On These Pages Are The Stories Of Our Family We Go Together ! Welcome To The World As Viewed Through Our Eyes
Lynette .......... Caedmon .......... Libby .......... Tom

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Greece

There are many places we still want to visit. But for us,with kids in tow, the challenge for a December trip was to find a place that has mild weather...and my one request was that the time change not be too terrible. We considered but ruled out several countries when Tom came across reasonably priced tickets to Athens, Greece. While it was never one of the top cities on our list, the weather is mild this time of year and once we considered it, we decided it might be quite fun. My dad agreed to join us. He was in the military for 31 years and traveled extensively during that time. However, he hasn't traveled out of the country in the 6 years he has been retired and he had never been to Athens. Those two reasons plus a week with the grandkids were more than enough of an enticement.

Tom is always the consummate planner so those rare free minutes he could find at work or at home, he scoured the Internet for travel information on Greece. He came across an excellent website(s) which helped us to plan as well as provided great resource while we were there - Matt Barrett's Guides to Greece: www.greecetravel.com and www.athensguide.com One of the pieces of advice that Matt Barrett gives is to pack light...in fact, don't even check in any luggage if possible. If you've read about our Hawaii trip, you already know that it is always Tom's goal to pack light (I think Seinfeld could have made an episode out of my Packing Nazi), but this time we were put to the ultimate test - Pack two adults and two kids into two small knapsacks for a whole week. Yes, you read that right: TWO SMALL KNAPSACKS (not hiking backpacks)!, our Mountain Buggy stroller, and a frame carrier (the Sherpani Light) for Caedmon in order to explore archaeologic sites where stroller access is not possible. We did not put these restrictions on my dad, but when he arrived at our house, he decided to take the challenge and he also packed his belongings into one knapsack as well as another small bag with food and travel entertainment for Caedmon (disclaimer: if you like to look like you walked out of a magazine when you are on vacation, this is not the way to go...on the other hand, if you want to try to travel like this, feel free to ask me about it...I may be able to share some of our successes and pitfalls).

Normally, I LOVE to travel and I enjoy reading about the places we are heading and planning the itineraries. However, I have to admit that I just couldn't get excited about this trip. In fact, I told a friend that I needed a vacation and when she pointed out that this one was around the corner, I quickly said that it was not a vacation. I know that it is a vacation in every sense of the word...except for the fact that a mommy never really gets a vacation. The Hawaii time change was really difficult at 5 hours behind and this was going to be 8 hours ahead so my expectations for a good time were quite low. As the time got closer, I really tried to muster up some enthusiasm.

My dad arrived from Pennsylvania  the morning we were to leave and we all packed up and headed to the airport in the early evening of November 28. The first leg of our journey was from Dallas to London Heathrow. We were hopeful that since it was an overnight flight there would be lots of sleeping! Caedmon pulled through and slept for most of the flight...in fact, we could barely wake him when we landed at Heathrow. Libby had a considerably harder time. She has never been a "sleep anywhere" baby...and thus, my greatest fears of traveling with a baby were realized. She had quite an inconsolable crying spell before she finally fell asleep in the sling. After the big tantrum, she slept most of the time but did make an occasional fuss. Half way through the flight, I was again wondering why I agreed to this trip, but by the time we made it to Heathrow, I was glad to be through the long part of the flight and feeling a little better about the days ahead. We had a two hour layover at Heathrow and Tom was expecting that we'd have some time to wander around and grab some coffee. However, security is so tight there that we had just enough time to get to our gate before they called early boarding for families with small children (yes, these courtesies do still exist elsewhere in the world). We flew British Airways from London to Athens. If you are disgusted with the American airline industry, try flying a European carrier. Your faith in customer service will be renewed. They were so nice and the amenities flow - gifts for the kids, free wine, etc. We wish we never had to fly American carriers again!


We arrived in Greece in the early evening around 6 pm but it was already pitch dark. Taking advice from Matt Barrett, we had prearranged a private airport transfer through "George the Famous Taxi Driver of Greece." George's son Billy met us in a private15 passenger Mercedes van with car seats. We had to install the car seats ourselves and they were not what I would have chosen (front facing for Libby and a booster for Caedmon) but I kept reminding myself that it was better than our trip to Peru (where I had to hold Caedmon as the taxi driver brought us close to death several times). Billy must have sensed my worry because he drove extremely slow the whole way to the hotel. While it cost a little bit more to have this personalized service, it was worth it to have driver(s) we would get to know better through the week on personalized excursions around the city.


Tom searched high and low on the Internet to find a reasonably priced room that would accommodate the 5 of us, provide some privacy for my dad, and have a good location. He finally came across the AVA Hotel which was nicely located near the Plaka (the touristy, old city area). It was really hard to find a place that would take 5 people and we were excited to be able to book the AVA for a party of 5. However, when we arrived, they were surprised to see 5 of us and for a split second we thought we would end up on the street (the hotel only received a reservation for 4). Fortunately, they agreed to let us all stay and found a cot for Caedmon. After settling in, we decided to take a quick look around the Plaka and possibly find a restaurant at which to eat. Caedmon had fallen asleep on the drive from the airport so we thought we might be able to have dinner hopes were shattered and instead we grabbed some gyros from a take-out place and ate at the hotel - the best option with two tired, cranky children. We got our first taste of jet lag as Caedmon could not settle down. He had several crying spells and was up until 3 or 4 am talking. Just when I would fall asleep, Caedmon would appear in my face with some random comment such as "I was driving in the car with my snowman." Libby also struggled to sleep because any noise that Caedmon made inevitably woke her and started her crying.


It was a long, exhausting night but we slept in on Sunday and awoke ready for a day of new adventures. Once we finally awoke, Tom and Dad went in search of breakfast while I fed Libby and then got Caedmon dressed. They returned with coffee and pastries. The coffee was not quite lukewarm but the pastries filled our empty stomachs. Billy, our taxi driver, had told us about the changing of the guards ceremony that only occurs on Sunday morning so that was the first thing on our agenda for the day. The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed the five minute walk to Syntagma Square and the Parliament Building. One thing we noticed is that there are ruins scattered randomly around Athens. If they excavate a site and decide to leave it intact, they build the city around it. We were able to see the Temple of Zeus and a few other antiquities as we made our way to the square. Another interesting thing about Athens is they actually seem to enjoy pigeons and encourage them by feeding them! In Syntagma Square, you can buy birdseed from the "bird men" and feed the birds. I guess it was kind of Mary Poppinesque but really it was more annoying because every picture we took had tons of pigeons in it. The Changing of the Guards ceremony was neat. The costumes were very interesting, not what we would typically think of as a military uniform. It was also fun because it starts with a parade, complete with a marching band. We later found out that we must have been there on a special day because there was a second marching band and ceremony after the first. We asked our taxi driver about it and he was not sure but was guessing that it was a special presentation for a visiting foreign dignitary. After watching the parade, we decided to walk to the Monastiraki area of Athens, where there is a large Sunday flea market. On the way there, we saw lots of street performers - musicians, statues, etc. There were also some interesting things for sale...one of Caedmon's favorite were these rubber person-shaped things that "climbed" down the wall after they were flung on it. He called them "the climbing men" and would have stood all day watching them had we not eventually moved him on. After walking through the flea market, we found a fruit stand and bought some fresh bananas and oranges and also a type of sesame seed bread from a vendor. By that time the jet lag had caught up with all of us so we headed back for naps. Once we were feeling a bit more rested, we headed to the National Gardens to enjoy a walk and let Caedmon play on the playground. We had read that the Greek LOVE children and we truly experienced that. We were frequently stopped by someone showing interest in one or both of the two kids. It truly is a kid-friendly place. We spent our early evening walking around the Plaka, eating a Greek meal at Vizantino (another recommendation of our taxi driver). Both children went to sleep rather easily but struggled to sleep through the night. Jet lag is certainly a challenge with little ones. Caedmon was up until 2:30 am...once again, sharing random thoughts with us - "I saw Mr. Goofy playing the piano."


On Monday, we were up and out the door by 8 am. Dennis (George the Famous Taxi Driver of Greece's other son) met us in his limo and whisked us away to Delfi. Tom's one pre-existing knowledge for Delphi was that in the Bible, "there used to be an oracle at Delphi"... haha! We were hoping to get a caffeine jolt but there were no beverages allowed in the car. We drove through a nice bit of morning rush hour and finally out into the countryside. It was almost a 3 hour drive. We stopped 40 minutes before Delfi and had coffee and cheese pie. The coffee was good but the cheese pie was not to our taste. It was feta cheese with a filo crust. We went on to Delfi and met Georgia, our tour guide. She took us on a two hour tour of the museum and ruins. Caedmon was rather bored with it all and Libby chose to be quite fussy through the parts in which she did not sleep. The ruins were quite interesting, though. It's amazing to see the details and creativity of the ancient Greeks. The artistry is beautiful. And, it was interesting to hear about all of that "useless school learning" - Ionic columns, Hellenistic period, gods and goddesses. I think Georgia wasn't quite sure what to do with our two kiddos between Caedmon queries about being done and Libby's frequent crying spells. I'm sure most people want to wonder around the site and ask questions but we were ready to move on by the time the tour was over.

Dennis took us to a restaurant for lunch which happened to be "closed" on Mondays. I don't think they were really closed per se since they seated us and took at least two more tables while we were there, but they apparently had a limited menu on Mondays and we were told that they would find us something to eat. Well, it was quite a feast. We thought we ordered a small appetizer plate, a main dish and a salad. However, we had at least twice as much food as we expected, courtesy of Dennis wanting to make sure we got a taste of some authentic Greek food - spanakopita, roast beef with rice, fried zucchini, fried cheese, bread, spinach pie, horta, and Greek salad. We could not even eat it all. We politely declined dessert when Dennis offered it, but the restaurant owners decided to give it to us "on the house." Somehow we found room for some delicious baklava and another yummy creamy dessert. Everyone but my dad slept most of the way home. We arrived back by 4 pm but were worn out from the day of travel so we stayed in for the evening. Tom passed out early (knotted up shoulder, neck, and calves) after carrying Caedmon on the backpack carrier climbing through the Delphi ruins.


After yet another sleep deprived night as Caedmon was up till 3AM, we ended up sleeping in till almost 930AM on Tuesday. Our late start was worth it as on our morning breakfast run, we found Starbucks - Dad's lack of recent travel experience showed as he was excited to see a Starbucks and wanted to take a picture of it. The Acropolis did not disappoint! Caedmon was more fascinated by the construction trucks doing renovation than the actual ruins. Libby, in the Ergo, got lots of attention from worldwide visitors. After climbing back down we ate a late lunch and learned the differences of ordering a lamb souvlaki vs a gyro. Caedmon was hoping for some hummus (which he normally gets when we go eat at our local Greek restaurant back in Texas). Unfortunately for him, we discovered that hummus is actually Middle Eastern, not Greek. However, he did finally eat a decent lunch of lamb souvlaki and french fries (only when your child is having a self-imposed fast does one claim french fries as part of a decent meal). My dad and I headed out for a walk while everyone else napped. We finally located an open pharmacy and replenished our much needed diaper supply. My dad also purchased his first souvenir - a Greece ball cap - for his local coffee shop owner's son. I guess free coffee is more important than a gift for my mom! We stopped at a local wine store,"Brettos", and tasted some Ouzo. After that enjoyable experience, we returned to the hotel and I took Tom back to Brettos so he could try it. We all ended up with a souvenir bottle to take home. After putting the kids to bed, my dad gave Tom and I a chance to enjoy a date night. However all thoughts of a nice dinner out were foiled by our late lunch so we just walked around the city and took some pictures. Since it was our first true date since before Libby was born, we were just thankful for the time together.


By Wednesday, we begrudgingly accepted the fact that the battle with Caedmon's jet lag would not be easily fought. Caedmon continued to have his midnight party from about 10 PM until 2 or 3 AM. Amazingly, we survived with little sleep and even no tantrums. Tom and I headed out before 8 to find some breakfast. We walked to the area near Acropolis metro station and found a bakery that had some yummy treats. However, we opted to go to Starbucks for the coffee since our other Greek coffee experiences have been met with weak, lukewarm coffee. We arrived at Starbucks a little after 8 only to find that it doesn't open until 8:30 on weekdays (and even later on weekends)! We sent Dad back at 8:30 and he was met with a less than chipper barista. Apparently, no one arrives at opening time. The barista girl asked him, "Why you here so early?" In fact, Billy (our driver) later informed us that this is the norm for Greece. In fact, even at government offices you shouldn't expect workers to work until at least 30 minutes to an hour after official opening time - they use up the 1st hour having coffee instead of working. After enjoying our breakfast of pastries and Starbucks, we met up with Billy and he took us south along the coast to Cape Sounio to see the Temple of Poseidon. The drive there was beautiful, especially after we got out of the city. The road winds along the water and we passed several small villages with whitewashed houses and cute little churches. The water of the Aegean Sea really is as blue as the pictures look. Unfortunately, I'm not sure we were able to capture it on film since the day was a little overcast. The Temple of Poseidon was definitely worth the drive. It's perched high on a cliff at the southernmost tip of the Greek mainland. The ruins look like most other I suppose but the location is simply beautiful! Except for one other tourist from Brooklyn, NY and a camera crew (filming something - a movie, commercial?) we were the only ones there so it was easy to get pictures devoid of other tourists, which is always a treat. We stopped for lunch just outside of Athens. Unfortunately, the restaurant at which Billy intended for us to eat wasn't open yet but we did enjoy some really yummy gyros. According to Billy, they were authentic - not from a tourist hot spot - and the taste proved it. Both kiddos fell asleep on the way home and Caedmon had a good nap after we returned. Dad, Libby and I went back to the Plaka for a walk and some souvenir shopping. Dad was able to make some nice purchases for my mom and sisters. The weather is so beautiful that it was just nice to walk. When we returned, Caedmon was awake but Tom was still asleep so Dad and I packed up the kids and headed to the National Gardens. This time we found the "zoo" - roosters, peacocks, bunnies, donkeys, goats, etc. in cages - as well as a different playground. This playground was much more suited to Caedmon and he enjoyed 30 minutes of running, climbing, sliding and meeting local children. We found Tom awake when we returned so we all went out to find some dinner. Caedmon has not been the best eater on this trip so we decided to try for one of his favorites - noodles! We had seen an Asian noodle restaurant on one of our walks so we went there and had decent success in getting Caedmon to eat.


Wednesday night, Caedmon finally had a good night of sleep, which meant that the rest of us did as well. We started our morning with Starbucks. Starbucks has been a rather interesting experience here. The baristas are less than friendly. In fact, this morning one barista was so intent on completing her task of sweeping the leaves off the patio that she came and asked us to move. Fortunately, we were headed out anyway. After being engerized with our coffee (and for Caedmon, an apple cinnamon muffin), we walked over to the Acropoli Metro station. We rode it just one stop to Syntagma Square but that was quite a highlight of Caedmon's trip! For us, it was neat to see the artifacts that they have scattered throughout the stations. It's like a little museum in each metro station. We walked back to the Plaka area with plans to take Caedmon to the Greek Children's Museum but it was full of school children on field trips so we opted to spend the morning at the National Gardens instead. We made a quick detour to the Temple of Zeus. Originally, we were thinking of skipping it since you can see it so well from the road, but we decided we had the tickets already (from the Acropolis) so we might as well use them. It was worth it for the photo opportunities. We tired Caedmon out by walking around the National Gardens and going to the two playgrounds there as well as another walk by the "zoo." Libby was fading by the time we made it to the second playground so we left my Dad and Caedmon to play and Tom, Libby and I headed back to the hotel. We made a stop in the Plaka to buy some souvenirs first. Caedmon and my Dad grabbed a lunch of souvlaki pita before returning to the hotel. Once both kids were down for naps, Tom & I left for our "date afternoon." It has been quite some time since we've had so many opportunities to get out alone. Both Billy and Dennis (the taxi drivers) had recommended a restaurant called Psaras so we decided to try it. We were not disappointed! The location was neat as it was on a hillside at the base of the Acropolis. If the weather was warmer we could have sat outside with a view of the Acropolis but it was quite breezy and cool so we went inside. The ambience was nice and the view was not too bad either since we were on the hillside. We had delicious meal of olives, mussels, fried calamari, Greek salad, rolls with yummy garlic spread, lamb chops and red wine. We were more than full but they brought us complimentary flan so we had to try that as well. It was so good that Tom considered taking my dad back for dinner, but we were too full to even eat dinner! Instead, Caedmon, Dad and I took a walk and returned to the Noodle Bar since we knew that was something Caedmon would eat.


On Friday, we began our homeward travels early in the morning Greece time and didn't arrive home until evening Texas time. It was a long day but we survived. It is a blessing that looking back on such travel days they do not seem as painful and uncomfortable as they feel when you are in the midst of them. Our only snafu was that our stroller did not arrive with the rest of our belongings, but fortunately, the airlines knew where it was and promised to deliver it the next day. We all thoroughly enjoyed our Grecian adventure but as always, it is good to be home again!

2 comments:

  1. Loved reading your trip report! I'm filing it away in my planning folder for future reference. I enjoy reading about your adventures traveling with little ones.

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  2. You guys are so brave and that comes from someone with a well traveled toddler. I am not sure when we will be up to such a trip with two. I am glad to see you with Libby on your back and that lets me know that Caroline is ready for it. I have not tried it yet.

    We loved our trip to Greece 4 years ago this week. It was so beautiful and we saw a lot of the same places. We also used Matt Barrett's site which was so helpful and we had George the famous taxi driver take us on a day trip to Corinth and some other cities in that area.

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