Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Luck of the Irish

I fell in love with Ireland as I flew into Dublin. I had gotten up early for my flight from London to Dublin and so fell asleep right away once the plane took off. The flight was quick (about an hour and a half maybe?) and just as I was waking up we were flying over Dublin and about to land. The view outside my window was incredible! It was such a beautiful sight and I desperately want to return and spend more time exploring the area (maybe just not in the wintertime though).

The tourist office in Dublin was very helpful (not something I can say about all the cities I have visited). Unfortunately the directions I had received from my hostel told me that the bus would drop me off on the same street. So, I rode the bus about 20 minutes longer than I should have because I was waiting for the bus to turn and go down the street. I ended up getting off the bus and catching another in the opposite direction getting off on a street adjacent to the one my hostel was on.

Unfortunately the house numbers in Dublin are not as orderly as they are in the states (or other countries) so as I walked past 20, 83, 72, and 38 (not necessarily those numbers, but in a similar sporadic order) I was beyond frustrated that I couldn’t find 90-92. I ended up asking another hostel for directions (classy I know) and found it around 12:30 (about two hours after my flight had landed). I dropped off my bag and headed out for the New Europe Free Walking Tour.

I have really enjoyed going on these walking tours around Europe. I have done them in Berlin, Munich, Prague, Paris, London, and Dublin. They have all be extremely informative and because the work on a tips only basis it is very affordable and you can give based on how well you think the tour went. I definitely recommend that you check it out if you are in a major European city, especially if you don’t know a lot about the history already and want a good overview as well as some random and quirky tidbits and facts.

My tour ended at Trinity College where I went to see the Book of Kells. I could have spent hours looking at the two pages that were on display (but I didn’t want to annoy the other viewers). It was incredible to see something so old and authentic and beautiful. I also was able to view the Long Room Library (where the book is kept). They have the Dublin harp on display (I’m not sure if that’s the official name, but basically it is THE Dublin harp – it is also the logo for Guinness beer). I went to a pub that night and had a Guinness and listened to some live Irish Folk music (they even played Jingle Bells). I met two girls from Ohio at the pub and we chatted it up for a bit. They were very nice girls and I enjoyed my time with them. I went to a different restaurant for dinner, which was fun, but always strange to sit and eat a meal by oneself, and then headed back to the hostel and went to bed early.

My last full day in Dublin I visited a local coffee shop, that had been recommended to me, where I bought a Chai Latte (better than Starbucks). I then headed toward Stephen’s Green and then on to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I took my time and didn’t rush, which was nice for a change. My next stop for the day was at the Guinness Brewery where I went on a tour of how the beer is made and got to see various historical advertising displays. I enjoyed the tour (though it was self guided) but I think I’d recommend the Red Hook one over it (it’s a much better value for your money). You do get a free pint at the end of the tour and I opted to have my pint along the tour where I was able to pour my own pint, which was fun. The top of the brewery gives panoramic views of the city which was also fun.

The last stop was the Old Jameson Distillery. I arrived about 30 minutes before the next tour started, so I had some tomato soup (that I ate rather fast and burned the roof of my mouth). It was tasty (but I still prefer the Safeway brand deliciousness) and good to have something in my stomach after drinking a pint and before having my whiskey sample! The distillery tour was brief, and somewhat informative, but not the best “alcohol making tour” I have been on. There were some obnoxious Scotsmen on the tour who were giving the guide a hard time about the difference between Irish and Scottish Whiskey. The tour ended and I had my whiskey and coke before I bought a few souvenirs and headed back to my hostel for my last night in Europe! After three months of traveling, it’s quite weird to think that it’s almost all over!

Border Control

I took the Chunnel from Paris to London but I almost wasn’t allowed on the train. When I went through the UK border control the guard didn’t believe me that I planned to leave after three nights and go to Dublin. Because I have been backpacking I did not have access to a printer and so had none of my records with me (printed) to prove that I did indeed have a departure flight. He told me that because I had been in the EU for 4 months already (actually it was 3 months and 1 week but I didn’t want to argue) and only had 150 Euro on my person that I posed a problem.

Apparently he thought I was planning to remain in the UK and try to work or live illegally, though he didn’t say anything so direction. Obviously that was not the case and I explained to him that I was leaving on the 7th for Dublin and then for Seattle on the 9th and that I had savings in my bank account and a credit card on me as well. I told him I was getting married in June and that my fiancé lived in Seattle. He still didn’t quite believe me. Earlier in our conversation I had told him the documents were on my computer to which he sarcastically replied, “that’s quite convenient isn’t it?” and said that they didn’t have time for me to pull through those documents.

In the end he took me aside and asked another agent to look at my computer to verify my flights. I also was able to show them a bank statement indicating that I had plenty of funds and would not be “stealing” a job from any UK citizens. Eventually I was handed my passport by the second guard (who was quite nice), told “thanks,” and that was it! I was “free” to go. For so much trouble that I seemed to have caused they let me through rather easily once I showed them my flight info. Phew!

I had a little bit of difficulty finding a place to stay in London. The hotels were all booked up for Saturday night. I had a place on Friday night fortunately but had to scramble to find something for Saturday. I ended up at a hotel a bit further outside of town. It was a hotel but they had a hostel/dorm room that was actually cheaper than anything I had found in the city and even with the cost of a day ticket for the tube I was only paying a few pounds more than what I would have paid for the hostel alone in the city! It was a great little place and the others in my room were quite friendly.

I enjoyed London and would definitely like to go back someday. I only really had two full days so I didn’t nearly get to see everything but I did do a lot. I went on a walking tour, visited a Christmas festival in Hyde Park, went to the British Museum, and walked by London Tower and Bridge, as well as several other landmarks like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. I also walked across the millennium bridge and visited the Tate Modern museum. I saw Buckingham palace, but it is closed for visitors during the winter. I did a lot and had very busy days, but there is more that I would like to see and do – so someday I will go back.

One thing that really struck me about London was at the British Museum. I found it interesting that just about everything there had been taken from another civilization or area that the British had “conquered” or occupied at some point in history. There is one Caryatid column from the Erechtheum that was taken from the Acropolis in Athens. When I was in Athens the notice near the remaining five statues/columns in the Acropolis Museum seemed to imply that they would very much like to have the sixth statue returned, however in the British Museum the note next to the statue indicated that it was a good thing for them to have taken the statue, so as to preserve it better and save it from pollution and deterioration.

There were a few other articles that had similar stories (not that I necessarily saw places where the artifacts originated from) where I felt that it would have been more appropriate for the original piece to be in its historical setting (i.e. the Rosetta Stone). I don’t know that I think it is fair for one country to own a significant cultural artifact for another culture. In some situations maybe, where the country of origination doesn’t have proper means to protect or display the artifact, but countries like Greece where there are museums that are capable of displaying and protecting their national treasures, I think the items should be returned.

The other thing that struck me at the museum was that there were no restrictions regarding photography. People were using flash and video liberally – something that I know is not permitted in many museums across Europe. I do think that photography should be allowed in most museums, but I understand the need to not use flash, in order to respect and not damage the pieces. I was surprised to see no restrictions at the museum. It made me question if the items on display were actually original pieces or perhaps replicas and the originals were locked away somewhere else. I don’t know. Maybe I’m distrustful, but it seems strange that they wouldn’t respect their collection more.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Finishing France

Tuesday morning we caught an early train to Caen. The train ride was uneventful, though we did begin some of our wedding planning details which was fun, but tiring. (Guest lists are a bit daunting!) When we arrived we began to follow the directions I had written down regarding how to get to the hotel we were to stay at. Google maps had located the hotel for me and it looked easy enough to get to. Well, as some of you may know, Google maps is not always the most helpful tool. The hotel was actually a good mile further down the road from where the search engine had said it was so we spent a fair amount of time walking in circles trying to find a non-existent building. Eventually we did find it though.

We had planned to catch a bus to one of the D-Day beaches and spend the afternoon exploring a bit. Unfortunately that didn’t quite work out. Apparently the information I had was bad information and the buses didn’t run out of Caen, they ran out of Bayeux, so we were out of luck. It was however 1 or 2 by this point and the thought of taking a bus to the beaches, explore, and get back in the few short hours of sunlight that were left felt a bit tiring. That combined with the fact that we had gotten up ridiculously early to catch our train, we decided Caen was going to be a nice relaxing place and we would just explore the town a bit later on.

Caen ended up being one of our favorite destinations. We walked into town and got to enjoy the cute little houses and each others’ company while we tried to stay warm (it was quite cold and windy). We found an old gothic church that we were able to tour and really didn’t do much other than walk around. I had looked up a good place to eat dinner online and read about a local sandwich shop that also sold Potato Jackets. It sounded good to us and was in our price range, so we decided to try and find it. We were successful, but as we approached it we noticed that the logo for the “restaurant” (it was more of a fast food window you ordered from) was a clown – not Eddie’s favorite thing in the world. Despite that fact the food was great and the price was even better. We shared a large sandwich and a container of potato jackets for about the same price we had paid for one of our entrees two nights before! If we had had another day in Caen we would have returned for lunch and dinner the next day.

On our way back to the hotel we stumbled across another old church and a Christmas light display. It was beautiful and extremely charming. The moon was out in all its glory and it just felt like the perfect moment. We had some fun taking pictures and being silly but really just enjoyed the time together in the quaint romantic little town. If we ever make it back to France I imagine we will visit again and say hello to our clown friend.

Wednesday we left in the early morning once again and headed to Mont Saint Michele. We arrived easily enough but had trouble with the hotel service there. We arrived around 11 or 12 but couldn’t check in until 3, which was fine. When we asked if we could leave our bags the receptionist (quite rudely) told us we could leave them at the restaurant next to the hotel. We did just that, but it was quite funny as they just had us put them by the front door – not out of the way of customers’ view or anything. Strange.

We then walked into the actual little town which was a windy and cold trek, but we entertained ourselves by taking pictures and laughing at ourselves. We arrived at the town and explored quite a bit, visiting shops, taking pictures, and again, just enjoying each others’ company. We didn’t go into the large Abbey at the top of the island (as neither of us were particularly interested nor felt like paying the 9 Euro each to get in) but I am convinced that it was used as a model for the castle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It reminded me of it so much! This of course led to me singing random Beauty and the Beast songs for Eddie, which was entertaining to say the least.

On our way back to the part of town where the hotel was it began to rain, and not only did it rain, it was extremely windy so we were pelted with what felt like ice pellets the entire walk back. When we arrived it was only 2pm and the reception was locked and closed until 3. We were soaking wet and didn’t really want to sit in the rain, so we went to the restaurant (where our bags were) and each had a crepe (one that was more like a meal with ham and egg and salad and one that was a dessert style). Finally at 3 we were able to check in. It was a wonderful feeling to get out of our wet clothes and dry off!

Needless to say Mont Saint Michele was not our favorite destination. This was reconfirmed on our train ride back to Paris on Thursday. When the conductor came through to check our tickets he informed me that he had a problem with my rail pass. I had written my dates on the pass but because I wanted to make them perfectly clear I had written them in twice (on top of each other so that they were extra dark). The conductor confiscated my pass and said he would come back later. When he returned he was convinced that I had changed the previous date (the 2nd) from a 1 to a 2. There was nothing however that he could do about it since it was the 3rd and he believed that my three was a three. He then wrote on my pass that the 3rd was the last day I could use the pass and gave it back to me. I apologized to him for the trouble (since I had written the dates in darker which is what had sparked the whole controversy) and he took that as an admission of guilt. Basically he was just very rude to me and called me stupid and all this other stuff. I just brushed it off though. It wasn’t worth making a scene over especially because at his whim he could charge me several hundred Euro in fines just for double writing my dates.

We returned to Paris and decided to have dinner out that evening as well. We got some good food at a different restaurant near the hotel (the same one we had stayed at earlier) and then decided to call it an early night as we were tired from all our traveling. We did check Eddie’s flight information first, which was a good thing. We had both been thinking his flight was in the late afternoon, but when we checked we discovered that it was actually midday! That changed our plans for the next morning. So once again, we were up early and off to the train station!

We parted ways, Eddie for the train to take him to the airport, and me to catch my Chunnel to London.

Paris Part Deux

The second day that Eddie and I spent together in Paris was Sunday, November 29. Eddie had been inspired a few weeks before and had started to e-mail some leaders at the English speaking Hillsong church plant in Paris. So, on Sunday we went to their church which was an interesting experience to say the least. Half of the songs were sun in French and half in English and everything that was spoken was translated either from French to English or English to French. That wasn’t really a huge deal (since we were in France and all) but the worship and the message were just not really what either of us were looking for. The people were very nice and in our conversation with one of the people before hand we shared about our recent engagement (of about 12 hours) and he shared that he also proposed to his wife at the Arc de Triomphe. I told Eddie it was cliché ;)

After church we wandered around to find some bread and meats for lunch and then hopped on the metro to go to Versailles. We didn’t have too much trouble with that (although for a brief moment I thought we had gotten on the wrong train but we asked someone and we were actually where we needed to be) and made it to Versailles by the early afternoon. We spent the rest of the day there walking around and checking out the palace. Cliff and Eddie were reunited and Eddie got to see his first palace. It was a good day. That night we decided to get real food for dinner. On our way home we were trying to find a grocery store to buy some pasta salad or something already made that we could take back to the hotel room. All we seemed to stumble across though was a grocery store where everything was deep frozen.

Even though we didn’t have a stove or microwave to cook anything with, it was raining and the store intrigued us, so we went in. We didn’t find dinner there, but we did find some ice cream bars that were very cheap and looked yummy so we thought we’d give them a try. We did manage to find a little restaurant to eat at (and only half a block from our hotel) where they have furniture and bikes on the ceiling. We decided to get the onion soup (because in France they don’t have to call it French Onion Soup) and some tomato pasta. Both items were yummy, but the soup was especially good. The amazing discovery of the evening was that the ice cream bars were incredibly delicious. There were four in the box so we each had to have two (as we had no way to preserve the remaining two) and I’m sure we could have each had at least one more.

The next day was devoted almost entirely to the Louvre. We had a bit of a late start, but we spent a good 3 or 4 hours there and managed to see most everything. Granted we did not spend a lot of time looking at things, but we did make it to just about every room. We had a lot of fun but by about 3 o’clock we were exhausted and museum-ed out. We left the Louvre and headed toward Notre Dame stopping at an English bookstore that is famous (I forget the name of it but something Shakespeare). One of Eddie’s favorite authors, Hemmingway, used to go and buy books there when he lived in Paris. It’s been around for quite some time. We then finished our day up at Notre Dame touring the interior and then staying for an evening Vespers service, which we both really enjoyed. It was a nice way to end the Paris portion of our trip.


I just discovered it's spelled Arc de Triomphe in French or Arch of Triumph in English ... Oops! Please accept my spelling error apology. :)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Paris Engagement (Paris Update Part 1)

Sorry for the delay in my updates! It’s been a busy week! After Eddie arrived in Paris we were on the go just about every minute the entire week.

His flight came in around noon last Friday and he was supposed to meet me at the hotel. After about two hours of waiting I got anxious and decided to meet him at the metro station that I knew he would have to come out of to get to the hotel. What I didn’t know was that he had decided not to take the metro but to walk from the main train station instead. So, I stood at the metro for about 10 minutes before I gave up and opted to go back to the warmth of the hotel. When I arrived he was there waiting for me (though he’d only been there about 5 minutes) and I was greeted with a “it’s about time you showed up” response.

We didn’t have much time to catch up as we rushed out the door to catch the 4pm free Paris walking tour. There is a company called New Europe that does walking tours in several cities around Europe and they are quite informative. The guides work on a tips only basis so you can contribute what you can afford and based on how well you think they did. I really enjoy them and definitely recommend them. The tour lasted about three hours and ended near the Champs Elysees. The Eiffel Tower was in the distance and we got to see it “sparkle” which was fun.

We were both pretty hungry by that point and decided to find something to eat on our way back to the hotel. Unfortunately Paris is much more expensive than either of us expected and we made it all the way back to the hotel without finding anything in our price range. We ended up walking around a bit longer and found a seedy (but delicious) little kabob shop and each had a doner plate. The staff at the restaurant were super friendly and had fun with us. After we ordered the guy told us to sit down and Eddie asked if he needed to pay then and the guy pulled a knife out and gestured that Eddie needed to sit down, “or else.” It was quite funny.

Saturday morning we set out to see the sights and did a good job (if you ask me). We went to the D’Orsay, the Rodin Museum, Napoleon’s tomb, climbed the Eiffel Tower, and the Arch de Triumph. We also walked by a few other areas to take pictures, managed to stop and eat some delicious baguettes and cheese as well as make a pretty big dent in the large bag of Peanut MMs that Eddie had brought with him (on my request). The Museums were incredible and we both really enjoyed seeing The Thinker at the Rodin Museum as well as several other incredible pieces of artwork there and at the D’Orsay.

Climbing the Eiffel Tower was fun as well, but we both felt a little ripped off by it – maybe because we weren’t very well informed. The signs at the bottom said it was 4.50 Euro to climb the stairs (instead of take the elevator) so we wanted to save money and were up for the challenge. Well, you get about 2/3 of the way up and then you have to pay another 5 Euro to ride the elevator to the very top. We figured we had come that far and it was the Eiffel Tower so we had to do it, but we were both annoyed. We did have a fun time on top though.

Eddie had been telling me for awhile that he was not going to propose to me in Paris despite how everyone had been suggesting that he should. I fully believed him and even made a bet with a close friend that he was not going to do it there (sadly I now owe her a dinner). While we were on top of the tower we took a few “pretend” engagement pictures just to be funny. The weather wasn’t ideal and it was rainy and pretty windy – the tower was even swaying the majority of the time we were up there. The best part however was when you would walk to one side of the platform and the wind would rush around the corner and literally blow you over. It was so intense. We took some video and had fun fighting the massive wind.

By the time we got back down to the ground it was dusk and so we decided just to climb the Arc de Triumph and walk back down the Champs Elysees before heading back to the hotel and trying to find dinner en route again. When we arrived at the Arc there was a formal procession going on. There were police and French military as well as American military (or at least people dressed up like American soldiers) as well as someone carrying an American flag. We never quite figured out what they were doing but obviously it was some sort of memorial or tribute to one of the wars both countries were involved in.

We climbed to the top of the structure and because we hadn’t eaten a lot that day I was not feeling so great when we reached the top. I was a bit light headed and dizzy. We sat for a few minutes and ate some peanut mms (the only thing of substance we had with us) and hoped it would help, which it did. We then climbed the rest of the way up to the roof and maneuvered our way to the edge of the building so that we could take some night shots of the Eiffel Tower that we had just climbed.

I was busy taking pictures when Eddie said that the battery on his camera had died and he needed to change it. I thought it was weird that his battery had already died since he had changed it earlier in the day already, but let him do his thing. I did ask if he needed any assistance but he said he did not so I continued to try and take a non-blurry picture of the tower (not an easy task). He then asked me to “hold this for a second” and as I turned toward him, he put a white Bible in my hands that had the name Ann Plana embossed on the front cover. As soon as I saw the Bible I knew what was going on, which was funny because a split second before he handed it to me I thought, “I wonder if he’s going to propose right here?”

Before he could ask me anything, I said “Really? You’re doing this here?!?” and then Eddie, on his knee, asked me to marry him. I was in shock because he had been so adamant that he was not going to propose in Paris and I had told him not to do it there, so it was completely unexpected, but eventually I regained my voice and said that I would of course marry him.

It was funny to me that we were in such a public place and there were so many people around but no one seemed to notice our little romantic moment. We had to search for someone to take our picture and even then, the best one we have is one that we took ourselves. It was quite the experience to say the least! We took a few more pictures on top of the Arch before climbing down the stairs and taking our stroll down the Champs Elysees.

The ring is incredible and absolutely perfect. Eddie had it custom made for me and though it is cliché to say, it is more beautiful than anything I could have imagined or picked out for myself. I think it fits me perfectly and is everything that I wanted in a ring and more. He did a great job and worked very hard (with the help of some very good friends) to design the perfect ring for me. I love it as well as the fact that it is one of a kind and no one will ever have my ring.

As you can imagine we were a bit distracted walking down the Champs Elysees but we did manage to take in a few sights. We stopped and bought some warm Christmas wine and enjoyed the atmosphere of the long and very well lit street. We bought ourselves some good French cheeses, fresh bread, and fruit for the next day as we walked back to our hotel. We also stopped and had Panini’s at a little Italian place where we told the cashier that we had just gotten engaged. It was very memorable and delicious! Even though it was a little “cliché” I wouldn’t trade it for the world and it is a night I will never forget.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


More details to come, but the quick update is that Eddie proposed in Paris on top of the Arch de Triumph (as my Dad said, "it really is triumphant"). November 28 is a great day!

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I planned to go to Lyon today, but as I so well know flexibility is key when traveling. In France, as in some other countries, if you want to use your rail pass you have to make a seat reservation, but in France especially, it is important to make your reservation in advance as there are only a limited number of “Rail Pass” seats that can be reserved. Unfortunately when I arrived at the train station this morning all of the rail pass seats for trains to Lyon were occupied and I could not get on a train. Since Lyon wasn’t a must-go place on my list (I had just picked it randomly) I asked the attendant where else I could go.

He sent me to Marseilles, a little bit further than I had intended to go, but I’m up for an adventure right? : )

The trains in France gave me no trouble – a welcomed change from the Greek transportation system – but when I arrived in Marseilles there was not tourist information office. I asked and was told to go to the city center, “just out those doors.” That was a failure. I meandered around the train station asking individuals for help (with no success) for about 45 minutes before I found a map of the city posted in the train station. I took a picture with my camera (my latest trick to help remember things) and set off to find the little “I” in italics on the map.

I got a little lost, but eventually found my way. I was given a map and the attendant recommended a few places for me to see and I was off. As I examined my map outside of the tourist office a random guy came up to me and started speaking French. I was able to decipher if he was asking me if I was visiting Marseilles. I was so proud of myself I forgot to respond in French. Oops! Anyway, he didn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much French but he managed to point out a few areas on the map and give me my transportation options (bus, tram, car, etc.) and prices for each. I don’t know that he was really helpful but it was fun to speak French and feel like I actually learned something during those three years in high school.

The main “attraction” that I saw was the Basilique Notre Dame De La Garde. I took a bus up to the top and walked around about 20 minutes before catching the next bus back down to the center. I probably could have enjoyed wandering around at the top for a bit longer, but my bus pass expired after one hour and I had validated before I actually got on the bus (oops again!) so I had less time available to me unless I wanted to spend another 1.50 Euro – which I didn’t. I mostly just wandered around the old town and bought a few things. I visited some churches and took a number of pictures. All in all it was a good day.

I think my favorite thing was that I had several people compliment me (in a way) on my French. The man I bought a postcard from asked me where I was from and when I said America he was surprised. I was surprised he was surprised and joked about “giving myself away.” He said that my accent was good and he thought I was Scandinavian. I thanked him and continued on. The random guy who talked with me outside the tourist office also thought I was Swiss or Scandinavian as well.

Lastly, when I was at the train station I had two encounters. The first was with a woman who was handing out pamphlets for something and I said “Je suis une touriste” (I am a tourist) and she laughed and said something back which I am pretty sure meant “this doesn’t apply to you then” or something to that affect. The second encounter was shortly after that when a girl asked me for change for the train. At first I didn’t know what she was saying and said my signature phrase of the day, “Je parle une petite peu Francais.” She then explained herself in broken English. I said no and “Je regrette (I’m sorry) and walked away. As I was leaving a guy (I think from England based on the accent) called to me, “Do you really speak English or were you just saying that to get away?” I was laughed and said, “Yes, I really speak English” and he walked away.

I don’t know if people are just humoring me or if I really can pull the “accent” off a little, but either way it makes me happy to know that I can somewhat blend in – even if it’s only for a few minutes and I have to return to my native language. I am curious to see how the rest of the week here plays out. France is really the only language I have really tried to speak more than just “please” and “thank you” and so far it hasn’t been too terrible!

At the moment I’m really just excited for it to be tomorrow. My day is over and I had a great one, but I know that tomorrow Eddie finally gets here and I am beyond excited to see him.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Well, it's Thanksgiving morning and I'm heading out for my day trip to Lyon. Hopefully it goes smoothly and I get good use out of my rail pass. :)

Yesterday was fairly uneventful (thankfully) as I traveled from Athens to Paris. I did get a little lost trying to find the bus from the Athens center to the airport, but I gave myself extra time for such a thing. Everything went smoothly at the airport and they didn't even lose my luggage this time! It was great.

Getting to my hostel in Paris was a little stressful but only because someone told me to get on a train that I wasn't really sure was the right one, but it ended up being alright. I made it and settled in and stayed up far too late, which has left me quite tired this morning. Hopefully I'll be able to get some rest on the train!

So, that's the plan for my "turkey day." I don't think there will be much turkey consumption for me though. I'm ok with that though. Tomorrow Eddie gets into town and that is something I am more excited about!

Well, I am off - I'll try to post and update tonight!


I had originally planned to go to Cape Sounion yesterday (as I mentioned previously). Plans do change however and when I woke up yesterday morning I just did not have it in me to spend 4 hours on a bus again after I’d spent 6 on a bus the day before. I decided to take a “zero” day (as Eddie calls them) and make sure I had everything in order for my Paris departure today. Eddie convinced me to go and treat myself to lunch somewhere and so at noon I set out to find a restaurant that wasn’t too expensive.

I had looked up a few restaurants on and marked them on my map. I set out to find the closest one to my hostel only to discover that the address was an abandoned building. Hmm. I decided to walk down to the Acropolis where I knew there were a lot of restaurant options (probably not the cheapest, but easy to access none the less). I stopped to look at a menu at one restaurant and the maitre-d (or whatever you call the guy who stands by the menu and tries to bring business into the restaurant) talked me into eating there and having rooster with pasta.

I decided to have some wine with my meal since I hadn’t splurged on alcohol in several weeks and figured, why not, it’s my last meal in Greece. : -D Also, since I had nowhere to be I wanted to just sit and enjoy the scene around me. My meal was very delicious and very filling. I also ate all of the bread they gave me (because they charge you for it). The glass of wine was really more like two glasses of wine – which was fine by me, but just a surprise. All in all the meal was 13 Euro – which doesn’t seem like much until you realize that it’s about $21. I never spend that much on myself at a restaurant!

After my meal I decided to slowly walk back to my hostel and browse some of the market shops on my way. I passed a store that had items from the island of Lesvos – one of the places I had planned to go but it didn’t work out. My host in Thessaloniki had told me that they have good olive oil there so I thought I’d check it out. I was standing at the oil section comparing varieties when an older gentleman asked me a question (in Greek of course). I gave my usual blank stare and asked, “English?” He chuckled and explained that he did not have his glasses and could not read the price on the large tin of oil. I told him the various prices and then he asked where I was from.

I have learned to start with a broad answer to this question as Seattle is not as easily recognized as New York – but more often than not people have at least heard of it even if they don’t know where it is in the US. So I told this man I was from the US and he asked which state, so I told him. He asked where and I said the Seattle area. He seemed surprised by this but then said that we were neighbors. I first thought he was referring to the Olympia connection (as the jeweler from Olympia had done), but then he explained he was from Seattle and asked which neighborhood in lived in. I said Ballard and he responded “You may know my restaurant!” I asked which one and he said that his name was Costas and he owned Costas Opa in Fremont.

I wasn’t really sure what to say because Costas Opa is a restaurant that I enjoy and have been to many times. I didn’t tell him that I also enjoy Olive You in Greenwood because that just seemed mean. We started chatting about olive oil and Seattle and a few other things and he said that he would like to treat me to lunch. Unfortunately I was already stuffed from my rather large meal but told him that I’d be happy to go for a drink of some kind.

So after I bought my oil we set off and found a shabby looking little diner off of the main street. He ordered some Retsina (don’t worry Mom, it was actually quite good) and a souvlaki plate for himself. When it arrived he informed me that I was going to have to help him eat the food, which I did some, but man was I full! We sat and chatted for a little over an hour and then he said that he needed to continue his shopping and errands for the day, but that he’d like to meet up later for sweets. I gave him my hostel information and he said he’d come by after a few hours.

He made it to my hostel around 7:30 or so and we went off to Omonia square and found some dessert and chatted for a few more hours. He gave me a brief Greek history lesson as well as helped improve my Greek vocabulary by at least one more word. It was fun to talk with someone from Seattle and I can’t believe the random connection and that we even bumped into each other. I told him I’d come by the restaurant sometime and say hello. I told him I’d tell the waitress to let him know Ann from Athens was there. : )

Anyway, yesterday was a good day. I ate way too much, drank some good wine, and went into a sugar coma. Today the agenda consists of traveling to Paris. I am currently at the airport waiting for my flight to begin boarding (in about 45 minutes) and will soon be on my way to France. I look forward to coming back to Greece again. I am sure that it will happen and there are already things on my list that I want to do the next time around. I have learned a lot (especially about the bus and train system) and think that renting a car is definitely the way to go. It may be a little more expensive but it’s much less of a hassle.

So, avtío Greece and bonjour France!

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Give Up

I am no longer relying on my own abilities to use the transportation systems in Greece. This is a wonderful revelation to have the day before I leave the country, but yesterday was another crazy day of transportation woes.

The plan was to take the 10:30 bus from Athens to Delphi (a three hour ride), spend the day there and come back on the 4 o'clock bus. In order to get to the bus station I needed to take the metro to catch a bus that would take me to the obscure long distance bus stop. I left my hostel before 9am because I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time.

First, I got off the metro and set out to find the city bus. It was supposed to be on a certain street in Omonia square. When I got to the street it was supposed to be on, I couldn't find a bus stop that showed #24 stopping there and the street name was different. I walked halfway around the square looking for the correct street when I found a map that showed that the street actually had two names and I had been in the right place all along. I finally found the bus stop (though it was a bit down the street from where I had thought it was) and got on. There was a sign at the stop that had all of the remaining stops listed. There were quite a few between where I was and where I was supposed to get off so I took a picture to reference (instead of having to remember).

Unfortunately the stop I thought I was supposed to got off at was not the stop I actually wanted to get off at. So When I got off and was wandering around trying to find the bus station it is no wonder that I couldn't actually find it. I did ask someone and they were kind enough to write in my notebook a message for me to show the bus driver that would ask him to take me to the bus station and tell me when to get off. It worked and I arrived at the bus station around 10:25. I ran in bought my ticket and climbed onto the bus just in the nick of time. Phew.

My time in Delpi was good. I had planned to catch the 4pm bus back to Athens, but didn't think I'd have enough time to see everything I wanted to, so I took my time and decided to catch the 6pm bus instead. As I was approaching the town of Delphi (where I would catch the bus) at 4:20 the bus drove past me. Had I been 5 minutes sooner to head back to town I would have been able to catch the bus. It ended up being fine. I wandered around town and bought a charm and a postcard and even got one last gyro. :) I befriended a girl form Washington DC on the bus ride back and we chatted it up.

I think I have learned that I need to just ask people for directions instead of relying on my own abilities to get places. I tend to stay out of trouble much more that way. :) Hehehe ...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ancient Corinth

Yesterday I spent three hours getting to Ancient Corinth and then three hours getting back to Athens - though I only spent two hours in Ancient Corinth. I didn't even have any transportation drama (other than the bus I had to connect with being late) - it just takes awhile to get there! I think it's funny that I spent more time traveling than actually visiting the site, but oh well. :)

I enjoyed my visit to the ancient site and even read some of 2 Corinthians while I was there. I thought it was only appropriate to do so. I met a girl from Japan who has been traveling for a week through Greece (she heads home this week). We rode the bus together and chatted a little, but didn't exchange too much information.

Today I officially explored Athens. I have gone out into the city a few times since I arrived in Greece but I hadn't been back to the Acropolis yet. Today I went to the National Archeology Museum, the Keramikos (museum and ruins), the Roman Agora, the Acropolis, and the Acropolis Museum. The Acropolis Museum was a bit disappointing. When I went three years ago it was much smaller and at the top of the Acropolis, now they have built a big fancy new museum at the base, which is pretty cool, but it feels way more pretentious and I think I expected more from it. I was also a little "museumed-out" by the time I got there this afternoon.

About 4 o'clock I hit a wall and decided to just head back to my hostel. I even splurged and took the metro back instead of walking and saving the money. I know I'm really tired when I'm willing to spend money on something that isn't totally necessary. :)

Tomorrow the plan is to go to Delphi. Everything I read online says that it is open - so I hope I'm not disappointed. I have decided that I for sure want to come back to Athens at some point in the future, so worse case if things don't work out this time there is always next time. I'd still really like it to work out this time around though.

I started a new photo album on facebook (number 10) and the link is posted on the blog for those of you who are not facebook members. Please enjoy!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Olympia - Greece not Washington

I really liked Olympia. It's a small little town that I am pretty sure is mainly tourist focused - at least Ancient Olympia. Everyone is super friendly because of this and they want your business. I realize that sounds a bit jaded, but it's kind of true. Yes, people are nice and all that even when they don't want something from you, but I have not experienced any place like Olympia thus far on my trip. It's quaint and cute and definitely was worth the madness to get there.

I enjoyed the ancient sites of Olympia a lot as well. It is crazy to see so many ruins in one place (because of earthquakes mostly) but also know that so much history has happened there and continues to happen. They still light the Olympic torch for each of the Olympic Games at this site in Olympia and then carry the flame to whichever city around the world it is being held in. It's crazy to think about how many years this has been happening. As I walked through the different areas of the ancient site I couldn't help but think about all the Athletes that had been there before me and the training that they must have endured in the very places I was standing. It is a pretty cool place - again, not like any other site I've been to so far on my trip.

I only spent about 2 hours at the ancient site as I didn't leave my pension until about 10am and then was back in town around noon. I stopped in a store and bought a charm for my bracelet (an olive branch wreath) and some postcards to send. It was then only 12:30 and I had an hour and a half before my train arrived so I was able to relax in my room some before heading to the train station.

My Thursday trip to Athens was also quite the adventure. It seems that Greek travel just doesn't ever happen smoothly. I had to make two transfers on my trip. I would take the train from Olympia to Pyrgos, then Pyrgos to Kaito, then Kaito to Athens. Well Olympia to Pyrgos went smoothly. Then in Pyrgos I needed to get a seat assignment for the train. I waited in line (patiently) and got my ticket. Then I got stuck at the ticket booth because people were in line behind me and someone came running into the exit part of the booth and demanded a ticket for the train departing in two minutes. I was boxed in and things were a little hectic. It was weird.

I was sitting waiting for the train when I noticed my ticket only said Pyrgos to Patras, which was only about halfway to Kaito. So I had to go stand in line again (this time it was longer) to get the ticket re-issued. Apparently she didn't understand me when I said Kaito so I just said Athens and she got it.

When I got on the train, there was a girl in my seat and I had to ask them to move. It was fine, but just an awkward encounter. Then the train stopped in a town (not Kaito) and the conductor walked through saying something in Greek. Everyone got up and got off the train with their things. Everyone except me that is since I didn't know what was going on. A lady knocked on my window (outside of the train) and motioned for me to get off, so I did. The conductor was standing outside and saw my confused look and said "bus." He pointed to the front of the building where everyone was loading onto a bus. Apparently the railway in Greece is under construction, so there are parts where they have to bus the riders instead of using the train.

In Kaito I got on the train easily but it stopped one stop short of Athens and said that it was the last stop. I checked the time table and it was another hour before the next train was scheduled to arrive and it was already 8pm. So, with an hour to kill I walked to the front of the train station to see if I could find someone to verify that that was my only option (waiting). I discovered that I could take a bus into town. So I bought a ticket and got on a bus (I was told that ANY bus would get me to Athens). I neglected to clarify WHERE in Athens this "anywhere" that I would be going would be. So, after about 20 minutes on the bus I finally asked the driver if the bus stopped near a metro line. Apparently we had just passed one. So, I got off at the next stop and wandered around until I found a hotel whose receptionist guided me to the train station (only about a block away) and I was able to find the metro from there to get to my hostel.

Everything worked out, but it was definitely another Greek travel adventure.

Yesterday I came back to the hostel that I had stayed at previously in Athens (it was unavailable on Thursday night) and settled in. I chose to make yesterday a bit of a "down" day. I did my laundry and walked into town and bought some authentic Greek sandals (spending too much money probably) and bought groceries for the week. I will stay at this hostel until I leave for Paris on Wednesday.

Today I am headed to Corinth for the day. Tomorrow I will stay in Athens and visit the ancient sites (free on Sundays). Monday I need to see if any ancient sites are open. If they are I will go to Delphi for the day and if not then I will go to Delphi on Tuesday. There is another site that I want to go to as well (but I can never remember the name) but I am not sure if I will have time if things are closed on Monday. I will keep you all posted, of course!

Adventures Traveling - AKA More Waiting and A Crazy Greek Man

Not only is the title of this post long, but so is the post itself - consider yourself warned.

Wednesday morning I woke up bright and early at 7am to take a shower and be out the door by 7:45. I was successful in my endeavor and even had time to pick a few satsuma oranges from the tree outside of my domatia/pension. When I had paid for the room the night before the owner had urged me to pick a few from the tree, and by a few I mean the 5 I took were not enough and he continued to urge me to take more - hence my morning harvest.

I mailed some postcards and then set off for the bus station - which actually wasn't very far. The bus left at 8:30 and I arrived around 8:10 as I didn't want to miss it. I had been told that in order to get to Olympia I would need to go to Tripoli and change busses there to go to Olympia. Since I didn't want to have the same problem that I had had the day before and getting off at the wrong location and whatnot I asked the lady more questions than necessary but felt confident that I knew what I was doing and where I was going. She said that she didn't know what time the bus left from Tripoli but I would be able to ask when I got there and it shouldn't be a problem.

First, the bus leaving Nafplion was late by 5-10 minutes - not a HUGE crisis by any means and we ended up in Tripoli on time, so it really was ok. On the road we passed an overturned vehicle - which I still don't know how it got that way since there were no other cars around and the ledge above appeared to be intact.

At 10am I arrived in Tripoli and went to the desk to ask about a bus to Olympia. The man stared at me (again, like I was crazy) and asked one question. "Today?"




So, Wednesday was a pretty big waste of a day. I sat in the bus terminal for 8 hours waiting. There was supposed to be free wi-fi but for whatever reason my computer had a problem with it. It would connect but it had "limited or now connectivity" which is dumb because it had full bars. This is also the same thing that my computer did at my apartment in Ballard. Apparently some networks just hate it or vice versa. I did get quite a bit of reading done, some sudoku, and journaled a bit.

Finally 6:30 rolled around and I got on the bus. I know that sounds simple enough but let me paint you a picture.

Leaving the little cafeteria area at the bus station you walk out into the bus terminal where there are 3 lanes that are big enough for two buses to be parked in each lane. There are three buses there and none of them are really labeled - at least not with a location or number. On the "arrival/departure" screen there are buses listed with times. I was able to find my bus but it said it was leaving from lane 1 - but all of the buses scheduled to leave were in lane 1. Not helpful at all. So I walk around the bus trying to find some marking. Finally a guy asks to see my ticket and points at the bus I had walked around. I confirm with another man helping put luggage underneath and get on the bus. Now I just have a 3 hour bus ride in which I will arrive in a strange town with no where to stay. Should be fun.

There was a little drama with someone thinking I was in her seat, but I actually wasn't and she was wrong, and then we got on the road. My seat was in the very front of the bus so it was kind of like I was driving (but not). I decided that despite the fact that I don't know Greek and would get extremely lost, that I could never drive a bus in Greece. For one every corner we turned I thought we were going to hit something or someone, and two, the streets are crazy narrow and there is just way too much happening. I'm thankful there are only a few more Greek bus trips in my future. We were almost to Olympia when the bus driver's cell phone rang and he had to stop the bus. Apparently someone had fallen asleep and missed his stop. I'm guessing that whoever was supposed to pick him up (or something to that effect) was concerned that he hadn't arrived. Anyway, the bus driver woke him up and let him out at a gas station. This is why I set an alarm on my watch whenever I fall asleep on a bus or train. I am not about to be stranded in the middle of nowhere and have to pay a fortune for a taxi to get wherever it is that I'm going.

When we arrived in Olympia there were just three of us who were getting off the bus. It was 9:30 and dark and I only had the names and addresses of a few places that might be available to stay. I was looking for a street sign when a man approached me and asked if I needed help. I asked if he knew where the Youth Hostel was and he said it was about 300 meters down the main street on the right. Simple enough. I thanked him and headed in that direction. When I arrived at the hostel he was there waiting for me (he had driven past me at some point) and pointed to the door. The lights were out but there was a sign that said open. The doors were locked and no one answered my knocking (and there was no bell to ring).

The man, who I learned was named George, asked me where I was from. He knew Washington State and exclaimed that our capitol Olympia and our current location, Olympia, were sister cities. He then showed me a picture of him running with someone who was carrying the Olympic torch as they light it in Olympia at the beginning of each of the games. He gave me the picture (which was really a postcard advertisement for his jewelry shop down the street. I asked him if he knew where one of the other hotels I had listed was and he said it was just down the street - he looked and said it was also closed. I wasn't really sure what to do at that point because all the other options I had listed were really last resorts as they were expensive, but what else could I do? I was about to ask him for the name of another place when he says to me, "the best place to stay is at my house."

I didn't really know how to respond because there are several people who run pensions out of their homes, but I also didn't want to go home with a creeper. He then began explaining to me that he has three extra rooms and I could have my own room and bathroom and all that jazz. At that point I knew he did not own a pension. I told him that I needed to find a hotel and would not be going home with him. He said ok and said there was a pension down the road for 20 euro (within my budget). He suggested I put my bag in his car and he would drive me there. I declined his offer and said I could walk. He persisted though and said that after I was settled in he could take me for some traditional Greek food and Greek dancing. Please keep in mind that it is now 10pm and I have been up since 7, traveling (sitting) all day, and just wanted to find a place to sleep for the night. Even if I had been with my friends I don't think I would have been up for going dancing - let alone with some strange old Greek man. So I finally parted ways with him and set off.

I made it to the pension - though it was a little strange when I got there (mostly because no one spoke English really - and it was like they had been expecting me. I kind of wonder if George had set me up from the beginning, but I wasn't sure. Anyway, it all worked out. I got a room for the night, had free wi-fi, and I was even able to keep my things in the room until I left on the train the next day.

I will post more about Olympia and my "adventure" getting back to Athens later - this is probably enough for you all to digest for the moment. : ) Happy Friday everyone!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Yesterday I explore the ancient city of Mycenae. Legend attributes the founding of the city to Perseus (who defeated Medusa). It is the city where Agamemnon was king, it is featured in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and Hercules performed his labors for a different Mycenaean king, later on. In history and legend Mycenae was an important place that helped to shape the Greek Classical age and it is recognized by the UNESCO for that very reason.

From Nafplion I took an hour bus that dropped us directly at the ancient site and for 4 Euros I was set free to explore an ancient site as well as see items discovered at the site preserved in the archeology museum. There were a few areas roped off that I was not able to explore, but as I was standing in a beehive burial chamber I had an overwhelming feeling that I was experiencing something that my future children probably will not ever have a chance to do. I have touched ruins with my bare hands and stood in former houses and rooms of palaces. I saw and took pictures with the Lion’s Gate at the entrance to the palace and walked partially into an ancient cistern that demonstrates the advanced technology of Mycenae.

I remember being seeing Michelangelo’s Pieta in Rome three years ago with my parents and my mom talking about how when she was there 30 years earlier that it wasn’t behind the thick bulletproof glass and commenting on how things were so different then. I wonder in 30 years what the Mycenae ruins will look like and if the same luxuries I experienced yesterday will be available to new visitors. In many ways I doubt it and consider myself very lucky.

In the museum at the site I was browsing the items for sale and was looking at refrigerator magnets. As I started at them I realized that in my travels so far (three years ago and now this trip) I had seen just about all of the artifacts pictured on that display. In the same way, at my pension last night I was walking down the hall and looking at photographs of different Greek cities and ancient sites and realized that I had been to just about all of the cities and seen all of the ancient sites pictured. How incredible is that?!?! I don’t say this to boast about what I have done and seen but rather to share my excitement. I never thought I’d be able to say something like that. How am I so fortunate to be able to say that I have seen so many wonderful things in this world?

When I returned to Nafplion in the afternoon I walked down by the waterfront to take sunset pictures and browsed a few shops. I ended up eating dinner at a restaurant in the old town. I spent a little more than I had planned, but that was only because I was invited to join a mother and daughter who were also eating in the restaurant. They had been to Mycenae at the same time I was and had ridden the same bus. We had seen each other a few times throughout the day at the site as well as back in Nafplion and it was just by chance that we ended up at the same restaurant. It was fun to have dinner with someone other than myself and we chatted for a bit and enjoyed our meal together.

All in all yesterday was a good day. I do not think that I will be eating out much more in Greece as everything I have tried so far has been a bit of a disappointment compared to the amount of money I have had to spend on it. I also think I need to be more careful at the grocery store. I have a sneaking suspicion that I ate sour cream for breakfast the last two days – but I am not quite sure. It might be that I discovered the elusive Greek yogurt that everyone keeps telling me about. It really didn’t taste like sour cream, but it wasn’t quite like yogurt either. I really have no idea but either way it hasn’t hurt me yet!

Monday, November 16, 2009


I’ve gotten pretty good at waiting for time to pass. I’ve spent countless hours on trains, ferries, and busses as well as each of their respective terminals or stations waiting. My Sudoku puzzle book has kept me company, I have read one book (well almost – I wasn’t that interested and mailed it home with two pages left to finish), written blog updates and journal entries, listened to my iPod, slept, and of course, just stared out the window. I’m used to waiting and with travel, waiting is pretty normal. It’s not my favorite thing to do of course, but I am ok with it – unless there is a way I could not be waiting.

I went to the train station yesterday to ask how to get from Athens to Nafplion today. I was told there were trains at 9am, 1pm, and 5pm and it would take me 3 hours to get there. I decided to take the 1pm train so that I could sleep in a little this morning. I arrived at the train station at 12:20 and confirmed again which train I needed to take. I was told track 2, line 2. Ok.

At 1pm a train arrives and I asked another woman boarding the train if it was correct. She wasn’t so sure that it was, but I looked at the map inside the train and it was stopping in Corinth, so I knew I’d at least get to the Peloponnese. The train ended in a town called Kaito where other people that I overheard talking seemed to suggest was where all the connections to the Peloponnese took place. So, I rode to Kaito, got off and asked the ticket agent where to go from there. I was already a little frustrated that the first woman hadn’t told me that I would have to make a connection, but such is life – it’s an adventure right?

I quickly learned that I should have gotten off the train in Corinth to make my connection. Luckily the train I had just arrived on was headed back to Athens. I caught it in the nick of time, just before the doors closed. I settled in, had my yogurt and arrived in Corinth 40 minutes after I would have if I had known I was supposed to get off there in the first place.

At the ticket counter in Corinth, the flirty old man informed me that the next train to Nafplion was at 6:23 – a 3 ½ hour wait. I had missed the last train (which left at 4:23) by about 50 minutes. Lovely. Why couldn’t the lady in Athens have told me I would need to change trains? I obviously didn’t know what I was doing and more information is always better than not enough right? Ugh. So, here I sit, frustrated and waiting for time to pass once again.

Ironically the sermon I listened to yesterday was about waiting and being inconvenienced and dealing with things beyond our control. The pastor talked about learning to be patient and understanding and accepting that God has a plan and is in control and has a purpose for these things. Sometimes things are easy and sometimes they are hard, but in all things we should not be bitter. He used extreme examples quoting Dietrich Bonheoffer when he was in prison waiting to be sentenced for his failed attempt to assassinate Hitler. The pastor also talked about Paul and his false and unjust imprisonment and eventual martyrdom. Both suffered terribly and both found a way to praise God in their circumstances.

I shouldn’t complain that I have to wait. I shouldn’t be mad at the lack of information given to me. Instead I should trust in Him and enjoy the down time. I will get to Nafplion when I get there and hopefully it won’t be too dark for me to navigate the streets and find a hotel. I have learned a valuable lesson to always ask too many questions before getting on a train or bus – but also to remember that it will all be ok. God is in control and though I may have to wait a little longer, waiting isn’t going to kill me. It’s just more time to read, journal, blog, listen to music, or even just stare out the window and reflect.

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