October 1, 2023 The Grand Adventure
What a long, wonderful trip it’s been.
I apologize for my extended absence from my blog. I have been on a whirlwind trip that began on September 11, 2023, and ended on October 1. I had high hopes that I would continue to write about my adventures and my life while traveling the many wonderful places we went.
Alas, time didn’t allow me to do that.
For that, I am sorry—not sorry.
A quick recap of our travels for the last three weeks:
September 12- 14 Dublin Ireland.
We landed in Dublin by way of Reykjavik, Iceland. My wife gave me a hard time for bringing my favourite hat on our adventure. But we were going to places where I would need a hat. I really wanted my hat. So I promptly forgot it on the plane when we landed in Dublin. The Irishman who greeted us at the hotel advised me it was probably gone for good.
I was not going to give up that easily. He shrugged and offered me the number and the email to contact someone at the airport about said hat. Wonder of wonders, they had it at the lost and found. Could they send it to my hotel? For about fourty Canadian dollars they could send it to the hotel by taxi. I liked the hat but not that much. Couldn’t they just hold it for the plane we were taking in two days? It became clear, if I wanted my hat I would have to return to the airport in Dublin and get it myself.
I wanted that hat.
Krista wanted a nap so I hopped a bus. They told me at the hotel I was better off taking the regular bus to the airport instead of the express shuttle. It cost two euros, instead of eight. At first, it was a nice ride on a double-decker bus in the centre of Dublin. Thirty minutes into the bus ride it became apparent I would have been better off taking the express bus. School was getting out and the bus stopped everywhere filling up with students fresh off their studies.
After forty-five minutes I discovered that public transit in Dublin came with free wifi, so there was that.
It took an hour and twenty minutes, but I reached the airport and retrieved my wayward chapeau. I paid the extra six euros and got on the express bus and made it back downtown in forty minutes. A feeling of relief and frustration flowed through me.
I really like that hat.
I really like Dublin.
We spent a great day going on the metro to Howth a small seaside town just outside Dublin. We got on a boat tour and sprinkled some of Krista’s Dad’s ashes in the Irish Sea. He loved Ireland so we thought it a fitting tribute to his love of the Emerald Isle. Soon it was time to go.
Many pubs, a few Guinness, and a great Irish meal later we were fed and satisfied with our experience of Dublin. An Irish trip would be a wonderful time at some point in the future. If only time and money were unlimited that is.
September 14, Early morning flight to Athens.
Our plane to Athens was scheduled to leave at 6:00 a.m. Our wake-up call was set for 3:45 a.m. The taxi was scheduled for 4:15 a.m. When the phone rang I thought it was the wake-up call. I tried to answer it but there was no one on the line. No big deal it was early, I had time to shower. Casually I got ready, then looked at my phone. It was 4:30 a.m. What the? Panic set in.
“We’ve got to go Krista. Now! That wasn’t the wake-up call.”
I flew down the stairs to the lobby, trying to find out what happened. Apparently, they never did set us a wake-up call. The phone was ringing because the taxi was there to pick us up. We would not rely on wake-up calls after that.
The taxi came back and picked us up, “Don’t worry mister you will be on time.” The pleasant cab driver assured us and we made it with time to spare. It was a good thing we were traveling with carry-on luggage only.
We landed in Athens where we were met by Jonas Saul, my agent and mentor for my new writing career.
Thus began our tour of Ancient Greece.
September 15-18 Athens Greece.
Jonas Saul met us at the airport and guided us through the metro and the streets of Athens. What an incredible place the city of Athens is. The history is alive all around you. On almost every corner stand iconic buildings that are hundreds, if not thousands of years old. And hovering over the city lies the Acropolis and the Parthenon above it. It’s a very humbling experience standing in the shadows of the ancient past.
We met our other companions for the writer’s retreat and explored the ancient ruins of Athens. Everything was amazing.
The throngs of people who swarm the streets of Athens bring an energy and vibe to the air. The markets and restaurants are filled with people from all parts of the world. Music and laughter filled the streets. Excitement rang through us with the press of humanity surrounding us. All around was a party and we were buoyed by the energy.
Then some pickpocket stole Krista’s iPhone.
The loss of her phone not only created undue chaos, it also left a bad taste in our mouths about an otherwise amazing city. We should have been more wary surfing the crowds of Athens. We’d had a few drinks and let our guard down.
It could have been so much worse. She could have lost her wallet and passport as well.
Fortunately, she’d bought a SIM card and still had her own SIM. So the criminals were unable to get access to anything of value in the phone. We were also able to put her card in my phone and have access to everything she needed in order to cancel and change her passwords etc.
Needless to say, we didn’t sleep much that night.
September 18-23 Amorgos, Greece.
The writer’s retreat was at a waterfront resort called Lakki Village on the quiet and beautiful Island of Amorgos. It is a very special place I would recommend to anyone, a place we’d love to return to someday.
I learned an incredible number of tips on writing, publishing, and marketing. The trip was well worth it and made me glad I signed up for the event. Unfortunately, half the people booked canceled at the last minute so it was left to myself and another author to have the undivided attention of Jonas Saul and Dwayne Clayden. Those who canceled have no idea what they missed.
In addition to the retreat, we went on a few walks and explored an ancient Monastery built into the side of a mountain. The monk living there has done so for the last fifty-plus years. It is a different life, one I could never live.
After six wonderful days, it was time to move on. But where too? The closest big island was Naxos and we’d heard many great things about the largest island in the Cyclades.
Naxos it would be.
September 23-26 Naxos, Greece.
Where Amorgos was a sleepy little Island, barely changed in the last five hundred years, Naxos was a different world again. It was a much busier place full of restaurants and shops. The main town was busy with tourists. Yet it still held an old-world charm that made us feel welcome and not too overwhelmed.
When we left Laki Village on Amorgos, we asked the owner if she had any suggestions for a place to stay on Naxos. She got off the phone and told us our host would pick us up at the ferry landing when we got there the next afternoon.
We would not be disappointed.
Janus was a wonderful host and even treated us to two beers when we got to the hotel a ten-minute drive from the main ferry terminal. Villa Adriana is named after his mother and it was a charming hotel with clean, spacious rooms, only a short walk from the beach and many restaurants and shops.
We loved our stay and wished we had more time. Time just never felt like enough. We agonized over what to do next. Should we go to Santorini and/or Mykonos? The most famous of the Greek Islands? Both were under two and a half hours’ ferry ride away. From what we heard, Mykonos was the party Island, so we’d already decided against going there. But Santorini? Who doesn’t picture the amazing views when they read about the Greek Islands? Yet everyone we talked to said it wasn’t worth the price. Everyone who’d been there said it was overpriced. With only a few days to explore we made our choice.
Santorini wasn’t worth the time or the money. Krista and I don’t like being in big crowds and we often seek out the places tourists are not. It was a decision we did not regret.
Naxos has so much to offer. We rented a car and drove the island, the culture, architecture, and history of the place were incredible. I could write an entire blog on just the one day we had the car. We saw mountain villages dating back hundreds of years and ended our day on a secluded beach chatting with a pair of nice ladies from Vancouver. They rented a waterfront hotel room, complete with a kitchen on the beach for a hundred Canadian dollars per night. So many hidden gems are in this special place on the Mediterranean Sea.
We got lost in the Labyrinth called Chora the main town on Naxos. The capital town on most of the Greek Islands is named Chora. It is a town that grew around a castle built over five hundred years ago. They built the town around the castle and made it so the pirates would get lost if they came on shore to attack the town. Now in the modern era, we wandered the twisting streets, on every turn was a new wonder to explore. Every corner had a new site to see, and a new restaurant or shop would lie in wait to satiate the unsuspecting tourist.
Our last night we enjoyed a sunset from the waterfront watching the golden orb drop inside the ancient ruin that once stood as a symbol to the sailors of the Mediterranean almost a thousand years ago.
So much history in Greece, it’s something everyone should see once in their lives.
September 26-28 Tinos Greece.
Tinos was another of the Islands no one knows about. We rode the ferry from Naxos and selected Tinos because it put us within two hours of Rafina, Athens; the port town closest to the airport. We booked a hotel next to the port that included breakfast and an airport shuttle. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Tinos is known for its huge Greek Orthodox Cathedral. People come from all over Greece to visit the church and some even take the pilgrim crawl from the waterfront up to the church. So many people do it, they put in carpets and pylons to make it easier for the most pious who venture to make the crawl. We saw one such person doing it when we were there. We were told that on August 15, there were hundreds of devotees crawling up the six-block trek.
Tinos was not as busy as Naxos and had more to offer in the way of stores and restaurants than Amorgos. We rented a car and the girl at the car rental agency was very helpful with tips on what to see and where to go. We found another secluded beach, complete with shade for my honey, and lounge chairs to sit in. We found ourselves wishing for more time.
Yet at the same time, we felt the pull of home.
September 28-29 Rafina, a suburb of Athens.
We left the Island of Tinos to go to Rafina on the 11:00 a.m. ferry back to the mainland. We really liked the Hotel Avro where we stayed. The hotel had everything we needed. The town on the other hand was lacking. It showed evidence of the financial crisis Greece suffered through prior to the pandemic. The pandemic probably added to its woes. Many places were boarded up and much of it was run down.
We met a couple from Nova Scotia and connected on our common Canadiana.
But all good things must come to an end and we left Greece with a feeling of wonder and awe. We couldn’t live there, but it sure was a great place to visit. Maybe one day we will return.
September 29-October 1, Paris, France
Our final days of the trip entailed a two-night visit to Paris France. It was not our first visit to Paree so we knew we needed to use our time wisely.
Over the forty-plus hours in the capital of France, we walked almost 60,000 steps. The first afternoon and evening we walked over 25,000. Our hotel was close to the Gare du Nord train station. We were shocked at how much the area has changed since our last visit just over five years ago.
It has not changed for the better. The area we were staying in has become filled with many, many homeless and many immigrants. There were far more black faces wandering the streets between Gare du Nord and Gare du Est than white ones. It was overwhelming, I’d heard about the immigration situation in France, and now I saw it first-hand. So many people have found their way to Paris, it felt like another city.
We walked toward the main centre of the city, there were so many people, it felt suffocating at times.
I wanted to see the Notre Dame Cathedral, a place of wonder for my family on our last visit. It was an impressive site even as a shell of its former self. That night we ended up in the Latin Quarter and had a very nice time and found some good service and nice waitresses serving drinks at a semi-affordable price. Unlike much of Paris, a drink was under six Euros (nine Cad).
The next day we set out to explore Montmartre, an impressive cathedral constructed a mere one hundred and fifty years ago. It is the heart of an artistic area.
Again there were so many people. So. Many. People.
We found out that part of the reason Paris was so busy, the Rugby World Cup was taking place while we were there. It was so much busier than it had been five years prior we felt shocked. I knew someone who lived at Big White over ten years ago and now she lives in Paris. Laura came and met us to go for lunch and explore together.
We walked and walked and walked. The architecture of the city is what always gets me. I feel like I’m walking in a living museum. Every corner seems to have a statue or a church or some other monument. The gargoyles stared down at us like guardians from the past. After we covered a large section of Paris, Laura went home and Krista and I found a lovely spot in the middle of a park to relax and get a meal.
Afterward, Krista and I discussed our options. When in Paris, The Eiffel Tower is always on the list of things to see. So we wandered along the River Seinne and stared in awe at all the incredible buildings that lined the river. Golden statues stand guard and the river is filled with boats taking tourists along the waterway. The boats were filled to the brim and the streets were alive with a bustle of humanity.
After the obligatory photos of the Eiffel Tower, we walked on, uncertain of a destination. We just knew we wanted to find a quiet spot for a drink.
We ended up finding the little street we’d stayed on with my daughter back in 2018. It was neat to find the place again. It was cool seeing all the shops and restaurants, most were still open.
We met a couple of men celebrating their wedding anniversary. They had to extend their trip, not because they wanted to but because one of them had his passport and credit cards stolen while boarding a train in the metro. We felt a small amount of relief that the theft of Krista’s phone could have been much worse.
On a side street, the rental bikes we rode on our last trip were sitting waiting for people to rent them. I asked Krista if she felt like riding back to our hotel. But the traffic and the amount of bikes made my wife nervous, she’d rather walk. In truth I was intimidated by all the people on the streets, navigating a bike through them would be challenging, to say the least. So we found the metro station and plunged underground for the thirty-minute ride to our hotel.
By the end of the day, we felt like we’d seen enough. The only thing left to do was find a Parisian street pub called a brasserie and enjoy a last beverage.
We succeeded in that mission as well. We spent our last night connecting with these two gentlemen from a small town between Liverpool and Manchester, England. David and Graham have been mates for over fifty years. They’d been coming to Paris for the horse races for almost twenty years now. This was their annual trip away from their wives. Two mates having a bit of fun in Paris. At one point after a few pints, David felt safe enough to share his painful secret. This would be his last trip to Paris.
The doctors had found a tumor behind his right eye. There was nothing to be done. He hadn’t told Graham yet. But here he was confiding in a couple of Canadians he didn’t know. Yet he felt a connection with us and a need to talk to someone. He hadn’t told his friend because he didn’t have the heart. My heart ached for him. I said the usual things; could they treat it? Maybe there was a mistake?
No mistake and no treatment, he was done for. He had all the money he could want, family, and everything. Yet none of it mattered. Cancer didn’t care. Fuck Cancer.
I felt somehow honoured to share a drink with these men from across the globe. It was a moment to remember.
We returned to our hotel at two-thirty in the morning. We were followed by a group of Germans from Munich. We didn’t feel that tired, maybe because as the British would say, “we were in our cups.”
So we sat down in the hotel bar and had a couple more drinks with the group of Germans. Not quite ready for our holiday to end.
But all good things must come to an end.
So here I sit on the plane, only forty minutes from Vancouver. It was quite an adventure. Worth every penny spent.
A few observations about life in Europe compared to North America:
Coffee is not the same. I never did have a good cup of coffee. I’m sure they feel the same about our coffee.
Tipping is not a thing in Europe. I now support the idea of tipping more than ever before. The service in most places we went, whether it was small Greek Island or a café in Paris was less than stellar and in some cases was just plain bad. The waiter/waitress never checks on your food after you get it and we rarely had a second drink unless we searched out the server to get one. I know – it’s a first-world problem.
People in Greece were far more friendly than people in Paris. Also, people in small towns were much more friendly than in the large ones.
Dublin was the friendliest big city. But each place had its own people that left an impression.
Crime and homelessness are getting worse everywhere, especially in the big cities. But Paris it is out of control. There are poor people everywhere scraping by to exist in the shadows of enormous wealth.
The church in Europe had an incredible impact on all facets of life for hundreds of years. An impact felt to this day. I looked at all the wealth that those churches represent and felt a sense of wonderous horror. So much of the daily lives of the people in those countries was spent building and paying for the churches. Now with the internet and technology, the church is being replaced in people’s lives. Five hundred years ago, people had nothing to live for except the hope of salvation in the afterlife. Now people live for immediate salvation and gratification.
I stare at the map on the screen and see below us is Kelowna. I can’t see it through the clouds. But I can’t wait to see it again.
I can’t wait to get home.