Dr. Glenn's Travel Log
Visiting Greece, Turkey and the Greek Islands
with Connor and Judy: Shopping, Lost Sunglasses, Shopping, Sand Flees and Peso Bargains
Ruth and I promised our four grandsons we would give them a special trip when they graduated from high school (As long as it was within our budget, near the same price as other grandson trips and we had not been there before). Dan, the first to graduate elected to go to Italy (See Visiting Italy with Dan - 2001), Andrew picked Western Europe (See Visiting Western Europe with Andrew – 2003) and Connor selected a tour of Greece, Turkey and the Greek Islands…the subject of this story (2009). We only have one grandson, Glenn Austin, yet to graduate and he is to graduate in 2011. We still joke that when we were talking about these trips in 1998 when Austin was five, he said that he already knew where he wanted to go…West Virginia…and we are going to try to hold him to that pronouncement!
When we selected this current trip, we invited Judy, Ruth’s niece, to join us as we had a wonderful trip with her in 2006, (See Traveling Eastern Europe with Judy). Our original plans called for a trip to Greece, Egypt, Israel, Turkey and several Greek Islands, but that cruise line went bankrupt several months before our departure and Trafalgar (our trip host) scheduled another trip for us, including a cruise on the Louis Lines. This trip included: Athens, Istanbul (Turkey), Mykonos, Kusadasi (Turkey), Patmos, Rhodes, Crete, Santorini and a final departure from Athens. This trip not only coincided with Connor’s graduation but with our fifty-second anniversary June 9.
June 8 (Day 1) We decided to drive to New York City and stay the night with Ruth’s cousin, Jo. We not only got to spend the night with Jo and have her take us to the airport, but we each saved over four hundred dollars on the round trip airfare. With our airfare to Greece being $1248 each (don’t book early like we did!!!), save anyway you can! It was great to see Jo and to know she knew how to find the airport! Jo is a wonderful cook and the perfect hostess!
June 9 (Day 2) We spent the day with Jo and boarded our Olympic Airline flight four hours late. They were not only late but forgot to load movie headphones. Ugh! Connor played with his new graduation gift from his dad, an IPhone, and Judy, Ruth and I read. This ten hour flight was REALLY long! Oh, and only one bathroom worked in the coach section!! Double Ugh!! What a way to spend one’s anniversary, but we all kept our high spirits and positive attitude.
June 10 (Day 3 We were greeted by the Trafalgar representative (A Canadian who grew up on the North side of Lake Erie) upon arrival and she whisked us to our hotel in a Mercedes…yeah!…things are looking up! The Titania Hotel, in the middle of Athens, was beautiful. It had been totally remodeled for the 2004 Olympics and we were able to check in immediately. As we have done on other European trips, we eschewed taking a nap (Remember, we have just experienced a seven hour time change!) and after unpacking, hit the tourist trail around 3:00 PM Athens time. We found a special shopping area where Connor and Judy went wild. Ruth bought Connor a pair of sunglasses and the Euros were flying (Remember shoppers, one Euro[€] is $1.34) Our energy started to fade after several hours of walking and shopping …. so we found a quaint little side street restaurant, where we had a very leisurely dinner of Gyros and drinks…an amazing first day in Athens and our dinner bill for four was only 23€.
The things that most amazed us about our first day in Athens were the large number of stray dogs on every block. I would estimate there were three or four dogs on every block. The locals told us the dogs wearing a collar meant that they were neutered and had up-to-date shots given to them by the government. They told us that these dogs lived on the same block almost all the time and were fed by local merchants and customers. Occasionally, you could see a passerby feeding a dog or someone giving them a dish of water. Most of the dogs were sleeping and folks just stepped over them. The second thing that amazed us was the large number of mopeds and motorcycles everywhere. I would guess that there were as many two-wheeled vehicles as four-wheeled ones and at every stop light. The two-wheeled ones would go to the front of the line…to race away once the light changed. You were not safe on the sidewalks either as the bikes would travel down a busy sidewalk to park by the store they wanted to frequent.
June 11 (Day 4) We were to take a tour this day, but the local tour guides were on a one-day strike so we spent the day on our own and had lots of fun. Connor took charge, and with a map and his IPhone, directed to all the places we wanted to see. We started by shopping…there is a new idea…and then we visited the National Archaeologsical Museum, an incredible repository of artifacts from as far back as 7500 BC . We saw household tools, weapons, art and models of settlements of that period. Most impressive was the David-like statue of Kroisos from 530 BC. After a few hours there, Connor had a Big Mac attack and we headed on a twenty block hike to the IPhone-directed (complete with map and photograph) McDonalds. This particular McDonalds had a sidewalk café, where we enjoyed a long lunch while people-watching and planning our next stops. Next, we went to see the changing of the guards at the Parliament Building on Constitutional Square. This ceremony was more like a ballet than a military function…but very impressive. I tried to get the off-duty guard leader to participate in an O-H-I-O picture but he declined. So we took one with a guard in the background. Rested a few minutes in the National park…shopped in route to our hotel…had a glass of wine and a coke at an upscale sidewalk café and paid more for the drinks than we did for dinner the night before! After freshening up, we had a wonderful seafood dinner at a very nice sidewalk café. We closed the evening on the rooftop garden at our hotel where we observed the lighted Acropolis and Parthenon, several thousand yards away. What a great day!
June 12 (Day 5) Today, we toured Athens before going to our ship. We visited the site of an original Olympic Stadium, made entirely of marble and capable of seating 70,000. This stadium was home to the archery competition in 2004. We saw Zeus’ Temple of Life constructed in 200 AD and the Truman Statue built in 1945 to honor Harry Truman for Greece being recipients of the Marshall Plan. The highlight of the of tour was seeing the Parthenon at the Acropolis…constructed in 500 BC. The forty-sex column structure was a sight to behold. On the other hand…I felt sad to think of the slaves and prisoners whose entire lives were devoted to these projects. And, we shouldn’t forget that our very U.S. White House was built, in part, by slaves…wonderful edifices…but the use of these human beings can never justify the beauty of the completed projects.
In mid-afternoon, we were transported by bus to the Cristal, our 26,000 ton ship. Our rooms were on the seventh deck of this ten deck ship…the top residential deck…and, a wonderful location as the main restaurant and theater were on Deck 8 and the pool on Deck 9. I have been on many ships (mostly Navy), but this ship was the easiest to navigate I have ever experienced. Our rooms were very nice, but small, and had nice bathrooms, large closets and a desk. It was perfect and we were glad we didn’t spend the extra money for an outside room as we were only there for sleeping.
We unpacked, had a drink by the pool, changed for dinner and concluded our evening with a one-hour floor show featuring Abba tunes. Four singer and six dancers. Hit the bed at 10:00.
June 13 (Day 6) After an overnight sail in the Aegean Sea , we passed through the thirty-eight mile Dardanelles, the site of one of WWII’s most bloody battles. Churchill’s Gallipoli Campaign to gain control of the seas from the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean Sea and clearing the way to the Black Sea, resulted in failure and the loss of 250, 000 casualties on each side. Mid-afternoon, we sailed into the Bosphorus Strait, (22 miles long and ends at the Black Sea) past the Golden Horn (so-called by how it looks when the sun shines on it) and docked in Istanbul, Turkey. We visited the Grand Bazaar, the original mall, home to 5000 shops…a place designed with Connor and Judy in mind. They bought scarves, cigarette holders, flutes, and bracelets. I struck out again…not finding my asparagus tongs! On to the Spice Bazaar, in operation since 1597 (they really need to remodel!) where once more my team made rare and wonderful buys…but still no asparagus tong! Back to the ship and a super dinner and another floor show of songs made famous by the movies.
I must now reveal why the sub-title of this story includes mention of pesos and sunglasses. Ruth, slow to adapt to the €, kept calling our new Euro money pesos. “Oh, Connor,” she would say, “you should see that scarf, it is only 30 pesos." She did finally adapt, but since we returned home has been calling dollars Euros!!! And as for the sunglasses thing…Connor lost his first pair of sunglasses while trying on a hat in the Grand Bazaar…and proceeded to lose two more pair before making an incredible deal with one salesman for a pair that turned out to have been glued back together!! This was a four pair trip!!! A late dinner and another floor show.
June 14 (Day 7) We started this day with a tour of Istanbul (700 BC…originally Constantinople). On this Sunday, children from all over the area were taking a national test to determine if they would be able to continue with their education. It is a stressful day for these young people as only 25% will be permitted to advance. Turkey is 90% Muslim and has 2750 Mosques in the city. Since 1923, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed and Sultans were forbidden to rule, religion and government have been separated and women have had full rights. Some of these constitutional givens have been challenged recently by the wives of the current President and Prime Minister. We were taken across the bridge that connects the two Istanbul’s…one side in Europe and one side in Asia.
We visited a Christian church, built in 532 AD, but nearly destroyed by the Iconoclasts and has since been used as a mosque. Next, we toured the famous Blue Mosque, built in 1609, and nearby an obelisk constructed in 300 BC. Lastly, we toured the Sultan’s Palace, where we saw Mohammed’s Beard and footprint, and, St. John’s arm and skull …although the guide said there were “…2-3 of St. John’s arms floating around the Middle East.” The Sultan’s Palace is just one more reason to hate royalty. Five hundred wives, cared for by Sultan-selected handsome men eunuch-ized so as to not cause trouble, thousands of servants (slaves)…it is enough to make one sick. And, we still have people in the world who believe that it is God’s plan for them to rule others. I finally made several purchases…two tops (1€ each) and a flute (5€). I will not say what others in our party paid for flutes and tops, at the Grand Bazaar!!!! I believe the flute will help me prepare to play my restored clarinet!! So, in a way, the flute purchase can be written off as a business expense if I fulfill my dream of playing in the Cleveland Orchestra. Wonderful dinner and another floor show of Broadway Show tunes.
June 15 (Day 8) On to Mykonos. Sailed during the day…watched King of the Cristal contest… men selected to do outrageous things….very funny. Ruth took a cooking class…I read by a lounge window. Entered Mykonos at 3:00.
Great Island….30,000 inhabitants. Island of windmills Bought Ruth her anniversary present…a ring and a necklace. Ruth bought me a bracelet. We bought the gifts in the Little Venice section of Mykonos. Judy and Connor went swimming. Connor laid on the beach without a towel and was attacked by Sand Fleas (or as the locals called them…Sand Flies). He must have had 30-40 marks which looked like he had been hit with a dart…causing a dime sized eruptions. Ruth gave him Benadryl which helped, but he didn’t get over the itching for several days. Does this young man have a problem? Sun glasses, fleas…what is next? Will I ever get the ice cream he has promised me…or will all his money…and Ruth’s … go for sun glasses? No Floor show
tonght…ship’s crew talent show! We needed rest!!
June 16 (Day 9) Patmos is a very historic island…population 2500, 13 square miles in size. It is home of the Monastery of St. John the Devine, who authored the Bible book of Revelations and 33 pages of St. Mark. We bought several bracelets, made by local monks, commemorating St. John. We had an iced Coffee seaside and then returned to the ship.
In the afternoon we visited Kusadasi, Turkey (Island of the Birds) to see Ephesus, where in the first century AD, St. Paul wrote Ephesians. The first city was built in 2000BC, after the Troy War. There have been four Ephesus cities. Only 10 % of the current city has been excavated.
Back to the ship for Greek Night, where we all wore blue and white.
June 17 (Day 10) Rhodes. An island 45 by 20 miles in size and famous for the Acropolis at Lindos, built in 500 BC as a tribute to Goddess Athena. St. Paul (21.17) explained the Christian faith to this island population and they converted to Christianity. A small bay at the base of the acropolis is named in honor of Paul. Later we toured a massive fortress built to defend the city in 1480 and within this fortress, they currently have a Christian Church, a Jewish Temple and an Islamic Mosque operating side by side in perfect harmony…it can be done!
One quick story: We bought orange juice and coffee in a small restaurant and the server was very grouchy. We gave him a modest tip. A few minutes later, I went to a public restroom, where a very happy lady was telling each guest which stall to enter. She talked to everyone and seemed to really be enjoying her work. She was making the best out of what might be considered a bad job. After giving her a Euro, as everyone seemed to be doing, I asked her if she worked here every day and she said the she didn’t because she made enough in one day to support her family for a week. What a good lesson for each of us. For Jack: The lesson is to have a positive attitude, not to get a job in a rest room!
Correction, Correction…Connor got his sand fleas on this island, but I am not rewriting this story. Ruth bought me a Greek shirt on this Island, probably because I remind her of St. Paul.
Connor surprised us by entering the CRISTAL TALENT SHOW this evening. He played his guitar and sang Blackbird, a Beatle’s song. I had never heard him play his guitar before and I was nervous for him as his competitors sang opera, played the blues on the piano and sang My Way…the last two performers were in their fifties. I need not have worried as he was great! He finished the song with a guitar solo and got a huge round of applause from the audience. He later said that he would be putting, “’Played guitar and sang on the cruise ship Cristal’ on his resume’.”
June 18 (Day 11) Crete and Santorini After an overnight sail, we stopped in Agios Nicolaos, Crete for a short visit. Ruth shopped and later we sat by the Bay of Mirabello and had iced coffee. The population of Crete is 600,000 and has received the European Blue flag for having the cleanest beaches. In 1940, a German attack killed many natives and many conversations with locals commenced with this impactful story.
At 11:00 AM, we set sail for an 83 mile sail to Santorini. Santorini is the southern most of the Cyclades group and is on the Northern edge of the Sea of Crete. The island is only 29 square miles and was formed in 1628 BC by a volcanic eruption. The last eruption was in 1950. It is claimed, but unsubstantiated, that the original disaster was the basis for Plato’s writing about Atlantis. Pirates controlled the island until the 18th century.
We took a (300 meter vertical elevation) bus ride (Ruth says it was scarier than the one in Hawaii!) to the top and just walked around, enjoying the white stuccoed-buildings and the beautiful view. We found a small café on the side of the mountain and had a drink. We spent most of our time at the café recounting our trip and how lucky we were to have a grandson like Connor. If we win the lottery, we may return to this island for a week or two, but Ruth won’t ride the cable car down the mountain. The tentative plan calls for Ruth to helicopter to the top of Santorini, where she will stay for two weeks!
June 19 (Day 12) Athens for some, Delphi for others. We had our last breakfast on board the Cristal and debarked around 8:00 AM. Connor and Judy headed for our hotel and a day of shopping, while Ruth and I boarded a bus for an excursion to Delphi.
The cruise was perfect. We got to see many new places and cultures and became immersed in ancient history (I have read the Cliff Notes for The Iliad and The Odyssey since our return to catch up on some points not covered during my education at the Academy at Arcadia. Boy, that Achilles was a booger!) The parts we will remember most about our cruise will be…being with Judy and Connor and our new friends, Adriana and Enos Olmo, a delightful couple originally from Brazil, but now from Miami. They have an interesting career…being special assistants to a very wealthy couple. They were the nicest young couple one might imagine…beautiful, but more importantly, they had beautiful hearts. Ruth and I hope our paths will cross with theirs on another day. We got to know them even better the last day as we spent the entire day with them at Delphi. Others we met included: Bonnie and Jack Broer, a delightful OSU couple (make that Oregon State University) who helped us with our O-H-I-O fetish; Reza (The Gardener) and Jeff Stillwell from San Francisco; Linda and the two Julies from Little Rock; the three Greek School teachers from Salt Lake (sorry, but my names’ list has been misplaced); sister Stacy (New Jersey) and brother Ted (New Orleans); table mates Loraine and Bill (Australia); and, Aristotle, the real one, from Canada.
Delphi Delphi, an early city (9th century BC to 2nd century BC) was a commercial and athletic center. No one lived there, but rather lived in surrounding mountain cites. The Romans conquered Delphi in the 2nd century BC and appropriated many of Delphi’s treasures. The city was covered by an earthquake and not rediscovered until 1891 (by French archeologsists). The site, surrounded by Laurel trees (remember the Laurel wreathes presented to winning athletes), consists of amphitheaters, a stadium for athletic contests and many small areas originally used as shops. I hiked to the top of the mountain to see the athletic stadium (you need to be an athlete to get there) which at 192 meters set the distance standard for early races. There is a new museum on the site and it holds many of the treasures unearthed here. The guide said that this place was considered the “navel of the world” and Ruth said “Hogwash!” believing, of course, that that distinction belongs to Findlay, Ohio.
Upon returning to Athens, we met Connor and Judy as we walked into the hotel, and over drinks heard about their shopping spree. The bought necklaces, shoes and gifts of all kinds. They were not the least saddened by missing the “second navel”…and were in fact glad that they had elected to see more of Athens……..so we were all happy! We closed the evening with dinner at the sidewalk restaurant where we had our first dinner in Athens….more gyros and conversation about the high points of this trip. Connor and Judy liked the shopping and the trip to the volcano, Ruth liked Santorini and I liked being with Ruth!
June 20 (Day 13) Athens – New York Our Trafalgar representative met us right on schedule to transport us to the airport. The flight was eleven hours but they did remember to bring the earphones and we watched two forgettable movies. Jo was waiting for us outside of customs and as it was raining very hard and we were tired, we elected to eat dinner and return to Jo’s for the night (Remember, 6:00 PM was now 1:00 AM the next day for us). Jo took us to a wonderful restaurant in Nyack. At Jo’s, Ruth, Judy and Connor talked about the trip and I turned in for the night. Connor, now anxious to see his girlfriend, said he wanted to leave at 5:00 AM in the morning, but we agreed to try to be on the road by 8:00 AM. Jo is such a perfect host, that had we not been gone so long already, we would have stayed for another day.
June 21 (Day 14) Heading Home. We did wake up early and headed home around 7:30 AM (2:30 PM Greece time) . We got home early afternoon and Judy took Connor home and headed to Findlay. Ruth and I started catching up on mail and laundry and planning what time we would be leaving in two days for a five day trip to Reston, VA to visit the Melnykovich’s and play in a golf tournament.
Postscript: This was the third in the Saltzman grandson series of special trips. One more to go for Austin. All have been great fun. On this trip we all laughed about the 1Euro Store, Senor’ Zorba’s Mexican Restaurant, Connor’s sunglass misfortunes, Judy and Connor’s shopping addiction (Hi, my name is…), and Connor’s ability to find anything with his new graduation gift, the IPhone. We marveled at The Parthenon, Istanbul, the Cave of St. John the Devine, the Grand Bazaar, The Spice Bazaar, ancient Ephesus, the Acropolis at Lindos, Santoini, and of course, Athens and it’s many wonderful sites. We felt bad for Connor when he suffered from the Rhodes Fleas and happy for him when he starred in the talent show. We loved meeting many new friends, especially, Adrianna and Enos. Most of all, we were happy to be able to take a trip like this with two of the best travel companions anyone could hope to have join them. We are very proud that Connor has completed one phase of his education and are hopeful that this trip might encourage him to set his life goals high and work hard to realize them. He has all of the talent and personality to attain any dream…now it is up to him to make the effort to succeed. No matter what he decides to do or what he becomes, we will always love him, and will never forget this special trip and our time with him. We have never expected anything from our grandsons for us having given them these trips, but we pray they will live good, honest, altruistic lives…and that their efforts will make this world a little better because they were in it.