Sunday, July 17, 2005

Europe 2005 - Greece

Driving from the port town from Patras into Athens was yet another new traffic adaptation we got to learn. The roads are 1 lane in each direction so you're expected to get into the emergency lane if a faster car comes up behind you with some of the slower cars and trucks that just stay in the emergency lane. Along all the highways are little things shaped like little churches. (Greek churches-white with blue domes or red with tile domes.) but they are about the size of mailboxes. At first we thought they were mailboxes since they are not evenly spaced but now we think they are personal shrines either to protect their fields because I don't think that many people have died on the roads.
My theory is shot about there being a correlation between driving style and whether that culture uses lines (queuing) In Italy they had an aversion to lines but would line up if it was roped off. Here in Greece they do a much better job staying in their lane but it is whoever makes eye contact first for any service.
All the road signs, graffiti, and billboards look like giant math problems to me and similar to Russian to L. This is the first place we have driven that does not use the Roman alphabet. It really does bring light to the saying "its all Greek to me". While around Athens I could tell that many of the new signs had been installed for the Olympics and they also had English translations on them. The farther we got north the less we saw of those. Our road atlas has the Greek names in it but for an alphabet we don't have memorized any names longer then 6 characters and you start forgetting characters by the time you start looking up from the map to all the passing road signs. What’s worse is most of the GPS companies don't consider Greece as part of Europe so we have no GPS maps until Germany. Neither of us feel that we are experienced enough for this kind of driving yet but I guess this is how you learn and we can chalk up the rest to seeing more of the country-side.
Athens-driving into town we saw the Acropolis. So we thought great we can drive to that and buy a map of the city to find one of the hostels in the guidebook. The problem is as you get closer the tall buildings block out any view of the acropolis. There were scattered signs pointing down roads but if you followed the signs you would drive for a while then see a sign for Athens pointing the opposite direction. Next we tried using the map in our guidebook. It had the different city sections (boroughs?) labeled and the road signs pointed with the same names but that landed us in the seedy dock area. Just driving we passed a crowded area with tourist looking backpackers so we parked under the no parking sign with all the other cars and I hopped out while L. stayed in the car. I found a map and bought it but it was worse detail then we already had. After 2 hours of driving I thought that our luck had run out when I realized we had got close enough to the acropolis that buildings no longer blocked it out. We found the first hotel and they gave us a room for 60 Euro just to have it rented. We were across the street from the acropolis and had a view of the parthenon from our hotel room. Luck wins out again.
Through most of Italy we were being chased by a summer storm that kept it pretty cool. No more, the next morning it was 95 degrees according to CNN international. L. was still trying to kick a cold so we kept it slow for day, especially with the heat. Everything is very close together but it all on a steep hill (the acropolis) so its all up or down from each other. They sell it all as a combined ticket, I think to get tourists to go to some of the smaller places they wouldn't otherwise.
Parthenon- Once on top of the acropolis the area seems smaller then from down below. Even though the sign says that they finished construction on the parthenon in June 2004 it is still surrounded by scaffolding. In fact all the major sites were being repaired on top the acropolis, so much so it felt more like a construction site more then walking where the ancients had walked. (all construction was supposed to be finished for the Olympics just like the sign said they had stating it would be.) they had fixed the columns of the parthenon so they are now straight top to bottom. (they used to look more like stacked blocks growing smaller as the pillars went higher. The bow in the stairs is noticeable also. The funniest thing is that you see why the Greeks chose to build everything in marble. Its everywhere. The whole acropolis is one giant chunk of marble that has been polished on top from all the tourist shoes. most of the paths are paved with marble and very slippery when they are dusty or wet, so basically always. The walls lining the path are made out of the marble pieces left from other ruined buildings, so it catches you off guard to see part of a pillar sticking out.
Ancient Agora-so many people have lived here you really have to leave it to the experts to tell you which layer of history you are looking at. How they can put back together all the pottery is beyond me but they must be experts at puzzles and Tetris.
Countryside-You would think you were driving along the I-15/I-10 with all the oleander bushes, until you pass a truck with what you think is a dog in the back but it turns out being a sheep, or what looks like a fruit stand is also selling bottles of Uzo. The scenery here is similar to southern Italy, except for a larger concentration of olive trees .

Tourists-There seemed to be more French tourists at the acropolis then anyone else and there seemed to be less tourists then there should be for summer so I can only guess that some of the American and British tourists did not want to travel after the London bombings.

Scooters- In Italy the main thing the cops seemed to enforce is the scooter helmet law and there was about 99% compliance. In Greece we saw helmets maybe 10% of the time but the scooter drivers here are much less daring.

Camping- we camped one night on the Greece/Turkey border at the beach. It was mainly Greek tourists there and they were set up for staying the entire summer. Complete with satellite TV and microwaves in their large tents (the old cavas type).
Music-I bought 3 1gig memory cards for the maps for the GPS. I mis-calculated and only ended up using 2. With nothing else to put on the 3rd I filled it up with MP3's thinking we could listen while we were driving. The problem has been I can’t put in 2 memory cards and I have to have the map in for the GPS. since we can not use the GPS this is the first chance we have had to listen. We bought a Foo fighters CD in Spain and a Beatles CD in Italy for when we are out in the country. They have gotten old after listening to them so much so it is nice to have something different. Greece was the first country that has not had English songs mixed in so that helps too.

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