Sunday, March 22, 2009

12:55 PM: Greece/Italy '09... More Greece.

So, sometime on Friday amongst our many escapades, some of our group (minus me and Caris… what were we doing? Oh yeah, that’s right. Wandering. Our favorite pastime. I love wandering!) managed to find this smallish travel agency that offered one-day cruises of the Greek islands. Looking back, I shouldn’t have done it. I won’t say how much I spent on it. Too much, definitely. And, like I suspected, the travel agent lied to us. At least two hours on each island that we visited? Um, no. The cruise departed Sunday morning from Piraeus port, stopped at three of the islands—Poros, Hydra (which I had wanted to visit anyway), and Aegena—served us lunch, and was to give us a minimum of two hours on each island to explore. That was my main concern. Two hours, I repeated to our travel agent, a wrinkly, jolly Greek man with kind eyes. He looked trustworthy. Two hours, he assured me. Okay, I said, and signed my life away. Ugh. It was way too much. I think the only reason I did it was because everyone else was. Oh, peer pressure!

Enough lamenting. The cruise really was fun, but we didn’t spend two hours on each island, and the included lunch wasn’t great. BUT, I did get to see three lovely Greek islands, take some beautiful pictures, and explore a bit. Caris and I usually just headed up. We took the first alleyway/road we found and kept climbing stairs until we hit the top of the city, which looked out across all the colorful buildings, the glorious blue water, and the (slightly) cloudy sky. Everything was very quiet and peaceful from there. I felt very foreign but also very comforted, as if I was a bit closer to home. Hydra was lovely, but still not what I imagined as “Greece.” I had imagined white stone buildings with blue shutters and roofs and people milling about speaking rapid Greek… all from what I’d seen in movies (yay “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”!) But that wasn’t it at all. I was surprised yet pleased.

Enough about the cruise. We got back late and crashed, though we had really only lain on the boat all day and wandered slowly around islands. On Monday, we all checked out of our little sketch hostel (which we did truly love, though there were no walls or curtains for the shower, thus causing water to go everywhere and get on everything). Caris and I found our next hotel and checked in—the rest of the group had opted to fly out on Monday to Italy and spend more time there. Caris and I wanted more time in Greece, so we decided to stay until Wednesday night. I forget what we did that morning. Wait, no, I don’t. We went to the big flea market at Monastiraki Square. So cool. Lines and lines of shops and vendors of all kinds of random stuff. It was sort of like an outdoor mall up and down random little streets. I found Greek sandals (more like flip-flops, but different… they were really comfortable), made of real leather, for a decent price. And then it was time for our friends to leave. We watched them get on a bus for the airport and drive away. It was sad.

We wandered (as we always do) around the square for a bit, and then stumbled upon this park. The weather was unbelievably beautiful. We sat on a park bench on this wide path lined with overhanging trees to shade the sun and talked for a long, long while. This would be a good time to mention the dogs. Dogs are everywhere in Greece. Some don’t have owners, but most do, as shown by their collars. It’s normal in Greece to get a dog, stick a collar on him (or not, if you prefer), and let him run loose all over Athens or wherever. They’re all very, very sweet and will follow you around whether or not you feed them. They always go back to their owners for food, anyway. And these are big dogs, like Labs and Huskies and some random mixes… they’re all really big, though. Caris was telling me that she’d heard from a good friend (who had traveled to Athens) that most of them had been given rabies shots because of the Olympic games being held there five years earlier (lots of people, lots of foreigners, need for safety, blah, blah, blah), and that these dogs can be very valuable, especially if you’re a woman and/or you’re traveling alone. If you can get one to follow you around and get used to you (which isn’t hard… if you get it to come to you once through a little call, it’ll follow you for a long while, especially if you scratch its ears or show it that you like it), they can be very protective. Caris’ friend said that she was in Athens with two other women, and that they were walking back to their hotel from dinner one night, and this dog was with them, had been following them around for a few hours. I promise you, these dogs will lay outside the restaurant if you go in to eat, and they’ll still be there when you get out—they’re very faithful, especially if they think they’ll get food because of it. Anyway, so they’re walking back at night with this dog, and a man comes up to them and demands their purses. They don’t know what to do, if the man has a weapon, if they should refuse and draw attention to themselves, etc. No need. The dog approaches the man, growling, all its hair sticking up, and begins to bark at him. And the man turns and runs away. Cool, huh? I have to admit, the dogs did make me feel safer. And they’re everywhere. They’ll come up to you randomly and will nuzzle your hand. While we were sitting on the park bench, a pack of five dogs trotted down the street, and two of them came over to us to say hello. One left to join its fellows, but the one I’d petted flopped down next to my feet and rested. It’s so random, but so cool. I was sad to leave the sweet big, protective Greek dogs.

Wow, that was a lot about dogs. Anyway, we chilled the rest of the day, grabbed dinner, and went back early to the hotel to crash. We were so wiped already. We were expecting Allison, a girl from Regent’s who had worked out ahead of time to meet and stay with us in Athens for a couple days, but she didn’t get in until much later that night, when Caris and I were sleeping. The next morning, the three of us got up early to head to Nafplio, a coastal city on the “other half” of Greece’s mainland. Little did I know that I was to have my best study abroad day yet.

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