Greeks learn in order to comprehend.
Hebrews learn in order to revere.

~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Trip of Ups and Downs (Greece)

Any of you who have done any traveling know that traveling in and of itself can have its difficulties…you know car trouble, late flights, being lost in a new place, not speaking a language, tension between family members, different food, etc. Well, most of the time just a few things go wrong on a trip, but occasionally you have the trip that wins records for how many things can go wrong on one trip. Our recent trip to Greece could be classified as on of “those” trips! We had some great moments and saw some beautiful places, so I’ll try to highlight those and mention more briefly all of our difficulties.

We flew in to Thessaloniki, Greece on Saturday December 27. The flight went smoothly and we had no trouble getting our rental car. Despite having horrible windshield wipers (which turned out to be pretty scary driving through rain and snow in the mountains on our way down to southern Greece), the car was great. Since everything was in Greek and it took us driving around for about 45 minutes before even finding the street signs on the sides of the buildings (instead of on the street corners like here in Israel and the US), it took us at least an hour once we got into town to find our hotel. Talk about stressful for Brad driving in extremely congested traffic on very narrow streets and me trying to give directions reading a map in Greek! Even if we wanted to pull over to look at the map together it was nearly impossible because the streets were so crowded there was no where to pull over or park (one night we looked for a spot for an hour for dinner, then gave up and went back to our hotel and walked the distance to eat). That scenario was repeated several times on the trip but we always did eventually end up where we needed to be. Nevertheless—very frustrating.

We spent one day in Thessaloniki and visited two museums---a Christian Byzantine museum and an Archaeological museum. Both were excellent and free because we went on a Sunday! The ancient sites consisted of an agora including a theater, roman palace complex, large archway, and several large churches. The weather was very cold so it was nice to be able to be inside the museums…especially for Denyon’s sake. We thought we’d miss out on snow for the winter but Thessaloniki gave us a little bit of it and also lots of Christmas décor!

We drove to Philippi for the day and had a great time. In the course of the day there were probably less than a dozen people at the site. The site is very large and includes a large palace area, several temples, a large agora, a theater that is very well in tact, residential dwellings, and even remains of the old roman road which would have most likely been the road that Paul traveled along during his tours. The acropolis of the city offered a magnificent view of the surrounding areas and we had a great time climbing to the top. The weather got into the 50s in the afternoon so it was perfect for climbing. Once on top, we even got to climb part way up into an old watchtower that allowed you to see for miles. The sky was clear blue that day so it was an amazing view. This day was one of our favorites. It was also very meaningful because our church Mars Hill in Grand Rapids just finished a year long series on the book of Philippians. What an experience to go there and see remains of what Paul must have seen!

We had one travel day where we drove from northern Greece to southern Greece where we would end up just outside of Korinthos (present day Corinth). The scenery was absolutely amazing and we did some amazing detours on the way. First, we took a scenic path to and partially up the base of Mt. Olympus. The area was completely snow-covered and was a winter wonderland. It was one of the most beautiful things either of us had ever seen. We did not go to the top of the mountain because the road conditions did not seem safe enough to us. We didn’t want to risk being stuck in the middle of no where…especially with Denyon. We captured some of the beauty in our pictures although it’s one of those places that pictures don’t quite do justice. After Mt. Olympus, we continued on heading towards Delphi. In order to get there, we had to go around and through a mountain range and actually drove through a snow storm in the mountains. It was incredible. The mountains were snow covered and the view amazing.

We did arrive at Delphi but only 30 minutes before the main site closed. We quickly visited and saw the large temple to Apollo and theater. There was another section of the site that was open another couple hours so we did stroll around the temple to Athena and roman gymnasium area. Delphi is in the mountains so again the view was amazing and we had come down enough from where we were that it was bright and sunny and probably mid-40s as opposed to a snow storm.

After Delphi we continued our way towards Korinthos and arrived at our hotel in the small town of Loutraki, just about 3 km north of Korinthos. Here, we actually found our hotel and a place to eat, all within 30 minutes (this was somewhat of a record because all during our trip we had trouble finding our hotel and a good place—or a place—to eat dinner!). The hotel was one block from the sea and although way to cold for swimming, it did make for some nice pictures in the morning. We got in pretty late and left in the morning to head out to find the ancient site of Corinth.

You would think that such a large site like Corinth would be easy to find and well marked, but that was not the case. Finding the site was quite an adventure and although we left the hotel by about 8:30 a.m., we didn’t get to the site until almost 10:30 a.m. even though it was only maybe 15 km away from our hotel! It was very hard to remain patient in these kinds of moments. The site itself including a museum including the remains found from the city, the lower city including a large agora (marketplace), several temples including a large Apollo temple, a large palace complex with an exquisite fountain system, a theater, and our favorite part—the acropolis.

As with many of these sites, they are not just from one period in time. What remains on the acropolis today is largely from the medieval period and little from the time of Paul. That being said, this was probably our favorite site on the entire trip. We drove part of the way up and then hiked through the ancient city gate and up the rest of the way. On top were extensive medieval walls surrounding the entire city including a large Hellenistic tower and monumental gates. We felt like we were in some medieval movie just waiting for the battle to begin. There were even openings in the walls where archers could release their arrows from the small opening. We followed a path that went all the way around the city and kept us away from pretty much all other visitors. When looking at the site from below, it was like a large castle. It is amazing what previous civilizations were able to build in order to sustain themselves and stay protected. And we also had a great view of the lower city of Corinth from the top.

Just as we were getting ready to leave Korinthos and head to Athens, and thinking that the day had gone pretty smooth, I noticed the stroller wasn’t riding quite so smoothly. Since the weather was cold, we tried to keep Denyon in our stroller as much as possible. It has a cover so we can keep him enclosed and wrapped up to stay warm. We have taken the stroller everywhere…ancient sites, dirt roads, in the woods, etc. If it’s too rough of a climb or there are no good paths, then we use our hiking backpack to carry Denyon. However, at this particular moment, we were on the smooth asphalt in the parking lot and I looked down and our tire was completely flat! Why not? We looked more closely and I had actually run over a tiny nail in the road. We didn’t know what to do so we thought we’d go into the town and try to find some place that could repair the tire. We knew we had to get it fixed otherwise the remaining three days (what turned out to be six) and the airport would be very difficult and somewhat miserable. We were unsuccessful finding a place in Korinthos and only wasted about an hour. So, we headed into Athens, only to have difficulty finding our hotel and a place to eat again. This was also New Year’s Eve but we were too exhausted to stay up and celebrate. We figured when we woke up in the morning around 7 a.m., the ball would be dropping in Times Square and we could celebrate it then. Sure enough, as I was getting dressed in the morning, Dick Clarks’ Rockin’ New Year’s Eve celebration was in full swing!

Despite being New Year’s Day, we figured the main sites in Athens would still be open. We assumed it would be like closing Disney World on New Year’s Day. We assumed wrong and pretty much everything was closed! We then wished we had stayed up and celebrated since we could have just slept in. It turned out to be a somewhat relaxing day and we did get to climb the areopogus…aka Mars Hill, see Hadrian’s Arch, the temple of Olympian Zeus, and climb a hill just opposite of the acropolis where we were able to take some amazing photos of the Parthenon. Probably our best pics of our time in Athens came from atop that hill. It was a beautiful clear blue day unlike the other days in Athens which were cloudy and overcast. The other bright spot of the day was that we actually found a tire repair shop a couple blocks from out hotel. They insisted that they only fix car tires, and Brad insisted that they please help us fix ours (it’s similar to a mountain bike tire) and eventually they repaired it free of charge. It was amazing!

So, our last day of the trip, Friday we tried to pack in the sites seeing the acropolis and lower city of ancient Athens, the Roman Forum, the ancient agora, Hadrian’s Library, the National Archaeological Museum, and even made it to the Piraeus port. We had a complete and full day and even ended it by eating that the Hard Rock Café. We even bought some wings to take to the airport because our flight was at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday morning…we figured we’d need the food. We did need the food but not for the airport.

We had already checked out of our hotel earlier in the day, but our car was parked outside of our hotel. We needed to rearrange some bags to get them ready for the plane, but the backpack carrier in our check-in luggage, etc. So we pulled out our bags---right in front of our hotel in the bright lights. Just before we were ready, we needed to change Denyon and I was just getting the last of our carry on bags in order. Brad was changing Denyon in the trunk and I turned to put something in Brad’s carry on bag. It was only about 10 seconds and I looked down and my bag was gone! This was the bag that included my purse, wallet, keys, both our cell phones, our Ipods, my eye glasses, Denyon and my passports, Denyon’s blanket and “Mr. Froggy”—pretty much everything that we had that had any value. Brad went tearing down the streets to see if he could find anyone but nothing. This guy must have been a professional…it happened so fast. Looking back, both of us can vaguely remember someone walking sort-of close, but that’s it. And this all happened Friday night after the US Embassy had already closed.

So, we spent the rest of the evening calling to cancel credit cards, change our flight, called the embassy (which they told us they couldn’t do anything until Monday when they reopened), etc. So we were stuck in Athens at least another three days! It was awful and the worst feeling. We were all so ready to come home. Luckily, Brad had his passport on him and he did have a little cash and one credit card that I didn’t have so we didn’t have to cancel. Saturday we did absolutely nothing (other than file a police report) and just relaxed. It felt like a bad dream.

On Sunday morning, just as we were heading to breakfast, we got a call from Brad’s parents. They gave us the number of a couple in Athens who offered to come and pick us up. This couple was the parents of Cindi’s (Brad’s mom) roommate from college’s daughter-in-law’s best friend! Did you follow that? Anyways, they came and got us and allowed us to stay in a suite at a college in Athens that they direct. They are a missionary couple who previously lived in Athens for five years, then Russia for 17, and just moved back to Athens. They were absolutely a God-send and made our last two days so much more bearable. It was wonderful to be around people that cared, have home cooked food, and a nice place to stay. We don’t know what we would’ve done without their rescue!

Fortunately, on Monday when the embassy opened, we were able to get in with no problems and have our passports reissued. We had scheduled our flight for Tuesday morning at 1:30 a.m. so we would be going home. What a relief. Our flight went well, other than none of us really slept much. Denyon only slept about 5 hours over the course of the evening when he’s used to getting nearly 12 and Brad and I got less than an hour. All we wanted to do when we got to our apartment at 5:30 a.m. was go to sleep. But, that did not happen.

We had emailed our landlord and asked her to leave a key for us in the mailbox. She said she would do so, but she did not. So, we were locked out! The only thing we could think to do was to wake our neighbor who was in charge of the building. We thought that perhaps she’d have a key to our apartment. We felt awful for waking her (and her two young children) and she didn’t have a key either. Because our phones were stolen too, we didn’t have our landlord’s number and we tried to find it via old emails, but that was unsuccessful too. Just as we were getting ready to go to a friend’s house in the neighborhood to see if we could crash on the couch, Brad had an idea. The back balconies from our neighbors and ours are close and he thought perhaps he could either jump the distance or climb over. Turns out he was right so he climbed over and opened our back door. The main lock is broken so we just use a bike lock for which we know the combination. We then passed Denyon over (we were careful), passed a few bags over, then I climbed over. It definitely could have been a scene from a movie. But we could now at least sleep in our own beds. The problem now was that we were locked into our apartment because you also have to unlock the door with a key from the inside. Later, our landlord came over with what she thought was the right key and it wasn’t. So we had to call a locksmith and pay for a new lock! What a mess.

So, overall, we were able to see some amazing things and beautiful scenery. It is always incredible to see places of the Bible so for that we are very grateful. But despite that, I’m not sure we’ll be disappointed if we never return to Athens. Bless God we were all safe and we are back to Israel safely (by the way, the conflict in the Gaza strip has not affected us at all and here in Jerusalem we don’t hear, see, or even know anything is taking place…we are too far from the conflict). What happened is one of those things that we just don’t understand and know is a result of a broken world. We are blessed that we are unharmed and have the means to replace what we needed to. Thank you always for your love and support as we continue our journey here! This was just another part of the adventure!

Happy New Year to all!

Shallon, Brad, and Denyon

1 comment:

sschreuderccs said...

What a scary couple days! We're so glad to hear you're back and getting things back into order. That couple helping you out is amazing!

Have a great week!

Joel and Sarah