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Cannakale

June 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Another quick one today, and unfortunately don’t have time for the poetics. I blitzed Bergama (Pergamum) yesterday and today. Of note: was approached by a rug merchant who noticed that I look Italian. He lives half the year in Italy. Invites me in for tea (chai, in Turkish, guess that’s where that word comes from) which he in fact does not have. Tries to convince me to buy a rug. Tells me stories of when he used to be a looter. Now sticks to selling knock-offs. I approve, but don’t buy a knock-off.

Stayed at the Gobi Pension for 20 lira a night, about 14 dollars, and it came with breakfast and an internet connection. Stay there, Gobi and his son Mustafa are very helpful. Spartan room with no TV (what would I watch) and no bathroom (down the hall, just fine on the heat and water pressure). Can’t beat the price. Next day I jog through town, startling locals who have no idea what this “jogging” or perhaps “yogging” is, but see that I’m just…running, for some predetermined distance.

I run under the acropolis of Pergamum. I can’t tell you how absolutely cool that is. The next day I stomp around the ruins of the Temple of Zeuss (Iklaina kids, you should remember this one…Hellenistic style? famous friezes?) Little disappointing, since the friezes were carted off to Berlin, but the ex-looter tells me this is for the best since guys like him would have, well, looted them.

I tackle both the Asclepion and the Acropolis, almost by myself, almost no other tourists around. It’s eerie…I go early in the morning or just before close, and it’s just me, alone, walking silently through these famous ruins, these ampitheaters…some of the most stunning sites on the planet, and it’s all MINE, for a few minutes. I just want to post one quick picture of the ampitheater from the Acropolis to give you an idea of how jaw-droppingly weird this site is:

Ampitheater

Ampitheater

Pretty wild, huh? You have the entire planet as your backdrop.

The big excitement was when a bus caught fire while I was waiting at the station, and we all ran out with the extendable fire hoses to put it out. I wonder what the odds are? Does this happen every weekend?

Nothing more to report. Been spending most of my time on buses or in stations the last two days. I’ll have a post tomorrow after I get done with Troy. Yeah, I’m going to Troy, baby. I plan to finally make use of the line “back off man, I’m an archaeologist.” Hopefully they won’t look too closely at my credentials.

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Ephesus

June 28, 2009 Leave a comment

In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins warns his nephew, Frodo, to be careful when stepping outside one’s home. You put one foot in front of the other, and then pretty soon you find yourself in the most unexpected places. I think of this as I drink tea with two Turks in a cemetery on what I’m hoping is the road to Selchuk, but really I have no idea. When I stepped outside my hotel room this morning, I had no plans other than to try to find some coffee. Five hours later I was here, drinking tea, bewildered by the turn the day had taken.

It was eleven by the time I crawled out of bed. It was eleven, because I didn’t stumble back to my hotel until 3am. Don’t ask me about the Kucaduci night life. Please. Don’t ask me about the girls, about how much the alcohl costs (Dear God!) don’t ask me about getting shot down by beautiful German girls. Don’t ask me about Jimmy’s Irish Pub. I get a headache just thinking about it. But all these events lead to my late morning.

Originally, my plan had been to check out Ephesus today, the best preserved Roman city in existence, a major player in the Roman and Christian worlds. Getting there could be a little expensive, though, so I think it might be best to ignore Ephesus while I finish my stay in Kucadasi, and instead see Ephesus while staying in Selchuk.

My head is aching and I feel like crap, and I feel stupid for spending so much on booze. My plan is to sit by my hotel pool for a few hours, rest and dry out. Tomorrow I’ll take the bus to Selchuk and get a hotel there, and from there I can take a quick, free shuttle to Ephesus. Since I only plan on sticking around the hotel all day, I ignore a few of my cardinal rules of vagabonding. Always take your camera with you. Always take your cash with you. Always carry food and water with you, at least enough for a small lunch. Be ready for anything.

But I’m just going for a quick bite. I’ll be back soon…

After a brief tour around the city (lovely to see it by daylight for a change) I decide on a whim to check out where the buses to Ephesus are. I ask the taxi drivers how much they would charge to take me.

“Fifty euro, my friend.” Fifty euro? That’s almost as much as I spent on alcohol last night! “For you, special price: forty euro!” For forty euro he’ll wait for me for two hours and take me back. But if you take me there and back, I won’t get a chance to drink tea with Turkish gravediggers, I think to myself. Except that I don’t, because that hasn’t happened yet. I start walking away. “Thirty five euro? Thirty five ok?” Bye, my friend.

Kucadasi is an insane town. Think Vegas, but instead of casinos everywhere, there are leather stores, tourist traps, rug merchants and barbershops every few feet. As much trouble as I had finding someone to cut my hair in Greece, everyone here seems to be a barber. My waiter even offers to take a little off the top while I eat dinner. Kucadasi also has an allergy to street signs, and like many old Mediterranean sites, seems to be a series of narrow hallways masquerading as streets. The map in my guidebook is terrible, often directing me to streets that don’t appear on it. I stumble around for a bit trying to match obvious landmarks to my guidebook before talking my way to the corner where the buses pickup passengers to Ephesus.

I ask how much. Two lira, you say? That’s one euro. The guidebook says not to go during the hottest part of the day, which happens to be, well, NOW, but the price is right, and I’m feeling a little better, so what the heck. On an impulse I leap into the van, only afterward realizing I’m going to one of the most amazing archaeological sites in the world without my camera. Friends, you’re just going to have to look it up.

There is …and I cannot possibly make this up…a gigantic water park on the way to Ephesus. It was like seeing a Six Flags next to the Taj Mahal. “On your right is the site where Paul preached to the Ephesians. On your left the supposed house Mary lived in. And up ahead, Splash City!”

The day takes an only slightly weirder turn once I get inside Ephesus, which is essentially one gigantic, outdoor, walk-through museum. So much of the city’s architecture remains that you actually get a pretty good sense of what the streets and agora and whatnot would have looked like as you walk along. I take a side path off to see a baptismal font. I’m by alone when I spot the wizened old man sitting in the shade. He beckons me over. Vagabond Rule #5: When you’re in Ephesus, and a weird old man beckons, go with him.

He chats me up in broken English, and I nod and smile. Although everyone has told me about the famous Turkish friendliness, this is a bit much, and I’m certain he wants to sell me something. Sure enough, he produces something from his pocket. A round piece of metal with a bust inscribed on it. A coin. He says he finds them digging. The coin is too well-preserved to be real, I think. Eventually he shows me his entire collection. At least one of the coins bears an English inscription, and I’m relieved I don’t have to contact UNESCO. I try to explain that, if they are real, they belong in Turkey, in a museum, not my carry-on bag. Although I’m not sure what the correct thing for a well-meaning archaeology student to do here is. If the objects were real, is it best to buy them off him so they can be secured for a museum? Wouldn’t paying him encourage further looting? Moral quandry. Thankfully, I’m sure they’re fakes.

It isn’t until afterward, after I’ve sat in the magnificent, 20,000-person capacity, colliseum, walked the Sacred Way, seen the facade of the library, walked through the Arch of Augustus, and generally exhausted myself with eight kilometers of hiking in the noon sun, that I realize there although the bus dropped me off at the rear entrance, there are no buses actually returning to Kusadaci. I remember the guide book saying that Selchuk is only a few kilometers away, and I can get a cheap return bus from there (the bus that dropped me off initially actually makes its last stop in Selchuk before returning). A man sells me a spinache pie and advises me on the road to Selchuk. After 500 meters, make a left, and there is a little path that’s easier to walk, rather than hiking the entire way down the highway.

At least, that’s what I think he says. I’m a little less sure when I count off 500 paces and see a dirt path ahead of me veering away from what I know is the main road to Selchuk. But a passing buggy informs me that yes, Selchuk is this way, so I continue, counting off my paces. After another 500 meters, the path ends perpendicular to a road. Uh…now what? I go left, on instinct. Another kilometer and I’m getting less certain still, but I meet a man selling tomatoes by the side of the road who tells me to keep going. By his stand, he’s erected the skull of a cow, adorned with the evil eye amulet, on top of a wooden post. And me with no camera.

Finally, I arrive, not at Selchuk, but the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers. According to legend, the place where seven persecuted Christians were buried alive, slept, and awoke after hundreds of years. Or some such. It’s actually just a Byzantine necropolis. I buy a water from the old woman at the souvenir stand, and she tells me its another two kilometers to Selchuk. Her husband tells me, I think, to take a right at 100 meters off the main road. Ok…

I count off a hundred meters, and find myself crossing someone’s orchard. I stumble upon a nest of puppies, which bark after me loudly and chase me off their territory. I meet yet another wizened old farmer who tells me to continue on the direction I’m going, despite the fact that I’m cutting through his property. The path leads to a graveyard. “Ok, I’m fucked,” I think to myself. I’ve been walking for about an hour at this point, with some long stretches without seeing anyone, enough that I’m worried about finding myself still lost an hour from now with no one left to ask for directions.

But there are two guys by the front gate to the cemetery. “Merhaba!” I call to them. I point to my right. “Selchuk?”

They nod. “Selchuk!” They point. They’re sipping cups of tea. “Tea?”

Vagabond Rule #6: When Turks offer tea, accept.

We sit and try to chat for a half hour, gamely trying each other’s languages, and failing. But one is named Mehmet, and the other is Ashmir, or something, and I tell them I’m pleased to meet them, and head on the Selchuk. As I find my way to the bus station, the bus back to Kucadasi is just pulling out of the parking lot. They’ve left the side door open quite helpfully, so I run after the fan as it pulls away, and leap in all Indiana Jones style. In a world of infinite possibilities by limited probabilities, I notice that it’s the exact same bus driver I had coming out to Ephesus.

Off to Turkey

June 27, 2009 Leave a comment

“I like this island living,” says Petros, the man sitting behind the ticket counter. He chain-smokes, flirts with me, and looks and sounds like an old cabana boy. “I was born in Athens, many centuries ago, but have been living in Samos for twenty years.” He stands to join me on the other side of the ticket counter, and together we smoke and stare into a distant horizon. “But I do not like these…” he savors the word, and his cigarette, “creatures…who live here.”

I’m about to board the ferry for Kusadasi, Turkey, my first border crossing in a month. Greece has been wonderful: the excavation was the experience I hoped it would be, I was able to see many of the artifacts I’d grown up reading about, saw places I’d never honestly believed I’d get the chance to see. Ran a footrace in Olympus. Crashed a moped in Naxos. Sat on the beach, got tan, ate too much souvlaki, learned the value of water pressure. Met fantastic people.

But for all that, I’m happy to be off as well. Not through any fault of Greece, far from it. Even now, I’m partly tempted to see about getting a student visa, to stay to see the new Acropolis Museum, to take language classes here (it’s startling how much you can pick up in a few weeks if you try).

Ultimately, though, the words I find myself repeating so often are Tennyson’s: “I cannot rest from travel, I must drink life to the lees.” That’s from Ulysses, Tennyson’s romantic take on the voyager, modeled after Dante’s more tragic vision. I’ve been looking for an excuse for a while to cite it, since it’s near to my heart, and somewhat of an inspiration for this adventure. Tragic or romantic, the wanderlust attributed by both Dante and Tennyson to Ulysses is one with which I’ve often identified. The desire to see all, know all, to “follow knowledge like a sinking star…” it’s a powerful drive, and for the first time in my life I’m embracing it fully.

So adio, Greece, I hope to see you again, someday. In the meantime, I’m off to Kusadasi, another tourist trap, according to my guide book, and I’ve read some reviews warning me off the hostel I chose at random. It will be a new language, a new city, a new adventure in water pressure, certainly. But I look forward expectantly, eager for the next leg.

I think it’s altogether fitting to cite that most famous of all Greek vagabonds on the day of my departure. So let me leave you with Tennyson’s poem, which captures in words better than ever I could write what it means to be a vagabond at heart.

Ulysses
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,–
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me–
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads–you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

The Cave of Zeus

June 27, 2009 Leave a comment

How much further is it? I think this to myself, scrambling over rocks. I can’t see anything resembling a cave. Sure, there are tourist signs everywhere pointing this way for the Cave of Zeus, but the path ended two hundred meters back, and all the other tourists have already turned around. I’m having second thoughts myself, but I push on. I’m terribly out of breath, and curse myself for the cigarettes I smoked last night. Why the hell was I even smoking? Because the cute girls at the bar were smoking, and you wanted to offer them one, jackass, so you bought a pack, and then, well…

Then I see the cairn ahead of me. Keep going. I’m searching for something, I realize. Not just the Cave, which was just a lark when I saw the road sign. This entire trip has been a search. A search for what? For the future? For some mystical, life defining experience? Transcendence? Lucrative job offers? A potential book deal?

You could die up here, you know. Climbing by yourself. A rock could fall, could pin you down as surely as that guy who had to cut his own arm off with his pen-knife, but you might not be as lucky. Sure, I think, but at least they’ll say he died in the attempt. The attempt to…what, exactly?

Climb. You want transcendence? You want to find something? Mystical experiences don’t come by sticking to the path, son. Climb.

I do. I climb. I’ve got about twenty pounds of my electronics strapped to my back, but I climb. And then I see it. An opening in the rock face. It’s…rectangular? Why the hell is it rectangular? Did Zeus hang a pair of French doors on the rock wall?

The Cave of Zeus, where the god was said to be raised

The Cave of Zeus, where the god was said to be raised

Ten minutes later, I’m in the cave. I stop to rest. This is not a tourist destination. There is no graffiti. There are no guide rails. I go deep into the cave, unable to find its termination I sit there resting on my haunches, listening to the odd drip of mountain water. This is the cave in which Zeus was supposedly raised away from the eye of Cronos. What are you looking for? The god himself? Do you really expect to find god, or a god, in a Greek cave?

Inside the cave

Inside the cave

And, wonder of wonders…I do find something. That mystical moment I was half-jokingly looking for? It’s there, in the cave, waiting for me. Transcendence? No, not quite. A realization. I understand, finally, what my goal is. Why I quit my job, why I left New York, why I’m scrambling up a rock face in the middle of the Cyclades. I’m looking for the moment. Not the past, or the future, but to be fully invested in the ever coming, ever passing moment. This isn’t an entirely new revelation for me. They speak of this in Buddhism all the time. To meditate is to focus only on the now, to be truly and fully present. And this, I realize, is what I’ve come to find. A new way to be. To live fully, to live presently, to let go of the past, of my ambitions for the future, to cease being driven by the Scylla and Charybdis of fear and desire. To simply be.

The view from the Cave of Zeus

The view from the Cave of Zeus

I return to the beginning of the path. I’m shocked by how far the climb actually was. As I climb back on my moped, a woman stops me.

“After the path…was the cave very far?”

“Not far. But a difficult climb.”

“We only got to the end of the path and we turned back. Was it worth it.”

Pause. “Yes.”

She laughs. “Thanks!”

I climb on the moped. I am, for the moment, at peace, in the present, fully invested, fully alive. This feeling will pass, surely. It always does. But it’s a worthy goal, nonetheless, and I’ve finally realized that it’s MY goal.

I’m still in this state of mild enlightenment when I think how cursed that big toe of mine must be.

The moped diaries

June 26, 2009 Leave a comment

That big toe must really be cursed, I think to myself as my head smashes into the rock wall. My head I don’t worry about. Clearly it’s fine, or I wouldn’t be able to think right now. But I’m sure I feel my toe break, for real this time, about the same time my head slams into the rock. The helmet likely saves my life. I jump up immediately and inspect myself. Some odd sprains, sure. That toe can’t sustain weight and it’s already swelling to weird proportions. That’ll hurt in the morning. But no major damage. Barely a scratch besides the toe, actually, and if you’re going to break a bone, break a toe, you can bandage it yourself.

Mini Blue Lightning. A beautiful Peugot.

Mini Blue Lightning. A beautiful Peugot.

Earlier that morning…

“You have experience riding a bike?” He asks me.

“Of course.”

[ed: riding on the back of a motorcycle doesn’t count]
[Vagabond: Shut up, editor, who’s telling this story?]

Vagabond with mini Blue Lightning

Vagabond with mini Blue Lightning

He looks at me dubiously. It’s the third rental place that has tried to convince me to get a nice ATV instead, with its broad 4-wheel base, but no, I’ve got my mind set on the moped. The night before, my waitress had bandages on both her arms, in three places.

“What happened?”

“Motorbike accident a few hours ago,” she says. “I thought a bee had stung me and I flnched.”

Note to self: take the bee sting, don’t flinch.

The moped handled beautifully. I’d gone from a state of mild terror as i whipped around Naxos’ narrow highways at 40km/h, to exuberance, to pure joy. “So this is what it feels like,” I think to myself. I suddenly understand the massive addiction that a motorcycle must be. I resist the temptation to take my helmet off so I can feel the wind in my hair. That decision saves my life later. The moped, which I’ve named “mini-Blue Lightning” since it’s the same color as our Blue Lightning bus in Pylos, takes me to Halki, a little village in the central region of the island, where I sit in a cafe and sample citron on my way back from the accident as a way to calm my nerves, and to Filissi, a small town just outside, where the waitress patiently teaches me some Greek phrases and directs me to the Cave of Zeus.

Afterwards, I ride. I ride for an hour just for the sake of riding. just to see the mountains, just to meet some mountain goats. I make split-second decisions on which sights to see, change plans on the fly, make it up as I go along. I’m a man on a moped, and I can do that.

Drinking citron to calm my nerves, with a cat

Drinking citron to calm my nerves, with a cat

It isn’t until I’ve decided to head back, when I see a large truck coming down from the opposite direction, that I hug the road to closely.

And then there isn’t anymore pavement.

And the bike, and I, flip, and fall, and there are rocks.

Surprisingly, even the bike is fine for the most part. The truck that was heading toward me stops, two men get out, and help me get the bike back up to the road. The bike still runs, and has take surprisingly little damage. Despite the fact that I’m carrying all my electronics on my back at the time, nothing is damaged except for the camera I was wearing on my hip pocket, which now has a smashed LCD screen. The damage to the bike passes inspection with George, the motobike rental guy, a few hours later. I hobble off to the bar, to wait the next few hours until my ferry to Samos comes at 1am. I can feel the sprains and bruises forming already. The next day, the doctors on Samos will x-ray my foot and tell me there is no break. I am, in fact, staring at a completely clear X-ray of my foot right now, and thanking my stars. They tell me to man up, stop acting like a baby and put some ice on it. They charge me 15 euro for this, including the x-ray.

Some goats I met. Hey goat! Did you see The Perfect Storm?

Some goats I met. Hey goat! Did you see The Perfect Storm?

A few days or weeks or months ago, I’d have been upset by the crash. After all, it cost me a camera, some pain, and some aggravation. Now I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Broken toes and cameras are entrance fee you pay for living the life you want, and its a cost I’m more than willing to bear. Che Guevara took off for months on a motorcycle and came away with a new and radical take on the world’s economies. I’m neither nearly as grandiose or as radical, so I can only come to the following conclusions about myself, which is inherently limited and may have no bearing on anyone else’s experience. That being said, some thoughts:

1. Mopeds are the best way to see Greece
2. Some risks are worth taking, even if the risks are realized, they’re still worth taking
3. Cameras can be replaced, toes heal
4. Wear your helmet

That’s it. Enlightening? Hardly. But I’m totally getting a Vespa back in the States.

Splinters

June 24, 2009 2 comments

To travel the way I am is to partake in adventure. Adventure is, by its very nature, unpredictable, chaotic, and full of unforseen consequences, for better or for worse. So as romantic and exciting as it is (and it is both, trust me) I seem to be spending good chunks of my time doing the most irritating tasks.

Like, say, digging splinters out of my big toe with a sewing needle.

I stepped on an underwater plant while swimming in Agia Pelaiga a few days ago. Some kind of moss. Some kind of moss with VERY SHARP SPIKES.

Suddenly, and at the top of my lungs, I was screaming for someone to engage in a sexual act with my posterior.

“Uh…no thanks,” one of the girls next to me said.

The pain had subsided initially. Two days later I’d forgoten the incident entirely, and was gamely trying to go for my jog.

“Dig I break my big toe at some point?” I wondered five minutes into my abortive jog. It wasn’t until the next day that I found the black ugly spikes buried under the skin. I tried soaking it. After two hours of keeping my foot in a hotel trash can filled with water, no luck. I tried my pocket knife. It couldn’t cut paper. Finally, I remembered my sewing kit.

And then I remembered how much I hated doing surgery on myself. I gave up after another half hour of awkwardly trying to stretch my foot to my face. The next morning I tried putting weight on the toe. Again, I found myself screaming requests for various sexual acts.

Ok, splinters, I thought to myself. Only one of us is leaving this hotel room.

I got them out in the end. But, well, a lot of travelling solo isn’t just romantic beaches and breathtaking vistas. A lot of it, so far, anyway, is taking care of the odd chores.

My duffel bag exploded, for example.

It exploded at the worst possible time, just as I was returning the rental car and dropping the girls off for their ferry to Santorini. Sure, it wasn’t a detonation in the truest sense of the word, spewing forth dirty underwear and souvenirs across the floor. It was just a broken zipper. True, it was a cheap duffel with no shoulder straps that I bought last minute for under thirty bucks. But as I found myself sitting on the floor of the rental car agency desperately trying to force the zipper back into whatever configuration would allow it to close, the zipper failure felt like Hiroshima. “And it’s Sunday,” the rental car guy said. “Everything is closed.”

He’s not kidding. There is no place to buy a replacement duffel in town. After an hour, I manage to get the zipper MOSTLY zipped, and drag it to my hotel in Iraklion. It’s doing a serviceable job, all things considered, but the damn thing is still being held together by the power of positive thinking, and everytime I reopen it it breaks again, and I spend another couple hours trying to fix it again. The cost to replace it? About 60 Euros, here in Naxos. I don’t even want to think about the exchange rate. Maybe a few rolls of duct tape will do the trick?

So yeah, I’m in Naxos today. It looks like this:

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I know, you hate me. I’d hate me too. Naxos was occupied by the Germans during World War II. From the demographics I’ve seen, there hasn’t been much by way of change of mangement.
“Ya sas,” I said to the receptionist as I came into my hotel yesterday.”
“Gutentag.”
Really?
Everyone, EVERYONE at my hotel is a German tourist. Okay, it’s German owned, word probably gets around. But it ain’t just my hotel. It’s the tourists on the beaches. It’s the bartenders down the boardwalk. They’re freaking EVERYWHERE. I knew I’d have to pick up a little Greek to get by, but for frak’s sake, I find myself practicing my German more often.
This town is a tourist trap. Everything is overpriced, and it’s extraordinarily geared toward the tourism industry. There are a few wonderful, still very old Greek parts of town (the Kastro, in particular, is gorgeous. More on that later) but mostly, this is a beach town.
Normally, I’d be disappointed, and annoying my travelling companions with protestations that we simply MUST travel the 40km to Apollon to see the gynormous (thanks, Irwin) kouros statue rather than hang out at the beach. But I’ve been pulling ancient Mycenaean pottery out of the ground for the last three weeks. I just saw La Parissiene, the Harvester Vase, and the Bull Leaping fresco. I’m not exactly cultured-out, but I’m fine with taking a break from museums and artifacts for a few days.
Also, something bizarre happened yesterday. I had a shower. With hot water. Not for part of the time, but for the whole time. And I had to turn the water pressure down because, for the first time since I can remember, it was actually too high. God bless you neurotic, hardworking Germans. And God bless your love of waffles, I can think of no other reason for them to be so omni-present.

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Wet and naked in Crete

June 22, 2009 2 comments

I think there’s a leak in the room.”
“A leak?”
“There’s water all over the corner.” And I think it might have ruined my one good shirt, I think but don’t say to the proprieter of Hotel Lena, the second cheapest hotel in Iraklion I was able to find in the Lonely Planet guidebook.
“No.”

The skater punks of Iraklion

The skater punks of Iraklion

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Statement of fact? I’m lying to you? I’m not telling you to try to get a reduction on my bill, buddy, I’m trying to do you a favor.
“Well, there is.”
“Okay,” he sighs. “I send someone up to check.”
It wasn’t a bad hotel, all things considered. It had an air conditioning unit in the corner between the ceiling and the wall, right where you couldn’t reach, and a television with no remote control. Since the last hotel I stayed in charged to turn the AC on, and since I was only staying the night, I never tried to negotiate either the TV or the AC. The standing water was a downer, though, as I had unpacked all my clothes to do a complete inventory that night, leading to several items (including that one nice, button-down white shirt) getting soaked through with some odd stains as a result (don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it…)

The Venetian fort at Iraklion

The Venetian fort at Iraklion

Its balls

Its balls

Just a shot I thought looked cool

Just a shot I thought looked cool

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The room was spare, but had a desk and was more than large enough for a single traveller, containing as it did such luxurious amenities as a sink, a wardrobe, a desk and, wonder of wonders, a spare pillow and blanket, two items I had been lamenting the lack of at Renia.
Trying to stay in shape on the road is an admirable ambition, but freakishly difficult to execute in practice. I’d taken my resistance bands, an inflatable exercise ball, and a length of rope with me, enough to do all my exercises except for the pull-ups. I’ve yet to figure out how the hell you do a pull-up on the road, though I’ve been searching every town and city for a parallel bar located conveniently eighteen inches above my head. So far nothing to show for my efforts other than a swiftly atrophying back and arms. At least if I buy a couple litres of water and stuff them in my backpack I have enough weight to a challenging sit-up. If anyone has figured out how to do a pull-up on the road, tell me how.

Closeup of Morosini Fountain, Plateia Veneziou

Closeup of Morosini Fountain, Plateia Veneziou

The room cost 35 euros, not bad, but more than I was hoping to spend. Since I made the reservation the day before, though, I wasn’t terribly upset. All the rooms on the floor shared a single bathroom, not a problem for me. Particularly when I saw something truly wonderful, something I had been without for three weeks.
The showerhead was attached to the wall ABOVE MY HEAD. I would actually be able to stand there and relax for a few seconds with my head under the water. Glorious.
That was assuming, of course, that there was any hot water to be had. Greek hotels seem to have, at best, a notional idea of hot water. You might get a minute or two of lukewarm water, only to be followed by rapid cooling until you’re dancing excitedly under a stream of ice-water. Given the extreme heat in my room, though, maybe most travellers prefer the cold shower.
I had made the further mistake of neglecting to take my towel in to the bathroom with me. Which gave me two options: get my one pair of relatively clean and dry boxer shorts soaked for the day for a minutes’ worth of modesty, or scramble awkwardly back to my room naked, hoping I could get in my room before anyone else came into the hall.
Any of you who know me can guess which choice I made.
I tentatively stuck my head out of the bathroom. No one in the hall. It was 7:30, late enough that guests could awaken at any time for their morning shower, but there where only seven other rooms on this floor. I liked the odds. My room was at the far end of the hall, right by the stairwell. Nor problem. I’d opted against taking my flipflops with me (yes, I know mother, foot fungus et al…don’t care), which left me hot-footing it on slippery tile back to my door. I inserted the key into my lock. Safe.
Wait.

Nightlife, Plateia Venezeiou

Nightlife, Plateia Venezeiou


The key wouldn’t turn. I tried again. No dice. I tried a third time, my feet slipping a bit from the force of my efforts to turn the key.
Then I heard footsteps up the stairs. The guy at the front desk was coming up.
Darn.
A spider stared up at me from a grimy corner of the hall. “You’re screwed, buddy,” the spider seemed to say. I nodded.
But then I remembered there were TWO keys on my chain.
Second key in lock. Turn clockwise. Wrong way. Turn counter clockwise. Result!
I closed the door behind me as I heard the footsteps reach the landing. Safe as houses.

The day before I scaled the city walls of Iraklion looking for the tomb of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikos_Kazantzakis&quot; Nikos Kazantzakis. What I found was a simple wooden cross, and behind that a white stone slab with this inscription:

“Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβάμαι τίποτα. Είμαι λεύτερος.”
“I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free. ”

Tomb of Kazantzakis

Tomb of Kazantzakis

We know him best as the author of “The Last Temptation” and “Zorba the Greek,” but Kazantzakis as I learned was a fellow traveller, a Buddhist, atheist, skeptic and wanderer. His epitaph comes from his own work, “The Odyssesy.” These words wholly encapsulate the state of mind your Vagabond is trying achieve. If I am very lucky, someday I hope to be worthy of a similar epitaph. So may we all.

Iraklion's favorite son

Iraklion's favorite son