Monday, October 24, 2011

How to miss your wife...Hubcap and Lucy’s trip to Greece, Italy, Turkey

By Hubcap

Hello gang, it’s been awhile since we travelled, so we decided to brave the Wide Wild World.  It’s time for Lucy and Hubcap’s travel to Italy and Greece.

The plan was to fly through Amsterdam, spend a day or two in Rome at the beginning and end, and in the middle have a 10-day cruise around Italy, Turkey, and Greece.  In other words, a fantastic plan.

We first travelled through Amsterdam (which I figure the closest to naming a town a swear word and getting away with it).  Having the day flying in, we spent the time touring the canals, which are very extensive.  Many of the people live in houseboats moored along the canals.  And like houses, they are in various states of repair.  But a plus; if you don’t like your neighbors, fire up the motor and move your house.

Then we flew into Rome.  We had paid for a driver to pick us up, and we had called in advance to confirm that he would be there.  Which of course he wasn’t.  No person, no sign, no nothing.  And people at the airport are more than happy to point you to a pay phone and indicate the 30+ digits you have to dial to get a call out.  So after 90 minutes of searching the airport for our nonexistent driver, we looked for a taxi.  This was the start of our experience with Italian taxis.

If you are fortunate to attain the official city taxis (white with yellow or red stripes), you will receive a decent ride at a decent price.  If you are like us, and you can only attract private taxis, you will find out two things very fast.  One, when you show them a credit card, they say they will take it.  To be specific, they will take you to your destination, then will take you to as many ATMs as it takes for you to pull out enough cash to pay them because, of course, they don’t really take credit cards, are you kidding?  We only backed over one person in our search for Euros (which are like US dollars, but way more expensive.  Welcome to the EU).  Our other taxi experiences were going to and from our Cruise Port, with a stop at a factory outlet mall on the way.  Which actually ended up with expensive taxi rides to and from the port (long rides, we knew), but without the pre-arranged stop at the mall.  This brings up the second point; just because someone promises they’ll take you somewhere, doesn’t mean they’ll actually take you there; are you kidding?  One thing we definitely got on these private taxis; we got taken for a ride.  The few times we secured the official city taxis, great experiences, good prices.  You’ve been warned. 

Inside the Pantheon turned Catholic Church
On one particular taxi ride, the person drove his car past a truck blocking the driveway into the hotel, and scuffed his car in the process (because, of course, the road really was meant for one vehicle width.  Learned a lot of inappropriate Italian phrases that day).  Which was unfortunate when I pointed out afterwards that the actual hotel was two locations down the road.

Rome is an incredible city; Lucy and I went on a walking tour and we saw ancient historical structures almost around every corner….incredibly beautiful structures.    Which of course is the main attraction of the town.  That, and that Vatican-thingy.  We were fortunate to see the Pope give the daily blessing while he was under the holy camping pavilion.  It’s hard to see him from our zillion-kilometer viewpoint across the plaza, but luckily you can see him on the holy high-def monitors spaced around.  After watching everyone get their tourist items blessed, we decided that we would just return to our hotel, which was located nearby past some small turns, ancient footpaths/ruins and a couple time zones.   

Definitely the Pope set the bar, as none of the Roman or Greek entities visited as we toured their sites.  It's probably best; I wasn't dressed for lightning bolts, earthquakes or donkey ears (wait, that was Shakespeare; but I digress...).

Some key things to note:

Italians know English.  To be specific, they recognize English-speaking people very well, and are more than delighted to help you learn Italian by watching you struggle with your survival phrases, smile and shake their head.  You will know the lesson is over when, frustrated at every turn, you go to leave and they say, “Wait, we speak English….”

If you know Spanish, you can try to get your idea across to Italians by speaking Spanish, a related language to Italian.  And by that I mean that you can speak it, and can then try to interpret their gaze response, ranging from, “I can’t believe you tried to insult me by speaking a second language from another country,” to “I understand you, but if I respond in Spanish, you’ll be as clueless as if I responded in Italian, so I’ll stay silent to preserve your dignity.”

Some phrases don’t translate well.  For example in Italy when asking for directions, the phrase “It’s a short walk, about a kilometer down this street, lots of shops, you can’t miss it,” actually means, “Walk down this road until you can’t see me laugh, then continue walking until you realize you are in another country. You’ll  definitely find something after that.  Note:  it won’t be what you wanted. ” 

We managed to find some wonderful restaurants (OK, actually bars about 3 feet deep with no chairs and lots of smokes), and get food to take back to our hotel.  In all fairness, a few of the bars had wonderful entrees (learned that I love Caprese Salad, a sliced tomato with buffalo cheese wedged into the slices), and friendly folks; we will always treasure those times.

Rome’s traffic amazed us.  As you know, we’ve had mixed experiences with traffic in other countries, and Rome and Greece did not fail to disappoint.  Most amazing is that there’s a lively mix of small cars, Vespas and pedestrians, all walking at once (traffic lights and signs add to the ambience, but are not followed of course), and no vehicles or people are bumped or even scratched.  Hitting pedestrians, we found, is strictly a tourist activity, as our taxis managed to hit people (one across the hood, another backing into them) while ferrying us through town.  Fortunately the end result is both pedestrian and driver exchange yelling, gesture, then continue on their way.  The lesson?  Instead of insurance, yell and gesture a lot.

Once we boarded the cruise ship (the Celebrity Equinox, which many mistake as a large Archipelago), we were treated to a wealth of great food, shows and shopping that really highlighted our vacation.  We had paid for a Concierge-level room and service, and it was nothing short of incredible.   Imagine every day getting out of your bed, opening the curtains to a balcony overlooking the ocean or port you were in.  With privacy panels on either side, you could stand out there totally naked and not bother anyone.  Most of the time.  Which, while I’m at it, my apologies to the just-passing Holland Line customers for the impromptu full monty experience you received from me that morning; that was NOT part of the cruise experience you purchased.

Greece and Turkey were fantastic countries.  Although clearly the economies are sorely pressed there, they suffered my Greek survival phrases well, encouraged me for the efforts, then sold us rugs and souvenirs.  The whitewashed buildings with their simple lines, clean arches and painted domes are etched in my memory always.  It was also amazing to see the huge influence the Middle East had on architecture, seeing Orthodox Churches with mosque attributes were very beautiful, lots of mosaic and inlaid designs.  I was not aware of the blending of some pagan designs with Catholic or Christian architecture, usually done to help promote introduction of the new religion into that region.  Great history lessons all around.

Only a couple hiccups on the excursions; in Athens, we had exited a tour bus (hop on, hop off, a great way to pass the day and still get the tour) for a museum, then found out it was closed that day (could’ve told us), then other folks waiting there let us know that the follow-on bus was blocked by the protests.  We ate lunch, grabbed a taxi, and after only running into one person, we ended up at the amazing Plaka (amazing because it wasn’t’ the official Plaka of history, but a small sidewalk plaza of shops and stands), where we were able to get back on the tour bus and enjoy the rest of the tour.

The other hiccup wasn’t a fault of the location or the people; it was me.  Santorini is a fantastic island build around a volcanic mount and caldera.   As a result, at the port, you have two ways to get to the town at the top (I think it’s 600ft up).  One, ride a burro or walk behind them up a zig-zag series of footpaths.  Lucy and I are allergic.  OR, ride a tram to the top, takes a minute.  We chose the tram.  As we waited in the building at the bottom and watched the trams go up bumpily on a very thin cable across old looking pylons, I experienced an earthquake.  To be clear, the island did not have an earthquake.  My legs just started shaking.  Then, my body, then, as we ascended, my hands.  I’m amazed my photos came out; definitely testifies to the anti-shake mechanism on the camera.  Lucy, who doesn’t like heights?  Just fine, no worries.  Me?  Worries.  Lots of them.  Definitely I have an issue with heights.

Once at the top, the town was fantastic.  And I braved taking pictures at the edge, since we were there.  But honestly, I could not tour the caldera, like the others.  Bummer.

My experience in pointing at items in different countries was sorely tried.  For example, in Greece as we bartered, I remembered that pointing at items can be viewed as insulting in that culture.   I was fortunately able to convey my meanings by grabbing things off racks and other customers and dressing in them (clearly if I’m wearing it, I’m buying it).  The underwear photo is an example.  Don’t ask whose it was originally.  But I’m sure she won’t even miss it.  By the way, you have to post bail in Euros; another handy tip for you.

Pompeii was an experience not to be missed.  And we met some wonderful people who were taking back to back cruises, or were going for the first time.  However, one couple was notable.  Our tour guide Nuncia (Nancy in our lingo) was speaking to us through our personal radios about Vesuvius, Amalfi coast (introduced to Limón cello, fantastic!), and Pompeii (her forte of knowledge was Pompeii).  During this, the husband of this couple kept asking unusual questions, like, “Nancy (gestures out the bus window), is that an eruption going on over there?”  She said no, mainly because it was a personal brush fire on the mountain, and it wasn’t even Vesuvias, which was on the opposite side of the bus.  He also asked if a hundreds-of-years old cathedral had a modern bathroom they could use.  Not tour it.  Just use the bathroom.  Not usually a problem, unless you discount all the other bathrooms nearby.  But you need the bathroom to be located in the CATHEDRAL….?

Pompeii sported many advanced features for a city; it had a combined network of chariot roads and pedestrian walks, so that despite rains, the chariots could travel unimpeded, and pedestrians could stay dry as they crossed the walks.  The city also had about 99 snack bars (think Golden Arches), with terracotta bowls in marble counters, large bread ovens, incredible.  They also had running water; and when they realized the lead pipes were poisoning them, they couldn't switch to terra cotta because the pressure from the water caused the pipes to burst.  The running water still functions today.  They also had a legal courtyard for judgements, many city centers and small terraced theaters for events and houses of pleasure (because they were legal then).  Although our earlier-mentioned couple found the paintings in these pleasure houses inappropriate, I found it fascinating that they would post “How to” guides in these places.  A menu of sorts, “sorry sir; that is NOT on the menu.”

Our tour (number 13, of course) had finished a tour of a seashell-cameo-carving, and many tourmembers were purchasing gifts.  One of them was Nancy.  Nancy was not only the name of our tourguide Nuncia, but also the aforementioned wife of our brush fire loving tourist.

A few minutes after most of the group arrived at the meeting point, I hear him shouting, “Nancy! Nancy!”  Thinking he wanted our tour guides, I informed Nuncia, and she asked what he wanted.


Nuncia goes, “uh….what?”

“I mean, Nancy is the name of my wife….I MISS MY WIFE!”

We turn away to look at trinkets, sights, things besides this person….

Suddenly we hear on our radios, a male voice: “For everyone in group 13”….Not Nuncia’s voice.  What the….?

We look over, and our favorite tourist has Nuncia’s microphone (she is still attached to the transmitter), and he continues,”…Group 13, it’s time to meet at the exit point now.  And NANCY, if you could hear me: YOU NEED TO COME OUT RIGHT NOW.”

Convenient, I’m sure you’ll agree, especially if you’re in, say, the bathroom.

A few minutes later, a chastened spouse comes out of where she was buying stuff 20 feet away, and rejoins her much-relieved husband.  We move on to the rest of a wonderful tour.

To sum it up, we had a wonderful time over there, and we have many fantastic memories.  And I learned the most valuable lesson:

When your legs start to shake, just yell, “I MISS MY WIFE!  I MISS MY WIFE!”


Lorna said...

What a hilarious and entertaining read!! My husband would also scream like a little girl on such a steep tram! Thank you so much for sharing :-) It was very enjoyable to read!

Maria D. said...

Lol...fantastic commentary and photos! It does look as if you both had a good time. Thanks for sharing

Jenna Bayley-Burke said...

Y'all are awesome :)

marybelle said...

LOVED!! LOVED! LOVED this thank you.

Virginia said...

Very cute post just to funny! Beautiful photos. I can see some of these things happening to me. I don't think I would do well.

Anonymous said...

Great post :)

girlygirlhoosier52 said...

I'd be screaming like a little girl too!!! Was in Rome in the 1970's, had a shuttle back to the airport from the hotel.. driver had stopped and picked up people at several hotels, drove us past the Colosseum and stopped the bus and hopped off -- was gone for 30 minutes... we couldn't figure out if he'd gone on break or just a little afternoon delight!!

Anne said...

When I read the title of the post, I went "Oh, no" knowing about what's happening in Greece. How lucky you were on a ship and weren't terribly inconvenienced. We're museum people, so I would have been crushed not to find it open.

Glad you had a good time.

Lucy Monroe said...

Hey, always make our trips sound fun...even the parts that were challenging. You are such a great travelog giver! :) Love you!

Hubcap said...

Thanks everyone for the great comments! Sounds like others have experiences like us also, appreciate the comradery. The way I figure it, it happened, so just "Spin it a little and make it work for you," (as my favorite comic James P Connolly would say).

Jane said...

How fun. I need to make a trip to the Mediterranean soon.

Judy F said...

tHANKS for the great tour there Hubcap. Glad you made it back safe and sound.

Sherry said...

Sounds like a fantastic trip. And all those little mishaps just make for great memories.

Lorna said...

It's these kinds of experiences that make memories and great stories! Mental note to self, only take 'official' taxis.....;-)

Sandra Lynne said...

WOW, great post Hubcap! :) I'm envious, your trip sounded so wonderful and fun! And what great pics! Thanks for sharing this with us!

CrystalGB said...

Sounds like an interesting trip. :)

catslady said...

Oh, that was wonderful. I so want to take a trip like that. I would love to visit Sicily where all my ancestors were born. Thanks.