How to have a terrible horrible no good very bad week… even in paradise.

Vacation danceThis entry was supposed to be about what we thought would be an amazing trip to Vienna, Austria; Salzburg, Germany; and Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Instead, the universe said, “Oh, hell no! You guys have been traveling enough and having too much fun lately. It’s time you experienced something a little less awesome.”

So it dished out about a year’s worth of bad luck and trauma all crammed into the space of about 48 hours.

Because, y’know, you can’t live in a country with the best weather in all of Europe, populated by the kindest, humblest people on the planet, with a cost of living that makes our retirement even possible, with cuisine we have fallen in love with, where within a matter of hours we can land in just about any city in Europe, and with a health care system whose quality and cost puts America’s to shame, without being reminded that, well, you still live inside these fallible and aging human bodies.

We’ll start with Carolyn: she had to be rushed to the emergency room and receive emergency surgery on her spine. Back pain

To start from the beginning, Carolyn has had some aches and pains in her bones for a while now (probably due to her tragic high jump history). It’s also one of the reasons we wanted to move to a warmer climate. She has been receiving physical therapy as well as trying to tone up via a thrice-weekly aqua-size class.

But a few weeks before we were scheduled to depart for our whirlwind tri-country tour, the pain suddenly became so intense that her head started spinning and she began spewing naughty words in the same tone of voice I first heard in The Exorcist. After one of our windows shattered from her screams, we decided maybe it would be a good idea to see a doctor.Exorcist

So I sprinkled some holy water around, loaded her writhing body onto the hand-truck, and then wheeled her out to our car. While I folded her into the seat, her shrieks set off several car alarms in our neighborhood. I did my best to reassure her by telling her that a little pain never hurt anybody. Immediately I learned that Linda Blair’s evil stare has nothing on Carolyn when her back’s hurtin’.

To shorten what will already be an even longer story with more twists and turns, Dr watermelonshe ended up in an operating room the same day after being carted away in an ambulance. The hospital scrambled to find a neurosurgeon, and they finally located one named Doctor Watermelon wandering incoherently on the side streets. Fortunately, he sobered up fast, and actually turned out to absolutely terrific. He was kind, humble, down-to-earth, spoke English well, and he wielded a mean scalpel. I’m kidding about the side street thing, but not his name. His name is Dr. Melancia, and in Portuguese, melancia translates to watermelon.

(Last names can be interesting here, we’ve seen or heard of names that translate to chicken, rabbit, wolf, war, and pine tree. I kept seeing a billboard asking people to vote for a rabbit, and was confused until I was told it’s not uncommon for animal names and other things to be used as last names. I wonder how that started?)

Alive!Anyway, Dr. Watermelon removed three broken chunks of spine that had been pressing on her spinal nerves, and placed a carbon spacer in there to open up the space and keep that temperamental nerve happy. Apparently nerve pain is a different kind of pain from what you might experience when, for instance, your finger is chopped off. It might be described as to what it might feel like for a woman to give birth to a pumpkin –with the large stem still attached– while a sadist fires a blowtorch on her back as he sings the theme song from “It’s a Small World.”

It was near-miraculous that she was put under while experiencing excruciating pain but when she awoke (seemingly for her, only a few seconds later) the only pain she felt was from the cut on her back!

By the way, this surgery was performed without insurance coverage. Our policy will only cover pre-existing issues starting next year. Since we are in Portugal, that news didn’t come with the terror that we would have experienced in the US: the total bill for the neurosurgery here was under 9,000 euros. Which isn’t small change, but it probably would have been ten times that in the US. Between that and the insurance rates, believe it or not even with that surgery we’re still money ahead. Just as one example, getting a saline IV in the US runs anywhere from $100 to $500 (I’m not making that up, I looked it up). On our Portugal bill, they were 98 cents. 98 cents! The sooner America gets its head out of its ass when it comes to health care, the better.

ScarSpeaking of asses, I know the picture here makes it look like she now has two butt cracks, but that’s just the scar… plus the bruises where Dr. Watermelon spanked her for laughing at his name after she started feeling the affects of the anesthesia.

But the universe wasn’t done with us yet. After all, what’s one spinal surgery when you can have so much more fun?

Being oblivious to the universe’s determination to humble us, on the way back to the hospital in the morning I stopped to get some gas. To my surprise, my Portuguese debit card declined, which I thought was odd because I had just transferred a sizable amount from the states a few weeks prior. So when I got to the hospital I checked online… and lo and behold, all our money was gone! What the– ?

Since she was in the safe hands of the kind and professional hospital staff, I drove to our bank about fifteen minutes away. Sure enough, some buttwad had stolen our card number and made about eighty different travel purchases all around Europe. (Using stolen cards for travel is a fairly common way to turn that ill-gotten money into value because by the time anyone figures it out, it’s all spent, plus they don’t need address verifications, etc.)

So here we were without a Portuguese penny to our name and my wife recovering from spinal surgery.

In Portugal, they handle that type of fraud differently than in the US. I had to go to a police station and get a police report and bring it back to the bank before they could initiate anything. They told me the nearest police station was about a fifteen minute walk away, and since the bank was closing for lunch (yes, they do that here), I decided to walk.

CoyoteI can just hear the universe snickering as it decided to poke it’s snarky finger into my iPhone and make Google Maps act as if it was sitting under one of those cartoon magnets Wile E. Coyote used to buy from Acme when he was trying to catch the Road Runner.

Accordingly, after a ten minute walk, Google Maps told me I was going in the wrong direction. So I reversed course, passed by the bank again, and walked another fifteen minutes in the other direction. It guided me to this very large building that didn’t look much like a police station. It turns out it was a university. I have no idea how Google Maps changed that, but I swear I didn’t put anything about a university in there. So I asked a couple of young men if they knew where a police station was. They immediately bolted in terror, thinking I was going to report them for something. They were college students, after all. No, actually, the Portuguese are very friendly and helpful, so we were able to figure out that if I continued to walk another ten minutes, I’d find a station.

LanguageAnd I did. Except that it was manned by two officers who spoke no English. Which wasn’t a huge problem, because I can communicate in Portuguese like a non-precocious two-year-old, but more importantly, the bank had given me a note telling me exactly what document the police needed to produce.

Despite the fact that it was written in Portuguese, they told me I had to go to another police station across town. So back I walked another 25 minutes to my car, which was sitting in front of the now-open bank, and drove to the other police station, with Google Maps still acting as my guide.

Turns out it was a police station in a heavily-touristed area, seemingly there to handle all the touristy problems dumb foreigners like us experience, like dealing with waiters who berate us for leaving some money on the table after lunch. I guess my Portuguese baby talk didn’t convince the original two cops that I live here, so they sent me to the station more accustomed to foreigners.

MordorSince it was so crowded, parking was nowhere to be found, so I parked about twenty minutes away, up a long hill amongst a thousand tiny roads. I could only hope I’d find the car again, but to be safe, I pinned it in Google Maps.

Meanwhile… let’s flash back a few weeks to a swim we were having in the local public pool during aqua-size class. A big rubber mat had hit me square in the eye as I was horsing around. I didn’t think too much of it, but afterward I started noticing little black floaties in my vision. So I looked it up on the internet. It said that floaties are not a real problem; they’ll generally dissolve after a while. BUT, if you happen to see a white flash in the corner of your vision, get into see an ophthalmologist right away! You could go blind!

Since I wasn’t seeing anything like that, I had been simply waiting for the black floaties to disappear. However, on the drive back from the hospital the night before, I started seeing white flashes! At first I thought they were reflections from oncoming cars, but eventually I realized I was beset with the dreaded, sight-stealing white flashes the internet warned me about. My concern about that was temporarily pre-empted by our drained bank account, but as I sat in the police station waiting for my number to be called, it felt like the flashes were getting worse, and I started wondering if I’d go blind while I waited for an officer.

This eye is no yolk
My eye problem was no yolk.

Plus I started seeing filmy things every other time I blinked. I mean, going blind is not on my top ten to-do list. My vision is bad enough as it is.

Plus I had to pee in the worst way, and there were no obvious bathrooms. That’s almost as bad as thinking you’re going blind. I did eventually find a bathroom behind an open door that said “Do Not Enter.” But I went through anyway, figuring they’d have to risk getting peed on if they did in fact try and stop me.

It was then that I had an epiphany: since I would be going back to the hospital that day, maybe they could squeeze me in for an urgent ophthalmology visit. In the US, I figured there’d be a snowball’s chance in hell an ophthalmologist could see me the same day, but as this is Portugal, I had some hope.

Anyway, my number at the police station was finally called, and my hopes for a “quick in and out” were quickly dashed when I realized she needed to total up all eighty charges, line by line, plus take all of my information, including my parents’ names (seriously). Forty-five minutes later, I finally got out of there, police report in hand, and perhaps my eyeball as well, I thought.

ParkSo I walked back in the direction of the car, hoping I could navigate the maze of little roads Lisbon is so famous for. After a while, I thought, hey, I pinned this in Google Maps. I should be fine. So I looked on Google Maps. I spent fifteen minutes standing on the sidewalk trying to figure out where the hell Google Maps puts the information about the pin you set. I finally gave up and started walking some more. Long story short, I got pretty close, and looked at Google Maps again. There was the pin. Turns out it only shows it to you when you get close enough. The programmers responsible for Google Maps should be sentenced to a month in Lisbon having to find where they pinned something just so they can realize a better system can be had.

Of course, now the bank is closed (many close at three here… hey– lunch can be exhausting!), so I decide to drive back to the hospital where at least I might be able to be seen by someone. But it is now rush hour, in tourist season, and no one cares that I’m driving with increased panic that my eyeball is going to melt down my cheek.

Even though the bank was only fifteen minutes from the hospital, and even though the police station I ended up in was in between the bank and the hospital, Google Maps was showing that the drive would take about an hour. It was about the only thing it got right.

Crazy RoadsBut then it really started going haywire. It directed me to go the wrong way on one-way streets. I also ended up in bus/taxi lanes, where I hoped that people would think I was an Uber driver. I managed a U-turn in the middle of a city street because the line of cars ahead of me stretched to infinity, and it wasn’t moving. Google Maps even wanted me to turn straight into a building… I kid you not. There was a long building to my right, with not even a driveway in sight, and it wanted me to turn into it. Once I passed the fake street, it re-routed me again, this time I think to Iceland.

Anyway, I cursed at Google Maps and shut it off and made my own damn way to the hospital, eye in hand… which actually came in handy because it was still attached and I could look all around and even behind me to spot other bus/taxi lanes I could illegally drive in.

Crazy eyes
This is what I thought I was gonna look like.

I finally made it to the hospital, and lo and behold an ophthalmologist was able to see me within about thirty minutes. Her name was Dr. Peaches. I’m just kidding. Actually I never even got her name, but she was very nice. She examined me, and told me something or other (I forgot the name of it, but it wasn’t the retina) was slightly detached, but it shouldn’t be a big problem and no, I wasn’t going to go blind. After hugging her and kissing her feet, I went up to Carolyn’s room to let her know that between us, her spinal surgery still held the crown of physical problems.

But the universe, being so big and all, wasn’t quite done with us yet. The same day, we received a phone call from Carolyn’s son Ben, who was visiting and staying at our house, asking how to turn on the washing machine. Turns out, it was broken. Yes, the universe chuckled at that one. Also, when I was driving to get something from the pharmacy for Carolyn, I plopped a stick of gum in my mouth, and my gold crown came right off in my mouth. And then the universe poked a small hole in our car radiator.

We think it’s done with us for a while, deciding to move on to more important things, like making the political situation in America even worse. For once I’m hoping that Trump continues to wreak havoc… even something as big as the universe has got to be so totally occupied with that mess that it surely has forgotten us by now.

In the end, all’s well that ends well. Carolyn’s back is healing, I can see just as badly as I ever have, our washing machine was repaired, my gold crown was glued back in by the dentist (for 20 euros), and I had some money transferred from the US, because it will take weeks before they’ll restore all the charges here. But they will be restored. Plus we had multiple awesome friends not only loan us money but also deliver us some delicious food. We may be tempted to fake another surgery just to get more of that.

And we’ll deal with the car’s radiator when I’m done panicking over it.

eagle-nebula
This is an actual photo of a nebula, proving that sometimes the universe really does sometimes want to reach out and grab you.

 

Blowing a French kiss…

Tiny Eiffel.jpgYeah, I know you can’t exactly blow someone a french kiss, but it is a pretty good metaphor for spitting on someone. Which isn’t to say we’d ever spit on France. Not only did we enjoy our second visit immensely, but we didn’t run into nearly as many rude or arrogant Parisians as we did during our first visit. They’re either getting a little less rude, or our “rudar” is functioning at max capacity and we were able to stay out of their way.

But I wonder, why is it, despite their legendary rudeness, that the French get credited with so many interesting things? For example, in addition to french kisses, we give them credit for french beans, french beds, french bread, french braids, french cuffs, french cut underwear (ooh la la!), french dip sandwiches, french doors, french dressing, french fries, french harps, french heels, french hens (30 of them given all told in the Twelve Days of Christmas– that’s a lot of french poop!), french horns, french knots, french letters (which is, literally, an English condom… go figure), french maids, french manicures, french mustard, french pancakes (i.e. crepes), french pastries, french BEan 2poodles, french press, french rolls, french roofs, french saddles, french telephones, french twists, french vanilla, french windows, and hot damn, that’s just a partial list! Oops, pardon my French.

Anyway, even though we stayed on the outskirts of central Paris, we did take the rental car into the city to see a few more things, including the teeny tiny Eiffel Tower as pictured above. I don’t know why people make such a big deal over something so small.IMG_1347If you drive around Paris, you might find yourself in the longest urban motorway tunnel in the world. We entered it not knowing we were participating in an actual Guinness world record, but when the tunnel kept going and going and going, we decided to look it up. It kept going for so long that Carolyn was able to read me the entire world history of tunnels as well as most of the history of Tunisia before we saw the light of day again.

It’s also interesting because it’s limited to a height of two meters, or 6′ 7″, which means my very tall grandson would scrape his head just to walk into it. It’s so low that the only commercial vehicles that can go inside can only be found in the movies. For instance, I can just picture a scene in a Christmas season action flick where the hero sheers off the top half of a semi truck just to keep the five priceless golden rings from the bad guys, leaving it blocking the entrance while its load of geese, swans, and french hens are chased around by a bunch of lords and ladies to the sound of bagpipes and drums.

IMG_1288Another challenge of driving in Paris is that French people take all their frustrations at everyone who has ever mocked them by driving in the city like the Portuguese do on their freeways.

Contrarily, on the freeways in France we noticed that French drivers actually obeyed the speed limit and were mostly polite… but we’re thinking that may have something to do with the plethora of police cameras. However, in the city they pretty much let it all hang out… blocking intersections, honking with their French horns, while spitting and cursing, “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” to anyone who gets in their way.

Arch d Triumph roundaboutPerhaps my proudest moment was navigating through a seven or eight lane roundabout (we didn’t really have time to count) without hardly killing anyone. We didn’t get any photos, because I was busy avoiding Renaults, Peugeots, and Citroens driven by spittle-mouthed French people while Carolyn was busy embedding her fingers up to the first knuckle in the dashboard.

As evidenced by the picture above we took from our car while approaching the Arc De Triomphe, we did actually drive through that roundabout, but we also drove through another one that I thought was even scarier. After surviving it unscathed, I decided that in order to successfully navigate a multi-lane roundabout you just need to know the Only Rule for Multi-lane Roundabouts: Don’t hit anyone.

As long as everyone follows that rule, everyone survives.

But the nice thing about roundabouts is if you miss your exit because, for example, there are nine irritated French drivers between you and your exit, you can just go around again… and sometimes eight times as you whittle away at the lanes, one car at a time.

Van wreckActually there is a another rule… stay on the road, otherwise you might end up looking like a 737 Max.

DukesI became so experienced with French roundabouts (that’s probably another term, meaning “Roundabouts with spittle-mouthed French people”), that I decided to show ’em what Yankees can do when it comes to these kinds of things, complete with the Dukes of Hazzard rental car we were able to score for just another ten euros a day. Of course I had to circle around again just to pick up Carolyn who was filming the whole thing. Either that or I just found this gif on the internet, but I like my story better.

IMG_2106Getting back to our own photos, after parking the car by doing a 360 into a spot reserved for a moped, we strolled over a bridge in Paris, and noticed this sightseeing boat, which surely holds some sort of Guinness Record for the largest length-to-width ratio by a boat. The design is probably called a “French boat,” but it looks more like a long pier that broke loose.

IMG_2119We also saw Washington DC’s capitol building, which was apparently on loan to Paris, maybe for the 75th Normandy landing celebration.

IMG_2123It’s pretty big. The building I mean.

IMG_2125The charm of France is exemplified by these charming French umbrellas. Meanwhile, Carolyn makes fun of bulimic women.

IMG_2126We followed up with some gelado just to show the statue what she’s missing.

IMG_2110We have to admit that our estimation of French intelligence took a nosedive when we saw how poorly thought out their security systems for bridges are.

IMG_2111The most massive, ginormous Door of Day we’ve ever posted.

IMG_1671Truth be told, we’re pretty thrifty travelers when it comes to food. Sure, we eat out plenty when we’re on the road, but we try and balance that with, shall we say, more economical selections, like these delectable French dishes purchased at the grocery store around the corner from our hotel. You just can’t beat quality French cuisine! (As long as you have a microwave.)

 

IMG_1664Right next to the Quality Suites where we stayed is a little shack called Château de Maisons-Laffitte. Perhaps motivated by the proximity to such grandiosity, the Quality Suites was far better than any of the Quality Suites I’ve seen in the states. It was actually a very nice hotel with what is, to date, the best free breakfast buffet we’ve ever had in our travels. Of course, it was there that I learned that crepes stuffed in your pockets don’t travel well.

Since we had a little time to kill, we visited the chateau and forked over the eight euro entrance fee. Designed and built from 1630 to 1651, it was a residence and vacation home for a series of French royalty and aristocrats. Its design is notable in the annals of French architecture, and it was definitely interesting, but they haven’t kept it up all that well and we thought the eight euros was a little pricey for what you got. At least we didn’t have any transportation costs to get there!

IMG_1155On our way back from Normandy, I saw signs for Caen (which we found out is pronounced kind of like “Kong,” as in “King Kong,” but with a drawn-out “o” and just a slight hint of the “g”). The city piqued my interest because it has some degree of notoriety from World War II, since it was the sight of some of the most intense battles of the war in France. Much of the city was destroyed, so most of the old buildings like this church had to be rebuilt from the destroyed stone.

IMG_1166In many places it’s actually a very pretty city. They did a good job of blending the new with the rebuilt-old. Unlike cities like Dresden, which was beholden to the ugly block style of the Soviet overlords, the French actually used architecture pleasing to the eye.

IMG_1158There is a Mémorial de Caen –a museum and war memorial– somewhere in the city, but since we were just cruising through we didn’t see it.

IMG_1902There are these small reminders here and there, however, like this one showing how this particular square looked before and after the bombing.

IMG_1899We did have a kind of crappy, er– crepe-y dinner while there. It was a small restaurant that specializes in crepes, but we weren’t all that impressed. Give us our fresh Portuguese fish any day!

IMG_1901But the city was absolutely charming, and we were glad to have seen it, even if just briefly. Oh, well, you do what you Caen do.

IMG_1898Perhaps my favorite building was this free public toilet. It took us a while to figure out, but what happens is once you do your business and after you leave, the door automatically locks and the entire room is flushed like one gigantic toilet. Now that’s sophisticated sanitation!

IMG_2087After we made our way back to Paris, we decided to visit one of the largest art museums in Europe, the famous Musée d’Orsay.

IMG_2092It is so-named because it is housed in a former railway station which was named Gare d’Orsay. We mainly took pictures of the art we recognized, which meant that it was probably famous and something to be admired. That’s pretty much the extent of our historical painting expertise.

IMG_2093Some of the recognition comes from a board game I played when I was a kid, called “Masterpiece.” I guess there are many ways to learn about culture. I’m pretty sure I bid, oh, about one million on the above piece at some time or another.

IMG_2094The museum holds mainly French art, including paintings like this demonstrating what happens when you give a woman too much liquor, as well as a bunch more from artistic luminaries like Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Manet, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin, Jim Carrey, and Degas. I listed the second to last name there just to see if you were paying attention. Actually, he is actually a pretty good artist in his own right, he just doesn’t have anything mounted in the Musée d’Orsay, as far as I know.

IMG_2102The nudes were often my favorite. Not because they’re of naked women, for heaven’s sake! Get your mind out of the gutter! But mostly because of the, um, the uh, well, the boobies. Okay, you got me.

IMG_2091Like most men, I guess I like pretty women, although in Carolyn’s case that’s just a side benefit of her warm, kind, and loving personality. Honey, can I come back in the house now?

IMG_2097This is the back of a giant clock, which means we were experiencing time moving backwards. I wondered if we stood there long enough that we might end up back in World War II.

IMG_2095This is the top of the Musée d’Orsay, something I doubt you’ve ever seen before. You can’t say we don’t offer unique experiences in this blog!

IMG_2099You can certainly tell what it used to be, if you have a trained eye, that is. Get it? Trained eye? It was a train station? Oh, the hell with you.

On the drive down to Normandy I noticed the French had installed some kinda cool road signs. So I thought it would be good for Carolyn to take a few shots to use as intro shots for whatever place we might visit. Turns out, that was a great way to keep her occupied… she just kept shooting and shooting and shooting. The below slide show shows her Top Twenty, there were plenty more. Which made me realize this might be a great way to keep kids busy on a long trip! Give ’em a digital camera and tell them to take pictures of whatever item might appear semi-regularly! Of course, someone looking through your digital photo albums might wonder why there are so many pictures of cows taken from the freeway, but at least the kids won’t ask “are we there yet?” fifty times.

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I also couldn’t help but document one of her many eating accidents. She’s a self-acknowledged food klutz. She told me of this when we first started dating, and then went and proved it by spilling drinks all over the table during two of our next three dates. It’s just part of her charm. Plus she’s pretty good about cleaning up.

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While I know our the quality of our photography can be breath-taking, that’s only because we only show the ones that could win some sort of award if only a person who hands out awards for whatever we’ve done ever looked at them. So we humbly offer up a bunch of photos that just barely missed out on the high level of expertise we expect from our near-professional-quality photographic skills.

IMG_2117So au revoir France and your tiny little Eiffel Tower! We enjoyed you even more the second time around!

And that closes the chapter on our Athens-Crete-Accidentally Paris trip across Europe.

We get Goofy in Paris

Disney Wait TImesAs I mentioned before, due to a missed flight out of Athens, we unexpectedly ended up in The City of Light. Trivia Alert! That nickname came from Paris both being the birthplace of the Age of Enlightenment and because it was one of the first cities in the world with street lights. I wondered about that during our first visit when we were up in the Eiffel Tower. The city didn’t seem any more lit up to me, now I know why!

So with our second visit, we tackled what we like to call the “Tier Two Attractions.”

A lot of kids might be upset at the idea that we’d call Disneyland a “Tier Two Attraction,” but when competing with The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and the Museum of French Kisses (at least that’s what I told Carolyn it was), well, ol’ Mickey and Goofy just didn’t qualify for Tier One Status. But on this second visit, we decided to visit Disneyland Paris, just to see what it was like in comparison to the Disneylands in America.

(I grabbed that Wait Time sign picture from the internet just because I thought it was funny, it wasn’t anything like we saw in Disneyland Paris. In fact, the wait times were decidedly shorter than anything either of us has ever experienced in the U.S.)

IMG_1267Right off the bat, you’re pretty sure you’ve made it to Disneyland because they tell you so. But we were still actually a little skeptical… where were the long lines of cars?

IMG_2038Even at the pedestrian entrance, we were pretty much able to walk right through even though we arrived just after the park opened.

While the buildings are different, it’s still very much Disney through and through.

IMG_2037Except maybe for the French military police armed with automatic weapons. Can’t say I blame ’em; Paris has been a target for terrorists for some time now. Plus Peter Pan is rumored to have converted to radical Islam.

IMG_1274Some of the signs are in some sort of strange non-English language, so we automatically thought they were stupid. Oh wait! That’s French! It says: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Aha! I knew we were fluent!

IMG_2044But, I guess not everything translates. While this should probably be: “Terre Frontière,” the French have to live with the English moniker.

IMG_1273This is easily translatable of course, but it bears no resemblance to the Temple of Doom ride in Disneyland Anaheim. It’s a serious roller coaster that had Carolyn seeing double once she stumbled off the ride. But note the wait time… 5 minutes! And this was in the middle of summer! We didn’t go on it again, however. I’m already big enough as it is so her seeing me in double or triple would just be too much. Also note how cheeky the French are, even in Disneyland… the sign on the left tells people where they can get a ticket for their ass. Butts in seats baby!

IMG_2058While Sleeping Beauty’s Castle was very much boilerplate Disney, it had enough differences to differentiate it. Plus there’s something to be said about seeing that castle when you begin walking down Main Street. You’re in Disneyland!

IMG_2053Hyperspace Mountain, the Parisian version of Space Mountain, also gets no French translation. So no “Hyper Espace Montagne” for you, you silly French peoples! I will say that the ride was significantly wilder than the Space Mountain in Anaheim. Carolyn decided against going after she heard the shrieks and screams emanating from the building (plus she’d had her fill of upside-down roller coasters after Big Thunder Mountain and Indiana Jones).

So I paired up with a young Spanish friend, who I’m certain learned some new English curse words as the ride barreled about in the pitch black. It was wild enough that at one point I felt like the G’s might knock me out, seriously. But I survived to high five my newfound little buddy, even if I had to admonish him not to repeat anything the old American guy next to him yelled during the ride. My Spanish is rusty, but I think he might have said something about screaming like a little girl, I dunno, but I’m sure he meant someone else.

IMG_2046As you can see, being the cheapskate I am, I take a picture of the photos they want to sell you instead of shelling out the ten euros and then letting them gather dust in a box somewhere. I guess that was the A 5541 ride, although I don’t remember a sign telling us that before we got on.

IMG_1280Carolyn wouldn’t let me buy three bottles of popcorn. She can be such a meanie.

IMG_2063And yes, they also have It’s a Small World. I insisted we go through it just so we could get that lovely song stuck in our heads. In fact, click on this link where you can watch the entire ride from the comfort of YouTube! Just don’t blame me if you’re still humming it a week from now.

IMG_2067These were our favorite words from the ride.

IMG_1281I found it amusing that they would have a baseball player in a country where you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who knows a damn thing about baseball at all.

In the end, our main takeaways were that while it’s all Disneyland, other than some roller coasters that are decidedly hairier than anything in the regular Disneylands in Florida or Anaheim, it was almost a little quaint in comparison. The lack of the oppressive crowds certainly worked in its favor, and of course we had no problem navigating around in English. As for the rides, Star Tours was really dated, the Phantom Manor (the Haunted Mansion) was pretty much the same, Pirates of the Caribbean was closed for maintenance (bummer!), and Big Thunder Mountain was a lot Thunder-ier than in Anaheim.

La Tanière du DragonBut when a “Top Ten Disneyland Paris Attractions List” puts It’s a Small World at #4, and #5 is La Tanière du Dragon (The Dragon’s Lair), which is just a short walk-through exhibit with an animatronic dragon at the center, well, let’s just say jaded Americans generally demand a lot more out of their amusement parks.

They also screwed with the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride and turned it into another walkthrough and called it Les Mystères du Nautilus (The Mysteries of the Nautilus). We kept thinking there was going to be a ride at the end of it, but nope, just a re-creation of the insides of the submarine. A minute and a half later, we’re outside blinking in the sunlight wondering what just happened. The good news is there were no lines. In fact, there was hardly anyone inside the whole thing.

Last but not least, they had a large building where you could buy overpriced food (of course!) and take it to a table facing a large auditorium that did nothing except remind me of a very large Chuck E. Cheese.

IMG_2041However, in the end, we did have a good time. I suppose it scratched whatever Americana itches we might have… although we’re so much in love with Portugal and Europe that we really don’t have many of those, besides of course our friends and family.

Still, Mickey has a nice home in Paris, and we were glad for the visit.

Versailles: Where all that glitters is, well, pretty much actually all gold.

IMG_1170After our first visit to Paris, Carolyn was a little bummed out that she didn’t get to see the Palace of Versailles.

The Palace was the principal royal residence of France from 1682 until the start of the French Revolution in 1789.

I hadn’t realized it was only about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the center of Paris, otherwise we might’ve squeezed it in last time… but, here we are in Paris again! So off we go to Versailles!

IMG_1909Of course the palace has plenty of patience and was more than willing to stay just as gaudy as ever no matter when we decided to visit.

IMG_1179It is a sign of more gaudy things to come when you see a fence made out of gold.

IMG_1910As you first approach the palace, you can’t help but be impressed at the size and elaborateness of the grounds and construction.

IMG_1178Pictures don’t do it much justice, but let’s just say it’d be a great place to live out your golden years. Until you were assassinated by some revolting peasants, that is.

IMG_1912We were smart enough to buy tickets online the day before, which saved us probably about an hour of waiting in line.

IMG_1937As you can see, there is no shortage of visitors. This is in the famous Hall of Mirrors, so-named because of all the chandeliers. Oh wait, no, there are mirrors here somewhere.

IMG_1199I guess mirrors were a big thing for rich people back in the day, because poor people had to ask their family how they looked, and since they generally looked pretty bad and families can be brutally honest, the answers they received just kept them depressed and poor. So the rich invented mirrors and made sure they stayed expensive.

IMG_1197With all the mirrors in the room, this could just be a reflection of myself.

IMG_1198There are seventeen arches with mirrors that reflect the seventeen arcaded windows that overlook the gardens, which ask to be overlooked, but we looked over them anyway. Each arch contains twenty-one mirrors, which is why they originally decided to allow people to drink at that age, because after you drink enough, everyone, even me, looks good in a mirror.

IMG_1940During the 17th century, the Hall of Mirrors was used daily by Louis XIV when he walked from his private apartment to the chapel. He thought he looked awesome even when he wasn’t drunk.

IMG_1206As usual, no white space was allowed. Everything has to have a decoration, because otherwise someone might think you didn’t have enough money to decorate every square inch.

IMG_1218They missed a spot (zoom in to figure out where).

IMG_1924This one is spot-free. 100% coverage! Woo hoo! Actually the other one was spot-free too. If you zoomed in… gotcha! Ha ha! See, this isn’t just a travelogue, it’s an immersive interactive experience!

IMG_1186These are paintings.

IMG_1918These are more paintings, except with Carolyn in the shot.

IMG_1214This room was a bust as far as we were concerned.

IMG_1217Oh shoot, now I have to start a new column.

IMG_1191Proof that the iPhone is mightier than the sword. As evidence, I offer the fact that he’s dead, and I’m not. Yet.

IMG_1953This is the Hall of Really Big Paintings.

IMG_1920I can’t remember what the hall this is.

IMG_1923Excuse me, I guess they’re called salons. So this must be the Salon of Really Big Fireplaces.

IMG_1921If I was assigned to paint that ceiling, I would’ve tried it with massive squirt guns filled with paint, so I wouldn’t have had to lay on my back for years. It probably would’ve just been a big mess, but then I could’ve called it abstract art.

IMG_1917Rumor has it they played chess on that floor. Note the king standing by the wall as evidence. Okay, that’s why they call it a “rumor.” I don’t know who started it. Well, I do, actually, but I’ll pretend that’s a rumor too. Anyway, my queen is there as well.

IMG_1960I don’t know where the hall this goes, or why no one’s here. I think someone farted.

IMG_1943They put the “omigawd” in gaudy, that’s for sure!

IMG_1944Carolyn’s listening to the statue talk to her. At least she’s fully clothed. The statue, I mean.

IMG_1938Ah, now we’re back to the good stuff. After all, they didn’t have HBO back then.

IMG_1952They’re both trying to figure out what that picture means across the room. She gave up, but he’s still at it.

IMG_1959Which one of us do you think is the more statuesque? And for the record, I really wasn’t trying to flip anyone off. I was trying to hold my iPhone like a cane. Of course, it might be ironic if this guy tortured one of my ancestors, in which case my bird would be completely justified!

IMG_1219Okay, you can have another shot at the statuesque question with this one. Rats; I already know the answer. Men are never called statuesque. That’s only for women… and statues. Foiled again!

Speaking of women, I have to post this blurb from Wikipedia: During the reign of Louis XIV and most of the reign of Louis XV, there was no plumbing to speak of in the palace itself. Only the King, the Queen, and the Dauphin had anything approaching bathrooms. Some courtiers who lived at Versailles would often have their own collapsable “commode” which was a seat with a chamber pot underneath; it was brought when needed and then taken away when finished. It is estimated that there were only three hundred of these at any one time. Everyone else, if they couldn’t afford to bribe an owner’s servant, had to just go in a corner somewhere or go outside and urinate on a tree. The smell was horrific and became notorious throughout Europe.

Lave.gifIsn’t that awesome? You’d think the French would have subsequently learned a thing or two about bathrooms after all that, wouldn’t you? But no-o-o-o. While I didn’t take a picture of what I’m about to describe, I have to apologize to all women on behalf of all men for the fact that almost no architects seem to understand the differences in sexes when it comes to bodily plumbing. There is a distinct shortage of bathrooms in the palace even today, but, as usual, the number and size are equal between the sexes. So of course you end up with a line of women about a hundred meters long while men jauntily breeze by on their way to immediate relief in the plentiful urinals. I actually saw a couple of women give up and go into the men’s room, for which I cheered them on heartily. I would’ve done the same thing. Women really need to rebel over this. I would happily stand side by side with them, because it’s just silly and unfair. Give the women their peedom!

Okay, I’m climbing down off my soapbox and going back to the computer again.

IMG_1956In our visits to other palaces and such, we learned all about the origins of some of that stonework, but have since completely forgotten every detail except that it’s kinda purple. That’s why I don’t pay much attention to tour guides anymore… it’s interesting at the time, but five minutes later I’ll have forgotten it all while I hunt for a gelado.

IMG_1913A very suitable Door of the Day.

IMG_1935After walking through the salons and halls while being buffeted about by anxious Japanese tourists clicking their cameras at every square inch of gaudiness, we finally plunged outside, gasping for breath and wiping our sweaty brows. Even though the weather was a little gloomy, we were delighted to inhale fresh air.

We interrupt this blog for an important announcement!

Before and after road.jpgOur road has been paved! Our road has been paved! About a year and a half ago, they began tearing up the road in front of our house in order to lay a sewer line. Finally, after breathing enough dust to make any Burning Man attendee nostalgic, they paved the road. Who would’ve thunk two people would get so excited to see a road paved?

And now back to our regularly scheduled blog:

IMG_1181Okay, so now we’re outside; the back of the place looks like Disneyland’s Haunted Castle, except ten times bigger and a hundred times more real. Maybe that’s why they call it “real estate.”

IMG_1949This is the sight that greets you once you step outside of that hellhole of a palace.

IMG_1222I think the gardener was stoned when he mowed the lawn. Oh wait! Carolyn tells me they did this on purpose. Aha! Art! I get it now!

IMG_1230Speaking of being stoned, I was trying to look high here for the joke, but ended up just looking kinda stupid. Well, maybe that’s the same thing.

IMG_1969Here’s a broader view of the gardens. I say that because Carolyn took the picture. And because, you know, she’s a broad. And we’re abroad. Now that I think about it, after living abroad for all this time, going back to the US is what will feel like going abroad.

IMG_1967So just imagine that this is your house, and you get all the way down to where Carolyn is and you realize you forgot your keys.

IMG_1227He’s naked and I’m not… and I know you’re glad for both of those things.

IMG_1234This is definitely a rip-off for the ladies. Hey-ho! The leaf must go! At least I think that’s what the protesters were saying.

IMG_1990To make up for it, I took this shot just for you ladies. My guess is most of you appreciate this more than the front view anyway. You can’t tell me I don’t listen to women… indeed: what you say never goes in one rear and out the other.

IMG_1971Will someone please give her a hand?

IMG_2018You have to admit that this picture of a statue is less interesting than when one of us is goofing around in front of it. If you disagree, well, go type in “statue” in Google and have a ball. But if you do that, come back to the blog! There might be more statues here too!

IMG_1237And fountains! We have plenty of fountains!

IMG_1239Despite their beauty, supplying water for the fountains of Versailles was a major problem; Versailles has never had sufficient water supply for its hundreds of fountains. True story: when the King sauntered about the gardens, they turned the fountains on when he was approaching, and then turned them off after he was out of view.

IMG_2030They also quickly erected some pillars and stuff to make the palace look more impressive. Just kiddin’. That thing in front is an elevator still under construction. Just kiddin’ again. It’s a fire escape, obviously. Or telescope. Or maybe a big blender. Obviously you’re getting what you pay for in a tour guide.

IMG_2007The gardens cover about 800 hectares of land, much of which is landscaped in the classic French formal garden style. Here Carolyn is landscaped in the Portuguese casual chic raincoat style.

IMG_2013A hectare is 100 meters by 100 meters, which is about the size of a professional rugby field, so figure the gardens are 800 of those all put together. 800 hectares also equals 8 square kilometers, or a little over 3 square miles. If you prefer acres, 800 hectares is 1,976.84 acres.

IMG_2012Another way to put it is that it would take the average lawnmower 44,302 litres of gasoline to mow it all. I just made that up, there’s no way I’m gonna try and figure that one out. Let’s just say it’s all pretty damn big.

IMG_2005And there are yet more fountains. Of course, this may have shut off once we turned our backs.

IMG_2021And this one probably turned on as soon as we had turned around from the last one to look at this one. Sneaky water-savers, those French.

IMG_1999So we tried to trick them by turning our backs, but the fountains can spot a selfie a hectare away.

IMG_1997Some of the hectares.

IMG_1964We’re not sure where the hectare we are.

IMG_1995Aha! Found it on the map. The big lawn thingee.

IMG_1968Just to give you an idea as to the scope of this thing. And to think it was just a King’s backyard! No wonder the peasants ended up revolting!

IMG_1977Dancing waters.

IMG_1983I took this picture because the worker was literally walking around this tree picking up leaves and twigs. I guess that’s job security for ya, because I think as soon as he was done on one side, there were plenty of new leaves and twigs on the other side.

IMG_1998Our artistic shot of the day.

IMG_1994The trees made it all cool and peaceful. Which meant I had to shout some taunts at passing English tourists: “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries! Pffffft! Pffft! Prrrfft!” (Some will get it, some won’t.)

IMG_2029Versailles is the answer to the following Jeopardy question: What would a residence look like if you had unlimited funds and were especially interested in impressing your national neighbors?

IMG_2032And so we said goodbye to a truly magnificent palace and gardens. But I gotta tell ya, if I’d a been a peasant back then, I would have been revolting too!

IMG_2025

Le Mont-Saint-Michel (Saint Michael’s Mountain)

IMG_1677As soon as Carolyn showed me a picture of this tiny French island with a monastery on top, I knew we’d have to visit it.

It’s one of the most striking constructions I think I’ve ever seen. It just sits out on an expanse of sand like a gigantic jagged molehill. When the tide comes in, the entire thing ends up surrounded by water. Fortunately, it’s a little sturdier than any sand castle I’ve ever built, so when the tide goes back out, there it stays, standing there as it has for nearly 1,000 years.

IMG_1674To get there, you first have to catch a bus from the parking lot, which we were grateful for because it was a bit of a rainy day.

IMG_1010But even through the mist and the rainy windows, you can’t help but be impressed as you approach.

IMG_1014Once you get off the bus, you still have a walk on the long walkway that connects the island to the mainland.

IMG_1676But we were smart enough to bring an umbrella, so the water didn’t dampen our spirits any.

IMG_1076As you approach, the abbey looms above you like a gigantic haunted house.

IMG_1782Which apparently didn’t scare the smiles off our faces.

IMG_1016Upon entry into the town, you’re greeted by a cute little avenue lined with merchants hawking all sorts of touristy goods. It almost looks like something you’d see in Disneyland.

Including doors that look like they were made for Mickey Mouse.

IMG_1772The island has supported strategic fortifications since ancient times.

IMG_1763Since the 8th century, it has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name.

Once you’re in, they really don’t want to let you back out, because the island only has about 30 permanent inhabitants. But since neither of us can make or bear any children, they eventually did let us go.

IMG_1781It actually was a prison for a time, sort of Alcatraz-like due to its location. I doubt the prisoners were this cheerful, generally.

IMG_1031The island’s location is so strategic and defensible that when the tide came in, any attackers were stranded, drowned, or driven off. Maybe they should have called it Mont-Saint-Moses.

IMG_1053These victories left the occupants, especially the king on his throne, feeling rather smug.

IMG_1059The island remained unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War; in fact only a small garrison was needed to fend off a full attack by the English in 1433.

IMG_1027During the Hundred Years’ War, England made numerous assaults on the island but were unable to seize it due to the abbey’s strong fortifications.

IMG_1062Mont-Saint-Michel is visited by more than 3 million people annually. Well, now 3 million and two. France protects over sixty of its buildings as historical monuments.

IMG_1063This is either a fireplace or where they roasted their enemies for lunch.

IMG_1751I think it might be the latter. Here, they would be preparing Asian cuisine.

IMG_1045The original site was founded by an Irish hermit, who amassed a bit of a following, one that began dublin’ every year or so, ire-ronically.

IMG_1732The salt marsh meadows surrounding the island were found to be ideally suited to grazing sheep. The meat that results from this diet makes agneau de pré-salé (salt meadow lamb), a local specialty. We didn’t know that then, which now makes us feel a little sheepish..

Dad Jokes

IMG_1020I think this might be a statue of St. Michael, but I’m just winging it. According to other people who were also winging it, the legend is that the archangel Michael appeared to the bishop of Avranches and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet.

IMG_1040In 1067 the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel gave its support to William the Conqueror in his claim to the throne of England. He rewarded that with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the southwestern coast of Cornwall which was modeled after the Mount and became a Norman priory named St Michael’s Mount of Penzance.

IMG_1044It’s nice that they put a putting green in, but I couldn’t find any flags. Or putters. Or golf balls. Silly French peoples.

IMG_1752This room is called, “Crypte des gros piliers,” although the pillars didn’t seem very gross to me.

IMG_1046Except they are kinda gross as hiding places.

IMG_1754Carolyn was excited to learn that Mont Saint-Michel was the inspiration for the design of Minas Tirith in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

IMG_1737It also served as the artistic inspiration for the Disney movie Tangled.

IMG_1761This device is cleverly called “The Wheel.” They used it to haul up supplies and VCRs so they could watch The Lord of the Rings and Tangled.

IMG_1746The door of the day.

IMG_1747There are about fifty shops for the three million annual tourists.

IMG_1739And one organ.

IMG_1731Before the construction of the first monastic establishment in the 8th century, the island was called Mont Tombe. The construction of the Romanesque church of the abbey was begun in the 11th century,

IMG_1742The church is at the very top of the island, signifying God being above.

IMG_1760Which offers some spectacular views of any invading troops.

IMG_1720This seagull is inspecting their firing range, because of course they have to practice in order to hit their targets efficiently.

Here you can see what the island looked like during various stages of development. They kind of look like unbaked chocolate chip cookies on a baking sheet, eh?

IMG_1685Many underground crypts and chapels had to be built to compensate for all the weight of that construction.

There’s a lot of uphill climbing to get to the top. Fortunately, this results in a lot of downhill climbing when you’re ready to leave.

And so, we knocked another Unesco Heritage Site off our bucket list. There are 1,092 of those all together. We’ve seen a relative handful so far. I wonder how many years it would take to see them all? Too much for one lifetime I’m afraid, so we’ll have to make do with what we see while we’re traveling Europe!

Kevin & Carolyn Invade France!

IMG_1794On June 6, 1944, the allies used the largest armada ever assembled to invade Nazi-occupied France.

75 years and three days later, Kevin & Carolyn ventured to the beaches of Normandy to see how well it was going.

As you can see below, apparently some of the troops didn’t get the memo that we won the war. They’re still out there bringing their vehicles to the fight.

One of these days they’ll pick up a newspaper and figure it out.

We ended up in Paris because of a delayed flight from Crete, as detailed in the previous entry. This was our second visit to the City of Light, so we decided to stay in the outskirts and rent a car. We looked over what we considered the “Tier Two” attractions in Paris, since we’d already been to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Monument to Rude Parisians.

One of the places I’ve always wanted to see was the beaches of Normandy.IMG_1816The beach views are so iconic that when I sent a picture of one to my son Josh, who is well-versed in World War II lore, asking if he could guess where we were, he got it on the first try. I was hoping he’d still think we were in Greece, but he’s too smart for that.

IMG_1108I gotta tell ya, the thing I didn’t expect was the emotional feeling of standing on the beach and looking over the water, picturing the mass of ships greeting the Germans who woke up that morning. You just can’t mentally picture that the same way on any other beach.

NormandyIt was and still is the largest seaborne invasion humanity has ever known.

IMG_1865There’s an interesting monument on the beach: the Les Braves Omaha Beach Memorial.

It consists of three elements:
The wings of Hope
So that the spirit which carried these men on June 6th, 1944 continues to inspire us, reminding us that together it is always possible to changing the future.
Rise, Freedom!
So that the example of those who rose against barbarity, helps us remain standing strong against all forms of inhumanity.
The Wings of Fraternity
So that this surge of brotherhood always reminds us of our responsibility towards others as well as ourselves.
On June 6th, 1944 these man were more than soldiers, they were our brothers.

The sculptor said:
“I created this sculpture to honour the courage of these men.
Sons, husbands and fathers, who endangered and often sacrificed their lives in the hope of freeing the French people.”

This is the 1st Infantry Division monument. It stands in the middle of the area of Wiederstandsnest (WN62), which was one of the strongest defended positions in that area. It says, “In honor of the valiant Americans of the 5th Engineer Special Brigade who gave their lives in the assault on this beach on 6 June 1944.”

IMG_1813

IMG_1127Flags of the allies stand guard over the Les Braves Omaha Beach Memorial.

IMG_1893And yet another memorial, this one is called the Omaha Monument to the Allies. It says:

THE ALLIED FORCES LANDING ON THIS SHORE, WHICH THEY CALL
OMAHA BEACH, LIBERATE EUROPE – JUNE 6th 1944

IMG_1890I presumed these soldiers weren’t a part of some sort of time-traveling expedition.

IMG_1869Having not been there before, I don’t know if they were there for the 75th anniversary or if it’s a usual touristy thing.

IMG_1895Other than this sign, and whatever leftovers we saw from the 75th anniversary celebration, it wasn’t particularly touristy otherwise. A few restaurants, but mostly the focus is on the monuments and the beach, which it should be.

IMG_1897You can even eat at the L’Omaha. We checked the menu and it was overpriced, which was no surprise. What was surprising is that they didn’t offer Omaha Steaks.

IMG_1861Lots of signs around the area give you an idea as to what transpired.

IMG_1857Including detailed maps of the invasion force.

IMG_1815Or just a sign telling you you’ve found the right beach.

There’s a bunker/pillbox beneath yet another memorial. It was sobering to stand in a place where men died violent deaths.

Otherwise, we just spent a fair amount of time gazing over the water, being damned glad we were born after the disaster that was World War II. And all it took was one knuckle-headed demagogue and about 40% of a country that thought he was great… until they finally realized he wasn’t.

At least 70 to 85 million died in WWII, which was about 3% of the world population in 1940.

There’s a Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center nearby with a water feature commemorating the beach.

IMG_1803There’s also an Overlord Museum. I assumed it was put there to commemorate me.

IMG_1102We didn’t go inside because we got there a little late in the day, but they have lots of vehicles outside you can take a gander at.

IMG_1805Carolyn’s tanked.

IMG_1811Which means I had to get tanked too.

IMG_1100I’m pretty sure our car couldn’t roll over these.

IMG_1798Putting the “art” in “artillery.”

IMG_1802It’s all Greek –er French, to me.

IMG_1846And then there’s the cemetery.  It covers 172.5 acres and contains 9,388 burials.

Pictures don’t do it justice especially in terms of how the monuments cover the ground almost as far as the eye can see. It’s a somber place.

IMG_1849And not one where we felt it very appropriate to take a big smiling selfie.

IMG_1789Once we left there we stopped at a -–gasp– McDonalds, just because we were in a slight rush and besides, we wanted to commemorate what the victory eventually brought the Europeans: McDonalds! Burger King! Disneyland! Heart attacks! The reason I took this picture is because the place was so busy, they were stacking food on the countertops. But it wasn’t just busy, it was haphazard. Probably these least organized McDonalds I’ve ever been to.

We don’t want another war just to straighten out how they do McDonalds in France…

Phaistos Than the Speed of Light

IMG_0946Actually, it should be: Phaistos then the City of Light.

We originally scheduled our trip for only Athens and Crete. Plenty to see in one journey, right? But somehow we ended up in Paris on the same trip.

(Only in Europe can you take a trip to Greece and end up in Paris… of course that may be because those two places are only in Europe, duh!)

Anyway, to make a long story shorter than it would be if I made it longer, after enjoying a great visit in Athens and Crete, we missed our flight to Lisbon from Athens because our flight from Crete to Athens experienced a significant delay. Since I had booked them on separate itineraries, the missed flight was our problem… so we were stuck in Athens with no ticket to anywhere.

I found a travel agency inside the airport while Carolyn went off looking for a dark corner with a cushiony carpet to lay on (as if), and asked the man to find us a way back to Lisbon. The next direct flight there was 24 hours later… and God-awful expensive. So I figured maybe we’d just stay in Athens for a bit longer; we certainly didn’t see everything there anyway. Whaddya gonna do, right?

Bates Motel NVThe only problem was that it was a Saturday night and the middle of busy season and some sort of convention was in town besides, so the travel agent simply could not find anyplace for us to stay in Athens. He even looked well outside of Athens, and then he got down to one-star hotels, and then to cardboard boxes on sidewalks, all with no luck. Well, to be fair, the cardboard box people never answered the phone.

After about an hour of fruitless searching, we knew we were in for a night at the airport.

So I asked him what was the next available flight anywhere west that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. He came up with a 6:00 AM flight to Paris for a couple hundred euros each. I thought it might be a lot easier to get to Lisbon from Paris than from Athens, and that ended up being true. That flight turned out to be reasonable as well.

Ultimately, I shrugged and just booked the flight to Paris, and then walked back to Carolyn, who was crouching fearfully in a dark corner (not really). “Hey honey, guess what? We’re going to Paris!”

She didn’t believe me until I showed her the tickets.

After that, we discussed the idea that as long as we’re going to Paris, why don’t we stay there another five days or so? We thought that was a great idea, so I booked us a hotel and the additional flight to Lisbon while sitting in the Athens airport, and off we were to another adventure! Burger King.gifOh, the joys of retirement! Of course, that still meant we had to spend the night in the airport, which is why you see me in the picture above with a sleeping mask on. We actually got kicked out of a Burger King where we had hunkered down, because you can’t have indigents sleeping in your restaurant, I guess, even in an airport.

IMG_1503But before we get to Paris, there’s one last place in Crete I want to share, a place called Phaistos, or faistos, according to that sign.

There are several major Minoan archaeological sites in Crete, the best known being Knossos, which is the site of the famous Minotaur maze. It’s also the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete, and has been called Europe’s oldest city.

While we were interested to see it, Knossos was way on the other side of the island from where we were, plus the reviews were a little mixed. They have rebuilt some of it instead of leaving it as discovered, and I guess it’s a bit touristy and crowded.

So we settled for Phaistos, which was much closer. We found it to be well worth visiting.

IMG_1551Phaistos is the place where they found the famous Phaistos disc, which may be where they got the name for it I’m thinking. Anyway, without the Phaistos disc, you may not have been able to read this blog, because they’re the ones who invented typography! Of course, I’m sure some of you may wish they hadn’t after reading some of my dumb jokes. Since the Phaistos disc has never been translated, I’m rooting for it to be a dumb dad joke.

IMG_1519We hired a tour guide to show us all the particulars… oh, wait, that’s Carolyn. No wonder the tour was so cheap!

IMG_1527Here’s a question for you: How many jars do you see here?

Two you say? Nope! The answer is three. There are the two big jars on the right, and then Carolyn’s mouth is ajar too! I know, I know, you’re wishing they’d never invented that Phaistos disc.

Here’s a closer look at some of the jars, sans Carolyn’s ajar one. Judging by the size of them, it looks like the Minoans invented Costco as well!

IMG_1552And I thought stairs weren’t invented until the escalator.

Phaistos McDonaldsHere’s a view of some of the city from above. As you can see, the Minoans invented a lot of things we take for granted today, like fast food. It’s what ultimately led to their doom.

IMG_1540Phaistos was the home of Radamanthis, the brother of the king of Minos. In Greek mythology, Minos was the first King of Crete, and the son of Zeus and Europa. Every nine years, he made King Aegeus pick seven young boys and seven young girls to be sent to the labyrinth to be eaten by the Minotaur. Sounds like a lot of bull to me.

IMG_1507Phaistos is the second largest palace of Crete after Knossos.

IMG_1515The site was inhabited since the late neolithic era, which started around 10,000 B.C. To put that in perspective, it is about as long ago as the year 12,019 is ahead of us now.

IMG_1554Just like the other palaces of Minoan Crete, the palace was destroyed three times. This was rebuilt on the ruins of the old buildings in 1700 BC.

IMG_1544Despite its age, we were impressed at the sophistication of the layout, as well as the spectacular views afforded from its hilltop location.

IMG_1510The palace continued to be used even after its destruction in 1400 BC. It gradually lost its power until nearby Gortyn finally destroyed it in 200 BC. And no, Gortyn wasn’t the name of one of the minotaurs, it was another city/state on Crete.

IMG_1512Phaistos was inhabited from about 4000 BC; the first palace was built around 2000 BC.

IMG_1520This room rocks.

IMG_1528Pink Floyd would be proud.

IMG_1509Well: that’s a deep subject.

IMG_1536Why is it every hole is used as a garbage can, even in such an historical area?

IMG_1511In addition to the palace, they had a theater with a great view of both the palace and the panorama. There are no records as to which movies played in the theater.

IMG_1533Carolyn does her best Rocky impression.

IMG_1549This are the queen’s quarters. The fact that archeologists can figure stuff like that out will always impress me. I woulda thought it was the TV room.

IMG_2434… A few days later, we were sleeping in an airport waiting for an early morning flight to Paris. I was embarrassed to be seen with a sleeping mask on, so I wore the sunglasses to disguise myself.

 

Bull

Crete: Dangerous driving and sights galore

Greece is a country of many islands, so we knew we wanted to visit at least one of them. We settled on the largest one, Crete, figuring if some of it was disappointing, it’d be large enough to find something interesting.

IMG_1372
Definitely not a cretin, or Cretan.

Of course, I was originally going to make a joke with the word “cretin,” but thought I’d look it up first. It comes from the French crétin, originally meaning “Christian.” and was used to mean “human being,” apparently as a reminder that, though deformed, cretins were human and not beasts. I thought that was more interesting than a joke.

Of course, being a Cretan simply means you’re a resident of Crete. So being a cretinous Cretan means you’re a bit of a Greek asshole. We didn’t encounter any of those, I don’t think.

Anyway, Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the 88th largest island in the world and the fifth largest island in the Mediter-ranean Sea, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica.

It’s an ancient part of the world: excavations have revealed stone tools that are at least 130,000 years old.

IMG_0477Driving in Crete was a minor challenge since we couldn’t make heads nor tails out of the signs.

IMG_0581Especially the ones that were all shot up. We learned there was at least one village that became uninhabited after an all-out war between another village due to some sort of revenge feud. I’m not sure Cretans should own very many guns.

IMG_0492Some of the signs direct you to crappy places.

IMG_0701While others direct you… everywhere.

IMG_0555The many canyons and ridges make for some interesting roads.

IMG_1616We occasionally ended up on dirt roads with no guardrails, often with drops up to, I don’t know, I’m estimating here, about a million meters straight down? One dirt road the GPS took us down was so narrow and dangerous we carefully backed up and went back the way we came.

IMG_0893I’m not sure if this sign means be cautious about the cliff or the guy with the gun.

IMG_1476Many of the towns have two-way roads that aren’t any bigger than a one-lane. You just have to wait your turn (or sometimes back up… or maybe sacrifice your side mirrors) if you spot a car down the road.

IMG_0792Even on the highways, they are a bit creative. This two-lane highway essentially functions as a three or four lane highway because everyone who isn’t passing rides the shoulder.

IMG_0580I’d hate to be the guy who dented that guardrail: on the other side is a drop straight down to death. Many of the roads would have done the Road Runner cartoon proud. I could imagine something plunging off the side… and then I’d hear a long, fading whistle… and then a distant poof! as Wile E. Coyote meets his temporary doom.

This bridge would have been perfect for that cartoon. We approached it with a bit of trepidation since any fall would have made a pancake out of the car. As we rolled across it anyway, it sounded creaky and groan-y like some of the boards were going to give out at any moment. The thing that gave us confidence was the crowd of people on the other side, sitting around a small roadside refreshment stand. Of course, they could have been gathered just to watch hapless travelers plunge through the bridge, but we took our chances and made it to the other side, to a bunch of hollerin’ and applause. Not really. But it sure seemed scary.

IMG_1489Sometimes it was better to just sit by the side of the road. But the many sightseeing areas also have huge drop offs, sometimes with no barriers. If she would’ve fallen over this one, she just would have just rolled downhill like a snowball in an avalanche instead of a straight plunge to instant death. So it’s possible she could’ve survived. I’m happy to report she didn’t test the situation.

Meantime, there are goats everywhere. They love to watch how ba-a-a-a-d the drivers drive. Especially since they can climb pretty much wherever they want and we’re stuck with only where four wheels can take us.

There are interesting churches galore, as well as a bunch of small memorial churches, including a number of small church-like memorial structures by the side of the road, often with just enough room for one candle.

The island also has a castle, and you know we love castles! This one is called Frangokastello. It was built by the Venetians in 1374. It wasn’t nearly as impressive as so many castles we’ve seen in Europe. I guess we’re getting kinda castle-jaded!

IMG_1428Even in ancient Crete, hobbits obviously built their own castles.

IMG_0865There are two interesting beaches we wanted to see: Balos Lagoon and Elefonsi Beach. They are both quite out of the way, with lots of tiny towns and narrow roads, including this one-way tunnel.

IMG_0855When you get behind a truck like that, you ain’t gonna pass him anytime soon.

IMG_0935The road to Balos Lagoon is one of the most treacherous roads we’ve ever been on… on an island with a lot of treacherous roads.

IMG_0906There are no guardrails next to a cliff called, “And we’ll never hear from you again.”

I think that’s a meteor streaking over the road into the water below. Oh, actually it’s just the dust from the windshield wiper. It was mighty hot and dusty on that day.

IMG_0883A few natural barriers might help if you find yourself wrestling control of your vehicle with a madman. Carolyn rarely has to do that.

IMG_0900Here it looks like a two-lane road, but there were long stretches were two cars couldn’t pass without one of them having its wheels halfway over the cliff.

IMG_0886The goats keep a lookout to make sure everyone drives safely.

IMG_0931They even man (goat?) the roadside stands selling the ubiquitous Cretan honey.

IMG_0939We just had to pay the occasional goat toll to be granted passage.

IMG_0937There’s one lane, and then a goat lane. I guess it helps to be a little sheepish when navigating that road.

IMG_0881It went on for a good number of miles. I’d guess it took us about a half an hour to get all the way there.

IMG_1650This gives you some idea why.

IMG_0912This looks like a traffic jam, but is actually just cars parked ahead of the actual parking lot. It was our first clue that the place was gonna be packed.

IMG_1647Note that for the most part, only one line of cars could move, so there could be a bit of a wait as you watch the cars going the opposite way roll by. I really didn’t want to have to back up on that road.

IMG_1646One foot from Pancakeville.

IMG_0921Upon our arrival at Balos, we were of course greeted by the Welcoming Goat.

IMG_0919Now he’s off to greet the other new arrivals.

IMG_1644Time for a cigarette break.

IMG_1625Once in the parking lot, we discovered it was going to be a long walk just to get to the beach. So, while we didn’t have a lot of time owing to our impending flight that afternoon, these intrepid explorers made the trek.

IMG_1627The path was marked for us by the considerate goats.

IMG_1633Once we crested the final hill, we were greeted with a sight that elicited oohs and ahs.

IMG_1636I think we’re mostly happy here that we actually made it, risking life and limb as well as a long, hot walk.

IMG_1631Of course, the other thing we discovered was that the already-long walk was just to a vista of the lagoon. You have to walk all the way down there if you want to get to the beach.

IMG_1638We encountered a few people returning, all of whom were desperately out of breath after making the long, arduous climb.

IMG_1629So we settled for the gorgeous views of one of the most beautiful lagoons we’ve ever seen.

IMG_1634The smart people take a boat to the beach instead.

IMG_1639Everyone else just admires the views and laments the fact that they’re not twenty-years-old anymore. This twenty-something is simply a wimp.

IMG_0821The other beach we wanted to see is called Elefonsi Beach. Not long ago, Elafonisi Beach was a secret known only to some locals on Crete. Then, in 2014, TripAdvisor named it one of the world’s top 25 beaches, and all tourist hell broke loose.

It’s known for having pink sand beaches… and we wanted to see the pink sand!

Pink beachWe thought we were going to see something like this beach in the Philippines.

IMG_1611 (1)Instead, all we got was this.

IMG_0842It’s really just a little tinge of red on the edge of the water. I think we were sold a bill of goods!

IMG_1606I mean, it is a nice beach and all…

IMG_1609Appropriate for a selfie or two…

And other touristy shots…

IMG_1608And they have some nice flags.

IMG_0839And truthfully, it is a pretty beach, and well worth spending a day there. We were only there to take a quick look because we didn’t want to miss our flight.

IMG_0836And then the busses started arriving. Thanks TripAdvisor! I’m sure the locals love that site now. Not.

Otherwise, we’ll finish up this lengthy entry and just let you take a gander at the beautiful scenery of Crete before we head off to other parts unknown:

IMG_1382IMG_1377IMG_1373IMG_1470IMG_1479IMG_1488IMG_1603IMG_0698IMG_0680IMG_0746IMG_0666IMG_0742IMG_0656IMG_0655IMG_0653IMG_0564IMG_0571IMG_0521

 

IMG_1419After all that sightseeing, lunch is a welcome respite! Like the Portuguese, the Greeks are warm and gracious restaurant hosts. We had several lively conversations with our waiters.

IMG_1656We gotta finish up with a kiss… because you gotta kiss-a-mo’ if they tell you to!

IMG_1410…and then we drove off into the sunset.

We spit on Crete!

IMG_0466Phtew! Phtew! We were hocking loogies all over the place in Crete.

Well, at least in Chania anyway. Chania is the second largest city in Crete, and is where our flight from Athens landed. Shortly after arriving, we endeavored to find out how to pronounce it by asking a local.

The best way I can describe it is: “Hock-a-loogie + ehnia.”

Khkhkhehnia.

To say it properly, just pretend there’s a hair stuck in the back of your throat and that you desperately need to bring it forward. After accomplishing that, just add a sweet li’l “ehnia” to it, and you’re pretty much a Greek. Or Cretan. Or cretin.

(I’m thinking maybe “ania” means “Thank God that hair is gone from my throat!”)

We make fun only because there are no words in English that require you to use so much of your throat, except for when you’re barfing while simultaneously telling your spouse that you’re gonna need a bigger bucket.

I’d be willing to bet my Viking heritage that most of our loyal readers have also never heard of Chania. But it is a significant tourist town of Crete, originally brought to our attention for the sole reason that our flight from Athens landed there.

To our surprise and delight, we found it absolutely charming.

IMG_0458It’s a seaside town with a ring of stores and restaurants fronting the harbor. The artifacts in this picture (not the old guy) provide evidence of the town’s seafaring ways, and are one of the first sights you see when you first walk into Chania Old Town.

IMG_0460A whole slew of restaurants await for prompt seating and a great view of the harbor. Almost every one of them is fronted by a pitchman encouraging you to come sample their offerings… other than a few that feature signs saying, “We won’t bother you!” Except I noticed they sort of bothered you anyway, as if the sign gave them some sort of reverse psychology permission.

IMG_0450A few musicians and other street entertainers provided for a jovial entrance into old town. This guy was playing some AC/DC if I recall.

IMG_0456It took a bit of work, but I finally got this light pole all straightened out properly.

IMG_0457So here’s Chania from the ocean view. As you can see, despite it being June, there’s snow on them thar mountains. We didn’t expect that in the middle of a Mediterranean summer.

IMG_0760They really do a nice job of making things cute and clean. It was this way all around Chania Old Town. The rest of Chania was just like any other town, but they really know how to cater to tourists in the tourist area.

IMG_0765If you see many pictures of Chania, one of them is bound to be one with this lighthouse prominently featured. It’s an iconic part of Chania. It was originally a Venetian lighthouse built around the late 16th century, although it’s sometimes referred to as “Egyptian” because it was built during a time where Crete was occupied by Egyptian troops.

IMG_0777Here’s a close-up, taken after a very hot fifteen minute walk around the harbor (the lighthouse is located at the end of a long protective breakwater that protects the harbor from the sea). During the Turkish occupation the lighthouse fell into disrepair. It was eventually rebuilt between 1824 and 1832, although they kept the original Venetian base. It was leaning badly due to bombings during World War II, but it was extensively renovated in 2005.

For some reason, taking one shot of something iconic is never enough. I’ve got dozens more if you want to see em! No? Okay, we’ll mush on then.

IMG_1581A tourist submarine is is on her way out of the harbor. We didn’t do many of the touristy things there, however; the town was charming enough all on its own…

…with sights aplenty and photo opportunities galore, including the Aegean Sea in 3D!

IMG_1348The Nazis bombed the hell out of Chania in 1941, especially Old Town. I think before that the town name was simply pronounced “Shania,” but the bombings rattled the residents’ fillings so much they couldn’t say the “sh” without sounding like they were hocking a loogie. I wonder if any of our Portuguese friends have ever heard the term “hocking a loogie?”

IMG_1593Apparently the Chanians pointed their cannons straight up to try and hit the German planes, but once they put them in cement this way, they couldn’t figure out how to put in the gunpowder and cannonball. No wonder Crete kept losing wars.

IMG_1595They do much better in peacetime, as evidenced by these clean and friendly promenades leading from the harbor.

IMG_1590Here’s a panoramic view of Chania from the seawall.

IMG_1575Here’s a view of the seawall.

IMG_1589You gotta admit it’s a pretty little town.

IMG_1568Here’s our view from the top of the hotel (really more of an Airbnb).

IMG_1565And here’s what we did up there. As far as you know.

IMG_1562As with so many places in Europe, old meets new everywhere you go.

IMG_1563And the sea meets land.

IMG_1560And the man meets woman. So if you don’t think we’re happy as hell being able to do all this traveling and stuff? Of course we are! These are our expressions before we put on our happy faces for the camera!

IMG_1350Horse carriages await tours around the town. We almost did that, but for no good reason we kinda missed it. Oh, well, maybe we only missed out on some horse farts.

IMG_1335I thought this salad bar was a little odd, and was glad we didn’t eat at whatever restaurant it was a part of.

IMG_1336Purple is one of my favorite colors. This tree (and my wife) is magnificent. I think she’d look good in purple hair, but I haven’t been able to convince her of that yet.

IMG_1343I thought of my son and his wife when we saw this store offering nothing but honey and honey products, because they raise bees in the state of Washington.

IMG_1342Honey is a big thing in Crete (so I’m not sure why this mannequin looks like the bees got put inside his hat). There are a ton of small shops and roadside stands around the island offering either honey, raki, or ouzo, the last two effectively being the national drinks of Crete.

IMG_1344The history of Crete goes back to the 7th millennium BC, preceding the ancient Minoan civilization by more than four millennia. The Minoan civilization was the first civilization in Europe and the first, in Europe, to build a palace.

After the Minoan civilization was devastated by the Thera eruption, Crete developed an Ancient Greece-influenced organization of city states, then successively became part of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Empire, autonomous state, and the modern state of Greece. (Per Wikipedia.)

IMG_1354A good view of the charming seafront.

IMG_1332A panoramic view of the charming seafront.

IMG_1357A great view of a car in a gas station.

Actually, this is the little Fiat we rented to get around Crete. I’m posting it only to tell the tragic story of our car rental return. We rented from a small company called Autocandia (I fully expected them to have a small bowl of candy in the car, but came away very disappointed). Anyway, everything went fine until our return, when our tragic saga begins.

When we rented it, I was told that upon returning the car, I should drop Carolyn and the luggage off at the airport and return the car alone. I wasn’t sure why, thinking maybe they wanted to rape me without listening to a bunch of caterwauling from my wife? Well hey, the term “greekstyle” had to originate for some reason!

Despite my aversion to being, ah, greeked, I followed the instructions, and found myself in a line with no employee behind the desk in front of it. Apparently, their only other employee had called in sick so the remaining employee had to both man the counter and pick up people at the airport. Why they couldn’t use the same van that was to shortly later take us to the airport so she could be behind the counter, I have no idea, although the full story may provide an answer to that.

IMG_1325Anyway, finally after about a half an hour, a harried employee hustles into the small office and starts processing people. One rude man butted in line ahead of the rest of us, a circumstance much more common in Europe than in the US. I complained, but the employee just shrugged.

But the real tragedy of this sad story had nothing further to do with me. It is all about the two couples who were made to walk all the way to the airport with their luggage, simply because they didn’t follow the instructions. The walk is a good 20-30 minutes, and it was very hot. So there they were trudging to the airport, and the van taking us only had one other passenger in it besides myself. Once I figured out what was going on with these people who had shared my pain in the Line Without an Employee, I pleaded with the driver to let them in… it was certainly no skin off my back to let someone else ride, and there was of course plenty of room. He steadfastly refused, saying they were only contracted for one person per rental, and no luggage.

Crazy stupid. Just bad humanity. I felt very sorry for them, but that’s the lesson of the day: When a small car rental company tells you to jump, you ask how high!

But in between that and our initial visit to Chania, we explored Crete and had a great time. More of that to follow!

 

We Ruined Athens

IMG_1245Many world travelers surely list the Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont as first or second on their sightseeing bucket list. Okay, maybe not in the top two, or ten, or hundred, but the Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont is definitely something you’d want to look at if you were standing right in front of it.

While I have been to Vermont, I’ve never been to Montpelier, so for the time being I had to settle for the ancient Greek building that inspired the Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont: The Temple of Hephaestus.

The temple resides in an area called the Ancient Agora of Athens. The Agora’s original purpose was as a gathering place or for commercial endeavors, as well as of course housing a reasonably cool temple.

Vermont Sate house(This is the Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont, just in case you were wondering.)

The Agora (which is the Portuguese word for “now,” so we felt right at home) was just a block or two from our hotel. Actually, in Greek, the word “agora” means “gathering place” or “assembly.” So we gathered and assembled there just like two ancient Grecians.

The Temple of Hephaestus has largely been preserved in its original state despite the fact that Hephaestus was the patron god of metal working, craftsmanship, and fire. Which means I would’ve thought he would have burnt the place to the ground after he was notified that he was about to lose his god status.

IMG_1228Fortunately, he disappeared without much of a whimper, as most gods do, leaving this impressive building in his ashes, –er wake.

IMG_0379As you can see, this is a container for offerings to the dead. As you can also see, the dead already scooped everything up. Greedy bastards, those dead people.

IMG_0344This building known as the Stoa of Attalos (we’re still in the Agora, or as I like to say, “O Aqui e Agora,” which means “The here and now” in Portuguese, which has absolutely nothing to do with anything except the word “agora” and my desire to show off my still-very-limited Portuguese skills). “Stoa” means portico or covered walkway. “Portico” is where you have to go after you’ve drunk too much port. “Walkway” is a word that turns into “runway” just by adding some planes. Accordingly, “Covered Runway” is just not a term you hear anymore, not after that one disaster anyway.

IMG_1200This photo provides some perspective. Ha! Anyway, it was built by King Attalos II of Pergamon, who ruled between 159 BC and 138 BC. The building as it stands today looks a helluva lot newer than that, mostly because it was reconstructed in the 1950’s by American and Greek architects.

IMG_1223The Stoa of Attalos has a museum inside it and a second floor (or first floor in European). This photo gives you an idea as to the sleek beauty of those gams– I mean columns.

IMG_1216Everyone knows our species has gotten a little larger over the millennia, but few people know just how big a difference there is. And they say JRR Tolkien just made up the hobbits. This ancient life-sized sculpture begs to differ. This statue does explain a lot of the doors we’ve encountered.

IMG_1214Carolyn’s got this guy’s gnome-ber.

A lot of the statues on display lost their heads. We couldn’t make heads nor tails out of the reason. I guess they all simply had it up to here. It was neck and neck to pick the two most beautiful, but one was shoulders above the rest.

If I only had a brain…

IMG_1202We thought it appropriate to deface the photos out of respect for the defaced.

IMG_1207One example of the wares displayed in the museum. This vase demonstrates the mad jigsaw puzzle skills many archeologists find beneficial to their work. They have a hard time without the box top, however.

Some more museum pieces.

IMG_1222 (1)This is what the whole Agora area would’ve looked like back then. At least if you were either color blind or the whole thing froze over in a freak world-ending ice storm.

IMG_1252Moving on from the Agora, this is the neighboring Library of Hadrian, who was the Roman emperor from 117 to 138, and is now the patron saint of overdue book fines. His own fines were not forgiven by his successor Antoninus, so it’s now up to $82,423,122 with interest. I mean, there ain’t no Italian named Tony who’s gonna forget about yer debts, y’know?

All that made me ponder… do you realize there is a whole generation of people growing up who have no idea what an overdue book fine is?

IMG_1251Hadrian is known for being both personally generous as well as extremely cruel. He must’ve been generous to the right historian’s forebears because he made it onto the “Top Five Good Emperors List” (if he wouldn’t have been so cruel, he might’ve made the “Top Five Very Good Emperors List”… but alas). He also traveled a great deal outside of Italy, unlike most of his predecessors. When he passed by, the people would shout, “Yo Hadrian!”

IMG_0388Another set of ruins in Athens is the Dipylon Ruins. So of course I had to act like a dip. Actually, the entire area is known as Kerameikos, or Ceramicus in the Latinized version.

IMG_0399It’s a large area that resides both within and outside the ancient city walls. Since it was the potter’s part of the city, Ceramicus is what led to the world “ceramic.” True story.

I look kind of potted here myself.

IMG_1314I always look closely at walls in ruins, being continually amazed at the preciseness of their construction and alignment and the fact that they’re still that way even after thousands of years.

Buland DarwazaThe Dipylon (The Thrasian Gates) was the most important gateway in the Athenian city walls. It was the main entrance to the city, and was at the time the largest gateway in the world.

Since then, that honor has been taken over by the Buland Darwaza in India. We’ve never been to India.Yet.

Ceramicus was also the site of an important cemetery. There are still numerous funerary sculptures along the ancient road that led in and out of the city. They called it the “street of tombs,” reminding everyone that they, too, will one day be worm food. Today, America has replaced that with the “Street of Dreams,” reminding everyone that they, too, will never live in a house with eight big screen TVs, a five-car garage, and an underwater bar in the pool.

 

IMG_1302We simply stumbled across Ceramicus while taking a walk outside our hotel to places unknown. You never know what you’re going to find when you explore an ancient city!

IMG_1308Like almost every place in Athens, feral cats were plentiful. Some were even friendly. This one decided to share some of its fleas with Carolyn.

Overgrown
Pristine thorns
Sheep shorn
Tinkling below
Roofless walls
Rooks overlook
I told you so
Babbles the brook

“Ruins” by Samuel Menashe

IMG_1291And that ain’t no bull.

Well, it is, actually, but that line sounded better that way.