Having determined that the order of Germany is just far too anal-retentive for a proper vacation, I decided to get back to the chaotic ways I had grown accustomed to in my travels. Since I had originally planned to meet an acquaintance in Istanbul, but plans changed when he was unable to make it and I chose to see my brother instead, I split the difference and chose to fly to Athens. Here again I have to credit the Germans for having their poop in a group. Having flown a couple of German owned airlines now, I can tell you that you definitely fly with style. None of this surcharge for this, gouge you for that. No, no! The pleasant experience begins when you discover that the fare includes your checked luggage, and gets even better when you don’t have to take off your shoes through security. Nor do any of the airports here the “3-3-1” rule – why? Because it is a stupid rule meant to give you a false sense of security that doesn’t actually do shit. The Europeans know this and they also know that they don’t need to have pull something out of your bag to scan separately, that they can see perfectly fine as your bags goes through the screening process. (And if you saw how nasty the floor was at the airport in Rome, you would be singing Hallelujah right along with me about keeping your shoes ON).
Let me take a step back here for a moment to admit to you that I had mixed feelings about going to Istanbul. I know many of you have had mixed feelings about the fact that I am off travelling the world alone with no real plan to speak of anyway, but I did have some concern about going to a Muslim country as an American woman by myself. Istanbul is a bit more progressive than other places in the Middle East, and my anxiety was also eased by the knowledge that I would be joining someone who has done quite a bit of travel to Turkey and knows many of the locals quite well. But, I feel that the Universe had other plans when he had to cancel his trip the exact same day that my brother had informed me he would be in Munich for work. I don’t always see the big red truck, but this week I got to ride on it! Unfortunately, I got off a stop early when I made the choice to visit Greece. Several times I had expressed concern about whether I would actually be able to travel into or out of Greece given the ongoing personnel strikes, the volatile political environment and the sinking faster than quicksand economy. But, that bitch Athena kept whispering that I would always regret it if I didn’t come visit at least for a short time. (If you don’t know the story of Athena, she is the goddess of wisdom and war. This to me is an oxymoron, which explains a lot about the city of Athens actually……)
On a whim, I booked a ticket to Athens, planned a 3-day stay to see all of the historical crap, then another flight to Santorini for 5-days to relax and enjoy the crisp blue ocean. This is one of those times that I needed an intervention on my trip – I needed my brother, Mr. Google, to advise me to check the news before getting caught up in my romantic thoughts. The first clue I was headed for was an announcement from Luftansa that the flight from Munich to Athens would be delayed at least 3 hours because air traffic control in Greece was running with minimal staff. They were coordinating landings as quickly and as safely as was possible, but with only three men responsible for hundreds of flights, they could not land as many planes as normal. Having traveled quite a bit in my life, I understand flight delays happen, so I continued to work on my homework, drank café lattes (which Luftasana generously provides to all of the passengers in their waiting areas – can you say awesome?), without giving myself cause to worry. About two-and-a-half hours later, the announcement was made that they were going to allow the plane into the country, so we all needed to get our asses in our seats pronto! And boy do Germans know how to do pronto. As a matter of fact, none of the flights in Europe have required the retarded boarding process that we are subjected to in the States. You are not assigned a group number to which you must stand in waiting to board, or the whole boarding by rows process that no one seems to ever understand – they just tell you “get on the plane, we leave in 15 minutes.” And everyone gets on the plane, puts their crap away, sits down, and they’re ready to go in 15 minutes. (Why do we continue to allow companies and our government to dumb down its citizens, I ask?) Germans, however, can complete the boarding process in 10 minutes (they get the gold star of super efficiency yet again).
In addition, European Airlines serve their passengers food AND wine regardless of whether you are seated first, business or you’re a schlep class – in fact, most airlines have one class and that is the class that is on the plane. Plus, the food is good, the wine is plentiful AND these airlines are thriving. I say all of the airlines in America have got to stop this business of milking their customers out of every dollar and instead make their corporate executives take a substantial pay cut (I am pretty sure they can make do on a measly $1,000,000/year salary) and bring back the perks of air travel – damn it already! Onto other economic woes, seated next to me was a man from Holland who was visiting Athens with his family and we got into a discussion about the current crisis in Greece and how concerned most of the EU citizens are about Greece falling out of the Union – this was not what the citizens wanted, for the realize the economic impact of such a consequence (far be it from the governments to listen to what the people are demanding, however – guess they have the same shitty politicians, different country).
My rants must come to an end now because I am sure I have offended several of you with my views, but more importantly we have landed in Athens, in the midst of a two day strike on all public transportation. Without subways, busses, or taxis in service, I now have to cleverly resolve how to get from the airport to the city center – which is 40km away – at 9pm at night. Either that or I am sleeping at the airport until 5am when public transportation hopefully comes back online.
I chose the former – which may have proved to be a bad decision, but we’ll get back to that. Even though the taxis were on strike, the limos were not. Thus, I haggled with a driver on the price, and then I corralled three other people to join me in order to split the fare. I found the most fabulous of the gay men from Bangkok, who was wearing stunning lip gloss, a man from Berlin wearing a cravat (not something you see every day) and another man from Berlin – a lawyer actually – who was in Athens to consult on a case involving copyright infringement (sounds intriguing doesn’t it?). The driver agreed to drop us as close as he could to Syntagma Square in the center of city, but he said he was not allowed to go any farther than that or the protesters would tear his car apart. He was going against the request of the citizens for a country wide no-work day. I understood his predicament (a man’s gotta feed his family ya know?) and agreed, as long as he could direct me to Omonoia Square from the drop-off point, to which he obliged and said it was no more than a 10-minute walk.
Twenty minutes later, we ran into an incredible amount of traffic going every which direction with horns wailing, fingers extending and profanities flying. I thanked the driver, gave him my money and hopped out of the limo heading in the direction of the route he described. I walked as quickly as I could, not stopping to talk to anyone, nor stopping to gaze too long at the rapidly increasing number of homeless people sleeping on each street I passed, all the while trying to avoid the piles of garbage accumulating on the sidewalks and spilling over into the streets (the strike has affected trash collection as well and it effing smells like a DUMP here, a DUMP).
Once I reached Omonoia square, I followed the directions I had written down to my hotel, but had to decipher the street signs as best I could while walking (and not stopping, as the limo driver was explicit that I follow these instructions – I know, I know – WTF did I get myself into? The beginning of a revolution that is what I got myself into). Two blocks later, I knew I was on the wrong street, so I walked into the lobby of another hotel, where I met a security guard to ask for directions. He was kind and gave me a map and another lecture about walking alone at night – he was adamant when he said I must not walk alone at night. “People are no good here”, he said……greeeeeaaaaat, a lot of good that does me now, dude). He drew my route on the map, repeated the directions three times, yelled at me again for being alone, and then sent me on my way. Five minutes later, I arrived at the correct hotel where I received ANOTHER lecture from the man at the front desk about being alone. (Okay, okay, I get it already, do not go anywhere alone in Athens, the city is FUBAR’d, and I won’t do it again….until tomorrow …..Can I just have the keys to my room…..correction jail cell, please?)
I hobbled up the three flights of stairs with all of my crap, since the elevator was broken, and went straight to bed. BTW – there is no such thing as a “non-smoking” room in Greece. “Non-Smoking” simply means YOU don’t plan to smoke while you are staying in the room, but that doesn’t stop the person (or 800 people before you) from smoking in the same room. Regardless of the fact that “non-smoking” was clearly posted on the front door and inside the room, there was an ashtray on the desk in my jail cell…peculiar…yet, I am too tired to care…