Archive for August, 2009

Lost in Translation: Israel Part I

August 20, 2009

After my run in with the Greek officials (see previous post), we safely arrived back in Santorini, my favorite of the Greek isles. This time around, instead of staying at the lovely Anny Studios, we opted for cheaper accommodations at Anna’s Youth Hostel, where for 5 Euros a night, you too could sleep in a hot, smelly basement in bunkbeds, with 25 strangers who snore..loudly. Actually, if you sleep with ear plugs, an eye mask, don’t breathe thru your nose, wear flip flops in the shower and stash enough of your own toilet paper to get by, it’s not too bad. Thankfully, we only stayed there for 5 nights before Karen headed off to Ios for more partying and I headed to Israel, where my journey would take a more spiritual turn. I would be staying in Tel Aviv with my very good friend Meital who I hadn’t seen in 2 years since she left NY. Meital hadn’t changed a bit, although 4 months meditating in India did make her even more buddha-like than she was before. (my very own personal guru). Spending these last few days with Meital has reminded me of all of the wonderful philosophical and spiritual conversations that we used to have when she lived in NY, that I missed so much in the states. In fact, she has inspired me to sign up for Vipassana Meditation, a 10 day silent meditation retreat. Now that should be interesting. Anyway, I had my very first solo adventure here in Tel Aviv- a trip to the supermarket. Armed with my Visa card and what I learned in Hebrew school (not much), I headed to the store. As I approached the entrance and the security guard half-heartedly searched through my bag (guess I don’t look too suspicious), I said ‘Toda’, which means ‘thank you’ in Hebrew, and gave a big smile, cause when you don’t know the language, you can’t go wrong with a big smile (except in Greece). So after I thanked him, he continued talking to me in Hebrew. Sadly, I had no idea what he was saying so I finally broke it to him, ‘Sorry pal, all I got is Shalom and Toda’. As I walked away from the disappointed security guard, I began collecting all the items on my shopping list. I soon realized that I could not find the eggs. Ok, I thought, this gentleman over here looks nice. I’ll ask him. He must speak English, after all, doesn’t everybody? “Shalom. Do you know where the eggs are?” Blank stare. “Um. EGGS??”, I yelled louder. Hand to his heart, looking devastated that he couldn’t help out this pathetic looking tourist, he pointed to a woman at the meat counter and said, “English”. Ah, perfect. “Thank you”. ‘Your welcome’. Huh? okie dokie. “Shalom”, I said to the supposedly English speaking butcher. “Can you tell me where the eggs are”. “Egg?” Oy vey. “Yes eggs, you know, round, they come from chickens. You know, chicken, bac bac (animated chicken gestures and chicken noises…) “Ah, eggs, yes, aisle 2”. So, I collected my eggs and my pride, and I made it through my first Israeli food shopping adventure. The next day we went to Jerusalem where we stayed with Meital’s friend Dana. In the morning, Dana took us on a tour of the city. When she pointed out the Prime Minister’s house, I, of course, took out my phone to snap a photo (camera wasn’t working), and as I aimed, I suddenly noticed a man dressed in uniform running towards me. No, actually I noticed the big machine gun that he was carrying first, then I noticed the man, and realized he was yelling something to me in Hebrew. I became a bit nervous- man with gun, running towards you, yelling something in foreign language…- and said, “I’m sorry, I speak English. Don’t shoot?” (Big smile). Apparently that didn’t work, because he kept yelling something in Hebrew. I finally looked over to Meital and Dana who were a few meters in front of me and mouthed, ‘Help’. They exchanged words and Dana translated. “He wants to know if you took a photo”. Still in shock, I opened my mouth to answer, but nothing came out. Thankfully Dana intercepted and gracefully lied, “No, she wasn’t taking a photo, she was just trying to get a signal”. Phew, that was close. Thanks Dana! Lesson # 17: When uniformed men with machine gun chases after you and screams something in a foriegn language, just stay calm, play dumb and smile.


My Big Fat Greek Adventure: Part III

August 13, 2009

During one of our island hopping adventures, Rosimara and I ended up missing our ferry. We literally watched the boat leave the port, not realizing it was the one we were supposed to be on. Oops, guess the Greek sun is getting to us. After realizing what we had done, in a frenzy, we approached a man in what looked like a captain’s uniform and told him of our dilemma. “We just missed our boat and we need to get to Naxos!” we told him. “Well, there is a boat going there in 5 minutes. You can give me 19 Euros each and get on the boat”. Ok. Sounds good, we thought. So we gave him 19 euros cash each and walked onto the boat- no ticket in hand. Well, we made it to the next island no problem. This must be some sort of black market thing they have going on here, we thought. After all, it is Greece. So, a few days later, when Karen and I were traveling together, we ended up missing one of our boats as well. “Don’t worry about it”, I told my new friend. “There’s this black market thing that they do here. I bet if we tell the guy we missed our boat, and offer him cash, he’ll get us on.” “Are you sure?”, asked my dubious friend. “Oh yeah, we did it before. It won’t be a problem. Just watch!” So, we waited for all of the passengers to board. I then approached the uniformed man asking for tickets. “Oh, we don’t have tickets” I told him. “We were hoping we could buy them on the boat” (wink wink, hair twirl). “You don’t have tickets??”, asked boatman. “No”. Boatman and another plainclothes official began talking to each other in Greek. Love that! “Ok, you have no ticket?”, he repeated. “No” I told him, “The ticket agencies told us the boats were full but we really need to get over to Santorini. We were hoping that we could buy the ticket here”. (More Greek). “Ok, give me your passports”. Huh? “What are you going to do with our passports”, we asked. “Don’t worry about it. Get on the boat”. Don’t worry about it???? “What’s your name, sir?” I asked confidently. “What’s my name? You want to go to Santorini? You get on the boat”. Oy vey. What to do. After running through all the possible worst case scenarios- were they going to try to extort money from us, would they sell our passports, would they lock us up in a greek jail for trying to bribe an officer- we determined it wasn’t worth the risk. So we demanded our passports back and headed to Santorini the following day- legally. Lesson #11 learned on trip so far: Do not attempt to bribe officials in foreign countries. Lesson # 12: When bribing officials in foreign countries, DO NOT hand over your passport! More lessons to come…

My Big Fat Greek Adventure: Part II

August 8, 2009

After one of the most uncomfortable 8 hour overnight bus rides of my life, we arrived in Athens, where we spent only a couple of hours (which was more than enough) and then took another overnight ferry to Ios. There were, however, no cattle aboard this vessel- at least that we were aware. We arrived at the port of Ios around 5am, with no accomodations booked- just a hope to find a room in a decent place- and if we were lucky, one with good indoor plumbing. To my surprise, I learned that the plumbing is actually pretty behind the times here in Greece, and all of the water on the islands is salt water- coming directly from the sea. This means that you cannot flush toilet paper down the toilet. This also means that the bathrooms are rather stinky! We ended up getting lucky and booking a room at Francesco’s, supposedly one of the best hostels on the island. After attempting to go out and have a good time, exhausted and burnt out from the craziness of Pink Palace, Rosimara and I finally decided to go to the store, buy some chocolate nutella and breadsticks and chow down on the porch of our hostel, overlooking the ocean. It was the perfect night! The next day we headed over to Naxos, another island, once again with no accomodations booked, but our hopes high. As we disembarked the ship, we were suddenly ambushed by a swarm of hotel workers each competing to sell us a room in their establishment. “You want room lady? How much you pay?” “No, don’t go with her, her room smelly, come with me, I give you good price, 20 Euros”. “I do better. 15 Euros and free breakfast….” Overwhelmed and not knowing what to do, I looked over at Rosimara for help and noticed her talking to a little old Greek lady wearing a housedress and a baseball cap. It turned out that “Mama”, as she called herself was offering a room in her house/pension, for only 10 Euros each! Unheard of. She even offered us 10 Euros as collaterol, saying that if we didn’t like the room, we could leave and keep the 10 Euros. Endeared by this sweet looking old lady, we decided to go with Mama. How bad could it be? Another lesson I’m learning on this trip is that if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. As we hiked to Mama’s pension, which was ‘only 5 minutes away’ (everything in Europe is ‘only 5 minutes away’), we noticed Mama stopping at several fruit stands and taking veggies, without paying for them. She explained that the stores leave out the rotten vegetables that they can no longer sell and that she was bringing some home for her chicken. Chicken??! Oh sh*t, where was she taking us? “Do you live on a farm?”, I asked her. She didn’t understand. Ok, just go with it (another motto we would repeat over and over again throughout the trip). When we finally arrived at the pension which, to our relief, was not a farm, we met Marios, a plump Bulgarian man with 3 teeth, much resembling Egor. Egor explained that he was living and working at the ‘pension’ and that he would be the go-to person if we needed anything, as Mama did not live on the premise. (Presumably, neither did her chicken). Since Mara had been feeling sick for the past week, we queried about a nearby medical center. “Oh, I can show you where the hospital is later tonight when I get off work at 11pm, and I can even take you around town then too”, offered Egor. Rosimara, looking at me with one eye blinking (did she have something in her eye, I wondered), replied, ‘Oh, my brother is coming to the island with his friends and may be meeting up with us later on.” Ah, I get it. Wink wink! Apparently Egor didn’t get it, since at precisely 11pm, there was a knock on our bedroom door. “Ok, I’m back, I can take you around town now and show you where the hospital is”. Egor. “Oh, thanks but we already found the hospital, but thanks anyway good night”. 10 minutes later, another knock. “YES??!!!”, I yelled, not hiding my exasperation. “Oh, its me again. I just wanted to let you girls know that I’m making a pot of coffee if you want to come up and have some”. Um, no thanks. I waited until I heard Egor walk upstairs, locked the door and then attempted to take a shower, which would be an adventure in and of itself. First, there was no hot water. Then, the handheld hose suddenly became possessed,jumped out of my hand and began violently shaking and gushing water. As I screamed, Rosimara called out to see if I was okay. Yup, its all good. Everything’s under control. Lemonade, I told myself, Lemonade! The next morning, another knock on the door. This time it was ‘Mama’ bringing us a plate of freshly cooked ..I don’t know what. Not wanting to be rude, we followed her upstairs to the kitchen where she served us each a plate of the mystery mush. Rosimara, looking as if she might vomit, politely excused herself, taking the plate with her. When she returned- with an empty plate- she explained to ‘Mama’ (who was deaf in one ear) that her phone had been ringing so she ran downstairs to get it, and while doing so, finished the ‘delicious breakfast’. Brilliant! Suddenly, for once, more concerned for my own well-being than ‘Mama’s’ feelings, I told her that I did not feel well and couldn’t eat a thing. “No problem”, said Mama, “I give to chicken”! That afternoon we hightailed it out of Mama’s place and caught a ferry to Mykonos, where I, Ms. City Girl, actally camped! In a tent! With bugs and stuff. Renee, you may be right. The city girl in me may be slowly slowly going, going… I have to admit that sleeping under the stars and waking up to the sounds of wild animals and fresh air was quite an experience. Of course later on when I would open my backpack only to find a giant bug living in one of my dresses, I would realize that the city girl in me still in fact lives on. (p.s. speaking of which, I miss my heels!!)

My Big Fat Greek Adventure: Part I Sailing with Cows

August 8, 2009

After parting ways with Jillian, Maria and Florence, Rosimara and I finally arrived in Bari, Italy just in time to catch our ferry to Corfu. As we walked to the deck where our 10 Euro “seats” awaited us, we joked about being stowaways and having to sit with the animals. Just as we finished having a good laugh, we heard an unmistakable sound coming from behind us, sounding much like a ‘moo’. As Rosimara returned after checking it out, the look on her face told me all I needed to know. We were in fact riding on board with cattle. Well, you get what you pay for, right? After having another good laugh, ’cause what else can you do, we decided to make the best of the situation. This was how we began using what has become the theme of our trip thus far, and that is, when given lemons, make lemonade! And we would be making lots of lemonade over the next few weeks. So, we had an 11 hour overnight boat ride among cattle on the deck of a cargo ship ahead of us and we were determined to make the best of the situation. And we did. We decided to sit on the deck and watch the sunset as it disappeared beyond the horizon along with my beloved Italy. Ciao Italia, I will miss you but I shall return! We then went to the ship’s one restaurant called the Trucker’s Lounge, which lived up to its name. After an inedible dinner, we headed back to the deck to relax, which we got to do for all of one hour until 2 truckers propositioned us, apparently mistaking us for hookers. After straightening them out and having another good laugh amongst ourselves, we resigned to the fact that we were not going to be getting a good night’s sleep on the deck of Trucker’s Central. Nonetheless, we grabbed 2 cardboard boxes, our towels, our bags and what was left of our dignity and made our ‘beds’. Sleeping with one eye open and a pair of scissors in between us, we ended up getting a total of 2 hours of sleep, before arriving at Corfu, where the Pink Palace bus was waiting to take us to our destination. How can I describe the Pink Palace? Hm. It was like the Pink Panther threw up all over a once beautiful beach resort on the Greek Islands and was taken over by MTV Spring Break and 100s of teenagers, a lot of nakedness, alcohol, booze cruises (yes, booze cruises), and other various forms of debauchery. Our decision to go to the Pink Palace began as a joke. Eventually Rosimara and I agreed it would be a hoot to stay there just for one night for a good laugh. Well, of course there ended up being a national ferry strike, and with no other means of leaving the island, we ended up getting stuck there for 4 nights. To both of our surprise, we ended up having a pretty good time at the Palace, in all its Pinkness. We in fact did go on the booze cruise, which despite the hedonistic debauchery surrounding us, ended up being rather pleasant and scenic. Rosimara dove off of a cliff and I went swimming in a bat cave…with bats. Considering I can’t swim, and I’m not a huge fan of bats, this was quite an accomplishment for me. During the boat ride, we were stopped by the coast guard. A few of us were asked by the captain to hide in the crawl space at the bottom of the boat to avoid being fined for having too many people aboard. Feeling a bit like Anne Frank, we waited patiently until the coast guard finally left and we were able to emerge from hiding. At the end of the day, as our boat pulled into the shore off of the Pink Palace, as I was attempting to climb down the ladder of the boat into the water, I tripped over my foot, did a flip and fell backwards, head first into the sea. All of the observers, or non-participants, watching the booze cruise pull in, most likely assumed I was another drunk girl falling off of a boat. Ironic, considering I was one of the only 2 sober ones aboard the love boat. Perfect ending to a perfect day!

Under the Tuscan Sun: Part II Florence and Venice July 17-21

August 4, 2009

So, after reuniting with Jillian, we all settled into our 6 bed dorm room at Plus Florence, where we stayed on the ‘plus girls’ floor- formally a female dorm, complete with hot pink walls and scented toilet paper. On the first day, we took a walk to the Piazzale Michelangelo, where we sipped wine and watched the most beautiful sunset- so beautiful that as the sun disappeared beyond the hills, all who watched, broke out into applause. It was a perfect moment. The next day we took a tour through a Tuscan market where we sampled fresh olives (which I still abhor, but ate anyway because I’m a trooper), dried tomatoes, cheese and wine- wine, at 10am. (that was a first, but not a last!). After the market, we took a walk to the Galleria del Academia where we saw the majestic David- even more impressive than the copy we saw at the Piazzale the night before.
The following day, Maria and Rosimara went to Rimini and Jillian and I took a day trip to Venice. Ah, beautiful Venice. We took a ferry ride down the Grand Canal- in the wrong direction and ended up in some town called Lido. We eventually found the correct boat and headed back into Venice where we had a lovely Italian lunch consisting of Gnocci Bolognese and Fragiolo, some of the best wine I have ever tasted. We then took a walk through the Jewish Ghetto which fueled my desire to visit Germany and Poland. Rosimara and I will be doing that in October. After lunch we met a very well toned Gondolier who introduced himself as Johnba, as in John the Baptist, who offered us a free gondola ride after his shift (which was tempting considering a gondola ride costs 75 Euros- that’s over $100), but sadly we had to turn him down, as the last train back to Florence was leaving at 6:30pm. Next time Jonba! On the train ride home we realized that our tickets were sin guarantia, or something, meaning that we did not have guaranteed seats, meaning that we would either be standing or sitting on the floor for the 3 hour train ride. Just when we began to almost feel sorry for ourselves, we met Mary from Ohio who was travelling with her 20 year old daughter (who was sleeping in the luggage rack… apparently they got screwed out of seats as well). Mary was a hoot! And she happened to have a bottle of wine with her which we cracked open and ended up having a blast! Thank you Mary from Ohio!

Under the Tuscan Sun: Part I July 12-17

August 4, 2009

So we flew from Madrid to Milan where Maria, Rosimara and I stayed with my friend Luca, who took us to a local Italian restaurant for our first (of many more to come) authentic Italian meals. Then he took us to an amazing open air club in Milan, which reminded me of a big Italian frat party (not that I’ve been to an Italian frat party.. or that they even have frats in Italy, but nonetheless, you get my drift…lots of outdoor bars and drunk people). Maria quickly made friends with a group of Italian guys- Guiseppe, Giovanni, Johnny, Stefano Giovanni- none of whom spoke a word of English- Maria doesn’t speak Italian either, but they didn’t seem to mind. We danced until 4am (again) and then headed back to Luca’s flat where we got a whole 2 hours of sleep before catching our train to Verona, where Matt would be picking us up to take us to our villa in Tuscany. Let me say that again.. our villa in Tuscany. So, we drove to our villa in Tuscany in Matt’s convertable with the top down and our scarves on our heads, much like the ladies of grey gardens. (Ok, we had our huge luggage bags on top of us and we were sweaty and tired, and probably smelled, so maybe not quite as glamourous but..) So, after making a quick stop for lunch in Bologna, where we had… you guessed it.. pasta bolognese.. we finally arrived in our beautiful villa where we went for a swim in the pool and had dinner in Guissepe and Marilena’s (the owners) little restaurant on the premise. Marilena agreed to allow us to watch her cook the following night, so we had a free Italian cooking lesson, where we learned to cook Spaghetti Carbonara and delicious biscotti (not that I cook, but if I should ever become domestic…) One day we drove through the hills of Tuscany- with the top down of course. How can I describe it? It was like a dream and I feel so blessed to have been able to do that! We visited the beautiful town of Sienna- one of the few cities so far that I would actually consider moving to. On our way back home, Maria and I sat in the back, singing along, on the top of our lungs (sorry Tuscany) to the Grease 2 soundtrack (Renee, I thought of you the whole time 🙂 So, after 5 relaxing days, we finally came to the end of our stay at Marilena’s villa and headed to Florence where we would be meeting up with Jillian- an amazing girl that Maria and I met at Pueblo Ingles. Florence, here we come!!