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An American in Paris

October 29, 2009

meI had come to realize that Barcelona had run its course and it was now time to move on. So I said my goodbyes (do they ever get easier?) and off I went. Destination: Paris. I realized that I chose not such an ideal time of year to visit the city of lights, where I envisioned myself snacking on wine and cheese while people watching along a charming little outdoor sidewalk café. I had also hoped to take advantage of the city’s brilliant bike rental system and bicycle my way around the districts getting wonderfully lost along the way and, perhaps, in a moment of temporary distress, a dashing Frenchman would notice my dilemma and stop to offer his assistance, which I thank him for, and he then takes me to a romantic dinner after watching the light show at the Eiffel tower… but I’m getting ahead of myself. Where was I? Ah, Paris in the fall. As soon as I arrived, I knew that I had, in fact, chosen the perfect time of year to visit Paris. Though, yes, it was a bit chilly. Too bad I left most of my warm clothes at Andreas’ flat in London. Too bad Andreas from London turned out to be a sociopath. Yet, once again, I digress. My first day in Paris, I checked into the St. Christopher’s Inn, where I met up with Patty, one of my fellow volunteers from Pueblo Ingles II who was at the beginning of her year long trip around the world. After checking in, Patty and I stopped at a market where we grabbed a bottle of cheap red wine, a couple of Baguettes and some cheese and had a little picnic besides what Patty had believed to be the Seine River. It turned out that it was not, in fact, the Seine, but rather a small, man-made quay, but the picnic was lovely all the same.  The next day, exhausted after being kept up all night by several teenagers dancing in the disco along with hostel’s very own DJ, we both happily agreed to check out and move to a nice little hotel on the other side of town.  Near the real Seine incidentally.  So we once again packed our backpacks and off we went. As we emerged from the metro, we looked up and standing proudly before us was the majestic Arc de Triumph which, pardon the pun, trumped the one in Barcelona. Now I felt like I was in Paris! Since this was Patty’s fourth or fifth time visiting Paris, and my first, I decided to leave the map reading and tour guiding in her capable hands.  After checking into our hotel, we decided to take a stroll along Champs Elysees, every now and then stopping and marveling at the sights before us. At one point, we came up to a large, impressive building that Patty informed me was the Louvre. I grabbed my camera and began madly snapping away, taking in the beauty of what stood before us, until Patty, after re-examining the map, realized that the Louvre was actually on the other side of the (real) Seine, and that the building standing before us was actually… well, we’re still not sure.  Later on, we finally came upon the real Louvre, which was even more majestic and impressive than the fake one. The next day, Patty, my capable tour guide, had to leave Paris to continue her trip around the world, and I was once again on my own. But not for long. I decided to go check out a local improv troupe which I had heard about. The two hour show was completely in French, and, being that I don’t speak French, I understood nothing.  But I did manage to meet an adorable Frenchman named Cedric whose English was as good as my French. After the show was over Cedric began to speak to me in French. I replied, “I have no idea what you’re saying but it sounds lovely.” When he looked at me blankly, my friends reminded him that I did not speak a word of French and, therefore, did not understand what he was saying. He then managed to ask me out in English. I said ‘oui’. We planned to meet the following afternoon. The next morning, before meeting with my new French friend, I ventured over to the Oops Hostel where my friend Angela, who was flying in from NY, was staying. As usual it was nice to see a familiar face and to be brought up to date on all that’s been happening in my home city. “So, what’s been going on? How is New York? What’s new there?” , I bombarded her, feeling like an ex-girlfriend checking up on her ex, secretly hoping to hear some good dirt. I suppose like any hung up ex, I was hoping to hear how much NY misses me and how it’s not the same without me. But, to my dismay, as if finding out that your long lost soul mate just became engaged to someone else, I learned that the heart of the city, in fact, beats on without me.


Twelve Angry Men (and women)

October 27, 2009

Today’s theme of the day: Anger. I began the day filled with excitement and anticipation. It would be one of my last in Barcelona and I had lots to do; places to see, people to be…Anyway, my agenda went as follows: Parc Guell in the afternoon with Juan, a fellow traveller from NY I had met the previous day; then, coffee with Lidia and Chus, 2 of the spanish students from Pueblo Ingles II; followed by a free meditation class I had stumbled upon during a quick internet search, (what is it they say, nothing is ever free?); and finally, if I still had the time and the will, a few hours at the Harlem Jazz Club later in the night.

Parc Guell: A Gaudi wonderland, with its winding paths, gingerbread houses, it resembled a sort of Alice in Wonderland meets Candyland. (Alice in Candyland?) It was a spectacular sight. In between marvelling at our fascinating surroundings and snapping photos of each other, we decided to take a break and grab a coffee at the ubiquitous tourist snack bar. The 2 men behind the counter, clearly not from Spain, were taking orders (or rather snapping orders) from the customers in line. The one guy, a short, angry looking little fellow with a large chip on his shoulder barked at me, “Can I help you?” I asked him about the type of coffee that was available: hot vs iced, cafinado vs descafinado. He quickly became frustrated when I didn’t order right away and decided to bypass me and move on to the next customer. Fair enough. However, when I had decided what I wanted, and nicely asked for his attention, he ignored me and continued to help the couple behind me. When the couple realized what was happening, they kindly informed him that “Ella esta proxima” (she was next). He then became even nastier towards me. At that moment, my patience and kindness beginning to dissolve, I turned to the poor couple behind me and said, “Como se dice ‘asshole’?” The gentleman in the couple, so taken aback with my comment, timidly responded, ‘um, asshole.” I thanked him, and being the bigger person, purchased my coffee and told the asshole to have a nice day.
Later on that afternoon, as we left the park and headed back to the center of town, where I was to meet up with Lidia and Chus, Juan offered to walk with me (or rather invited himself to walk with me). Throughout the day, and even during our first acquaintance, I had noticed an edge to Juan which I simply chalked up to him being a naturally cynical, yet harmless New Yorker. Nothing wrong with that. However, during our walk, when we began to talk more about our lives, his apparent harmless cynicism seemed to turn into something a little scarier. He was talking about his last job that he didn’t enjoy and from which he was fired because, according to him, his boss didn’t like him. I then innocently asked, “Were you glad, or relieved in some way to be fired since you didn’t really like the job?”. At this point, he looked at me as if I had just asked him if he enjoyed microwaving puppies, and shouted, loudly, “WAS I GLAD?? OF COURSE I WAS GLAD….MY BOSS HATED MY GUTS!!!”. Gee, I can’t imagine why. It was at that moment, that I realized it was time to say goodbye to angry Juan, and to all angry, toxic people that I may come upon, because there have been too many, and life is too short! But I digress.
Finally, after a day filled with angry outbursts and negative vibes, I was more than ready for my free meditation class. The class would take place at the apartment of a woman named Alicia, who is a … well, I’m still not quite sure what she is, but the class was free so…. When I arrived, Alicia greeted me with a hug and a warm welcome and told me that it was a pleasure to have me in her home. I then entered her living room where 4 other souls awaited their fate. I mean, free class. Alicia began the session by going around the room asking everyone the definition of yoga. When one of the students apparently got the answer wrong, Alicia snapped at her, “No!! That is not what yoga is. Did you read this week’s assignment at all?” The poor student looked terrified and didn’t respond. I prayed that since it was my first class Alicia would bypass me, especially since I didn’t read any of the ‘assignments. What was this? Anyway, she continued lecturing and at one point asked me if I understood her since she was speaking in Spanish. I proudly exclaimed that I understood almost everything! At this point she exclaimed, “Almost?? No!! You can’t understand almost. You have to understand EVERY WORD! This is important material, and you cannot only understand some of it. If you miss even one word, you are missing the entire essence!!” I was now shaking on my meditation pillow. “Laura, please sit next to Allison and translate to her in English.” So Laura sat next to me and translated while I silently plotted my exit. 3 hours later (because I was too scared of Alicia to leave early), the ‘class’ was finally over and Alicia thanked me for coming and reminded me to purchase my 108 bead mala, and to make sure to count the beads before I buy it because it MUST have 108 beads, not 104!! I dutifully agreed, thanked her, and then got the hell out of there. Life lesson #57: (and this one deserves to be repeated) Nothing is ever free!!

Spanglish 2 …continued

October 23, 2009

So my second program with Pueblo Ingles turned out to be just as fabulous an experience as the first, just with a different cast of characters. For instance, we had Dominique, the sexy frenchman, Mikel, the Spanish player, and our very own Heidi Fleiss. And many more, upon which I shall expand at a later time. Since we were situated in the middle of nowhere, our program director decided to take us on an excursion during the week, to another abandoned town a few miles away from Valdallevilla. We were informed that as this was an abandoned village, there would not be any shops, or any other signs of civilization; however, there would be mobile service! So, after about an hour’s worth of hiking up the mountain, we finally reached the old village. At this point almost everyone on the hike pulled out their mobile devices, frantically pointing them towards the sky, begging for a signal from the gods, in hopes of connecting with the outside world. Poor Amelia, our hard-working tour guide had to postpone her lecture while everyone reconnected with their long lost real lives.

The rest of the week proved to be fulfilling and unforgettable. Friendships would be formed and connections made that would stay with us for a long time. Unfortunately, as do all good things, this too, had to come to an end. So we said our goodbyes (in English) and parted ways. After spending only 1 evening in Madrid, I decided to continue my love affair with Barcelona, so I boarded a plane and off I went. After arriving in Barcelona at 1am, I headed to Barceloneta beach where my friend Bea, at whose place I would be crashing, would be meeting me. High on xanax (from the flight) and 8 days of non-stop talking, all I wanted to do at this point was sleep. That would not happen. When I met up with Bea, she was in the happy company of Dan, a cheeky Brit and Dan’s 2 friends Carlos and Juan (whose names have been changed to protect the innocent) and who, I would come to find out later on, were former workers for a Columbian drug cartel under the guise of pizza makers, and who were now selling real estate in Barcelona. Okie dokie. So, despite my protests, sleep would have to wait. The rest of the night would be spent dancing until the clubs shut down and sitting on the beach waiting impatiently for the sun to make her appearance. (After which, I would once again begin my hopeless search for an American diner in Europe…What do they say the definition of insanity is?: Repeating the same thing over and over again, each time hoping for a different outcome? Hm) So, the madness of Barcelona would begin (or resume), and this night would mark the beginning of Barcelona Part III. Stay tuned for more.

¨The Galway Girl¨: Ireland, Sept 2- Sept 16

September 24, 2009

Well, my solo adventure would not yet begin, as I met Susie, one of the sweetest girls Ive ever met, at my hostel in Dublin. Susie was from DC, but emigrated from China when she was 12, so not yet completely immersed in American culture, which could have something to do with her sweetness. In the same hostel, I met Marike, a lovely German girl of 20 who like to roll her own tobacco. So, an Asian, a Jew and a German walked into a bar… Actually, the 3 of us would walk into several Irish bars over the course of the next week, until Marike had to leave us and return to her native Germany. But Susie and I werent alone for long as we soon met Jen, a brilliant musician from Buffalo, NY, and the three of us would decide to continue our travels together through the great Emerald Isle. First stop, Galway. Remember the movie, ¨PS I Love You¨?. Well much of that took place in this beautiful city of Galway, located on the west coast of Ireland. And it was just as beautiful as it was in the movie. While there, we saw the Cliffs of Mohar, featured in ¨The Princess Bride¨, saw lots of cows and sheep, watched more traditional Irish dancing, and most exciting of all, I rode a Rickshaw. Not in the back as a passenger..I actually drove it, somehow managing not to mow over any innocent pedestrians, yet perpetuating the stereotype of the loud, obnoxious American tourist. Nonetheless, we had the craic! (Thatś Irish speak for ´fun´). During our week in Galway, we became regulars at a bar called the Quay. We returned to the Quay mainly for the atmosphere as well as the band. One night after the pub closed, the band invited us and a few people back to their flat. We agreed and the next thing I knew, we were sitting in the back of a van, the back door shutting behind us. Ok, this should be interesting, we thought. And it was a great night. We spent the night jamming on the guitar and discussing music. At one point, the guitaristś flatmate gave Jen a tour of the ¨greenhouse¨, where apparently he was growing his own special kind of greens. Ok, dont wanna know about that, thank you. At about 3 am, we finally left the house of green leaves and headed back to our hostel, but not before stopping at Supermacś (Irelandś McDonalds), in front of which about 300 drunken Irish teenagers gathered . Guess they were hungry too. The next day we left Galway and headed to the southeast of Ireland to the city of Cork, where we would spend a few days before heading back to our homebase of Dublin, which was exactly as we left it. Ah, Ireland. I could live here….if only it had a roof.

¨Trainspotting¨: Scotland and Ireland with mom, August 26- Sept 2

September 23, 2009

Scotland: So, where did I leave off? Italy. So, after my overnight adventure at Milan Malpensa airport, I finally arrived in Edinburgh where mom, who had come to meet me in Europe for a holiday, patiently waited for me. We checked into our hotel and got ready before hitting the fringe circuit. To my pleasant surprise, we had brilliantly timed our trip to Edinburgh. It was right in the midst of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, one of the biggest cultural and artistic festivals in the world. Our first night, me, mom and my friend Tal, whom I met on the plane, attended a free comedy show, at which we were the only 3 people in the audience! (Guess thatś why it was free). Before the show started, Sarita, the seemingly friendly MC, insisted that we sit in the front row. Normally I would never subject myself to the front row of a stand up comedy show, however, we were too scared to object so we did as we were told. First question aimed at us: where are you from? Ok, here we go. These are the moments I wish I were Canadian. So after some good old America bashing, Sarita began to get personal. Suddenly she wasnt so friendly anymore. She inquired into momś marital status and she asked me if I was a natural blond. Now, that crossed the line. Leave my hair out of this! After being sufficiently humiliated at one comedy show, we continued the masochism and attended another the following night. Papa CJ was one of the comics from the first night and we thought the small bit that he did was so good, we wanted to return and see his full show. First question of Papa CJś show, ¨Any Americans in the audience?” When that was followed by silence, he reassured us, ¨Its okay, we like you now. After 8 years, welcome back!” This made us feel better so we sheepishly revealed our identity. ¨Did you vote for Obama?¨, Papa CJ asked us. As mom (an admitted Republican) tried to disappear in her chair, I replied, ¨Well, I did!” That got a laugh out of the audience, as well as Papa CJ who saw that as his chance to do a few Bush jokes and some Republican bashing, unfortunately at the expense of my mom. Sorry mom, but it is time to see the light :). Overall it was a great night in the city. The following day we went on a tour of Scotland. We went to the highlands, saw the Loch Ness (but no monster), ate Potato Leek soup at a little Scottish restaurant, and finally arrived back in Edinburgh where we packed our things in preparation for our trip to Ireland the following day.

Ireland: The moment I arrived in Dublin, I felt as if I were home. After almost 3 months of travelling in over 5 different countries and countless cities, this was the first place that truly called to me. I dont know if it was the greenery, or the Irish accent, or the friendliness, or the Irish accent…but there was something about Ireland, and I would end up spending the next 2 weeks there. But more about that later. On our first day, mom and I attended a world cultural festival right on the outskirts of Dublin where they offered various natural and homeopathic services and products. We treated ourselves to a 30 minute Reflexology session (aka, a really good foot massage), ate a chocolate and marshmellow crepe (pure heaven), watched some Tango dancing and did some fair trade shopping. Chocolate, massage, shopping.. does it get any better than? Later that night, we went to see some traditional Irish dancing, which was just fascinating to watch. Before we knew it a week had passed and it was time to say goodbye. So mom headed back to the states and I returned to my gypsy adventures. After 3 months of travelling with various travel partners, with mom, and staying with friends, I would now begin my journey, for the first time this trip, alone. And I was scared.

The Terminal: Israel to Edinburgh via Milan. August 15-25th

September 19, 2009

Ok, where did I leave off? Ah, Israel. So during my stay in Israel, I visited Jerusalem where we visited the Western Wall, the holiest site in the world. Being a somewhat cynical New Yorker who never really embraced religion, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, when I arrived to the site and began walking towards the wall I was overwhelmed with an indescribable sensation that rippled through my body- more spiritual than physical- and I was overcome with emotion. It is true what they say- there is something about that spot in the world and by feeling it, I now believe it. The rest of my two weeks in Israel would be spent discussing and reflecting on religion and God and spirituality and all that good stuff, and I would make the decision to sign up for that 10 day Vipassana silent meditation retreat that I discussed earlier. I’m usually up for a challenge and thought this may be a good one, not to mention being good for the soul. So, I confirmed my participation and decided to do it. Until I read the terms and conditions: “For 10 full days, no speaking, no eye contact, no physical contact, no reading, writing, snacking, smoking, no wearing of clothing that could be distracting to the opposite sex” (no I am not making that up, that is an actual rule). Furthermore, the schedule would include waking up at 4:30am to begin meditating until 9:30pm when we would retire to our rooms for sleep. So, I decided my soul was okay as it was and cancelled my reservation. I will meditate in silence at another time. So, after a total of two weeks in the beautiful holy land, I finally said goodbye to Meital and her family and headed off to Scotland where my mom (who I finally convinved to leave the country) would be waiting for me. Unfortunately there weren’t any direct flights from Israel to Scotland, so I had to make a stopover in Milan. Even more unfortunate was the fact that I ended up missing my connecting flight in Milan. More unfortunate still….the next flight wasn’t until the following day. So, I would spend the night in the Milan Malpensa airport. Ok, this could be an adventure, I thought. Who knows who I’ll meet or what I’ll experience. First stop, ATM machine, cause you can’t do much in the airport without a bit of cash. Next stop- food, cause what else are you gonna do in the airport. Then, a trip to the airport bookstore where I would buy the latest UK issue of Glamour and a cheap mystery novel (the only book available in English). So, throughout the day, I ate, drank coffee, wrote, window shopped, read UK Glamour about 3 times, met a taxi driver who invited me out to a spaghetti dinner – who I respectfully turned down-, was yelled at by a bathroom attendant for taking too long in the stall (lady, have you HAD airport food?!), and spent the rest of the day scouting out a location for sleep. Milan Malpensa airport is pretty large. There are at least 3 floors in Terminal 2, so lots of sleeping options. As it began to get a bit late, I approached a couple of nice looking airport security officers to see if they had any suggestions as to where I should sleep. Maybe there was a secret dorm or some really comfy couches somewhere that I wasn’t aware of. “Bonjourno Senor. I’m hoping that you could help me. I’m going to be spending the night here and I was wondering if you had any suggestions as to where I should sleep.” The nice gentleman exchanged some words with each other in Italian and finally replied, “Yes, Madam, you can go downstairs to the tourist information desk and they can give you a listing of places.” Oh, he thinks I mean a hotel. Silly man. “No, sir, you don’t understand. I don’t need a hotel. I will be sleeping here in the airport and was wondering if you could point out any comfortable sleeping spots.” Blank stare. “Oh. Um, you could try the second floor, by check-in”, he replied. “Oh great, thank you so much. Bonjourno!” Ooh, what’s on the second floor I wondered? Nothing. Just a bunch of chairs, which normally would work; however, these were the chairs with the armrests in between them, making it impossible to lie across them, unless you contorted your body in just the right position, getting your legs either under or over the armrests, which I did. I lasted about an hour until I noticed some dodgy looking character pacing back and forth one too many times. That’s when I decided to try the 1st floor. It was much more crowded and I think I remember seeing what looked like big comfy chairs outside of a restaurant. I was right. There were big chairs in front of a restaurant (which was now closed, being it was the middle of the night), but they were not comfy. Nonetheless, I made the best of it and ended up falling into a deep sleep in a somewhat bearable position. Until I was awoken by buzzing. A fly kept buzzing in my ear. I swapped it away, yet it kept coming back until I finally woke up and realized I was swarmed by flies! It didn’t make sense until I remembered that I had finished the bag of caramel popcorn that Meital packed for me right before I fell asleep and the flies must have smelled it. Oy. Oh well, its almost 5am, I have to wake up soon anyway. This time I will NOT miss my flight! Scotland, here I come.

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!