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

2009 December 8
by Jon

WED 06/17/09 – SAT 06/20/09
Written 07/16/09 – 07/22/09

Wednesday, June 17 - we awoke in mid-morning after another lousy night’s sleep. The revelers of the previous night continued on well after we’d gone to bed and the construction noises and clangy garbage trucks started up with the sun only several hours later. Becky’s parents claimed they’re used to it by now and sleep through it. I suppose one adjusts.

Becky’s dad had to go back to work that day (he’d only secured Monday and Tuesday off to see us around) so we spent the day with only her mom. After some cereal and coffee for breakfast at home, we headed down to the pool she attends for water aerobics classes around 10 AM. Now, I’ve said before that the image of Greeks as being greasy, unkempt and unsanitary is one we get here largely because many Greeks in the US run either cheap pizza joints (lookin’ at you, Hi-Fi) or do some sort of skilled labor and are therefore perpetually sweaty and grungy. This isn’t the case for those in Greece itself. The country is quite clean and, with the exception of that weird toilet paper thing, the people are actually remarkably sanitary, to the point where they do things that might seem odd to us Americans. One such instance was at this pool. You go to a public pool in the US, you pull of your shirt, slap on some sunblock and jump right on in, letting the chlorine do the rest. At this pool there was a whole rigmarole of cleanliness that needed to be followed. First we took off our street shoes at the entrance and donned flip-flops or other shoes we were carrying with us. Then we changed into swim suits and applied sunblock. Then we were expected to take a short shower in a number of stalls located outside of the locker rooms. At this point we were expected to put on swim caps – as if it was perhaps 1909, not 2009 – and then walk to the pool, take off our flip-flops, dip our feet into a foot bath, and then and only then enter the pool. Which, admittedly, was at least quite nice. So, yeah, don’t let anyone tell you the Greeks don’t like being clean.

We had a bit of a lark over the whole swim cap ordeal:

An Olde Timey lark. It inspired a deal of patriotism in Becky:

Our trip was initially confounded by a cluster of 40-or-so Greek schoolchildren, about 7 or 8 years old, all showing up right before us. They were all well-behaved but there were so many of them that we feared they’d take over the whole pool. Fortunately, they were contained by the lifeguards and teachers on one half and we were able to enjoy the other half for ourselves for a good hour or so. When 11 AM rolled around it was time for the aerobics class, as was evidenced by a dozen or so middle-aged Greek women who were bound and determined to not let gravity get the better of them showing up. We high-tailed it out of the pool and dried off, taking turns playing DS in the sun while we waited for the class to conclude.

By the time it finished, the sun was already bearing down on us with insulting ferocity. Though it was barely noon it was well into the 90s. This made the walk home far more difficult than the walk there, but we made it back, showered, and sat down to make some sandwiches for lunch and cool off a bit before heading back out for the afternoon. When we felt up to doing battle with the Mediterranean sun again, we applied another coating of SPF 50 and walked the couple blocks to the town center of Panorama, whereupon Becky’s mom hailed a cab for us to downtown Thessaloniki. The driver – though Greek – apparently grew up in Sweden and his wife was an English tutor. As such he spoke unusually good English for a cab driver in the suburbs. Consequently, Becky’s mom chatted his ear off the whole way.


The first thing we did after getting out of the cab was head through an open-air market selling all sorts of meat, fish, spices and underpants.

Open-air market in Thessaloniki

Open-air market in Thessaloniki

Open-air market in Thessaloniki

Open-air market in Thessaloniki

Open-air market in Thessaloniki

Open-air market in Thessaloniki

Open-air market in Thessaloniki

Keep in mind that, while there were numerous misters blowing cool air about the long alleyway, it was still around 94 degrees out in the open. The smell, then, was permeating. Due to the nature of our work Becky and I hacked it but I think someone with a lighter constitution mightn’t have made it through. Toward the end it stopped being meat and started being clothes and trinkets, as you can see. Many of the shops closed around 3 or 3:30 so we quickly ducked in a couple to pick up some touristy gifts for family back home, as it would be cheaper there than in Athens and was largely the same junk. Except they did have this guy:

He seems pretty awesome.

That accomplished, we headed out toward the waterfront to get something to drink and relax in the shade. Along the way we found numerous Dogs on Vacation:

We also found evidence of Communists and a giraffiti:

Communist posters


We plopped down in a cafe along the waterfront for some coffee and light snacks.

Coffee break in Thessaloniki

You can’t tell there because it’s empty, but that ninja star-shaped dish closer to me contained Bugles they gave us along with pistachios and coffee cake with our drinks. Seriously, Bugles with coffee. What kind of fantastic genius came up with that and why don’t we do it here? One guess who ate them all. I’ll give you a hint: he has two thumbs.

We decided to walk down the waterfront, on the theory that it’d be cooler. Turns out we were wrong and it was still blazing hot, but, hey, it was pretty.

Thessaloniki waterfront

Green Day

Green Day

Green Day! (PAOK)

Green Day!



We reached our destination, the historical White Tower of Thessaloniki…


White Tower in Thessaloniki

…which, to celebrate it being Wednesday afternoon, was closed.

White Tower in Thessaloniki

Screw you, White Tower. You’re not even really white anyway.

Undaunted – which is to say, unable to keep Becky’s mom sitting in one place for long – we pressed on to see some Roman-era ruins. But not before making some new friends first…

Elephant swimsuit

Mickey Mouse swimsuit

…and not before seeing some intriguing-looking flyers:

Flyer in Thessaloniki

Flyer in Thessaloniki

Flyer in Thessaloniki

Those plus the knowledge that apparently Mogwai played there a month before our arrival makes me think that young folks in Thessaloniki don’t have it all that bad, all things considered. And heck, you know we’d want to go to the Placebo vs. James party:

As for us, we were happy to look at the Roman ruins jutting out from underneath the street.

Roman ruins in Thessaloniki

Roman ruins in Thessaloniki

Roman ruins in Thessaloniki

Roman ruins in Thessaloniki

Roman ruins in Thessaloniki

The cats are an interesting story. Apparently they only hang around the ruins and they have been for as long as anyone remembers. No one bothers them, including the street dogs. This somehow makes sense to me. We continued on toward the Arch of Galaerius and Rotunda of St George.

Arch of Galaerius

Rotunda of St George

Arch of Galaerius

Now thoroughly exhausted from our march about town, we walked the short few blocks to where the US consulate was to wait for Becky’s dad to get out of work at 5:30. While waiting in the courtyard (it was adjacent to a small mall) I started playing with my camera and was quickly chided by a humorless security guard for taking pictures and was made to delete the single shot I’d rattled off. Becky’s mom explained that months earlier they’d had riots nearby and that they took security quite seriously. Heh. Whoops.

Becky’s dad joined us and we went to a restaurant nearby.

Restaurant in Thessaloniki

Becky's parents

Grilled cuttlefish stuffed with feta and olive oil

That’s grilled cuttlefish stuffed with feta and olive oil. It, along with everything else, was delicious. I have this theory that the more intelligent an animal is, the better it tastes and that, furthermore, human flesh probably doesn’t taste all that great. Certainly not as good as cephalopods.

Shortly after getting home we were paid a visit by the downstairs neighbors, a couple in their 70s named Pano and Froso. Both speak no English, meaning that Becky’s dad’s presence in the room was vital at all times. Pano is a self-made man who came from nothing and worked his way through life. He built the house – largely by his own hands – and used to live where Becky’s parents do before his wife became unable to climb the stairs on a daily basis and they moved downstairs. Pano, though, was still carved out of marble despite his age. He had the sort of Old Man Strength where you knew that he was mostly a gentle person but you’d quickly regret trying to pick a fight with him. He took a shine to me, though – maybe because I took a shine to the sweet wine he brought over – and we got along well despite the language barrier.

The night was cut short, though, by a thunderstorm rolling through the hills. It started rather suddenly and before we knew it, the lights were out. What followed was an electrical show the likes of which I’d never seen before and hope to never see again. For hours, crackle after crackle bounced across the clouds and down to land. Rain came in violent waves followed by intense, angry thunder, sometimes on the horizon, sometimes so close it erupted as a sudden, violent explosion that shook the house as lightning touched down only yards away. We barely slept at all that night, even though the storm afforded both a cooling breeze and a lack of drunken revelers that we desperately wanted to enjoy.

In school when studying the ancient Greeks it was always with a degree of incredulity that I learned about Zeus being the god of thunder who reigned down from Mt Olympus by throwing lightning bolts. I mean, sure, thunderstorms are scary, but there are worse things, right? This storm cleared it up that misconception; if I were around 2500 years ago, there’s no doubt in my mind it would have put the fear of God – erm, Zeus – into me. Pictures simply wouldn’t have done it justice, not that I was willing to turn on my camera, so ionized was the atmosphere. Though it left us quite tired, it seemed to give us a better appreciation for what we’d see in Athens the next day.

Thursday, June 18 - we woke up – or at least got out of bed – at the first sign of daylight after the storm finally broke. Clouds were still rolling over the hills in the aftermath:

Aftermath of Zeus's fury

I stood in the shower for 5 minutes, swigged down some coffee, and we headed out to the Thessaloniki train station with Becky’s dad. The timing worked out such that he could drop us off on his way to work. To expedite the process of getting on the train, he did all the talking for us to purchase the tickets, walked us to the platform and made sure we got to our proper seats. There’s a convention of trains in Europe, I suppose, where the car number within a class – which does not necessarily match the number on the outside of the car itself – is counted from the rear of the train and you simply must know this to find your correct car, as sometimes – including now – numerous cars will have the same exact seating arrangements and no way of telling which car is which except by its relative position along the train. All things I suppose we’d know if the US had any decent passenger train infrastructure. Fortunately, Becky’s dad helped us get around this to our correct location. When we found someone already sitting in our seats, he instructed the man in Greek that he was sitting in the wrong car and that he needed to move forward one car. With a suit on and with his badge from the State Department prominently displayed, he looked the part of a rail official quite unintentionally and the man apologetically moved without questioning his authority for a second. I suppose it’s true what they say that life is 90% attitude: if you’re dressed and act like you belong somewhere, most people won’t question it. We were just happy to have secure seats for the 4-hour journey that we’re certain we would not have been able to locate in our sleep-deprived state.

Ticket for Thessaloniki to Athens

View from the train to Athens

The train runs express from Thessaloniki to Athens. It cuts through the gorgeous Greek countryside for the length of the journey, making only two stops along the way in between the two cities. One is in the city of Larissa, just for added confusion, as the station name we needed to get off at in Athens was called “Larissa Station,” which is closer to the touristy destinations and before the train rumbles on to its final stop along the docks, a decidedly less-desirable area. Fortunately, as the city of Larissa is only 90 minutes along the 4-hour ride out of Thessaloniki, we were able to distinguish the two even in our sleepy state.

View from the train to Athens

View from the train to Athens

Those four hours passed quickly, despite a lack of amenities on-board, as we dozed most of the way, eating snacks of crackers and cherries and drinking lots of water to tank up as we got closer to Athens. When we disembarked, the sun was already beating down with offensive intensity, though it was barely 11:30 AM. We got sweaty simply from walking out of the train station and across the street to the nearby Athens Metro station. The system itself was largely built up only very recently, and the line we used – Line 2 or the Red Line – was finished only in 2000. Consequently, it was quite new and clean. As Line 2 services all the touristy areas, all kiosks there can be used in English and getting tickets was a breeze. The ticketing system itself is rather strange, since you don’t actually have to buy a ticket to ride it. Rather, the tickets must be validated in free-standing machines before walking unabated to the platform. Should you chose to not purchase a ticket (or forget to validate your ticket) you might get away with it and save yourself the 1 Euro fare. However, if you get caught by an official, it’s a 100-Euro fine. Obviously, we didn’t gamble with those odds and got our tickets like good, upstanding citizens.

Athenian subway

The train arrived before long and we rode it for 5 stops down to Akropolis station. The 5-block or-so journey up to the base of the Acropolis from the station is probably a snap during cooler months but, with the temperature pressing on to the upper 90s we took a number of water breaks in the shade along the way before finally making it to the foot of the stairway up.

The Acropolis

As we slowly climbed the trail up to the entrance we continued to stop along the way at regular intervals to rest. We were joined by a number of local skili who seemed to prefer the Greek ruins and the slight breeze the increased altitude afforded.

Before completely realizing what I was doing I bought us multi-pass tickets for numerous sights around the city for 12 Euro instead of the single-fare 4-Euro tickets for the Acropolis. Though it did end up costing us more we were at least able to use them again to get into Zeus’s Temple, so it wasn’t a complete waste. Along with throngs of people from all walks of life (though a surprising number of Greeks), we decided to make the most of being at the single biggest tourist attraction in the whole dang country:

The Parthenon

Which was fun. There was a glorious breeze atop the hill that cooled us off and allowed most of my sweat to at least temporarily evaporate. We sat down a bit to have a soda to bring up our blood sugar. Though it never actually said not to drink anything but water we were worried it was an unwritten rule and so we were a bit sneaky about it. We got quite a start when an old Greek woman blew a whistle and started shouting right near us. She never actually looked nor pointed at us, though, so we still don’t know if she was upset with us or someone else. Either way we weren’t further accosted after moving on to walk around the Parthenon and see what is doubtlessly the best view of the city of Athens.

The Parthenon

The Acropolis

The Acropolis

The Acropolis

Temple of Zeus from the Acropolis

Athens from the Acropolis

Athens from the Acropolis

Athens from the Acropolis

Athens from the Acropolis

Athens from the Acropolis

Athens from the Acropolis

Athens from the Acropolis

We noted the Temple of Zeus below us. It looked like there was hardly anyone there. Nonetheless, we decided to climb back down after we’d had our fill of life atop the hill and went to see if it was open. Stopping along the way for water and shade as usual, we were surprised to see that, by the time we made it there, it was after 2 PM already. I think it’s funny how much life slows down in both extreme cold and extreme heat. U-shaped curves always interest me like that but then again that’s just how I roll.

The Acropolis

Hadrian's Gate

When we arrived we found to our delight that the Temple was, in fact, open, but that it was merely poorly-trafficked that day, most likely because it was in the middle of a huge field with no escape from the belligerent Mediterranean sun. Not that we minded. It was nice to have the place to ourselves.

Temple of Zeus

And so we were able to walk around the perimeter at our own pace and take as many unobstructed photos as we liked, having only to contend with the fact that we were slowly being baked to death. We at least apologized to Zeus for whatever it was we did to incur his wrath the previous night. I thought about sacrificing a goat or two but I didn’t have one handy at the time so our verbal apology had to do.

The Acropolis as seen from the Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus

As you can see, the advantage of the blindingly bright sun was that I could basically just point and shoot my camera effortlessly and it always came out looking fantastic. My skin wasn’t as much a fan, but hey, the camera loved it.

We decided to walk on toward the Parliament building by way of the National Gardens. Along the way we noticed some Roman ruins literally in a bus stop:

Roman ruins, Athens

Illustration of Roman baths

The second is a rather playful illustration of the Roman baths I was talking about in previous posts.

We decided to walk through the gardens in the idea that the shade would make it a bit cooler than the open street. I wouldn’t say it was “cooler,” per se, but maybe slightly less obscenely hot. At least they had turtles…

Athenian turtles

Athenian turtles

…and donkeys?

Mini-zoo in Athens

Sure, why not. Funny how we wanted to go to a zoo but didn’t have time and yet managed to see one, of sorts, completely by accident.

It was only a brief walk from the exit of the gardens to the Parliament building. The guards standing outside seemed to be positively miserable, slowly stewing in their own sweat in their period attire.

Changing of the Guard, Athens

Changing of the Guard, Athens

Changing of the Guard, Athens

That’s the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier they’re standing in front of. After we’d been there for several minutes, the changing of the guard began:

Changing of the Guard, Athens

Changing of the Guard, Athens

Changing of the Guard, Athens

Changing of the Guard, Athens

The whole high-stepping process was painfully slow and drawn out. The entire procedure took 15 minutes, at the end of which the guards were not changed but rather had simply switched places. An armed guard in modern camo inspected the guards after that, wiping the sweat off their brows and fixing their uniforms. For their sake I hope that they do actually get relieved every hour or two and we simply weren’t there to see it.

By that point it was getting late in the afternoon and we decided to try to find something to eat. After a bit of prodding in a nearby shopping district we found a perfectly nice cafe that actually served a full menu and not just light snacks. We got some pizza and fried cheese. I don’t know why I was craving grease in such hot weather but it was delicious. After we headed back out, though, it quickly became clear I had chosen poorly. My GI tract informed me that walking would be done only gingerly from then on. As I was already soaked in sweat, to say I felt uncomfortable then would be an understatement of drastic terms. But press on we did, walking around some local shops and churches before finally calling it quits and taking the subway back to the train station. Unfortunately, when we got there it was still only about 6:00 and our train wasn’t until around 7:30, so we had some time to kill. No problem, we figured, we’d walk around a bit and see what there was on that end of town. Turns out, not much. There’s… uh… the old train station:

Athens old train station

…and a grungy little dog park:

Excited about the dog park

And that was about it. Though we were bored, we were also beyond exhausted and decided to just wait out the train for the last 45 minutes or so at the station.

Larissa Station in Athens

Becky sat down and waited. I passed the time by slowly wandering around. First, trying and failing to use the bathroom on account that there were two middle-aged women guarding the door to it who presumably wanted me to pay them – of which I was having none – and also because it looked beyond filthy. Second, buying some more water as it turns out I didn’t really have to pee all that badly anyway and that rather alarmed me. Third, watching the board inside and being asked by a kindly old Greek man what shoe size I wore, so big were my feet. Which is special. Finally, the train arrived. Of course, we got into the wrong car at first, but the man whose seat we took spoke excellent English (most in Athens did, of course) and was quite understanding. As we got to our correct seats we settled in and dozed the whole ride home, equally as exhausted as on the train we’d ridden 12 hours previously.

When we got back to Thessaloniki both Becky’s parents were waiting for us. It was about 11:30 and they’d come from a dinner party in town, so they were the best-dressed people in the train station that late at night. Feeling beyond disgusting, I took a quick shower before heading to sleep that night. Out of sheer exhaustion, I slept better than than I had in days. We’d wake up the next day to bid farewell to Greece.

Friday, June 19 - with our flight not until the early afternoon, we had plenty of time before we needed to head out to the airport, so after waking up we sort of bummed around the bedroom trying to look up things to do in London. This was fairly frustrating as it turns out that the British enjoy their museums closed, at least after 5 PM. Since it would be the early evening before we’d get checked into our hotel, this eliminated pretty much everything except for walking around and looking at stuff. Fortunately, we found a good candidate for that, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

Finally, we packed our things up and, around noon, said our goodbyes and got into a cab to the airport. The ride was short and simple – traffic there never seemed to get that bad – and we looked for our check-in location. This wasn’t terribly difficult as British Airways flew only to Gatwick from Thessaloniki, so there wasn’t much to get confused. We got our boarding passes (having wearily chosen seats online the previous night) and checked in our bags. We initially waited a bit to pass through security, fearing that there wouldn’t be amenities on the other side. However, after seeing numerous folks check in at the BA desk and then head through, we decided to give it a shot after a while and found that the security area was pretty much the same as the area outside of security. We did note, though, that the gate area inside of passport control did not have any facilities, so we hung out in that middle space until around 2:00 before getting our passports stamped and heading to the gate to wait for it to be opened.

Gate to London (06/19/09)

As we waited we noticed a disturbing number of families with young, screaming children running around unchecked. However, we told ourselves that it’d be okay, as we got seats in the bulkhead row (the front row in coach directly behind first class) so that would eliminate half of the seats around us as potentially containing screaming brats. Oh, how wrong we were. After the gate was opened, we passed through, boarded the shuttle-bus and climbed onto the plane, we found ourselves with not only children behind us but also in front of us, taking up the entire back row of first class. Not surprisingly, the little over-privileged British rugrats in first class were much worse behaved than those behind us, who were relatively quiet. Their parents clearly were not about to inform their children that they were not special and therefore had to follow the rules and not act like petulant little brats. Rrrgh. Dammit, British people. Stop bringing your little kids on long flights. Or if you do tell them to sit down and shut up and not climb all over the people around you who do NOT, in fact, find it nearly as cute as you do. If we had paid for first class seats with these old-money ponces and their brood I would have been seriously fuming. As it stands they were just tolerable enough for us to get through the flight without killing any of them. But tolerate them we did, as our plane pulled out of the airport and we bid Greece farewell.

Departing Thessaloniki

Upon landing in Gatwick, we breezed through the various checkpoints, now old hat at the whole ordeal. We made it a point to walk quickly to pass the families on our way to passport control, whereupon we gave satisfactory enough answers to pass through so quickly we actually had to sit and wait for another 10 minutes or so before our flight was called in baggage claim. I used the time to get some more pounds, as I’d spent most of the ones I’d gotten state-side on the multitude of train fares.

Our bags arrived without problem, we hitched the shuttle over to South Terminal and from there got back on the good old Gatwick Express into Victoria Station in London. It was good, in a way, to be back in an English-speaking country. It felt like we were closer to home, in a manner. Home where they drive on the wrong side of the road.

Gatwick train station

We shoved into rush-hour lines through throngs of people to get our Tube tickets, patiently waiting for a backup of District Line trains to board one not choked with people. We took it out to Earl’s Court, whereupon we checked in to the Premier Inn.

Premier Inn, Earl's Court

Clearly they're expecting American guests

Clearly, they’re expecting American guests. Though a touch spartan what with their ongoing renovations, it was a perfectly decent room, quiet (thank God for that) with a comfortable bed, a good TV set and glorious water pressure in the shower, and for the location the price was right so I thank Ben H. for the great tip. We decided to relax for a bit before heading back out, as we’d already missed every museum closing so we weren’t in a rush. We eventually spent a few minutes watching a show called Brainiac that seemed like it was basically the British version of “Smash Lab” with a pretense of science thrown in. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had to scrape to pull myself away from it in time for us to go out to get something to eat.

We didn’t quite know what we wanted to do for dinner. I initially thought about getting some Indian food, hearing that it was to London what pizza is to New York. However, the lady at the desk suggested an Italian restaurant called Strada (a local chain, it turns out) down the road that offered 20% off for hotel guests and that seemed good enough for us. As it was a bit before 7:00 when we got there it wasn’t full yet so we immediately got a table and sat down to a pretty good meal that wound up being very cheap by London standards, which is to say, only slightly expensive.

Dinner (06/19/09)

After dinner we walked back out to the Earl’s Court Tube. I purchased some tickets for us to head out to Heathrow the next morning so we wouldn’t have to contend with lines while burdened with suitcases again. When we arrived at Victoria I’d bought us day passes for Zones 1 and 2, though, so we didn’t need new tickets for heading back out on the town right then. Instead we headed toward Islington via the Picadilly Line.

Double the fostering of cock

Oh, England.

The trains were already full of Young Folks that were done with the pubs, had come home and changed into their nicest and were headed back out to the clubs. We felt horribly under-dressed and dowdy but hey, at least we were getting out. We briefly switched to the Northern Line at King’s Cross St Pancras and got off after one stop at Angel to get a good angle on Islington. I noted something interesting: drunk people in broad daylight. Lots of ‘em. Now, given it was practically the summer solstice and London is further north than most people think it is (around 52 degrees) and as such it was unusually bright for 9:30 in the evening, but, thanks to the habit of young Londoners (and a number of older ones) to go out and get pissed on Friday straight from work, the city was as alive with folks three sheets to the wind as Allston at 1:30 AM. For a major city this wouldn’t be so unusual at 9:30 but the creeping remnants of sunlight gave it an odd, nihilistic tinge that sort of tickled my brain in a funny way.

After a bit of trouble orienting ourselves and a brief stop-off for some candy we made it up to our chosen destination of window-gazing, Get Stuffed.

Get Stuffed (Islington)

As you can see, a wonderland of taxidermy both legal and maybe-sort-of-quasi-legal. Becky was enraptured with the place and I gotta say, how this guy has managed to collect all this stuff and display it in a storefront in London rather boggles my mind, too.

That last one to the right there appears to be a guinea pig. Amongst baboons and lions and wolves and various pieces of rare African animals turned into furniture. Word is the place has been there forever so there’s a good chance most of it is quite old, but it does make you wonder. As you might expect, it’s open by appointment only as the owner wants only serious patrons visiting. Serious patrons, one assumes, that look something like this:

Jumanji Van Pelt by ~Garvals on deviantART

After Becky took as many shots as she could before we lost daylight completely, we decided to head back to the hotel, as I couldn’t quite remember when the Underground stops running for the night, only that it does so earlier than you’d imagine at certain places, and that I had no idea if we were headed to or from one of those places. Outside of our hotel, though, I found that apparently I wasn’t the only one who took perceived dangers quite seriously:

Oh, the Brits and their subtlety

While neither of us were attacked by a rogue backward N, I’m sure that those who are faintly live to tell of it. We figured that our hotel room was the safest place for us and so, tired from the day’s travel, we headed to bed, knowing we’d be back home the next day.

Saturday, June 20 - you may have noticed a theme of our time in Greece, and that theme would be a lack of sound nights’ sleep. It was as noisy there as it was beautiful. Consequently, with our flight back to Iceland not departing Heathrow until 1 PM, we had plenty of opportunity to sleep in, which we very much needed.

After showering and packing up we decided to walk down the street to get some breakfast. We picked up some danishes and coffee outside of the Tube station and took them back to the room to eat. After having had our fill of a show about gardens in the UK (the least-boring thing on Saturday morning, apparently), we gathered our things and went downstairs to check out. This was simple as our room was pre-paid, so we handed over the keys and walked back to the station. Since we were already on the Picadilly line and we had plenty of time, we decided to save ourselves 30 pounds and take the Tube out to Heathrow instead of the Express train this time, just to see how different it was.

We didn't have time to visit the Ministry of Love

I guess the Ministry of Love must be closed at 5 PM, too, because we missed it. Next time, I suppose.

I stood there with our suitcases for the entire hour-long train ride. I was expecting us to be the only daft tourists humping luggage on the Tube but by the time it had reached Earl’s Court it was already packed with baggage. Becky managed to find a seat eventually but I had to stand for the duration. So, yeah, lesson is, if you can afford it, take the Heathrow Express. A lot more money, but a lot less stressful. Good to know.

We got off at the Central Terminal Area and proceeded up the long series of hallways to check-in. That accomplished, we made one last stop for some more British candy before passing through security. We waited for our gate to be called, this time occurring earlier than at Gatwick, and wandered down another series of several miles of hallways to our gate.

Plane to Iceland from Heathrow

This time our tickets were ripped before entering the gate’s waiting area and so we were all ready to walk on the plane as soon as they allowed it. A bit unusual, but one way or another we got on-board and hunkered down in some pretty awesome exit-row seats. The plane was delayed by an Icelandic couple and a small clutch of children who had all managed to book exit-row seats somehow and needed to be moved as passengers must be at least 16 to sit in the exit row. Several iterations of Human Tetris from the head flight attendant later and we were on our way, though, grateful to be further away from the (admittedly quiet Icelandic) kids.

The flight was graciously unremarkable and I read through most of it. Before long we touched down back in Keflavik. This time we had two hours to kill and, unlike on the way out, did not have to pass through passport control and security. Funny that our longer stay in Iceland was an “unofficial” one due to the idiosyncrasies of international travel laws, but hey, whatever works. The weather was exactly as we left it: ethereal clouds, ethereal light mist, ethereal bleak sunlight, 50 ethereal degrees. In my mind this is how Iceland is all the time.

After buying some disgusting Icelandic candy from Becky (and getting back worthless krona from the attendant who refused to listen to my numerous pleas that no, it’s okay, I don’t need change for 21 Euro cents if you don’t have it) something across the way immediately caught our eye:

Experience Iceland

Becky experiencing Iceland

Though Becky is pondering the ethereal sign there, we did wander in to catch some of the promotional movie they were playing on loop in the darkened, museum film reel-nook-like room. One guess what it was like. I’ll give you a hint, it begins with “e.”

We were getting hungry. If there were proper restaurants in the airport we couldn’t find them and we were a bit worried we’d accidentally wander out of security again if we attempted to find one, so we decided to hop in line for the small, self-serve cafe adjacent to the duty free store. Though it wasn’t much for hot food, we made do.

Snack in Keflavik Airport, Iceland (06/20/09)

As you can see, I had a beer made from the pure Icelandic waters (they always make a point to say that) and what looks like an alien egg pod but was actually a roll smothered in cheese and bits of bacon. It was delicious and I do not in the least regret taking the last one. Becky had a cold sandwich and some koko mjolk.

Koko mjolk

There’s something disturbingly non-ethereal about koko mjolk cat. I fear for the children of Iceland.

We looked through the gift shop after eating but the prices were all in krona and, since no one really knows what the krona is worth these days (side-effect of your whole banking system going belly-up is that your money becomes, much like so many US mortgages, worth something in theory but worthless in practice and reconciling the two is proving to be equally as difficult), we couldn’t be certain we weren’t getting ripped off, so we elected to not buy anything. It will be interesting to see if they swallow enough of their legendary pride and join the Euro Zone.

After that it was time for us to again wait silently in line for our plane to be boarded by silent attendants silently taking our boarding passes, lest they hash on Iceland’s ethereal groove. I know I keep saying this, but, really, Keflavik is quiet by library standards. By airport standards the silence is positively heavy in the air. It really has to be experienced to be understood.

The flight to Boston was also relatively uneventful. Our seats were great so we didn’t have any troubles with leg cramps or anything. Important to a man of my stature. I read most of the time, occasionally watching movies, such as There’s Something About Mary with some clever editing at certain, key scenes:

Offending Icelandic sensibilities

For the children, you see. Like the Icelandic children on the flight who, instead of screaming at the top of their lungs, were silently playing with cars in the aisle. One of them toddled up to me, looked at me with his enormous saucer blue eyes and offered me his truck. If we have a baby it will be an Icelandic baby.

We landed back in Boston and passed through passport control without any problems. We got our bags safe and sound and decided to take a cab home. We were given the most ghetto, nasty, falling apart Boston cab I’ve ever ridden in, and that’s saying a lot by Boston cab standards. Dude had to try 3 times to get it started. Never was I so happy to be out of a taxi as when he pulled up in front of our house.

When we opened the door we discovered that our friend who had been taking care of the pets while we were gone had left the windows shut all week. This made the inside of our apartment have roughly 3,000% humidity and a certain, well, odor. A strong, dog-guinea pig-lizard odor. We spent the rest of the evening with the windows wide open and the fans on high. We were happy to see the pets alive and well, regardless. We got some Wings Over Somerville for dinner and unpacked everything before getting too settled in. We tried to stay up as late as possible to re-adjust, hitting the sack around 10:30. Good to be back.

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