick coffee flowing through my veins. Somehow Ryan still had no trouble falling right to sleep and whenever he falls asleep first I always have an even harder time because he starts snoring and I feel like I have to stay awake to shake him so he doesn't wake up everyone else in the place. But somehow I eventually managed because before I knew it the alarm was going off and it was time to get up.

We made it to Greece

As you know if you have read my other post we missed our flight. When I was trying to figure things out this morning I saw there was a fight at 11am for a reasonable amount of money that we could get to Athens even a day before we had planned with our other itinerary. So I ran to get Ryan at breakfast and we through our things together and headed to the S-bahn to get to the airport. We unfortunately got there too late for the 11:00 flight, but found and internet café and booked a flight at 17:45. So we spent from about 10:30 till 17:45 in the Munich airport.
From flying in and out of there before I have found some favorite places. For many hours we sat at a little coffee shop that isn’t so much a shop as a permanent stand with nice seating in a byway. But it allowed me to work on some of my finances I keep track of as well as write a lot to post on my blog when I get Internet. And then about 15:00 we headed to our favorite place to eat in the airport a Thai restaurant. One thing I love about the Munich airport is that things don’t seem way over priced. It seems like the rest of Germany and I think it is reasonable.
And as soon as we finished eating we headed to our terminal to check in because there was NO WAY we were missing this flight.
We flew on Aegean Airlines and everything was very nice. We had very good service and the food was even really good.
Now we are safe and sound in our hostel. We have a view of the back of the Acropolis hill from the window of our room, but it isn’t photographing well on my camera. We talked about going to walk around a bit, but decided we are both tired and would rather get a really solid nights rest for all the exploring we will do tomorrow. But at least we made it. Hopefully we can do Portugal another time, but at least we are still going to have a vacation even if it does mean pinching pennies for a while when we get back with the added expense of purchasing a new flight to Athens. But we’re here. Thank goodness I didn’t ruin everything.

Ladies and Gentlemen…. Mr. Stephen Aki

Stephen is still good ol’ Stephen. He is our friend from college that Ryan met on his freshman floor and lived with for the following three years as well. He has a shnazzy new job as a salesman for selling a piece that goes on the inside of a window frame that serves the purpose of keeping the cold air out and hot air in or vice versa. You can only see this piece if you horizontally cut a window in half. The company makes something else too, but Stephen sells this one piece. At first I had no idea what he was talking about, but after spending a few days with him I have a better grasp on it now.
Anyway, since he is still technically training they flew him to Kassel, Germany because they are a German company based there. Kassel is only 5.25 hours from Garmisch, so we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see a friend in the same country as us. We got doubly lucky because with the hotel being so slow we had a random 3 day weekend on our schedule when we got back from Spain that we hasn’t bee expecting.
We left after work on Tuesday and arrived in Kassel around 8 I think. We knew Stephen would probably be at dinner with co-workers and when we knocked on his hotel room door he didn’t anwer so we wandered down the street for some dinner ourselves because we’d spotted a döner kebab shop as we drove into town. They had great döners and we left with very satisfied tummies.
Back at the hotel we thought we’d just sit and read on the couch in the lobby of the 3rd floor where Stephen was staying. Although we were hoping he’d be back soonish since we’d given him an idea when we’d get there. I find books when I clean dueout rooms sometimes and I keep the ones I am interested in. I had just read a Carol Higgins Clark book in 3 days. It wowed Ryan because I don’t think he has ever witnessed my love for reading like that especially when it comes to mysteries. The book honestly wasn’t awesome, but it was a quick read and I just love to read sometimes no matter how good the writing is. I also had a Mary Higgins Clark book that I barely started the day before we left (Mary is Carol’s mom and I’ve been a fan of Mary’s books for years). In the car we were getting antsy and I was going to read and Ryan asked if I’d read out loud. He had started this book when we went camping one time but never finished it So for several hours I read out loud as we drove. And when we sat on the 3rd floor lobby in the hotel I continued to read out loud. It was fun to share the book with Ryan in that way. One of my favorite childhood memories is that my parent’s read from a chapter book to my sister and I ever night before we went to bed. I’m sure that has a great deal to do with my love of reading.
Well I read until about 11 and then we thought maybe we’d go downstairs and see if he happened to be in the hotels restaurant. As we stood at the door trying to see the straggling guests as the wait staff cleaned things up Stephen started walking towards the door. It was good to see our smiling Hawaiian boy. ☺ He said we should have come in earlier when we said we’d been there for hours. Well Stephen how were we to know once you got back from dinner you would go have a drink with your coworkers.
Stephen was very nice to let us crash on the floor of his hotel room. It was a very nice hotel. We laid out our sleeping bags as we caught up on the most recent happenings in each other’s lives. It was great to see him.
The next morning of course Steve had to go to work and he did his best not to wake us as he got ready. When we finally did get up off our camping mats we got ready and wandered down the street to find breakfast. We ended up at a natural grocery store with a bakery/coffee shop. Ryan got a couple pastries and I had a piece of vegetable cake. It was so delicious. I don’t know how they did it. It wasn’t like quiche at all. It was just a tone of veggies packed into a square piece of cake. I’d love to try and recreate it sometime. We also shared a liter of juice we got in the grocery part.
We sat outside on a park bench to eat our breakfast that was right outside a middle eastern/ African shop. I was of course drawn in and Ryan followed. I bet he is glad he did though because he found a package of Moroccan Mint tea to purchase. And although I haven’t blogged about Morocco yet Ryan and I but probably especially Ryan fell in love with the mint tea in Morocco. Mmmmmmm
Then we walked up the street a long way, back by the hotel, and up a hill to a palace. We sat at the palace regaining our strength and cooling our bodies from that little hike. And then headed up what turned out to be a true workout to get to the very top of the hill where there was a statue of Hercules. I don’t know how many stairs we climbed but it had to have been hundreds. Right below Hercules is a massive water feature that is shut off at this time of year, but must be truly mesmerizing when it is running. Then once you reach the top you pay 2 euros to walk up more stairs to get to the viewing platform directly at the base of Mr. Hercules. It was really cloudy while we were there, but I can imagine on a brilliant day you’d have as stunning view of the city and beyond.
We wanted to get a beer to reward ourselves for all the climbing but the restaurant up there wasn’t open and looked like it was either closed for good or just undergoing some reconstruction. But since I wasn’t about to walk anymore we waited for the bus to take us back into town. And then we took a tram only a couple blocks from the hotel. And we read some more while we waited for Stephen to get back from work.
When the man of the hour arrived we hung out in the room a little longer and then drove into town to an Irish Pub he’d been to a few nights before. We each enjoyed a delicious Irish beer, well I actually had a cider, but it was still Irish and still good. And we enjoyed each others conversation and company. But after while Stephen had to get back to the hotel to meet some co-workers for dinner.
Parked back at the hotel Stephen insisted Ryan and I go to dinner just down the street where he’d previously been, a restaurant named Duck Dich. He personally escorted us to the building and up the stairs into the restaurant. And then bid adieu until later in the evening.
It was a good recommendation. Ryan had soup and salad because that is what he said sounded good to him. I think he enjoyed them pretty well. But I ordered an entrée which is what makes this restaurant unique. The bring you a plate in the shape of a half moon. On one side are several sauces. Directly in front of you is the “meat” you chose (I had salmon) and some veggies. And to the right side is some baby boiled potatoes with a dipping sauce. On the rounded edge of the plate at the back is a rectangular thick stone that is sizzling hot. They told me to sprinkle salt on it and then place my fish and veggies on it to cook. The fish in my case came raw. It was awesome. I like my fish rare so I didn’t cook it long, but it was so fun. I don’t know if there is anything like this in the United States, but there should be. Ryan commented though that he doesn’t know what the US Health Department would say.
Back at the hotel we were so tired, probably from so much walking, that we got ready for bed and by the time Stephen got back I was particularly out of it and Ryan was on his way.
The next morning we got up about the time Stephen was leaving for work. But we decided to try the buffet the hotel had in the restaurant for breakfast. It was so good. We were glad we did it. They had cereal, fresh fruit, assorted pastries, bread, jams, honey, chocolate spread, juices, tea and coffee, and many meats, cheeses, and fish. Delicious I tell you.
Then we went back to the room and finished the book. We just couldn’t help it. Although Ryan didn’t actually read it himself he got into it enough with me reading that he was excited to read every chance we got.
And then we went to check out the pool and hot tub. Both were disappointing because neither were very warm. Even the hot tub wasn’t even warm enough that I would want to take a bath in it.
So as the afternoon drew on we decided to leave the hotel and check out the downtown area. It was very new compared to what most of the city centers of Europe look like. Kassel was pretty much demolished during the war and thus things look a lot more modern.
It was a nice town though. We did some window shopping and wandered in stores that interested us. But best of all we found an Asian grocery store. Although we could go to them in Munich we just have never gotten around to it. We love sweet chili sauce and Ryan makes a simple but delicious meal one of his roommates had taught him to make that they call King Pao. All it consists of is tofu, peanuts, and sweet chili sauce sautéed and then over rice. We’ve had it twice already now that we have the sauce. And we picked up a couple other things as well.
We wandered around until it was near time for Stephen to get back from work and then headed back to the hotel. And when we returned Stephen was there. We had decided to ask him if his dinner that night was actually some type of work meeting or just people going out to a meal from work. We thought it would be nice to spend our last evening there with him. He was a little hesitant saying that it wasn’t a meeting but he wasn’t sure if we could come or not because it was people from the company taking him out to dinner. But he was nice and said he’d ask if we could come along. So when it was time for him to be picked up we went down to the lobby with him and when the man from the company came to pick him up and Stephen asked if we could come and pay for ourselves he kindly said that was fine and even drove us too.
The place we ate was pretty good. If it had been daylight I think it would have had a wonderful view. There were three people from the company there who were all very nice. And they’ve all been with the company for an extended period ,which shows I think that it is a good place to work. I enjoyed hearing about the business. Stephen impressed me with the knowledge he has already. I hope he stays happy there because I think it seems like a stand up company and a great place to work.
At the end of the meal the man who drove us, who is some type of a boss level guy, paid for our bill too. Very unexpected and also very generous no matter if it is on the company card or not.
When he dropped us off at the hotel Stephen and Ryan decided they wanted to go to the sauna. Stephen hadn’t been to the pool yet at all. I was tired but they dragged me down with them. I can’t stay in saunas very long especially when I’m not in the mood so it didn’t last long for me and Ryan and then Stephen followed me out. The boys splashed in the pool a bit while I lay on a chair falling asleep. Finally they were done and I got to go upstairs and go to sleep. ☺
The next morning we got up with Stephen to go down and have the breakfast buffet again. It was so good. I don’t think I can recall another breakfast I liked more and that included the great breakfast at the LA hotel we stay at with the track team on spring break. Michelle knows what I’m talking about. But this place has even better breakfast, for my taste anyway. But when we were through eating we did have to say farewell to Stephen. Goodbyes are never our favorite part, but since we didn’t expect to see Stephen the whole time we were over here it was still very exciting just to spend a few days with him.
We hit the road to head home around 11 I think. We stopped in Wurzburg for lunch at a Crepe Bistro. It was delicious. And I had roobius tea, which is my favorite, but his particular mixture was called Emily, so I knew I was meant to have it. I think it should be needless to say I loved it, how could I not with a name like that? ☺
From Wurzburg we drove along the Romantic Road for several hours (it was our anniversary and all). The hill sides are beautiful in Bavaria and it was nice to get off the autobahn. The Romantic Road is basically country roads that follow some medieval path I think that starts or end in Wurzburg with the other end being Neuschwanstein Castel. We didn’t drive the whole thing though. The country roads don’t let you go all that fast and after awhile we just wanted to be home not to mention is was dusk and soon we wouldn’t be able to see anything.
So that was our trip to Kassel, Germany. Somewhere I never would have gone if it wasn’t for Stephen being there, but I’m glad we did both so we could see our friend and so we could see a new part of the country that is our home for this year.

Poland for Auschwitz

Well another late post, this trip was aver a month ago now. Gosh, time is flying by for us. Ryan however did not come on this trip. I went with two friends, Reneé and Taylor. We were heading to Krakow with the main destination of Auschwitz. Ryan said it wasn’t on the top of his list, so he stayed back, but went on a little road trip all on his own to Lake Garda in Italy. I’d tell you to check his blog to see how that trip was, but I think everyone reading my blog who wants to read his knows he has stopped posting.
So we arrived in Krakow late at night but with the help of a German girl and Turkish man who now live in Krakow we were able to find our hostel with ease. And we quickly changed and prepared for bed.
The next morning Reneé had to wake me up because I was finally sleeping soundly in the morning. You see we had all had a horrible nights sleep because someone in our room was the worst snorer I’ve ever heard in my whole life. I thought Ryan was bad, but his snoring is more like purring in comparison to that man. Thank goodness I have blocked the actual noise from my mind at this point, but in the night when I was happening everyone in the room with the three of us was awake and growing closer and closer to attacking this guy. I even started wadding up sheets of paper I had and throwing them at him to try and stop him. Taylor was on the bunk above his and shook the bed violently, but nothing stirred him and nothing stopped him. It was awful. So when he finally woke up and stopped and I fell asleep I was so tired I didn’t wake up until Reneé nudged me and said I better start getting ready for the day.
On our first day in Krakow we headed out to explore the city. We thought a great way to get a lay of the land would be to join the free city tour. However after maybe 45 minutes we basically ran away. The tour had been boring from the get go. The guide was not entertaining and spent at least 10 to 15 minutes right off the bat telling the group why he was such a great tour guide was because he was certified and he paid all this money to take tests and blah blah blah as we stood in the fridge temped weather shivering. Then after awhile had passed Reneé was up front walking by him between one site and the next because she is a ridiculously fast walker. And out of the blue this guy said, “do you believe in evolution.” Reneé was so taken aback by the question that she just sort of stuttered. He then went on to say that the reason Polls and the rest of Europe hate Americans is because we are idiots for allowing people to choose between evolution and creation. He stated that obviously evolution is the only logical option and anyone who would believe otherwise is stupid and any country that would allow people to choose something so illogical is also idiotic. She was so flabbergasted she didn’t know what to say. But she tried to gather her words and told him that she believes one of the great things about our country is that we allow people to make that type of choice, that our country is founded on freedom and one of those freedoms is to choose a religion and if a person’s religion leads them to believe in creation then they are free to do that. He didn’t let down though and instead of saying something like, well I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree, he said, “well you’re wrong but we don’t have to talk about it anymore.” Can you believe that? So as soon as all this happened we turned on our heals and ran away from this crazy Polish man. Has it never occurred to him that he works only for tips and when he says offensive things to people he will make less money. We weren’t the first people to leave the tour either.
So then we just wandered. We found a Polish restaurant and has some perogie (Polish dumplings filled with different things. Taylor and I shared and ours had mushrooms and cabbage. Reneé’s had potatoes. And they were delicious. Eventually we found our way to the castle but we didn’t pay to go inside because the exhibits didn’t sound interesting to us. And we went in a beautiful very dark and gothic church on the castle grounds. And after that we decided to head to a tourist information center to find out what they recommend to do in Krakow because we realized it was still afternoon and we were running out of ideas.
The nice woman there gave us a great idea to go see Schindler’s factory. If you have seen the movie Schindler’s list you know whom I’m talking about. If not and you want to watch it prepare yourself with a box of tissues. With a great map from the TI and Taylor’s impeccable navigation skills we easily reached our destination on the great tram sytem Krakow has.
The museum was very interesting and showed a very different side if Oscar Schindler. The movie, as I remember it, left me with the impression the man was a hero through and through for paying to get Jews and others out of concentration camps to come work I his factory. He paid not the captives to work for him, but the Nazi party to allow them to work and make things for the soldiers. He did do heroic things, but I know see the man for who he was and he was no saint. He actually was imprisoned for embezzlement early on before he started doing his good works. And I believe he was a bit of a womanizer. The Polls definitely painted a realistic picture of him in the exhibition that is housed in what was formerly his factory. But despite his flaws he did save a great number of people and at the end of it all he looked at his wedding band and thought that if only he had sold that he could have saved a few more people. I think it shows that we are all capable of great things. He was just as human as the rest of us are today, but he started to notice what was going on and he did something. The whole time I was in the exhibition I kept thinking, what would I have done if I lived during that time? My fear is that I am often so disconnected from the news and the rest of the world that I wouldn’t have paid close enough attention to realize something drastic needed to be done.
Right next to the Factory was a wine shop so on our way out we stopped in there. They were having a wine tasting that night, but we didn’t have anything to do in this industrial area for the hour until it started, so they were kind enough to let us each taste a red wine from Georgia since their tasting would be Georginian wines. And that is Georgia the country. It was a very unique red wine and I liked it, but Taylor loved it and bought a bottle. Then we took the tram back to what we thought was a winery but turned out to be a restaurant that served wine. We still had a couple glasses there. We asked the waitress for a dry red. She recommended something that we thought, sure, why not. But when she brought it we couldn’t believe how sweet and fruity it was for what she told us was a dry red. So the next one we just ordered and didn’t ask for input. After both were finished she asked which we liked better and all of us emphatically told her the second one. Her response was, “oh you really do like dry red wine.” Uhhh yes, that is what we told you and that is what we said we wanted.
Most places I go I like to look up vegetarian restaurants in the area and I did stumble upon a couple in a travel book I had looked at before we left that were in Krakow. One just happened to be a few doors down from the “winery” so that is where we ate dinner. It was SO GOOD! I had a stuffed red bell pepper, more perogies, and a brusselsprout salad that was cold. I have never had cold brussel sprouts but this was absolutely outstanding. They were cooked of course and pretty garlicky with a little diced red pepper for color, simple but flavorful and fantastic. Yum!
On the way back to the hostel we stopped for a night cap. Actually I don’t know exactly what a night cap is, but we stopped for a cocktail at a bar Taylor thought looked fun earlier in the day. It was pretty disappointing though. It was empty of people, smelled like smoke, and our drinks were disappointing. Taylors Tequila Sunrise tasted like straight up orange juice over ice and my Cosmo was good, but very small. Reneé was most please with her white Russian I think. Oh I guess we had one more drink because we hadn’t used our welcome drink coupons at the hostel’s bar the night before, so we went to have our free beer there. I am probably making myself sound like a lush, but I promise that I normally don’t drink this much and also everything we had was more spread out that it sounds so non of us even had a buzz.
The next day was our day to see Auschwitz. We could have paid to do a tour that picked us up in Krakow for the day but decided to be money savvy and do everything on our own. So we walked to the bus station and took the 1.5 hour bus to the camp. At the camp it was super cheap to do the guided tour of both the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps. I’d never even heard of Birkenau, but apparently many of the main concentration camps had sub camps and Birkenau was a sub camp of Auschwitz. And it was where more of the gas chamber deaths happened than Auschwitz.
Originally Auschwitz had been a Polish Army Camp, so the buildings although old now are still strong well built brick buildings that have plumbing and hardwood floors. I learned that most people who came to Auschwitz survived because in comparison the conditions were actually quite nice. Just being inside the brick walls kept to much body heat inside that it helped to keep people alive. At Auschwitz we also were able to go inside a gas chamber. This chamber had not been used for a long time even before the war ended so it was not demolished by the Nazis before the camp was liberated. It was… I don’t know how to put words to what it feels like to be in a room where you know the way people were murdered right there where you stand.
Birkenau is a whole other story. There are very few barracks left but all the chimnies remain to show that at one time rows and rows and rows of one level wooden shacks basically stood on this massive piece of ground. The “bathrooms” where in a wooden shack that had “toilets” of just wooden holes cut in a board all one next to the other and back to back. Can you imagine? And with all the awful diseases people would get and have to use the bathroom, but of course there were rules to how often you could go and how long you could stay in there. Our tour guide, who was fabulous by the way, said one of the better jobs a prisoner could have was to clean the “bathroom” building because at least it meant they could stay inside since winters get so cold. And with a job like that you’d have a better chance of surviving longer.
Also in Birkenau there is a gate that opens for a train to come through and the tracks lead into the center of the camp. When the train stopped and people disembarked they believed they were coming here and could stay with their family, they had packed bags, they thought everything would be okay. Of course this was a lie. A man stood and as each person stepped forward would point left or right. One direction meant they look capable enough so kept them here and they will work. But for everyone else who was pointed the opposite direction they were taken to the gas chambers. Once at the chambers they were told to undress in one room and that they’d be bathing, to remember where all their things were because they’d be coming back to them shortly. I guess the only good thing you can try to take from this was that they really weren’t afraid for days or even hours before arriving. Everything seemed good I’m sure until the gas started pouring into the chamber they were ushered into. The killing was quick. But what took a long time was taking the bodies to be burned and that took a very long time otherwise I’d be afraid they may have wanted to kill even more people at Birkenau.
Another way people often died was not at the camp but when they made the march to other camps, which could have been days and days of walking. This was particularly the case when they expected the liberation was coming and they tried to move as many prisoners as they could before hand.
I always had thought that Anne Frank had died at Auschwitz, but actually no she was moved and died at a different camp.
Overall it was a very somber place. Seeing the gas chambers at Birkenau although destroyed was heart breaking. And there are pond still a murky gray where all the ashes of these victims were dumped. This history is very worthy of us paying attention to because I would hope we never let anything happen like this again. And yet, think of the genocides we often don’t think about in the world. And what are we all doing about it?
We took the bus back to the city and decided to try another of the vegetarian restaurants I had written down. This one was awesome too. Everything was premade and on a line like a cafeteria. You choose what size plate you wanted, which also indicated how many dishes you could tell them you wanted as you went down the line. I can’t remember each individual dish but I know we all three really enjoyed our meal. Afterward though we were pretty tired from the day so we went back to the hostel. But since it still felt too early to go to bed Reneé and Taylor got a beer in the bar and I sat with them while we chatted awhile until we did feel it was a decent time to go to bed.
The next morning we got up with enough to time to go into town one more time before we headed to the airport. Reneé also likes to get to airports when she flies hours and hours before the flights are suppose to leave. Although I do find her a little excessive in how early she likes to get places clearly I should also take a lesson from her and maybe come up with something in the middle ground after my missed flight and a huge headache from yesterday.
This morning I was able to get online at our hostel and see that there were flights on Lufthansa to Athens today that I was hoping they could just cancel our other flight from Porto to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Athens and rebook us on that one. All the flights I looked at to Porto were around $800 a person so there was no way were could try and go there to save part of our trip and also fly out to Athens tomorrow night as planned. So I called Lufthansa and although the woman wasn’t rude on the phone she wasn’t helpful either. She said she could not change our flight. So I asked if we took the train to Frankfurt if we could get on the second leg of the journey and she said we better not do that because when we don’t show up in Porto they will cancel our itinerary and they won’t allow us to get on in Frankfurt either. I asked if there was anyone on her end or in Frankfurt specifically I could talk to explaining our situation and that we could be in Frankfurt for the flight. She said no, no, no, no, no.
There was nothing to be done, period. There goes my opinion that Lufthansa is known for great customer service. I am highly disappointed in them right now because they didn’t offer to do anything, she didn’t even offer to help me find a flight that would work for us. I even offered to pay for switching and she just said no it was not possible. I have been feeling lately, and maybe it is partially because I’m in Europe and not America, that the idea of customer service has gone out the window. Especially now that so many companies do so much online I’ve on numerous occasions not been able to find the help I need. If I go to a website wanting to contact someone first they want me to read through all the frequently asked questions and if my questions isn’t one of them after reading for awhile I have to hunt down their email or phone number and sometimes I don’t have any luck with that. And if I email I often haven’t heard a reply. Ugh, it is so frustrating and I’m just sick of it. I sometimes wish things could go back to a simpler time. It seems but a faint memory to me, but I bet many of you reading this have much more vivid memories of a simpler these tech savvy life. Of course there are reasons it is great. If it weren’t for Internet I wouldn’t have this blog to keep everyone up to date on this. But it would also mean I’d have to hand write letters to people. I guarantee you wouldn’t get many from me, but doesn’t it make you feel special sometimes to just get one. Anyway this is my little rant.