This was the trip that was supposed to be to Egypt, in the winter of 1998, but in the fall of that year a few groups in Egypt started bombing tourists. Since this trip was arranged by the NYU Scholar's program, we were far too protected to go to such a dangerous place as Egypt. Instead of pyramids we decided on some other ancient buildings, and went to Greece.
Now, perhaps our university's zeal to protect us caused the organizers to lose their minds somewhat, or perhaps they decided to ignore that by this time most of us had already explored places like Hong Kong or Austria on our own, but we wound up with an entirely packaged-tour, multi-city, experience in Greece.
I thought that one dear friend was going to have a nervous breakdown from simply spending far too much time on the bus. Some of our fellow Scholars chose to cope by staying drunk for the entire trip and howling at the moon. I just wrote a lot and when I couldn't stand the bus anymore, I would force myself to fall asleep.
Here begin the journals.
Sunday, 4 January 1998 and
Monday, 5 January 1998
Shortly after we arrived at JFK, we found out that our Olympic Air flight was delayed 5 hours. So... We waited. We wandered in the terminal a wee bit, got very bored, boarded the plane at last at 10pm. We didn't leave 'til 10.45. Aside from the leaving late, in general the plane seemed a little dingy and rickety. Olympic Air is not my favourite airline.
As soon as we landed in the Athens airport the bussing fun began. We loaded our stuff and ourselves into a bus and headed straight... To the sightseeing. Not to the hotel to drop off our stuff or rest or freshen up.
As I hadn't slept at all on the flight (due to general dinginess and noisiness and whatnot) I had some trouble staying awake for the first bus ride, but I was stunned enough by the beauty of the Aegean to stay awake, mostly. We arrived at Cape Sounion, where there is a magnificent temple to Poseidon there on the edge of the sea, and from various perches in the hills we all watched the sunset. Which was well worth lack of rest and lack of cleanliness and food and most everything else.
The Greeks touch and feel you all the time. To make sure you're real? To make sure you know that they are real? I stare at everything, all the time.
After dark we got to our hotel, dropped our stuff off, and by now we were far enough beyond sleep that we went out again. Our little troupe within the group of 40-some Scholars consists of about 7 people, old friends and new. We found a great spot to eat (food is cheap and good here -- I had lamb) and then wandered around, up toward the acropolis and then back home because we were exhausted. We have a spectacular view of the city (and especially the ruined temple of Zeus right across from our hotel) through our hotel window, and a nearby balcony looks out over the acropolis. This isn't even a particularly nice hotel.
Tuesday, 6 January 1998
I woke at 5am and had trouble falling back to sleep; I would have watched the sunrise but there was a mountain between me and the sun. So I eventually fell back to sleep and then woke at 7.30 and got a shower -- clean at last.
We got to the Bus later than our Militant Tour Guide wanted; she really has been torture, telling us when we can do what to the letter, but the dean in charge of our trip promises that he is going to get rid of her. She tells us to call her "Mama." Right. We briefly rode around the city, and visited a cathedral that our troupe had stumbled upon last night. Today was Epiphany and there was a service going on, with beautiful voices (instruments are not permissible in Greek Orthodoxy). While I didn't like the way we all just walked in on their service, I could have listened to the singing for hours.
We left there and headed up for the acropolis. I soon ditched the tour group, against Militant Tour Guide's wishes, and went off on my own, writing a bit.
Then Bonnie got fed up. Bonnie is one of my new friends, an Art History major who has taken her share of Greek Architecture, and she kept pointing out flaws in the MTG's statements. Finally she decided absolutely that she has better info than the Militant Misinforming Mama, and our entire little troupe split off the main gang and had a Bonnie Tour. Other folks (some not even from our NYU group, I think) joined in. It was really quite fascinating, and Bonnie could be a great professional tour guide. So we saw the Parthenon and other temples and then went to the Dionysian theatre below, then wandered around for too long of a time before an overly-friendly man led us to a place for lunch. This is apparently a frequent form of advertising; a person scouts foreigners around a mealtime, mentions a good spot that he knows, and is kind enough to lead the sheep straight to it.
We were the only patrons -- not a good sign. But the food was decently priced and wasn't exactly bad. After lunch (a late lunch; Greeks generally lunch at 3pm and have supper at anywhere from 9 to 11) we raced to the hotel roof in time to catch the sunset. It was lovely; we could see it set over the sea, see mountains, see the light on the Parthenon. I used my binoculars extensively, as I did throughout the day; a very handy and fun little tool, or toy. After the sunset we all went to our rooms for naps.
We got up and met our ever-slightly-changing gang to go to dinner. We ate at 9.30 and then stopped briefly at the hotel before going to a club on Makrigianni Street to hear some music. That was my idea and my adventure, and the troupe came along; I want to do my 'academic project' (an NYU requirement for these trips, but also a bit of a joke) on the music. We listened and spent too much money (it was very expensive) and around 1am everyone but the very faithful left.
That was when the salad started flying around -- ie., when it got good. I may be reading this wrong, but apparently one way to show your appreciation for dancing in such clubs is to throw flowers at the dancers, and if flowers are not immediately available, lettuce matter will suffice. There was one huge family celebrating a birthday or something for a young boy, and constant lettuce was flying from various family members at other family members.
Deirdre and I eventually went on the stage and danced. By this time someone had found some carnations, and we got a few thrown at us. I was almost clogging, in between attempts to peer and see what drum the percussionist was playing. He lifted it up to show me: a doumbek with a synthetic top. We got home around 2:45am.
Wednesday, 7 January 1998
The Militant Misinforming Mama has been replaced with a new Nurturing Tour Guide now, who is wonderful and an associate professor, who obviously knows what she's talking about.
We woke at 8am, and again were on the bus at 9, and we went to 2 museums in a row. They were okay but I was running on 4.5 hours' sleep, and museums are most certainly not my thing, and I almost couldn't take it. We stopped at the hotel and then headed over to the agora, which was only a 6-person group and much more manageable and invigourating, to me. We walked in the sun, sat in the shade, enjoyed one another, got a bit more Bonnie Tour.
Somehow, when we came out, lo, we were in the midst of a flea market evidently frequented mostly by locals. We 4 girls bought skirts there (necessary for the monastery tour we are taking tomorrow) and I bought a shirt, too -- in all 7500dr for me, which is about $27. Then we got lunch at a fast food souvlaki stand and wandered more in the market; I saw a darbouka for about $100, which isn't much less than I can get it in NYC, alas. We got postcards and returned briefly to the hotel.
We met with all the other Scholars at 5pm to go to our 'academic contact' here, the Technical University or something. It was terribly boring, quite a chore, but I did write some postcards during the lecture. We got out at 7pm and stopped at the hotel before taking dirt-cheap cabs (3 cabs for our troupe of 10) to a funicular to the city's highest point. It reminded me of Victoria Peak. Places in general start to echo each other when you go to more of them. Same tune, different rhythms.
We walked down a bit for dinner, which was great thought we had to split into 2 tables. Around midnight we left just to wander, and we stumbled upon something great: a music club, with a younger crowd and cheaper prices than last night. They danced, real dances, and it was amazing and fun to watch. We watched them dance (didn't do it ourselves; this was way out of our league) 'til 2.30am, at which point we rushed home. Everyone said they loved it, for which I was glad. I'm the one who has been pushing to do music stuff, so I feel slightly responsible for the way the music stuff goes. I was surprised; there was stuff about it that I actually knew. Groovy.
Thursday, 8 January 1998
Our wake-up call came at 6am. Three hours' sleep. I showered, we ate, and we got on the bus (which was late) for a 6-hour drive. The country was beautiful, mountains and lakes and all, so I didn't mind too much being awake to see it. I jotted notes in my notebook as we drove by:
Attica. Bikes on the median. McMenu, McDrive, McChicken. Three on a bike. Mapping a car. Men cradled in trees like hands lifted up to hold them in the sky. 'RESIST' in white and blue, bubble-letter graffiti. Many hammers and sickles. Round pretzels balanced in a tray on a street vendor's head as he walks among cars. Advert with two men arm in arm. Cab passengers sit in the front. Aeropagitou, Adrianou, Makrigianni. Roadside shrines on stilts.
Fog in the bottom of Thessaly.
Spectacular, and the binos were often on my face. We arrived in Kalambaka ("well-protected from the back" - the guys have had no end of fun making fun of that name) and had lunch at a place they set up and opened up for us; which meant that it wasn't so great, but okay. We went afterward to the a monastery in Meteora.
The rocks were amazing, the height of the mountains... We were on top. a marvel. The views were grand, and I loved looking out from the buildings; I did not love feeling suffocating inside them, among so many ikons. I prayed and lifted my eyes up to the mountains. The ride down was a little scary - the bus was so close to the edge the bus.
They took us to a dumb tourist store nearby, but I still paid 6000 dr ($24) for 2 CD's. Then to our next hotel. We ate at the hotel, or rather, we picked at the food. I hardly ate anything because it was so awful. but we had fun, laughing with each other, because we were all so utterly exhausted and anything was funny. Then our gang went to get some kinder-eggs, and ate them in Bonnie & Nancy's room.
This hotel was especially opened for us. Tourists don't come through in winter, so this hotel has actually been closed since the end of the summer season. When our tour company said a bunch of Americans students were coming through, they reopened for a couple of nights in the winter - meaning that everything smells mildewy, nothing seems quite clean, and the place is cold. Cold. Heat hasn't been on in a long time. Our room specifically smells vaguely of decomposition, and the toilet paper is conveniently located in the shower.
Friday, 9 January 1998
We got something closely resembling a full night's sleep. We woke, ate, got on the bus. Not my favourite routine. Fog, and the side of the road drenched in garbage; I think that actually may just be people's dump. I was going mad, I think, from being in the bus. If this goes on much longer I fear some of us will go postal, though at least we can laugh about it. When we're not on the bus.
We went to another overpriced and not-great set-up for lunch, then to Delphi (home of the oracle) briefly where I looked out over the mountains. We looked, and arrived in the modern Delphi to our hotel and then the 3 of us left to explore; we just had to do something on our own. We walked through the village and came out the other end after a few minutes. I sat and looked out over the valley below, praying as friends talked a few metres away, relishing the time alone with God on the mountaintop in the dark. We got lost as we came back, but still wound up at the hotel because it's just one of those towns. Some folks in our troupe wanted to try to find pizza for dinner, since our last experience with hotel food had been so bad and there just aren't many other options in this town. We looked, but then decided to chance the free food at the old hotel.
Again, it was terrible. Again, I hardly touched it. My appetite was ruined, so I didn't wind up hunting down pizza with the rest of the gang. Deirdre and I used the time to switch our room, because the one we were previously assigned had absolutely no heat and smelled none too good.
Saturday, 10 January 1998
We didn't get the wake up call when we were supposed to, because of the room change, but fortunately I had bad and anxious dreams which woke me up right on time to get ready. We had the same breakfast we've been having each morning: the selection is cheese, bread, cake, yogurt, fruit, cornflakes, coffee, milk, juice... All of which has been out for a while. Then departure again, for more Delphic ruins. The mountains were again the most beautiful part, but I found it interesting that Delphi, which the ancient Greeks called the "navel of the world." In some senses it was their center of thought and spirituality, and even for communication: people posted the news of the year on the rocks there. Carved periodicals sound fascinating to me, but I'm already doing my Scholars project on the music.
I wanted to sit and contemplate and write, but we still have our regimented bus tour schedule that is etched in stone (pun intended) and we had to go. More bus, stop for lunch, and by then I was really on the edge. The food was again outright bad, but this time it didn't have free-ness to recommend it; it was in fact hugely overpriced. I almost screamed at the trip organisers (the dean and his assistant) but I saw that they were also being tortured with the badness of it all, plus had to deal with all of us on their conscience. So I let it go.
I ate quickly and ran out, across the street... To the sea. There it was, the Ionian. It was marvelous to be together with the sea again. I found stones and sat on the edge and heard the waves lap and looked out and over... Since I had eaten so fast (or sparingly, rather) I was the first one out, but after a little while more people came out. it was still lovely, just more crowded. I found special rocks and gave them to special friends.
We drove on and I felt a lot better from the sea; finally I was able to sleep on the bus, thank God. I did watch the sun go down, and the moon rising, and was awake for the ferry ride we took to the Peloponesian peninsula. It's good to be near water, and on sea level; as wonderful as the mountains are I think the heights were doing things to my brain. Dinner was surprisingly edible, though still not great. Bonnie was able to eat, for which I thank God; she is a vegetarian and has been able to eat nearly nothing, and what she could eat nearly made her sick.
Shortly after we ate we went to a place where we saw some cheesy contrived folk dancing. Despite its silliness, it was academically interesting from a musical and historical perspective. Some of the songs sounded just like jigs. I chose to enjoy it and wound up even dancing a bit... And we danced the horah! Strange. When the folk dancing was done, they put on 'American disco music' -- club stuff. We shrugged our shoulders and danced to that too, even me. Eventually we all left (I have no idea when because my watch has taken to stopping at random times).
We returned to our hotel -- another nasty one -- and hung out for just a bit with some folks in the lobby.
Sunday, 11 January 1998
Too early for me, as always, we woke up. We ate, got back on the bus. This time it was Olympia. The museum was utterly boring, so I wrote to keep myself awake and Deirdre and I ran around together, wanting to run amok amok amok! Then the ruins -- more stones -- but the air was lovely and I walked quietly with Bonnie a bit. We went to the first Olympic stadium, and Bonnie and I decided to lie in the grass there, in the sun.
We lay down and it was lovely, but the time doing what we want is often too short. We got back on the bus and to lunch, which was okay. Back on the bus, with a storm that I could feel brewing starting to chase us... It never did pour on us though. We come from those mountains, we go into these, we go through these.
I slept a bit, and we eventually arrived in Nafpoli. Compared to the places we've been lately, this is a wonderfully civilised and cosmopolitan place. The 4 gals of our gang went into town together before dinner, and there were actually open places there, things to do, a playground that we goofed off in. We came back to the hotel (another barely okay one) and had dinner with the big Scholar family. I didn't eat much, and left a bit early to take a brief nap.
Our 'liquid clique,' now consisting of seven, went out together, to a local fast-souvlaki joint where we had our second dinner. We walked around more and all (especially me) were very goofy. The evening ended with late-night kinder-egg eating in our hotel lobby, watching incomprehensible late-night Greek TV.
Monday, 12 January 1998
Am I a vagabond or a tourist? Along the bus trips I think I have been a tourist. Letting these people cart me around from place to place, seeing this pile of rocks and then that (look! More ruins! Now it is time to go out and talk about them until we fall asleep or wander off!), feeling about to go mad, taking up NYU's money. Moving in the vast group, told that we have 5 minutes more at this site and 40 at that.
We went to many places today: first Epidorous, I think, to see the big theatre. No, there were other ruins before that; it does not even stick in my head now, all these broken pieces of former places are jumbling themselves together. It's terrible but it's true. It was the Mycenae, yes... The hive tomb and the acropolis, the acropolis was a mountain and I climbed it and I looked out and found hidden places and sat in frames of what were houses thousands of years ago. The theatre at Epidorous was groovy, too; 3 acoustical centres, stereophonic, huge (10-15 thousand capacity I think), in the lovely mountains.
We went to Corinth, saw the canal, it was high. Then we were on our way HOME to Athens from Corinth.
And then we arrived in Athens. Yes, Athens is home now. We've spent more than a night or two here, we had a bit of control over what we did here. We showered first thing (water temperature and pressure had been major problems at all those other hotels). Then we met the gang and had dinner, and after we ate we tried to go to the club that we loved last time. But it is closed until Friday, alas, after we'll be gone. We were harassed by another owner instead, so we went to get ice cream. It was yummy and had sparkles and the man there played music for me. We came home, eventually, and to bed.
Tuesday 13 January 1998
We woke at 8.30 (so late! The luxury!), had breakfast, and went across the street to the Zeus temple. We were all a little pensive there. I watched the pillars and the people, and wrote, and said very little, and we all sat together and then left to shop.
We had lunch at one stand we had eaten at before we left Athens; I told the guys there that we liked them and that's why we came back. I bought stuff for people, and some music; the lady in the store let me hear the CD to make sure I liked it, and I did. I got rid of all but 2700dr and it was in general a good time.
We went to the hotel afterwards (after a loo break at McD's, reminiscent of Paris and Hong Kong) and I went off on my own, to contemplate and write more. I sat in a little glade-esque place near the Zeus temple, right across the street from our hotel, on which I have had my eye ever since first stepping on to our room's balcony. It was lovely. When I started to be chilly and had to pee and heard the 5 o'clock bells chime, I left, and next went to the hotel rooftop to join others and watch the sunset. I sat there and wrote a bit, and then played cards with the other Scholars who were there, 'til I was too cold again.
We met the gang at 9pm for dinner, and went to the Plaka, where we always have dinner. We got to a really great place this time. After dinner we were all exhausted, though it was only 11.30, and so we wended our way home. Nancy wanted to buy sticky tape but no such stores were open. She wound up getting the tape that some other store owners had for their own use; they sold it to her for 150dr.
We got home and Deirdre and I decided to have a party in our room. A small party, of the latest incarnation of our troupe, 7 people. We wound up playing a word-association game, just going round in a circle for over an hour. It was hilarious. It was also an insight into everyone's minds, for which I was grateful. I always tried to look at people's faces when they said their words, to read, except for toward the end when I was falling asleep.
Wednesday, 14 January 1998
We woke, got 'round and packed, ate, and headed to the airport at 9am for an 11.40am flight. When we arrived everything seemed fine (except that the entire airport was full of cigarette smoke), and then they announced that our flight had been delayed... 5 hours! Déjà vu! We were not at all pleased; it stank and we were all tired and the place had little security and we all just wanted to get home already. Even me, once I was in that airport.
Deirdre and Anthony and I had some phone adventures and eventually managed to contact Deirdre's parents in Queens, who were picking us up, to tell them we would be late. I slept a little on the cold tile floor, and we all tried to have conversations but all the conversations made no sense, we were all too tired.
I have decided I don't much enjoy Olympic Air, and I hope they get their act together before Athens actually does host the Olympics again. And my first package tour experience did not leave a good impression. I'm glad we got to see what we did, but it would have been much more enjoyable if we had done it on our own, spent more time interacting with Greeks and less time looking at rocks, and less, o far, far less, time on the bus.
back to the travel page
unless otherwise noted, work on this page is licensed
under a Creative Commons License.
alanna at keywriter dot org