Friday, May 30, 2014

Big Trip Diary: Athens

Because I had a kidney transplant, Ben and I had to post-pone our honeymoon.  Instead of jet-setting immediately after our wedding, we ended up going to Greece for ten days in May.
I'm sharing a few pictures and our daily observations from this amazing trip!

Well, Athens is definitely a city. According to our driver, Jim, who picked us up from the airport once we arrived, some five million people live in the country's capital city. And you can tell. There are lots of narrow streets lined with residences stacked on top of each other like Lego blocks without any space between. Among the buildings,graffiti-decorated walls, honking cars and exhaust, stand rows and rows of orange trees, which Jim says we'd will find throughout Greece. But they are not for picking, and can only be consumed happily with tons of sugar due to the sour taste.
Athens is surrounded by mountains. And I learned that the Greek pronunciation of Athens is Athina, like the ancient goddess Athena.
Upon arriving in our hotel Ben and I slept for three hours, to make up somehow for being awake for 23 hours in a row while in transit. We went to a recommended restaurant, Hermion, located in the plaka, also considered the "old town" historic section of Athens, about a ten minute walk from our hotel. We ate lamb with olive oil and oregano, Greek style meatballs and rice, and lots of delicious bread with olive oil.  Buckets of olive oil on this trip. 

Dinner at Hermion
It was kind of difficult to navigate our way back to our hotel, because the plaka's streets are really like a maze of alleyways and one way driving lanes.  So it was inevitable for us to get lost in what Ben called, "Graffiti garbage town.  The plaka sits just below the Acropolis.  And even at 9:30 at night the cobblestone streets are filled with people, either shopping (at one of seemingly 9000 shoe stores), drinking coffee, eating pastries, drinking wine, or yelling. It's streets are also crowded with piles of trash, which is not one of the best things about Athens.

Wednesday morning in Athens started out unexpectedly early. Despite going to sleep at 11PM, we woke up at 3 AM, 3.5 hours before our alarm was scheduled to go off. In an attempt to prevent a severe crash after breakfast, we tried to force ourselves back to sleep.  We managed to sleep for another hour and a half before resigning to the fact that we were wide awake, and there was no changing that. We played on our tablet, talked, cuddled, Ben started a words with friends game. Then we exercised and prepared for breakfast. We were among three couples in the breakfast room at 6:35 a.m., five minutes after service began.

Our plans for the day were to participate in a four-hour tour of Athens and its number one attraction, the Parthenon. But first we visited the first modern Olympic stadium, built in 1896. Then it was off to the acropolis and the Parthenon. Our tour guide really could have come straight out of the History Channel.  She really knew her stuff. And the Parthenon is just incredibly awesome to look at, but its story is even more in amazing. It's survived 25 centuries, built with the hands of slaves to honor the city's patron goddess, Athena. Athena's gift to the city was an olive tree, which explains a lot about the cuisine and its popular condiment.Following our tour we took a brief visit to the temple of Zeus. 

We arrived back at our hotel in the afternoon, and ended up taking a four-hour nap to go with our four-hour tour.  The nap was not planned. We woke up, worried about the effects our nap would have on our jet lag, but we ended up getting ready for dinner at the infamous Strofi anyway.

Strofi is special in that it's situated just below the Acropolis, so it provides excellent views of the lit up Parthenon at night. We tried fried feta cheese, fried in filo dough, topped with sesame and honey, which was delicious. Then Ben feasted on kid goat baked in parchment paper while I ate pork with lemon to go.  We washed everything down with a bottle of wine that I accidentally mistook for $30 instead of it's true value, 30 Euro. We unexpectedly spent 100 bucks on dinner, and I failed in my attempt to eat vegetables, which I hadn't eaten since we landed in Greece. After dinner we stumbled back to our hotel, mildly drunk.
Fascinating Discoveries: 
  • If Athena is the patron god of Athens, then SNAPS are the patron cookie of Greece.
  • You're never more than a stones throw from a ruin, or a police officer in riot gear. 
  • The war between the stray cats and the dogs in Athens is alive ad well.  The stray cats rule the plaka, while the dogs run the Acropolis.
  • If Ben and I lived in Athens, there's a good chance one of us would not have jobs. One in two Greeks under 35 years old are unemployed.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

OK, just to get it all out in the open:  I'm a spoiled brat.  I grew up in a family where my dad's job in the military made it so we moved every couple of years and my dad received a decent amount of annual vacation.  So basically, we always took a family vacation during the summers, a couple weeks after school let out.  I think I can remember maybe one year that we didn't go on any sort of trip, even a brief one.  My "vacation upbringing" plays a big role in why I am the way I am.  

a tiny plane

Since I started working at my job, when I received my first 10-day allotment of annual leave, I set my sights on using that leave for vacations and trips as often as possible.  So it's not a surprise that I saved up a good chunk of annual leave and a medium chunk of money for our planned honeymoon to Greece, originally scheduled for June 2013. 

Honeymoon starts now

The TV commercials tell us that a couple has a wedding, they say the vows, exchange the rings, dance the dance, and shake the hands, go back to their hotel room and wake up the next morning ready to jet off to the tropical destination that is their honeymoon.  What's funny is that during the course of planning our wedding, I learned that that's not a reality for most couples that get married, young and old.  People told us they had to postpone their honeymoon for money reasons, lack of time, they were closing on their house, they had a kid, or that they just plain wanted to go later.  When the hospital scheduled my kidney transplant for May 3, I knew I was going to be in that club of people who didn't leave for their honeymoon right after the champagne toast, being that our honeymoon was scheduled to take place about a month and a half after my surgery.

I was a little sad about it.  OK...I cried while I was at the hallway.  Someone had to hug me.  I knew people would ask how was the honeymoon or when I was leaving for the honeymoon.  The only answers they would get were "we haven't gone yet" and "next year."  In fact, one time after the wedding, someone said that "I needed to go on my honeymoon."  I responded that I needed to get a kidney transplant instead.   That shut 'em up real fast. 

Greek Beach Days

To be fair though, Ben and I had two mini-moons (or the micro-moon and the mini-moon).  One was at our favorite inn in Virginia and the other was in Sedona and the Grand Canyon.  So, it's not like we were trip-deprived or anything.  But having those two scaled back trips helped us quickly get over the pain of not spending the summer in Greece. And ultimately, postponing our honeymoon gave us something really exciting to look forward to.  

Because we'd essentially been planning our honeymoon for almost two years, this trip had built up a TON of hype in our minds.  We had no choice but to have fun because we'd been waiting for this moment for quite a long while.  Thankfully, Greece exceeded our incredibly high expectations for our honeymoon.  

Now, that I'm back to blogging regularly stay tuned for a bunch of in-depth posts about our trip, more transplant-related stuff (including what it means to work out without any blood cells!) and just the general shenanigans of my life.  

Let me know how your May has been dear readers.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Honeymooners

Gone Travelin'
 On a Greek Excursion

not my picture

New Posts Starting May 26