Two Roads Diverged

Life is all about choices – so which choice is coming next?

Talk About Your Emotional Gamut

I guess this is what it must feel like to be pregnant.
Or hormonal.
Or like a girl who’s learning stick shift.

The last week has been my first week driving the stick (name still to be decided).

Alone

And man, it got driven a lot. Several hours worth of distance every day.

And during those hours: my emotions swung everywhere.

Emotional gambit, swinging emotions, emotion meter

And most days went a little something like this:

Get out of the driveway.
Cheer!
Wait at the stop sign to cross two lanes of traffic.
Fidget, body tenses
Make it to the freeway safely.
Happy!
Shift onto the freeway, guy behind me tailgates as I shift too slowly.
Wince
Navigate the freeway.
Ecstasy!
Have to get off the freeway for some reason (gas, destination, etc.).
Get to stop sign/stoplight.
Nervous

Light turns Green.
stall
Anxious
Restart, let foot off clutch.
stall
The car behind me honks.
Start panicking
Somehow get the car started.
Get through that intersection.
Get stopped at a light.
Stall
Another car honks.
Burst into tears

Most of last week I stalled at least 3 times a day.
And burst into tears at least once a day. (I swear I don’t cry that much!)

It all culminated into Friday, I jumped in the car, headed off to work.

I was parked a bit differently and was going to have to navigate a bit more to get out of the driveway. Now, our driveway is relatively flat at the top, drops off on one side, and the drive is a good 70O angle. So I didn’t want to go off the edge, and I didn’t want to be trying to navigate the steep drive.

When my turning angles weren’t quite what I wanted them to be (damn you geometry!), I tried to go back to start over.

I turned too sharply, and the right front tire went over the edge.

Cue the tears.

Crying

If only I was this adorable when I cried! Ah, lost youth…

A quick phonecall to my dad – a turn of the steering wheel, and the right wheel was able to grab onto concrete and pull me back onto the driveway.

Completely shaken, I took my dad’s car. Loving the automatic, and not having to shift, I was able to calm down.

But just as many of you claimed I would, I missed the shifting. I can’t say I missed the control, which I hadn’t gotten yet, I didn’t even miss the gas mileage, which I hadn’t calculated yet.

I can’t honestly tell you what I missed. But when my mom suggested I stop driving the stick, I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t just the desire to learn (or ‘stubborness to learn’ I guess I should say), but there’s something about the car that I liked.

So I returned to the stick.

And for three days now I’ve been relatively stall free! (Only twice in three days!)

I can HEAR the engine changes. I’m starting to understand the shifting.

It’s falling into place!

But my emotions are still all over the place. No more crying – but panic. That’s definitely still there.

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Reverting to 16 Years Old

New Driver

Day 1
“Why are you wearing flip flops?” asks Dad.
“Well, I drive barefoot.”
“Your feet will get tired.”
“I’ll handle it.”

Dad and I jumped in the car, and he drove us to the church parking lot.

“It’s like I’m 16 and learning to drive again!” I joke.
“Well, you are learning to drive. A stick shift,” says my ever-logical father.

I lol'd.  This is me. Viking hat included.

I lol’d. This is me. Viking hat included.

He starts the process of explaining how the clutch works – what it does for the engine. Technical talk to fill up my brain.

I push in the clutch, and turn on the car.

“Ok, push the accelerator and let’s bring it up to 2,000 rpm. Listen to the engine, hear what 2,000 sounds like. Then slowly let off the clutch.”

I listen. I let off.

We jerk.

“Ok, let’s do it again.”

We try that for a while. Lots of jerking.

“Ok, let’s try something different.” He puts on the e-brake. “Let off the clutch, we’re looking for the slip. Feel the slip of the clutch.”

I feel it. We take off the brake, and try to let go of the clutch, and push on the accelerator; simultaneously.

The engine dies.

“That’s ok. Again.”

The engine dies.

We keep trying. As the engine dies for the 250th million time, hot tears spill down my cheeks. I pretty much am a 16-year-old-frustrated-at-learning-to-drive-and-not-being-perfect-at-it again.

“Don’t get frustrated,” my father calmly says.

Yeah, I’ll work on that…

“Ok, pull into a parking spot. Right, good. We’re going to go in reverse. Now the engine power is lower in reverse. You can’t let go of the clutch, you have to slip the clutch. Let’s just go in reverse for a while.”

And it finally starts to make sense. I feel what slipping the clutch is! I’m going backwards, the car’s not dying!!!!

“Ok, good. You feel it? Right. Let’s go forward now.”

And now, I can go forward! We’re not dying! Sure, I’m jerking at least half the time, but I’m not killing the engine!

“Ok, let’s go out of the parking lot. We’ll turn up the street and go up to the Smith’s house the next street up.”

Attempt to pull out of the parking lot: successful
Going up the hill: successful
Turn onto the next street: successful

“Let’s stop, we’re going to practice e-brake stop and start to go up a hill.”

I stop on the hill. Pull the e-brake. Clutch and accelerator. Release e-brake. Engine dies.
Repeat. Car rolls back.
Repeat. Engine dies.

“Maybe this wasn’t the best idea,” dad ponders.

We eventually, eventually get over the hill, and then safely back to the church lot.

Dad takes over from there and we drive home.

That night is filled with dreams of clutch failing on steep hills at a stoplight with cars behind me…

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Accident Update

Turns out the driver who hit me at the end of November wasn’t insured.

But that’s why you get your own insurance, to take care of things like that.

As I wait for my insurance to finally come through (they’re usually really good – guess they’re all just gone during the holidays…), good luck came through again.

While looking for a new car (and by “new” I of course mean “not new”) I’ve been checking ebay, autotrader, Kelly bluebook, etc.

And I was flabbergasted by how much the cars were! What happened to all those stories of people who got pretty good cars (aka: it got them from point A to point B) for under $1000?! It didn’t seem like it was going to be possible!

Then my mom heard about a teacher at school who was selling his car. A 2000 Oldsmobile. 150,000 miles. $750.

Who doesn't love the dramatic glamor shots?

Who doesn’t love the dramatic glamor shots?

My parents tried it, they liked it.

The best thing about it? (And why couldn’t I try it?)

It’s a stickshift.

Why am I so excited?

One of my life goals: learn to drive a stick.

When did this become a really important life goal?

When I tried to rent cars in Greece, and we couldn’t because none of us drove a manual. Ooph.

I’m definitely a “things happen for a reason” person. So while I lost my first car, I gain another. And an added plus: new skills.

Tomorrow I learn how to drive a stick.

Tomorrow you might want to stay off the roads…

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Santa Doesn’t Always Fly In a Sleigh

Flying Santa!

An early morning departure saw me sitting in the Charlotte airport, devouring a Cinnabon, and wishing I liked coffee.

When they announced our flight would be late (of course), the grumbling passengers settled down to wait, and to chat.

And that’s when he introduced himself.

Santa Clause

And his wife!

The Clauses

A lovely couple that lives in Charlotte, they spend their year waiting for Christmas.

For Christmas, their house becomes the talk of the town – and “Santa” dresses up (in his own homemade suit!) and goes visiting hospitals, malls, families, you name it, he visits it.

And his wife does it all at his side. She’s there every step of the way!

But the best stories he had to tell? Well this guy plays Santa all year long. When he goes on plane rides, children will ask him if he’s Santa.

“I listen to the conversations they have with their parents. Like this one boy, I heard his mother call to him – so I got his name. Then she had mentioned they were going, ‘home to Detroit’. So when the little boy came up to me and asked who I was, I said, ‘Well James, don’t you worry, I won’t miss you in Detroit!’”

Needless to say, kids go nuts!

On another flight some kids were whispering together and pointing and looking at him. Suddenly the flight attendant walked up, sat on his lap with a, “Santa, I already sent you my letter. Just wanted to give you the heads up!” and walked away.

Stories like this always make me so happy! I imagine how excited those kids must’ve been to “have Santa on THEIR flight!”

And I got to end up with him and his wife on mine.

Sure, they doesn’t have flying reindeer, but what they did have was a giving spirit.

What’d they give to me? An invitation that anytime I’m back in Charlotte I simply must come over for dinner and a visit.

What better gift could you ask for?

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Budget Travel: Sometimes You Get What You Pay For

Like any traveler, I have my favorite websites for cheap flights (namely Skyscanner). But sometimes… well sometimes you cheat on your favorite sites…

When searching for my return flights during Christmas, I found ones on CheapOAir for $500 less than anywhere else I’d seen!

Now numbskull me didn’t notice as I pressed the “purchase” button that the website had reset to 7 days later, rather than the original 7 months later I had set.

So that $500 saved? Yeah, spent it changing the ticket.

Did I learn my lesson? Well…

My parents then planned the cruise, which started out of Venice. And just happened to end one day before my return flight to Cali, which flew out of Athens.

No biggie – found round-trip tickets (Athens à Venice) on a budget website (that was not through skyscanner). I was going to arrive at 9 pm in Athens, and my flight out of Athens left at 7 the next morning.

So on my last weekend in Greece, I moved my things to one of the apartments. Made plans with my roommates who were staying behind. I was going to spend the night there, since I had a layover time allowing for a pretty good night’s rest, and then leave early the next morning.

Easy squeezy lemon peezy (as all the Greek kids like to say).

But then Murphy looks up from his law books and decides that things just aren’t going his way!.

So 2 days before I fly to meet my folks, the budget website emails me to say that my tickets have been changed to 2 days earlier; a date when I won’t be able to fly because I’ll be in the middle of the ocean!

I frantically call them (as this is my last chance for normal internet).

An hour and a half long phone wait (on Skype!) finally gets me talking to a person. We take about another half hour to work it out, but I do manage to change my tickets.

So the cruise ends, we all get off the ship.

And now I’m stuck in Venice all day with all my luggage until about 9 pm.

I arrive in Athens at 2am.

I jump on a bus. Jump off the bus. Find a taxi. Take a taxi.

Arrive at old roomates’ apartment around 3. Chat for a bit (my poor tired roommates!), grab my stuff, walk to a bus stop, catch a taxi to the airport bus stop, and catch the 4am bus so I can get to the airport at 5.

The nice night’s sleep I was planning? Didn’t happen.

But the plus side?

Not sleeping all night ensured that passed out once I got on that plane!

Another plus side?

That although I didn’t get any sleep, I did get through security SO much faster than in Israel!.

(Also: I hate to admit it – but I’ll probably cheat on favorite website again in the future – oh the bargain hunter in me…)

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Jordan – or rather “Jordans”

Our second weekend in Israel was the weekend of Greek Easter, so Katie had left on Friday to return to Jerusalem, and Saturday Evie and I continued on to Amman, to experience more of Jordan.

We hadn’t been able to find a couchsurfing host for Amman, so figured that once we got to the city, we’d find an internet café, check out a hostel, and make our way from there. So we got on the bus, sat down to relax, and waited to arrive in Amman.

But as often happens with me, it couldn’t be a quiet bus ride. The man sitting across from us turns to us at the beginning of the journey and asks,
“What is the definition of thinking?”

Huh?

Needless to say, this was a unique enough start-up line that we fell into conversation with him. He was a Jordanian who’d studied in England (hence his great English), and now worked in Saudi, but was home to visit his family. We chatted politely with him for a while, then I put my head against the window to signal naptime, and Evie hung her head over her book.

But it couldn’t be done with that. At the rest stop, the man asks Evie where we’re staying. Panicking, she says, “Oh, I don’t know, Jill knows.” She runs back to the bus, warns me of the impending question, and I quickly throw my head back against the window to feign sleep.

We make it to the city without any more conversation, get out of the bus, and are immediately set upon by a large number of taxi drivers. Each demands a different price and different place, while Evie and I say, “We just want to go to an internet café!!”

The man comes to our rescue. Quickly speaking in Arabic, he finds us a taxi driver who’ll take us to an internet café.

“May I ride with you?” he asks.

… yeah, I guess so.

On the way he asks where we’re staying.

“Uh… with our friend… Adam!” The name wasn’t random. Our previous host, Ghassab, DID have a friend Adam in the city, but Adam wasn’t able to host us; but the man didn’t know that. “We just have to use the Internet to find out where he lives.”

But the man followed us into the internet café. Eventually the problem arose that he was offering to help us get a taxi to Adam’s house. We felt the charade was up.

“Oh! Just got an email from Adam, guess he can’t host us… ok Evie, I’ll look up some hostels now!”

Well at this response, the man, who we’ve learned is named Jaafer (yes, like Aladdin’s “Jafar”!), he immediately offers suggestions of good places he knows to stay at, etc.

“No, it’s cool. Thanks though – we’re just looking for what’s cheap.”
“Cheap? I’d like to find a cheap place too!”
“Um… well, see we’re looking at hostels. You know, dorm type rooms.”
“You said cheap? Well, let me know if you find anything good.”

Of course we did. 10 dinar a night at the Jordan Tower. Right downtown, good reviews on hostelworld, it seemed great.

“So, do you girls mind if I go with you to this place? I’d get my own room! But I just don’t have a place to spend the night either.”

Completely tired, dirty, wanting nothing but a shower that we haven’t had for four days, our response of course is:
“Dude – we can’t stop you from doing anything. If you want to come, then you’re going to come.”

So he came.

As luck would have it – the hostel was completely full! Except for one female room – which Evie and I immediately pounced on – and one bed in a 6 man dorm.

Jaafer hadn’t understood what we’d meant by hostel apparently. He kept asking the front desk people about single rooms, what else was available, etc. When they assured him that all they had left was that one spot, he decided he was going to look elsewhere.

Evie and I, not really caring what happened to him, grabbed our stuff and ran for our room.

We showered, felt clean for the first time in days, and happily ran downstairs to jump on the wi-fi.

And ran into Jaafer.

“The other hostels around here don’t look as nice. So I’m going to wait a bit to see if a room opens, if it doesn’t I think I’ll just take that last bed!”

Oh. Great.

Not able to escape our Jordanian clinger, we ended up going with him out to find dinner.

We ate at a good restaurant, and when invited by Jaafer to go out for hookah, decided, what the heck, and went to spend more time with him.

During our talk over hookah we found out that not only had we misjudged him (he really was not a creeper like he seemed to be), but also found out a lot about the Jordanian culture as he was very open about answering any questions we had. The guy traveled a lot for work, and didn’t often get to meet new people, or even hang out with his own friends. He was divorced, but his kids lived in Jordan, while he lived in Saudi. Essentially, he reminded me a bit of Stefanos, my first Greek encounter. Just a nice man, who wanted to hang out with some cool, young (being female didn’t hurt) people.

We ended up having an interesting night learning about his family, and even having him tell our fortunes from comments we gave about animals, water, and our favorite color.

The next day we split ways as he flew home to Saudi. And Evie and I decided to explore Amman, but very casually – only visiting one ancient site. (After visiting 9,000 year old Petra, having a medieval fortress just didn’t seem as exciting.)

Roman Theater – old (but not as old as Petra!)

While wandering around the markets I had my next encounters with Jordanian men – and it involved a lot of comments.

I was dress in jeans, tennis shoes, a long-sleeved, black, button-up shirt, with a scarf wrapped around my neck. But by the amount of, “HEY GIRLS!” ,“Helllllllo ladies!”, and even a, “Nice bosoms!”, you’d have thought I was naked!

Needless to say, I was rather uncomfortable with the city.

We eventually made our way up to Rainbow Street (the university area), and it was completely different. No comments, no notice, nothing.

And it occurred to me that what I had experienced wasn’t the representation of the city.

The rest of our time in Amman was quiet. Pizza, more hookah, ice cream, even more hookah, and just wandering around the rest of the city.

Melon hookah!


More hookah!

My overall view of Amman? It was an interesting city, not my favorite of all the places we went. But I also didn’t have an insider’s view – so I think it’s a city I’ll have to give a second chance sometime later in life.

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You’re just SO ________

Insert one of two words: American. Californian.

I’ve been getting that a lot the past week! But, granted, the last two weekends I’ve really felt it for the first time.

Last weekend found Courtney, Shelly, and myself, in the beautiful peninsula of Pelion, a famous vacationing area to the Greeks. Literally everyone (and I mean ‘literally’) we told that we were going to Pilio said, “It’s SO beautiful! You’re going to love it!” Again, not that it’s that hard to get people to tell you somewhere in Greece is beautiful, but the emphatic way they said it was definitely a sure sign.

We arrived at the bus at 6 in the morning – as it was a 5 hr ride we wanted to capitalize on our time there. Surprisingly we were not the only ones there – it was going to be a full bus!

Unsurprisingly: we were the only ones with stuffed backpacks. Everyone else had nice little roller suitcases. We had backpacks and camera packs.

The ride was uneventful (unlike my last bus ride…) and we made it to Volos in great time. Volos is the hub city of Pelion. It sits in the harbor mouth, and it’s from there that you rent cars, take buses, etc. We grabbed a bus schedule to see what villages we could go to.

Everyone had warned us that you could only SEE Pilio by car. And they were right. It seemed like the schedule had been purposefully made to not be able to go to more than one village! Every bus returned right after another one left – or there were only two buses per day – one in and one out!

With that knowledge now secured, we went in search of a rental place. Having no idea where to go – we followed the logical route: to the city center!

We came across one a lot sooner than we expected! And what do you know; it was a Hertz rental place! We got the info: €40 per 150 km (what?!), plus gas. So follows our interaction:

Ok, ok, we’ll try and handle that.
-Passport?
… Oh! Yay – Courtney remembered to bring one!
-Great. Credit card?
… did you bring one? No. You? No. You neither?
-Oh, it’s needed for a €750 euro charge, in case we need to cover expenses. It’s returned as soon as the car is returned.
Shelly happens to have a debit card! After a quick discussion with the car lady – it’s determined that they can use it since Shelly *Promises!* that she has enough to cover it if anything happens.
-Great.
Courtney: So which car will we get? Which one is the automatic?
-… automatic?… We don’t have any automatics…
Wait. What? None of us know how to drive stick…
-… Americans… no rental places in Volos have automatic!

Well, that settled our “let’s rent a car” debate. So we ended up with: no car.

We rushed back to the bus station, a little crushed, but spirits lifted knowing we can catch the next bus to Makrinitsa. A popular village known for its historical buildings being preserved so that you feel like you have been thrown back in time.

(Definitely beautiful – and to ruin the ending a little bit, we spent our whole weekend just in Makrinitsa rather than village hopping, but it was BEAUTIFUL!)

The bus dropped us off a ways outside the village (it’s a pedestrian village). We hiked up the road, backpacks swayin’, and no clue which way our hotel was. Every couple shops we’d stop in, “Do you know where the hotel Si-si-lee-aaa-nou… is?”

We wandered further and further, finding our way to the cobbled streets, the small church, the plateia with a view of the whole valley. But still no hotel.

Just a little bit later, we stumbled into a shop. “The sisilianou? Yes! Look to your right – that black chalkboard 2 doors up? That’s it!”

Hotel SisilianouAnd what do you know – there it was! So we rush up the path, up the stairs, and into our 17th century Mansion hotel! Needless to say, it was beautiful and AWESOME! We checked in, and the manager gave us our key, so we could come and go as we pleased.

“Where should we go?” we asked, expecting some good tips.
“Go explore. That’s how you get to know a place!”
“Oh… ok!”

We explored for a little while, before realizing that we really had no idea where to go since we were just stumbling onto people’s houses. So we went back to the hotel, to check the internet (of course!).

Get up to the door, insert the key.

And nothing happens. For 10 minutes we try to unlock the door. Finally we have to buzz the manager to come let us in! (We were just glad it happened 4 in the afternoon rather than 11 o’clock at night!)

Using the Internet, we found some recommended hiking trails and started out again.

Of course, looking at google maps and being on the ground: totally different. After 3 false trail starts, we finally settle on one trail. One of the many trails we took (Makrinitsa in the background) We went down, down, down the mountain, along a dirt path. Finding side trails we’d climb up a little bit, then keep going down. We stumbled into a glen at one point – saw a horse grazing, and realized we were totally trespassing on private property! So, fearing shotguns (for we’d seen some shells on the ground), we left, and started back up the hill.

An uneventful hike up – except for almost being run over by mountain bikers (another clue that tourists don’t normally venture the way we did – they were quite surprised and apologetic!).

We found a beautiful spring farther up the road, followed it up, and came upon some students, sitting on the rocks, drinking and eating. They called to us in Greek, we came up, and they realized we didn’t speak much Greek.

No problem, this is Greece – everybody speaks English if they’re a student! :)

They were drinking homemade Tsipouro (kind of like ouzo – aka, tastes like licorice, but much better than ouzo, since I’m not a black licorice fan). Shelly declined, Courtney declined. But who didn’t decline?

Yep, as per usual.

Me.

With a shout of, “Yamas!” down the hatch it went!

“What are you doing?!”
“… well, it’s a shot… it’s in a shot glass…”
“No, NO! You sip! Sip! Oh you Americans!”

And once again – I forgot the no shot thing (two weekends in a row too!). Courtney learned from my mistake, and when she took some a bit later, she sipped (from her water bottle cap – which therefore made her water taste like tsipouro for the rest of the weekend – very interesting…)

We left our new friends and hiked down the road to the next nearest town, Portaria. The sun was beginning to sink, so we decided to sit and enjoy the sunset and a nice beverage. We asked for the plateia, and found an empty area. Full of lots of empty tables.

We saw a waiter.
“um… are you guys, open?”
“Of course! You’re just so early!”

Oh, of course. Everybody else had probably just finished lunch – we would be the ones needing a snack when lunch has just finished… =P They asked us for our orders. Coke for me, baklava for Shelly. And Courtney:

“What can we get you?”
“What coffee do you have?”
“Real coffee. Greek coffee.”
“What about a cappuccino?”
“… yes, we have that too…”

Well, so much for going Greek…
Sunset
We eventually made our way home – practically running to warm up. Went to a taverna, where we were the only ones outside (we wanted the nice view!), and were trying to use the table-cloths as blankets… and our meal happened to have potatoes in every dish – with about three orders of French fries… (I don’t even want to know what the cooks thought about that one!)

We made our way to our beds, and promptly passed out!

Sunday passed beautifully. Gorgeous weather. <a (Tire marks prove the property part)More hiking on private property; climbing to the top of the mountain since we couldn’t reach other towns. Nothing too out of the ordinary. I was beginning to feel a little less out of place again.

Then came the bus ride home.

At the rest stop on the way home, I walked in with Shelly (to stretch my legs). As I walked out, a young woman came up to me.

“You’re from America aren’t you?!”
“Um… yeah”
“West coast?”
“Yeeesss….”
“Oh, I can just tell. You’re SO American! I knew it the minute I heard your voice!”

And with a giggle, she walked onto the bus.

Before I came abroad, I never really thought about “having an accent” or cultural behaviors. I always felt that of all the places in the states, the west coast was the least distinct, the least likely to have any defining features. Anyone else you can immediately pick out by speech, behavior; but not us boring westerners.

But apparently I was wrong! Surprisingly enough, all these instances of being so out of place, noticeable, and distinct. They really made me proud of where I come from! What a glorious feeling it is to go from thinking that you’re mundane, to realizing that you have qualities that set you apart!!

Then again, now that I think about it, when I was in Scotland, I was told, “If someone asked, ‘what’s the first phrase you think of when you think of Jillian?’ I’d have to say, ‘DUDE! FOR REALS!’”

And an Australian once tried to describe me in a blog and could only write,

She’s a crack up, from San Diego, and sounds very very Californian, using many cliché euphemisms I’d expect from a yank. “I know, right?” “oh Em Gee” and ‘totally’ being amongst her favourite yankiee words. I dunno though, writing them down on paper hardly describes the way they came out. It was all about how she vocalized them. It was “like totally the funniest thing ev-er”.

So I guess I’ve been given these clues before and it just took two years to sink in…

Oh well, better late than never right! At least now I could respond with, “Well, I’m proud to BE ______________” (insert appropriate word! ^.^)

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The “C” in Carnival stands for…

Crazy

In Greek culture, an entire Month is dedicated to the “fun time” before buckling down to the 40 day business of lent. 40 days – that’s a LONG time to give up stuff. Now, I’ll admit to not having a ton of knowledge about lent in the states, but I feel that for most Americans, it means giving up one or two things.

But what I’ve learned about Greek culture is that the Greek Church makes you give up a lot. All meat that comes from a bleeding animal (this does not include crustaceans though – so shrimp and octopus can be on your menu) – gone. Dairy (milk, cheese, eggs, etc) – gone. Wine – gone. And olive oil? Yep, that’s gone too.

So there’s a lot of partying to get done before the big fast comes around.

Beautiful Patra!

We saved ours for the week before lent started. It started with a party at a co-worker’s friend’s house that lasted past 6 am (I don’t know how long exactly, we only lasted until 6…). Then, while trying to recover from the sleep deprivation all week, we had another party at the local wine store that Wednesday (free wine and food!). Then the final carnival weekend came, and we went to the most happenin’ place in Greece: Patra.

First, having spent 10-whole-Euros on our costumes, we of course dragged our large wings around Athens to the bus, and on the bus on our way to Patra. Besides our one roommate who couldn’t decide whether or not she was going up until the moment that we got on the bus – getting to Patra was rather uneventful.
Being the traveling youngsters we are (aka: cheap), we booked a little hostel for the weekend, and upon arriving, we were greeted by the manager/owner at the door.

“Hi!! We have a reservation, for 5.”
“Here? Let me show you the room first…”

With those promising words, we started up the stairs.

Our room was on the top floor – extremely awesomely placed since we had our own sun roof to hang out on! We turned to close the door –

And couldn’t. The wood was so warped, it wouldn’t fit into the frame anymore.

“You can move the beds in front of the door at night,” offered the manager/owner. “This building – it’s just very old… So you’re going to stay?”

Well – we were already there, why not!

Our awesome sun roof

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And with that we checked in and paid.

A quick bathroom stop before going for lunch showed us that like our bedroom, none of the bathroom doors would shut. We were also not the only ones in the building. Not to be deterred, after a quick decision that we would rather not be able to shut the door than be locked into a bathroom, we went on to lunch.
We found the place recommended by our hostel manager/owner, but as it was full, we had to go searching for another. After walking up to the top of streets and down to the bottom of others, we found one filled with glittery construction workers. Deciding that glittery construction workers must be a good sign, we stopped in.

What followed was DELICIOUS food, and although only 3 in the afternoon, flowing alcohol.

Om nom nom

(For 3 euros – how could I not have an entire 500 ml of wine! Yes, that’s a full water bottle worth.) It’s carnival – live and let live!

As more and more people were appearing in costumes, we rushed back to the hostel to get dressed, grabbing some chocolate covered loukoumades on the way (aka, chocolate covered fried dough, om nom). We said good-bye to Lynn, who was feeling under the weather, and hurried back into town.

Only to realize we’d missed the main floats of the parade since we were watching them roll back out to the pier. But technically – we still saw them! Beautifully colored, lights glowing, large and waving, and spectacularly political..

Float at Night

Same float by day (3 headed dog/dragon eating euros)

Goddess Athena being injected with taxes(?)

We still got to the parade route, and really we hadn’t missed much – the parade was still in full swing!

Parade people!

The Patra Parade is famous not only for its floats, but for what comes after the floats. Groups upon groups of people who dress up in the same costumes, all dancing together down the street. The glittery construction workers from earlier, atoms and molecules, pirates, oompa loompas – you name it, it was represented!

We sat on the sidlines, loving the loud music; swaying to the beat, and being occasionally blinded by the flares being lit up in the parade.

“I think we should join!” says Michael, who rushes to push through the crowd and up to the barrier.
Not believing that he’ll actually do it – and slightly hoping he will, we follow closely behind.

And LEAP! He’s over the barrier! Dancing into the group of people before him!

So what do we do?

Well, follow! Can’t be left behind!

So the four of us, Michael, Hannah, Evie, and I rush through the groups. Dancing, sining, crouching when they wave everyone to the ground. And no one said a thing! (We kinda looked like we’d just been lost from another group since it was three angels and a pirate running through the crowd.) Michael danced ahead and we raced after him – passing at least half a dozen banners signifying different costumed groups. We waved and cheered – anonymous behind our masks, and happy on the energy of the parade.

In the parade!

A sumptuous feast followed the parade as we found a taverna off the beaten path and were given 4 free appetizers and 3 free desserts! And what did we do after all that food? Ran up what seemed to be a couple hundred steps, to a castle we hadn’t realized was there! By then it was 1am, and with the early party start to the day – we were exhausted! So started the trek back to the hostel.

Once back at the hostel we crawled into bed. Or rather: crawled onto sheets made slightly damp by the proximity to the sea and the room’s inability to keep water out. Plus, I lay in one position all night long, for fear that moving would cause me, on the top bunk, to tumble down onto Evie on the bottom bunk. Hannah refused to even try getting up on the top bunk, and therefore shared the tilted bottom bunk that sent them tumbling towards to wall routinely during the night. With no heating, we were forced to wrap up tightly in the coverings we’d brought, only I’d given mine to my sick roommate (who’d forgotten hers) and so curled myself into the musty smelling blankets. I practically watched the sun rise as the conditions kept me from falling into dreamland, and every time the room got brighter, I noticed more cracks in the ceiling. Even though we’d all gone to sleep around 2/3, everyone was up several hours before our 10 am checkout time. Although the idea of staying had been toyed with, upon waking – a unanimous decision was reached to check out that day and head home.

A good meal did much to improve our outlooks, and nutella covered crepes made the day a win for me. We finally got to see the floats in action, as the parade ran again on Sunday afternoon (though the participants in the parade definitely looked a little worse for wear!). After a bit of ice cream, we grabbed our bags and jumped on the bus home.

But, as this is a Jillian story, you know it doesn’t end there. Oh no.

Because the bus is where I found myself stuck next to the Pakistani Greek man.

The last one on the bus, there was only one seat left. No bigs – I sat down, pulled out my Israel travel book, read for a while, then went to sleep. An hour later, I woke to shift positions.

“I see you book?”
“uh… yeah.”

So I handed it over. He flipped through the pages a bit and started asking me some questions in broken English. So I responded in Greek. If he’s going to keep me awake by talking, I might as well practice right?

Wrong. I should’ve gone back to sleep. What progressed was a two-hour Greeklish conversation, or rather, interrogation.

“Where are you from?”
“Um… America”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a teacher…”
“Where are you parents?”
“In the states…”
“How much does your dad make?”
“… WHAT?!”
“What’s your number?”
“…”
“How old are you parents?”
“Huh?”
“What’s your email?”
“…”
“Who’re your siblings?”
“This is a lot of questions…”
“What’s your skype name?”
“…”
“What’s your facebook name?”
“…”
“What do you like? Cooking? I’ll cook for you!”

As you can conceive, this isn’t EXACTLY how the conversation went… well at least on my part. That is pretty much exactly how it went on his. I tried to avoid the more uncomfortable questions with “I don’t know”‘s and “hmm… not certain”‘s. But man was he persistant! I kept turning to my roommates with, “So what are YOU guys talking about?!”

And they oh-so-not-helpfully would reply, “nothing really, your conversation is MUCH more interesting!”
Suffice it to say, we eventually did make it back to Athens, one “I love you” confession later… But I ran to the bus home, jumped on with my friends, and we had a good laugh all the way home.

We had a whole day to recover, which was much needed after a week of partying. But definitely learned that the C in Carnival stands for: cool, carefree, chaotic, captivating.

And most definitely stands for: Crazy.

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Why public transportation is (sometimes) awesome

This last Saturday, we had planned duties for work. No one knew how long our obligations would last, so making plans was kind of a waste of time. It was much to our surprise when we got out after only an hour!

With so much time left, Courtney declared, “I want to go to the beach!” It was such a beautiful day outside, I couldn’t disagree. So off to the beach we went. (And with public transportation, we could just go!)

By the time we got to the beach tram lines it was much later in the day than we anticipated. So we decided to go to a beach Courtney had been to before. While there we were thoroughly entertained by 3 men (what appeared to be a father and his sons), recording themselves doing karate-type moves in the waves. Later we were approached by the inevitable ‘beach sellers’. Now most of the time they have items that make sense: bags, sunglasses, even swimsuits. Once I was offered a massage. But this time: we’re approached by a man with a stuffed dinosaur in one hand and toy motorcycles in the other. We didn’t even bother refusing him; he just got a, “what the heck?!?” look.

But, as fall is upon us, the beach quickly became too chilly and we decided to leave. Now a choice: go home or go on?

“Let’s ride the tram to the end – wonder what’s out there!”

The thought that was on both our minds. So off we went, riding the tram to the end of the line!

It’s one of those decision you become glad you made almost immediately. We found new beaches to go to later; new restaurants to try; beautiful scenery; and even tried out a new town!

Get to the end of the line, what do you do now?

“Let’s jump on the next one!”

So we jumped on the next one and rode off in a new direction.

What should have been an hour and half journey home doubled in time. But was totally worth every minute!

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Navigation Adventure: What happens to those who can’t find their way out of a paper bag…

So the first part of our adventure begins when Evie and I are backed into a corner by a making-out couple. Now this is a couple that could be legitimately described as “sucking face” since the girl was literally sucking his face. Being unused to this kind of display, Evie and I awkwardly try to put distance between the couple and us. And somehow, the couple keeps getting closer and closer…

So what do you do in a situation like this? Pull out your Greek worksheets to practice conjugation of course! So it begins:
“Evie, conjugate ‘thelo’”
“thelo, theleis, thelei, theloome, theletay, theloon…”

“Jillian, conjugate ‘enno-o’. It’s one of the 3 exceptions.”
“Ok, ‘enno-o’, ‘enno-as’, ‘en-no-a’ –”

At this point the man pulls away from the girl with an audible Slurp.
“En-no-o.”
Me: “Yes… um… where was I… en-no-am –“
Man: “No, en-no-o. It is the ‘I’ form.”
Me: “um… yes, thank you…”

I of course turn back to Evie, trying to clearly show that I do not want to talk with this desire-ridden individual. His partner, also clearly done with this exchange, practically purrs at him and puts her hand on his face.

Now completely, for some reason, enthralled with the two girls practicing conjugation next to him he asks,
“So where are you from in America?”
“um… California.”
Evie: “South Carolina.”
“Why are you here? In Greece? Holiday right?”
“um… no, we’re studying…”

I of course thought this would be obvious, for who practices conjugation of words like “I bother” when on vacation?? But by the expression on his face this was exactly the LAST answer he was expecting.
REALLY?! Where?”

Luckily for us, before we had to answer this question, the metro stops and his ignored partner drags him off the metro.

The rest of the night all began innocently enough. Evie and I finished our private Greek lesson, met up with Courtney and went for some gelato (because who says “no” to gelato?).

We make our way back to the metro and jump on a train. It’s pretty packed. Courtney starts discussing how she likes hanging around the rest of the fellows, because as the 2nd oldest she gets to make claims about how “old” she is. So begins her nickname, γιαγια Money – which is not only her older alter ego, but also her gangster alter ego. So now we have one American going ‘gangsta’ on the metro, yo!’ At this point, I have the brilliant idea that Michael, the oldest member of our group will become, which I feel the need to say with utmost, loud, fervor: ΠΑΠΠΟΥΣ (pap-pous) KOKOZOS!!!!

Needless to say, this sudden, loud exclamation in Greek by the group that has been so clearly American causes the entire train to look in our direction.

We get off at the next stop, run up the stairs and Evie and I walk to the bus straight ahead of us.
“No!” Courtney declares, “It’s the bus across the street!”

So across the street we go – where we run to catch the bus about to leave the stop!

About half an hour later, Courtney sits up,
“I don’t recognize this… I think we may be going the wrong way…”

After this statement, we start to really examine the area around the bus. Dark, sketchy; one-way street, so we can’t even get off and switch to the other side of the road!

“it’s cool, don’t worry guys, we’ll switch when the road opens up!”

Later the bus stops; everyone gets off. It’s only the three of us and a woman we’re pretty sure is a hooker. Courtney runs up to the front of the bus and asks the bus driver where he’s going next.

“This is the end of the line! You have to get on the bus over there!”

We jump off the bus, followed by the hooker-woman, and sprint across the street. The woman keeps making hand gestures at Courtney, but we ignore her and throw ourselves through the doors: only to find we’re not only the first ones on the bus, but the driver isn’t even there! We grab three seats and sit down to wait.

Shortly, a middle-aged woman gets on the bus. She stops next to me and stares. I look up and her, and she glances at the seat next to me.

I glance up and down the bus. Sure enough, we’re the only 4 people on the bus. She can’t possibly want the one seat next to me!

So what do I do? What every person probably wouldn’t/shouldn’t do. I move over one seat.

She sits down. An ENTIRE empty bus, and she picks the one seat next to me.

After 20 min, we finally spot the driver as he jumps onto the bus, and starts it up. Then proceeds to jump back out of the bus.

Finally, 10 min later, he jumps back on the bus and we’re on our way!

The middle-aged woman gets off two stops later (for how long we waited, I think she could’ve walked to her destination faster!). Courtney gives up her seat to a scrawny old lady, whose smile at Courtney reveals her one remaining tooth. An older man takes the seat next to me.

He then spends the rest of the bus ride crossing himself.

Finally we approach our stop. Courtney pushes the button. I signal to my religious old man that it’s time for me to get off. The bus stops. The doors open. Courtney jumps off.

Evie stands up. Evie drops her sweatshirt.

Immediately begins the frantic process of Evie trying to pick up her sweatshirt. But it was one of those moments where common sense deserts us all. We were on a little step, and the sweatshirt had fallen to the step below it. Instead of stepping over and then bending down, Evie tries to hold the bus rails and pick it up from the higher position.

That fails.

So then she’s trying to get her toe under the sweater and kick it up!

That fails.

Meanwhile, I’m almost physically watching the time go by. I swear I can picture a timer above the door, counting down until the doors will close. 10… 9… 8…

Success! Evie finally grabs her sweatshirt! 7… 6…5… 4…

She jumps out the door. 3… 2…

I start following.

1…

The doors begin to close.

“NOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

With this shout of denial I launch myself out the doors –
*SMACK* The doors clang back open!! Then immediately shut again the moment my foot is beyond their boundary.

With much giggling and fast-paced breathing caused by adrenaline we start the walk up the hill. What would normally be a 30 min commute has turned into 2.5 hours.

But what more can you expect from the world’s poorest navigator and bus-cursed person? ^.^

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