Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Brrr...we're home!

Wow. It's good to be home. No...actually, it's fabulous! After 20+ hours of flying from Athens to Anchorage, I thought to myself, "Why is it so complicated for the airline industry to provide decent seats with enough legroom and amenities, considering how much we pay for a ticket. Is it really so tough?" Let me just say that profiling is not just for terrorists and the airline industry seems to do it well. Case in point: Yesterday, (I think it was yesterday anyway - I'm still confused as to time and day) I carefully packed my suitcases in such a way that the weight was distributed properly and breakable items were in my carry-on. I even weighed the carry-on to ensure that it was not too heavy. Yes, there's a 40lb. weight limit for carry-ons. All was good. We got to Athen's airport, checked in our luggage, and proceeded to board the aircraft. In a long line of passengers, I was singled out because my carry-on "looked" too heavy. Now was rolling, I wasn't lugging it anywhere, and it "looked" too heavy? The pompous airline steward singled me and my distinctive red luggage out. I explained to him that I had weighed it, it was well within the limits and it had the very fragile items in it and I didn't want to check it. No go. He told me it was too heavy and really, "what would you do if it fell out and hit someone on the head?" Uh, pardon me, but that's not my problem - is it? If it was going to hit anyone, it would be me, as I would have been seated directly beneath it. The guy never weighed it beyond a cursory lifting. When I continued to question him, he threatend me with denied boarding. Jerk. Needless to say, I fumed all the way to Minneapolis. We were to collect our luggage and proceed through Customs upon arrival. When I exited the aircraft, this same airline steward had the audacity to "reassure" me that all would be well. My annoyance level went up a few degrees at this - he should have just left well enough alone. I turned back to him and said, "Sir. How can you honestly say that? Have you seen how the luggage is handled? There are breakable items in there. How can you guarantee that nothing will be broken?" His reply was something to the effect that KLM/NW would take care of it if it was broken. Right. We all know how that works. I asked him if KLM/NW would go to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey and track down the stall that I bought the Turkish tea set at and replace it, or if they'd go to the one Starbuck's in Cyprus that sells souvenir mugs and replace that. Oh man...did he really think that those items could be so easily replaced? I got a grunt in response. Someone needs some Customer Service Training.

Home looks good. I don't care if it's 19* and no still looks good. I was happy to walk down to baggage claim and see my sister in law waiting for me. She and my brother and "Miss Pink" my niece picked me up at the airport and took me home. Thankfully, my home was still standing. According to the fam, there was a windstorm that took out their chokecherry tree, some siding and a panel of my fence. The neighbor's fence is completely gone. Also, while I was gone, the neighbor's car caught on fire and flames, smoke and firetrucks where everywhere! Thanks to good friends that alerted my family to check on the house, all is well.

If anyone's in Cyprus...could you get me a mug from Starbuck's to replace my broken one?

Monday, October 27, 2008

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Or, so they say. For my vacation, this is true. I've packed my bags one final time, have laid out clothes for tomorrow morning's departure and lined up the taxis to take us to Athen's International Airport. The past few days here have been wonderful and filled with plenty to do. Our hotel (the Attalos), is located just a stone's throw from the Acropolis. All around us are monuments to this, relics to that and treasures hidden just steps from the main path, or in some cases - IN the main path. There is no real street plan to downtown Athens and the tiny, twisty pathways are the only way for all sorts of means of conveyance to go about their business. We've seen more Smart Cars in one square block of Athens then we've seen the entire trip. Scooters, Mopeds and motorcycles seem to dominate. In fact, this morning, while waiting outside our hotel for the tour bus, a motorcycle ridden by a business man came directly out of the hardware store right next to me. Don't ask me how he got the bike through the store - a person could barely fit - but there he was.

We've enjoyed the gastronomical offerings here - mostly eating the inexpensive gyros or souvlaki. Basically, they're the same with grilled meat, tomatoes, french fries ("chips") and onions with a tzaziki sauce all piled onto a pita flatbread and folded up to eat in hand. Add a Coca-Cola light to it and it's a regular meal for less than 5 Euros. Gelato and bakeries abound, so it's a very good thing we've been walking everywhere!

Our first day here, Saturday, we checked into the hotel, dumped our luggage and then headed out to explore. We encountered the markets, the Ermou (main shopping drag) and all sorts of other fun things such as the parliament buildings (we watched the changing of the guard), the town hall, the library and so on...all with cameras clicking and mouths hanging open at the antiquity mixed with the modern. We slept well that night, inspite of the incredibly lumpy beds!

Sunday morning found us on a walk to the Acropolis. It was quite the journey up twisting, cobbled streets, but the view that we were rewarded with, was incredible! Upon our return towards the hotel, we toured (and shopped) our way through the Plaka. This is the main tourist shopping district with reasonable prices and most anything you could imagine to be had - including the last Greece Starbuck's City Mug in the city! We encountered folks from the ship on more than one occasion and swapped stories. It was another late night, and again - in spite of the noise of the streets and the lumps in the bed - we slept.

Today, we got up early for a tour to Corinth. For some time now, I've wanted to create a journey of sorts that followed the steps of the Apostle Paul. We saw a bit of his travels in Cyprus, and yesterday on the Acropolis, we saw the Areopagus where he addressed the Athenians. Today, however, was much more powerful for me and yet one more thing taken out of my basket. We saw the Ancient City of Corinth, with the Bema that Paul used to address the Corinthians. Tonight, when we got back from lunch, I began to read again in Acts - following Paul's journey. I'm still amazed I'm here and while I don't know that I'd care to come back to Athens for any length of time, I'd love to see more of Greece, including Delphi, more of Corinth and other places.

We head home in just a few short hours, so pictures will be added shortly - I promise!