October 2, 2009

October 19, 2009

N, Chloe and I waiting at the train station.

N, Chloe and I waiting at the train station.

Homeward bound!

Our journey home required:

1) Walk to the train station

2) Two commuter trains to get to the airport

3) Flight to NY’s JFK

4) Three hour layover

5) Flight from NY to Seattle

6) Shuttle from airport to off-site parking lot

7) Drive home

We started moving at 8:30am German time and opened our own door at 9pm Pacific Standard Time.  When you factor in the time difference, this was just under 22 hours of travel.  Whew!

Luckily, it went fairly smoothly.  The only glitch that made us nervous occurred at the Frankfurt airport.  Germany was on heightened alert after some al-Qaeda threats.  After we checked in, we went to security and the lines were SO long.  We stood in the line that seemed a bit shorter and moved much faster.  Only after standing in that line for 30 minutes did we get close enough to see the sign indicating that it was only for European Union citizens.  At that point, it was too late to go to the back of the other line, so we opted to brazen it out and see what happened.  Nothing, it turned out.  They let us through with no hassle.

We did not have enough time to spend our last Euros at the duty free store but that turned out for the best.  If we had bought alcohol at the duty free store, we would have had to check our luggage at JFK.  Also, they would not let me take the apricot jam made by C’s mother.  I tried arguing with the attendant that it wasn’t liquid but they were not moved by my plea.  Perhaps al-Qaeda  has been experimenting with explosive jam technology.  I hear it’s cutting edge.

All in all, a great trip but we were still very glad to get home!

October 1, 2009

October 19, 2009

N and I awoke feeling the effects of the night before – I did, at least.  Still, we got up early enough to see the girls off to school.  We had a quiet morning reading magazines and taking a walk.  The town where J & C live has much farm land around it.  We saw a field of celery.  It’s odd, I’ve never thought about celery growing before, but now I’ve seen it!

In general, Germany (at least the parts I have seen) is a very tidy, orderly sort of place.  N would love to live here one day.  I wouldn’t mind it at all but I would not want to live here permanently.  I think it’s a bit too tidy, but maybe that’s just the suburbs, not the cities.

The girls came home from school early and the whole gang headed out for a family field trip to a place called Schloss Freudenberg.  It is an experiential museum in a decrepit mansion.  All of the exhibits feature a hands-on component and most of them illustrate some scientific principle.  All of the exhibit notes were in only in German so I sometimes found it a challenge figuring out what I was supposed to do.  If I got really stumped, I could always ask J or C.

My favorite part of the museum was the outside – they had a gigantic swing set where two swings faced each other and were joined along the top with ropes.  As one person swung forward, it would pull the other person back.  At one point, J won the father of the year award by scaring M when her swing went too high.  She cried, J laugh and C scolded him for laughing.

N on the swings

N on the swings

Another cool outdoor feature was two giant carved wooden heads that sat about 25 yards from one another.  There must have been a pipe system connecting them because when you talked into the ear of one, you could hear the words in the ear of the other. 

Me with the talking head thing.

Me with the talking head thing.

After the museum, it was home for a delicious dinner of German sausages, more talking and an early bedtime.

September 30, 2009

October 16, 2009

Last night, I had a crazy dream.  I forget most of the details but I know there was some sort of mystery that I was trying to solve by following a trail of clues.  Of course, I woke up before I cracked the case.  Drat!

I went downstairs in time to see J & C’s oldest daughter leaving for school.  She was wearing the shirt we brought her from Greece.  Hurrah!

C left to walk Chloe to school.  I intended to stay at the house and write but I heard C trying to coax the girl off the doorstep for a good five minutes.  When I heard her say, “N and J” (the rest was in fluid French and I did not catch much of it), I stepped out and asked if it would make life easier for me to walk to school with them.  C answered in the affirmative.

Chloe let me hold her blankie and pillow during the walk.  We passed Margot’s school and she was playing on the playground.  She ran over and gave me a big hug, clearly proud to have a visitor.  Once we returned to the house, N and I took out a couple of bikes for a ride.  First, we rode to the local town and had breakfast at a cafe.  N has retained enough of his German from when he studied abroad that he was able to order for us.

N is fearless when it comes to languages. In Greece, he would study the phrase book and break out some Greek whenever he could, even though there was a 95% chance the person spoke at least some English.  Even if he mangled the phrase, it had an instantaneous effect.  Little old ladies would go from looking very suspicious to wearing expressions of, “Oh, what a nice young man!”

We also rode to the supermarket and bought groceries for dinner.  On the menu: pork roast stuffed with apricots, mashed sweet potatoes with ginger and brussel sprout hash.

J was home from work by the time we returned from the grocery store.  We ate some bread, cheese and cold cuts and then headed out again.  This time, we took the train to Darmstadt and wandered about, looking at the stores.  We ended up with beers in a square near the train station.

That night, N and I prepared dinner without incident.  I even managed to cook the pork in and oven that measured the temperature in Celsius!  Post dinner, much silliness ensued as we helped the girls get ready for bed.  Imagine tutus as wigs and really fake British accents.  Once the girls went to sleep, the adults stayed up much too late talking and making a serious dent in J & C’s digestifs.

N and I acting silly

N and I acting silly

September 29, 2009

October 15, 2009

I woke up this morning and headed downstairs.  Margot already left for school but I walked with C (Chloe’s mom) to take Chloe to school.  I got to take a tour of the school and it makes me wish I could go to kindergarten.  For parts of the day, kids have freedom of choice about where they want to spend time.  This includes the cafeteria and dress up room!  Chloe showed us her personal drawer, which she had stuffed with dead leaves.  She really wanted C to take them home but C held her ground about waiting until they had a bag. 

C works from home so after dropping off Chloe, she went upstairs to work.  Eventually, N and K (N’s brother) woke up and we talked until J (N’s other brother) came home around 11:30.  The four of us piled into the car and went on a field trip to Hochheim am Main, a quaint little town surrounded by vineyards. 

Vineyards at Hochheim am Main

Vineyards at Hochheim am Main

We ate lunch, then rambled around until it was time for ice cream (vacation is a tough life!).   We ate the ice cream in front of the shop and talked .  As we got up to leave, a woman asked if we were from America or Great Britain.  We told her and she proceeded to tell us about how she fell from a horse when she was fourteen (thirteen years ago) and when she regained consciousness she could not remember anything.  She also had trouble moving her right side.  She  told us about her mother’s health difficulties and her struggle to find a new place to live.  Then, she asked J if he had a “handie” – a cell phone.  He thought she wanted to use it but she actually wanted his phone number.  When J realized what she meant, he must have paused awkwardly because she said, “Oh, no, you’re probably married with two kids.”  We had to laugh because he is married with two kids!

We returned to J & C’s house and hung out until it was time for K to catch his train.  After the girls went to bed, the grown-ups had a lovely dinner of soup, salad and a tomato tart.

The T Boys

The T Boys

September 28, 2009

October 14, 2009

The 27th was our last full day in Greece.  We planned to explore Nafplion some more, find some other town to explore on the way to Athens and hit the airport late at night.  It didn’t quite work out that way.  It did start with exploring Nafplion but it’s not that large a town and soon we saw the passed stores we already explored.  We did, however, stumble upon a hiking trail that led away from the village, along the water.  The water was very blue and clear.  The trail sat about 10 feet above the water but I could still see schools of tiny fish.

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Nafplion, viewed from above.

After our hike, we stopped at a cafe for a cup of coffee.  We opted for the outdoor seating and, as we sat there, a procession, complete with band, marched by us!  We still do not know the reason for it, but I think it had something to do with the weekend being declared a Greek heritage weekend.  We did not have to pay for entrance to the archaeological site in Olympia the day before for the same reason.

Marching band that went by as we enjoyed a cup of coffee.

Marching band that went by as we enjoyed a cup of coffee.

 

We ate lunch and headed out of town.  Our guidebook had either nothing or nothing good to say about any of the towns we passed on our way to Athens.  Early in our trip, we probably would have explored them anyway but at this point, we were just ready to move on to the next thing – Germany to visit N’s brother and his family.

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 4:30am and we’d need to be at the airport by 2:30am to check in so the plan was to not get a hotel room since we’d only be there a few hours.   We arrived much earlier than originally planned – 4:30pm rather than late evening.  We asked about the rates at the hotel airport – up until this point, we had paid between 60-85 euros per night and the hotel airport wanted 240 euros per night.  Back to plan A!

We had a drink at the hotel bar and made it last as long as possible.  Then, we headed over to the airport and began the long wait.  We checked out the shops, ate greasy food, dozed and read.  Finally, 2:30am came and we went to the check-in counter.  For the record, Czech Airlines has the worst line management skills I have ever seen.  Really frustrating.

In the end, our flight was delayed two hours, causing us to miss our connecting flight in Prague.  They booked us onto a different flight a couple of hours later but, for some reason, we could not figure out how to dial internationally on the public phones and so could not alert J and C about our late arrival.

When we finally arrived in Frankfurt, there was no one there to meet us.  N’s brothers had been there when we were supposed to arrive and they looked everywhere for us but since they had no idea where we were, they went home.  Luckily, C had the presence of mind to check if our first flight left on time so they knew we were safe, just not when we would arrive.

We called John once we arrived and he gave us directions for taking the train out to their house.  At this point, we were exhausted but we finally made it.  We ate some food, took a shower, had a nap, drank some coffee and felt good as new!

Margot learned how to needle felt with wool at a festival and Carole bought her some felting supplies.  We spent the next hour or so outside making felted pictures while Chloe played with play dough. 

Kevin is visiting for a couple of days so the boys drank and visited.  We had some lovely grilled sausages for dinner and sat around talking for as long as we could stay awake.

After a quiet breakfast (no middle school tour groups), we checked out and hit the town.  First, we went to the Museum of the Modern Olympics.  It is a sad little museum in great need of some attention.  The displays end in the early 1990s and many of the photographs are discolored from the sun.  The display focussing on the 1932 games mention Jesse Owns but not Hitler or the Nazi party.  Also, there was no mention of the hostage situation in 1972 – these things colored the events to such a degree it seems ridiculous to omit them.  I plan on looking into what school offer a degree in museum curatorship (or whatever the degree is called) and sending them a letter saying I know of a great potential final project for one of their students.

Despite its flaws, the museum did have some highlights.  A French man crucial to restarting the Olympics wanted his heart buried in Ancient Olympia.  The museum had the box in which it travelled.  They also had lots of medals and torches and a certificate, medal and laurels awarded during the 1900 Olympics.

Certificate, medal and laurels presented at the second modern Olympics, 1900.

Certificate, medal and laurels presented at the second modern Olympics, 1900.

After the museum, we visited the Ancient Olympia archaeological site.  One or two school groups were there – we enjoyed seeing the kids racing each other on the track.  The altar of Hestia where the Olympic flame starts for each of the modern games disappointed a bit – it was just a pile of rocks.  There were some impressive examples of columns knocked over by earthquakes.  They still lay exactly where they must have fallen thousands of years ago.  A light rain fell on us during our entire visit, so we kept it briefer than we may have otherwise.

N and I in Ancient Olympia

N and I in Ancient Olympia

We went back into town for some souvenir shopping and a quick lunch.  Then, we drove to Nafplion, a charming port town.  The drive took us through the mountains on some very twisty roads.  We passed two or three small villages literally built into the side of the mountain.  If we ever make it back to Greece, we would love to stay in one of the villages for a night or two.

We made it to Nafplion around four, found a room and set out to explore.  We wound up at a cafe in a plaza lined by 19th century buildings.  We ate an early dinner and watched kids playing a pick-up game of soccer using garbage cans as goal posts.  We ambled some more through the narrow streets before heading back to the hotel.

At the hotel, we shared a bottle of wine while sitting on the balcony.  We talked about the scenery – not-so-attractive buildings, a school and a running track down the street.  We also watched a woman do a really bad job parallel parking her car.  It looked all right in the end but it took her ten minutes to accomplish – no exaggeration.  It was better than watching television.

Speaking of television, we lucked out to find Fellowship of the Ring playing on a local station.  It was in English with Greek subtitles so we could understand it.  There was only one problem:  in Greece, they do not show commercials as often as in the States but they save them us so commercial breaks last 10-15 minutes.  When one is tired, this makes staying awake nearly impossible.  We only made it through two commercial breaks before succumbing to sleep.

In Delphi, we stayed at the Hotel Acropole, a family run establishment.  Our room had a balcony with an amazing view of the valley – mountains sloping down to an olive-tree filled valley and the Ionian Sea in the distance. 

View from our balcony.

View from our balcony.

After a short nap, we walked through the town.  It felt deserted – we were much later than the tour groups.  Restaurants and shops catering to tourists abounded, though.  I bought a lapis pendant in one of them – the blue reminded me of Santorini. 

During our wanderings we purchased a bottle of Greek wine to share on our balcony. A grandmotherly type, who I think we pleased by buying Greek wine, smiled with a mischievious twinkle in her eye and gave me (but not N) a piece of candy.

We dined at a resaurant recommended by the hotel desk clerk. I ordered the lamb with pasta but received the veal with potatoes.  When I pointed this out tho the harried waitress, she convinced me that I would enjoy the veal as much as the lamb.  I probably would have but when I went to take a bite, I noticed a long black hair resting on top of it.  So, in the end, I wound up with the lamb and enjoyed it very much.

This morning, we woke up and went down for the hotel’s complimentary breakfast.  A school group of about 50 4-7th graders had flooded the dining room.  It turns out that European middle schoolers are just as oblivious to those around them as American middle schoolers. 

After breakfast, we visited the archaeological museum and the temples of Apollo and Athena.  The museum had a particularly impressive bronze statue of a charioteer – he even had eyelashes!  Unfortunately, much of the aracheological site was closed due to “technical problems.”  I have to wonder what sort of technical problems piles of rock can have.  We could go up to the altar of the temple of Apollo and down to the Temple of Athena.  The Oracle of Delphi sits in the latter and that’s what I wanted to see the most so I did not feel too disappointed by the closure.

 

Bronze statue of charioteer.

Bronze statue of charioteer.

Our guide book says that young women sat inside the temple and most likely were hallucinating either due to the fumes or chewing some sort of leaves.  Prominent men would ask quesitons and they would respond by speaking in tounges which the priests then translated.  Some pretty major decisions – such as whether or not to go to war – were made by consulting the oracle.  A bit dodgy, if you ask me.

Oracle of Delphi

Oracle of Delphi

We returned to a small cafe overlooking the valley for a bite ot eat and coffee before departing Delphi.  As we ate, we heard yowling and hissing noises at our feet.  A small gray cat, one that we met at the same cafe the night before, had returned.  He had an odd style of begging, though – hissing did not make us feel inclined to share our meal with him.

We left Delphi at 11:30 and travelled along the Ionian coast.  One of N’s favorite parts of the trip, the road twisted along the coast and through storybook-beautiful landscapes.  A word about driving in Greece:  Greeks consider lane lines suggestions, not laws.  Imagine a two lane road with one car driving on the shoulder on each side and one car driving into oncoming traffic in order to pass.  That’s driving in Greece.  N loves it.  It leaves me with a bit of a stomach ache.  I would have closed my eyes for the whole thing but N needed me to read the road map.

We arrived in Ancient Olympia just before three and checked into the Hotel Pelops.  According to our guidebook, New Zealanders started the hotel but young Greek men helped us during our stay.  When we asked for a dinner suggestion, one replied, “I suggest you take an umbrella – a thunderstorm is about to start.”  He then suggested a restaurant. It did, indeed, rain during dinner – in fact, it poured.  Also notable from that meal – the discovery of broad beans in tomato sauce.  I’ll need to track down a recipe for that.

I get ahead of myself, however.  Before dinner we headed out and went to the Museum of the Ancient Olympics and the Archaeological Museum of Olympia.  I did not realize that the Greeks held the ancient Olympics uninterrupted for 1,169 years.  In contrast, the modern Olympics just turned 100 in 1996.  At the ancient Olympics musuem, I also learned that one of the races required runners to wear a helmet, shin protectors and carry a shield.  Other than those items, they were naked.  It makes for an interesting picture.