I’m sitting in the kitchen of the house we are renting in Crete. My toes frozen on the cold marble floor; Crete is not warm in April. We have decided to slow down for 10 days, my fatigue is catching up with me and I need to regroup before Derek leaves us and I am on my own with the kids. We had an incident in Athens that shook me and I’ve spent several days in panic, thinking about being alone. The slower pace of Crete is letting me think, process and rest.
A scene from Turkey I forgot to insert into the last post, what most meals out look like… usually with 1 – 6 cats greedily eyeing you.
We left Turkey by plane. T very excited, as it was a dash 8, the smallest plane she has ever flown in. We worked out the cost of getting to our apartment in central Athens by metro and by taxi and since they were nearly the same price, and it was 10 at night we decided on the taxi. This turned out to probably be a very good decision, based on the next morning’s events. We arrived to a spacious and comfortable apartment in a nondescript building, that the taxi driver was nervous about leaving us at. “This is not a hotel, are you sure?” It was all good and we had a good sleep before tackling the chaos that is Athens. For the record, I do not like Athens, and will probably never venture back there after I fly out of there in a week.
In the morning we were up bright and early, excited to see the Acropolis and the surrounding ruins. I have always wanted to see the Parthenon and Acropolis and was in a super mood. Our apartment was 4km from the acropolis, so we decided to take the Metro as it was very close by us and I didn’t want to wear out the kids before we even got there.
I have commented to Derek a few times about how casual he seemed with his wallet and personal belongings, and he always responded with “I have my hand on it at all times.” This may be fine for the rural countryside, but we were about to find out how not fine it was for the Athens Metro during rush hour! The first train was crowded, but fine. I think the two men targeted us on the next platform, they entered the train before us, but I only took note of the man leaning against the door. He kept pushing on the door and looked unwell. Derek said he also noticed the man and wondered why he was f’ing with the door. Our stop arrived and I left first, our door wouldn’t open properly and this man pretended like he was holding the door to prevent it from shutting on us, but really the pressure he was putting on the door was causing it to malfunction, what he was really up to was distraction. I got out of the train with T and walked a bit and then turned around to see Derek in the door of the train, one foot on the platform, one in the train, and angrier than I have ever seen him in my life. Derek is the least confrontational person I know, and I did not recognize the person stranding several feet away yelling. Z stood nearby looking confused as to what she should do. I called her over, told the kids to stay put by the wall, and then approached the scene thinking that the man was stuck in the door and Derek was trying to get his arm out. Then I hear Derek’s words “GIVE ME BACK MY WALLET!!!” He is straddling the door and the guy is looking at him impassively. Derek keeps repeating the same words, and I feel adrenaline and fear. I walk over and add my voice to Dereks “Just give him back his f’n wallet.” I say. Derek says he won’t let the train go until he gets his wallet back. A packed car of commuters watches this unfold with unreadable expressions, no one says a thing, no one moves. Something hits me in the side and I turn, Dereks wallet is laying on the platform. I look up and a young thug makes eye contact, throws his arms in the air as if saying “screw you” and runs up the stairs. I tell Derek I have it, and he gets out of the train door and collapses against the wall of the subway. I’m terrified he is having a heart attack, now two people stop and ask if they can help. Derek waves them away and catches his breath, the adrenaline starting to wear off. He composes himself, and we check the wallet, nothing is missing. Walking out of the Metro, there is a police officer standing at the top, but we don’t bother, he can do nothing, and we didn’t lose anything except for our confidence and trust.
After sitting and calming ourselves down in a coffee shop, we decide to make the best of the day. We are right outside the Acropolis, but neither of us have looked up yet. I sip my coffee in the cafe, and glance up noticing the Acropolis for the first time. It is breathtaking, more stunning than I imagined it! We get tickets and wander through the ruins. At the top it is packed… like ridiculously packed. Z freaks out and we try to move as quickly through the crowd and to the top where there is more room. We find a quiet place to sit and gaze at our surroundings. The Parthenon is huge, more massive than I imagined. It was worth everything to see this, but it is under restoration, so half of it is covered with scaffolding. I can only imagine how stunning it was when it was first built!
The rest of the day is spend looking at the other ruins scattered around the centre of Athens. We do not want to brave the Metro again, so decide to walk back to the apartment even though storm clouds have been building all day. We make it through the city park when the sky explodes. Torrential rain pours from the sky, lightning flashes and we are soaked in seconds. We duck under a closed shop awning along with several students, a couple business men and a guy on a scooter. As we stand there, the rain gets heavier, until the streets are running rivers and the rain turns to hail. Sirens wail past, and the rain gets heavier. Lightning and thunder flash and crash directly overhead and we stand in our soaked squelchy shoes and wait, shivering. Eventually it slows to the point where we feel like braving it, and the occupants of our little shelter scatter off in all directions.
The next morning Derek takes off to get the rental car for our trip up to Delphi. He booked it out of the centre of Athens, which is chaos. I sit in the apartment waiting and getting anxious when it takes way longer than it should. He eventually flies into the apartment yelling something about being double parked, good thing I’m prepared! We rush out with our bags and pull up the street until we find a quieter place to figure out how to get out of the city without a gps. Derek decides to use the cell phone to navigate out, as we can’t read any of the signs and driving in Athens would be insane even if you could!
The toll roads in Greece have a neat feature. The rest stops are built in, with a gas station, cafe and restrooms. You don’t have to leave the toll road to eat or find gas, it’s pretty ingenious! The roads in Greece are interesting… there seems to be no rhyme or reason to road width, lane width, lines, where people drive etc. fun times! Derek has adapted to Greece driving and is rocking it like a local.
We climb from sea level into the foothills and then the mountains of mainland Greece. The mountains are larger than I expected and we pass through tiny villages and olive groves. Sheep and goats are everywhere, like rural Turkey, except the sheep herders here are dressed in jeans and t-shirts instead of traditional garb. We pass a man driving a tractor dressed in a suit as if he was headed to a fancy dinner. We near the top of a mountain and I think we are in Delpi, nope it’s a ski village! It has the feel of a typical ski village, with shops catering to ski equipment and winter clothing. The village perches precariously on the cliff face and we wonder where the ski lifts are. We find out later that they are over the mountain and a few valleys over.
We descend again and Delphi comes into view, the scenery looks like a painting covered in the soft haze you get with oil paintings. We drop our stuff and decide to wander down to the ruins. You can access the Temple of Athina without paying, so we head there first. It feels calm, yet is buzzing with an undercurrent of something unseen. My breath is taken away the moment I spot the temple, and once I am near it a calmness washes over me. Something happens to Derek here, that almost seems like a religious experience. He walks around the temple as if searching, and then sits quietly staring at it for over 30 mins. I have never seen him sit so long without a distraction. After awhile, I sit beside him and he says he feels like the temple should be higher, that he should be looking at it from lower down. There is a sense of recognition, of having been here before. T states she feels like she has been here before as well… Z ignores us all and wanders off to find insects.
We eventually climb back up the hill toward the main ruins. The site is dead, as it is near sundown and the crowds have left. We decide to pay and explore tonight while it is quiet. The ruins are neat, but don’t have the same feel as the Temple of Athena below. We keep feeling drawn to it, and our eyes keep wandering downwards towards it.
The next morning, we wake to a beautiful sunrise over the valley. We head to the museum which has some amazing artifacts from the sites we visited the day before. The museum is packed full of school groups and tourists, so we don’t spend as much time as we would have liked. There are some fabulous gold and silver pieces that make our eyes bug out, and the kids really like the mythological friezes.
We spend some time in the ski village and wander into a rock shop where Z instantly recognizes the rock trees she makes and sells. Turns out the guy in the shop makes them and we get to talking about rock hounding. He wants to take a trip to find rocks and crystals, so we tell him all about the great places we know and show him some pictures on my phone of the crystals we have found. He is silent for a bit watching us, and then he asks. “Do you have a car? Do you want to see something special?” He gives us directions to a cave way up in the mountains, but cautions us that we have to be quiet and respectful as it is a magic place, and a spiritual place for people. He tells us that some people go there to pray and some to make magic, and whatever we do we need to respect the power of the place. We thank him and head up the mountain to find this cave. Many hairpin curves, a sketchy gravel road and a bit of a hike later, we find ourselves at the cave. Whispering, we explore it as far as we can see.
Leaving Delphi the next day, we take the long route along the coast and back through the Peloponnese. T is massively car sick and we end up giving her something for it, but still have to pull over to let her take a break several times. Athens is chaos as soon as we enter to try and return the car. We end up double parking in the bus lane and the car rental guys say “yeah yeah we will move it soon.”
We have a ferry to catch, and have decided against the metro, even though we have money left on our metro cards. We flag down a cab to get to the port. A beat up cab pulls up and the guy hops out, we ask him the approximate cost to the ferry and the amount he gives is reasonable. He throws open his trunk and apologizes for the stack of cat litter bags, “for my cats!” he says and I know he’s a good guy. The kids and I pile in the back and T frantically looks in the centre for a seatbelt, I can’t find one and when I ask, he says “No, no seatbelt there.” Crap! I shove T against the door and buckle her in as I take the centre, non-seatbelted spot. I grip the two front seat backs and grit my teeth as the driver weaves wildly in and out of traffic, I note he is also unbuckled. I have a clear line through the windshield I think, as I close my eyes and pray… it is at about this point that he hands Derek his prayer beads. They have been talking about cats, and Easter and travelling. Derek looks at the beads and tries to understand. The driver tries to explain in broken english, Derek isn’t getting it, so I explain what they are for. Then Derek tries to hand them back, but the driver says “No they are for you, they will protect you.” Everyone has been giving us tokens of protection all trip, and maybe they are working, look what happened on the Metro… we were told no one ever gets back their wallet.
We have arrived at the port 2 hours before we are allowed to board the ferry, 5 before it leaves. Silly me! I assumed that being a major transportation hub it would have a waiting room, or a bathroom, or something… Nope! So here we sit, outside our boat with the hawkers, homeless people, and smell of pee wafting in our noses. My bladder is full to bursting, but there is no where to go, or maybe there is if the smell around us is any indication. I ask if there is anywhere to eat or sit and the ticket lady points to a gate with a cafe on the outside, problem is the gate is locked (to keep out the hawkers and homeless) and we would have to walk 2 km to the other gate, and then 2 km along the highway with no shoulder with our packs and then back. We decide to wait and forgo comfort. Eventually we are allowed to board our boat. We have a cabin and there is a line of smartly uniformed men waiting to show us the way. The cabin is awesome, and is equipped with a bathroom and shower! We wander the boat, have a bite and then wind down for bed. T is still not feeling great from all the driving today, and I guess the rocking of the boat at midnight was too much for her. We awoke to her being sick in the top bunk. Luckily they deal with this a lot and the valet came and helped us clean up and remake the bed. Z slept through all of it!
Now we are on Crete for awhile, Derek flies out from here on the 29th, and the kids and I will be taking a ferry back to the mainland on the 30th. I am definitely feeling anxious about going solo, hoping the next week gives me a chance to get more comfortable with it.