Friday, April 30, 2010

When life hands you a spewing volcano, shrug and say “Opa!"

When one travels from Sevilla to Madrid, there are three options for transportation (assuming you don’t have your own car). You can take a plane, train, or a bus, listed specifically from most to least expensive. Considering Chantel and I have more time than we do money, we opted to take the 6-hour bus ride to Madrid at the beginning of Feria week (our spring break), with the plan of getting on a flight to Paris after a 5-hour catnap in the Madrid airport.

Taking the bus saves money. In this case, taking the bus also meant being completely unaware that a volcano had erupted in Iceland and was spewing out particles everywhere.

Accordingly, we were a little shocked to hear the news the next morning when we checked into our flight. We had no idea that a volcano had occurred, and more importantly, we were completely unaware of the magnitude of its atmospheric vomit. So, when the EasyJet employee with very strange eye make-up told us that our flight was rescheduled for the next morning, we frowned and said, “One less day in Paris.”

That one lost day would turn into an entire lost trip, and to make this blog less lengthy (and more focused on the fun stuff), I will try to relate more succinctly than I normally would what occurred after:

1. EasyJet sends us to a hotel nearby, telling us that we have a room and will stay there for the night, on them. We wait for about an hour for the hotel shuttle, only to discover that we’ve been waiting in the wrong spot. We move, get on the shuttle, and arrive at the hotel.

2. Our names aren’t on the list at the hotel. What’s more, they don’t even have any available rooms, and have no idea why our airline sent us here. Chantel loses her phone at some point; the details of how this occurred remain unknown.

3. We get back on the shuttle and scurry to the airport, and they send us to another hotel, this time located in Coslada, Spain. To let you know how small and insignificant it is, let me just say that Jenny McCoy, who is studying IN Madrid, has never even heard of it.

4. Thankfully, this hotel actually does have rooms. (Although, not surprising, the town has nothing to offer.) We sleep the rest of the morning and early afternoon away (at that point we had only gotten roughly 4 hours of sleep in 30 hours), and then meet up with said Jenny McCoy for a wonderful afternoon and evening in Madrid.

5. By the next morning we’ve realized that we have no chance of flying to Paris within the next 4 days, but still have to check into our flight at 5am so that EasyJet can’t sabotage us. While I wait in line to try and get a refund, Chantel decides to look for the cheapest flight leaving from Madrid that day…We were desperate at this point, just wanting to get the heck out of the airport. (If you don’t remember, we had experienced another bad taste of Barajas upon our initial arrival in Spain.)
6. Chantel returns, tells me she’s found one leaving for Athens, Greece later that day and asks what I think. I momentarily think to myself, “Well, this is certainly going to be the most spontaneous thing I have ever done in my life” before shrugging and replying, “Let’s do it!”

It wasn’t until I actually got ON the plane 4 hours later that I realized something: I don’t know Greek. I don’t really know anything about Greece. The tiny amount of knowledge that I do have comes from the 2002 movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (Great movie, by the way.) Furthermore, we have no idea where we were staying in Greece, what we should do in Greece, how to get around in Greece….you get the picture. However, instead of freaking out, I turn to Chantel with the airplane magazine full of the completely foreign Greek alphabet open on my lap and say, “Chantel, we are SO spontaneous.”

We arrive in Greece, and make friends with a nice old man who tells us what train to take to get into Athens. In the metro, we encounter many Greek Guido’s and furry unibrows, and try to figure out a little bit about the Greek alphabet. (Pointless endeavor) We find one hostel, decide we don’t like it (actually, I decide), and then move into another one. For the first time in 3 days, we get a full night’s sleep.

The next day, we decide to take our map of Greece and hit up as much of the monuments as we can. We end up visiting:

- Hadrian’s Library (built in 132 AD)
- The Arch of Hadrian
- The Parthenon
- The Acropolis
- The Theaters of Herodes Attius and Dionysus
- The Temple of Zeus
- The Temple of Athena
- The National Gardens
- The Parliament Building and the Changing of the Guards (hilarious)
- More whose names I have forgotten…

[Chantel and I in front of the Parthenon.]

One of my favorite places that we visited, however, is slightly less famous and doesn’t have any ancient columns. It’s called Melissinos Art, and it’s a sandal store run by a published poet. Accordingly, he calls himself “The Poet Sandalmaker.” Celebrities from around the globe have come to get a pair of handmade sandals, including Jackie O and John Lennon. He has 27 basic styles to choose from (I chose style #2: Aeolian 2), which he then custom-fits to your feet. It’s amazing to see him and his employees work; at one point, I pointed to a part of the leather strap that was uncomfortable, and he removed the entire thing, took out a knife, and cut the (already thin) strap precisely. Definitely worth 25 euro.

[Us and the Poet Sandalmaker himself!]

After a full day of sightseeing in Athens, Chantel and I were ready to take advantage of our vacation in a more typical spring break manner. So, we changed our flight, bought ferry tickets, and were off to Santorini, a little island south of the mainland.

Santorini is gorgeous. It’s picturesque. It’s the image I get when I think of Greece: white churches with bright blue roofs on a cliff side overlooking the Aegean Sea. It’s actually a caldera, a volcano whose magma chamber has collapsed, and so now resembles a giant bowl. Since it is so beautiful, pictures describe the island better than I ever could.

What we did:

- Visited the old port and hung out with two stray dogs, whom we named Nico and Toula (there’s that Big Fat Greek Wedding influence again).

[Our big Greek family at the Old Port.]

- Rented ATVs (Chantel did the driving, I did the sitting) and explored the island.

[Look Mom, I wore my helmet!]

- Sunbathed at a couple beach cafes that have lounge chairs (while drinking strawberry daiquiris with little Greek flags in them).

[Me swearing allegiance to a new country.]

- Ate great food. Greece has great food. Souvlakis (basically a stuffed pita sandwich), Mousaka, stuffed peppers and tomatoes, Greek yogurt with honey, tzatziki…it was all delicious.

- Went to Oía to watch what has been voted “The Best Sunset in the World.” The movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was filmed here. We saw Lena’s house!

[You can't tell, but Chantel and I are doing a swagger picture in honor of our friend James Bistolarides]

We got a few extra hours in Santorini because the ferry workers went on strike, but I didn’t mind. I loved Santorini, its charming architecture, its beaches, its weather, its food, and its people. In reality, one volcano had made us visit another.

Spontaneity has never been such a rewarding experience.

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