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Greece: Part 2

I finally get in to Athens at about 9 in the morning on Thursday, the day after I was supposed to arrive. Samantha and I have tickets to catch a ferry to the island of Egina at 11. So I hop a bus from the airport to the ferry terminal and an hour later I'm running towards the boat, getting there just in time. Ok, now the vacation can begin!
When we arrive on the island, we're greeted by a flurry of traffic, people trying to sell us car rentals and hotel rooms, and a variety of waterfront cafes. We pick one and sit down for a bite to eat, using the wifi to figure out where our hotel is exactly. When I booked the hotel, I could have sworn that I booked a place in the same town/ part of the island where the boat let us off. But, no, I was confused and the boat let off at the far side of the island, not the town closest to Athens. We had to take a taxi across the entire island (about 20 minutes and 18 euros) to the tiny, deserted town where we were staying. The Hotel Rachel was adorable, and the hosts (Angelica and Yanos, I believe) were incredibly sweet and hospitable. But looking around, it was eerie how quiet the town was, including many empty buildings and restaurants that were open but had zero guests. "It picks up next week, when the Summer tourist season begins." Angelica tells me. Of course.

Despite the lack of excitement, Sam and I were determined to enjoy the beautiful scenery, nice weather and whatever "sights" the town might have. So we took a short, but challenging up-hill hike to the Temple of Aphea, which was just about a mile from our hotel. It was a beautiful spot with an incredible view, and an ancient temple as interesting as any others we would see in Athens.
When we got back to the hotel, our hosts informed us that unfortunately there was going to be a ferry driver strike for the next 4 days! Our choices were to hunker down on the island (as long as we didn't have anywhere else to be, like a plane to catch), spend 300 euros to hire a private boat, or leave the island on the last ferry in about an hour. We chose the last option. Adventures in transportation abroad continues!
The quiet town of Agia Marina on Egina

Temple of Aphea on Egina

Well,  we weren't able to have the relaxing Greek island experience that I was hoping for. We ended up spending the rest of the trip in Athens. Luckily, Josh and I have a friend, Vangelis, whom we met on Couchsurfing years ago, had stayed with several times when he lived in England, and now he was living back home in Athens. We arrived at his apartment a day early and stayed there for the rest of the trip. It turns out, actually, that the strike extended far beyond the ferries- all bus drivers, train operators and metro stations were also on strike. So we sort of didn't have a choice but to stay in Athens and explore on foot (or by taxi, but the traffic was terrible because of the lack of other transportation options)!

Athens is a big dirty city. The air smells thick of smog and diesel fumes from all the motor scooters, there's a lot of trash on the streets, graffiti and stray cats and dogs are everywhere! But it's also got lovely old streets and alleys, tropical flowers and orange trees lining most sidewalks and, of course, the ancient ruins that scatter the center of town. We spent the first day exploring the most famous part of town, the Acropolis. The Acropolis is a group of buildings (the most famous being the Parthenon) sitting high on a hill in the very center of Athens. Most of it was built as a temple to Athena, the namesake of Athens. Besides hiking up the hill to explore the ruins and take in the amazing view, we also spent some time at the Acropolis Museum, which was fantastic.
according to the sign, construction/ restoration on the Parthenon ended in 2007. . . 

the view from the Acropolis. . . and my sister in twin form

Day 2 was a little more leisurely- we spent the day exploring the city with Vangelis. He showed us some of the hip neighborhoods, like Gassi (the post-industrial hood named for the huge gas refinement plant that has been converted to a venue) and Thissio. The weather was beautiful so we found a series of cafes to relax in and enjoy the wonderful food. Mezze is the typical style- like tapas or piatti in Italy- of small plates that everyone shares. I had grilled octopus 2 days in a row and feta with every single meal. awesome. 
Samantha left early Sunday morning but my flight wasn't until Monday morning. So I decided to head out of the city for some fresh air and beautiful blue water. I took a bus about 45 mins south to the large town of Glyfada. Immediately I could tell that this was an affluent suburb- much cleaner than Athens and almost no empty buildings. In fact, there were more high-end shops and bustling cafes than I could comprehend. It was Mother's Day (same day in Greece as the US), so of course the fancy restaurants were particularly busy. I picked a quiet, less busy cafe on the water and had a Greek salad (for the 4th or 5th time that week). After lunch I had planned to sit on the beach and relax, catch up on reading and my tan, but the excitement of the town got the best of me and I walked a few miles, mostly window shopping and people- watching.
Monday morning was rough. I had to get up at 6 am, catch 2 metro trains to get to the airport . .  Then came the scary part- Turkish Airlines part 2. This time I was also to have a 3 hour layover in Istanbul and I was almost expecting another catastrophe. But everything went on as scheduled. I took a second flight to Hamburg, then 2 more trains and 13 hours after leaving Athens, I was at Josh's show in Bremen! Now we get to enjoy a few weeks of non-travel. . . I'm so excited.


Greece: part 1

I've always wanted to go to Greece. As an art history major in college, I studied the stories of the Greek myths which are referenced over and over again in works of art throughout the ages. When I lived in Florence my junior year, I planned to take a trip across the Mediterranean but just couldn't fit it in. So when my sister mentioned that she was going to Athens for work and then had a few extra days to sight see, I jumped at the opportunity to meet her. Once you're already in Europe, going to just about any other EU country seems so easy and cheap. Well, yes, it was relatively cheap to get to Greece, but it was anything but easy. In fact, this blog post could be called "transportation disasters abroad" (part 1).
I left Josh in Amsterdam on Wednesday afternoon- he had a show there that night and then had to make his way to Germany to start the month long Songs & Whispers Circuit Tour (check out his latest blog posts here). The only (inexpensive) way for me to get to Athens was to take 2 flights on Turkish Airlines, with a 3 hour layover in Istanbul. I've also always wanted to go to Istanbul, so even the prospect of spending a few hours in their airport was intriguing. Turns out, though, a 3 hour layover wasn't enough time for me to catch my flight to Athens!
One thing I will say is that Turkish Airlines has excellent food on every flight- and these days, getting any kind of food on a flight is amazing. They also have comfortable, new-ish airplanes with tv's on every seat. luxury. 
As we were "beginning our descent" in to Istanbul Ataturk Airport, the pilot came on the speaker and said that the airport runway was very busy and we would have to fly around for a while before landing. fine. It didn't seem too alarming until about 30 mins later, after flying in circles I guess, the pilot came on again. I couldn't understand what he was saying very well, because after speaking in Turkish, he reiterated what he had just said in very quick, sloppy, mumbling English.
"Excuse me", I said to the nearest flight attendant "What did the pilot just say?". . . She told me we were landing in Sabiha- a different city! Yeah, that's what I thought he said. "Um", I tried not to sound freaked out "how can I get to Istanbul to catch my connecting flight? Is there like a bus or something?"
"No, you can not catch a bus" she said snarkily "They are very far apart- Sabiha is in Asia and Istanbul is in Europe!"
Wait a minute! My eyes widened as I took in this news- totally forgetting what little I knew about Turkish geography. "So you're saying I'm going to be stuck in Asia with nowhere to go?!!!"
"Uh", she sighed "I can't deal with this!" and walked off.
Putting aside my shock and frustration at how this flight attendant was treating me, I looked around the plane and noticed that no one was panicking except for one man sitting behind me, who was arguing passionately in Turkish with another flight attendant. Ok, now I'm panicking a little. 

We landed in Sabiha, which I finally was told (by another passenger) is actually the other Istanbul airport- just on the other side of the channel that divides Europe and Asia Minor. duh. After refueling, the pilot told us we would be heading back to Istanbul Ataturk shortly. Why didn't the f'ing flight attendant tell me that in the first place?! But we didn't head back shortly, we instead sat on the runway there for about an hour. Then we flew to Ataturk and sat on that runway for about an hour. So we finally got to the terminal about 5 minutes before my flight to Athens left. Needless to say, no one held the flight for me and the dozen or so other passengers who were supposed to be on it. Instead, we all ran around the airport like chickens with our heads cut off, trying to figure out where to go to get on another flight. The airport personnel were useless and downright rude. Finally, I found a huge line at the (somewhat hidden) Turkish Airlines ticket counter. This must be the place.  
To make a long story somewhat shorter, I found myself on a bus to a hotel, about 30 minutes across town from the airport, several hours later. I slept soundly for all of 4 hours before I had to wake up, get back on the bus, and catch a 6:30 am flight to Athens. At least now I can say I've dipped my toe in the Asian continent!