Archive | October, 2009

A Night at the Theater

22 Oct

I’d like to preface this post by acknowledging the accomplishments of the greatest team in major league baseball: The Philadelphia Phillies.  After many a sleepless night devoted to watching live streaming video of games on mlb.tv anywhere from 3am to 7am, along with the occasional radio broadcast on my iphone should the internet be out, I’m proud to call the Phillies MY team and excited to return to that wacky nocturnal schedule in a week when they begin to defend their World Series Championship!  Gotta love them Phils.

Moving on…

Anyone that knows me at all knows that I love love love musical theater.  Anyone who knows me at all will also know that my all-time favorite movie is the absolutely wonderful and fantastic “Singin’ in the Rain”.  So upon hearing that a stage production of Singin’ in the Rain was to be visiting Athens for a few performances, it should be no surprise to anyone who knows me at all that, of course, I rallied the troops and bought tickets to the show.  Last night began my relationship with the theater world of Athens.  Don’t worry, New York, I haven’t forgotten you.  Quite the opposite, really.  I just need a few good stages to understudy for you while I’m abroad.  I’ll be back, New York, I promise.

I went with a few friends last night to the opening night performance of Singin’ in the Rain, put on by a British theater company (i.e. the production was in English, phew).  The Badminton Theater is new and large, and quite a nice venue to see a performance of any kind.  Throughout the upcoming year, they will have touring productions of Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Evita, among others.  There was a buzz in the air as we walked in the theater, which was absolutely packed to the brim, and we, having arrived just a few minutes before the 9pm curtain, made our way through the crowd to our seats. On our way, we noticed hoards of cameras.  What’s going on?  A celebrity?  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I experienced my first celebrity sighting, Greek style.  We discovered through the translated grapevine that this man, resembling a Greek Kevin Federline, studded sweatshirt and baseball cap included, was a famous Greek singer (I’m assuming pop star.  He didn’t strike me as the opera or classical type.).  Sarah was pummeled by a cameraman trying to make his way to this singer, who I’ll refer to as Yannis.  His name was not Yannis, but out of my sheer ignorance for Greek celebrities and the fact that Greek men actually have more than one of a handful of names, I figure there’s about a 40% chance it’s Yannis, so why not?  Yannis was enjoying a photo op, getting interviewed and basking in the adoration of his many fans, and we, the oblivious Americans, figured that going to opening night must have been a smart move on our part.

The show started over a half hour late, and as the overture began, the floodgates seemed to finally open and people poured in, trying to scurry to their seats.  The musical was good.  Nothing can compare to the movie and the genius of Gene, Debbie, Donald, and Jean, but there’s really no use in comparing.  The plot was slightly altered (minor details mostly), and two songs were added.  The Don Lockwood character sang the famous lines to “Singin’ in the Rain” in Greek, which got a rowdy applause, and it was cool to see just how world famous this musical is.  One major problem?  These British actors didn’t do such a great job mastering the American accent, and the show was a constant struggle between American/British/Scottish accents.  The Greeks probably didn’t notice, figuring English was English, and it made me realize just how horrible we Americans must sound when we try to impersonate the Brits.

A few cultural differences:

1.  During intermission, there was no line for the bathroom.  Everyone was too busy smoking outside.

2. People started leaving during the curtain call.  I found this to be rude and extremely disrespectful, and it actually made me angry to see these people walk out on hard-working actors who just spent the last 3 hours busting their tap shoes to entertain them.  I’ve come to terms with the casual dress code that the theater has come to accept, but walking out on the curtain call?  What’s next, talking on your cell phone throughout the performance?

All in all, it was an enjoyable night, and I’ll be back at the Badminton as soon as I get a chance.  For now, I have to go.  In just a few short hours I’ll be on a plane to Ireland for the next 6 days.  Not really sure how to say goodbye in Irish speak.  I know it’s not Cheerio, so I’ll just say Lucky Charms instead.

Island Adventures

13 Oct

Santorini is one of those places where you see so many beautiful, perfect pictures of the place that you know once you get there you’re going to be let down.  And then you get there, and…you’re not.  In any way, shape, or form.  Instead, you’re snapping tons of photos by the second and getting frustratingly disappointed when your photos don’t do the real thing justice.  Santorini is one of those places that’s better than the storybook fantasy.  Where every nook and cranny is more quaint, picturesque, and breathtaking than the one before it.  Where the people are friendly, the food is delicious, and the views are unbelievable.  The water is clear, the cliffs are overflowing with white and blue churches and homes (with the occasional pink or yellow or green building thrown in for dramatic effect), and the sheer beauty of it all is hard to grasp.  Santorini is one of those places you just have to see in your lifetime, and you’ll get it.

After our rocky arrival to the island, we settled in and set out for dinner, getting willingly lured into an impromptu wine tasting at the back of a small shop along the way.  Our dinner lasted hours…and hours…and hours.  Santorini is famous for its white wine, and so we ordered a liter at dinner.  The wait staff decided that, once we finished that liter, we absolutely needed another one…on the house.  We did not protest.  We finished that liter.  They noticed this, and set another liter down on the table.  “On the house!  Must drink up!”  Hmm, we were pretty full at this point, but who are we to argue over free wine with Greek waiters?  Somehow, we managed to finish this liter, except for a small amount, thinking that we could deceive them into thinking we weren’t yet done, and thus wouldn’t slam down another at our table.  Turns out, these waiters can’t be fooled so easily.  To counter our deception, they poured the rest of that liter into our glasses, and then brought out a fresh liter and distributed that one evenly among us 5 girls.  Suffice it to say I lost track of how many times this ended up happening, but I remember having the urge to pee like I haven’t felt since Oktoberfest 3 beer steins in, and walking back to the hostel delightfully happy to be on this glorious island.  Followed promptly by all five of us splayed out in every which way on the small beds and passing out.

We spent the next 3 days on the island exploring and enjoying the perfect weather (and I have the tan to prove it!).  We picnicked on the famous black sand beach (Santorini is basically one big volcano–it’s an island, duh–that curves around an active volcano), hiked down to a red sand beach, rented a car and somehow managed to stuff 6 of us in, which for a small European car is quite a feat, and drove to the top of the island to see ancient ruins.  The drive up to the ruins consisted of a winding, steep, narrow, zig zag road along the edge of the cliff with no guard rail and only the honking of a horn to alert you to oncoming traffic.  Visions of the car flipping over, flying through the air thousands of feet, and plummeting to the bottom of the Aegean Sea, with the six of us scraping our fingernails helplessly against the windows, made the drive up a little hard to swallow, and when we finally parallel parked at the tip top, I was in disbelief that I had survived.  The ruins were from an ancient civilization that settled atop the island for means of protection (after our trying experience to make it up there in an automobile, it makes sense why nobody ever attacked them), and created an entire city for themselves consisting of churches, a theater, a bath house, social areas, and houses spanning the economic classes.  It was definitely a sight worth seeing, and the view wasn’t too shabby either.  And, as much as I was dreading it, the drive down was much easier than the one up.

Another day, four of us took a ferry tour to the active volcano and walked up to the top, seeing the craters, feeling the heat of the rocks, and smelling the sulfur the whole way up.  Apparently, this volcano’s first eruption caused the entire advanced civilization (complete with modern inventions that our society did not discover for ourselves until thousands of years later) to vanish underwater.  Scientists believe this lost civilization to be Atlantis.  And here I am thinking it was somewhere off in the Caribbean.

Once the ferry took us back to the main island, we docked in the old port and took DONKEYS up to the top (the entire population of Santorini resides atop the cliffed island, and so cable cars, winding taxi or bus rides, or donkeys transport you to the top, unless you’re up for quite a steep hike though donkey shit).  We had been looking forward to the donkey ride since we first planned on visiting Santorini, and so we were more than pumped.  We figured out exactly who should hold each camera based on how we’d be in the line of donkeys, so that each of us could get enough shots of ourselves on our donkeys.  The donkeys had another idea in store for us.  While we assumed that the donkeys would be led by a man in an orderly progression, in reality we were thrown on donkeys, and the donkeys just went on up those steps like it was nobody’s business.  They nonchalantly cut other donkeys off, causing your knee to get awfully close to being wedged right up into that other donkey’s ass, or your foot to kick an oncoming donkey in the face, and couldn’t care less about the people walking down.  I always felt bad when my donkey (who I named Derwood, after Andorra’s nickname for Darren in Bewitched) made a beeline for a pedestrian, but there was really nothing I could do except say sorry and keep trotting along on Derwood’s back.  Though really, I don’t know why anyone would walk up or down those steps.  Going down on a donkey would be terrifying, but that’s exactly why they have cable cars and shuttles.  The entire path of stairs is covered, COVERED, in donkey you-know-what, and it is utterly disgusting (which is why you can understand how fearful one becomes every time there’s a chance of knee-ass interaction).  I loved riding the donkey, Derwood and I grew quite close, and I will forever think fondly of him, but I was quite relieved to jump off and stand on solid, albeit shit-covered, ground.

I also went cliff jumping.  Yes, I know I talked about jumping off a rock into water in a previous post about another island, but now I’m talking actual cliff jumping.  Like 15 feet drop cliff jumping.  It was awesome.  I actually felt suspended in the air for a longer time than I thought I would, and the smack into the water was not what I expected, but it was exhilarating and wonderful.  As we were jumping, these young Albanian guys were also taking the plunge, and a little competition ensued (one that I was NOT a part of…my graceful diving skills are, well, not graceful, nor are they skills, and I did more of a flailing pencil dive than anything else).  Sarah was a diver at Stanford, and so after all these guys figured they were bad-ass, she surprised them with a few flips.  They were impressed, understandably, as were all the other bystanders laying out by the rocks.

After 3 days on Santorini, four of us took a ferry to Ios for the final two nights of our vacation.  Ios is considered the party island of party islands, packed over the summer with smashed Brits and Aussies looking for a good time (and not being disappointed).  Summer season had finished the week before we arrived, and it was dead.  Completely.  But it was nice, really.  It felt like our own secluded island, and we hiked and kayaked to a few hidden beaches and walked through the tiny maze of streets, getting to know all the local characters, including the mangy dogs.  We stayed at the best hostel, not only in terms of personality, but the view was fantastic as well, and met some really cool people from all over.  The first night we stayed out until 5am with 5 guys from Seattle who were staying at our hostel, the British van driver, and the Scottish DJ/bartender from the hostel.  Despite the island being dead, enough people surfaced at night to keep the bars reasonably crowded and full of excitement.  It was a pretty great night, followed by a pretty not-so-great morning, but a day lounging by the sea isn’t a bad way to nurse a hangover brought on by free drinks, so I won’t be one to complain.  I loved Ios, and Sarah and I made a vow to return in the summer and experience the island in all its glory.  We were even considering holing up there for a few weeks in July/August.  Anyone in the market for a few American barmaids?

Tuesday was spent on a 10-hour ferry ride back to Athens, made enjoyable by cramped spaces, hysterical babies, and pubescent girls who, to our delight, have not yet discovered deodorant.  Memories of the Seinfeld B O episode drifted in and out of my mind as I tried to sleep on the rocky boat with my sweatshirt covering my face.  By 2am I was back at my house, and within minutes I was passed out on my bed, clad in the clothing I had been wearing and sweating in all day long.

Such is life.

Forget smiling. Being accosted by strangers.

7 Oct

There are two things one must always do when being approached and threatened by an abrasive, angry, shaking, hairy, scooter-driving Greek man (and possible pimp):  1) defend yourself and fight back with all your might, and 2) get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.  So when an abrasive, angry, shaking, hairy, scooter-driving Greek man (and possible pimp) approached and threatened me at the bus stop in Santorini, making me fear for my very life, these two things are exactly what I did.

To back up, I had a week off from work due to swine flu, and so a few friends and I planned a trip to the islands.  We were a little worried that, what with it being low season now and the temperatures dropping, this wouldn’t be the most opportune time to island hop, but figured we didn’t have many other options.  We have not yet applied for our residence permits, so we can’t leave Greece, and because the ferry can take a while to get to Santorini, we really wanted to take advantage of this long stretch of vacation, rather than wait until next summer and cram the island into a short weekend.  So we hoped for the best, caught the 7:25am ferry on Thursday morning, and sailed into Santorini 7 hours and quite an uncomfortable deck nap later.  We had booked a quaint hotel in Oia, in the north of the island, for the 2nd two nights we planned on staying there, but were looking to stay in Fira, the main town, the first night.  Upon arriving at the port, we were accosted by hoards of Greek islanders, touting signs and pictures of their “legitimate” hotels and apartments, not so much asking us if we were interested, but more so pulling us and telling us blatantly, “you have 5 people?  OK, you stay with us.  Come.”

Wary of these locals trying to take advantage of innocent tourists, we swatted through the sign-carriers and made our way into a little tourist center to get advice on where to stay.  Note to those who wish to travel to Santorini.  DON’T DO THIS.  Turns out, this tourist center is not a tourist center at all, but rather a scheme, just like all the signs, except that these schemers were able to rent a little room to give a more valid appearance to their shady business.  Not realizing this, we “booked” a room, coughed over the 12 euro each, and waited for the private coach to take us to our palace.  Within 10 minutes, we were shoved into a taxi, driven by someone not affiliated whatsoever with the “hotel”, and taken to our abode.  Once the taxi drove away, we were left completely alone on these grounds, if a dirt blotch of land with a shoddy white building sitting atop it can be called grounds, and left to find rooms 114 and 115.  Sarah, Claire and I begin settling into our room, when Elyse comes in to tell us, just to be safe, to check our beds for bed bugs.  Lo and behold, what do we find?  No, not silk sheets, but nice guess.  Bed bugs.  So we call the guy at the port.  Suddenly, he doesn’t speak English.  So we call again.  Now it’s someone else.  So we call again, and the cell phone service is bad.  Everyone is trying to be polite, and he’s clearly taking us for all we’re worth, hanging up and the like.  We say we want him to come up here.  He can’t.  We say we want a refund.  No can do.  We say we want the room cleaned.  He says move to another.  All the rooms are dirty, we say.  Not true, he claims.  We say we checked.  Check again is his reply.  Claire, ever the Midwesterner, is being as nice as can be, and Mr. Shady Hotel is taking full advantage.  Kristin, meanwhile, searching the other rooms, meets a lovely Albanian chilling behind a fence.  (Can anybody say kidnapping and sex trafficking waiting to happen?)

At this point, I either just want to cut my losses and find another hotel, or get the guy up here.  We’re getting nowhere on the phone, and I can’t take anymore kind gestures on our part answered by being disconnected or getting hung up on.  So I take the phone.  After watching my Mom for 22 years, I’ve learned a thing or two about being assertive and using that “squeaky wheel gets the oil” technique, and I go into full swing.  I tell him the room is dirty, and he says he’ll be here in two hours.   I say there is absolutely no way we are sitting around in this dirty shithole for two hours, and that I know the next ferry doesn’t arrive for another 6 hours, so he has no reason to be down at the port.  I tell him we are his only clients, and it’s his problem, not ours, to deal with the issue.  He says it’s not his problem, and he has clients at the moment.  I call his bluff.  He gets angry, and begins to yell, telling me to switch rooms and get over it and he’ll be here in two or three hours.  I say this is absolutely unacceptable.  He says that’s my problem.  I say I will tell everybody I know, and write online reviews, about the horrible hotel he is NOT running, and guarantee no guests in the future.  (I have no basis for making this guarantee, but come on, I was on a role.)   He hangs up on me.  I throw his bug infested comforter out the window.  Kristin throws another bug infested comforter out the window.  Elyse flips a bed.  We take the keys, lock the doors, and leave, throwing one of the keys over the fence to the Albanian (hey, he might get cold in the middle of the night, maybe he wants a place to sleep) and the other in a bush.

We call a few hotels listed in Lonely Planet, and arrange a pick-up at the bus station.  And this pretty much brings us back up to speed.  As we are standing at the station, with all our bags, waiting patiently for Manos, the driver for the new hotel, a scooter rushes up next to us, and a man starts screaming.  He had demons in his eyes and fire in his voice.  Seriously.

“WHY YOU DO THAT TO MY HOTEL!?!?”

“Excuse us?”

“WHY YOU DO THAT TO MY HOTEL!”

“It was dirty.  There were bugs everywhere.”

(At this point, he recognizes my voice, and this is precisely when the weight of his body tilts the scooter in my direction, he points his fat finger at my face, and begins yelling at me, and only me.)

“GIVE ME MY KEYS!”

“I don’t have your keys.”

“GIVE ME MY KEYS!  WHY YOU DO THAT TO MY HOTEL?  That is MY hotel!”

“It was dirty.  You should keep your hotel clean.  We’re not staying in a dirty hotel.”

“So you throw everything outside?”

“We threw a dirty comforter outside.  When something is infested with bugs, you don’t want it sitting in the room infesting everything else.”

“THAT’S NOT MY PROBLEM!  GIVE ME MY KEYS!”

“That is your problem. It’s your hotel.  And I don’t have your keys.”

“WHERE ARE THEY?”

“At the hotel.”

“NO THEY ARE NOT!”

“Yes they are, you told us to leave them there, we left them there.”  (This is all technically true.  He just never specifically said to leave them in a bush and with the Albanian squatter, but…details.)

At this point, he’s off his bike, and nearing me, as I’m backing up faster and faster.  He’s shaking furiously, and I’m holding steady.  Go me.

“You don’t get your money till I get my keys.”

“I don’t even want my money, just keep it.  Now leave me alone.”

“I want my keys!”

“They’re at the hotel.  I don’t have the keys!  You said to leave the keys and we left the keys!  You can check my bag!  Wanna check my bag?  Here, check it!  I don’t have your damned keys!”  (I open my bag, a gesture to show him I don’t have the keys.  Clearly I wouldn’t actually let him stick his grimy hands in my purse if he really went for it, but again…details.)

“SHOW ME MY KEYS!  OR NO MONEY!”  (He points at his little fanny pack.  At this point, I was nervous that along with the money, there was a knife or small gun in this fanny, so I back up more speedily.  I’m halfway down the street from the bus station now.)

“I don’t want my money!  Take it!  And leave me alone!  I don’t have your keys!”

“Come with me and get my keys!”

“Absolutely not!  You’re scaring me, and I’m not going anywhere with you!”

“Fine, just come with me now and get me my keys!”  (He grabs for me, I back away again.)

“NO!  I’m not going anywhere with you!  You’re scaring me!  Get away from me NOW!”

While he’s still yelling bloody murder, I begin walking away with Sarah, but the others won’t budge.  They want to reconcile things.  I don’t see a point reconciling anything with a crazy motherfucker who looks like he wants to drink my blood for dinner, but they think differently.  Sarah and I grab our stuff and hurry away, ultimately hiding behind the urine-scented public bathroom.  Kristin calls us.  She and Claire have gone to fetch the keys, while Crazy Face Killer waits with Elyse and their bags as his hostages.  Sarah and I nervously wait.  Finally, in true Hangover style, Kristin and Claire meet Crazy Face on the street, the two girls holding the keys, Crazy Face holding the money and Elyse.  The exchange takes place, and we get 60 of our 70 euro back.  We didn’t think we’d be coming away with our lives, let alone our money, so considering all in all we each lost only 1.50 euro, I’d file this afternoon as a success.

While this altercation at the bus stop was taking place, poor smiling Manos drove up (if only the timing had worked out a little bit better, we’d have been off with Manos before Crazy found us, but we’d also be 60 euro poorer, so you’ve got to weigh the options, I guess), and Crazy Face yelled at him in Greek what we can only assume was a warning that we crazy Americans will destroy his hotel.  Manos was kind and waited for us, not believing him, but after a while had to go to pick up another client.  We decided it was best to stay at a completely new place, since Crazy Face, upon scooting away, barked at Kristin and Claire, “You stay at Villa Manos, yes?”  We weren’t trying to die in our sleep.  As nice as Manos was, he wasn’t worth risking our precious little lives.

And so began our picturesque vacation of sun, sand and island fun.

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