Sunday, August 06, 2006

London open 10:30-5pm most days!

We're back in the states, but I thought I'd summarize our trip to London: mixed.

First off, it took forever to check into the hotel. (Terry forgot that one of the rooms was under *my* name.) Then it took even longer to drop off the rental car and take the tube into the city. It was 4:00 by the time we got to the British Museum.

We took the kids around the Egyptian areas, specifically the Rosetta stone and the mummies. Devin wanted to see "the parts of the Parthenon that they stole from the Greeks." So we saw those. Still, the museum closed at 5:30, so we barely had any time. Everything in London closed at 5 or 5:30. So we were bored. What do you do at 6pm? You go to Trafalgar Square and hang out with two thousand or so of your "closest" friends! I swear there must've been a million people just hanging out on London streets because there wasn't anything else to do.

While walking around London, we found about 6-7 Starbucks, including one right across from the British Museum. The problem is that a mocha frap costs 3.10, which is about $5.75 with the crappy exchange rate. Yeow.

Because it was a Sunday (a bad day for anything in the UK), there weren't any shows on at night. So, we went home early.

On Monday (another bad day for London), we went first to see the changing of the guard. We got there early to get a front-row view, and I ended up with a French couple complaining because they couldn't get infront of me to take photos. They had no idea I understood most of what they were saying, and I tell you it took a lot for me to not cuss back in French. Instead, I stood my ground with my kids in front of me and refused to let anyone squeeze in or push us up against the gates. There were thousands of people there. Of course, your kids enjoyment of any event is inversely proportional to the amount of effort you put in getting there, so we left about half-way through the marching around.

We walked around to Westminster Abbey and decided to not pay the $40 to get in. So we walked to the Houses of Parliament, but they were closed, of course, because it's Monday.

We took the tube to the Tower of London and spent the rest of the afternoon looking at a ridiculously large amount of gold crap. I couldn't help but think of the Inca and Aztecs and the gold they had that was stolen and melted down for Spain. Of course, in addition to the gold, there's the vault of gem-encrusted crowns and other royal jewelry and maces and scepters...oh my! The best part of this was watching Teagan mimic the guards when they marched by.

After the Tower, we decided to grab some dinner and see if we could get tickets to The Blue Man Group. We scored some cheap tickets (15 pounds each, or about $28). The kids loved it. Erin says it was the best thing we did, but I think she's saying that because it's fresh in her mind.

Anyway, I wish we had had a few more days in London. Those of you wanting to go, my advice is to decide on what you want to see before you go and make sure things are open. (I did this for the museum but not parliament). Most of the "attractions" are open for such a short time (like 10:30-5, I'm not kidding), so you can't see more than two things in a day, and that's if you're waiting on the doorstep when one place opens, you skip lunch, and you rush to the other place after only 2-3 hours. Oh, but the London Eye(sore) is open late, if you want to spend $30 each for a ferris wheel.

The next day we flew out first thing. The kids did a great job carting their luggage through the tube. They really are great travelers.

The oddest part of the trip was the ending. I expected to have some emotional response. I thought I might be happy to head home, or sad that the trip was over, or something. Instead, I got on the plane without much ado, and simply arrived in my own bed nearly a day later.

If you're interested, I can tell you all about the things I appreciate more now than before I left. (Hint: one is toilets, one is fresh air! ha ha ha)

The best part, though, is that the family bonded and we all got to know each other a bit better. We have stories to tell each other and over 7GB of photos to remind us of the trip.

Thanks to everyone who stuck with me through this blog. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Tempest: a review

The Tempest is playing in Stratford-upon-Avon. Opening night was last night. We managed to get tickets. Here's my review.

By far, the best actor in the cast is Julian Bleach (Ariel). His performance was stunning and gripping, but what really set him apart from the rest of the cast was his ability to play to the audience rather than play to the other actors.

When he first arrived on set, he was crammed into a 50-gallon drum (aka the fire). In this tiny space, Bleach managed to move his face and shoulders in such a way that everyone was touched by his presence. Bleach continued connecting with the audience, although he could improve a bit in the middle of the performance. Bleach managed to overcome bad blocking (which is a problem throughout the play) by moving his body around, projecting his voice, and just plain great Shakespearean acting.

Patrick Stewart (Prospero) relies on his fantastic voice to connect with audiences, but his performance (and every other actors' performanc) could be enhanced through better blocking. Almost every monologue was done stuck in one position. And the actors, who were well rehearsed and had great emotion in their voices and body movement, acted toward each other, as if the audience wasn't there. I don't know is this was decided by the director, but it made the performance fall from great to simply good.

We attended the opening night. There was one glitch with the stage, but that went unnoticed. Ferdindand tripped on the stage and hurt his ankle, but the actor recovered quite well.

The opening scene is supposed to be rather chaotic, with the tempest taking out the ship. However, this opening was a bit too chaotic. The setting is modern (with a 1930s style ship and radar which was visually stunning), but the actors are set behind a screen and stuck into a small space. The actors rushed their lines a bit and it was very difficult to understand anything they said. They should take a lesson from the actress who plays Miranda. She was eloquent and poised and delivered a near flawless performace, which is saying a lot for a first-night performance.

We really enjoyed the play, despite the lack of air conditioning in the RSC. I mean, please! Those lights alone generate so much heat that an AC is necessary. When you pack the house (it was sold out), you can't expect the audience to fan themselves with their programs, but that's what everyone did and it was the most distracting element you can imagine.

But all of these complaints are easily fixed. Let the actors move more on stage. Cool the theatre. Then you'll have not just a good play but a great one. Especially if you have Patrick Stewart giving his last soliloquy to the entire audience and not just those lucky enough to have front-row center seats. But barring these, we really enjoyed the performance and recommend.

Our plans for the rest of vacation

We're headed to London tomorrow and won't have internet access. I'll upload a few pictures and do my final blogs once we get back to the states.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Animals in the road again!

There we were, driving in the West Midlands, car packed with the girls. (Devin stayed home to play games, so we took cousin Sam and the three girls had a blast.) Terry was driving along when suddenly we were surrounded by a pack of North American Wolves.


Yes. They were a bit on the thin side, but beautiful, calm, and somewhat disinterested in us.

A bit further down the road and we had to stop because there was cattle in the road. Yep. Big. Fat. Brown. Cows. African Ankole Cattle to be exact. We were patient as this weighty bull took his time strolling down the pavement. Here's a photo of some of them running to the trough. I guess they were really hungry.

Shortly after that, we had some giraffe bending low to poke its head into our car. I stuck out my hand to give it a snack, and ew! its long tongue wrapped around my hand, smothering it in a sticky mucous-full saliva. Fun!

So what were we doing? How could we see wolves, buffalo, giraffe, lions, tigers, rhinos, wallaby, waterbuck, and elephants? Of course! We were at the West Midland Safari Park.

Teagan wanted to touch many of the animals, but she was too timid and often missed the animals when they were around our car. The giraffes were huge. Here's a short video clip of me feeding the largest male.

We also fed llamas and some rather large gnus.

Tomorrow we're headed to Stratford--Shakespeare country. The kids are mud. "Why do I want to go to some Shakey thingy when we can go back to the pool?" Oh brother. They already talked me out of a trip to a manor and its garden, and we left them at home to see the Roman ruins just 5 miles from here.

The place was a small town along the road from Chester to London (the A5 now) that the Romans used. Too often we think that everything back then was uncivilized or so backward from our lives today, but the more I see about what they had, the more I appreciate human ingenuity.

So, are there any Baconists reading my blog? What's the state of their argument against Shakespeare? I haven't seen anything lately. Perhaps I'll find something tomorrow.

Monday, July 24, 2006

price of gas & our plans

On an email thread I'm on, people in the US were complaining about the cost of gas. $3.15 in one area is expensive. Then $3.60 in another city. What's it like here? Try a pound per liter! OK, OK. So that doesn't mean squat to you. Let me explain.

In Greece we paid €1.15-1.20 per liter, which is about €4.35 per gallon (that's 3.7854 liters to the gallon). At an exchange rate of $1.25 to the €, you get $5.44 per gallon.

Now for pound sterling.

At 98.9 pence to 99.9 pence per liter, we have £3.78 per gallon. At $1.85 to the £, we're paying $7 a gallon!

No wonder a "big car" is a Toyota Corolla.

So we're still at Terry's parents. We're trying to decide what to do. I wanted to go to Dublin, but it's a three-hour drive to the port, then an hour and half ferry ride. I was trying to find a reasonable place to stay, and you'd think with the stereotypes of large Irish families that it'd be easy to find accomodation for a family, but nope! All the hotels I checked had rooms for 2-3 people. There's no such thing as a room with two double (or queen) beds. So that means getting two rooms. Ugh.

We're spending the last two days in London, so that's booked (Sun & Mon). We're staying with friends in South Hampton on the Saturday. I think we'll make a few day trips here. We'll head to Stratford, but for some reason they aren't doing any plays until Friday. They're doing The Tempest on Friday. I think I'll try to get tickets.

That's it for now.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

back to blogging

I've taken a much needed break from blogging, but I'll try to catch up over the next day or two.

First off, I put some photos of our last two hikes in Crete. We had a great time hiking.

We spent our last day in Heraklion doing some shopping for souvenirs. I bought a rug for the kitchen. Most of what we bought are just cheap reproductions of Greek art--like the Phaistos disk with linear A script.

Getting home was a pain in the butt. The airport was a disaster with three flights leaving within 30 minutes of each other. There were tons of people trying to get through security, but none, as in NOT ONE, was open. People were getting mad and there were no lines, so everyone just packed together. What a joke.

The kids enjoyed the flight. I did some writing, although not much because I was sitting between the two girls.

Since we've been in the UK we went to the Black Country Museum. We took the kids down a simulated mine shaft. Teagan and Erin weren't happy at first because it was dark, as in completely black. We had to turn off our lights for a few seconds, and Teagan started to cry. Oh bother! So I clicked into sympathetic-mother mode and managed to convince her to stick with me. By the end she was skipping through, the silly goose.

And then we went on a canal boat trip. Devin and I got a chance to be the "leggers", which is to say we laid on our backs, stuck our feet up on the walls, and pushed the boat through the canal tunnel.

Yesterday Terry and I headed to the Farnborough airshow. Unfortunately, it rained for an hour and we got completely soaked, as in I could have rung out my underwear. I had to laugh, it was such an experience. As we hunched over our food, rain dripped off our heads into the food. There really were no shelters at all. And there weren't many toilets. You had to walk a long way to get there. Sometimes I wonder if Europeans pee...America is by far the best equipped country for toilets. Anyway, the traffic getting into the airshow was also horrible. It took us 1.5 hours to get from the motorway to the parking. It was insane. But it was cool seeing the new Airbus A380 flying that close to the ground. Wow.

I'm trying to convince Terry to go to Dublin. I've never been to Ireland, so tomorrow we'll head to the travel agents and see if they have anything. If not, we'll at least take the ferry across for a day. That is, if I get my way.

We're taking a bit of a break and hanging out with the family and staying up late and sleeping in and reading and playing video games. Loads of fun. Oh, and the other night we went to a soccer game: Walsall v Aston Villa. It was a "friendly" match, seeing as Walsall is a third-tier team and AV is one under the primier league. At least, that's what I think. Terry and I also got a night out with Terry's friend Terry. They have the same name, and that's how they met. He's a funny guy and I enjoyed listening to him talk. You all will find it funny that I wasn't the one doing most of the talking. Ha ha ha.

Everyone's gone to bed, so time for me to hit the hay, too.

Monday, July 17, 2006

speaking of goats...

A tip of the hat to those two or three of you who get that joke...

Some very quick catch up.

We went on two long hikes the past two days, and we've been getting back later than the internet shop is open, which is 9pm. First we went to Polyrrinia, where we left the kids at the taverna while Terry and I hiked up the hill. We found the "second" path, the backside of the hill, but we never found the first path up the front. I'll post pictures later, when we're back in the UK.

The yesterday we took the kids to the Impros Gorge. It's second to Samaria, but far less commercialized. There are no public tours or charter busses to this gorge. The scenery is very similar to Samaria, but the trail is about half the distance--just over 8km. It took us 2.5 hours to hike it, and we came across about ten people total. The gorge was incredible--lots of goats, too, which the kids thought was funny.

After that we went to the beach by Frangokastello, which is a run-down shell of a medieval castle. The drive back was crazy. We went down about 6,000 feet in 20 minutes of driving (in second gear mostly), so you have some sense of the slope of the road. Again, I'll post photos later. On the drive back up, the kids couldn't believe that they had really walked that entire way.

Well, today we leave Kissamos and head for our last night in Heraklio. Tomorrow we fly to the UK, so I'll likely be without mail for a few days. More later, as usual.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Γραμβούσα -- Gramvousa Island

What a fabulous day! Lots of photos to share. We got up early today (just before 8—hey, we’re on holiday!) and went into town for some snacks for the afternoon. Then we took a cab to the port and got on our boat for Γραμβούσα island. This is a place sort of like Spinalonga. The Venetians built a fortress there, so we had to hike it.

Some people think the Gramvousa islands (there are several that go by that name) are what Homer called the Korrykies, or Aeolus from The Odyssey. In any case, the fortress was built from 1579-84, is triangular in shape, with each side being about 1000 meters long (3000 feet for those who can’t convert metric). When the Turks took over Crete, Gramvousa, like Spinalonga, were hold outs. Around 3000 people stayed on the island and managed to keep the Turks at bay. However, the island is small and can’t grow enough food for that many people, so they resorted to piracy, and that’s why the island is often referred to as Pirate Island. (Not that there’s any buried treasure there…)

We had a rather rough hike up to the fortress. No wonder they were able to keep the Turks away. It was hot with little wind and no toilets (so too many people resorted to doing their business in places around the fortress, include one guy doing is as we walked by!). How do they expect over 600 tourists to scour the island and not have to go? Anyway, the other problems on the hike included Terry running off ahead like he usually does. He forgets that he has a fat wife and a six-year old daughter. Plus, he had the water while I had the video camera. I won’t make that mistake again. Then about three quarters of the way up, Teagan slipped and scraped her shin and her knee. So there I was, no water to wash the wound, child crying, me sweating…I shouted to Terry and waved for him to come back down, but instead he just stopped. He could see me carrying Teagan—yes, carrying her—up the steps. Ugh. I was spent! Check out the trail:

Then we got to the top. What wonderful views.

I can’t imagine what it was like living there over 400 years ago. Besides the fortress, there were other ruins lower down the island. It’s funny but once the boats docked, a ton of the tourists jumped off the boat and headed straight for the beach. They didn’t want to have anything to do with the Venetians. From up here, they look like ants.

After the hike up and down, the kids were bored stiff. So we went to the boat for a swim. The boat has an inflatable slide off the side, so we went down from the top into the cool waters. Even Teagan took the slide. I thought she’d see the three to four-foot drop off the end and decide not to do it, so when she said she wanted to go, I went first and waited for her in the water below. Whoosh, she flew down, here eyes wide and mouth open, then splash! I caught her, but I didn’t really need to. She weighs nothing and doesn’t get more than a foot under. I lifted her up and asked, “are you all right?” “Yeah,” she says. “That was awesome! I wanna do it again.” So she did it over and over.

At 1:30 the boat left Gramvousa for a lagoon not too far away. It was funny because they had a few warnings about swimming to shore, making sure you were a fit swimmer—when in Greece have we ever had a warning about anything? It was the easiest swim. Terry and I took Teagan to the shore while Devin and Erin stuck with the slide. Teagan likes to snorkel now, but she wants to hold on to someone, so Terry and I took turns carrying her. Then we checked out the lagoon, but the water was warm and stale and smelly, probably from too many tourists peeing in it. The funny part was that it’s in the high 80s or low 90s and Teagan was shivering after the swim. The poor kid has absolutely no fat on her. After a brief warming up in the sand (and running in the ankle-deep water), we headed back to the cooler water, but this time I got to carry Teagan all on my own. She does best when she’s holding on to my shoulders while I swim. I pointed out some flat fish at the bottom. I don’t know if they were baby fish of some kind, but they looked like 4” halibut. I saw one that had very dark markings with the “odd” eyeball migrating from its left side. Maybe someone reading this can identify the species.

Once we swam back to the boat, Teagan took a rest and Terry and I snorkeled into the deeper water. There wasn’t much to see. Some rainbow wrasse, tiny fish that look like tetras of some kind. I did see some odd-looking siphonophores. You could easily miss them, they were so small and translucent. Terry managed to find some goggles.

All I can say is that it was fantastic swimming in the clear blue waters, something calming and serene. I just wish the Med had more life.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the slides (but I do have video). I wanted to take our waterproof camera into the water, but Terry’s too afraid that it’ll leak. I reminded him that we have two cameras plus a camcorder, so next time I’ll take it in. On the boat ride back, we had a great chat with a couple from Scotland. They were in CA four years ago, so they told us how much they loved that trip.

We’re back now, it’s nearly dinner time (7:30), and we’re all ready to eat and then pass out. I think I’ll sleep well tonight no matter how loud the drunks are.

Oh, and happy Bastille day. I forgot the words to the Marseilles, but I remember the tune.

P.S. On the walk up the hill to post this, I saw a police van outside writing a ticket for a motorcyclist. Ha! And then Terry said he saw the police van come down the hill, hit the building in front of ours, then do the back-and-forth jimmy to get the van to turn down the other road. Ha. Even the police can't drive here!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Gramvousa island...or not

We had planned on going to Gramvousa island today, but the kids kept me up too late last night. First off, Erin lost a tooth. Actually, I yanked it out of her skull for her. She’d been complaining about it for weeks and weeks. I said yank it with some floss. She said she tried that, but still that darned tooth was just holding on. I managed to wiggle it a bit a few days ago and thought that was it, but no. So finally last night she got the courage to let me yank it. I told her to put some ouzo on the gums to numb it. She thought that was funny. I think it was more psychosomatic than anything else, but she dipped her finger in my ouzo and dabbed it on her gums. Then I reached in with my big fingers, grabbed hold of the tooth and pulled. Ouch! Oh…that’s my tooth?

So the tooth fairy made a trip to Greece and gave her a Euro. She now has 2€ that she wants to spend on ice cream.

Then Devin decided he wanted to stay downstairs to finish watching Lord of the Rings on my computer, while the rest of us headed up to bed. Erin must have got out of bed to pee four or five times. It seemed like each time I was just nodding off, and then she was up. Finally she asked me to sleep in her room. OK. I get in there, the girls start snoring, I’m working hard here on sleep, sleep…and then I hear someone coming up the stairs. There are no fabrics of any sort in the marble staircase hall, so all of the sounds echo. Door opens, opens, opens. Door closes, closes, closes. Footsteps, footsteps, footsteps. I’m thinking someone’s coming home late. Oh wait, I think I hear a knock. No, I’d better roll over and go back to bed. Knock, knock, knock, knock…I get out of bed, open the door, and there’s Devin standing there. “I’m getting eaten alive!” So then he’s back in the bed I just vacated. I’m back in my original bed, and Terry immediately passes out back to snore-sleep-snore. Why can’t I sleep?

Then there’s the 2-3am crowd leaving the bars. Joy. Everyone else is sleeping through this?!?!?

So when the alarm goes off and we’re supposed to head out to the island, I said forget y’all, I’m finally asleep and I’m staying that way as long as I can, damned the roosters anyway.

But no, I can’t really sleep in because the F-16s are out making noise again. Oh well. We’ll try heading to the island tomorrow.

I picked up our laundry today and then went to the beach. I find it’s very difficult for me to relax and do nothing but sit at the beach. I can do that for one day, but not three or four or more. And then I find I’m restless. Read a book…write some…go swim…maybe I’ll drink a beer.

And speaking of beers, here they are 500ml and 5%, so they relax me a lot more than the 12oz, 3-4% beers at home. 

We decided we’ll rent a car over part of the weekend so we can hike one of the gorges. I was thinking about doing the “easy” route of the Samaria gorge. The long route is 6 hours of trekking over 18km. I could say that the kids might not make that distance, but the truth is that I couldn’t make it. Ugh. Too much vacation laziness. I need get off my butt and do more walking like what we did at the first part of the vacation.

Only five days left in Greece. Wow. Here are some photos for you...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Yesterday was too windy for the beach, so we didn’t do much. Today we’re headed around the small town to find information about boats to Gramvousa, the pirate island. Maybe we can book a trip tomorrow. Yesterday they cancelled the trip because of the “bad weather”, meaning that the wind and surf was about par for the California coast but too rough here. The surf was a whopping 3-4 feet, but still that’s too high for swimming and the wind makes the sandy beaches unbearable, so I suppose going to a sandy island doesn’t make much sense if the wind picks up to more than 10 knots.

Last night was the first night we all slept in the upstairs apartment. We have been splitting it, mostly with me downstairs where the kitchen is (with the girls sharing a twin bed) and the guys upstairs. The upstairs apartment will be nice once it’s finished. But for now there are no doors on inside and the kitchen consists of some live wires poking out of the wall. Because there’s no furniture and the floor is tile, the place echoes. Devin said it’s really cool to hear his farts echo. Just like a twelve-year-old, eh?

But the drunks got too noisy the other night, so I said we should all sleep upstairs. I was writing on my laptop while everyone was asleep. Somewhere around 12:30 the electricity went out. I wasn’t sure if it was just our building, so I went out on the porch and saw that a wide block was powerless. The good news is that all of the tavernas lost power, so people immediately starting leaving. Unfortunately, I left my flashlight in the downstairs apartment, right next to my bed. (After hearing Steve’s story of bears in the night, I make sure the light is next to me—except for last night.) So I used the light from my computer screen to navigate two floors down the marble staircase and retrieved my light. We had a full moon, or nearly full, so once outside, I didn’t need the computer to light my way. By the time I got back upstairs and in bed, most of the partiers had left and the town was starting to get quiet.

However, I forgot to spray myself with deet last night, so I tossed and turned as the bugs came to bite me—even through the sheets. I was too lazy to walk back downstairs…or is it bullheadedness? get the Off! spray. The problem here is that the mosquitoes are not like the squadron fliers you get in Minnesota, buzzing like Spitfires as they launch attack waves on your body. The one’s here are like noseeums and nohearums, but them’s bitums. Stealth bugs, they are. So now I’m itchy. The kids room had some pellet thing to ward off the bugs, and it apparently worked.

We have laundry to do and errands to run, so I’d better go. Hopefully we’ll make it to the beach this afternoon.

Things kids say and do

Devin’s book of the day from his joke book: “Effective Scratching, by Miss Kyto Byte”

Teagan and Erin keep replaying the scene from Shrek where Donkey is singing:

SHREK: Why are you following me?
DONKEY: Cause I'm all alone. There's no one
here beside me. My problems have all gone,
there's no one to deride me. But you
gotta have friends -
SHREK: Stop singing! Why that's no wonder
why you don't have friends.
DONKEY: Wow! Only a true friend would be that truly honest.

They do this, except they don’t know the word is deride, and it being Donkey singing, they replace it with “there’s no one here to ride me!” Ah, you gotta have kids…

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Where in the world

For Steve:


Or if that doesn't work, try this or go to google maps and enter:
35.490 23.64
Those are the rough GPS coordinates. Steve has no idea where we are, so this is your lesson in geography.

See where the road ends? That's us. At the end of the road.

chocolate or not

When I first drove into Kissamous, I saw a chocolate shop complete with clean windows, golden letters "Chocolat", and neat rows of candies on display. I immediately thought several things:

--there's a place with air conditioning
--ah the smell of chocolate
--note that location for a future visit

We drove through town a couple of times when the shop was closed. Today the weather was bad--too windy for the beach. So we decided to walk through town--all 500 feet of it. I remembered the chocolate shop and said we should go take a look. There it was, clean and freshly painted (a rarity here). Ah, I could feel my mouth watering as I approached the store.

Then I opened the door.

Here I was expecting the delicious smell of dark and milk chocolates, creams and fillings, even the taint of a cherry or strawberry that's recently been dipped.

Alas, no.

Instead, I smell smoke. I'm not kidding. You could not smell any chocolate over the stench of cigarettes. Talk about one of the most depressing sensations around. I got sick to my stomach, and yet I stood there dumbfounded. This looks like a chocolate store. There are all the candies in neat little white and brown wrappers. There's some torte and cake there. And look, there's some with pink and white dots like candy hats on the dainty bites! But this smell. This is all wrong. I can't breathe. Have I been in Greece so long and stuck in smoke-filled bars for so long that I can no longer savour the smell of chocolate?

I turned to Terry and he said, "oh." That's it. Oh. Oh my. Oh yuck. Oh no. Oh, this doesn't compute!

I know I'm sounding like a one- or two-issue person (cigarettes and toilets), but this experience--words can't do it justice. For those of you who like the cleanliness of a sparkling white See's shop, imagine walking in and someone exhaling smoke in your face. Or imagine walking into Godiva and it smells like the old school bathroom stalls when the girls ducked in there to smoke during recess. Ah yes, and there goes my appetite for chocolate--straight down the toilet.

I got another shock with the smoke. I mean, I expect it now everywhere, just about. But I didn't expect it at the grocery store. I was there looking for bread--you know, in those open paper wrappers--and then this old guy walks by me with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Very quickly the entire store smelled of nothing but smoke.

California really has spoiled me. Fresh air, please! I keep thinking of that scene from Mel Brooks' Spaceballs where he opens a can of Perriair. Ah yes, I'll take a case of those!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Italy wins World Cup

What was up with that game? France played much better than Italy overall, but the penalties...oh the penalties!

Did you see that head-butt that Zidane gave that Italian? Whoa. You could tell the Italian was provoking him, but Zidane should have known there were a million cameras capturing his every move. Sheesh.

The French goalie (Barthes) was making better predictions and went toward the ball all but one time. The Italian goalie I don't think ever went in the right direction. He just got lucky because that one shot hit the goal post.

What an awful way to lose. In the bar last night everyone was rooting for Italy. Many more of them come here for holidays than French. Anyway, it was fun to experience the World Cup in a country that actually cares about (proper) football and actual "world" competition. (Unlike our farce of a "world series".)


Every day we eat a Greek salad. Want a taste of our daily life?

Coarse cut a tomato or two
Peel a cucumber (preferably one of those long "British" or "European" cucumbers) and then slice into 1/4" chunks
cut up some green bell pepper
cut some small wedges of red onion (or white, but not yellow)
Add a small handful of olives. We like the green ones best. Don't use American sliced black olives. Ugh. Use Greek or Californian whole olives in vinegar.

Toss into a bowl, top with a huge hunk of feta cheese. (The blocks here would amaze you--about 3x4x1/2"). Sprinkle with oregano, drizzle extra-virgin olive oil, and add a touch of vinegar (from the olive jar).


I'm bringing home a book of Cretan recipes. Imam baldi is really good--eggplant stuffed with
onions, tomatoes, zucchini.

I think it's lunch time. Stuffed tomatoes?


I woke up this morning to the roosters again. Two of them duel every morning, and then two dogs chime in. If you listen carefully, you can hear several dogs in the distance replying. I can’t help but think of the scene from 101 Dalmations…

But after cursing nature and its cacophony by rolling over and pulling the sheet to my ear (futile, I know), I perked up and launched out of bed when I heard fighter jets. There were two US planes doing ACM over our area for about an hour. They were so loud, Terry suggested filing an FAA noise complaint. Ha. Wouldn’t that be funny?

Mr. ACID himself, Warn, would know better than I, but I think they were F-16s or F-18s. Yes, I suck at aircraft ID, but it’s hard to ID an aircraft when it keeps turning knife-edge and disappearing in the cloudless sky. Amazing how that works. First the plane looks white, then it disappears, then it looks dark gray. I tried using Devin’s binoculars, but because it was “so early in the morning” (10am), my eyes weren’t working properly. They kept tearing up from all the blinding sunlight. (Poor me, I know.)

So our US tax dollars paid for about $20,000 worth of fuel this morning. I could hear them engage their afterburners on two occasions. Knowing our country is going broke from military spending (and don’t argue with me, I’ve already analyzed the budget numbers from the US gov’t themselves on my other blog), I can’t help but look around at Greece and see that their tax dollars aren’t doing much for them.

For those in the militia or for those who are libertarians and think the gov’t should just go away, come to Greece (or Mexico—it’s closer) and you’ll start to notice all of the things our tax dollars pay for—things that really matter in day-to-day living. Sidewalks for pedestrians, for example. When you’re driving, remember your taxes paid to pave the road, which the trucks use to deliver your food. I know we complain a lot about road conditions. Leave the US and then you can complain. See the wide lanes with lane markings? Your tax dollars. That stop sign and stop light, plus the electricity to run them? Your tax dollars.

Our landlady here told us a story about an elderly woman down the street who fell ill. It took the paramedics three hours to get to her. Lucky they didn’t find a cold body waiting for them. That would never be tolerated in the US. Sure, we might go bankrupt paying for the medical treatment, but at least the ambulance is there when you call 911. Our landlady said if she gets sick, her plan is to get on the first plane to the US. Heck, Paris or London would be fine.

I don’t mean this to sound like a litany of Greece-bashing. I just mean that traveling certainly makes you see things you don’t normally see in your own country. When you go to Safeway, be thankful you have all that choice. Imagine doing all of your family’s grocery shopping at 7-11. The markets here are rarely bigger than your average 7-11, although the shelves here are stacked higher and are more cramped.

When you buy fresh milk or cream, be thankful you live where refridgeration is considered the norm, not the exception. The other night I thought it’d be nice to make fetuccini alfredo. The only cream was UHT—the stuff that’s packaged so that it doesn’t need refridgeration. Ditto for the milk, although I did find some very expensive “fresh” milk. The fruit here is grown locally, but you have to be careful buying it. Many of the local markets keep all of their produce in plastic milk carts. They display the fruit during the day (in this heat) and at night they just stack the carts in the store. So much food goes to waste, rotting on the shelves.

Not that this has anything to do with taxes…

I think of things like regulations that are enforced in the US. We have a food and health ministry that makes sure restaurants have things like proper toilets (yes, there I go again!) and wash basins. Notice all those signs telling employees to wash up? Paid for by the government agencies that monitor your food preparation.

I’ve also noticed a serious lack of parks. So far we’ve seen two or three total, and they were in the two big cities—and they were simply older play structures for kids. There are two basketball/tennis courts near us now, but they are run down and not maintained. That’s one funny thing here: you’ll see a brand new building (like where we’re staying, which is an unfinished building—again, in the US, building inspectors would not allow this to be occupied) right next door to two or three buildings that are falling apart. There’s no delineation of the “good” or “bad” side of town. I still can’t decide if things here are falling apart or if things are slowly being rebuilt. It seems like every other home has some stalled construction—an incomplete roof, a half-built stone fence, pilings with re-bar for a second story that just poke into the sky.

At the beaches in the US (the main beaches, I should say), there are always toilets and wash facilities for “free”—paid for by taxes. Here, the only toilets are for customers at the tavernas. Plus, if there’s a danger of falling into the water or over a cliff, we usually have a barrier. Here, we walked along several ports with no guard rails. Imagine Pier 39 or the wharf area without any fences. I know some people will argue that the government shouldn’t protect us from every bad thing out there, but there are simple ways to keep people safe.

Again, I hope this comes across as just a reflection on the ways our tax dollars benefit us—ways that I’m noticing now that I’m in an area that doesn’t have them.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Playing catch up

I realize that after leaving Ag. Nik. things got a bit confusing. Let me summarize.

First, we should have stayed in Ag. Nik. It was the nicest place, although the hotel had these death water heaters above each tub. There were about 30 gallons of 80-90C water, complete with exposed electrical wires, hovering above you. I was freaking out every time I got into the shower. Can you tell I worry too much? But you would too. Convert 80-90C and you'll know what I mean. You couldn't touch the hot tap because the metal got too hot to touch.

Anyway, we were looking at bus rides from AN back to Heraklion, and then from Heraklion to Matala and back, and then out to Hania and Kissamous. By the time we added up the ticket prices times five, we realized it would be over 100€, so for 125€ we rented a car for four days. This was great because of the convenience but bad because I had a lousy navigator. (See earlier post.) I soon realized I had to look at the map and stop to double check. I was PIC after all...

As you read, Matala was a bust and we couldn't wait to get out of town. Then getting to Kissamous was crazy, but we managed. Then we headed to Falasarna, which is a nice beach, but because of the crazy roads, I'll be doing that drive myself and not trusting the busses. Ditto for the trip to Elafonisi. Check out this road.

We are waiting at a light so that we can snake through a single-lane tunnel. I ask--how do the busses fit?
How would you like to live with your front door this close to the road? In some places, you can see where the cars have scraped the side of a house, especially when the road literally makes a 90-degree turn at the corner of your home. Hey Fred, says Ethel, you think we should move now?

Here we are passing a moped on the road. This gives you a pretty good sense of what the roads are like in the villages.
And when you're driving along at 50-60km/hr, suddenly everyone slams on their brakes to pass the one car going the other way.

I'm scared to death (I know, I'm worrying too much!) about letting my kids walk here. The cars have no problems zooming past you at 40km or more, brushing inches from you. One move in the wrong direction and SPLAT.

So we drove all the way to Elafonisi beach. It's supposed to be the best beach on the island. It's an hour plus drive over the mountains, through the tunnel, via village after village, and then you get there and are surprised to see about a thousand people all sitting in deck chairs lining the beach. (Cost 7€, toilets cost 50 cents. No wonder everyone was using the water instead. Yum.)

I swam out to the rocks and fished out a plastic bag, and the proceded to fill it with garbage that had collected in the rocks. I could have spent all day picking up plastic bags, soda cans, napkins, plastic lids, cigarette cartons. The wind was really bad; I pointed out a beach lounger (one of those plastic blow-up things) that was flipping along out to sea. Ooops.

Speaking of wind, the last four days have been windier than Chicago. The old locals are complaining that they've never seen weather like this--and certainly never in July. Hmm. Could that be the global climate change we're all experiencing? We also got unseasonable rain after leaving Matala on Wednesday. The kids are convinced we're cursed. Rain everywhere.

The town we're in now has a beach and that's it. There are the noisy tavernas near our apartment. We're looking at which one to go to for the 10pm game tonight and the 8pm game tomorrow. I hope the kids enjoy the beach because that's all we're going to do around here. We are thinking of renting a car for the last few days here, mostly because it may be cheaper than taking the bus back to Heraklio.

The internet cafes are closed tomorrow, so I won't be posting anything or checking email. I will get online on Monday, though. Oh, and I may come back later tonight, which will be your Saturday morning. Bye for now.

Lucy, I’m home…

What follows is a bad day in Crete. Every vacation has its lows; this is one of them. Today is the last day with the rental car, so we decide to head into town and then return the car, which we have to drop off at the “Xania” airport, which is really the Souda airport.

Friday 8 July 2006
9:30 Aunt Flo arrives. If you get this, my apologies, but it helps you understand my day.

11:00 Drive to Xania.

11:45 Enter one of several ridiculously small parking garages. Corolla barely fits. I have about 6” clearance. I have to negotiate four levels down (read that as 4 floors x 4 tight turns per floor) to finally get a parking space. Driving here really sucks.

12:00 Memorize street where garage is located, then walk around town.

1:00-ish eat lunch at a crappy taverna. One thing about Greek tavernas: they often “run out” of half the stuff on the menu. This is frustrating when trying to eat vegetarian. One place said they had veggie burgers. Great! Sorry, all out. Pasta? Sorry, all out. Stuffed tomatoes? Sorry, all out. WTF? Then we have to use the toilet. Oh boy. There’s no toilet paper and it’s a coed toilet. Yuck. There’s also no towel to dry your hands. Do the cooks even wash their hands? I don’t want to know. But how do women in this country survive? Now I’m really grumpy. I keep a load of tissue with me at all times. Survival gear.

2:00-ish walk around tourist area surrounding old port. Boring. Shopping? Boring. Cramps? Yes. Let’s leave.

3:30 leave garage. (Cost 5.80€)

5-ish arrive at apartment. Decide the airport is too far away for Terry to run home (we had thought it was 18m, but it’s more like 60km—don’t trust the maps here.) So I get to drop off the car solo and make my way back to Kissamous while Terry takes the kids to the beach, makes dinner, and such. Remember Aunt Flo? I’m oh so happy to attempt to speak Greek and sit on a bus for several hours. I decide to take my note book for writing and my Hemingway book. I convince myself that time alone is a Good Thing.

5:15-30-ish Leave for airport. Drive to Xania. Airport is actually in the next town over, Souda. Directions from car dealer: “take off the exit for Souda, go under the freeway towards town, then follow signs to airport. Very easy…”

6:15 Pass the US base. Ah ha! So those fighters I saw really were US planes (and if you look on a map and plot a flight course from Souda base to Matala, you’ll see the line heads to Saudi Arabia.) Continue up and over 2000’ mountain. Am I lost? No, there’s a taxi. But this looks like a goat road. Nope. There’s another taxi. There’s finally another sign for the airport. Oh, and a beat up sign saying I can’t photograph or tell you anything about the US base because if I did, I’d be breaking the PATRIOT Act. (I’m serious.) So, I can at least tell you it’s an unimpressive base. If you don’t hear from me, contact Alberto Gonzales or Donald Rumsfeld.

6:30 Arrive at airport. The guy who’s supposed to be running the kiosk at the parking lot isn’t there, so I leave the keys under the mat with the car unlocked. (We did this with the first car we had. When we asked if this was safe, the answer was “what is someone going to do? This is an island. There are three ports all monitored. Nothing leaves.” OK. And people don’t lock their doors either.

6:35 Ask for info about busses to town. “Yes, there is a schedule outside.” Head outside, read schedule, shit. Four busses per day. Next one comes at 10pm. I thought they said there were regular busses here?

6:40 Ask taxi driver to take me to Souda. “Why Souda? You want Chania.” No I don’t—that taxi ride would break the bank. Souda! “Why? There’s nothing there.” Souda port. Finally. Up and over said 2000’ mountain, driver nearly hits man on bicycle. (Steve, what were you saying about biking?) I’m wearing my seatbelt; driver is not.

7:00-ish As we turn into town, we pass the bus labeled Xania. Shit. I wonder how long until the next one? Decide to get a beer. Cost of taxi: 15€.

7:05 Order beer (it’s useful to know this in several languages: una cervesa por favor, ein beire bitte, une bière s’il vous plait, ena bierre parakalo…), ask waitress if she speaks English, then ask about busses. “Yes, they come there,” pointing, “twenty minutes, yes.” I figure I can sip my beer and still make the next bus. Next bus comes by. Hey, that’s only about 10 minutes. Cool! Next bus will be “no problem.” Unfortunately my watch crapped out on me several days ago, so I have no idea what the exact time is. Finish beer. Rip off taverna (because it’s near the port). Cost for 330ml Mythos 2.80€. (Cost in store, 50 cents, cost at reasonable tavernas 1€. Best bet 500ml for 1.70€. Gotta know the price of beer when traveling.)

7:15 Waiting for bus.

7:20 Waiting for bus.

7:30 Waiting for bus.

7:35 Start talking with a Greek-Canadian, her daughter and grandson. They are speaking English and saying how typical this is—nothing works in Greece, they say. We are headed into the same part of town. They speak Greek, talk on phone, blah blah, then the daughter tells me they will take a cab and I can come if I want. Sure. They flag down one taxi. He says no. Second taxi also refuses job. Mother laughs and says “typical. Everyone here is lazy and doesn’t want to work!” She starts talking about Canada.

7:40 Third taxi accepts job. I get in, put on seat belt. Two-year old Ioannis sits on mom’s lap. No one wears their seat belts. Drive into town is short. They are all laughing and speaking Greek, but I can tell the driver is flirting and telling some story. He’s a player—you can tell because he’s dressed up with shirt unbuttoned too low, wears too much cologne, and has these shiney silver-rimmed squarish sunglasses. He talks slowly with his hands gesticulating every word. (I’d prefer it if they stayed on the steering wheel.)

7:45-ish Arrive in downtown Xania. This place is too much of a crowded city with shopping as the only activity. Get me outta here! I walk past the first bus station (local only) and head to the second bus station.

7:55 (I see a clock now.) Buy ticket to Kissamous, 3.90€. Ask when next bus leaves. 8:15. Good. I head to the bathroom again. Oh my God. Not only is there no toilet paper, there are NO TOILETS. I have a lovely HOLE IN THE FLOOR. How ghetto is that? I mean, I’d expect that in China or Burma or Laos. There are two plastic corrugated foot-pads next to the hole. Great. Remember the start of my story? Again I ask how do women here put up with this? No wonder they all wear black, smoke like chimneys, and never smile.

8:10 Call to board bus. I can actually understand this in Greek, so I am at the front of the line.

8:15 Bus leaves. I’m writing frantically, ranting about this place in words not fit to print. By the second stop, the bus is packed with people standing. I believe I’m the only one wearing a seatbelt. I have visions of a wreck—don’t they know how dangerous driving is here? I think I need some chill pills. Ena Mythos, parakalo!

8:30-ish I work on my story. (Steve’s nagging is ringing in my head.)

9:00-ish I tire of the guy next to me looking at my writing, so I switch to Hemingway.

9:15 The lights go out in the bus. The route I drove was the inland National Road (like a highway); the route we’re taking to Kissamous is via every podunk town along the coast. Then we turn inland, cross the highway, and drop people off in darkness. Where could they be going? There’s nothing close to the road. One stop there’s a building with no lights, but it’s not a house. The bus drivers tend to honk hello each time they pass each other. And for some reason, the mopeds honk too, and the bus driver honks back. Hello honk honk hello. There’s a crazy driver in front of us with his hazards on. He crosses the road, drives on the wrong side of the road, slows down. Our driver honks and then starts mumbling something in Greek and I laugh because I feel his pain. The guy next to me laughs too, but he at least understands the words. When a stop approaches, the driver yells. If people want off, they yell back nai, nai (yes, yes). (Oxi means no.)

9:45 Thankfully I’m paying attention to street signs and know I’m in Kissamous because the driver never actually says Kissamous or Kastelli (the town has two names).

9:50 I approach our apartment. The windows are open. I can see Terry and the kids huddled on the two twin beds. They’re watching TV. I get closer and say, “Lucy, I’m home!” The kids run over to the door. Teagan shouts, “Mom we were worried!” Devin stretches his arms, says “huggie” and wraps me in a bear hug. Erin, in that typical pre-teen American way, says “so, like, what took you so long? Daddy said you’d be home an hour ago?” She hugs me and I retell the story. But first, a beer. Then two. How about some Ouzo? Oh, and a clean toilet!

11:00-ish Terry and Devin head upstairs to bed. I open the front door to cool off the apartment, and the girls go to sleep quickly.

11:30-ish I’m tired of watching the Matrix and decide to pass out. I shut the front door but leave open the windows. I can hear more people arriving at the tavernas two buildings down.

1:30-ish bathroom break. They are still loudly partying.

3:00-ish another bathroom break. They are still partying. My god, will they ever go to bed? The Greeks party en masse, especially on Friday nights. There’s really nothing else to do around here.

3-5am Dorks on motorcycles are racing through town. With every rev of the engine, with every shifting of gears, I expect to hear squealing tires and a crash. I know he’s not wearing a helmet. Just as I’m dozing again, the waaaah-wuuuh-wuuuh of the bike jabs into my head. If I shut the window, we’ll all roast. The girls are sound asleep.

6am-ish the rooster is crowing and crowing and crowing and the dog next door is barking and barking and then the doves coo cooo cooo! and the other birds are chirping, and where is my pellet gun?

8am The construction workers arrive to work next door. There’s banging and slamming, and then Terry’s at the window, back from his run. He’s off to shower and then hit the internet café up the road. I’m pulling the sheets over my head. Can I get an hour of sleep? I’ll have to take a nap before the game tonight. (Go Germany! Portugal ugh—they beat England, so I hope they lose now.)

9:30 Crap. Can’t sleep. Decide to write. Thus ends my version of 24.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

American Family Fits into Toyota Corolla

Defying all plantary odds, an American family of five actually fit into a Toyota Corolla--with luggage!

"Such a thing has never been done," said bystander Νικόλας Κουριστις of Αγος Νικωλαος.

Terry, the father, was dumbfounded. "We asked for a BIG car and this is what we got. I suppose it is bigger than the Micra we got last time," he said.

The family, flouting the laws of physics, managed to squeeze four American-sized bags plus a few carry-on backpacks into the tiny trunk. "It's our own Tardis," said the father, referring to an obscure British sci-fi show, Dr. Who.

The manager of the car-rental shop, Ιαννις Μποβίς, said the typical Cretan response, "no problem, no problem, see? You see!"

The children piled into the back. Teagan, age six, disliked her position in the middle. "I'm squooshed," she said, arms across her chest. The eldest, a pre-teen with a rather relaxed attitude for his twelve years, described the situation as "cool." "Hey, as long as I get to finish Artemis Fowl, I'm good." Erin, the nine-year-old middle child, said the best part about the drive was that they "play music from my music stick, not Devin's because he's reading, so I can sing." And sing she did, over and over.

The mother appeared oddly calm at first, but when asked her opinion of the situation, she said, "the roads around here are crazy. Most aren't wider than my driveway at home, but here they're for two-way traffic." Regarding the car, she said, "it's gutless, but it's a Toyota and I have some of their stock in my IRA, so I'm happy."

Kelly, the mother, had much to say. "I'm ready to fire my navigator. He's used to the states where all the large cities are sign posted. Here, driving is like a dot-to-dot from podunk town to podunk town. You really have to read the map, but he doesn't. I'm flying solo out here!" [Father (ed) -- I'm reading the map! It's tough to read Greek signs when you're passing them at the speed of light! You try finding yourself on a map when everything is blue-shifted!]

She was on a roll. Ten minutes later she was still ranting. "And driving this car I'm in second, then third, then second, third, back and forth. I got into fifth gear twice, maybe three times. But everything's in kilometers, so going 80 on these roads seems lightning fast. And in town you have to slam on the breaks and hug the curb so that on-coming traffic can squeeze by. I don't know how the bus drivers cope!"

Two hours later, she was still gabbing. "I thought British roads were small! And the Greeks don't know what a bypass is. All of the so-called 'main roads' go through villages. You drop down to second or first gear to prepare for the turns, and you'll likely find the switchback bends around the corner of someone's house." blah blah.

After another hour of gabbing, she switched topics. "And then you see goats all over the place. They're under the trees, in the trees even. And twice I've gone around a corner only to find a donkey standing there."

On pedestrians: "People here don't look. They just walk in the street because there are either no sidewalks or there are cars parked on them. Walking here must be an act of faith for them."

On the ubiquitous moped: "They don't obey any of the traffic laws. One way street? Not for the moped. Stop sign? Not for the moped. Speed limit or helmet law? Not for the moped. I'm amazed. I keep expecting a gruesome accident around the next bend."

On navigation: "We're going to Irene's and she lives on a street with no name. Our directions were to drive into town and ask someone for her--not a tourist, she said. After another pleading call, she told me to 'take the national road straight, no turns, then when you get into Kastelli, stop at my cousin's gas station. It's the first one on the right, I mean the left. On the left. I think it's a Texaco, or maybe a Shell station. It's the first one. Ask Nik for directions.' So we managed to find the station, and the directions were to go past the bus station and then turn left. Well I got lost because a bus station, in my mind, is BIG and has BUSSES, but this one is smaller than a corner shop, and I didn't know the Greek word for Bus Station, so we drove right past it. Luckily enough, I pulled over and asked this woman, in broken Greek, 'pu ine Irene;' where is Irene, and she pointed to herself and smiled."

Unfortunately, there are no photos of the packed trunk, but the mother provided several photos of the roads at her website.

[This reporter listened to her for nearly four hours and deserves hazard pay for this assignment.]

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Matala is a bust...

This post is a day late. The computer in Matala crapped out on me, so I'm uploading this late...

We arrived here to find our tiny village morphed into a hellish tourist trap. The bar where we met is condemned and boarded up. They built an entire new entry into town, complete with bus parking and shops. A lot of what they're selling is crap from China rather than stuff from Crete.

It's sad to see.

The wind here is really picking up. We told the kids we'd go to the beach, but out there we had our bodies sand blasted, so we hiked a bit of the caves, rested up, then hiked over to red beach. It's a half-hour hike one way over rocks and rocky trails. You're on hands and knees and butts in some places. Anyway, the beach is nudist, so we ran up and down naked for a while. We were the last ones at the beach and got the sunset all to ourselves. It was the best part of the day.

So now the girls are getting ice creams with Terry (who's getting beers for us). I'm having second thoughts about hiking Samaria. I'm fat and out of shape. After an hour of hiking, I have to ask myself: could I handle six? Of course, the six hours includes breaks and all 18km of the gorge is downhill rather than up and down like the hill we just climbed.

We're not going to stay a second night as planned. We rented a car (more on that later), so we're out of here in the morning. Hope to be in Kissamou-Kastelli this time tomorrow.