Home, Sweetie, Home

Friday, December 16, 2005

Air Canada really needs to get up to speed on transatlantic flights
Well, I made it home. I woke up in London plenty early for the flight and since I'd used Air Canada's internet check-in, I even had an aisle seat (you can pick your seat assuming the plane's not full already). Just before 1:00 London time, the wheels lifted off and my stay in Europe ended. The movies being shown were Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, which I'd seen, some black and white movie where the guy from Spiderman and Reese Witherspoon enter this TV show (called Pleasantville) and introduce emotion (and therefore colour) to the characters, and Fantastic Four. A pretty good lineup, Pleasantville wasn't as bad as it sounds, and Fantastic Four wasn't as good as it could've been, but I already had heard that so it was good to see it free on a plane.

That said, I don't know if I'd use Air Canada again for a transatlantic flight. There were no problems, BUT from what I hear almost every other airline in the world (I believe Virgin was first) has personal TV and you can choose the movies, pause, etc. Nevermind looking around the stewardess to try and make out the charactersin a show you don't really want to see anyway. But I suppose I made it home safely and with the only mishap being further damage to my backpack (they broke a zipper) so personal TV's aren't really that important in the scheme of things.

Canadian timezones for dummies
Well, that's not quite true. They also changed my connecting flight from Calgary to Saskatoon. It was supposed to leave at 4:00 leaving me to arrive at 6:05 in Saskatoon. However, I'd not memorized the details and when I got to the gate and saw that the flight was leaving at 6:15, I just remember the 6:05 and thought it sounded right. With the time change, I reasoned, one hour difference, plus a 45 minute flight, that should be about right. Of course, it didn't occur to me until I was on the plane that the time change was an hour in the opposite direction (I seem to have problems with these time zones, don't I?) and too late to alert anyone in Saskatoon that I'd given them the wrong time.

Running Back To Saskatoon
Nevertheless, when we got home (my cousin Gus and his family was on the plane home from Athens as well) everyone was waiting and had eaten so I didn't feel AS bad. And it sure was nice to see everyone again. It IS nice, I should say. Aside from the fact that I wake up inexplicably and uncorrectably by 6 AM everyday, and occasionally am tired by 10 PM, there's not much jet lag to get over. It was a little weird to look on a map and see myself back in North America again, but things really haven't changed much. The restaurant's been renovated (again), there are a few things different around the city (HEL is closing, the College/Circle interchange is coming along and they've started digging for the new cinema) but otherwise, things are seemingly as I left them.

Oh sure, my car wouldn't start (I replaced the battery and it's fine now but I think it's running a little strangely), my old 373 phone number has been given to an old lady (who I feel sorry for this week), my cell phone doesn't exist (I'm going to get a new number today), the cabin is sold, my room was clean, Mariah is twice as tall, Nicole has moved out, and various other bizarre phenomena, but things are still the same.

I've spent the two days here running errands, getting replacement cards, a new license, sorting out papers, bills, and so on, and getting life back in order. I start work again on Monday, and then I will be back to where I was when I left almost exactly 7 months ago.

One of my favourite photos that didn't make the cut
Now, so far as this site goes. A few things. First of all, I've finally gotten around to picking out my Favourite Photos of 2005. Check them out and please feel free to vote for your favourites so that the best come to the top. Or go through all the photos and pick out your own favourites. You may have noticed I added a link on the left hand side called "Site Feed". If you have a news aggregator, use FireFox, or have any other means of subscribing to feeds, then this may be something for you. It basically lets you know when I update the blog so you don't have to check. In FireFox, if you add it as a Live Bookmark, it will also tell you what the latest 'headline' is.

Which is where I'm going to leave it this time in order for a nice segue into my next post about a site you've probably heard about (it starts with a 'g' and rhymes with 'zoogle'). Meanwhile, I'll be working on getting everything done I said I would, more photos and so on posted, and other more Christmas related stuff. If I don't see you before then, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all the best. Thank you for sharing this past year with me.

Around The World In 7 Months (Or Less!)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Trafalgar Square at Christmas Time
So, without a doubt, this is the last post I will be making abroad for a good span of time. For you see, it is Sunday night, 11:40 PM at this exact instant and I leave for home in exactly 13 hours. But, before I go and do a hastily thrown together recap of some of the good times that we've shared in this last 7 months of bloggery, let me complete my trip up until the time that I go to sleep tonight by recapping this final fantastic weekend (and the days leading up to it).

Wednesday. London, England. Temperature: +3C. Looked around London. Amazing Christmas displays, Oxford St. is lit with Christmas-light chandeliers. Carnaby St with multi-coloured flourescent lights and spinning mirrors that act to make it look like there are more bulbs than there really are and also give a cool effect. Regent St is covered with ice blue lights, flashing/'falling' snowflakes, and various other effects, not to mention characters from the highly anticipated Chronicles of Narnia. London really does shame every other city in the world (well, okay, I've really only been to a few cities at Christmas time, but New York was one of them) when it comes to lighting up for the season. Not that London itself is better than New York, of course, nor even that individual homes have much festiveness at all, even compared to Saskatoon, but the city lights are something to be seen. So, I walked and looked and shopped a bit the backpackers' way: walking near all the places with stuff you'd like to buy AFTER they've closed. Of course, with the humidity (not as bad as Dublin but still, to use a local expression, brass monkeys out there).

Thursday. London, Still. Temperature: What am I, an almanac? Thursday, I had to switch hostels from the Generator (big, lots to do, fun, but a little grotty) to a place called the Ace Hotel (they missed the 's' when they did the signage and decided to keep the name as a result, I think). It's not as central and on the other end of the centre, but not too far. I also wanted to go up to the north end and the Hellenic Bookstore and pick up the Greek text I ordered. Finally, today was the day I wanted to get to Oxford, since Friday I was meeting up with Catherine, a friend I met on Contiki in Scandinavia. However, the bookstore took longer to get to and to visit than anticipated, largely due to the great selection of Greek texts. I wound up buying the one I'd ordered anyway, but it doesn't hurt to look at the others. I also picked up some other Greek books that might help my sisters if they're so inclined, including Learn Greek in 25 Years, which seems overly optimistic for me but is quite a funny book (written in English thankfully).

Camden Town
So, by the time I was done there, and knowing as I did that I had to pick up my bag from the Generator, transfer to Ace, and so on, I gave up on the idea of Oxford today. I instead walked around nearby Camden Town, though I didn't make it to the market (I've seen my share anyway), and finally transferred hostels. By then it was 3:00 and I was meeting some friends (Simon and Tre) at 6, so I strolled around for awhile, looked into musicals (nothing playing that I especially wanted to see, so I didn't bother), and met them a little after 6 in a small pub off Tottenham Court. We had a drink there and then they took me out for Indian food, which was great because it was something I'd been wanting to do while in London anyway (they have a very large Indian population and a good reputation for it). The dinner was great, I tried a sample of a bunch and can definitely recommend Chicken Tikka Masala, quite the tasty dish. We went out to a bar and sat on the patio (so I guess it wasn't too cold, though even with the heaters on it wasn't exactly warm) and passed the evening. It was great to meet up with them here, both very cool people and great to chat/catch-up with. It was a good Thursday.

Friday. London. Etc. Friday was the day for me to go to Oxford. Catherine wasn't in until 9:00, and I woke up and got ready to go. I'm not sure where the time went, but by the time I'd wandered over to Victoria Station to catch the Oxford Tube (really a bus service), eaten, and so on, it was 1:30. Still, away I went, after all, I'd been told it was only a quick 30 min hop. 45 mins at the outside. However, whoever told me this must have forgotten to mention that this number applies to only ideal conditions, no traffic, and getting on at the very last stop in London and off at the first in Oxford, possibly using a plane instead of a bus. So almost 2.5 hours later, I was in Oxford. 4:00. It was already getting to be dusk, and most of the things I'd come to see, I wasn't going to be able to anyway. The College buildings were closed. The museum (called Ashmoleum Museum amusingly - to me anyway) was open but I didn't have time. And of course I'd travelled without a map and just got off the bus somewhere I thought looked remotely centralish. Given the duration of travel and my meetup at 9:00, I didn't have much time. So I wandered the town centre and bought some books for the way back/plane. It's certainly a nice town but a little quiet and there's not much to see in the evening, so that was the extent of Oxford for me. I got back right in time to meet Catherine (after a pretty nice dinner of sorts - tapas, actually - in a Spanish restaurant) and we went out for a drink or two and the weekend officially began.

Alexandra Palace Inside
Saturday. The Weekend. Oops, I mean London. England. Temperature: Really quite pleasantly warm. Finally Saturday had come and with it, the one thing I was most looking forward to in London: Franz Ferdinand LIVE(!!!!) First, of course, we had to pass the day. This proved relatively easy. We had breakfast at a restaurant on the corner, the first time I'd had eggs in who-knows-how-long, and, surprise surprise, walked around some more. Catherine, who's living in the UK at the moment, showed me some cool places she knew. But for some reason, even with the little drink we'd had (really, one beer and we shared a bottle of E&J Cabernet) we were both a little drowsy and fighting headaches. Stupid California. So, to get rested up for Franz, we went to a movie. I'd seen everything playing, so we went and saw Harry Potter since I'd missed the first (now having seen it I know) hour and a bit last time. It's a long but good movie, but with the ads in front, it was too long. I really hate paying as much as we do for a movie and then sitting through COUNTLESS ads. Trailers/previews, yes. Good. I love previews. But car ads, insurance ads, sometimes the same ad twice (for a shampoo, except once was with a blonde and once with a brunette). Then they had the nerve to talk about pirating and how it wasn't as good as the cinema. Newsflash: Pirates didn't pay £12 for the show (WAAAAY too much to begin with) and didn't have to sit through a SINGLE SECOND of crappy ads. But I'm ranting. Again.

Franz Ferdinand Blowing Our Socks Off
With the movie out, however, we realized that thanks to these ads we were behind schedule, since we got out at 6:00, still had to get all the way up to Wood Green, and then take a shuttle to Alexandra Palace, where the doors opened at 6:30. So much for a spot right at the front, but we made it there by around 7:00 and only missed a few songs of opener The Rakes' set. We managed also to work ourselves to very near the border of the tall people so we were looking over a sea of short people not too far from the stage, right in the centre, close enough to see everything but far back enough to get a good mix of direct and speaker sound and see the screens. Next up was The Cribs, I believe, who were not bad at moments but need to learn a thing or two about dynamics. And then, stomach aching minutes later (for you see, I'd made the mistake of a beer at the show and there was NO WAY I was going to get to the washroom and back to my spot again so it was time for a hold-a-thon), the lights dimmed. Enter Franz Ferdinand.

The show was brilliant, and the more I think about it, the better it gets in my head. The venue is, incidentally, the courtyard of an old palace, not open air, but covered with a collapsable canopy that they opened a little to let some fresh air in and keep it from getting too warm. So, there's Alex Kapranos (a Greek/English boy, by the by) and the band and all of a sudden who needs the washroom anyway? The set was great, a good mix of old and new. The sound was flawless. And I've become a convert for their new record. Well, OK, I liked it, but now I love it. I don't remember the setlist by any means, but they played Dark of the Matinee twice (two versions of it), Take Me Out (the crowd went nuts, of course), Auf Asche, well, really, they covered it all. They opened the encore with Jacqueline. Well, Alex did. Then, intro finished, the lights came on and the band came in and it was one of the best encores out there. What a Saturday night!

Hyde Park in Winter
Sunday. Today. Last Day In London. We went out for breakfast again, with me singing various Franz songs all day. We went shopping in earnest for people at home, though in the end I came away with nothing for them. It's hard to do when you haven't seen them in so long. I'll have to do that when I get back. We had a nice Italian meal, we walked in Hyde Park, and now I'm packed and typing this. Hyde Park was nice, but more open then I expected (I guess with all the Jack The Ripper history, I was expecting a lot of trees). So here I am ready to go home. Excited but somehow nervous. Or, well, that's not the right word, but either is excited. It will be weird to leave Europe behind and return to reality, but at the same time, I can't imagine travelling anywhere at the moment.

So I'll save the recap for later, I guess, and just say that it's been great and I'm looking forward to seeing many of you tomorrow and in the coming week. It's been a long time, too long (well, for most of you) :) and I hope we get that rectified soon. See you next time in Saskatoon, and the blogging will continue. Thanks for reading and travelling with me.

UPDATE: I am pilfering photos of others to at least spice up the blog a bit. I'm doing my best to use photos of things I saw and from this year so it's KIND OF like I took them.

Full Circles

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Manchester in Picadilly
Manchester was a great time, I finally got to meet Mike (aka Mike1) and visit with him. As has been the case with everyone I've met here, he was a very generous and great host and I definitely appreciated the place to stay and taking me around Manchester. I got in at about noon and after some food, we went back to his flat to drop off my backpack. Then, we headed out, by now, probably around two or three o'clock. And we went to the boulevard of a street, where a staircase was located, and went down into a place called The Temple Bar. Ironic, a little, considering that this was the place in Dublin that precipitated my loss of property. However, the experience was much more enjoyable, with all sorts of good music on the jukebox and various European beers at our disposal. Interestingly, the place used to be one of those under-the-street-washrooms. Don't worry, you wouldn't have guessed.

The Wolf Parade live
Anyway, with the music flowing the beer was not far behind. Yes, it is still mid-afternoon. There was a gig that night (of course, it's a Saturday after all) and so we left there a little later and went to see The Wolf Parade and some other bands, but the sound wasn't so great. Or perhaps my ears were clouded considering it was 8:00 and I'd been drinking with Mike since about 2. In any case, we stayed for them and the next band, which wasn't too bad either, and then I'm sad to say that I became quite drowsy. I can't keep up with these Brits, what can I say? Or perhaps it was jetlag from, you know, the lack of time zone change from my early morning flight from Dublin. Actually, I had had a late night and early morning, so that probably factored in, Anyway, instead of going out clubbing in Madchester, I wound up at their flat, fast asleep, halfway through a Family Guy episode. I woke up again at about 2:30 AM and watched some TV before Mike and his roommate came in. We hung out for a while, they filled me in on what I'd missed at the club, and then, since I'd already slept quite a bit, I watched some tv, read, and watched a movie before going back to sleep.

Not quite the place we watched the game, but it was still exciting
The next day, we went out to a pub again and watched a couple soccer (okay, okay, 'football') games. It was kind of cool to be sitting in a pub in Manchester watching a really great game between the famed Manchester United and the less famed Everton. It started, 50 seconds in, 0-1 but that was tied up in the second half and then Manchester took the lead. A great game, as I said. We all hung around (we were there with a bunch of Mike's friends), got some groceries for dinner/breakfast, and that was that.

The snowy north of England
Another night in Manchester and before I knew it, I was headed for York via train. The ground was covered in what looked to be frost but was actually snow. It took a while before I realized it was snow at all. I said goodbye to Mike, stopped in a bookstore to read a guide, and decided York was a good idea. So on the train I went. Leaving Manchester, the skies were cloudy and maybe the odd snow flake could even be seen if you looked long enough. But 10 minutes out, it became a full flurry, snow falling down like it was Christmas Day or something. I never imagined I'd see that in England. The ground and trees were covered, so clearly it had been snowing for a good spell. I also sat next to a nice old man named Dennis who talked with me about the UK and other things and the trip really did speed by.

York Minster
I got to York around noon but it was a bitter cold and while I did walk around, even to the famous York Minister (which was closed, sadly - it is Europe's oldest gothic church and home also to the world's largest stained glass piece), but it was just miserable out and the snow was falling mostly as rain. I ate dinner and hung around in the hostel, then went out that evening for a bit before calling it a night. York is a nice town, though, and I was determined to see the rest of it before departing for Oxford the next day.

The Flying Scotsman
The next morning, I met Marci, a Vancouver business/tech journalist staying in the same room, who actually looks like a shorter Minnie Driver quite a bit. We both went around the town together and, after I discovered there were no available beds in Oxford for that evening, I decided to go to London instead and take a day trip out to Oxford. It turned out that she was actually also London bound and that there was an embassy party she was invited to. She managed to get me on the guestlist through a friend of hers at the embassy and so that was settled. We did explore the rest of York first, the old Viking tower, castle, and a bit of a walk through the Shambles and a free museum. Then, we picked up our backpacks, took a look around at the railway museum near the station (it is usually home to the famed Flying Scotsman, but it was out on loan and apparently actually in use again for a short time). Even so, there were some very impressive and massive old steam engines, if only I'd had a camera for grandpa. There was a particularly big Chinese one that for all I know is still in use today. They also had a replica of the Japanese bullet train.

Canadian Embassy in London
Chugging along, after looking at old trains, we got on a new one bound for London and off we went. The timing was tight and her London flat is quite a ways out, so we just went to the hostel quickly and got ready there. Then, after a cheap dinner here that wasn't too bad considering, we went off to the party. It turned out to be a cabaret of sorts, first a comedian, then a pianist (she was originally from Saskatoon and good though her songs weren't exactly what the party called for), then another comedian who was spastic and annoying at which point it was time to leave. The party wasn't too great and there really wasn't much mixing going on for a party whose intent was supposed to be to meet other Canadians abroad. The MC, Craig something, was the only good point of the party, he was bloody hilarious. Well, that and being able to say I went to an embassy party, I guess. We hung out at an English pub for awhile and called it an evening.

This phone booth can be used as a time machine

Ah yes, the title. Well, first of all, there was that whole Temple Bar Manchester thing. Then, of course, my return to London, my final stop before going home, 7 months after arriving here in May. And finally, walking to the embassy, we happened to pass Russell Square, and more specifically the Royal National Hotel, where I first stayed when arriving in London 4 years ago. Not to mention a red phone booth I have a picture in and the pub where I tried (and hated) my first Guiness. Yes, many circles have been drawn this week, and I guess there'll be a few more to come yet.

In any case, the remainder of my time should be fairly active. I'm going to take a day trip out to Oxford, I have managed to get some tickets for Franz Ferdinand (there's another circle for you: I was going to see them in Dublin before I lost everything (which is why I left Belfast that day). I just missed them in Manchester. And now, finally, I'm set to see them). I'll probably go see a musical while I'm here, and I will be meeting some friends on Thursday and Friday. I can't believe that the days remaining are now in single digits. Quite likely I'll be reporting my final stories in person. See you soon

Where's Me Leprechaun?

Friday, November 25, 2005

There's Me Leprechaun!
To conclude the drama, in the end, nothing was found (perhaps a leprechaun ran away with the stuff as depicted here). I was wholly unable to track down my camera, passport, or wallet, but am now ready to continue my travels. After all, there are only 10 days left - I have to make the most of them. The week itself was rather uninteresting, I spent a couple days working with the embassy, saw a few movies, read a few books, and walked around Dublin just looking. Not exactly the type of stuff that fills blog pages (yes, I hear you already saying that's exactly what has filled my blog for the past however long). By the end of Monday, as you know, I had cash in my pocket once again. By Wednesday, I'd finished my paperwork with the embassy, and I had a new credit card delivered to me. And today, Friday, I am now the not so proud owner of a replacement passport. Not so proud, but much uplifted. It was time for a celebration on Friday night.

There've been other distractions, thankfully. I visited the Guiness brewery, which was interesting in a way but in another, more accurate way, over priced. Still, I had a nice view of Dublin from the top of their 65 acre (!) facility. Well, sort of. It was nice, but because it's been so cold here and is humid to boot, it was mostly a misty haze beyond 2 km. I stopped in at St. Patty's Cathedral. I walked the old town. I've visited with Barry a few times and I must say that it's nice to have company. And of course, I've been visiting with the people in my hostel.

Ahh, Guiness
So the time has passed quickly given how little there is to do. I'm going to head off to Manchester tomorrow and see some other friends, and then from there, I'm not sure. Probably just travel around England seeing what there is to see and doing what there is to do, and making it to London on Thursday or so to spend my last weekend there. I guess I'm not done with that city after all. I do hope the weather warms a bit, it's humid and cold! And, yes, I witnessed a little bit of Dublin snow last night and this morning. Brrr. 17 degrees above back home isn't sounding too bad at all...

Update: I'm now in Manchester and should be meeting a friend, Mike, who's letting me stay with him, in an hour or so. Which is lucky because the hostels here are full. And I guess because I've been reporting negative things for the last bit, I'm coming across as unhappy, but really, aside from Friday, I've been about as happy as I could be under the circumstances. I've been enjoying a little down time, though it wasn't really my plan, it's just not very interesting to report. I am, as someone else said, still travelling Europe, after all, how bad could it be? And no, I'm not getting that for Christmas. JOHN.

dIreland (The Adventure Continues!)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Yesterday on: No More Pictures! Dean left his camera bag and/or every other egg in his camera case basket on the dreaded blue Air Coach bus and had been told by Zil, a friendly Lithuanian that it had been found. I was told to expect that bus to be coming around soon or else to expect a call from the airport if I missed it. So, I continued checking coaches. Some drivers I met more than once and they recognized me. Some drivers were helpful. Others were not. But regardless, none of them had my bag. Nor had the airport staff called me.

Eventually, as 9:00 drew near, after some more calls to the airport office and talk with drivers, still thinking it was last reported safe, I decided that it was as much as I could do that night. I was cold, I'd not eaten since breakfast, and I knew from a quick internet check that all the internet availability for hostels was long gone in Dublin. I went into the police station and contacted my credit cards, putting them on hold for 48 hours and, because they wouldn't do this for me, cancelling my MasterCard. Officer Reilly called their lost property agent again for me and still nothing, and then showed me where some nearby hostels were. I called the Canadian embassy but once I reported my passport gone, well, there was no turning back. If worst came to worst, I would have to do that and then stay in a Salvation Army type thing until I had money, but I was going to try hostels first. And try I did. I went to six hostels. Full, Full, Full, Full, Full, Full. If you add fatigue, hunger, a sickness-to-my-stomach, and about 5 minutes walk between all those, you should accurately feel how I did. No money. Nowhere to sleep that wasn't a hotel, and so on.

I finally came upon the Rainbow Hostel, which I'd heard good things of, and so was also invariably full. Nevertheless, I trudged up the stairs where two all-too-cheerful people greeted me. "Let me guess," I said, "full?" / "What?" / "You have no rooms left?" "Well, only dormatory rooms" / "Right, beds. You have beds?!" / "Yeah, mixed dorm, 5 other people" / "There can be 50,000 people as long as there's a bed for me!" / "Yeah, no problem" / "Well, it might be... here's the situation... ". At this, they looked at me, and I told them my story. Then Danny said, no problem, stay as long as you need, no problem. I offered him the only money I had... 20 Euro, though I said I'd like to keep at least 10 for food. "No, no," he said, "don't worry. Here's the key, take your stuff up to room 11!" And I gratefully did.

The common room was quite full of people having a good time on a Friday night, but I wasn't quite in the mood as you might imagine. I read my book, State of Fear, and managed to fall asleep. I woke the next morning, showered quickly (they're not the cleanest hostel in the world, but they're certainly good people), and went down to the police station to use the phone. The bag hadn't turned up last night and there was no sign of it. I called everyone. I stopped more bus drivers. I took names and tried to get a hold of someone, anyone, who could answer me honestly. Nothing. I left my number with them again, as for some reason all my information was no longer there in their offices, and they said they'd call me back later in the day. I tried to wander around the city, but my mind was too concerned with HOW my bag could go missing when it had been supposedly been found and WHAT I could do, what leads I could chase, to track it down. I wasn't enjoying myself at all. At the time I didn't know Zil's name, and I had no idea who the mystery man was he'd talked to who "knew everything" and told Zil my stuff had been found. I went back to the hostel and ran into Danny again. Danny gave me €40 to buy food for the weekend, and I did go grocery shopping late that afternoon and finally ate, 24 hours later.

I also was back at the police, and decided to report my cards stolen finally so I could get some new ones over here. American Express was no go, because they didn't have an office in Ireland, but Visa said they'd be able to have a card to me by Tuesday. Which would be fine. I managed to find out the number to their garage at the airport by watching a driver dial it and called them up. And I finally decided it was time to call home - after all, I'd told Lee about it yesterday because she'd called right at the worst possible time and I wasn't able to pretend to have a great time (not to mention my phone had no money) and since I had been unable to answer subsequent calls or reply to her, she probably got worried and told them anyway. So I bought a phone card for long distance and one for my cell and away I went.

There was a lot more detective work on Saturday, collecting names, trying to get a straight story, names, and so on, but the results of that are already peppered all over this post, so no point elaborating. I did have some friends from a website I run who live in Dublin, and once I got my phone charged I realized they'd been trying to get a hold of me. Barry offered to take me out for dinner and food and the other Barry offered me a place to stay if I still needed it. We ended up going out for some pints (thanks, guys!) and I also got to meet Carl. All very nice people, and I was thankful again that this had happened here in Dublin and not elsewhere. Though having it happen in Saskatoon wouldn't be the end of the world either, relatively speaking.

Sunday there was not much to do. My dad had sent me some money on Saturday night and so I went Sunday morning first thing to collect it. It turns out that most Western Union places don't allow you to receive money, and the one that did didn't have enough on hand. No money today. Wait for the post office on Monday. I was also waiting for Air Coach's office in Dublin to open on Monday so I could find out the name of my driver and get to the bottom of why my bag one minute had been found and the next, had never been seen. I tried harder to get the names of people that were instrumental to my story and case, but even for three hours of legwork, I had nothing. I did a little walking around again, and some more reading, but there really wasn't much of interest on Sunday. Ran into Officer Reilly and updated him, used the police station phone to get Visa to also send some emergency cash. Put more money on my phone, ate, and that's about it. And then Monday. Monday was a busy day. I even made myself a todo list so that I shook the right trees first for information.

1) Western Union. Once again I had money. Whew! (thanks, dad!)

2) Call Visa. Visa was supposed to have called me to tell me which bank I could get my emergency cash from, but I called them and they hadn't been able to make contact with the manager of AIB. They told me they'd call my cell phone when they had. It wa a 'rigamarole' if you will.

3) Police. I went to them again and they had no reports of it turning up. I told them the rather suspicious story of the reappearing bag, but they didn't seem too interested. I used their phone to call the Air Coach office and came as close as legally possible to pretending to be a police officer without actually pretending to be a police officer. I figured I'd get their attention. "Hi there, I'm calling from the Garda (what they call police) Station here on O'Connell Street, and looking into a missing camera bag with camera, wallet, Canadian passport, and other identification that was left behind on one of your coaches Friday afternoon at approximately 5 PM." Etc. Sounds official, doesn't it? But of course, I only told them I was CALLING from the police station. Anyway, I wasn't able to get their office so I thought I'd come back after lunch. I went out and bought myself a new money pouch to keep my valuables on me at all times once again, and a new wallet for my newfound money. I of course also called Green Cats, the lost and found agency, but still no sign of it.

4) Airport. After lunch, I told the driver of an Air Coach bus I'd lost a camera bag and was going down to the airport to sort it out. I wasn't paying. At the airport, I met Peter, whom I'd talked to before lunch, and also Brendan, the very man who'd told Zil my camera bag had been found. Peter was anxious to look into it for me, and Brendan was helpful in getting me the information I wanted, names of drivers, and so on. He went to the office to talk with Mary and do that for me. Meanwhile, I also checked the airport's lost and found, but no luck as always. The trip there was more or less a bust except I got some people motivated a bit and put faces to the names. And, I guess, confirmed it wasn't at the airport. While there, the bank called, and Michelle, the bank manager, said she was closing soon and wasn't I coming by. So again, Visa had dropped the ball and not returned my call. I got back on the bus and made it to the bank just in time.

5) Bank. Well, I've taken the suspense out of it, but I did make it literally just in time, and managed to get my money though there was some confusion about exchange rates and so on (the emergency money was in American dollars).

6) Embassy. It was time to face the fact that I wasn't going to see my stuff, or at least hedge my bets, so I called the Canadian Embassy and reported it officially stolen. I was told to come in early tomorrow morning to get started on a new passport.

So, that's the rest of the weekend, in a nutshell. Really, I've felt like a detective over here, and I think something is up, something fishy, but I also feel like a bad detective because, well, what the heck can I do about it? The bank manager suggested I go to the press, but really, other than making me feel better, it probably wouldn't do any good. Especially if the bag DOES turn up in the future when I'm gone. And that's assuming that the press would even find the story worth the ink it was printed on.

There's a little more to tell, but I'll get to it soon... thanks for reading!

No More Pictures!

Monday, November 21, 2005

So, I wasn't going to post about this, but thinking further, I realized I have no choice. The lack of photos was bound to draw suspicion. When I left you last, I still had my camera, wallet, and passport. I had finished typing my latest update and the internet cafe had failed to recognize my camera and so, no pictures. I got on the bus, which was an hour late, and headed for Dublin. It turns out there's a transfer at the Dublin airport, so I switch busses and head from Dublin Airport to the City Center. The time is 16:30, and I still have my camera, wallet, and passport. In fact, they are sitting on the seat beside me, with the exception of my wallet which is in my jeans' pocket. The camera bag, containing all the other items listed, is firmly attached to my belt - the passport and backup documents in a separate pouch because, well, when you wear something under your clothes on a four hour bus, it gets a little sweaty and gross.

So, as this bag is on my right and I'm listening to my iPod, a woman gets on and sits beside me. I have to move my stuff. The backpack goes on the floor, and I have to take my camera bag off my belt because it's on her seat. While I'm there, I decide that since I'm listening to my iPod, which is usually in the camera bag but now is not (leaving room for something else), I'll keep it out. I further decide that the wallet is uncomfortable sitting in my pocket, and so I put it in the camera bag. The ride goes on into the city and I have no idea where the hostels are. I know it's somewhere around a place called Temple Bar. That's all. Our first stop is very near to a pub called Temple Bar, but it was an unscheduled an unannounced stop and quite likely not where I should get off. But I started to worry. I asked the woman beside me if she knew what area I was best getting off at. She said City Center was the place. Well, a minute later, no warning, we're there.

With no warning given and no time, I hurriedly jumped off the bus. There was a tourist information right there on O'Connell St. and it was just closing (the time now was 4:55) and I managed to get a map from the security officer. Now where to go to get to my hostel. There was a Burger King on the corner, so I went over there to sit down and open the map. I didn't find out much except that Temple Bar is an area and not a single Bar. The street I knew a certain hostel to be on, I couldn't find. Well, I decided to wander down to the Temple Bar area myself and hope to stumble across something. I got up to leave the Burger King. Noticed anything?

Yeah, that's right! I wish I'd had you with me that dark Friday. For those who didn't, well, guess what I stopped mentioning I still had in my possession... my camera, passport, and wallet. Well, I won't lie, I wasn't as calm as I could've been, but I think I did pretty well in that I didn't fall to my knees with my hands splayed and screaming "Nooooo!" at the heavens. Which, if I may say, was exactly what I wanted to do. Instead, I rushed back to the tourist info and convinced the guard to open the door. I told him I'd left my bag on the floor of the bus and he went inside and had the ladies working call the bus company for me. Then he came back a few minutes later and told me to go across the street and ask for a man named Kevin. I did. It turned out that they'd put me in contact with the wrong shuttle bus company (there are two that get off at the exact same place) but Kevin continued trying to ring them for me. After all, my cell phone was on it's last dollar of credit (well, last pound) and I had not a single cent on me. Not one penny. Which ruled out the possibility of showing it to people and telling them it was all I had in the hopes of generating any sort of income.

They didn't answer, so I went to the bus stop where the busses going back to the airport halt on the opposite side of the street. While waiting, far too long, incidentally, I wound up talking to a family there about what had happened and the man gave me his phone to call their office again. No answer for a long time. Finally, they did answer, and I told them what had happened and they said there was nothing they could do but check the busses when they completed their loop through the city and got back to the airport. I insisted there SURELY must be a way to get in touch with the driver, though I didn't have a bus ticket (it was in my wallet) I knew I'd left at either 4:30 or 4:45. Nope, sorry.

I stopped the bus driver and told him my story. My bus should be along in another 30 mins, he told me, and I should call the office. Been there, done that, fine. Thank goodness, literally, the man who'd lent me his phone gave me 20 Euro which I'd never accept except, well, what the %^("*%^" was I going to do for food and shelter?! I probably could've cried at that point, and only found out his name was John. I don't think he'll ever read this, but if somehow he does, well, John, thank-you. Anyway, 30 mins, OK, so, what could I do? I waited the 30 mins. A few busses didn't even stop. One of them was probably him. 45 mins. Not him. An hour. Not him. I went into the police station at this point and reported my stuff lost. Conveniently, it was right behind me. Also conveniently, a friendly police officer (Paul Reilly) was working. He filled out the report with me after getting my story, and called the bus company for me again. I told him that I was going to continue waiting outside before I officially filed anything, and he actually came by and talked with one of the uncooperative drivers at one point (who, then, became much more helpful).

Still nothing, until one of the busses that stopped had a man whose name I NOW know is Zil. A Lithuanian man, and he actually took the trouble to call the driver he suspected it was, on his cell phone. If their bloody office (Air Coach is the perpetrator, incidentally) had done that in the first place, I wouldn't be in this situation. Unfortunately, no answer, but then he called someone in the know at their company, Brendan. I told Brendan (through Zil) that I'd lost a bag with my wallet and camera, but never said anything about a passport. After relaying this, Zil turned to me and said, "with a passport?" Well, I couldn't have been happier. Yes, with a passport. It has been found, I was told, and is on the bus. The driver has it at the front with him and it is safe. "What do I do?" I asked very thankfully, and he said that I could wait here and see if I caught the driver before he went back to the airport, and if not, they'd call once he got to the airport and send it back in on another bus.

To be continued next time... when the internet cafe is not about to close.


Friday, November 18, 2005

The dinner before Dean left
It's been a busy two weeks and particularly a busy last few days. We said farewell to the Dean "Toronto" on the weekend with a night on the town Saturday and a nice dinner that he bought on Sunday. All of this did nothing but foreshadow my own departure a week hence and was made doubly sad as a result. The week itself went quickly. I hung out with the girls and Sofia as much as was humanly possible, went out for some more Counterstrike with Costa and Theodore, and it got to the point that the guys at Micro cafe knew what to bring me when I sat down... Sokolata Karamella. I also made it to the horio on Wednesday for one last stay. And I ate 20-some meatballs, which I'm generally not that fond of, but my Aunt Marina, well, they were good is all...

Loukoumathes are a healthy part of a balanced breakfast
The weekend came again, and my departure was looming, but it didn't really feel like I was leaving. Friday night I went out with Niki, Lee (for awhile), Sofia, and a bunch of their friends and we had a great time. Then Friday melted into Saturday and we all stayed home and chatted, ordered crepes, and watched TV, which quickly became Sunday where we had dinner downstairs with Diane and the wine flowed freely (they have some very tasty homemade wine, which is even better with an apple in it). And, actually, in retrospect I think Sunday was crepe night. In any case, Sunday became Monday, and I got all my last minute stuff done, sent a bunch of stuff home so I wouldn't have to carry it in my bag (I wouldn't have been able to fit all of it anyway), went out for coffee with Lee, Yanni, and Sofia, then went home and made baked apples while George made some loukoumathes. Mmmmmmm... and then, strangely, it was goodbye time, as I left early Tuesday morning. Thankfully, it didn't feel like it was really the last time I'd see them for who knows how long, so it wasn't as difficult as it usually is. It just didn't sink in. Then, back upstairs, where I was hoping to have us all sleep in the living room "like old times" but Kelly wasn't feeling great and Lee was tired, so Niki and I stayed up late and hung out before my last day finally ended.

The metro zips by
Tuesday morning I was up nice and early, well, wait, let me rephrase that, I was up early (there was nothing nice about it), and packed and ready to go. I woke the girls to say bye, we hung around and waited for my cab, and then off to the bus station. I was sitting on the bus, 8:25 (it left for Athens at 8:30) when my phone rang. It was Niki. I answered the phone as follows: "What'd I forget?". Turns out I had taken her glasses and left mine on the table. Oops! I asked the bus driver if he'd wait as I'd forgotten something, and then took off in a cab "polla grigora" and made the exchange, making it back at about 8:33. Then I was really off. To a bad start. The bus arrived at the metro stop in Athens 20 minutes late, 10:50, and when I took the metro towards the airport, I'd just missed the previous train and had to wait a further 21 minutes, meaning that the train didn't come until 11:35. Well, my plane left at 12:50, so I was assured an interesting hour and a half. I made it to the airport just after noon, checked in, and it turns out, made it with time to spare (about 5 mins) to my plane. Whew.

Belfast By Night
3 bus hours, 4 airport hours, and 5 plane hours later I was in the heart of Belfast, which even from the bus ride in from the airport seemed very beautiful. It was. I made it to my hostel with little difficulty, only a long walk and some drunk girl coming up to me, jogging on the spot, and saying "This is me jogging" in a heavy Irish accent about 4 times. I asked her friends where they'd would undoubtedly be an interesting venue. They didn't answer me, unfortunately, just laughed.

Danny Devenney in front of one of his murals
The next morning, I hit the town with a French girl (Virginie) staying in the same hostel, and we went and checked out the political murals painted all over the place, especially around Divis St./Falls Rd. We were really fortunate to actually run into Danny Devenney, the man who'd painted many of the non-violent political murals, and had a good chat with him and his friends. A very nice guy and after we talked I asked him if he minded me taking a photo of his murals and he got right in there which was cool. Speaking of cool, it was quite chilly, and we wound up going into a pub to get something warm to drink, but had to settle for something warming. A pint, that is. And then in come the regulars, most of whom, they tell us, have been drinking since 6:30 that morning. Right next to us, two Irish men sit, both ex-IRA members. I don't have to tell you it was a little interesting. If nothing else, it was a good conversation, though their extremist views didn't exactly mesh with my not-so-extremist views. I mean, the one guy had done nine years in prison for doing some bombings, and then he's telling me he lost his wife and kids, but that was because when he got out, although he'd promised his wife no more, he went back to it. He was one of the blanket wearers, too, apparently, meaning the prisoners who refused to wear the prison uniform.

Belfast City Center
Anyway, we left not shortly after, it really wasn't scary or anything, though it probably should've been, but they seemed to like us and we were willing to listen if not agree, so there wasn't really any tension. I continued walking around the city myself because Virginie had a meeting, and saw that the centre is quite clean and nice. The sun goes down early though, and before I knew it, I was taking night shots and my thumb had split because the air was sucking all the moisture from me. I bought some gloves at M&S and continued along photographing and admiring the beauty. I went out with some of the hostel staff (all very nice, here at The Ark) and other visitors for a pint or two across the street and after a movie, Red Dragon, called it a night.

The Giant's Causeway
The next morning I took a bus up along the beautiful Irish coast to Giant's Causeway. We passed many beautiful things that I wasn't able to photograph, but also stopped for a few here and there in some small coastal towns, at a castle, and at a lookout where there is usually a rope bridge but it had been taken down for the year. The Causeway itself, supposedly built by a giant who wanted to challenge another giant in Scotland is impressive but not so big as it looks in photos. Still very neat, and worth the trip up, especially because of all the other scenery en route. We also stopped at the Bushmills Distillery, which is the world's oldest licensed Irish Whisky distillery. The distillation process was interesting, but not so interesting as the bottling area. The place can spit out 180 bottles a minute and was a testament to automation. None of my furtive photos came out, but it was amazing. Then, of course, the tasting, which was quite, well, tasty.

Northern Ireland really is beautiful
The rest of that day was not too eventful, driving back in the dark, doing some stuff around the city, and so on, but I discovered that Franz Ferdinand plays in Dublin the next day (i.e. today) and so I decided to head out this morning to Dublin, which was next on the itinerary anyway, and go see them and some friends I have there. So that's what I'm doing. Hopping a bus in 40 mins and going to Dublin. I'm not sure the itinerary after, but probably over to Galway, down to Cork, then across to England. Time continues to fly, which is lucky because it helps take my mind off all the people I miss, which seems to be just about everyone at this point. Soon enough, at least, I'll be seeing a whole batch of you, though don't be mistaken, I'm loving it here too. But, I should go catch my bus and some food, see you soon! (pictures soon)

Time Warp

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Goodbye Rethymno
While I have noticed that time moves far more quickly in Europe than at home (perhaps owing to the greater rotational speed given its relative distance to the equator), what I have experienced since Sunday is nothing short of Einsteinian. Yes, Sunday, aka Halloween everywhere except here. Time warp related? I don’t know. It did seem, however, to drag on longer than your average slow Sunday. My first clue, though I didn’t know it at the time. Monday, I headed back to Hania, thinking I’d take the last highspeed off the island to Athens, and collect my iPod to boot.

Hania again (again)
I caught the bus Monday, noticing that the wrong time was on the ticket, but having no problems on the bus whatsoever, and I was back in Hania. Nikos was meeting me later that day, so I walked around Hania one last time, noticing that the stores were closing at 3:30. I thought that Niko had said 2:30 was when they closed, but maybe not. I had, incidentally, left my bag at the KTEL (bus station) so I wouldn't have to haul it around with me. Niko met me while I was having lunch, then we took off for another cafe up on the hill overlooking Hania. We went on his bike, and man was it cold. But the cafe was worth it, a very nice view and as it was by now nearing the end of the day, a great view of the sunset before we took off, though not without a couple really delicious desserts. A little alliteration never hurt anyone.

Nikos orders dessert
We traded his bike in for the car, stopped at his place for a bit (I thought of my mom or Aunt Joeanne in their house - I counted some 40 flies on the ceiling). His mom Raided them, however, and they soon started breakdancing on the floor, one by one. Then we pointed the car in the direction of the KTEL and grabbed my bags. They closed at 8:30, and the clock was ticking. Not to mention my ferry left at 9:00. We got there a little after 8:00 and there was a massive lineup because the attendant was unloading a bus. I discovered I had thrown out my papers saying that it was MY bag in there, falling apart, on shelf 14. This made me very nervous as I remembered the whole debit card debacle at Eurobank, and I was very tempted to hop the counter and get my bag while the guy was gone, especially since I was waiting in line for 15 mins and they seemed to go all too slowly and quickly at once. If I went at closing time to try to get my bag without papers, it would be too easy for them to tell me to come back tomorrow when someone else could deal with it.

Sunset on Hania
However, I resisted the temptation as I stood there nervously for far too long, though it did play on my nerves quite a bit. Finally the guy arrived at 8:20 and couldn't care less that I'd lost my ticket. Whew. Back in the car, we drove to the port at Souda, arriving at about 8:35, with 25 minutes to spare. I didn't have a cabin, just a deck seat, so I'd wanted to arrive a little earlier to get a good one (maybe missing a neighbouring armrest or with lots of floor space or something), but at least I was getting to the ferry with my bags. That said, for a day after the long weekend when all the cabins were sold and the ferry itself was supposed to be near full, there weren't that many people boarded when I got on. So I got a decent seat, though I should say for future reference that if you're travelling deck class, Minoan Lines are the way to go, not Anek lines, even if they're 5 Euro less. The Pullman seats, contrary to their name, require no pulling whatsoever to recline or sit up, making any attempts to sleep difficult as it shifted anytime I did.

No highspeed for me
I got a Mythos from the bar to help my cause and pulled out my book, The Cretan Runner, a first-person retelling of Crete's famed resistance to the Germans in World War 2, a very good story. I was hoping that, since I'd arrived with only 25 minutes to spare, we'd soon be under way and there's still be many seats available. 9:00 came, and then 9:10, 9:12, seats filling more and more, 9:20, and so on, until 10:00, when the ferry finally left. "An hour late," I thought, "ahhhh, Greece." Maybe this meaned I would be getting in an hour later to Athens, at 6 AM instead of 5 AM. So there was a bit of good news even though the deck had filled up quite a bit in that extra hour.

A good read
I was unable to sleep for more than 10-15 minutes. My eyes did grow heavy, I did feel tired, but to no avail. At one point, when one of the guys sitting closest to me abandoned his chair for a spot on the floor (he had his sleeping bag which I had stupidly left behind thinking I'd have no need for it) I was desperate enough to try the same. I took off my 'jacket' crumpled it in a ball on the floor and tried to sleep, but it wasn't quite comfortable or clean enough for me to try longer than 10 minutes before I gave up on sleep altogether. So I cranked the iPod, read my book, and we pulled into Athens at 6 AM on the nose. Exactly one hour late. At least they got that part right.

I took the metro to Omonia and wandered down the street to Agious Constantinos, where the bus takes people so inclined to the Bus Terminal. I got there at about 6:30, where a man who, well, let's just say had trouble speaking, grunted at me, making hand motions like a "T" for timeout, "10 & 2" for driving, and "Horizontal scrub" for no, I assume, tried to tell me something. Perhaps the busses were on strike, perhaps he was not quite all there, I didn't know. There were plenty of others standing around too. I asked one man, who said the bus would come at 7. I'd been waiting for 15 minutes and that was a long time to continue to wait, but I tried. The next 15 minutes went very slowly, punctuated by people smarter than me getting into cabs and leaving me wondering what was really going on. 7:00 came and went, then 7:05, and finally 7:10 before I decided and managed to successfully hail a cab where I was joined by an old couple. For only 3 Euros, I was at the bus station.

When I got my ticket for Tripoli, I was told that there was one leaving in three minutes. I looked at my watch. 7:30. Sure. I grabbed the ticket and ran to the bus, but looking at my ticket as I ran, I noticed it said 6:30. Hmm. I didn't have time to go back and tell the ticket agent she'd made a mistake, so I hoped the ticket collector wouldn't say anything. They didn't. I made the bus and I even had time to run to the WC quickly. As you may have guessed, however, my suspicions had long been raised about all this time tomfoolery, and I started to wonder if, maybe, there had been a time change. Living in Saskatchewan, you see, I've never experienced one. How would I know?

My fears were allayed only slightly when the clock on the bus matched my watch. My cell phone, which I thought was supposed to sync with the system automatically, also matched my watch. Still, something funny was going on. I managed about an hour of sleep, finally, on the bus. The road to Tripoli is quite different in the fall/winter, greener. More pretty than I remembered. Maybe that's just because my eyes were fuzzy. We finally did arrive in Tripoli, where we passed an outdoor clock on one of those farmacy green crosses proclaiming the time to be an hour earlier than and of my various time pieces indicated (had I checked my iPod, I would've got the correct time). I got a taxi and asked him what time it was, and sure enough, I had experienced the time warp. Which, if one looks back on this story now, is quite obvious and certainly didn't make the trip to Tripoli very easy.

I thought my time warp story ended there, but it didn't. As it is now Saturday (where did the week go?) I realize that I have only 10 days left in Greece before I board a plane to Belfast. If this isn't a time warp, I don't know what is. As for the rest of the week, it's been more of the usual Tripoli stuff. I did manage a few hours of sleep on Tuesday before the other Dean came and then Dean, Kelly, Sophia, and I went out for coffee. We also ran some more errands the next day and I've been looking for a tailor or outfitter to repair my backpack which would be really handy before I depart for Belfast. I'll probably spend a few days in the horio, since I haven't really seen much of Uncle Ted, Aunt Marina, Maria, Kosta, or any of their kids. I've also been continuing my Greek studies here to pass some time during the days when everyone is working. I imagine my next update will probably come to you right before I leave Greece. The Toronto cousins leave this Monday, too, so I'm sure we'll be seeing plenty of them and/or hitting the town this weekend. Now, I'm off to fight the warp. Wish me luck.

<Sunset on Hania Photos>

One Step East, Two To The West

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Some nice beaches here in Crete
Another week gone, another slow Sunday here in Greece, and as you probably already figured out given that you're reading it, another update. Last week, I finished my Greek classes on Wednesday. To give you some idea where I am, I just learned how to conjugate verbs in the past tense and other fun stuff on my last day. Which will be useful because I'm sure I'll have some stories to tell in Greek when I return. Presuming that I remember how, that is... In other news, I bought myself some plane tickets with EasyJet, so I now am officially leaving Greece Nov 15, stopping in London for a few hours, and then heading to Belfast. This should give me a week in Ireland and a week in England/Wales before I board that cold cold airplane on Dec 5 for the white fields of home. I'm shivering already.

The actual beach avec island
So, what's been going on? Well, Nikos, a really nice guy that runs a cafe in Rethymno, went to the beach with me a few times. That guy swims like a fish, but I guess living a five minute drive from a beautiful blue-flagged beach with few tourists and an island in swimming distance (barely for me!) will do that to you. The beach itself is worthy of the flag, pristine, and local, and this time I brought my camera so I could get a few pictures. I also went out for coffee a few times with Panaiota, my teacher.

Eleni, Nikos, and I
Thursday, I went to the cafe to see what Nikos was up to since we'd been planning to go out to Rethymno that day. His sister, Eleni, had come in on the early morning ferry from Athens and she was going to come with us. He also called Manous for me, a cousin of his in Rethymno, and got me a hotel lined up. Very nice guys, as I've said before. Then, since it was such a beautiful day, we did the tourist thing and sat eating salad and (in my case) drinking a nice big Mythos in the harbour sun. We went to the beach again that afternoon, I did a little strolling around the old town, and then I had a coffee with Panaiota. Panaiota, who really shouldn't have come, since she had some sort of food poisoning which I didn't know until she abruptly excused herself from the table to get sick. Then, I packed my bags up, grabbed some souvlaki and watched a bit of Shanghai Noon until Nikos and Eleni picked me up.

Mihalis Tsouganakis
We drove off for Rethymno, and I discovered when we arrived somewhere about 20km shy of the city that we were actually going to see some live Cretan music aka Μιχαλης Τσουγανακις. It was really good, he played whatever instrument that was (Laouta?) very well and the guy playing the Lyra was expert. I actually took a little (24MB) video which you can see by right-clicking and selecting Save As here. It's at full zoom from our table, so not exactly great, but there it is if you want it. Anyway, the night was replete with dancing, clapping, whisky, and more dancing. We left there around 4 AM and went out clubbing in Rethymno. By then, Eleni was justifiably tired and by 6 or so I was getting there, too. Then, we had some gyros, got my stuff from Nikos' car (I forgot my iPod in the front seat, though) and tucked into bed a little before 8 AM.

The old town in Rethymno
Friday I was awakened at noon to chanting from right outside my window. It's a long weekend here, Oxi (Oh-he) Day, celebrating, I think, when the Greeks pushed off the Italians in WW2, though the Germans weren't far behind. In any case, there were a bunch of kids out my window chanting and I was not exactly wide awake but I got to look at their costumes and that was enough of a parade for me. I strolled around the old town a few hours later, took a few pictures, and a nap. I went out again Friday night, but on my own this time. You have to be in a certain mood for this, and I wasn't, so I hung out for awhile and then went home. Saturday was much the same. More stores were open since it was a regular day and not a holiday, but it gets dull pretty fast around here. I bought myself a book about the Cretan Resistance called The Cretan Runner, that seems interesting so far, strolled around the town, sat and had lunch and watched the people walk by, strolled some more, and then sat and had a hot chocolate in a cafe and read a bit of my book. This may sound dull, and it can be, but that's sort of life around here, especially when you're in a strange city and don't know anyone.

Rethymno Harbour
Today is Sunday, as I've mentioned, and there's even less to do, so I'm forgoing the coffee and using the internet instead. Well, I still may go get a coffee later, it's only 3:30, after all. Tomorrow, I'm back to Tripolis via Ferry, though which one remains to be seen. I was supposed to meet Nikos yesterday but have no idea what happened, so I still have to get my iPod back before I leave. I've gone through enough of a withdrawl to write a song on my cell phone. If anyone has a Sony Ericsson phone with MusicDJ, they can try out this song/ringtone:

Drums - XX-07-15-15-15-15-16-16-16-16-23-23-24-24-25-25-26-26-25-25-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-32

Bass - XX-XX-09-10-09-10-15-16-15-16-23-23-24-24-31-32-31-32-31-32-24-24-23-24-23-24-24-24-23-24-23-24

Chords- 01-02-09-02-09-02-10-15-10-15-17-18-23-23-XX-31-17-02-17-02-17-18-24-24-23-23-10-15-23-23-23-23-08

Accent- XX-XX-03-XX-03-04-15-16-15-16-23-23-24-24-XX-XX-XX-XX-XX-XX-31-32-23-23-24-24-15-16-23-23-23-23

I hope that useless bit of transcription is useful to someone. If not, well, skip over it. I probably should've said that before rather than after, but you'll know for next time I guess. Anyway, I'm off to do... something. See you in another week.

<Rethymno Photos>

Mohos and Back Again

Sunday, October 23, 2005

So, another week has gone by. I'd like to report that I'm now completely fluent in Greek, at times even correcting other native speakers' grammar. I'd like to, but of course I can't. However, I now know when to use things like 'va' (pron: na) in a sentence, put verbs into the future tense, and play a new backgammon game called asodio. It was a good week in school in any case, and my class officially ends tomorrow, after which I have a few private lessons to make up for the fact that I started a little late in the week.

A shot of Hania just to fill space
For the week itself, there's not much else to say. Aside from my Grecian studies, I've gone out for coffee - by which I mean various flavour of hot chocolate - a LOT. Especially compared to my relatively cafe-free life back home. We (my teacher and I) play a lot of tavli, and as I mentioned, I've learned a new game or two. We also went to a cafe one night with a piano, and since it was dead (there were three other tables in the whole place, and it seats between 100-200 people), and of course I had to play a little bit. I also have been out for a movie once or twice in my weeks here, having now seen 40 Year Old Virgin (not that good) and Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (not that bad). I'm excited about this new Zorro I see is supposed to be coming out, I've certainly seen the old one enough times.

The weekend came, however, and I decided whatever else happened I wanted to get out of Hania for it and go somewhere. Since I probably wouldn't have another chance to see my cousins in Mohos, well, you already knew I headed there from the title. I rented a car Friday after class, checked some flight information here about getting to London (I've ruled out Egypt and will probably head to Ireland and then England/Wales a few weeks before hopping the plane home), and took off for Mohos.

The view on the way up to Mohos
It's about a three hour drive, but I had a bunch of new Greek music courtesy of my cousins up north to keep me company, so it went pretty quickly. Not to mention some beautiful night views, though I didn't take this picture until the next day. Incidentally, I'd like to buy some CDs here, and probably will buy one or maybe two, but they're _20_ Euros! That's almost $40 CDN. Or, to put it in a more universal currency, highway robbery. In any case, I have a bunch of music that I think my sisters (and hopefully dad) will like too. But once again, I digress. I got to Mohos and ate dinner with Maria and Ari, and then Maria stayed up with me and we chatted and played some more Tavli while watching who-knows-what movie with you-know-who and that Greek actor, Then Theimame. Oh, actually, I do remember, it's the one where Sean Penn is an autistic father fighting to raise his child. Pretty good actually, though now that I remember it, I don't think Then made an appearance...

Iraklion throws the ball in and the game away
It gets pretty chilly up in the mountains at night, and I was surprised again at the Greek weather. The next day, we went to watch Mohos play Iraklion, apparently the number one and two ranked teams in the league, and the game was in Mohos. The field is awesome, carved right into the mountain with a great view backing it from the stands. The game was not even close, and the home team took the game 5-0, but it was still entertaining, if only for the new Greek I was learning from agitated spectators. Not the sort of stuff you see written on a blackboard.

Soccer match amidst the beauty of Crete
I mentioned the cold, but midday, it was quite hot. I was wearing a sweater because the house was still cold, but on the field it must've been 28 Celsius. Beautiful! I did eventually decide that I should get some photos of the game just for fun, since the talent was skewed a little in one direction, and I wandered up to where some of the hardcore fans were sitting... on the old cliff that had been carved long before the new astroturf had been put down, not to mention the two-year old stands. It was definitely a soccer game in Greece, looking down on the field from the mountain amidst rocks, shrubs, and various degrees of evidence that goats grazed these same shrubs. That night we went down to Stalida, we were going to have dinner with Mina and Maria, but they had company they couldn't get rid of, so it turned out to be us. It was a nice dinner, and a beautiful night to drive back up - the moon was on the water and the lights of the coastal towns were lit brightly - so I got the photo which I'd wanted the prior night. My picture didn't turn out too well, but it's hard to snap a quick photo when you're sitting in a truck on a narrow road in the middle of the night. We tried, darn it!

Peeling fresh pomegranates
Today, Sunday, I went down to the cafeneio with Ari and Yanni (their son) and sat there with them for awhile, and at one point, without asking, the priest took off in Ari's truck which didn't even make Ari blink and I thought it was amusing to just see him drive off. He was back very shortly after, and then we headed home, and Ari came down with me to pick some pomegranates off the tree to eat. Then we all sat around peeling them, and the priest came by again and stayed for awhile. Very nice guy, but I guess you'd expect that...

Ari & Maria cleaning fish
I had to get going at some point, even though I was unsuccessful at removing the virus from Maria's computer (with the internet connection completely disabled, no Windows disc, and everything in Greek, it was a long shot from the get go, but I really did try), so I said my goodbyes and left after lunch and the Karate Kid (man, I love that movie!).

Now I'm back in Hania, I have a week or less of class left, and then I'm probably heading back to Tripolis to visit and pick olives or whatever else but mostly to see the family before I hit the skies. Speaking of family, if someone doesn't mind telling Aunt Soula, I have pictures of everyone over here up for her.

<Mohos Photos>

Han-ia Feel the Love?

Monday, October 17, 2005

My Hanorama shot of the old harbour

Old Hania harbour
Oh, hello there! I didn't see you come in. It's been a long time and I'm pleased to report that though my internet presence is perhaps waning as I become busier (and ironically have less and less of interest to report) my offline persona is doing just great. I had a bit of a thinkathon and decided that since my primary reason for coming to Greece this year was to learn some more Greek (well, there was no 'some more' in the original mission statement but that might've been a little too ambitious) I should go with the school route. Looking into schools, it seems there are three places where one can educate themselves in a short time whilst here: Thessaloniki, Athens, and Hania. You may recall my fervent dislike of Athens and my recent experiences in Thessaloniki or you may not, but in any case, the decision was clear. Hania. I would be on an island, in a beautiful city, and learning Greek. Case closed. Work, if I could find it, great. If not, well, at least I was doing something productive.

Dean & the girls
That decision made, I talked to the two schools there and got things as sorted as possible from Tripolis. Then I discovered that my cousin, Dean Katsiris, who lives in Toronto and I've never met, was in the neighbourhood, and Uncle Ted and Kosta came in for dinner with him, the girls, Theodore and Maria, and myself. It was a nice dinner at the Chalet not far from the girls' place. Then, we hit the town. Very interesting to meet Dean, he reminds me a lot of my other cousin, Dean. Katsiris. In BC. That one. Actually, I suspected his existence about a year ago, when I discovered upon googling my name in a poll for Stupidest Person on Earth (see poll and results) and traced the name of the person who put my name up to Toronto. Since I don't know anyone in Toronto, I suspected there must either be a Dean Katsiris there or else one of my other cousins had a runin. In any case, George Bush was already in an overwhelming lead and I decided that while I was in the running he was not going to steal another election, so I asked some friends and well wishers to vote for me and the rest, as they say, is history. This is THAT Dean Katsiris.

Kelly, Niki, and the Danes
Anyway, it was a little early, admittedly, so we went out to a cafe-bar and sat having a few drinks and watching Greece lose out to Denmark on its chance to get into the World Cup this year. Sofia AKA "Kinito Girl" came by and said she'd come out with us later, and somewhere in the evening, Lee's Yanni and a couple that I'd met once before joined us. We finally went out and went to the club where John & I had had such a great time when he was here. The owner seems to really love Niki (and who could blame him) and so we again got a reserved table given to us. Which we used for a spell until a few Thanos Petrelis songs (or maybe it was Polu Kala Lername) came on and then we danced.

Fortuitous timing as the lights come down
The dancing was in full gear, the platters were spinning as were the lights, as they tend to do here, when ours snapped off. It was a bit of a shock to have the light come crashing down on the table, as you may have guessed from this photo which I coincidentally snapped just as it happened. Kelly's reaction = priceless. Anyway, the moral of the story is we had a great time. As always, Tripolis was great. I got to spend a little more time with the kids this time, I babysat Theo & Maria one afternoon (Theo & I finished the girls' 1000 piece puzzle and Maria & I watched Monsters Inc) and I also took Theo out for a game of Counterstrike which I think he enjoyed. And of course, more coffees with Kelly (I won't mention the tavli, don't worry Kelly), more Pacino movies and late night chats with Niki, and introducing Lee to Strongbad emails and going visiting with her and her friends. Not to mention dinners with Diane & George, another stay in the Horio, and all the other day to day stuff that, well, I did say "not to mention".

Who broke the light?
After that Sat night I caught a couple hours of sleep and the bus to Athens, then the 2:00 ferry to Hania from Pireaus, which made it there by around 7:00. After a bus ride from Souda to Hania, Siba & friends picked me up and drove me to where I'd be staying in Stalos, which was quite nice of them. Stalos, and particularly Pano Stalos, is a nice quiet area about 10 mins from Hania and quite well connected by overflowing busses. Though I'm not in any way a morning person, there is something nice about waking up early, walking down to the bus past vineyards and looking down at the sea and the foggy mountains, hopping on a bus, and then walking from the station to the schools to get stuff done. Even on a Monday morning.

The morning in Stalos
It took a few days and some tests at both schools to see what my options were, but by Wednesday I was sitting in class with two fellow students, both retired, very nice people. Carlos is blind, or nearly I think, and that made things a little interesting, and Carrie is just an interesting woman in her own right. So interesting classes. I definitely am learning things and think that my own Greek school could've been so much better if only the teachers had at least used English to explain what we were doing and what things meant to a bunch of 6 year olds who didn't know how to answer the question "What is your name" and were supposed to be learning about passive/active voice, and so on. You know, that and if we weren't a bunch of 6 year olds who were ripped from our Saturday morning cartoons for four hours of hell that really put a lot of effort into NOT learning any more than necessary in that place.

More old Hania
So the school is good, and I've moved into Hania proper now with a little place that's right by the old harbour and amid the hubbub which I also like. The place itself isn't so great, but a very nice owner and a shower that consists, as many do in Europe, of a faucet dripping onto the bathroom floor. Mmm... cleansing. I've also befriended a few locals that are getting used to seeing my face. There's a cafe where I go a few times a week for a nice Greek salad and Coke (in a glass bottle) after school where I've gotten to know the owners and just this afternoon I went to a nearby beach with the owner's son. It's a nice place with an island that's swimming distance away even for this out of shape specimen, with some small and natural 1-2 m high 'cliffs' perfect for diving.

Me & the Germans
Also through Siba I've met some Germans working at the NATO base here, and I may go see a missle firing just for something different. OK, and because I'm kind of a geek, it's true. They're all very nice, and we've been over to Enrico's place (I know, doesn't sound German to me either) to watch movies and this past weekend we all went out to a bar in Platanias called the Rock Club or something like that. They have drums behind the bar which, on first glance, seems a neat idea, and then one of the workers starts drumming along to one of the songs and inserting really poorly timed fills (as in, finishing a whole BEAT too late) and then it gets annoying really fast. There was also a little bar dancing which I have some photos of but I'm afraid the girls got a little too out of hand for me to publically post those photos, put it that way.

And for no reason, a picture of Hania again
Anyway, that's in no means comprehensive, but I think it's enough. I really like Hania a lot and am happy I came down here. There've been good moments and bad, as with anywhere (like, for example, Eurobank (those #$%*()#$%#(*!'s) holding my card hostage, or arguments about the meaning of 'skase') but it's really pretty, nice, and still lively. I have another week or two of study and then I may head to Rhodes or Egypt or something (after visiting my family in Crete a little more) before heading back to Tripolis and then back home, with a stopover in the UK first. Oh yes, that's right, I should be coming home Dec. 5. So you will soon be free of the blog. Soon. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to sit in a cafe in the harbour and get some homework done...

<Tripolis & Hania Photos>