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Archive for May, 2014

Homeward Bound!

We’re headed home to the USA, we won’t be going back to our house until May 20. We’ve been traveling for 99 days which includes our nearly two months in Florida. That’s the longest Walker and I have ever been together for one stretch. Ninety nine days of going to bed and getting up (mostly) together; two hundred and ninety seven meals. During this time we celebrated our twenty ninth anniversary. We confirmed our ability to tolerate each other during months of constant companionship. With all of our differences, we’re happy to say we get along really well. As some things don’t come naturally to us, we still compromise. Most mornings, he gets me up earlier than I would like to, but he is learning to sleep in a bit. He’s getting more comfortable with stopping to smell the roses going at a slower pace and I’m getting better at keeping my mouth closed at certain times. It must be working as we’re already talking about our next adventure!

What did we learn?
We learned that of all the modes of transportation we used (plane, train, taxi, subway, ferry, bus, Mercedes convertible, and walking) that walking is our favorite. When you are walking, you feel a real connection to the place you’re in. You’re able to see people face to face, it’s easy to stop and take photographs of interesting sights, you can moo at the cows and bark back at dogs. (Yes, I do that.) There’s nothing like experiencing your surroundings at three miles per hour. Walking on the Camino, you feel the energy of the millions who have walked before you. It leaves an imprint.

We learned how simple life is when you’re living out of a backpack. I noticed that when we added the box/bag of clothes that we shipped ahead to our ‘inventory’, it started getting harder to keep up with things. I often had to unpack both my backpack and the bag to find what I was looking for.

In our regular lives we often let our possessions get in the way of living our lives in the best way we can. Although I’d like to think this is going to change on my part, it isn’t…not anytime soon. It’s too easy to fall into old habits. And though I don’t mind the idea of wearing the same thing everyday and washing it out at night, I don’t think that’s very realistic for me.

I learned that even though I packed minimally, I could have eliminated a few things, namely a shirt and pair of socks. I didn’t realize Walker had a hairbrush, and we could have done without that as well. Walker says this reminds him of his AT hike where everything he carried with him had an important function…or else he got rid of it.

We learned that after a 12 year absence we will still able to connect with friends. Although we all live very different lives, we still have much in common and lots to talk about. The friendships we made in Bulgaria and the friendships we formed on the Camino were fast and strong, based on shared experiences, challenges, and being like minded people. Similar to our experience with military families, expats and pilgrims in general are pretty adventurous people who are fun-loving and not afraid to try new things. Bonds are formed naturally, and thanks to Facebook, it’s really easy to stay in contact.

We learned that we appreciate natural history, especially geology, and human history much more. We were also reminded how many nice people there are in the world – people of all races and nationalities, and of all religions – or not religious at all.

So, what’s next? We don’t know yet. But, I’m awfully inspired by a reader named Linda. Walker met her on the AT one day and it turns out we go to the same aesthetician. She lives about an hour from us. She’s currently walking the Camino Frances solo having started in LePuy which will make it a 1,000 mile journey. Isn’t that something? She’s blogging at scandore.wordpress.com if you’re interested in following her.

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Dramamine, that is.

When I awoke and looked at the sea yesterday morning, I thought how beautiful it looked with little whitecaps dancing around. Then I remembered we had a five-hour ferry ride ahead of us. I’m prone to motion sickness, so we stopped at the pharmacy on our way out of town for drugs. Walker asked for Dramamine, and I asked if that was the best he had. The pharmacist replied It is the oldest, the strongest and the best. Sold. He said Take two one hour before departure.

[Aside: There is a really neat pharmacy in Santorini. Yesterday we stopped in one and asked for a particular brand of cough drops and the pharmacist said It will be here in just a minute, but didn’t move from the register. She then pointed to a TV screen where we saw a robot-looking thing slide down the aisle, grab the box of cough drops and insert it into a pneumatic tube like those used at bank drive-thru windows. Within seconds it was in our hands. It was so cool we almost asked to buy something else!]

In the shuttle on the way to the port, Walker chatted with a Brazilian couple in the back while I was talking to Alex the driver. When it was time to take the pills, Walker asked the Brazilians if they got seasick; they said she did and Walker offered them some of the pills which they both gladly accepted. Even Walker, the Navy veteran who never got sick on ship, decided he would take two.

The ferry was over an hour late pulling in, so our departure was delayed as well. By then we only had two Dramamine left, and fearing they would wear off before the trip ended, we each took one more.

The boat was nearly full with mostly tourists (and a few locals) of all shapes, sizes, ages and nationalities. The day was sunny and beautiful, but it was windy and the sea was choppy. Those of you who know me well know how much I dislike being around anyone who is vomiting. My own children can attest to this as I used to run in the opposite direction when they got sick. I don’t like to hear, see or smell it.

Luckily we had good seats on the ferry. Similar to “bulkhead” seats on an airplane, there was no one in front of us, or beside us. We were as far as you could be from the bathroom as well. There was good airflow, and I thought I could solve the sound problem by listening to music with earbuds.

As we cruised along, I thought back to a ferry ride we took years ago from Catalina to San Pedro, California with Walker’s family. That day was also beautiful and sunny as we left Catalina laughing and talking about our excellent weekend there. As we settled on the ferry, so did a large group of rowdy Greeks who were still in the party mode. One by one, seasickness caught hold of most of us. Walker and his sister-in-law tended to our sick four-year-old daughter while I stared out the window. Walker’s mother’s husband was a retired Admiral and he suggested I look out the window and keep my eyes on the horizon. That worked pretty well until a few people on the upper deck evidently took their eyes off the horizon and their sickness splatted all over the window I was staring out of. The Greeks quieted down pretty quickly as well; my last memory of them was the group heaving around a big trash can.

Yesterday’s ferry stopped at several islands for pickups and drop offs. The lucky ones were the people who got off at Mykonos. The unlucky ones were these who were still on at Syros. There, the captain announced we would sit in port until 7:00 pm to see if the conditions improved before we headed out for the last 2.5 hours of the journey. (We were originally supposed to be in Piraeus/Athens at 5:30.) They let passengers off the ferry for a short time, so Walker dashed to a pharmacy and bought more Dramamine which we immediately took.

The leg from Syros to Piraeus was pretty awful.Ralphmust be a common name, because over and over, louder and louder, we heard people of all nationalities calling for him! The sea calmed shortly before we got to port and most everyone seemed to regain their composure. I did see a few people bent over in their seats as I was getting off, though.

There isn’t a point or moral to this story, but I do highly recommend Dramamine. And an iPhone or music player. Thanks, Walker for sacrificing yours so the noise would be muffled for me. I owe you one – as soon as your color comes back.

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Leaving Santorini

Departing Oia this morning by van shuttle to the port, I jumped in the front seat and was able to have a nice chat with Alex the driver. A recent university graduate from Romania with a degree in marketing and management, Alex took this driving job for three months in Santorini to gain experience as his goal is to get a job as a bus driver in Romania. He has been here for one month and is terribly homesick, having left his dog and girlfriend in Romania. (I think he misses his dog more than the girlfriend.) He works seven days a week and hasn’t had time to see anything off the main roads. I told him about the walk we did; he was interested and said he was going to try to find time to walk it.

He asked where we were from, and after I said the USA, he said his big life dream was to move to the US, become a truck driver, and drive Route 66. He wasn’t aware of the lottery program that the US has for the green card, so we told him how to get more info via the internet. I told him the chance of winning is slim, but I felt like he was a lucky guy. He agreed. I thought about exchanging Facebook info with him, but decided I’d rather just wonder how it turns out for him. It’s really disheartening for us to talk to young people who want to immigrate to the US so badly, rather than remain in their home countries to help them become more prosperous for future generations.

I can’t imagine what it would be like living in the US with a large portion of our young people wanting to leave to make a better life elsewhere. Can you?

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Glorious Santorini

You know the “glamour photos” you see of tourist destinations, and then the real thing never quite measures up? Well, that’s not true about Santorini. It is as beautiful as every poster I’ve ever seen in a Greek restaurant or travel agency window. No matter where you look, there is gorgeous scenery. I don’t think I could ever tire of the whitewashed architecture, blue domes and the multicolored sea. The light here is pretty amazing, too. Can you tell I’m smitten?

Walker told you a bit about the place where we’re staying and that we had a bit of trouble finding it. We were supposed to be met at the port by a shuttle driver, but because we changed from the regular ferry to the fast one, our arrival time changed and word didn’t get to the driver. When we didn’t see a sign with our names, we talked to another driver who gave us a ride here. He dropped us at the square (which is as far as vehicles can go) and said go there, right, left, down and it’s on the left. Or right. I can’t remember. I had the name and phone number of the place, but not an address. The reason for that is that there are no street names or numbers. After walking back and forth on the main pedestrian alley, we finally stopped in a gift shop and asked for directions. The nice shop girl didn’t know where the Old Oia Houses were, but she looked at the photo on the website and pointed us in the direction she thought was right – but wasn’t. It’s hard to describe the walkways, stairs and buildings here, but they are in layers carved into the side of the cliff, winding, and practically one on top of another. We went back to the shop and the girl called the number, got directions, and walked us down the street and told us to wait. A few minutes later Gill (aka Jill, Lyndsay’s British friend) appeared with keys in hand. Unfortunately, she did not have the key to the main door, but no problem, she climbed on the roof of the adjoining property and a second later opened the door from the inside.

Immediately inside the door was a short flight of narrow, deep stairs leading to our cave. Whitewashed, with a citron door and shutters, an aqua umbrella and dark pink bougainvillea, I was instantly charmed. It’s a sweet little cave with bleached wooden floors, a tiny kitchen and a bathroom Fred Flintstone would envy. It may have been built dug for Fred, in fact, as Walker has to duck to go through any of the doorways. Nevertheless, it’s Home Sweet Home for our time here. The kitchen is stocked with coffee, tea, butter, jam and cream and every morning a loaf of fresh bread in a linen drawstring bag is hung on our door.

When we can tear ourselves away from our terrace overlooking the water, we’ve been walking and taking in the sights. This morning we took the local bus to Fira, another town on the island, and walked back to Oia. We took our time savoring the views and chatting with people along the way, and it took about three hours. In the evenings, we stroll to the point to watch the sunset. Not ready to break our newfound habit, we’re still taking an afternoon siesta’ and enjoying dinner no earlier than eight.

As you can imagine, there are lots of tourists here. We’ve met and talked to a couple from Vancouver who are here with their adult daughter and their son. Walking today, we offered to take a couple’s photo; they, too, are from Vancouver. They are on the last few days of a three-week honeymoon in Greece. Last night at dinner, we met a couple our age from Ohio, but they live and work in Switzerland. Their adult daughter from Colorado was with them here for vacation. We’ve also ‘detected’ lots of Bulgarians by listening to them speak, but we haven’t interrupted them. They seem to be traveling two families together. May 1-6 were holidays in Bulgaria, and it’s nice to see they are taking advantage of being able to travel to Greece visa-free. (It wasn’t like that when we lived there.) There are lots of Americans, too, but the biggest surprise is how many Asians are here. Everywhere we turn, there are young women wearing wedding gowns with men in suits or linen attire posing for photographs with professional photographers. We’re wondering how/when this tradition started.

We leave in the morning. At dinner tonight, we discussed if we would come back here to visit again. Part of me says yes, but another part thinks that this visit has been so perfect, it’s best to leave it as a memory.

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I Nearly Forgot!

I’m certain you all have been patiently waiting to see who the winner of our last give-away was, haven’t you? Chosen by a Random Number Generator, the winner is Ellie Boylan. She can expect her prize – straight from Bulgaria – shortly after our return in two weeks.

We’re not finished blogging yet, but thanks to everyone who follows us and to those who leave comments. It’s always nice to have a connection when we’re so far from
home.

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Santorini

Walker here…In May 1983 I was sitting in my helicopter refueling on the flight deck of USS Pharris (FF 1094) when a huge rogue wave crashed over the port side of the ship and completely covered the helicopter. Both engines flamed out and the rotor blades and main gearbox were damaged from the impact of the seawater hitting the spinning blades. It was a scary moment! The damage to the aircraft would require major repairs so arrangements were quickly made for us to pull in to Piraeus Harbor in Athens, Greece. We ended up staying in Athens for almost two weeks and I spent every off-duty moment touring the historic sites and hanging out at the beach in Glyfada, a small town in the eastern suburbs of Athens.
I really fell in love with Greece and read as much Greek history and mythology as I could get my hands on. My one regret was not being able to visit any of the Greek islands. I made a promise to myself that one day I would get back to Greece and visit the islands. Well on Sunday the Princess and I took a ferry from Athens to the beautiful island of Santorini and now I am living a dream.
Santorini is an island with a fascinating history. It is a volcanic island and around 1500 BC the island erupted, exploded really, killing everyone on Santorini and sinking boats throughout the area. Suspended dust affected sunsets for years. In more recent times (19th & 20th centuries) smaller undersea eruptions have created smaller islands in the caldera created by the first eruption. Some historians believe that the ancient city of Atlantis was on Santorini and vanished in the eruption.
Our biggest challenge the first day in Santorini was simply finding our accommodations. Our friend Lyndsay, who we visited in Athens, got us a place through her friend who lives on Santorini in the town of Oia (pronounced ‘ee-ah’. The town, really just a village, and the hotels, houses and other accommodations are completely different than what I expected. There is one main road through the town and many cobbled footpaths winding around and up and down the steep cliffs that overlooks the caldera, something like a bay that is protected by the crescent shaped island of Santorini. The footpaths are like a maze that reminds me of the ancient medina in Fez, Morocco. Both Santorini and the Fez medina use donkeys to transport supplies and even trash.
The place where we are staying is an old restored house that is more like a one room cave dwelling with a small separate kitchen and bath. Many years ago most of the caves were used as homes and others were used to store wine. Now they are tourist rentals. When you see the fabulous photographs of Santorini with the white washed buildings with blue trim and roofs, you are seeing the cave dwellings of Oia.
We only have about three days on Santorini, so I’d better quit writing and start exploring the town. Here’s a photo of our first night’s sunset.

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We were invited to Athens by Alexis and Lyndsay – friends from our Bulgaria days. Alexis is from Lebanon and Lyndsay from England. To me, they are the epitome of an international couple. He speaks Arabic, French and English, and she English and French plus they manage quite well in Bulgarian and Greek (and probably Romanian as well). I think English is his third language and he beats me at word games. Shame, shame! They met in Belgium and have since lived in France, Romania, Bulgaria and more, and now Greece. In addition to Athens, they have homes in Beirut and London. Alexis worked for Coca Cola, a slight coincidence as Walker is from Atlanta, the home of Coke. They have three girls; two in London and the other in Dubai. Our son went to school with their middle daughter.
Alexis met us at the airport and took us to the Marble Palace their home in a lovely area on the outskirts of Athens. It reminded us of the area near Walker’s mother’s in Southern California. Their home is a six pillow resort – five stories of marble floors and stairs – with a large rooftop terrace and a beautiful garden. Fortunately for Lyndsay, who is recovering from a broken ankle, it also has a lift (elevator). The consummate hosts, they even arranged for their masseuse to come one afternoon for me and Walker. It was heaven!
On our first full day there, May 1, Walker and I set out with a map to go to the Acropolis. Imagine our surprise when we got there and learned that everything was closed as May 1 is a major holiday! We were disappointed, but took consolation in the fact that we had both been there before (separately) and figured not much had changed ; ). We had a nice lunch in an outdoor café and walked around the historic area. It was nice to see local families out enjoying the holiday.
The following day they drove us in Alexis’ Mercedes convertible to a coastal area on the Aegean Sea near Glyfada. I felt a bit like Grace Kelly motoring along the coast of Greece. We had a seafood lunch at a beautiful yacht club with three other international couples. (Greek and South African – they were visiting from Belgrade – Greek and American, and Greek and British.) It’s always interesting to me to learn how couples met, where they live(d), and about their children. I continue to be in awe of people who can converse fluently in more than one language. You can probably guess there was never a dull moment.
After lunch we drove out to see the Temple of Poseidon so that Walker, a retired Naval officer, could pay his respects to the ‘God of the Sea’. As we arrived, so did three tour buses which off-loaded about 150 passengers who turned out to be Americans from Minnesota. They were touring Greece as part of a promotional trip for homebuilding companies. We can imagine how different their experience of Greece will be as they travel around with an umbrella-raising tour guide, and we travel with our friends who have local knowledge of the area. ‘Reluctant Tourists’ like us really don’t belong on a tour bus!
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Between lovely meals at home and meals out, we were never hungry or thirsty. Lyndsay prepared us a traditional Greek dinner and we had lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. At meals out, we ordered different dishes and shared them. It was a treat to get to try so many different things.
On our last day Alexis and Lyndsay took us to a peak (I can’t remember the name and don’t have wifi right now) with great views where we had coffee. (Espresso with vanilla ice cream, actually.) Then Walker and I went back to the Acropolis to visit the new Acropolis Museum. If you’re ever in Athens, don’t miss it. It’s very well done with 3D models of the area during different eras. It was interesting to see how the Acropolis evolved over the centuries. Full of artifacts, the third floor of the museum is designed to scale as the Parthenon, and there is a great informational film. Never one to miss a chance to eat, we had a snack in the museum café with large windows and a direct view of the Acropolis and Parthenon. To say it was awe-inspiring is an understatement.
Now, back at The Marble Palace their home, we learned we had new nicknames. They had good-naturedly dubbed us The Reluctant Tourists as to them we seemed a bit low energy and not super eager to see the sights. All true, I must say. We didn’t realize it, but when we thought about it, Walker and I agreed that we were lackadaisical and still in the siesta mode…and were quite content in The Marble Palace their home. I think the busyness of our time in Sofia caught up with us and we were just happy to relax. I’m going to blame it all on Rhoda, the masseuse, who started it all…
As “fancy” as all of this sounds, their home is very warm and inviting, as are Alexis and Lyndsay, and they are two of the kindest, most down-to-earth people we know. We are lucky to count them as friends. Plus, they have Pushkin, a Bulgarian street dog they adopted about the same time we took Sophie in. She’s very sweet and although 14, she’s in very good shape. There must be something to that Mediterranean diet!
Alexis and Lyndsay may be coming to the US in the fall, and we’re hoping they’ll stop in Virginia so we can try to reciprocate their hospitality.

Next stop: Santorini. It’s been on Walker’s Bucket List for over thirty years!

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