Saturday, June 09, 2007

LIVE Blogging: High Seas Edition!

You know what I like on a long-haul ferry? WiFi and prepaid Internet cards. I like that in a long-haul ferry.

Yes, folks it's Saturday at 10:00 p.m. here in Greece (that's 3:00 in the afternoon in North Carolina and 1:00 p.m. in Costa Rica - the rest of you are on your own.) We're on an overnight ferry crossing the Aegean Sea, and I am on the Internet. I was so born at the right time in history.

Let's see, the last live entry was after our day in Athens, right?

We got ourselves to Kea (remember that's KAY-ah, or actually more like KEH-ah) with just moments to spare. Turned out the metro did run to the bus stop as we were told, and the bus did run every 25 minutes, as we had been led to believe. However, the bus did NOT take one hour; it took two. We also got off as soon as we reached the dock area, and it turned out that the bus then continued on (without us) right up to the loading area, while we had to race-walk about half a mile, carrying our heavy bags in the hot sun, to reach the ferry 8 minutes before its scheduled departure. But we made it, and were actually on board for several minutes before they folded up the ramp and left the dock.

We reached Kea and our host, Kostis (that's coast-EESS), was there to meet us. Kea is less touristy since the ferry leaves from a town 2 hours away from Athens, so I had had a lot of trouble contacting any hotels to get prices, much less reservations. I finally asked Kostis for advice, and it turned out that while he didn't have any triple rooms available at the time we were coming, he did have a double and was willing to add another bed. So as long as we connected with him, our lodging and tour were both confirmed. And as I said, he was waiting at the dock and, unsurprisingly, had no trouble picking out the three Americans getting off the very uncrowded ferry.

I thought his place was a few miles away from the port, but it was actually very close by - in walking distance, in fact. We settled in to what turned out to be a smallish but very lovely and comfortable room with simple furnishings, private bath and its own little outdoor sitting area.

We walked back to the dock to buy some bottled water and see the town (two blocks long and one building deep). We watched our ferry depart and a big yacht full of tourists arrive, then headed back up to the room. Kostis drove us up to the town of Ioulis (umm. I think it was), which was a few miles uphill and inland, and although very small, is the capital of the island. He drew us a map showing where to walk to see the town without getting lost on the twisty streets, to get a good view of the town itself, and to see the Lion of Kea, which is a statue about which more in a minute. He told us where to eat, arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 10:00 p.m., and headed back down to his place.

You can drive up to the town, but not into it because the roads are too narrow - the streets are built only for foot traffic or, in traditional times, donkeys. We saw some donkeys around, but not within the town, and we didn't see any, umm, evidence of them in the town either.

Wait until you see Lisa's pictuers of this town (and you will have to wait, unfortuntately, but more on that later). It tumbles down the hill, so there are very few flat surfaces, just stairs up and down, and every house is on a different level from its neighbors. Everything is whitwashed, with blue or sometimes green doors and shutters, flowers by many of the doors...just totally classic and breathtaking.

Our walk took us through the town, then maybe 10 minutes beyond it, past a cemetery, to the lion. The lion is free standing, but obviously carved out of the stone that was sitting right there, since there's no way it could be moved. I didn't think about it at the time, but it's got to be at least 10 feet tall, including the base, and twice that long. It is something of a mystery to historians and archaeologists, in that it was always sitting right there - never buried - and there's nothing else nearby to provide any context clues. However, based on the style of the lion, they estimate that it was carved in approximately 600 BC. And it's just sitting right there on the hillside of Kea, with a little plaque on the gate that leads from the "road" above. We got to walk right up to it, around it. We even touched it. This enormous 2600-year-old lion.

Then we walked back down to the village, appreciating the sunset all the while, and went to Rolando's, where Kostis had suggested we eat. Rolando greeted us enthusiastically, and brought out a little hand-written pad with the food he had available that day: about 8 kinds of fish, two kinds of meat, moussaka, salads, and some kind of yogurt thing. We ordered the yogurt dip, a Greek salad (of course), moussaka, and the fish that Rolando identified as Kostis' favorite.

Everything was great, although the sardines (not really, but pretty close) were probably not something we'd have again. We were done just in time to take a picture with Rolando and amble back down to where the road widened out enough for the island's only female taxi driver to pick us up.

Kostis' boat has an electrical problem, so rather than sailing we did the walking tour the next day. I was disappointed at first, but no longer! He took us to an archaeological site on the southern side of the island, where and then to a deserted beach in the next cove. Kostis has studied both botany and archaeology, and knows the archaologists at the site, so every time we turned around there was something new to see and learn about.

The site once had a temple and several other buildings of religious significance, and is being further excavated as well as partially reconstructed. We were allowed to walk all around the site, and Kostis told us about the purpose of the different sections and the meaning of some of what we saw. There were two workers building a path up to the site (interestingly, it was a man and his wife. Kostis says this is unusual, but he figures that the man probably has a contract for the path and wanted to keep the income within his family.)

There were maybe three or four others; an archaeologist (also female) and two or three men working on the reconstruction. We saw many ruined walls and traces of walls along the ground, and a few places where the original wall had been buried until just a year or so ago, and was largely intact. There were a few graves, some partial columns, pottery shards just lying around (no, we didn't pilfer!) and even some ancient graffiti carved into the stone.

After visiting the site, we walked over to the beach while Kostis retraced our original steps to bring the car around to the beach. Cold though it was, we all swam in the Aegean Sea, in an unbelievably clear turquoise bay with a pebble beach. Many of the pebbles being pieces of marble, of course. Kostis came back and gave us some lasagna in tin foil, which we ate with our fingers while our feet were still in the sea.

We got back home and showered, then went back down to the dock where we bought some souvenirs and had dinner and a terrible scare. We tried to get Lisa's pictures downloaded onto a CD, you see, and the photo place could only read half of her 1-GB photo card. The guy burned those photos (up through the last morning in Athens) onto a disc for us, but there was nothing he could do to access the other 300 pictures! And you should see them, they're gorgeous. They were still showing up on the camera, but the computer couldn't read them at all.

Anyway, we got up early this morning, got dressed and walked down to the ferry, which left at 6:30 a.m. It got in at 7:30, and the bus to Athens showed up at 8:00. This time we knew enough to go to the bus stop right nearby.

We got off the ferry and onto the metro easily enough, and as we were riding to Piraeus, which is the port in southern Athens where the long-haul ferry leaves from, it suddenly occurred to me that there might be luggage storage right at the metro station. It's a good thing we were looking for it because it was behind a newsstand, but once we found it it was easy to operate, and all three of our big heavy bags fit into a single locker. Best 3-Euro purchase of the entire trip.

Mom settled at a McDonald's with a coffee and her postcards, journal and novel while Lisa and I set out to solve the picture problem. The first photo shop we found was closed, but the lady at the newsstand nearby told us how to get to another one. But she was wrong. But we kept trying, and eventually we found it. Turns out she was right, but misleading.

And the second photo place saved the day! Apparently (and this is our theory, not the official word), a 1-GB photo card is really quite big, and the regular card readers just aren't set up for that many pictures at once. The guys at the Kodak shop read the pictures on my little card in a regular reader (like the one on Kea), but the 1-GB card they put into a different computer and then burned right to a CD from there.

We previewed all the photos (a dozen at a time), then got a second copy of all three CDs. We're keeping them in separate bags, naturally.

By the time we had resolved that situation, bought a few more postcards and mailed some of Mom's, it was time to get to the ferry that we're on now.

The ferry was a whole other issue. I had read that it was generally 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., but when we went to buy the tickets before going to Kea, it turned out that it was 2:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., so although the tickets were cheaper than budgeted ( we saved 75 Euros all together), we have to use a chunk of that for a hotel upon arrival, and don't even know how to find one!

That all worked out, but I don't have time to tell you because I'm on my last minute!

Dad, Mom sends her love!


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