Made it to Athens…
I’m writing this on our Aegean Airlines flight from Rome to Athens. Nothing much has happened today, but I’m bored, so why not? We got up fairly early today and went for breakfast at our regular Rome breakfast spot. I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but there’s a little “breakfast bar” just across the street from our Rome hotel. This seems to be the Italian equivalent of a Tim Horton’s; you go in and ask the guy behind the bar for a coffee (actually an espresso; that’s what they drink here) and pastry, or whatever, and they serve it to you right at the bar. People eat and drink standing at the bar; there aren’t any chairs or anything. Cheryl and I have been eating the chocolate eclairs, which are delicious (side note: in Switzerland I noticed that they put “eclair” in quotes when translating “pain au chocolat” into English). Tim’s been drinking a lot of the “cafe” (espresso); I’ve been having “té” (tea, of course); Cheryl’s had a few different latte/cappuccino-style drinks. I think the proprietor has been a little amused by us; despite the fact that we’re right close to the ancient city, there aren’t many hotels in the area, and very few toutpsifgts…sorry, turbulence….very few tourists. The rest of the clientèle is just local Italians having their morning coffee and chat, so I’m sure he remembered us and our attempts at very bad Italian every morning. This morning when he served Cheryl he corrected her pronunciation; she ordered a morracino, or morrachino, or something like that, and pronounced it “morrachino”. When he served it to her, he said “Morrachino?” and when she nodded, he smiled and said “No, morrakino.”
Whoops, that was the end of the flight. We’re on the train to our Athens hotel now (we hope. We’re on a train, anyway). More later…
Ok, I’m at the hotel now. Where was I? Right, breakfast. The coffee bar guy was rather friendly, and the pronunciation correction was delivered kindly, as a lesson, not as a correction. If I was staying somewhere for more than a few days, I think I’d make a point of going to the same place on a regular basis. I don’t know if its a coincidence or not, but by the third day he seemed to have more chocolate croissants ready than he did before (the first morning he had four, and we bought ’em all: two for now and two for later). We went to the same restaurant for supper both nights too, and the waiter/manager/owner/whatever remembered us.
But now, we’re in the Hermes Hotel in Athens, and split up for the first time this trip: the rooms are double occupancy, and Cheryl was put in a room with another girl. I don’t think she minds, though…a week is a long time to spend with the same people.
Personally, I’m just happy that we can relax now. Tonight, we meet with the Contiki group, and tomorrow we leave on the cruise. No more planning trips on public transit; no more hoping that the airline doesn’t lose our luggage; no more wandering around foreign cities with no guide. It was fun, but it was tiring (physically and mentally), and if it was any longer than a week it probably would have been too much.
True, we still have to get back home, but that’s nothing. A couple more plane trips…but if the airline loses our baggage, it’s no big deal…we’re going home and the bags will find us eventually. We’ll still need to get to our hotel and figure out our flight connection, but that shouldn’t be that much trouble. For the next week or so, Contiki is taking care of all the planning for us.
I’ve wandered around Athens for a bit now (there were a couple hours between the last paragraph and this one), and overall the city feels less foreign than Italy. The written language is barely comprehensible, because I don’t know much of the alphabet, but almost everything is signed in English as well, and the few shopkeepers and other people we encountered all spoke passable English. While Rome feels like an old city that’s held on to its culture for the last five hundred years, Athens feels more like a city that has an old culture but has happily also absorbed aspects of what I will for lack of a better term call “modern Western culture”. There’s lots more traffic, more commercialism, busier people, and a wider variety of people. In Rome, it seemed that everyone was Italian…but not everyone in Athens seems Greek. I took a couple pictures while I was out, but not many, because there wasn’t that much to photograph. Though it is odd seeing a public square paved entirely in polished marble.
And I’ve realized that while I thought my Italian was weak, I definitely don’t know any Greek. I’ve tried to at least be able to thank shopkeepers in their own language…my Contiki Europe Travellers Guide claims it’s “Effaristo”, but I don’t have a clue how to pronounce that.
And…it’s later again. This is sort of a stream-of-consciousness entry, and there aren’t even any pictures, because I haven’t taken any today (well, only a couple). Anyway, we met the tour group, which is a grand total of seven people; ridiculously small. There’s the three of us, a girl from Quebec, two guys from L.A., and a guy from Australia. We went for dinner at a taverna in the Plaka; everyone ordered souvlaki and/or Greek salad. The taverna owners all walk out into the street trying to get you to come in and eat – most of them have a patio area that the owner (or headwaiter, for all I know) is in, flagging people down. There’s a bit more aggressive salesmanship here – we had three people try to sell us roses while we were eating. One of the Americans offered them a chair at the table and asked them if they were hungry, which totally baffled them and they left. Worked all three times.
About the other people on the tour…it could go either way. The Aussie is, surprisingly, quiet and withdrawn: he sat at the back of the room during the pre-tour briefing, and completely vanished afterwards. We were going to invite him to dinner with us, but no one knew where he was…presumably his hotel room. The Americans are loud and brash; they were fun to hang around with for dinner, but I fear it might get old before too long. The other Canadian was, well, a Canadian. Her and Cheryl are sharing a hotel room tonight (I’m with Tim), and they seem to be getting along.
So the tour group is nothing like we expected; I was thinking there would be at least 20 people in the group. Hopefully all goes well. If there are personality clashes in a group this size, though, it could get unpleasant…but it’s a big boat. We haven’t actually met our tour manager yet; the guy that did our pre-tour briefing was filling in, because our real manager is just on his way back from his last tour.
I’ve no idea what sort of communication you’ll have from me for the next week…there’s some fairly expensive internet access on the boat, but if it includes wireless access, I might go for it.
‘Til next time…