Through Local Eyes

Today, Jolie and I hit the acropolis museum to augment yesterday’s adventure. This is supposed to be one of the best museums in the world, and definitely has beautiful new world class building. We were excited for this, and to have Marios join us. He met us at the front door of the museum at 10:30, looking fly in his non-work clothes.

Marios was our personal guide through Greek history and artifacts for the next several hours. He had come prepared with notes from his last trip to an archeological museum, and knew the chronological path through the artifacts. Jolie and I, on our own, probably would have been bouncing around all over the place. With our local guide, the visit was much more informative.

As an artist, I really wish that the materials the objects are made of would have been listed. I’m just curious about the types of paint on the pottery. Glaze? Oil? Egg tempera? Tell me! We eventually found a side exhibit about where the pigments came from, with examples of the stones before and after they had been ground into a dry powder, which would then be mixed with a medium to become paint. Although not quite the information that I had been looking for, it satisfied my artistic curiosity. 

The museum was actually much smaller than any of us expected. We felt like we must have missed something. The entire third floor, though, was given over to non-exhibits. It was part cafe, part reading lounge. The top floor seemed to be mainly a view of the real acropolis from the wonderful floor-to-ceiling windows. Perhaps it was good that the museum was concise. With too much information, it’s easy to get fatigued and uninterested. It was a very nice collection.

We stopped in the cafe to try for breakfast, but they stopped serving at noon. The three of us had coffee to hold us over, then walked towards the Plaka. Marios was going to show us some of his favorite local flavors. The cafe he brought us to is actually one in an alley we had walked by yesterday and thought was incredibly cute. 

Alley might be the wrong word. It was a broad staircase that shot out from a side street. It was entirely lined with cafes and the stairs were covered in tables, or pillows for people to sit straight on them. It looked pretty popular yesterday, but we weren’t ready to eat when we noticed it then. Jolie and I were both pretty excited when we realized we were returning to it, with the endorsement of our local friend.

Lunch was fantastic. We split a four different authentic Greek plates. Our Greek salad, of course, but also a lentil salad that was scrumptious. I loved the potato soufflé, evidently not as tired of potatoes as I had believed myself to be, but the cheese pie was a big hit with Jolie and Marios. 

From here we meandered towards some ruins that Jolie and I had missed yesterday. Unfortunately, most of these (including the particular temple we were hoping to see) close at 3:00 which we arrived just after. We had seen plenty of Ancient Greece so we weren’t too sad, but it was still necessary to drown our sorrow in something sweet.
Marios again had the inside scoop. He took us to a neighborhood we hadn’t see yet that felt a bit more authentic, a little dingier and less touristy. Our destination was a local sweet shop. We spent a good amount of time in front of the display case, listening to him translate an old woman’s explanation of all of the pastries. They all looked fantastic, and were very traditional.

Although Jolie and I couldn’t understand a word the lady was saying, it was evident how much she cared for her craft. Jolie had Marios ask her which she was most proud of, and those are the ones we ordered. This was not a mistake. They were great. I think the liking was mutual; before we left, she told Marcos that Jolie and I were both very sweet. We also had a little round of Greek aperitifs.

We walked together back towards Syntagma Square before we went our separate ways. Marios works tomorrow, so we are hoping to see him for lunch for one last Greek salad. 

The whole day was more exhausting than it sounds. I think we are still recovering from conquering the acropolis, or maybe my month on the road is just now catching up with me. Jolie and I rested through the afternoon. We went back out around dusk for one last stroll through Plaka.

I fell in love with a skirt that was crushingly outside of my budget. I realized too late that I’ve bought hardly anything to take home for myself from this entire time abroad, and now I’m simply out of money. I didn’t handle the disappointment very gracefully. I have to admit that it was not pretty. I had a short rant over dinner, but I hope Jolie will forgive me for it. 

It felt like an early night, but there really is no such thing in Greece. Dinner is such a late affair that all of these “early” nights really aren’t early at all. We’ve just been having the best time though, and that’s all that’s important. I think Jolie and I are both going to have trouble tearing ourselves away tomorrow.

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It’s All Greek to Me

My Nonnie is getting better and I heard that there was a great party at the Uncle Tom house last night. I really wish I could have been there, and those are the things I’m really looking forward to about Kansas City. Michael and Colleen have revealed that their baby girl will be named Evelyn, which is such a beautiful name. I cannot wait to meet her. Patrick and Lindsey are moving back to KC, which is just thrilling because we really missed those guys… so all in all there is a lot of amazing news from the home front. I couldn’t be happier to see everyone again so soon. I’m so lucky to have a family full of such wonderful people.

I have to begin a little earlier than the beginning today. As you all know, I really enjoyed Prague but I left early to come to Greece. I had heard from some friends that there may be flooding after I left, and as the days went on Zuzana kept me up to date. 

The places we had been walking were entirely underwater. None of the metro was running. The bridges were almost swamped. I’m not sure if I would have been able to get out, if I had stayed there any longer. I am so lucky I left when I did. Today, the Czech prime minister declared a state of emergency and began evacuations. Zuzana is fine and her flat isn’t near the river, thank goodness. My narrow escape is a little harrowing to look back on. I hope that the beautiful city and it’s wonderful Inhabitants will all be safe and well. I am so glad I’m in sunny Greece. 

So today, Jolie and I woke up around 6:00. We wanted to get to the acropolis to best the crowds. The reason we’d waited til today is because Mondays are supposed to be the least busy, but mornings of course are even better. I thought it might be overcast in the dim morning light, but this is just what dawn looks like. I’ve seen the early morning quite a lot in the past few weeks, but I’ve been so far north that it’s never really dark. 

We had hotel breakfast. It had a lot of the Greek goodies, of course, but as a hotel that accommodates a lot of western travelers it also had the good pastries. I ate more chocolate croissants than I care to admit, but tried to balance it out with some eggs and fruit as well. As much as I enjoy a Mediterranean breakfast, I can’t resist a buttery chocolate filled baked good. 

Jolie and I arrived at the acropolis not long after it opened. There was a disappointingly large number of tour groups near the entrance, but once on the plateau and able to spread out it felt like we almost had the place to ourselves.

There was no reprieve from the beautiful Greek sun up there, but fortunately I had bathed in sunscreen this morning. I’m doing right by my skin and my mother.

To be amongst the Greek ruins is an amazing experience. It’s an experience I wasn’t sure I’d ever have in my life, and the moment you see these columns is a little surreal. Everyone has studied and seen pictures of Greek historical sights, as it really is the cradle of our western world. When you finally see the pillars of the pantheon or the porch of the maidens, it finally hits you. 

Not only were people able to construct something 4000 years ago with more staying power than any of our buildings today, but they did it on top of an enormous hill. Cutting the marble and somehow assembling it without the use of modern machinery is hard enough to believe, but then you have to consider that all of those pieces were carried up the enormous hill you just scaled yourself.

It was unfortunate that it was covered in scaffolding. Restoration work is being done currently to correct the faulty restoration done in the past. It will be really wonderful to see when it’s finished, if it ever is. It seems that with most of these historic sights that aren’t even half the age of the acropolis are under constant reconstruction. As soon as they finish restoring one part of the building, another part is falling down again. The maintenance of these places is like a modern myth of Sisyphus. 

From here, we visited all of the other major ancient ruins in Athens. On our way down we saw the Aeropagus. This is the rock where St Paul preached Christianity. There were ancient stairs carved into the stones as well as new, even, metal stairs. We took our chances on the stones, and are now confident that we have walked in the literal footsteps of saints. That’s pretty cool. 

We continued downwards and saw a few smaller buildings on our way to the Theatre of Dionysus. Jolie and I ran into an Asian couple who needed us to take their picture, but then the girl asked if she could take a picture with me. This is now the third or fourth time this has happened to me, and I am so glad Jolie was there because now I finally have a witness! It’s so strange how this keeps happening. Do I look like some celebrity I don’t know about? Jolie snapped a picture with my camera, too, so now I have a photo of me with an Asian stranger to prove that this really happened.

The theatre was pretty cool, but it was a tough walk down. It was our last stop in the acropolis complex because it was the lowest elevation and right by the acropolis museum. The museum is supposed to be one of the best in the world. It has glass floors because below it is an excavation site of the ancient city. It has replicas of the sculptures stolen from the pantheon from the British, with signs saying that they’re still waiting on the originals. 

Personally, I don’t think those sculptures are ever coming back. It’s not fair, no, but that is how the world works. Almost every major museum in Europe is basically a showcase for the spoils of war. The Nazis marched straight up to the doors of the Lourve when they took Paris. Granted, the Lourve had been completely emptied in anticipation of this (ha! suckers!) but this is still how these things work. Even my hometown Nelson Atkins Museum of Arthas some very angry Chinese temples “waiting” to get walls and sculptures back, and I don’t even want to start talking all the Egyptian treasures scattered around the globe. It’s time to move on, everybody. 

The museum isn’t open on Mondays. Somehow it had slipped our minds that no museum is ever open on Mondays. Fortunately, we still have another day left, so we will go tomorrow.

We found a few other temples and ruins that weren’t physically connected to the acropolis complex, including the Roman agora and the Temple of Zeus. These were less crowded and you could get closer. Plus, they weren’t covered in ugly scaffolding and construction workers. There is one we saw from a few days ago we couldn’t find our way back too, but around high noon we knew it was time to get out of the sun.

We had a coffee first. Jolie bought some table runners for her family. Greece, like Turkey, has amazing textiles at great prices. We took our lunch at the place we’d had dinner last night and it was just as good. Then, we went back to the hotel. As hard as it is for me to accept the pace of the southern countries, being in the sun and the heat gives you a sudden appreciation for the siesta concept. We took a little nap and lounged indoors til the worst of the afternoon had passed. 

All of the main shops had closed by the time we went back out into the city. We contended ourselves with a bottle of white wine and a Greek salad back at Commerce, where Marios told us he’d be after 3:00. I hope we don’t get him in trouble for chatting too much, but we have such a great time with him. He takes very good care of us and has fantastic stories. We’d talked about going to the acropolis together today, but he wasn’t able to. He’s coming along instead to the museum in the morning, “for our first date,” he said. “Our threesome date.” He’s hysterical.

Marios mentioned that he is a blogger. I’m going to try to get a link from him, but I’m guessing it will be in Greek. His Facebook statuses are pretty weird to see in my newsfeed since even the alphabet is so different.

I don’t know how we got on the subject, but Jolie and I did learn about a fun Greek tradition. I think it’s because we were talking about English food, then beans, then barbecue beans, then black eyed peas… Which got us onto the subject of New Year’s traditions. Apparently, in Greece, you wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve and this brings good luck to that section of your life. 

I had to share this on Facebook, of course. This is clearly something people need to know. My mom responds that she needs to go shopping… Dad goes, “Wait, when did you get to Greece?” Thanks Dad. Love you too. But this means that I can say anything that I want to about him, since he clearly isn’t reading my blog! I haven’t laughed so hard in a while as I did at that.

Jolie and I went afterwards to a restaurant with her favorite cat and favorite baklava for a short dessert before bed. My tolerance for baklava has been reached. It’s so good, but just way too sweet for me. I don’t need any more for a few years. We retired after this, hoping to get another fairly early start tomorrow to go to the museum. 

Greek Eats and Treats

Today was another leisurely day. After our four bottles of wine last night, Jolie and I had a lie in til about 10:30. The sun had returned, so we spent a few hours on the rooftop. Jolie laid out by the pool while I read The Mill on the Flossbin the shade, fully saturated in my 50 SPF sunscreen. You can never be too careful.

We got in touch with Meg and met her for brunch at the restaurant from last night. We couldn’t resist the Greek salad, but also had a Greek omelette. It sounded delicious, with potatoes, caramelized peppers and onions… But it was REAL delicious. It was the best omelette I have ever had. I wanted to eat five of them, I enjoyed it so much… But I didn’t. We had Greek frozen yogurt instead.

This actually is Greek yogurt that’s frozen, so it’s not as sweet as the regular stuff. You pick your toppings of fruit, nuts, or biscuits. We took our treats to a sunny square to enjoy.

Not much is open on Sundays, so we three strolled around the city some more. Meg showed us the route to walk to the acropolis so we would know where to go tomorrow. We all found souvenirs and postcards to buy.

A pit stop was necessary in the mid afternoon for coffee and baklava. There is nothing as decadent as baklava here. It’s sweet enough that the three of us could hardly tackle one piece together. The restaurant tried to sell us two, but it just wasn’t going to happen.

It did whet our appetite for real food, though. We passed a little more time walking around. Meg picked up her luggage from her hostel and moved it to our hotel, a much better location. We had drinks on the roof under the shadow of the acropolis. The house specialty is a cocktail somewhat like a screwdriver, but thicker and more delicious. It’s somehow made with jam. Meg had this, and I tried a sip. I might try mixing jam into my own cocktails when I get home.

When it got too windy on the roof, we started to look for dinner. We had seen quite the interesting place earlier that had an abundance of pita bread and advertised a €5 “crisis dinner.” This turned out to be the find of the day. It has actually been a while since any of us have had meat, and no starch all day, but we changed all that. We got an enormous platter to share. There was amazing grilled, skewered pork, chicken, and lamb, donner meat, tzatziki, chips, and of course some pita.

I haven’t been this universally happy with food in a long time. It’s wonderful in this country. Jolie and I were initially surprised at the lack of hummus, but on further research we discovered that it is in fact middle eastern–not Mediterranean at all. Not that we’re complaining about the food here, but it does feel like we’ve been living a lie.

After dinner we sent Meg on her way to the airport and retired early. Tomorrow will be a very full day. We’re finally going to be seeing the Athenian cultural sights. It’s acropolis time.

June

The Athenian weather was, according to Jolie, a bit cooler today than it had been. There was also an inexplicable cover of clouds. I applied precautionary sunscreen before we went out, in good faith that the sun would burn off the clouds by noon.

Not that this gave it much time. Jolie and I had slept til nearly 10:00. We are both here for the primary purposes of rest and relaxation. There’s plenty to see, of course, but we have plenty of time to see it. There is no need to be in a hurry. We’re adopting the Mediterranean pace of life.

Most of the day was spent walking around our neighborhood. Our hotel is located right off Syntagma Square, in Plaka, and is quite central. We mostly made circles through shops, and saw everything from the large chains to high-end retail to flea markets.

I began my quest for shoes. My flats are literally falling apart at the seams. They look and feel pretty bad. I only needed them to last another minute, but they just aren’t going to make it. Besides, I’m in Greece, and I’ve always wanted a pair of good gladiator sandals.
We checked out various Greek shoe stores between rounds of coffee and pastries. At the far corner of the flea market, we had the most amazing baklava of my life. And I did eventually find great shoes for less than half the price we were originally seeing, that were my favorite of the whole day. They’re leather, made in Greece, and dyed that super trendy green-blue.

After midday we went to meander round the national gardens. Greece has been an interesting experience at this particular time because the government is bankrupt. The city and gardens, therefore, are poorly maintained; but there is still a huge amount of pride obvious within the Greek culture. Streets and restaurants are sparkling. The food is fantastic. It’s a very strange juxtaposition, as striking as the Ancient Greek temples that neighbor H&M.

Our stroll tapered off around 6:00. Jolie and I decided to have a long Grecian dinner at the amazing restaurant she discovered, Commerce Cafe. I was worried that our American nature would take over and we’d fly though our feast, but I’d say we successfully assimilated. We were there until midnight, and by that time our party had doubled in size.

The first addition was a girl my age named Meg. Jolie had met Meg and her family the night before. Meg’s parents were leaving Athens this morning, but she was remaining on her own for a few days. She studies full time at St Andrews in Scotland, not as an exchange student. 
Jolie had made the traditional Greek salad at Concord legendary, and Meg was there to try it for herself. We were about half way through our first bottle of wine when Jolie noticed her sitting only a few tables behind us, and exclaimed loudly, “Is that Meg?!” It was, of course, and we were so happy to have her join us. 

I really enjoyed meeting her. I wish even more I had thought to apply to European universities from high school and done my whole degree here instead of just a semester. St Andrews sounds like an amazing place with many hilarious traditions. Maybe it’s a place I can get a master’s degree.

Our waiter was a young Greek man named Marius. He told us a sad story earlier in the night about how he’d lost half his thumb at his last job. We tried to reassure him that no one would notice his thumb with such a handsome face (Greek people, by the way, are all gorgeous–the ones who aren’t trolls) but he was very sad and insecure about it. He wanted a prosthetic thumb tip, but such things are quite expensive.
When his shift ended around 11:00 we persuaded him to join us. We three beautiful ladies and our final bottle of wine was enough to tempt him, and he practically been a member of the party the whole evening. It was great company, all in all, and I hope to see more of them both throughout the rest of our time here.

It was quite late by the time Jolie and I got back to the hotel. It had started raining sporadically throughout dinner, which was hard to believe. its not allowed to rain in athens. I think it must have followed me. It ceased just long enough for us to walk home, but was on and off again late into the night.

Arriving home so late happily gave me a chance to speak with my beautiful boyfriend, who is now 8 hours behind me. I did so from the roof, trying to enjoy the warm nighttime weather and view of the acropolis between the light showers. I so rarely get to talk to him these days, I was so grateful for the chance tonight regardless of the weather.

Marius had told us it was customary to wish one another a good month on the first, which lead me to realize that today is the first day of June. This was pretty shocking. I’m so excited to see my darling Matthew before the month is out. It’s been so long it’s hard to believe. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe how fast the time has gone since I arrived in Europe. 

June is the month I return to America. I still have a little time left, but it’s getting more and more difficult not to dwell on the end especially now that the month has arrived. I’m conflicted. I never want this adventure to end, but I do have a few things to look forward to in the states. Large sodas, free tap water, driving a car, and Matthew. It’s all right around the corner now. Ready or not…

The Odyssey

The journey from Prague to Athens was an interesting one. And to think, I was worried about being late (late for being two hours early) this morning.

As it turns out, I wasn’t late. It was a misty morning in Prague. I caught the train to the tram to the bus with no problems. I even accidentally got off at the wrong stop and had to wait for the next bus. That was a little awkward. I wasn’t paying attention, then when I heard the announcement “airport terminal something” I panicked and jumped off.

I didn’t see anything that looked like an airport. I thought perhaps the public bus just dropped you off nearby and you had to walk the rest of the way. My main concern is that I had no idea which terminal to go to. I had no wifi at my apartment, and no way of getting online before my journey.

I spend a few minutes at a security point at some nearby complex. I thought this could make sense, you know, airports and security. I spoke with a very confused Czech man who I’m sure had no idea why I was demanding information about the airport. The language barrier didn’t help.

I decided I had no options but to get back on the bus and try again. I didn’t wait long. The real airport was three stops further. I arrived two hours before my flight almost to the minute, so I was feeling quite good about everything.

I find flying and airports kind of relaxing. I spend so much time in my daily life right now running around. I’m always trying to figure out where I am, where I’m going, it’s exhausting. In an airport, as long as you get there with the recommended two hours, you just move through the machine. You don’t have to figure anything out yourself, and then you’re on a plane. Not only are airplanes fun and exciting, but you’re actually forced to do nothing. I don’t allow myself that often, and I actually really enjoy it.

The thing that I like about airports is that, even when things go wrong, you’re just rerouted. You still follow a planned route. That was the case today. That romantic fog is not so seductive for take offs and landings. I was told to have a coffee and come back for more info in a half hour.

I never mind having a nice coffee. Moreover, the whole airport had free wifi, so I was sufficiently entertained. When I came back, they were going ahead with my flight to Warsaw with only a small delay. It was a small delay that would make me miss my connecting flight, but that was their problem to worry about, not mine. This is why I like airports. When trains are cancelled or things go awry any place else, you have to figure out your own solution. 

I can be a very zen traveller when things are out of my control. Plus, I always try to remember how much anger and frustration the poor airline employees have to face on days like this. They’re not responsible for the weather, they’re just here to help accommodate you in the best way possible. And I hope that, if the time ever comes that there is a single seat left on a flight to Athens or some extra goodies to give out, they’ll remember the nice girl who smiled and wished them a pleasant day. That’s me.

I’m sitting at a window seat in the Starbucks, observing the misty cause of our delay and writing addresses on postcards. I had been worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to use wifi and get that taken care of, so I was glad for the time. I was pretty absorbed in my task, and had just finished when I realized at a quite curt Czech voice was directed at me. 

They were ordering me to leave because there was some suspicious luggage. I suddenly realize that I am the only person left in the place and there is security tape all around me. I quickly try to gather my things. I’m sure I looked like the clueless tourist of the year as I fled the Starbucks in total disarray. They hadn’t just blocked off the shop but that whole half of the airport. Whoops. I saw the offending backpack on my way. I kept thinking to myself that if this thing explodes and kills me while I’m trying to pick up all these darn postcards, Matthew is going to have new passion for his career.

Displaced, I decided that this was as good a time as any to head back to the check in desk and see about my flight. I was told that I should go ahead and get through security, it would only be delayed 45 minutes. I’d probably miss my connecting flight since I’d had only a 30 minute layover, but they told me that they would work something else out for me at Warsaw.

After waiting around by the gate for a while, the flight was cancelled completely. I was very, very happy that I had decided not to check my luggage. While everyone else was stuck at the baggage reclaim desk, I breezed on through to the ticket desk.

I was the first to arrive from this cancelled flight, and the poor guy was clueless. He called his superiors, who apparently gave him no information but to tell us to wait there. I was suspicious about the inefficiency. I considered going to the ticket desk outside security, but he promised us some free food vouchers so I thought I’d see where that went.

Person after person came up with the same questions: I don’t need to go to Warsaw, is there a different way to get to my final destination? Should I get my luggage and from where? Am I in the right place?
His response was an increasingly frustrated plea for us to just wait. Again, I was feeling a little suspicious.

When another man came up to ask about getting to Athens, I told him that it was my destination as well. He has a smart phone and a personal assistant, and while we were waiting was able to ascertain more concrete information. The next way to get to Athens was via Munich and we would arrive around 6:00. They could do this for us straight away at the other ticket desk.

Happy I’d cast my lot in with this guy, we headed out of the security area. Unfortunately, the flight to Munich was full. The next flight was through Frankfurt, and would deposit us in Athens at 21:55. 
Of course, this isn’t ideal. If it had known I’d be spending an entire day in the Prague airport, I could have seen a few more this this morning. But like I said, I’m quite tired. I’m lucky to be going to Greece at all. A nice relaxing day before I arrive is actually pleasant. I have a new friend, food vouchers, and I’ve now experienced my first ever cancelled flight. All in all, not a bad day. Besides, airport or not, I’m still in Prague. I’m lucky to be anywhere on this continent, every single day.

My friend asked me if I smoked, and although I don’t I was happy to join him. We stopped for a coffee, and I was completely bewildered when he got out a cigarette right then and there. Coming from America, it’s so unexpected to see smoking indoors. I assumed he’d meant to step outside to smoke, and it took me a few moments to process. It was just a small moment, but one of those funny things that stand out to you when you travel.

The only bad thing to come of having to leave security was that, on the way back through, my eye makeup remover was confiscated. There was only a small amount in the bottom of a relatively small bottle, but it goes a long way. It would have lasted me months. I’ve flown with that same bottle in much fuller states, gone through the same security with it just earlier that day, and it was quite irritating to see it thrown out now. Fortunately I was meeting a professional makeup artist in Athens, the amazing miss Jolie. I wouldn’t be totally out of luck tonight.

We ate lunch using our “refreshment vouchers” and headed to our gate. The flight, of course, was delayed. This time it was not due to weather, but the plane itself was running late. Apparently, due to strong northerly winds, only one runway was usable. Every flight out was delayed. The bad news didn’t end there, for we were headed straight back to Frankfurt to catch out flight to Athens.

I think I dozed off through most of the short flight. There was a sense of general panic when we arrived, and I believe that we were the only ones not late for our flight. I hope the delays allowed everyone to get to their planes on time. I had two hours to get to my gate, so let the rest run past me.

My friend and I had coffee while we waited, by now for the fourth time. It’s taken a lot of caffeine to get me through this day. As you know, it’s been a long week. Our flight was projected to be 40 minutes late, which turned out to be nearly correct. Unlike American flights, all European flights over two hours serve a meal–and as an American, this excites me.

This trip dragged on for much longer. It’s a shame, because I really like to be up in the air. I fell victim to what seems to be a more and more frequent occurrence these days: the man next to me was slightly too large for his seat. His body was as wide as the seat could allow, which meant that his arms at rest at his sides intrude several inches over the narrow armrest and into my space.

Normally, being petit means I’m quite comfortable on planes. I have an extra few inches between my arms at rest and the armrests. But I had nowhere to go to escape from constant an awkward contact, since the lady on my other side was of a perfectly average size and took up an average amount of room. She’d have to have been quite small for me to borrow any of her space reasonably. The food was decent, but it was an uncomfortable three hours.

I tried to prop my left foot up on my purse to keep it a bit elevated. I only need my feet to last two more weeks, and that can’t be too much to ask. There is a sharp pain at the top of my foot, and I’m not quite sure how to deal with it because I’ve never had problem like it before. Even after a restful day like today both my feet are swollen, again an atypical problem for me. I don’t think I’m doing particularly more walking than my other travels, so I wonder if it’s the constant cold and wetness. 

I’m going to buy new shoes if I come across any, because these are falling apart now at the seams. They have several large holes, but apart from being in once piece I don’t expect to find anything that will be much improvement. Again, just two weeks is all I need from them. I wish I could afford new insoles, as well. They usually last a few years, but I’ve worn mine out in less than five months. I think I’ve just been doing that much more walking than average.

When I bought them, I asked how I could tell when it would be time to replace them. I was told it would be like when you knew to replace an old pair of sneakers (which I admittedly don’t have much experience with) and they would be wrinkled and cracked. Well, mine fit this description. They’re cracked on several places and I’m wearing it away in the heel. 

It’s a bummer to have spent a full day in airports that I could have been exploring Athens or Prague, especially since I had so little time left. However, as difficult as it has been to actually get to Greece (I could have been 1/3 of the way there by train in the amount of time it took today) I am so incredibly happy with my decision. I’m going to take a slower pace and enjoy the dry, sunny country. I had wanted to badly to go there, and for so many reasons now I’m happy it worked out. 

I arrived after 11:00. All of my troubles for the day would have been made up to me by a new stamp in my passport alone, but that stupid EU foiled me again. This was quickly forgotten though, when I walked out into the night and it was warm and dry. At night. I had forgotten such things were possible. 

I tried to take the train back but the bus made more sense. Mine was the last stop so there was no way to miss it. The hotel was supposed to be very near the Syntigma Square, practically in it, so I hadn’t planned my route any further. 

A young Greek man saw me looking bewildered and offered his assistance. His name is Chris. He told me that he has many friends who are traveling at the moment, so he hears a lot about the complications of traveling. He also didn’t want to leave me to wander around at midnight, which was really cool.

There is an Electra Palace and and Electra Hotel both within a few blocks of the square. I knew I was in the palace, but I don’t think he knew that the names were different. We went to the wrong one first, but it was a small mistake. I reunited with Jolie a few short minutes later.

The hotel (or should I say palace?) is fabulous. She took me up to the rooftop pool for my first view of the acropolis. The angle from here is totally unobstructed and stunning. I felt like I was really in Greece! I could have gotten here faster from America than I did from Czech, but I did it. It’s amazing how exhausting this can be, as relaxing as it seems to hang out and drink coffees all day. I will sleep well tonight!

Rainy Prague

Prague is enchanting.

I have a guide book to Europe. I borrowed it from my parents. Actually, my mom wrote me a love note in the front cover that i only discovered this week. It was a lovely little surprise. So, the perfect for this kind of trip. It has key information for each country like phrases, currency, and a little history, then a guide to the sights in each major city.

The very first sentence about the Czech Republic says, “Nothing will prepare you for the beauty of Prague.” Today, I learned a little about that.

I also realized, again, what a good decision it was to go ahead and go to Athens. I had my first real night of sleep in a long time, and I never wanted to wake up. I had been planning to go to the earliest Prague walking tour at 10:00, but when I woke up I realized it was raining. It was raining, I was so tired, and I decided to go back to sleep until the rain passed.

The rain never passed and I only slept for another hour. Zuzana and I had been joking yesterday that I might just stay in the apartment all day and rest, since I can, and I actually came very close to that. It’s a good thing there’s no food here so I was forced to leave. Still, I really enjoyed a leisurely morning for a change. I felt only slightly guilty about spending my limited time in Prague in bed.

I discovered that during the day, there are several restaurants on the lower levels of my apartment buildings and the ones around it. None served breakfast, so I had Chinese food for brunch and used wifi. My only real plan was to go to the free walking tour, the next of which was at 2:00. Although it was really overcast, the rain had abated. I was hoping for it to stay that way. 

It met in the old town square. I arrived pretty early and wandered around for a while. I had passed through the night before with Zuzana, but it was nice to see in the daytime. I met two girls who were also going to take the tour, an Australian girl named Cherise and an Egyptian girl named Miriam. We hung around together for most of the tour, but it was one of the friendlier groups I’d ever been with. I met an American girl who has been living in Istanbul for a semester abroad and a Brazilian mother-daughter duo. The mother had the most fabulous hair I’d ever seen.

The guide was really friendly, too. He is an American guy from Georgia and Florida. He was charismatic and funny, and informative. Like all European cities, Prague has a rather tumultuous path with lots of death and drama. I think this was one of my favorite European walking tours so far, even though the conditions were less than ideal.

Yesterday was sunny and at times downright hot. Today was rainy, and usually downright cold. The guide had a few tricks up his sleeve, and kept us mostly under shelter when he was talking to us. Of course, there was no help but to get wet from place to place. My shoes were a goner immediately. Once the damage is done, you get used to it and move on. It only really bothers you in the beginning, and then any time after you’ve taken your shoes off and have to put them on still wet.

We stopped for lunch and a break at a place that served, among other things, American pancakes. This was tempting, but there wasn’t time for much more than soup and bagels. Thinking that I might only have two meals today, brunch and linner, I had two whole bagels. You never know when you’ll have the chance to eat again.

After I asked about Kafka, he showed us a few of the places that he lived and worked along the route. I guess people don’t usually ask about him, but he spent a lot of time in Prague and seemed like he really got around. He lived in many places, had many jobs, and we even saw his synagogue. 

Mozart also loved Prague, and Prague, Mozart. I got to see the theatre where Don Giovanni premiered and a statue dedicated to him based on the ghost in the final act. They love it so much in Prague that it runs pretty regularly at the opera house. It’s actually on now, but I didn’t have the time to see about getting a ticket. It’s one of my favorites. I’ve seen it either three times now or four, I can’t recall.

The Jewish quarter was, as usual, one of my favorite parts. I’ve always wanted to see the Jewish cemetery in Prague. It was much to small for the Jewish population, but since they were confined to the ghetto they had to improvise. Graves there are stacked up to 12 people atop one another. It’s amazing. In the Jewish museum are some the drawings of the children of the nearby Teresin ghetto, which I have learned about and really wanted to see as well. Unfortunately, the tour ended too late for me to make it back there.

After the tour, I went to get coffee with my new friends. They brought other people they’d met on the tour, and there was quite a good little party of us. People split off one by one, everyone pretty much wanting to spend the rest of the evening in their respective hostels where it was warm and dry. I desperately wanted to do the same, but this was also my last chance to see anything in Prague. When Ben, an Australian guy, told me he was going up to the castle, I decided that I had to come along.

We said goodbye to Miriam and Cherise, along with another guy named Scott. They had all said repeatedly that they were going straight back to their hostel, but changed their minds. The five of us were a merry party, after the initial shock of being back in the freezing rain wore off. At first we tried to share the few umbrellas that we had between us, but those of us without soon were so wet that it didn’t make a difference.

It was clear right away that we had all made the right decision to go to the castle. Even before we got there, we were discovering the beauty of Prague. We didn’t consult any maps. The castle is on top of a large hill, so we just headed towards the incline. The staircases we found were amazing and the views of the city just really elegant. I think we even forgot about the rain for a while.

We made it to the top, but everything had already closed. Still, the architecture was beautiful. I think the weather had scared off everyone else because we were the only ones around. I love that. I love having a place to myself to enjoy, without having to worry about pickpockets or other tourists getting in my photos.

We came down the other side. I think we thought that we had discovered the beauty of Prague before, but it was nothing compared to this view. Even the rain was suddenly atmospheric. the soft light filtering through clouds in the early evening made the whole city seem to glow.
On the other side of the hill, we weren’t quite sure what to do. I proposed going to the Charles Bridge. I had seen it the night before with Zuzana, but I wanted to see it in the light as well. 

We took almost the same route as Zuzana and I had the night before. I showed them all where she had shown me all of the swans, which is still delightful. There are wonderful views of the Charles Bridge from that point. As we carried on, we discovered a few things for ourselves. There’s a fountain where two men, Hitler and Stalin, stand on either side of the Czech Republic… Both peeing on it. The best part of this is that it moves. The hips rotate back and forth, and the pensisis (peni?) move up and down as they stream pee onto the country below.

We also stumbled upon this alley the boys had heard about during a boat tour. It gets so narrow that only one pedestrian can fit through at a time so there are stop lights to let you know when you can walk through. You could also look with your eyeballs to see if anyone were coming and whether or not you’d both fit, but that wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

The Charles Bridge is perfect at dusk. The entire city of Prague is so picturesque and photogenic. My camera takes decent photos in the half light, but any darker and they would have been all a blur. Across the bridge, we looked back and saw the castle atop the hill. It was lit from below, but there was still just enough light in the sky to discern all the buildings below. Everything was bathed in cool twilight blue. It’s one of the most beautiful sights of the trip. 

I thought a lot about Before Sunrise today. I know it was actually set and filmed in Vienna, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, Vienna, Budapest, and Prague share the same concept. Perhaps it’s because I just didn’t get the chance to really explore Vienna. I wasn’t thinking about that movie or I honestly would have given myself more time there. Whatever the reason for it, probably all of the unexpected enchanting vignettes within this day, the movie has been on my mind. 

I’m loathe to leave the city, but I really need to get out of the rain and get some real rest. My foot started hurting in the strangest way; it’s the muscles on the top part of my foot. I’ve never had that happen to me before and I’m not quite sure what it is or what to do about it. After the Charles Bridge, the pain became quite sharp.

We had a small meal together before we parted ways. Ben had an amazing looking crepe from a street vendor, then Scott and Miriam had pizza while the rest of us had drinks in a cafe. Since they’re going to Hungary from here, I gave them the rest of my florints. It was a nice little bit of change for them, but the denominations were too small for me to get changed anywhere. I don’t mind passing it along to my friends, though.

Getting back to the apartment was easy enough, and it does feel so good to be dry and out of the rain. I hope my shoes dry by morning. It will be an early one. I have to get to the airport!

Today was such a beautiful day for Prague and for friendships. I hope all of these people and places will come back into my life someday.

Golden Prague

“It’s like we’re literally in prison right now,” and “god, it’s like all they want you to do in here is sleep,” are only two among a string of such astute observations that lulled me into a peaceful slumber on the train last night. I got to hear all about the Krakow nightlife. I missed the marathon of 6 AM nights, since I was waking up two full hours before then.

I felt bad for the older lady on one of the bunks who didn’t have earplugs. I would have offered her my extra pair, but they had already been in my ears so that’s pretty gross. Still not sure which would be worse, though… Listening to the drivel of other travelers, or wearing waxy earplugs. These are the people who make my age group look bad.

I gave them 15 minutes before I put my foot down about the lights. I know it’s shocking, but people do actually plan to sleep on overnight trains.

After this, the night was fine. Polish overnight trains are a little sketchy. The sheets were square and could in no way cover the whole bunk, the lights were kinda broken, but these things are all part of the adventure.

I slept as well as one can on a train, and felt pretty refreshed upon arriving in Prague. It was 7:30. Now, my accommodation in Prague is a little unusual. A friend of mine from Kansas City, Nick, had heard I was coming to Prague and introduced me via Facebook to his local friend Zuzana. Zuzana and I had been communicating for the past few weeks and I am convinced there is not a kinder person. She found me an apartment to stay in. It belongs to one of her friends, but since he isn’t staying there at the moment he rents it out cheaply.

To get the key to the place, I had to go to his boyfriend’s hair studio. This was the easy part, since it’s basically right across the street from the train station. I get there fine, but find out that he doesn’t arrive in until 9:00.

At this point I’m pretty hungry, so I’m not terribly upset by the idea of finding food and coffee and wifi. I started to walk around, looking for a cafe. for some reason in this part of Prague, none open before 9:00. My bag starts to feel heavy after a while so I cut my losses and head back to the train station. If nothing else, I know it will be good for a Burger King.

To my delight, there’s a little place there with all of the things I was looking for. Food, caffeine, wifi. There, I had one of the best omelettes of my life. I was incredibly hungry since last night I’d only had a twix for dinner, but it was a hot, substantial omelette made with bacon. It really hit the spot.

My blog yesterday prompted a lot of support for me going to join Jolie in Athens. Flying was indeed an option I hadn’t really considered. I really had wanted to go to Greece during this trip, it just never really made financial or logistical sense. It still doesnt, but I didn’t take much persuading. I am going to Athens. I am SO excited to see Jolie. I found a relatively reasonable flight, and I leave Prague Friday morning.

The only city I’m really missing is going to be Salzburg. As much as I love The Sound of Music and wanted to see this city that my mom is so in love with, it will have to wait for another trip. It’s now on my long list of good reasons to return someday to Europe.

I had been planning on spending a lot of time in Prague and looking forward to spending more than a couple days in one place. Knowing that I only had two full days changed my plans. Kutna Hora, a small town outside of Prague, was high on my list, so I decided that would be how I spent my day.

After I got the keys to the apartment and dropped off the money for it, I headed back to the train station. I dropped my bag in a locker and hopped on the next train out.

For some reason, an hour on the train feels so much shorter than an hour in the car. Also, something about trains always makes me sleepy. Maybe these two things are related, since I spend a lot of train travel time dozing. The train went to a station outside the city, and then I had to transfer for a short 10 minute ride into the main station. This is what I was told to do when I bought my tickets in Prague. I had it on good authority that this station was closest to all of the sights.

It’s quite a small station, but it makes sense because Kutna Hora is a small place. The primary draw for me was the Ossuary, a small Roman Catholic Church decorated with tens of thousands of human skeletons. I asked the one lady working at the train station where this was located, but there was a troublesome language barrier. She tried to tell me to go back to the last train station.

I decide to ignore this advice, and I turn around to see another girl about my age looking frustrated. Apparently, she had just been at the last station. They told her to come here, and now she was being told to go back there. I introduced myself, then my new friend Nicky and I decided to join forced. Outside the train station we were in some strange residential block of new, crummy apartment building. An English speaker walking a dog told us that it was a two mile walk to the church but a straigh shot. Hoping he actually meant kilometers but said miles because he could tell we were Americans, we set off in that direction.

The walk was pretty short. It was very sunny, even hot, which was a nice change from Poland. We found the Ossuary with no problems.

It was a really bizarre place, but small. It was a pretty quick stop.

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I can’t remember why they suddenly has such a surplus of dead bodies in this town that they ran out of room in the graveyards. Whatever happened, I’m glad it did. There were large pyramids made of bones, which were hard to photograph, but everything else was mad of bones too. Chains of bones were hanging from the ceiling. The chandelier was made of skulls and femurs. There was even a crest made of bones. It was wild and so morbid. What possesses people to create something like this? Other cities with extra humans laying around do normal things, like create catacombs. What happened in Kutna Hora that this was the natural thing to do?

We had a few hours til a train back. We stopped in a cathedral and had lunch. We accidentally killed a little too much time and then missed this train. The next train left in an hour, which was almost as long as it took us to find the train station again.

Nicky and I were back in Prague by 7:00 and went our separate ways. I was meeting Zuzana in an hour, which wasn’t enough time to drop my bag off at my apartment. I instead had a coffee and a snack. When I’m really tired, I have to eat a lot more often just to keep my energy up. It took me longer than I expected to get to her, so I was a few minutes late, but this was fine.

Zuzana is so sweet and wonderful in real life. She showed me all around Prague. One of the first things we saw was the Charles Bridge, from afar. It looks like something from Beauty and the Beast, enchanted. Later on, we passed over it. It’s actually kind of a small city, and we did a lot of walking. Some parts felt like Before Sunrise, like when we walked past a window and some young teens were practicing piano on the other side.

When we were on the Charles Bridge, near the end of our evening, she told me that this place was so romantic that if she were a man she would have to kiss me there. Someday, I’ll come back with Matthew.

We passed a church that had been turned into a nightclub and took a peek inside. It was so strange. Tourist traffic really drives up the demand for discotheques, which is something I don’t like or understand. You can get drunk and party anywhere in the world, like at home. Why would you waste your precious, limited time abroad on that? And then waste more time recovering from your hangover the next day?

We saw some pretty squares and the astrological clock. I am really excited to explore again in the morning. There are some free walking tours, which I always love.

Time got away from us a bit. We were about to part ways at 11:30, but the metro closes at 12:00 and I wasn’t sure if I could make it to the train station, get my luggage, and back to the correct metro line on time. Since I didn’t have a phone, Zuzana came with me as far as the train station. She was impressed by the smallness of my luggage. I’m proud of it! It’s a small bag for a month.

In the end, I had no problem with time. I found the apartment quite easily. It’s a designer’s, and you can tell. It’s impossibly modern and clean. It’s so nice to be alone, too. I don’t have to worry about other people waking me up at all hours of the night, or where I will leave my things during the day that they’ll be safe. And I so deserve a good night’s sleep.