Tuesday, June 27, 2006

It's All Greek to Me!

Cooper's school year ended June 13 and two days later we hit the road for Greece!

What an experience. A country that speaks a different language AND uses a different alphabet. Thankfully, they have provided, about 40% of the time, translations into the latin alphabet so Ελληνικό αλφάβητο is at least shown in letters we can read, even if the language continues to elude us.

The important words, we learned.

"Tabepna" is the latin translation of the greek word for 'taverna' which is the place you go for delicious food and oceans of beer and Ouzo. There are more tabepnas in Greece than people, which made finding lunch and dinner extremely easy. And every single one of them serves a Greek salad that I would walk across broken glass for. Fresh Greek feta has no equal. Period. :-)

Athens, thanks to the recent Olympics games in that city, has an abundance of Greek/Latin alphabet/English signs, but once you leave that city, the incidence of translations drops way off. This sign is from the gas station- and it's very typical.

More than once we found ourselves pulled over to the side of the road looking at an informational road sign that contained a LOT of information- all of it in Greek, spelled in Greek letters.

There is no faking Greek. You either read it or you don't. And when you are lost already, telling your husband the sign says "Sigma, epsilon, pi, delta, delta, something, omega" does not make him laugh. I know this because I tried.

So we mostly just went where the roads did and stopped worrying about where, exactly, we were.

Also fun were the many attempts to translate greek into english for the benefit of the many tourists.

This sign was posted twice on every floor of every wing of our hotel outside the rooms housekeeping used for their supplies:

Passed that sign elevendy million times a day and still cracked up every time.

...and this one was from the museum on the Acropolis:

Not that our attempts to spell in Greek would be any less comical, but it helped ease our feelings of inadequacy about the language barrier...

Anyway, our first stop was Athens, wherein we booked a hotel for two nights in order to show our son the Parthenon and the Agora. We headed out fairly early Sunday morning to climb the Acropolis and let me tell you it doesn't disappoint. It's a hella climb up that hill but worth every gasping breath.

There are two amphitheaters to inspect on the way up, and more marble than I've ever seen in one place. It's huge, it's ancient and it just took our breath away. Cooper probably got a little tired of us stopping dead and saying "Wow.", but even his teenaged cool was overcome by the power of the place.

It's just stunning to stand there and try to wrap your mind around how old this place is.
We walked down the Acropolis on the opposite side to the one we came up and stopped at the Ancient Agora and fantasized that our feet were standing in the same spot as Plato or Socrates had stood. It is just a very, very cool place to see and experience for yourself and I highly recommend it.

The greek mass transit trains are excellent and we were able to use them from the airport and to get around town. After the Acropolis, we headed for the Plaka and its million vendors.

I have to say, for an ancient people they haven't got a thing on Africans when it comes to hawking their stuff. They are rookies.

No one told us it was "free to look", no one mentioned how it was Sunday so they needed us to buy from them so they could eat/they would give us a special "holy deal", no one made a convincing argument at all. We passed blithely through a throng of vocal Greeks entreating us to buy from them and just smiled...

The next morning we got back on the train to the airport and boarded a plane to Crete. It left an hour late, a fact that no one, including other passengers and Olympic Airlines employees, seemed to notice - it was simply ignored.

We didn't care- get to Crete at 9AM get to Crete at 10AM, it's all the same to us. But we chuckled at the U.S. airlines who have whole websites devoted to "on time performance" and fielding complaints from people who are twenty minutes late and who were kept informed minute by minute of the delay and its causes.

We got to Crete and picked up our rental car. Once again our African experience served us well. Crete drivers are reckless and tend to think of lane markings as "guidelines" but they have nothing on the drivers of Ghana and we fit in very nicely.

The Cretans have added the Texas tradition of driving on the shoulder so faster cars can pass you and that makes the streets both safer and much more dangerous.

It's a crapshoot, driving in Crete, but we did okay.
(n.b. on the day we left, as we drove back to the airport, we passed a car that had hit a phone pole head on, dead center, on the wrong side of the street- we were not, I should say, surprised...)

Our hotel was on the beach on the Mediterranean Sea, facing Spinalonga Island which has been many things to many people over the centuries, but most recently and until 1957 was a leper colony. Here's
the island itself from our hotel room, Ted on the island, and a shot of the 'front door'.

...and here's a shot taken from the hill above our hotel (as we headed blithely off on a drive to Who-Knows-Where?).

The water was so clear when we swam that we could see to the bottom no matter how far out we swam. Tons of fish and coral and sea urchins and crisp cool water. Bliss!

There is so much more to Greece than the tiny part of it we saw, but it was a good introduction. Here are some of our favorite shots of statuary and ourselves...

And if you come to our house now, you can play cards with us and use our new deck of Greek Figures Having Sex playing cards. ;-)

Or, if you prefer, just check out our tasteful fridge magnets and the pottery urn we bought.