Friday, July 22, 2011

The Trip Home (Day 51)

On Friday morning at 4 am, I took all of my bags down to the hotel lobby for my transfer to the airport.  Last time I hope I ever have to get up that early for a flight!  I had a flight from Athens to Madrid at 7 am.

When I got to the Madrid airport for my flight to Dallas, I was waiting at my gate and my name was called to come up to the desk.  My name had been randomly chosen for special security.  They escorted me (and a few others) to another area where I was questioned about my checked luggage.  She asked if anyone had given me anything to put in my luggage, a bunch of other questions similar to that, and then ended with asking if I had anything sharp with me!  After that, they sent me over to an area where I was patted down and then they went through both of my carry on bags.  Once they finished all of this, they escorted several of us back to our gate and had us sit in a little area behind a rope while everyone else was boarding the plane!  Crazy.  One-by-one, they pulled us out of the area and let us board the plane.

After a 10-hour flight, we landed in Dallas.  After they checked my passport, I went down an escalator with my carry on bags.  There was a lady standing at the bottom with a beagle that would smell everyone who walked by.  When I got to the bottom, the dog smelled my bags, looked excited, then sat down and looked up at its handler!  The lady asked me to step over to the side, and asked if I had any fruit.  I had an apple!  She wrote on my customs form and then let me go.

From there I went on to grab my checked bag to continue the journey through customs before I could go on to my final flight.  Customs ended up sending me to a special line that was about a mile long.  When I finally got up to the front, a customs officer did a hand search of both of my carry on bags and my checked bag.  Once he cleared me, I gave my big bag back to the airline to recheck it, and then I had to go back through security where I was sent through the body scanner!  Go figure.

Boarding for my flight from Dallas to Austin was delayed around 40 minutes, but the flight itself was only 30 minutes long.  When I got to Austin, I ran into the U.S. representative who I had interned for in DC in 2009 at the baggage claim!  We talked for a few minutes, and when he left, I realized my bag hadn't ever come.  I had to go into the American Airlines baggage office and tell them my bag was missing, and they couldn't tell me where it was.

I went home with my dad and the next morning when I woke up, my bag was waiting for me outside of my bedroom door.  Dad had to pick up my mom, aunt and cousin at the airport about two hours after he had gotten me, and by then my bag had arrived at the airport, so my mom grabbed it for me.  When I opened it, I saw why it had missed my flight.  They went through it AGAIN!  In the bag, I had wine and mustard that I had bought in France for gifts.  All of it had made it untouched in flights from France to England, England to Italy, was carried in my bag across Italy and Greece and then flew from Greece to Spain, and Spain to Dallas, Texas untouched.  After U.S. customs went through my luggage and cleared me, the airport I guess wasn't satisfied and they went through my bag, unwrapped the mustard that had been wrapped in the store in France when I bought it, and moved one of the bags of wine from the side of the bag where it was protected, to the TOP of everything the bag where I'm so grateful it wasn't smashed!  I'm also grateful they didn't take anything.  But truly.  What list am I on?!

Athens, Greece (Day 50)

view on the way yup the Acropolis of Athens
The Erechtheum
mom and me in front of the Erechtheum
On Thursday (July 14), we started off our day with a trip to the Acropolis of Athens and Parthenon in Athens.  We got off of the bus and a few minutes after it drove away, mom realized she had left her camera.  Thankfully I had mine so I wasn't worried.  Well, once we climbed to the top of the acropolis, my battery died, and for the first time on the entire trip, I had left my extra battery at home.  Can you believe it?  On the last day of the trip!  Thankfully my cousin took pictures, so I was able to get some from her.

mom and me in front of the Parthenon

The acropolis was fascinating, but I have to admit I was quite distracted between trying to get ANY single picture out of the dead battery, holding onto my mom and aunt to try to keep them from slipping, a malfunctioning headset (to hear the tour guide), the heat (full sun, only had shade with my umbrella), and not feeling very well.  It was great to see, but was not very easy to get around with my family.  It was crowded and the marble was VERY slick to walk on.  Walking around some spots, I would hold my mom's hand on one side and my aunt's hand on the other because the ground was totally uneven and then it seemed if you touched the marble you would slip.  I even slipped in my tennis shoes!

Panathenaic (Olympic) Stadium
The University of Athens
When we left, we had a bus tour of Athens narrated by the tour guide who had taken us up to the parthenon.  We drove by the Temple of Zeus, the University of Athens, National Garden of Athens, the Panathenaic (Olympic) Stadium, Syntagma Square, Greek Parliament, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National Library.

Syntagma Square
They stopped and let us get out of the bus for a few minutes at Syntagma Square to take pictures with the guards.  I was walking over to take pictures when suddenly a man grabbed my hand and poured bird feed into it!  Hardly before he finished pouring the birdseed, my arm was COVERED with pigeons!  Definitely did NOT see that coming.  He had a Polaroid camera and would do that to people then take and sell their picture.

After the bus tour of Athens, those of us who didn't sign up for the Acropolis Museum tour were taken back to the hotel.  Mom and I got some lunch and then went up to the hotel pool on the top floor for a little bit, and then we went to the beach and sat in the water for a few minutes after that.

That evening, we had another little tour and our farewell dinner.  For the tour, we boarded a cute little train at the bottom of the acropolis.  It took us in a loop around the hill and then dropped us off close to the restaurant.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mycenae & Athens, Greece (Day 49)

Mycenae: Treasury of Atreus (tomb)
View from Mycenae
Mycenae museum: necklaces, perfume bottles
On Wednesday morning we went to Mycenae with a tour guide and saw an incredible beehive tomb (Treasury of Atreus) that had been built into a hill!  It was just incredible, I really can't fathom how people figured out how do these things so many years ago!  Our tour guide said they don't know who the person was because the tomb was raided, but that other structures of the same sort had been found across Greece and they were all tombs.  It didn't have any inscriptions to identify the person either.

Mycenae: Treasury of Atreus
Mycenae: Treasury of Atreus (tomb)
Once we were finished looking at the tomb, she took us on a short tour of the Mycenae Archaeological Museum where we saw artifacts from the Mycenae Acropolis.  I took pictures of a couple of items/exhibits that I found interesting.  One item was a big vase-shaped thing that they used to bury the dead!  They also had many small perfume bottles, combs, and pieces of jewelry on display.

When we were finished in the museum, we climbed the acropolis and got to see the beautiful view and some ruins up at the top.

Mycenae: archaeological dig at the bottom
Pithos burial - ancient casket!
After Mycenae, we got back on the road.  Our tour director let us stop at one point to walk over a bridge that crossed the Corinth Canal so we could take pictures.  The water was fantastically blue and the canal was pretty amazing.  It would be interesting to read about how it was built.

The Corinth Canal

Pottery store demonstration
Pottery store demonstration
Pottery demonstration
On our way to Athens, the tour bus stopped at a pottery shop so we could see a  demonstration and of course shop.  A man made a vase while our group watched and then we were shown the molds that they use to make some of their statues and the painting process that makes the statues appear to be antiques.
Greek Salad

For lunch we stopped at a place on the water and had a Greek Salad and moussaka.  Once again, so much better than the Italian food that we had.  Never in a million years would have seen that coming!

When the tour bus arrived at our hotel in Athens that afternoon, I worked on rearranging things in my suitcases for a while, and then mom and I went for a walk by the beach.  Again it had gorgeous blue water, but this time the beach was very rocky, unlike the beach in Tolon.
Athens, Greece

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Olympia & Tolon, Greece (Day 48)

This morning we woke up and walked with our tour group over to the Olympic ruins which were a five-minute walk from our hotel in Olympia.  We had a tour of the ruins and saw where the ancient Greeks held the first Olympic games.

It's absolutely incredible to me how archaeologists can dig up all of this stuff and then come up with these sketches of what the buildings would have looked like when they were whole!  Our tour guide had sketches to show us after she'd talk about the different ruins of buildings that we looked at.  We learned that in the original Olympics there were horse races, events for women and that there was only one winner for each sport instead of three, and that the winners then went on to be sort of demi-gods to their villages when they returned home.  We also saw the spot where they light the flame at the beginning of the Olympic ceremonies each year.

Hera's Atar
Bourtzi Fortress
Once the tour was over, we all loaded ourselves and our bags onto the tour bus and headed out for Tolon.  On our way we stopped for lunch and had a Greek salad and moussaka at King Menelaos.  Oh!  In the middle of our meal, this little elderly man walked out into the middle of the restaurant with some plates.  A couple of seconds later, he started to lift them into the air one-by-one and then toss them onto the floor where they would shatter and he would then yell, "OPA!"  Hah!  I didn't have my camera on me, but saw someone taking a video, so I'll see if I can get a copy.

When we arrived in Tolon, we were thrilled to see that our hotel was close to the beach (and it's the first hotel we've had with free Internet, so I can catch up, yay Greece!)!  The water is gorgeous here, very clear!  We went to the beach for a little while and then to dinner at the hotel restaurant.
Tolon, Greece

Ravenna, Italy & Olympia, Greece (Days 46 & 47)

Ravenna: Dante's tomb
On Sunday morning we left our hotel in Venice and drove to Ravenna, Italy.  Hm.  Not so much to see there!  I think it’s on the tour itinerary because they need some sort of filler to not waste the entire day.  In Ravenna, we found Dante’s tomb and several churches decorated with mosaics.  I didn’t go into the first church because I was wearing shorts and wasn’t sure if I was allowed, so I sat outside while my mom, aunt and cousin went inside.  Then once we finally walked to the last two, we found out we had to have tickets (and the ticket was for a museum and the two churches) and we only had a few minutes left in the town so it wasn’t worth it.

Ravenna: sunflower field
From there we went to Ristorante Sant Apollinare for lunch where we had what is said to be the best hand-made lasagna in Italy!  It was definitely the best meal we had; I had actually been kind of disappointed by the bit of Italian food we’d had up to that point.  It was a great lunch to end our time in the country.

Ravenna: sunflower field
After lunch, we took some pictures of a nearby sunflower field (we passed many sunflower fields while riding in the tour bus this week), and then got back on for the ride to the ferry that would take us to Greece.

Ravenna: us with our bus driver, Luigi
We sat on the bus for a while at the port before hauling all of our luggage onto the ferry.  It was more like a miniature cruise ship than a ferry!  It was part of the Minoan Lines out of Greece.  Our room on the boat was small as expected, but had a nice window.

our room on the ship
Venturing outside of our room was quite the experience.   When we went out to look around after the ship started moving, we felt like we were on some sort of refugee ship!   It was crazy, there were people setting up sleeping bags and TENTS all over the place!  Apparently, they sell room-less tickets to people (LOTS of them); it was the sketchiest thing ever!

The next morning (Monday), we had breakfast on the ship.  After a few hours, they stopped at a port in Albania and after that, the ship was really nice!  All of the people without rooms had packed up and left, and it wasn’t so crowded anymore.  But then a few hours before we arrived at our port in Patras, Greece, they kicked us out of our rooms!  We had to pack up and take all of our luggage to either the lounge or the deck to sit and wait.  Ugh.
sunset on the ship

people camping out on the ship
When we got off of the boat, we all loaded our stuff into a new tour bus with a new driver and drove a couple of hours to our hotel in Olympia where we had the best dinner we’ve had on this trip!  I was talking to some of the other people on the tour at dinner and we all agreed that Italy had been a pretty big letdown food-wise, and that our first Greek dinner was way better than anything else we’d had!  It really smelled and tasted great.

Greek, Italian and English
our room in Olympia
After dinner, most of the group wandered down the main street; even though it was 10 at night, all of the stores were open.  It was really nice since everything in Europe up to that point seemed to be closed by at least 7.  We could tell they had been expecting the tour bus, they all would ask if we were with Cosmos and then say “oh special price” when we said yes.  The people were SO nice and SO friendly, too!  We went into a few of the stores and I got a little silver bracelet from one, and a column charm (for my charm bracelet) from another.  The place where I bought my charm was called “Apollo,” and it was owned by a family who had a member who had been in the Olympics.  They were all so excited to tell about him, show us the torch, and give everyone a postcard with a picture of him and others running with it!
Adriatic Sea, view from the ship

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Venice, Italy (Day 45)

gondola ride
our troubadour
typical gondola seats
Today our tour group went to Venice for the day.  Gorgeous!  It really looks just like it does in the movies, unlike so much of the other stuff I've gotten to see in person.  We started off our day with a gondola ride!  Mom, Nancy, Jennifer and I shared a gondola with two other people from our group and the ride began at the Grand Canal and then went through smaller areas.  It was a lot of fun, we had maybe five gondolas of people who had signed up for the excursion, and one of the gondolas had a singer and an accordion player who "serenaded" the group for the whole trip!  SO much fun.  I took a video during one of the songs: Venice Gondola Ride 2011
glassblowing demonstration
After our gondola ride was finished, we got some gelato before meting our tour director to be taken to a glassblowing business to watch a demonstration.  The demonstration was neat, I've always thought it would be fun to blow glass, but it's WAY too hot for that in Texas!  They had some incredible pieces for sale, some that were 20,000 euros!

Once we were done looking at the glass, we got in line to go inside of St. Mark's Basilica.  We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, but it was pretty different from others that I've been inside of.  The ceiling was just COVERED in tiny gold tiles.  They also were pretty smart with their (common) rule about not allowing people with shoulders or above-knee skin showing; they sold pieces of paper (kind of like a giant napkin) that people could tie around their waist or shoulders so they could still come in!

From there, we made our way through the winding little streets to Rialto Bridge, a must-see according to our tour director.  We saw a ton of masks for sale on our way there; they're for sale all over Venice, just like the Venetian (and fake Venetian) glass.  It was SO HOT.  There weren't any clouds and it was in the 90s; I know I'm from Texas, but we have AC, most places here don't!  Plus being outside walking in the heat (and much of the time full sun) all day long is pretty rough even if it's only 90 something!

Around 1:00, we met our tourguide and got back on the boat for an excursion that included a tour of the lagoon and trip to the nearby island, Burano.  Unfortunately I fell asleep for the whole 40 minute ride to Burano so I didn't hear anything the tourguide told us.  I'm staying up pretty late trying to keep up with this blog and figure out some things that will be changing when I get home, and then getting up at 6 or 7 every day.  Blegh.  Anyway, in Burano we had a little lace-making demonstration in a family-owned store.  Our tour director told us Elton John (who owns a house facing the lagoon in Venice, by the way) is a customer and that Giorgio Armani tried to buy the business!

After that, we walked around the town for a little bit (we only had one hour there) and tried to find a house where Maria Callas and her husband had lived.  Mom was very excited about seeing it, but our tour director had given us directions before going inside of the lace store along with directions to at least two other places.  He does that a lot.  By the time we tried to find it, none of us really remembered what he had said, and we weren't sure we had ever understood, anyway.  Overload of info in an unorganized order as usual.

Burano was so much more quiet than the main area of Venice where we had been earlier in the day.  All of the houses were so cute and brightly painted!  Our hour went by quickly and at the end of it, we met everyone back at the boat and went back to pick up the others from the main part of Venice before heading back to the hotel.