Saturday, June 20, 2009

Larissa, Leeds, and a little London

In the last month or so we've gotten to spend a lot of time with friends. That's really a nice privilege when living abroad. In Larissa, we stayed at Perry's house. It's a beautiful house in Greece, and his aunt lives upstairs and Perry lives downstairs.

Larissa

I liked Larissa much better than Athens. I thought it was very beautiful and family friendly. We spent most of our time at Starbucks working. I'm trying to think of observations to make about this central city...

It's full of shops and it was rather amusing that at any time of day or night all the cafes would be absolutely overflowing with people. I had to agree with Mary... "Do these people have jobs?" Heck, I liked the idea though. Spending day and night with friends can't be a bad lifestyle...right?

Perry came to pick us up super late from our long train ride from Athens and we toted our suitcases through the streets, a 20 minute walk, to make it to the apartment.

We saw the Meteora, 45 minutes away by train, while we were there. It was dramatically gorgeous. I wondered, though, how the monasteries could possibly still be operating because for every monk I saw, I saw 150 tourists.


Aunt Mary made the best rice stuffed vegetables while we were there. She is a single lady who works for the government processing court cases (transcribing them). Basically she gets to spend all day listening to gossip! She had a pleasantly deprecatory way about her, and we were pleased once again to come in contact with a "real Greek." Characteristically, she was very opinionated and spoke loudly. I think Greeks are even louder than Americans. She was an excellent cook and very interesting to talk to and I hope we will see her again.Here we are on the cool bridge in Larissa which lights up as you walk along it:

Perry and Luke got some male bachelor bonding time by going out in the evenings while Jacob and I chilled back at home. I'm perusing a tax book right now because Jacob and I are planning to incorporate The Jump Manual. It's a dreaded errand, that's for sure, but the guy's book is really handy. It explains ways to cut taxes mostly for small businesses. It's here if you want to see it.

We took a train to Thessaloniki. I kinda wish we'd had more time to explore this city--it's where the letter to the Thessalonians was addressed--but we got a little flavor of the religiousity of the city by viewing the church located within the train station and witnessing several people go up and kiss Mary in her frame right on the lips.

Flying to London

And then we hopped on a plane with British Airways (yes, the company who wants their employees to work for free for one month) to London. I'll put in a plug for their food, too.

London was my first taste of Europe and it was nice to be back. It was not nice, however, to ride back and forth between terminals for two hours to find the best and cheapest way to get to Leeds :( We finally got a bus and arrived at around midnight.

The Ballas

Ben Balla was Jacob's companion on his mission for one month. They had a marvelous time together speaking French, and at least Sally didn't understand it either so we had something in common.

Ben and Sally were so hospitable as to literally give up their bed for us to stay. It was a perfect newlyweds apartment--which means it was tiny! :)

You'll probably think I'm crazy but my favorite part about all of England was spending a Saturday with Sally going shopping and eating at a cute sushi place. I made a video of its unique concept: when something comes along that you like, you just take it. The bowls are different colors according to price.
video


It's the simple pleasures of life I guess, but it's been so long since I've done such a girly thing :) These are the shoes I bought, from the most popular store in Leeds. They were only five pounds! (money, not weight)

I also enjoyed going to a "hen" party with Sally. It's a bachelorette party and it was much more fun than a typical bridal shower! Bridal showers focus around gifts and they're much more formal. Hen parties have no gifts, you dress in pajamas, and do absolutely ridiculous things like race the bride to the store, make up songs for the bride-to-be, put on makeup quickly in order to eat chocolate with a knife etc. British people have a pleasantly reserved yet friendly way about them, but they know how to let loose and have fun when in the right situation! :)

And I love love the British accent. We Americans have a twang that the British like to mimic like we mimic theirs. Only it's not near so pretty when they do ours. Bloody Yankees.

We went hiking in a cove (with real live cows and swarming with gnats) with them, and Jacob left his glasses at the top. Despite Jacob's protests, Ben ran all the way back up to the top to get them! Thank you!

Temple

We went to the Preston, England temple. Boy, that was a trip. The rail system in England isn't exactly user friendly. Every official we asked had a different answer for the best way to get there. So we only did a session, because the actual travel time was about 8 hours, but the grounds of the temple were, of course, absolutely gorgeous. But it was worth the sacrifice because temples are few and far between in Europe!

Most of England in general is richly green, rural, and peaceful. I couldn't believe that I still needed a winter coat in June, but I'm not surprised now that I need one in Berlin too. Note to self: do not visit in winter.

Food
*Fish (fried and breaded) + chips (French fries) = best fast food in England.
*I had a red onion tart with cole slaw and new potatoes in an inn; that was tasty.
*Curry houses everywhere!! This addition needs to make its way to the US!
*Dinner at Sally's parents house and at Ben's parents house=too full to move. Wow. We had Yorkshire pudding and a roast and chocolate creme and we were basically spoiled, like Sally and Ben get spoiled every Sunday dinner. Ben's brother is really literal and Jacob and Ben took advantage of that by pretending there was a deep meaning behind the phrase "If you say jump, I say 'how high'" which was mentioned by Ben's grandpa. Who then fueled it by saying "If Hi Low is from China, how high is is brother?" Which really got Josh going. And Ben and Jacob laughed about that for about two hours as Josh struggled to understand what the joke was. Here's some of the clips, you can see what a great time Jacob was having, at the end of the post. You probably had to be there.

And we took a 25 hour bus ride (mistake. These buses aren't comfortable like Turkish ones!) to Berlin. Weil wir moechten unsere Deutsch verbessern. And we took the train underneath the English Channel, and we never even saw the water. How in the world did they build a train under the water, and why don't they build one from California to Japan?

video video

PS Happy Father's Day Dad and Dude! (had to do that after saying Mom and Mum last time) :)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Photos from Luke

Because apparently you don't get comments on your blog unless you have photos... :)

Jacob likes to sleep on public transportation, and I get to be his pillow

The Meteora, where monks isolate themselves high upon cliffs only to be hoarded by tourists. Gorgeous.

Strolling Athens with Blagoj.

Playing with sand on the free beach in Athens.

Working away, big surprise.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Santorini and Athens

Well, I guess it's time for another update. We're currently in Larissa, staying at the Kariotis's residence, and it's very roomy. Thank you Perry (Jacob's childhood friend) and family for your hospitality!

We spent nearly two weeks in Santorini. It's probably the most famous Greek island, because it was formed by the eruption of a volcano 3500 years ago. The "caldera views" are referred to when looking at the sunset, you can see across the Aegean the volcano, which is apparently still active.

It was the most beautiful sunset we'd ever seen--I don't think the beauty of Santorini is overstated. However, I did find something sort of amusing and wanted to pose the question to you readers out there: What do you think consitutes a 4,000 euro/night stay in a hotel? I heard that this kind of accomodation was available on Santorini, and I tried to imagine just how nice one night's stay could be. I mean, I enjoyed where we stayed in Santorini very well, both places were quite cute--and they included breakfast and a swimming pool for 28 euros a night. What could be 100 times nicer?

Letting my mind wander, I suppose it would include your own private swimming pool and jacuzzi. It would be huge. It would have the best views on the island. Maybe you'd have your own gourmet chef? A horseback ride in the morning? Getting treated like royalty is a given. And probably laundry service. Maybe a comfy robe and socks? But I guess my imagination is kind of limited. I can't imagine what would cost the equivalent of 5,000 dollars/night. I'm pretty easy to please when it comes to accomodation though. Anyways...

One funny story that Jacob has already told enough people that I can't be embarrassed anymore is the ATV day. I'd never ridden on one, so we gave it a shot. The island of Santorini is really quite small. We saw all of it in one day. But Jacob wanted me to try driving at one point, and so slightly unwillingly, I did. I asked which was the go and which was the brake, started down the straightaway, and immediately got mixed up, forgot how to stop, revved the engine instead, and veered directly right into a sign. I didn't drive it again after that. Fortunately, there was no real damage done, just a scratch on the headlight that Jacob shaved off with his knife. It would have been hard to do damage since I managed to crash it immediately after getting going...well, that was funny.

I went snorkeling for the first time on Santorini. Like Jacob, I've become hooked. The waters were very clear, and there were plenty of fish--especially on the dramatic, unusual red sand beaches, my favorite beach on Santorini. We stayed on the black sand beach called Kamari, which isn't actually sand but rocks. Even though I've gone several times now, each time it's a surprise that I can actually breathe underwater and see the ocean floor.

Our stay in Atalos Villas was quite enjoyable. We made some friends with a married couple from Australia. We haven't met very many married people traveling around like we are so it was fun. Neil and Kate were taking a 7 month round-the-world trip. It consisted mosly of Europe, plus Egypt and Singapore. They were very funny, and the joke Jacob, Perry, and I liked to share with them involved Giannis, pronouced Yanni, the owner of the hostel.

The hot tub when we first arrived to Atalos Villas was very hot. However, on subsequent days it was never turned on. Yiannis's English was a strange direct translation from Greek to English, which meant he was near impossible to understand. In fact he was so hard to understand on the phone, Jacob and I just drove out there to reserve our spot. He and his wife made an adorable old couple, however, and so we weren't put off by his English. When we asked him to turn on the heat for the hot tub, his explanation was very confusing. While many aspects seemed to prevent him from turning the water temperature up, ranging from "insurance" "skin" and the naked Austrian child who was always playing in it, the number one problem had to do with the "chlor." The "chlor" in the hot tub could cause a lot of problems, so he simply could not turn the heat up. Forget that the pool had "chlor" as well, the "chlor" in the hot tub could apparently damage your skin, and then you'd need a lawyer, and he had no insurance. We knew this was nonsense.

One day Perry took matters into his own hands. He called his aunt up and asked her to speak to Giannis in Greek. By the end of the day, Giannis had promised to turn up the heat.

This was about the only place on the beach that had internet, but it was an inconvenient kind of system. We had to print out receipts with username and password every two hours to get any work done. Giannis got to the point where he printed out receipts every time he saw us.

The night before we left for Athens, Giannis had told us that he would drive us to the port at 1:30. Around 11 am that day, he asked to push it back to 2 pm. I agreed reluctantly "at the very latest", because we hadn't picked up our tickets yet and I wanted to allow plenty of time to catch the ferry, which began boarding at 2:30. At 2, I came down with the last of our luggage to discover that he had told Perry 2:30, Jacob 2:45. I said that would be too late. Jacob asked him to call a taxi.

I started getting mad when Giannis, all worked up, told us he couldn't drive us there because we hadn't checked out on time. There was no posted check-out time anyway, but he said he had paying customers who were staying 12 days, when we had stayed only 9, who had had to wait for their room. Things escalated into raised voices, the taxi arrived, only for us to realize Perry was nowhere to be found. We called him on Skype, he didn't answer his phone, it was 2:10, and we didn't know if we should wait for him. Meanwhile, Giannis was scolding Jacob, regretting the fact that he had ever given us the Internet receipts. That was funny. Then we saw Perry come strolling down the street (he was thinking we were leaving at 2:30).

Jacob told Giannis that if we missed our ferry we would write a bad review on the ratings site. Giannis changed his ways. He gave us 20 euro to pay for the taxi, and a CD of Santorini photos. He asked us not to write a bad review. We shook hands, whisked into the taxi, and left on a better note. The ferry was actually late, so we had plenty of time. We still really liked Atalos Villas, we just think that it was Giannis's lack of English that caused a miscommunication.

The ferry rides between Greek islands are very comfortable. There's restaurants, internet, and a beautiful view. I read "A Thousand Acres" which is a modern-day version of King Lear and won the Pulitzer Prize, and although no Gone With the Wind (another recipient of the prize) I found it well-written.

As we neared Athens, I felt a little thrill. This city is just so famous for us in the States, it's right up there with Rome with the sense of ancientness and beauty. My perceptions soon changed, however. The smog greeted us from the ferry, as did the smell. Yes, Athens is dirty and consequently your nose is constantly hit with unpleasant smells. It was, of course, modern. It was full of shops and apartments and the metro and people, 5 million of them. What did I expect, people to be walking around in togas?

Athens was one of the most diverse places we've been, that's for sure. The Senegalese were there selling the same items they sold in Istanbul--ironically enough, one of them recognized Jacob and I and knew us from our friend Landing--Bangladeshi people were selling toys like musical bikes and bubbles and tomatoes full of water that went splat and then resumed their original shape--Chinese men walked around selling their wares from restaurant to restaurant--and there was a family from Iran and a man from Afghanistan at church.

It was nice to go to an LDS church again. Very nice...there's a branch right on the street leading to the Acropolis. In fact, it's called the Acropolis branch. The talks were in Greek, but there was a translator.

The hostel we stayed in, Athens International Hostel on Victor Hugo St, was expensive yet still the cheapest option at 26 euros for two bunk beds. It was in an iffy location, and very cramped. But we survived there for a week, and even had Perry, Luke, and Blogve from Macedonia (er, Skopje) to keep us company.

We had the pleasure of meeting Perry's second cousins, who entertained us at a restaurant one evening and invited us to dinner at their home the next. Maria Lyn and Christina were avid fans of "doom" music, which they really built up to tell us we wouldn't be ready for it. I thought it would sound like heavy metal myself, but when we watched Candlemass the next evening--well, it was just amusing. It was an overweight man dressed all in black like a priest who made funny faces and sang about being "bewitched" and everybody turned into zombies. It was made in the 70s. Not nearly so hard-core after all.

Dinner at their house was good--I feel bad though, most people love meat and so it is considered a treat to be given a lot of meat and I just can't eat all of it and that's what happened with the moussaka. It is like the Greek form of lasagna. Actually it's kind of like shepard's pie with no vegetables. There were spinach and cheese pies which were exceptionally flaky, the ever-present feta cheese, tomatoes, and olives Greek salad, and dessert was syrupy nuts (were they dates?) and jellied grapes. It was quite a treat to see a side of "the real Greece." Then after being completely stuffed we went out together to get drinks, but Jacob and I were too full to order anything, and stayed out very late until 2 am, which is what Greeks do, but it's normally not what Kalli does. And so I fell asleep, and Jacob took notes about the business on his pad of paper. We aren't partiers anymore, Jacob and I, we're just old married people :). By the way, "Kalli" means good or beautiful in Greek, and "Kai" means "and." So I see both of our names in some version on signs everywhere.

The Acropolis was worth seeing even though it was going through extensive renovation and the museums weren't open. And the Athens Archeological Museum was also interesting, but we went through it quicker than most museums because statues all start to look alike after awhile. The best part was the frescos from Akrotiri in Santorini, theater masks from the ancient Greek theater, and just overall getting a sense for how the Greeks truly believed in the gods they made statues of--from Hercules to Hermes to Zeus to the Muses and nymphs.

Overall, Athens was terribly crowded, quite dirty, rather expensive, sweaty-hot, full of smoke and pollution, and probably even dangerous even in some touristy areas (there's a lot of immigrants and so a lot of poor people) but still worth seeing, I think, to pay homage to the great thinkers of the past--Socrates, Aristotle, Plato and more, who founded the ideals of democracy.

For pictures, look on Facebook.
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