A Travellerspoint blog

July 4

Journey Home

sunny 32 °C

July 4, 2007
4:30 AM the alarm wakes us up to another fine weather forecast. It may still be dark out but our journey can not wait so we trudge down to the front desk to check out and pay our final bill. George the famous Taxi Driver is waiting for us out front with a bright yellow Mercedes taxi to whisk us to the airport. And whisk he does at a mere 95 MPH.

Fortunately there is no traffic and we are at the airport in 40 minutes. We pile out say our final farewell and head to the Iberia check in line. This time I did put the knife in my checked luggage, not to make the same mistake twice. We drop off the check in luggage and with two back packs, one each, we head through security.

Ah security. What a misnomer that is. We stand in a very short line, have our passports reviewed by a person who could care less and soon we are at the security gate. I take out my computer from the backpack; dump all my change in the bin, take off my shoes and breeze through the metal detector. Of course my back pack does not go as fast.

I do not have a knife, the deadly sun screen was already taken what can it be this time, cookies? They ask me to open my back pack and there wrapped in gift wrap are the offending items, 4 bottles of Ouzo. They sell Ouzo in the airport in the Duty Free shop so what is the problem? I can buy it in the airport why not in the city?

Well after a discussion I am told I can not take the Ouzo as it is a liquid and I can not take a liquid across security. So George, Sal and Rick your Ouzo gift is in the garbage at the Athens airport. I sure the world is now a safer place.

Ok we board the plane to fly to Madrid. I am looking forward to a quiet flight, not like the last one where I had to be a doctor. The flight is relatively open and we get out on time. Breakfast of eggs and potato, coffee and juice are offered. Way different from domestic US flights where there is no food service, Europe still has a meal with their flight.

After breakfast we fall quickly asleep and soon awake in Madrid. Here we have a 2 hour layover for the overseas flight to Chicago. As we are waiting for the flight I can not resist a final Iberico ham sandwich I have come so much to enjoy. Since I know they are not available in the US I enjoy it as my last meal in Europe.

As we get ready to board the 9 hour flight a family from the Middle East comes by. There is a Mom and Dad and 9 year old boy and a 4 year old girl in a baby carriage. The girl is wailing. I pray that she is no where near us on the flight, Sometimes your prayers are answered; and sometimes not. This one was not.

We get on the flight into row 24 and also in row 24 in the middle row is our family from the noisy section of the Middle East. I want to sleep because I do not want to sit here for 9 hours but the little girl wants to wail. She proceeds to wail for more then 6 of the 9 hours. Her family did not make much effort to shut her up at all so the little girl had free reign to wail and wail and wail. I was able to get some sleep off and I but really wished they would move.

Well soon the ordeal was over. We arrived Chicago right on time and headed to customs to claim our bags, check back into the US and forward our bags to Detroit. Sounds easy right, not.

We get our bags relatively quickly but when we get Cathy’s bag it looked like it went through a shredder. The top of the bag was all broken and the back was basically torn off. There was no way the bag was going to make any flight in that condition.

I show the bag to the porter who proceeds to tape the entire top of the bag with American Airlines tape. It will hold and will make the bag very easy to find in Detroit! I also ask the baggage handler for a claim for the damages to the bag which they promptly gave me. Nice service even though they destroyed our property.

We leave Chicago relatively on time and head for the hour flight to Detroit. We land uneventfully and proceed to baggage claim to see what new things the airlines can cook up for us. Our bags come out and seem in order, looks however can be deceiving.

We get to the parking lot transfer bus, drive to our car and head home. The vacation is over at precisely 8:30 PM July 4 the moment we get into our home.

I will not go into details as to what we found when we got home but suffice it to say it took us 1.5 days to clean the house up. The bad news is my 100 gallon fish tank went bad and about $250 of tropical fish died. Oh well we still have the memory of the trip right!

One last point of our adventure occurred while we unpacked our bags. As you recall Cathy’s bag was a mess but the contents we fine. My bag was also fine. We had a small travel bag for incidentals and shoes and such. When we opened this bag there was a nice little note from the TSA. It seems our bag was chosen for a random search. NO big deal nothing to hide anyway.

Well it seems that search means also shopping for the TSA because we found the following missing from the bag: The charger to my new cell phone and the charger to my computer. Why they chose these items to take we have no ides but take they did.
Oh well the trip is over and is now a memory. We have over 900 photos to go through and put on line for all to see. We have some nice souvenirs and some gifts for friends and family. All in all it was a great trip and we highly suggest that each and every one of you take the time to go to Europe and enjoy.

Safe and happy travels

Phil, Cathy and Chris
July 6, 2007

Posted by pfarina 14:29 Archived in Greece Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

July 3

Last days

sunny 35 °C

July 3, 2007
Today we awake with the sunrise, OK so sunrise was closer to 8:30 then 6:00 but we were really tired so needed the extra sleep. Down to breakfast and a weather report showing the high today near 100 F. A hot one for our last day in Greece.

Since Chris is already with his group Cathy and I head to the subway to negotiate on our own the city that is Athens. The guides are right, you only need two days in Athens to see it all and we have already been her two days so we are off to the market to buy souvenirs.

The market is very relaxed today as there are no cruise ships and many people have already been here so shoppers are light in number and the prices are down. Shop keepers are looking for the sale so the bargains are here for the taking.

We stumble onto one street where they are selling everything at ½ price or less. A shopper’s paradise and we dive in with both feet. We are able to come out with more then half of the items we needed and now it is time for lunch.

We head over to a nice looking café and sit down to a meal of Souvlaki and fries and bask in the relative coolness of the shade. It is really beautiful today with very clear blue skies and a slight breeze. We dine slowly savoring the scene and just enjoying the company.

Soon we are off again for a little more shopping. As we search out the perfect gift the temperature begins to take its toll on us and soon we find ourselves heading toward the subway for a trip back to the hotel a shower and a nap.

After a much needed rest we pack our bags for the trip in the morning and just leave out what we need. Soon we are ready for our final sojourn into Athens and a final dinner.

Athens is surrounded by water so we decide on a fish meal as our final dining feast and ask the hotel concierge for a recommendation. It seems that surrounded by water does not translate to cheap fresh fish.

Our concierge recommends a nice restaurant on the water in Piraeus the port city at the end of the subway line. So far so good, we can get there relatively easily. As we depart Cathy suggests we ask how pricy the place is, so we do. I figure fifty or sixty Euros will buy us a nice dinner. I suggest the price to the helpful gentleman and he agrees the price of sixty Euros EACH should do it. EACH I exclaim, but he says the fish is FRESH. Fresh it better sing and dance for 120 Euro. We pass on the fresh fish and instead head back to the marketplace where we know the food is good and much less pricy.

We once again hit the subway and back downtown where we choose a nice garden restaurant where we almost dined with Chris on our first night. We peruse the menu and settle on a Salad of cucumber and tomato, a grilled eggplant appetizer and the main course PIZZA. Ok the pizza was real good much better then any option in Toledo, and it was made in Greece, so it does count as a final Greek meal right?

Anyway we dine slowly and enjoy our final night on vacation. We say good buy to our host and walk back to the subway for the trip to the hotel and prepare our minds and body for the grueling 22 hour marathon trip home in the morning.

Posted by pfarina 14:27 Archived in Greece Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

July 2

Athens and shopping

sunny 35 °C

July 2, 2007
Well we sleep in a little this morning and get ready for some more sight seeing and to drop Chris off at his hotel so he can begin the third part of his summer vacation.

We head out again to the subway where we buy a 1 Euro ticket each which we will use all day to get around Athens. Monday is not like Sunday however, as today the subway is really crowded and with the temperature heading to 95 today, it is also hot. But it is still our best mode of transportation so we head again to the historic area.

Using the entrance tickets we purchased yesterday we get into the Roman Agora area and are treated to an amazing site of ruins of ancient Rome. Here we see a marketplace, temples, library and many other buildings all in a very well planned area below the Acropolis. It was amazing what they were able to build 3500 years ago.

From here we go back into the Plaka area where we shop for gifts and mementos. It is now about 95 and we are a little tired and hungry. We stop at a Taverna and order a light lunch of Souvlaki and a bottle of water. The food is excellent and we get away for under 24 Euro. It is now time to head back to the hotel and get Chris’ things and head to his new hotel.

We head back to the subway and our hotel. We get his things and trudge back to the subway, all this on the same 1 Euro ticket we bought this morning. His hotel is about 5 stops away so in 15 minutes we are out of the subway and walking in the 96 degree heat looking for his hotel.

We are in a relatively near run down area of very small streets and hotels that have seen better days. There is even a gas station, something we have not seen anywhere in Athens, so we know we are on the outskirts of civilized Athens. We finally come to his now hotel a little less rundown building with a nice but small reception area. After some confusion as to his name and room reservation we get his key. The rest of his traveling troop has not yet arrived.

We head up to his room on the 5th floor, yes there is an elevator but it is real tiny even by European standards. His room however is actually very nice, clean, bright, large and well appointed with 2 beds, he is sharing a room with Brandon Wieslak. We say our good byes and Cathy and I head down to go back to the subway and our hotel for an afternoon siesta.

As we hit the lobby we see the rest of the Xavier travelers have arrived so we call Chris to come and meet the group. He is excited to see his friends and soon they are all off to their rooms and Cathy and I are now alone in Athens.

We head back to the hotel for a rest during the heat of the day. After showers and naps we are ready to head back to the Plaka area and more shopping and dinner. Once again back on the subway to our main stop where we walk around a little and soon settle into a nice looking café on the very end of a very quiet street. It is now 8:00 PM and time for dinner.

By 10:00 PM we were still sitting at dinner! You see it was very cool this evening, about 75 degrees and we really had no place to be so we sat down talked, drank, listened to the local musician, he played American and Spanish songs all night, and dined. Tonight Cathy had her usual spaghetti and I had Greek Salad with a main course of chicken kabob. Our waiter was very nice and allowed us to sit, and relax while he slowly served our food. He even bought us two after dinner glasses of Ouzo, a Sambuca-like drink which has one hell of a kick. (We had to buy 4 bottles later, but that is another story).

Now since shopping was long closed we walked once again to another subway stop and headed back to the hotel for some well deserved and needed rest. Tomorrow is our last day of vacation in Athens for we take the long and arduous journey home on Wednesday July 4.

Posted by pfarina 06:14 Archived in Greece Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

July 1

Greece on our own

sunny 32 °C

July 1, 2007
This morning I discover that Yogurt and Honey is not only a dessert but also breakfast. So once again I get to enjoy the local treat. We all dine at our 5 star hotel buffet and drink heartily as today it will be 95 degrees and we are planning to tour the historic sites of Athens. So we try an early start and depart the hotel at 10:00 AM

We ask for the best way to the Acropolis the highlight of any Athens tour. Our hotel directs us to the subway. We were a little hesitant at first since we do not know the system, do not speak Greek and are not sure of the fares but off on a Sunday morning we go down under Athens.

The subway turns out to be very clean and very easy to navigate. There are three lines, Red, Green and Blue. Blue only goes to the airport so we can eliminate that line. Red and Green Connect at a station one stop from our hotel station so we pay the .80 each and head into the subway.

We arrive at the entrance to the Acropolis in about 10 minutes. The subway is A/C active and not too crowded so it saved us 8 Euro in cab fares. We soon learn that we can use our .80 tickets all day and spend many hours traveling the city from end to end on the subway. It is a great way to get around.

So at the Acropolis we buy our 12 Euro tickets which are good for entrance into all the main sites, a great bargain. We enter the area and begin a long slow climb from the city level to the highest point in the city. On the way we see the Theater of Dionysus, several temples and some other artifacts of ancient Greece. The temperature is now well above 90 and we only survive the walk to the top due to a nice warm breeze and shade trees.

The Acropolis is very crowded and we have to negotiate around several tour groups from various parts of the world but finally climb the last steps to the top. It is worth the climb.
The Parthenon is magnificent and is under some level of reconstruction. The buildings around the Parthenon are also beautiful and represent various temples to the various gods of ancient Greece. There is also a modern look out point flying the Greek flag. We explore for more then an hour and really do not notice the heat until we begin the walk back.

Soon we see a refreshment stand and 14 Euros later we have a frozen Strawberry beverage and two Power Aids to replenish our lost water. Cathy is doing very very well and is really walking in the heat with limited issues. Chris is carrying a water filled back pack so we always have water so we are very well prepared. We even have towels and wet wipes to help cool us off so we press on.

Down from the Acropolis we visit the Temple of Zeus. Very little is left but this was the largest temple ever build in ancient Greece and was the site of one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world, the Statue of Zeus. From here we visit Hadrian’s Wall, which we say last night.

It is now time for some food so we stop in a small café and for 10.5 Euro we dine on sandwiches and water. Feeling rested and a little cooler we press on and go back into the Plaka for more shopping.

We walk slowly through the Plaka and head back to the train station for a much needs return to the hotel and a nap. It is now near 96 degrees and getting hotter. We use our same subway ticket and head back to the hotel.

After a shower and nap we decide to board the subway again and head to the port city of Faliro. This is a port city near Piraeus a much larger port but all the guide books say Piraeus is dirty and the food is bad and overpriced so we go to the smaller port city and were glad we did.

We get off the subway and really have no idea where we are or which way to go. A very nice young lady helps us by giving us directions to walk across a footbridge and follow the road to where you will find many restaurants. Here directions were perfect and in less then 20 minutes we arrive at the water and have our choice of a dozen on the water dining options.

Competition for diners is keen and every place has a menu our front and a “hawker” telling you this is the best place, or we have the best prices, or our fish is the freshest. They will throw their body in front of you or a car to get you to stop and eat at their family place.

We pass the first one or two and come to one that we are told has the best prices. As we walk away he tells me if I came back he will buy me a drink. Not a bad offer. So we walk a little more and the restaurants are getting more and more expensive so we go back to the first place which had a decent menu and reasonable prices. I negotiate a free wine for Chris and I, Cathy did not want any, and we are shown to a table literally right on the water.

Being on the water the weather is now much cooler and we are enjoying the sunset as we sip our wine. Dining in Greece is a slow casual affair. They bring us a basket of bread (1 Euro) and sweet olive oil and a large bottle of water (2 Euro). We decide on a meal and order Spaghetti with fish for Cathy, fried sardines and a Greek salad for me and chicken fillets and French fries for Chris.

We dine slowly and feed the fish that are swimming just off the restaurant floor; I said we are on the water didn’t I? After about 90 minutes we are done eating and just sit and relax as the sun finally goes down behind some tall buildings. Since we still have some light left we decide to walk back across the bridge, use our same subway ticket and head back to the hotel for a well needed rest.

Tomorrow is the last day we spend with Chris as he begins the next part of his journey, 30 days exploring ancient Greece with his classmates.

Posted by pfarina 13:00 Archived in Greece Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

June 30

Travel to Athens

sunny 30 °C

June 30, 2007
We decide to sleep in a little and get up at 8:00 for our departure to the airport. Check out at the hotel was quick for a Saturday. Our cab was right there at the front door so we pile in all the luggage, 4 bags and two backpacks, and settle in for the 30 minute drive to the airport. Our driver speaks no English so with some broken Spanglish we get the point across and off to Iberia terminal and Athens.

Rick the next part of this story is dedicated to you; it seems the fruit does not fall far from the tree.

We arrive at the airport in plenty of time, 2.5 hours before our flight. We planned to arrive early so we could check in, get something to eat and relax a little before the 3.5 hour flight to Greece.

We arrive at self check in and breeze through the process. We tag our check in bags, get our boarding passes and head toward the security gate. Security Gate hits me! In my pocket is my Swiss Army Knife! Just like Rick many years ago I forgot to put my knife in check in luggage. This is a brand new pocket knife and I do not want to lose it but I have no choice. Our checked luggage is long gone and all I have are pockets and a backpack.

Cathy advises I should tell someone. I ask who and what do I tell them? You know that conversation was going no where so I bury the knife in my back pack and trudge off to security.

There is no line at security so we unpack our computers and cameras and all metal objects, well most metal objects anyway, in the trays and get ready for the fun. A woman in front of us had a cat in a carry cage. She did not want to put the cat through X-ray so she took it out of the box. The cat was HUGE, I mean FAT. It was the biggest, fattest cat I ever saw, and apparently the biggest, fattest cat the security folks saw also. While they were busy with the cat I put my back pack on the X-ray hoping the disturbance over the cat will get me through, almost.

As we pass the metal detector, the guard stops my back pack and asks whose bag is it. Well we know what is going to happen next and I prepare to agree I forgot the knife in the pack, but no. That was not the issue. It seems that he was concerned with a bottle of sun tan lotion I had in the bag. It seems that suntan lotion is a liquid and we all know you can not take liquid on a plane. So he takes my dangerous can of suntan lotion while my pocket knife breezes through. Good trade from my end, so we head off to breakfast.

After a leisurely breakfast we head off to our departure gate and wait 30 minutes to board our Iberia flight to Athens. Soon the gate is open and we board the flight for nice quiet ride. Unfortunately it was not going to be.

Cathy and I settle into row 19 and Chris in 17. The plane is relatively full and we get off just about on time. I like to sleep on planes so I settle in for a nice nap. After an hour I am awakened up so we can get a very nice lunch. I enjoy my meal and settle in for the rest of my nap, unfortunately there were other plans.

As I begin to doze there is significant movement and excitement in the aisle of the plane. I continue to try to nap, but the commotion gets worse and soon there is an announcement “is there a doctor on board” Not me I say to myself, not this time. I try again to sleep and ignore the commotion. Soon about 25 people are all over the aisle chatting, arguing any generally beginning to panic. They ask again for a doctor and soon a doctor comes from the make of the plane. OK so now I can go back to sleep right? Wrong.

I keep one eye open and watch as things go from bad to worse. It seems an older gentleman is sweating profusely, and is looking like he is going to pass out. No one seems to have any idea what they are doing and can not agree on a course of action. The doctor asks for a BP cuff which the stewardess does have on board. He takes a BP lays the patient down and WALKS AWAY. It seems he is an OB/GYN and this is not his specialty.

OK now this is getting ridiculous and I just can not stand by while they try and kill this guy. I walk up to the stewardess and tell her I am an EMT if she agrees I will look at the passenger. She says thank you doctor and now proceeds to do anything I say!

We clear the aisle; I take a pulse and do a general assessment. I need three interpreters because the patient is from Chile and speaks no English. His family speaks Spanish and I do not. The Stewardess speaks Spanish and English so it takes awhile to find out what is going on. So I find out he has been traveling on a plane for the last 24 hours and was dehydrated and suffering from low blood pressure. Since he was hypotensive he was faint. His pulse was strong so we made him lay down put his feet up and I administered oxygen at 2 liters flow. In 15 minutes he was felling much better and was able to sit up and cool down and converse very clearly. Another tragedy averted. I stay with my patient for another 15 minutes and see he is now near normal so I return to my seat to complete my nap. Many thank you’s later there is no time left to sleep as we are landing. So much for a quiet flight.

When we get off the flight I meet with the Paramedics and do a patient assessment report. The EMT spoke perfect English so when I concluded the patient was OK he said “OK then he is not FUBAR!” Hope you all know what that means. I laughed and left to look for our luggage.

Once we get our bags we meet with George the famous Greek Taxi Driver. I hired George over the internet before we left to pick us up from the airport and take us to our Hotel. We pile into a bright yellow Mercedes Benz and literally tie our luggage into the back of the trunk and off we go to downtown Athens and our 5 star hotel, the Titania.

We check in and since we have Chris for three nights they upgraded our room to a two room suite for only 30 Euro a night extra. We change into shorts since it is 35 C (95 F) outside at 6:30 PM and head out to explore Athens.

We are a few blocks from Parliament and as we walk by are treated to the changing of the guard. This is done with much pomp and pageantry and high stepping guards performing a routine that is centuries old. It takes 15 minutes and soon we are walking again toward our destination, the Placa.

The Placa is the shopping center of the city and is filled, and I mean filled, with small stores, stalls, vendors in the street, bright lights, sights, sounds and restaurants. We walk in and out of stores for quite some time and soon are starving. We settle into a small outdoor restaurant for our first Greek meal.

This time we did the local food and not an Italian delight as Chris and Cathy seem to delight in. We dined on lamb and chicken souvlaki with rice and French fries. We share a Greek salad and a very large bottle of water as we are all much dehydrated. For dessert Cathy has a baklava and I tried a local treat, yogurt with honey. It sounds bad but was actually very good and almost was like a sweet ice cream. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

After dinner we continued to walk the city and discovered the Lysicrates monument built in 334 BC. He was a producer of a play that won a local competition and as a prize he got to erect and pay for his monument. Better to lose actually but he built a small monument and it still stands today. We also walked to Hadrian’s Arch. Hadrian donated significant money and building to enlarge Athens and as a show of gratitude the city built an arch in his honor. From here we walked toward the Acropolis but since it was closed we chose not to climb the hill this evening but will do it tomorrow.

We continued shopping and essentially got lost as we went left, right, over and under until we were thoroughly confused so we decided to hail a cab. Unlike Madrid it was very easy to get a cab and in 10 minutes we were back to our base of operations and back in our room.

Tomorrow the three of us will explore the local historic attractions and I am sure continue our shopping.

Posted by pfarina 23:04 Archived in Greece Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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