Greece via London (06/2009) [Part 1/2]

2009 December 8
by Jon

FRI 06/12/09 – TUE 06/16/09
Written 06/23/09 – 07/14/09

Friday, June 12 - I dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s at work before setting my Outlook to out-of-office and going out to get the last Mexican I’d have in two weeks. I headed to the local Stop & Shop in Framingham to pick up some food for Buddy when we’re gone. When I set it down to check out the bag sort of detonated and spilled all over the checkout counter. As an attendant came over to see what was wrong I sheepishly asked to get a new one. I figure it was better to get the little mishaps out of the way ahead of leaving.

After stopping at the bank to withdraw some cash I came home to finish packing. Before long it was 5:00 and we headed out to catch our flight. First we stopped at the Qdoba in Porter to get burritos before leaving.


Dinner (06/12/09)

Yes, I had Mexican two meals in a row. No, I don’t think that’s unusual, except in the sense that it is unusually delicious. After that we headed via the T to the airport. Out of a sort of superstitious fear that our progress would be halted if I didn’t document it, I tried to keep track of every step of our journey.


Porter Square Red Line

Government Center Blue Line

Logan shuttle to Terminal E

We Stand Together

Sorry, every other country!

Check-in and security were both a snap and so we entered the terminal area with time to kill. I wandered around to see what was going on. Apparently not much.


Boston Logan's international terminal

Before long, though, it was time to board the flight to Iceland.


Logan gate to Iceland

It was boarding at the same time as an enormous 747 headed directly to Heathrow, strangely enough. Our flight’s line seemed so much more orderly in our line, though. Orderly and… full of Bjork? You’ll have to take my word for it, but there was a woman entering our flight who looked stupefyingly like Bjork. As in, we did quadruple-takes. Of course, we didn’t get pictures because, well, I have heard that she doesn’t take kindly to that sort of thing. And we didn’t ask her because, well, you get it. I thought it was too unlikely; it couldn’t be her, she looked too plain and unassuming and not presently screaming at someone. Becky was convinced, though. When we got on the plane she went into first class. Huh. We’ll never know for sure, of course, but, still. Makes you wonder.

The flight was a joy. It was really quiet and smooth. I could have slept but I was too nervous and excited so I played with their awesome little screens they gave all of us.


En route to Iceland

Their selections of movies and TV shows were pretty great. They even had a Futurama episode, “Where No Fan Has Gone Before,” my third-favorite behind “Anthology of Interest II” and “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid.” Really, couldn’t be happier. Before long the 5-hour flight would be over and we’d land early Saturday morning in Iceland.

Saturday, June 13 - our plane touched down on the ethereal fields of Keflavik International Airport at 6:30 AM local time. Iceland is GMT 0 but they don’t observe Daylight Savings Time, what with it being light out 22 hours out of the day around then, so that makes them 4 hours ahead of the US East Coast during the summer. In fact, while we were flying there, we noticed that – above a certain latitude – it didn’t get really completely dark at all. Even at 2:30 in the morning local time, there was a perpetual wispy haze of daylight just peaking above the clouds. When we landed it could have very well been high noon by the sun’s position in the sky; it betrayed no hint that it was early in the morning.

Keflavik – the all-international airport a couple dozen kilometers west of Reykjavik – is the most atypical airport I’ve ever set foot in by a wide margin. The whole terminal has a hardwood floor that makes the traveler feel as if he should have asked permission to keep his shoes on while passing through. This is especially odd as there are no trees in Iceland, only barren scrub on the razor’s edge of tundra:


Outside Iceland's Keflavik Airport

There’s a pervasive quiet everywhere, flying in the face of the perpetual chaotic din of your average terminal. Everyone sits quietly and waits for their flight. When it’s time to board, there isn’t a PA announcement. Instead, a woman quietly unlocks a glass door leading to the gate and everyone silently files in. This is calming to repeat travelers in the sense that it’s possible to hop the Atlantic without being herded like noisy cattle, but it does nothing to reassure first-timers. Additionally, anyone who tells you that Icelandic is even remotely easy to understand is most likely not sharing their clearly fantastic hallucinogenic drugs with you:


Iceland's Keflavik Airport

We had a 70-minute layover lengthened by the plane’s slightly early landing. While apparently going through passport control on the way back to the US from Europe is not required, it’s necessary on the way out. Somewhere in between the EU, the Eurozone and Schengen I gave up attempting to understand how one gets around Europe with a US passport and decided to be herded wherever we were told. We received our “in” stamps without a word and were filed to a security checkpoint. Despite going through the same de-ferrous-ing procedure that gets me through without a hitch, I was frisked – rather intimately – not once, but twice by the same man. Icelandic for “hello,” I suppose. Shortly thereafter we passed through the “out” checkpoint (pictured above) where a man with the most pronounced unibrow I have ever borne witness to was content with my ability to utter “London” as excuse for officially leaving Iceland not 15 minutes after I entered. Of course, our “unofficial” stay on the way back would be longer and would provide a better glimpse of the country as seen from the airport.

As for right then, we pensively waited for the magic glass doors to be unlocked, finally getting let in to another, gate-specific waiting area where we reassuringly saw our bags get loaded onto the plane through the lightly-descending, ethereal faery-rain that seemed to be perpetually falling. We then got onto the plane and on our way to the polar opposite that is the chaotic, stewing, convoluted mess that is London Heathrow International Airport.

After landing in Heathrow we walked for what seemed like 2 or 3 miles from the gate before reaching passport control. There we were met by some 26 windows – I counted – at which precisely 3 people were working, two for foreigners and one sitting at a desk for British passport holders, of which there seemed to be precious few on our flight. Finally, we were given the usual series of questions by the immigrations officer that, at some point between “where are you headed in Greece” and “are you taking EZ-Jet” crossed the line between official business of the Homeland Office and friendly banter. That always bugs me to no end when they do that; just give me my stamp and let me pass.

We made it through and into baggage reclaim (silly Brits and their panache for grammatical correctness), officially making it into the United Kingdom.


Heathrow baggage reclaim

After I snapped that Becky pointed to the large, prominent signs informing us in a polite and proper manner that the Queen would greatly prefer it if we did not take photographs inside the baggage reclaim area if you please. Whoops.

With or baggage in-hand, we exited through the “Nothing to Declare” hallway of customs, which turned out to be just that: an empty hallway leading directly to a duty-free shop. Guess they’re big on the honor system now. We headed down to the Central Terminal Area’s train station.


Heathrow Central train station

At this point it’s worth noting that those green to getting around London via train should spend the several hours I spent studying the rather complicated maths (because in England it’s plural, for some reason) needed to understand the train system in Greater London. Of course there’s the Tube and it’s byzantine map and endless series of rules and exceptions and exceptions to exceptions. But there’s a special wankery surrounding Heathrow. You see, there’s the Central Terminal Area: Terminals 1, 2 and 3. But then there’s Terminal 4 and Terminal 5, neither of which are connected by foot and can only be accessed for free via taking the correct combination of the Heathrow Connect and Heathrow Express. Once you know where you’re going the signage and attendants make it quite easy to ensure you’re boarding the correct train, but as for knowing what the correct train is? Like I said, helpful to research in advance. As it so turned out we wanted to take the Heathrow Connect to Terminal 4, whereupon we walked over the the adjacent Hilton London Heathrow where I’d made a reservation for a day room.


Hilton London Heathrow

Day rooms are neat things. So many people travel to London for just one day on business purposes that several hotels close to the airports provide rooms for use between 9 AM and 6 PM for travelers to use to shower, take a brief nap, or otherwise compose themselves and set up bags for those crucial few hours when they need to have their wits about them. After taxes ours was a rather ludicrous 86 pounds for several hours inside a room with a bed we didn’t even use, but I don’t regret it in the least; after 12+ hours of travel since departing our home, the opportunity to shower and drop off our bags was priceless. And so, refreshed, we headed back out to see London for a few hours. We elected to head in via the Heathrow Express as we were pressed for time and it got us to downtown London in a brief 15 minutes.


Aboard the Heathrow Express

The Heathrow Express – while hands-down the best way to get to and from Heathrow, we later found – is also the holder of the dubious title of, per kilometer, the most expensive train in the world. The 15-minute journey costs over 16 pounds. Per person. Each way. To put this into perspective, in the 22 hours we were in London, I spent well over $200 on train fare just getting around town and to and from airports. How anyone affords to live there is beyond my comprehension. Fortunately, we were on vacation and thus it didn’t bother me too much. And so we disembarked in Paddington Station and switched to the Underground.


Paddington Station

Paddington Underground

We took the Circle Line out to Victoria, both because it was convenient to where we were headed and because I wanted to scope it out as we’d later take the equally-expensive-albeit-longer-distance Gatwick Express from there. After a bit of jostling about attempting to get our bearings in a city famous for being difficult to navigate, we finally spat ourselves out at Buckingham Palace just in time to catch the tail end of the changing of the guards.


Buckingham Palace

We wandered on, stopping briefly to get a light, late lunch in a park in Westminster.


Park in London

Well, Becky had a sandwich and I had a banana milkshake. Mostly because I wanted to hear the guys at the deli we stopped in say “banana” several times. They talk funny.

We headed on toward Westminster Abbey and, within the course of about an hour, got in our full dose of London Tourism:


Stereotypical London picture


Phonebooth! London Eye! Westminster Abbey! Big Ben growing out of our heads! Yep, we sure were in London!

Moving on. Only when we got down to the Parliament House was it made clear to us just how fantastically lucky our timing was. For, you see, we got there just in time to witness the 2009 London World Naked Bike Ride (obviously NSFW). Now, when you think of something like this you think of a few dozen – maybe a hundred or two at most – rather drooping people parading through quickly while police attempt to discern just how they’re going to arrest them all. Now, while the mode piece of flesh I saw was definitely something I could have done without, it was impressive how many weren’t wrinkled 60-something original hippies dragging their private bits along the pavement. A lot of young folks. Some displayed some modesty or at least a desire to not end up having their unmentionables tagged hundreds of times on Facebook, but many others seemed not bothered by that. More impressive, though, was the sheer volume of the thing: it must’ve been over 10,000, maybe 20,000 people. Enormous. Obviously I’m not going to display pictures here.

For evident reasons, we decided that whatever we saw in London after that would be an enormous letdown and so we resolved to head back, walking down the riverfront, back across the Thames on the Vauxhall Bridge (which bears, in my mind, a striking resemblance to the Mass Ave Bridge along the Charles in design, length, pitch and relative location on the river), back to Victoria, back on the Heathrow Express, back to Terminal 4, back to the hotel to check out just in time for the 6 PM deadline. Then back on the Express yet a third time, this time with our luggage and back on the Tube to Victoria, whereupon we bought our tickets for the impressive-looking Gatwick Express.


Aboard the Gatwick Express

Aboard the Gatwick Express

By this time it was about 7:30 and we were getting weary, not to mention hungry. We dozed through most of the half-hour ride down to Gatwick’s South Terminal, whereupon we dragged ourselves on the shuttle to the North Terminal so we could use a kiosk to check in.


Gatwick shuttle

British Airways only allows seating selection upon check-in, less than 24 hours before the flight time. In other words, check-in as close to the beginning of that magic 24-hour frame is key and waiting until arrival at the airport right before the flight to check-in could result in disastrously poor seating, making the extra effort worth our while despite how long of a day it’d already been. Having secured decent seats, we curled up into a nearby gastropub in the terminal where I enjoyed the hell out of a pint and a steak pie.


Dinner (06/13/09)

Boarding passes in-hand and food in stomach, we took a cab out to our hotel, the Menzies Chequers in Horley a few minutes up the road. After a bit of difficulty in finding our reservation that was thankfully cleared up by a quick round of phonecalls from the desk, we got up to our spartan but perfectly sufficient room around 9 in the evening. Some wrangling with the TV-mounted alarm later and we were well on our way to sleep with an early wake-up for our flight the next morning.

Sunday, June 14 - we woke up around 5 AM so we could have plenty of time to make our 8:30 flight out of Gatwick. Already light was starting to stream in through the window in our hotel room.


Early morning in the hotel near Gatwick

The alarm went off as scheduled at 5:15 but we were already awake courtesy of the World’s Loudest Morning Dove outside the window. Either way, we checked out in time to catch a 6 AM shuttle through the sleepy southern England suburbs to the North Terminal.


On the shuttle bus to Gatwick

As we already had our boarding passes, all we needed to do was get our luggage checked in and go through security, both of which we accomplished with relative ease, stopping to get some candy and snacks along the way, because, let’s face it, British candy is the best and we didn’t have high hopes for what we’d get in Greece (turns out we were correct in that assumption). We got to the waiting area a bit after 7 AM, giving us nearly an hour to kill before our gate would be called. Gatwick – like many European airports – uses a centralized gating system similar to train stations where they only call a plane’s gate 30-60 minutes ahead of departure time in order to allow for increased flexibility in the case of delays and departures. The up-side is that it keeps the planes flowing as smoothly as possible, key in such a high-traffic area. The down-side is that it means all of humanity needs to sit in a central waiting area and pensively check up at display screens before scampering out in the direction of the appropriate gate when it’s called. Clearly not the best situation in terms of peace of mind, but, what’ya gonna do.

We got breakfast. Becky had had a dream the previous night that I’d gone to a place called the “Baconarium.” Appropriately enough, when we picked up our food and coffee, I saw on the menu, “Big Bacon Butty.” In addition to having the silliest name ever I decided it was a good bet for living out Becky’s dream. Sure enough, a bacon butty is apparently a buttered English muffin stuffed with bacon. And that’s it. Breakfast. Of. Champions. Refueled, we wandered about the airport a bit until our gate was called.


It's the Britain Store!

I thought how annoying and abrasive the equivalent America Store would be and then I remembered it’s called Wal-Mart.

Before long our gate was called. We hauled for what seemed like 2 miles across winding walkways through the airport before finally arriving at the gate.


Gate to Thessaloniki in Gatwick

They seemed to be in no hurry to board the plane, though. It turns out their PA system was broken at that gate and so they waited for everyone to meander on over before boarding, which was also done silently. Well, silently except for the numerous screaming babies and toddlers we’d have the joy of sharing the flight with. I don’t know if it’s an overprivileged dandy thing, a Generation X parent thing or just a British thing, but the number of uncontrolled brats swinging from the rafters and screeching bloody murder throughout the flight was positively epic. But more on that later since the return flight was even worse. As for now, we wound up getting off the ground about a half-hour late, but the pilot told us he’d have us there on time thanks to some strong tail-winds. In the process we realized we never passed through passport control on the way out. Apparently you don’t in England for certain routes, I guess. Good to know.

The flight itself might have been full of babies and toddlers all far too young to be expected to sit still for 3 hours and not screech like terrified monkeys with British accents, but man, the view sure was something:


Flying over the Swiss Alps

They have these mountains called the Alps in Europe. I mean, I guess they were pretty big. I guess.

Before long we landed in Thessaloniki International Airport, in the suburbs to the southeast of the city. Now, while the airport itself isn’t exactly diminutive, it’s much smaller than you would suspect for a city nearly the size of Boston, the second-largest in Greece besides Athens. There are about 20 gates, half of which are used for domestic flights out to the islands. But the most striking feature is that when I said “gates” there you imagined 20 jetways jutting out of the terminal. When I looked at the airport on Google Earth I saw none, only a number of large circles painted on the tarmac. Sure enough, there were no jetways and we climbed down stairs out of the Airbus A319 and onto a bus that slowly but surely brought us to the terminal. And I mean “slowly.” We had to wait for the numerous families and their broods to deplane and, since they were also hogging the lavatory, I had to pee pretty badly. Fortunately, at immigration control we appeared to be two of precious few Americans on the flight, we hopped into our own, non-EU line and the agent seemed content that we had the ability to shove our passports through the slot and stamped them without a word. We had arrived in Greece.

Becky’s parents were waiting for us outside of baggage claim and we walked to their car after greeting them, a light breeze pushing the warm air across our faces in the intense Mediterranean sun. We’d go through about one and a half full bottles of sunblock in the 5 days we were there and still got a bit pink. Becky’s parents lived not in Thessaloniki proper, but in the small suburb of Panorama (pronounced “Pa-NOR-a-ma”) not 15 minutes from the airport:



View Larger Map

The town is named such because it sits atop a hill overlooking Thessaloniki, northern Greece and the Aegean Sea on all sides. The house was a large and comfortable one for the area. The only downside seemed to be the shower.


Funny thing is, the Greeks aren’t altogether that short – in fact the man who built the house still lived on the first floor and was about 6′ 1″ – but apparently they don’t like much headroom in the shower. Or toilets with any force to their flushes. More on the toilets later. As for now, the rest of the place was just offensively picturesque.


House in Panorama, Greece

House in Panorama, Greece

House in Panorama, Greece

House in Panorama, Greece

The view from outside on the numerous porches surrounding the house? Don’t even get me started. Oh, okay.


View outside the house in Panorma

View outside the house in Panorma

View outside the house in Panorma

View outside the house in Panorma

We sat down for some snacks on some local delicacies. Cherries are in season there in June and were delicious. The cheese. The cheese was fantastic. I always thought I didn’t like feta but it turns out I don’t like imported feta. It’s so much better fresh. Same thing with olive oil. They also brought out some firmer cheese from Crete made of sheep’s milk that I more or less fell in love with. So good. It wasn’t the only thing they had from Crete, though. Becky’s dad was in possession of several gallons of this stuff called raki.


Raki from Crete

Raki from Crete

In its marketed form in Turkey (the border is closer to Thessaloniki than Athens is, so there’s a good deal of Turkish influence there) it’s anise-flavored. What he had, though, was the moonshine form they make semi-legally in Crete that’s basically 100-proof grain alcohol. Or at least we figured it was about 100 proof. Maybe more. Her dad didn’t really drink it but his friends kept sending it to him. I joked that if society collapsed and the Euro became worthless he could buy food for a month with that stuff. More on the raki later.

After the snack and we’d had time to freshen up and liberally apply sunblock we set about on foot around town to take in a bit of the culture of northern Greece. We first came upon a Greek Orthodox church.


Panorama, Greece

Panorama, Greece

Panorama, Greece

Christian Orthodoxy is the official religion of Greece and something like 95% of the population is Greek Orthodox by birth. Because the religion is state-endorsed, churches own land granted to them in perpetuity. Consequently, tiny old churches pop up in the oddest places. Clearly that one had a better endowment than most. Though the sanctuaries aren’t always open to the public, they often have little prayer chapels available for people to come and give devotionals at any time. This pervasiveness of the religion is very important to the Greeks, especially the older generations, and they take it quite seriously. We moved on up a stone stairway up the hill.


Panorama, Greece

Panorama, Greece

Panorama, Greece

Panorama, Greece

We reached the top of the hill, from where we could see for miles around. The view has suffered due to smog. It’s improved over the past decade or so but it’s still got a way to go before the air is completely clear. Greece is still, to this day, a largely agrarian society and the numerous small farms coating the rolling hills is evidence of how many there still live off the earth.


Panorama, Greece

Panorama, Greece

Panorama, Greece

Panorama, Greece

We next walked to a Greek graveyard. Burial traditions in Greece are different than here in the US. The dead aren’t buried permanently, but rather for 5-12 years in a weak, wooden box. At that point the bones are dug up and collected and placed in a box either inside the house of the surviving family members or else in a row of boxes to the sides of the graveyard if no direct descendants exist. The temporary graves themselves are exceptionally important and families are expected to maintain them daily. A poorly-maintained grave is a sign of poverty or ambivalence, either of which are quite taboo with respect to paying homage to the dead in Greece. It follows, then, that families also display wealth by elaborately appointing the graves of loved ones. This is especially true of those who died in youth, increasingly of motorcycle accidents.


Greek graveyard

Greek graveyard

Greek graveyard

Greek graveyard

Greek graveyard

Greek graveyard

Greek graveyard

Panorama, Greece

We walked back through the center of town. It was nearly abandoned since most everyone stays home on Sunday afternoon and evenings. This doesn’t mean we didn’t make a friend along the way, though.


“Hi! I’m full of propane!” The kids love him.

After getting back home we headed back out to get some dinner. The first place we tried – a traditional Greek restaurant – was closed, but the second – a steak house run by a Spanish man – was open for business and full of delicious, delicious meats.



The thing to do there – as you can plainly see from the caveman serving the woman with the stupefying cleavage – is to get hot stones on which you slice and cook small bits of meat and then dip them into one of several sauces. I did just that with ostrich meat (they were out of kangaroo that day). So delicious.

By the time we finished dinner we wanted to head to bed before long, as it was past 10 PM by that time and we most likely had a quite long day ahead of us. But, there was the raki. So I tried some. It didn’t taste so much like burning as I’d thought but I’d stop well short of calling it good. Becky’s father said the locals claimed it didn’t give drinkers a hangover but pretty much every culture says that about their booze and it didn’t seem any more true here for me. For what it’s worth, though, it sure does work well as paint thinner. Some drops on the table did a great job of marring the finishing. I figure that puts it at at least 100 proof but I stopped short of trying to light it on fire to see it if was over 140 proof. What with all that he had I was afraid of burning down the whole darn town. And with that I went to bed, the best night’s sleep I’d end up getting our entire time there.

Monday, June 15 - we were awoken around 8 by loud construction sound outside as well as the sound of what I presumed to be a garbage truck churning its way through the precipitously narrow streets. Later on, Becky’s dad would tell us that the garbage dump workers had been on strike and that trash hadn’t been picked up in over a week (it’s normally picked up daily there due to the habit older Greeks have of disposing of used toilet tissue in the garbage instead of flushing it due to the weak water pressure in the toilets). So I guess that’s good. It was still loud and, as we’d find out, it wouldn’t get any quieter throughout the week. Becky’s parents claim they no longer hear the noise and sleep through it. I suppose one adapts.

We went downstairs and had some cereal for breakfast before liberally applying sunblock and heading out with both her parents along the eastern highway toward the Turkish border.


Goats along the highway

The mountainous terrain of Greece has made developing the infrastructure that Americans under 50 take for granted as having been there forever a delicate, ongoing process. The highway out east along the northern part of Greece from Thessaloniki to Turkey was new and still not completely built up in every section. Where it is completed it touts a speed limit of 130 kph – something like 81 miles an hour – that seemed to be there just for show. Becky’s father, not known for a tendency to speed back home, proudly told us he’d gotten up to 170 kph (about 105 mph) on the same highway. I guess if you spend most of your time on tiny, winding roads, the open highway compels you to speed. And yet, there were the goats clinging to the hill along the road. Not all of Greece is ready for the 21st century.

After about 90 minutes on the highway and another half-hour of poking along local roads we reached our first destination: the caves of Alistrati. Unfortunately, they did not allow cameras inside the premises as the caves are quite fragile so pictures here are going to be sparse. We were called to meet our tour guide – a woman barely 5 feet tall who conducted the tour in English for us and a Czech family whose daughter translated for them – after a brief wait outside and walked in. Though the inside temperature was barely 50 degrees, the high humidity made it seem not so chilly. The insides were astounding. You know how in textbooks about pre-historic earth growing up they’d show a picture representing, say, the Cretaceous and there’d be T-Rex and a “brontosaurus” in battle and a “pterodactyl” flying overhead and 80 other dinosaurs all hanging out together in one exceptionally busy picture? That’s sort of like what this cave was, except for a geology textbook; it really crammed every feature possible inside every square inch of surface area. Obviously describing it in words is going to do even less justice than any pictures had I been able to take them, but it was pretty fantastic. On top of that, Becky found a new friend upon exiting the caves:



She also discovered the magic that is Greek public toilets:



While they have proper toilets in the home, when out and about, the Greeks like to squat over a porcelain hole in the ground. It made “make sure to go before we leave” more than just a suggestion for convenience sake every morning.

Speaking of holes in the ground, after freshening up we walked down to a gorge near the caves.



I’d go on about the lack of guard rails preventing one from plummeting to one’s untimely death, but really it’s no different than the Grand Canyon except far less terrifyingly enormous. Still pretty, though. Wish I’d had my camera, but, lesson learned, I suppose. At this point we drove on to stop for a traditional Greek lunch in the town of Drama.


Drama, Greece

Drama, Greece

Drama, Greece

Drama, Greece

Those eggs were there from Orthodox Easter about two months previous. Fortunately, they were not part of the menu for lunch, which included fried zucchini, calamari, grilled garlic octopus and souvlaki. All very delicious and we left stuffed.

At this point you might have noticed that the town is named Drama. Yes, like that “drama.” Before arriving, Becky and I joked that the town must be overrun with goths and emo kids making passive-aggressive public posts in their LiveJournals. You cannot imagine how unbelievably tickled we were, then, to see that the local graffiti met – if not exceeded – our expectations.


Graffiti in Drama, Greece

Graffiti in Drama, Greece

Graffiti in Drama, Greece

Graffiti in Drama, Greece

Graffiti in Drama, Greece

Fantastic, isn’t it? Keep in mind that these are all shot from a moving car, as Becky’s dad did not seem to share our appreciation of the graffiti, gruffly muttering “I hate it” as we tried to snap shots. Although as you might have noticed, yes, we do believe that last one to be Death. It must be hard to maintain a good ghostly white pallor when you’re olive-skinned but, I suppose, if you’re a teenager growing up in Drama, you gotta do what you gotta do. As for us, we continued on down the road to the ancient fishing town of Kavala.


Kavala, Greece

Kavala, Greece

Kavala, Greece

Though the sights and smells at street-level were great to take in, our goal was to reach the edifice looming in the distance in the first shot, the Kavala Fortress, constructed in the mid-16th century toward the end of the Byzantine era. Though it was the late afternoon it was still close to 90 degrees outside and the sun was beating down on us as if it was unaware that it was supposed to be sinking in the sky. Thus we began the arduous uphill journey.


Kavala, Greece

Okay, so that last one was pretty close to the bottom of the hill, but it was too good to ignore. The woman who owned the shop with that display was pretty pushy about us buying something. We stopped and got some things on the way back down, though, so I don’t feel too bad about photographing her monkey-saints. When we finally reached the fortress, I resolved I’d make the best of taking some pictures of the structure itself.


Kavala Fortress (16th century)

Kavala Fortress (16th century)

Kavala Fortress (16th century)

Kavala Fortress (16th century)

Kavala Fortress (16th century)

Kavala Fortress (16th century)

Kavala Fortress (16th century)

Really, though, it was the view outside from the fortress of the city that was just astounding.


View from the Kavala Fortress

View from the Kavala Fortress

View from the Kavala Fortress

View from the Kavala Fortress

View from the Kavala Fortress

Okay, Greece. Your shoreline is as incomprehensibly beautiful as your countryside. We get it already. Sheesh.

After a brief stop for more water we went about the trek back down, thinking it would be easier than the journey up. We were temporarily halted, though, by various vehicles trying to make it up the incomprehensibly narrow path. Things like cars with drivers who hate their side mirrors:



…and choo-choo trains?



Sure, why not. Keep in mind that the angle there was steeper than the pictures betray and that – somehow – the streets are two-way. Meaning that, at some points, cars must meet going opposite directions. What do they do? It’s a mystery to us.

We dozed through most of the ride home, stopping off at the local market in Panorama to get some supplies for dinner. The cereal was similar but just… a bit different:



Why we don’t have Crunch bar cereal in the US is beyond me. You hear me, Nestle? Do it up. My pancreatic islet cells aren’t gonna kill themselves off, now are they? Get on it!

Becky’s mom made us some lasagna for dinner – a welcome change from all the heavy, oil-laden Greek food – and set out some ice cream for dessert. At this point it was only about 9 and I wasn’t quite tired enough to go to sleep amongst the noise yet, so we resolved to do something to make us sleepy. About 90 minutes into watching Benjamin Button, then, we felt comatose enough to head to bed. I don’t think I particularly care to see the latter half any time. I’m sure it’s heartwarming and tragic and terribly boring and I don’t give a crap. Good for putting me to sleep, though, that’s for sure.

Tuesday, June 16 - we got up after a fairly lousy night’s sleep to a fairly fantastic breakfast down the street. Like all meals, Greeks tend to actually enjoy breakfast as opposed to the American model which seems to be something in between getting an intraocular injection of caffeine and receiving a starch oral gavage. The local delicacy is light and fluffy, sugar-dusted and cream filled:


Greek breakfast

We greatly enjoyed it.



The coffee is also quite good, though I could do without the thick, gritty sludge that settles on the bottom. Darned if it doesn’t put a giddyup in yer hitch, though.

The adventure planned for the day was to visit the “Great Tumulus” of Vergina (that’s “VER-gee-na”), the tomb of King Philip II of Macedon, father to Alexander the Great. Discovered only in 1977, it contained thousands of priceless artifacts as well as a solid gold box probably containing the remains of Philip II that looks like it could melt some Nazi faces real good if opened. We didn’t open it for fear we are secretly Nazis and haven’t known it.

Of course, photography was not allowed inside. Numerous museum guards – by which I mean 4 1/2-foot tall stern-looking Greek women – watched us all like hawks to ensure that. However, this time I did bring my camera along to take some shots of the exterior.


Outside King Philip's Tomb

Outside King Philip's Tomb

Flowers

They also seemed to have what appeared to be an ancient Greek ATM:


Ancient Greek ATM

Truly a mysterious people. After that we stopped across the street in a cafe for some quick humburgers with a side of tost:


Do you want some tost with your humburger?

We then drove down the road a while to Dion, home of the Olympos ruins museum where, unlike in the rest of the country, they actually allow non-flash photography. It was crammed full of all sorts of wonderful bits of ruins and was also, thankfully, air conditioned:


Museum in Dion, Greece

Museum in Dion, Greece

Museum in Dion, Greece

Museum in Dion, Greece

Museum in Dion, Greece

Museum in Dion, Greece

Museum in Dion, Greece

Museum in Dion, Greece

Museum in Dion, Greece

Museum in Dion, Greece

We joked that the last picture was sort of their Hollywood Walk of Fame. Becky’s dad told us that it was exactly that: they were imprints of the feet of famous politicians, senators, generals, what-have-you that visited the area. Still doesn’t explain the ear on the left, though.

As you can plainly see, while some ruins were from the ancient Greek era, many were from the Roman occupation era in the first centuries AD. It was so odd to wrap my head around the idea that millennia of ruins were stacked on top of one another but, there it is. I suppose it’s testament to Eddie Izzard’s one liner: “I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from.”

A good deal of the ruins were simpler artifacts that would have been found in common households, such as this doll set of a family with their pet… seal?


Museum in Dion, Greece

Sure, why not.

The basement contained a classroom set up for children to understand the process of both discovering, cleaning and re-assembling the artifacts as well as how the artifacts were made themselves.


Museum in Dion, Greece

Museum in Dion, Greece

Museum in Dion, Greece

Museum in Dion, Greece

Museum in Dion, Greece

Museum in Dion, Greece

Yes, that tiled fresco of a bird appears to say “TWEYTY.” In Greek. Yes, that is freaking weird. Also notable was one particular piece of art made by a school child on the wall in the last picture. The artist chose to tell a story:



As you can see, he drew a contrast of a happy ancient Greek child playing in the bright Mediterranean sun and a couple of present-day children frowning in front of a looming skyscraper, apparently bummed out by the pollution from cars like the one to the upper left of them. Truly a parable for the ages.

We exited the museum and walked to the adjacent Roman outdoor ruins. Before arriving, Becky found Mt. Olympus:


Mount Olympus

It’s right there. The town of ruins, built up upon a road built by King Philip centuries previously, was expansive and still being actively excavated. I tried to take as many photos as I could but none really do them justice. However, I wasn’t going to get too creative with my photography as it was out in the middle of a field and the mid-afternoon sun was relentlessly bearing down upon us.


Ruins in Dion, Greece

Ruins in Dion, Greece

Ruins in Dion, Greece

Ruins in Dion, Greece

Ruins in Dion, Greece

Those are Roman baths. The whole idea with the evenly-spaced platforms is that they would have had copper plates suspended on them that contained the baths. Beneath them – in that 18-inch or so crawlspace – they’d have low-burning fires to warm the baths that were tended to by slaves that crawled through there. Which seems like a pretty miserable job to me, even for a slave. Ah, the Romans.


Ruins in Dion, Greece

Ruins in Dion, Greece

Ruins in Dion, Greece

Ruins in Dion, Greece

Ruins in Dion, Greece

Ruins in Dion, Greece

Mount Olympus

The ruins went on and on but it was getting increasingly hot and sticky and the mosquitoes were starting to come out so we headed back to Panorama. But not before we stopped by a small church Becky’s dad had found in the middle of nowhere.


Church outside Olympos, GR

Church outside Olympos, GR

Church outside Olympos, GR

And I really do mean small.



We would have taken more photos but there was a man waiting on a tractor behind Becky’s dad’s car so we figured we’d better let him do his thing.

Upon arriving back in Panorama we ordered some pizza from the restaurant across the street. It was only around 6:30 or so – positively geriatric for dinner there – so it was ready quickly as we were the first customers. This did not exclude us from sitting and talking with them for 10 minutes upon picking it up, though. Nobody in Greece appears to be in too much of a hurry to do much to not sit and talk for 10 minutes. As for the pizza, it was smaller than I thought it’d be but packed full of several delicious Greek cheeses and was quite filling. Together with some Greek beer it wasn’t bad at all for a quick meal. I know I sound like a broken record, here, but man their cheese is good.

We watched Mythbusters with Greek subtitles as we ate. Strangely enough, the American host’s voiceovers were overdubbed with a British host. It seemed weird to me because Jamie and Adam were still Jamie and Adam, but, hey, whatever works.

Wanting to not go to sleep too early, Becky and I decided to take a walk around town. There’s a street a block up from the house called Analipsos that, as you might imagine, is a big circle. A big circle full of dogs wandering around.



And, as you can see, a sort of postmodern concrete structure that might somehow turn into a house some day. Which was neat late at night for sure. There were also any number of drunk people wandering around town, too, but we didn’t get pictures of them because you probably know what drunk people look like. Even on a Tuesday.

And with that we wound out the day.

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