Sunday, May 25, 2008

For a Phoenix that won't rise from the ashes

Here's to a safe landing for the Phoenix Mars Lander. I'll have my fingers crossed tonight.

I'm so ready to learn what Phoenix can tell us. Will Mars show signs of habitability? I really hope so!

UPDATE: First possible landing confirmation could come at 16:53 pacific time (02:53 Greek time).

UPDATE #2: Phoenix had a successful landing! Looks like Team Earth is finally going to tie the score!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Forget the minotaurs...who wants to see tourists?

Crete. It is an island that invokes intrigue amongst Greeks and foreigners alike with stories of the Cretan mafia, monstrous facial hair, the mystery of the disk of Phaestos, minotaurs, and Minoan castles. Yet, despite its deep cultural and historical roots, it is also an island ripe for tourism. The latter is the island we visited last week.

The travel agency arranging the conference booked us on two flights with two different airlines to get to Crete, which means that what amounted to about 85 minutes in the air took us about 7 hours, most of that time spent waiting in airports. You’d be surprised how tiring just sitting around an airport is, although my husband was quite delighted at the two hours we got to spend on the observation floor of the Athens airport (as evidenced by this photo, one of ten million he took of planes on this trip). We got to Iraklion around 11pm, and thankfully there was a nice comfy bus waiting to transport us to our hotel, which would take another thirty minutes of travel time. During that time we discovered something new about Crete – about every mile there was a Russian sable fur shop, and most of them were still open that late at night! Now, I try not to make assumptions as to what these shops are really about, but I’m still trying to figure out why someone on Crete would wear fur, considering it never gets that cold on the islands. All I could figure is maybe these are discounted prices aimed at Northern tourists on the island. Anyway, apparently Crete has a Russian population, which was news to us.

Our hotel was the Albatros Spa & Resort Hotel, located within walking distance of the conference center in the Hersonissos beach area. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but we had a rather large room with a balcony overlooking the pool area and it was quite lovely. Various views from our balcony:




While my husband attended lectures all day, I either sat near the pool (but in the shade, of course) or on our balcony and read or listened to This American Life podcasts while spying on the activities poolside. Apparently, all the resort hotels in this area (maybe in all of Crete or Greece?) have something called “Animation events”, which is basically a euphemism for annoying activities that piss off old people. The “Animation team” at our hotel consisted of two guys who constantly bothered people by the pool to participate in yoga, darts, quizzes, dances, and other wacky activities while blasting a stereo to eleven with the most annoying music possible. One of the guys was rather interesting to spy on, as he was constantly flirting with the sparce population of single girls by the pool. We actually witnessed him going off with these girls, I’m sure it was easy for him this time of year when the majority of tourists seem to be older couples or people with families.

On Thursday night we went to a small village a few kilometers away to meet up with some of my husband’s colleagues at Taverna Sofas:


My husband and I considered going to the archeological museum and the aquarium in Iraklion (I wanted to see the palace at Knossos, but that was out of the question due to the sun and my disabilities – we weren’t sure if it was handicapped accessible or not), but we decided to just enjoy lunches in the shade by the pool at our hotel and strolling along the beach promenade in the evenings, which was gorgeous and quite relaxing.

View from cafe along the promenade



The promenade

As if we couldn't tell....

It was a never ending stream of people watching – and the tourists seemed to come from everywhere, so it was fun hearing a confluence of languages all around us. The tourists there seemed to prefer to not have a “Greek” experience – when it came to food they wanted steak, and most of the restaurants around the promenade catered to tourist tastes with menus that included steaks, pizza, and general types of foods, with very few Greek dishes. The Greek dishes they did have seemed to be “dumbed down” for the tourists, so when we got back home I was clamoring for dinner at a real Greek taverna. I do have to admit that the pizza I had at the “Il Camino” restaurant was quite good, and there was a café called “Dolce Vita” that had excellent homemade ice cream (mint chocolate chip – I was in heaven!). Basically, if you plan a trip to such a place, don’t expect traditional Greek fare. I’d hunt around for some locals to tell you good places to go for Greek food (Sofas was ok and had a Greek menu, but it still seemed a bit “touristy”).

I don’t think I’ve had such a relaxing vacation in a long time. It was nice not being concerned about museum closing times, where we would get a cab, how long it would take to get there, etc., so in a way I’m glad we didn’t plan to do those touristy things, even though I’d love to see the Phaestos disk in person, and I’m still bummed I didn’t catch sight of the minotaur. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Vacation blues

There are a few reasons why I don’t like to travel. One of them is what I call post-holiday depression, a terrible low I go through after coming home from a nice vacation. It isn’t that I don’t like being home, quite the contrary. But when your travels have been enjoyable and you don’t often have the opportunity to go away, it is a bit of a letdown when it is over. I suppose it is stupid to use this feeling as a reason not to take a trip, but I’m really not sure if a couple of days of fun are worth a week or two of depression.

To add insult to injury, we were barely back from Crete for 36 hours before it was time for my parents to go home. I had initially thought that five weeks with my parents might be overkill for all of us, but I guess I’ve entered that stage of my life where I realize my parents are definitely not immortal, and the time I spend with them is measured in days and weeks instead of months and years. I miss them.

I promise a more entertaining (and less depressing) account of my trip to Crete along with pictures soon.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cretan holiday

The hubby and I are headed to Crete tomorrow for a five-day sojourn. The main focus of the trip is so my husband can attend a psychiatric conference, but I plan on having fun despite being surrounded by every shrink in Greece.

Hopefully I'll have lots of pictures to share when we return.

My parents are stuck here to care for our cats. Wish them luck.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Cold mountain

When my parents came to Greece five years ago for our wedding, they came at exactly the same time of year, so they kinda had an idea of what to expect weather wise. Since we were sweating to death by the wedding day and were grateful for any air conditioning we could get, they packed for a warm Greek late spring. I certainly didn’t tell them any different, since my experience living here has taught me that things are usually reasonably warm by May, and I actually worried that they might be too hot again like they were last time around.


Instead we have had the coldest late April/early May temperatures I have experienced since living here, and I can almost guarantee with certainty I’ve never been this cold this time of year in my entire life. Yes, we are still running the heat, which I know is a first for me. In Nashville I was usually full blasting the A/C come May. My poor mother has nearly frozen to death, and my dad, who has spent his entire life being too hot (like me) has even complained about being cold.

Since this weather is completely anomalous for Greece and my parents have a history of perpetually rainy vacations, I think I’ll blame them for bringing this unseasonal weather. I hope bet I’ll be complaining about the heat as soon as they leave.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Five years?!?!

Today marks our 5th anniversary of wedded bless, but tomorrow will be our 6th anniversary. How do we manage that? Well, we got married in the U.S. a year before we got married here in Greece. Of course, our American (and thus, non-Orthodox) wedding doesn't really count in the eyes of my in-laws. Five years doesn't seem like very long when all these other people I know have been married 15+ years, but I guess it is a bit of an accomplishment for me, since I usually can't stand to be around people (even people I like) for more than a few hours.

We went to Litochoro for the day, accompanied by my parents. It is kinda weird having chaperones for an anniversary celebration, but since Thanos and I get plenty of time alone together, it was ok having my parents along. I was glad to show them my most favorite place in the world, and of course they were in awe of Mt. Olympus.


I'll be sappy now, and say that anniversaries are no more special than any other day I spend with my beloved. I am definitely blessed with the best (ok, although sometimes annoying) husband in the world for me (not to take away from all the other best husbands other women have).