Thursday, July 28, 2011

Where Have We Been!?

Well, a bunch of places... We had a great time playing with a brand new baby in Zurich, and then we skipped off to Greece. This has been in the works for at least a year. Our great friends who live in LA knew they'd be going to Greece, so we figured we'd fit it into our plans, too.

From Zurich, we took a train to Venice - a trip in and of itself. At one point the train goes into a mountain and makes a 180 degree turn, passing the same church twice in opposite directions. I guess maybe you'll have to see that yourself.

We had our first experience and stayed with a really sweet couple. Highly recommended. Be sure to tell AirBnB where you heard of them. We'll be using the site again very soon, in Madrid, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Whoever developed knows a lot about search capabilities - every option you need is available. We stayed in the spare room in a two bedroom apartment for a whopping 40 Euros. Two minute walk to the bus, 10 minute bus ride into Venice, and Venice is no place to stay if you're on a budget. It is, however, a place that everyone should get to visit at least once. Even if just for one day. Did you know that there are no cars there? No bikes, either, because of all the stairs.

White building on left - municipal hospital of Venice

We enjoyed ourselves, drank limoncello after dinner, sat in molte piazze drinking cafe, walked and walked and walked. Got lost on the way home... something everyone needs to do in Venice. It's an island. Just wander around... there's no such thing as lost, even if you end up at a dead end.

We also bought some accessories to help spiff up our look - nothing like a little glamour on your way to Greece.

That's right. A hat and earrings and we're ready for anything.

Our ride to Greece was a boat - kind of a big one. Great views of Venice on the way out of town. This baby is a good 40 hours in ferry heaven. Anyone can ride this boat in the style they prefer. There are cabins, of course, but for those who don't feel like shelling out the cash there are other alternatives. For example, you can camp on the deck. Just buy a ticket and arrive early and prepared. 

The tent is orange. The dogs are on a walk.

People staked out space under staircases, behind unused doorways, and in every corner. Some people brought their motor-pumped, blow-up mattresses. I assume many of these people also had cars on board, so the shlepping of sleeping bags and pillows and mattresses was minimal. But I think they had it right. We each brought a messenger bag full of sunny weather clothes, minimal packing, and reserved "business class, airplane seats" - option number 3. And they really were like seats in business class on an airplane, except that they do not lean back so you still have to sleep sitting up. We noticed that others in this "class" had brought mattresses and sleeping bags and slept in the ample space on the floor in front of their seats, a technique we adopted for the return journey.

IF we ever do that again, which is unlikely, we will take the cheap tickets and find some carpet or deck space. Why not? We also brought food and wine enough for two days. Well, almost enough. We tried the onboard cafeteria-style dining option. Not impressed. Again, on the return journey we came better prepared. 

And then suddenly (after two restless nights) we woke up in Greece. 5am, total darkness, not a taxi in sight - taxi strike strikes - and speaking no Greek at all. And this isn't the kind of place where a rough understanding of latin roots will help you read signs. News flash: Greeks have their own alphabet. Good luck!

We knew, roughly, where the hotel was, but not the street name. As we passed the only lit building, the bus station, we stopped to ask for directions. Nobody understood English, however Olympic Hotel seemed to resonate and they gave us directions in Greek. We managed to keep the sounds in our heads, and when we hit the correct street we made our left turn and found the hotel as if we'd planned things that way. The hotel was even open! The (non) plan had been to just hang out, maybe leave the bags with the hotel clerk, go to a cafe. Very funny in total darkness the day of arrival. Luckily our conversation with the clerk went like this:

Clerk (bewildered): Good morning. Can I help you?
Ramona: We have a reservation for today, we just arrived on the ferry.
Clerk (clarity): Oh, you're checking in. What is your last name?
Ramona: Marks?
Clerk: Okay, you are in room 602, here's the key.
Ramona: So we can... okay, great, thanks so much.

We slept through earthquake number one (the actual quake, 3.8, 10am-ish, yeah, first of many) and awoke to a 6th floor view.

look left

look right

Not bad. We wandered and saw some stuff. As it turns out, you can't go out for breakfast in Patras. As one restaurant worker/owner put it: "I had pancakes and eggs at home. We have some tiny croissants that we give away with coffees." Okay, thanks, we'll take those. We did find places to buy various pastries at about breakfast time, and some days we just held out until lunch and ate everything. 

typical Greek (vegetarian) meal. meat-eaters, there's a lot waiting for you in Greece.

The first day was a short, hazy day for us, as we'd slept barely enough for two nights in a row and then napped all morning. We did see one of the few tourist attractions that Patras offers. A church built in 1908, painted inside as if the artists were stuck in the 1600s (maybe earlier).

Lovely on the outside and the inside. Sorry, no photos of the inside. But if you've ever studied Boccacio, you know that the discovery of perspective in paintings of the Virgin Mary pre-dates 1908. Oh well, great mosaic octopuses on the floor. Nope, no photos of those either. 

On day 3 or so we had another brief earthquake. Then on day 4 we felt two, both while we were eating dinner outside. The second that evening was a rumble and then jolt that we could hear in all the buildings around us. We lived in Los Angeles for more than 6 years, but never had we felt so many earthquakes in such quick succession. When the world moves under you, solid ground starts to feel like a mirage that you can hold onto. Everything is good if the land stays still and the buildings don't crumble.

That said, Greece was very hot in a way that makes me want to complain. Every day we were guaranteed temperatures in the 90s, and it was a kind of heat that rendered us almost completely useless and very ready for air conditioning. We decided that the best thing to do in Patras is go to the beach. Available in both the bronzed-teenage-body-and-dance-music variety and the less-crowded, quieter, more comfortable type. Cappuccino Freddo available everywhere.

cappucino freddo, your friend in Greece, made with espresso, ice, and whipped milk/cream with sugar

Beach #1. We stayed in the shade between swims.

the water... so lovely

wait... who are these toughies

The absolutely, no-doubt-about-it, dreamiest part about Patras was our LA friends who came for a Swede-Greek wedding. Being on the road, in a new country every... short amount of time, meeting new people, we love it. And also, we miss all of our fantastic friends. Just seeing photos of them makes life feel a bit more concrete again. These jokers (above) were accompanied by a Swede posse that made each day feel like the best guided tour with semi-locals ever. Meaning, they knew about beaches.

beach #2, dubbed "the beach at Whittier when sea levels rise" (thanks Guzman)

a dock to jump off of is a very nice feature indeed

So is Swede ass, I mean gorgeous turquoise water. The groom is far left, his brother is playing tough guy, climbing onto the doc without using the ladder. And the bathing suit? Just a Swede in a suit. There were a couple of days at this particular dock.

yes, we drank lots of ouzo

ooooooooouzo, by mrs. kelly martin

hot Swede at our table!!! awesome!

nothing sums it up like a panorama

might've been a little windy during this photo

aaaand the underwater feature comes in handy

One of my favorite moments was when I stood on the dock with the camera, took a photo of Simon jumping in, and we both laughed as he came up and looked back. Then I dove off the dock, and just before I hit the water I heard "YOU'RE HOLDING YOUR CAMERA!!!"

Came up laughing. Greece was alright.

Except for the taxi strike. Or, maybe the infrastructure dependent on taxis. Surprise, the same ferry you arrived on will leave from a DIFFERENT PORT. We found this out the evening we were meant to board. Oh, 5kms away? Cool. How the f*** do we get there? We planned to be at the terminal early, so we made it to the boat. But not without a bunch of stressful fretting over bus schedules. And then the bus dropped us at least one kilometer past the boat, because the entrance to the port is built for everyone except pedestrians. Old ladies dragging rolling luggage had to walk almost a mile to get from the bus stop to their boat. How cool is that? Taxi drivers may have reasons to strike. They also have a powerful status in the tourism structure of Greece - without them, travel can be a pain in the butt. 

We were still on the boat two hours before it left. Joshua prefers being early, and Ramona ran back to the hotel for bus information and to buy bus tickets. (Wait, did you notice that? Ramona and ran in the same sentence?) Sometimes, being overly prepared means being just prepared enough.

sunrise the morning we got back to Venice.

After that trip, we were welcomed back to Zurich with love. Our coffers depleted, we realized it was already time to start house sitting again. Sorry, no trip over the Alps this summer. At least, not by bicycle. The first opportunity that popped up was two plus weeks in Paris. Who turns that down? 


fireweed said...

Ahh, I love you guys soooo much and am soooooooooo honored that you made the trip to Patras to meet up with us! Next time we come to you! If I'd a known you was goin' to Paris, I might of stayed!

that windy photo is funny and Swedish ass quote priceless.

tonight, I ouzoooooo to you!

hey, and I paypal-ed you some dough so you can get the plastic containers of your dreams for your next bike leg.

tiara said...

What an awesome trip! Great pictures you just gave me the travel bug!