What is it about transit days?

Invariably, transit days are always a horror show. Angus and I were both flying out today – Angus back to Aust and me heading back to the UK, so we packed ourselves up early, went for a quiet breakfast where we ran into the fabulous Holly who was so absolutely exhausted but had dragged herself out of bed in the hope of running into us. <3

Took an Uber (got a cab, again) to the airport which was uneventful (so long as we ignore that this driver also got up to well over 130 kmph), and then walked into what can only be described as one of the most chaotic airports I’ve ever seen… rivalled only by our arrival in Moscow perhaps at Sheremetyevo Airport in 2018. At least there were some masks in the BA queue.

Anyway… turns out all the One World Airlines were in one section and Angus’ Qatar flight, leaving 30 mins before mine, was happily in the check-in counters right near my British Airways one. The websites for both airlines said that check-in would be available from 3 hours before scheduled departures, so we joined our respective queues. I was about 7th in line to get checked and the check-in was supposed to start in about 5 mins. Angus was about 40 deep in his queue but it was already moving as he joined towards the back. I stood there (*right about now, I can’t remember whether I have mentioned just how much my pain levels were ramped up atm… I literally can not stand for more than about 3 minutes before I find myself shifting from foot to foot, pain shooting from my feet to my hips, my knees feeling like they’re going to collapse out from under me and of course I’m inevitably failing to breathe because pain does that to you), with the understanding our queue would open shortly and I would get checked-in relatively quickly – only problem with my cunning plan was that the British Airways staff didn’t seem to have read the, ‘three hours before scheduled departure’ memo and about 25 mins of standing later, I was starting to feel really fucking desperate. I could see Angus moving up in his queue while mine hadn’t moved. He texted that he’d get his stuff checked in and then come and stand in my queue for me, but I was like ‘holy fuck I better not still be standing by the time he’s checked-in’. But, you know, transit days being nightmarish at the best of times, of course I was still waiting when he got through his queue! He took my space while I limped off to the side looking desperately for somewhere to sit. I was on the side long enough to strike up a conversation with a nice Canadian man on his way to Baghdad who was calmly reading and thinking his Royal Jordanian flight wasn’t open for check-in yet but as soon as I pointed out the queue behind us, he ran off and no doubt discovered he was now running late.

Finally! BA check-in opened at 2hrs 20mins before the scheduled departure (fuckers!), and it was at this point that the generic BA monitors above the check-in counters switched to say “London Heathrow – Checked In Online” and “Business and Priority Customers” queues… and wouldn’t you know it? For some bizarre reason, the One World Sapphire, Emerald and Ruby were showing up as being able to use the Priority Lane and I needn’t have stood in line at all. 🙁 Bees dick from tears and collapse at this point. As predicted though, barely five minutes after the check-in opened, Angus was up the front on the queue and I limped over with my passport.

Got checked in and the woman behind the counter asked me if I was okay (What gave me away… the hunched over pained posture? Or the flushed face with tears forming in the corner of my wincing eyes?). I replied that I needed to rest and now I had two hours before my flight so I’d be fine – which is when she mentioned the stairs. My flight was leaving from a ‘remote terminal’ which is a euphemism for taking a bus to the middle of the tarmac and climbing a steep flight of steps to get on the plane. Oh FFS. I had to say ‘No. I can’t do steps today.’ :/ So she insisted I get an airport assistance person to lead us through to the gate.

I took up my seat again and we waited for the assistance person – policy is they won’t just give us a chair and let Angus push me through screening etc, I had to wait for them to have a staff member spare… and nothing about Athens Airport was screaming ‘competence’ or ‘well-staffed’ on this day. There was another young woman waiting for assistance also – she wasn’t in pain, but had her foot in plaster and was hobbling on crutches so they were making her wait for help too due to the stairs. Eventually… like about 45 mins of sitting around… someone turned up with two chairs and attempted to push us BOTH at the same time through customs and security. It was shambolic – he kept running us into people and nearly into walls while Angus was trotting on beside us and could have easily guided one of us. :/ Some policies are just stupid.

To their credit, we found ourselves through security and customs in very quick time, Angus’ gate was off in another direction and I barely got to say a quick goodbye and squeeze his hand before I was being propelled towards my gate where I was unceremonious left 50 mins before my flight… which left one hour late. 😐

It was during this time where I was left twiddling my thumbs that I received a handful of WhapsApp messages that basically told me my driver that I had booked to take me to Aylesbury was ditching the job… oh dear, it’s almost like he had belatedly discovered the planned rail strike (the same one I had a heads up on some two weeks earlier) and decided to ditch my booking in favour or screwing some desperate traveller who suddenly found themselves without options to get home! What the fuck, man? I made the booking days ago, it was fully paid for and now the driver is trying to say I gave them a different postcode? Seriously? The postcode I gave them in Aylesbury is the ONLY damn postcode in the entire UK that I know! So I’m pretty sure I didn’t give them one only 18 miles away and not the 44 miles I needed to travel. So didn’t need this aggravation.

Got onto damage control real quick and made alternative arrangements with Stephola and figured I’d fight it out with the transfer company fora refund later. The motherfucking dodgy personal transport industry strikes again! Le sigh. Eventually got on the plane and, as I said before, our flight left one hour late – most of which we spent sitting in our seats waiting to get a new space in the queue to leave… air travel is definitely not what it was pre-pandemic. So much rolling of eyes, and even more ‘hurry up and wait’ than ever.

My flight was thankfully just how you like them – uneventful. British Airways has slunk the way of Jetstar and other budget airlines though… not even a cup of tea without whipping out your credit card if you happen to be seated in economy; which is kinda sad. They used to be a pretty reliably good airline.

Arrived in Heathrow, and unsurprisingly, no one was there to assist me as I was promised on the other end so I limped my wait through border control, baggage collection, out eventually out through a two minute stop in the duty free to fix my driver up with two bottles of interesting gins (It was the least I could do on such short notice)… out and straight away I received a message from Stephola saying she had just parked. Thankfully my luggage made it, and thank God for Steph – there’s not many I happily pick up at the airport, but Steph will always have a lift from me forever. <3

A quick hug, and out of the city we head to the comfort of the village… ever such a long and painful day. Further reinforcing why, 1) we do NOT sightsee or go touristing on transit days and 2) we always, (always!), travel with our drugs on our person not in our checked luggage!

Operation Extract Covid Boy is GO!

So, as per the aforementioned Plan, we start getting everything in place and I can’t wait to put fucking Russian-bogan Gold Coast in the rear view mirror! We check out from the hotel and are waiting in the reception area (yay, belatedly back on the functioning internet), for our driver. I get a message in garbled English and immediately think, ‘Oh fuck, please don’t ditch the job!’ Hmmm… my lack of faith in passenger transport companies is showing. Angus and I are carefully inspecting everyone who pulls up outside or walks into the hotel reception. Angus is like ‘Is that him?’, ‘What about that guy?’ But my finely tuned sense of ‘what drivers look like’ goes, nope, nope, nope…and finally ‘Yep! That’s him. He’s got the finely tuned bod of someone who spends their life on their arse in a car eating whatever crap they can pick up on the way – never mind, we are just thankful he’s turns up.

Traffic promises to be a right pain in the arse, but at this point, I don’t care – if the driver had failed to turn up all the rest of the plan falls on its arse and I’d be trying to cadge an Taxi for a 71km trip, in a country that doesn’t have Uber. Part way through our transit, just as we are leaving Montenegro and entering Croatia, Angus gets an email from the Montenegrin Health Advisory letting him know his PCR test is definitely positive and could he please let the know what his symptoms are. I’m not paying much attention to this (and I’m not sure he responded?), but the boys message us on WhatsApp and tell us they got the same email. Oh well, onwards to Croatia we go.

We get to the apartment that we booked near the Dubrovnik Airport around 2pm and Angus immediately crashes in the lounge – He’s happy because the internet is about 20Mb and I’m happy, because I finally get a room to myself with an independent air con system, so we are finally able to take our masks off for a few hours. The view from the balcony was particularly lovely, and while it might be a nice spot to spend a weekend if you were totally self contained, there are zero restaurants or groceries anywhere nearby and once more we are on the second floor so I’m being maddened by flights of steps yet again. Angus finally gets hungry enough to go off in search of someone to order a pizza for him… and our B&B host happily assists him. The pizza was pretty good actually – though I am sick of eating bread (I rarely eat bread or bread products at home and it’s making me feel just ick). At some point in the evening we realise the A/C is pretty shit and it’s actually now cooler outside (wasn’t when we arrived, it was 39C), so we throw open all the windows and try to get a cross breeze going.Next morning, being Sunday, now that Montenegro is in the past and we are in the far more civilised country of Croatia, we call an Uber and make our way to the airport. Out AirBnB host assured us it was a tiny airport and there was no reason why we needed to be there two hours early as the lines are always short. She was wrong and we are glad we ignored her. Angus stood in line with all the mouth breathers in his mask and I waited on the sidelines for us to get to the top of the queue to get some boarding passes for our extremely expensive flights. There was barely a mask to be seen in here which is kinda infuriating… but we kept ours on. Waiting at the gate was an experience I really hope never to replicate. I had the misfortune to sit myself down beside a young Australian guy – roughly about Angus’ age, and I couldn’t help but hear his conversations – firstly on the phone with his girlfriend, and then with his mate. I was disgusted to hear how they were talking. The guy was on his phone speaking with a woman who was obviously his girlfriend, and he was all, “I miss you and I love you so much, I’m being so good while I’m away babe… Brendon, though, Brendon is being a total man-whore, but not me!” He was cloyingly saccharine and sounded completely insincere from where I was sitting, (though that may have been coloured by my inherent dislike of people who speak at annoying loud volume in public spaces). Anyway, he gets off the phone with the GF and starts talking to his mate, who I am going to presume is Brendon. Brendon proceeds to show him a picture on his phone of a table full of good hearty Mediterranean food and was saying, “Man that was an awesome meal, so fucking tasty even though I threw it all up later. Haha!” Urgh… I’m surprised they couldn’t feel the disdain oozing from my pores, but I guess that would mean they’d have to pull their own heads out of their arses long enough to notice there are ‘other people’ nearby. Next thing Brendon is pointing across the gate and saying, “Oh fuck, don’t look, don’t wave, it’s Emily and them, I don’t want them coming over here. Look at them – fucking nerds in masks and shit.” … breathe Robyn, breathe… they’re not my responsibility. Then Brendon with the Food Photo says to BoFriend of the Year, “I can’t believe she’s wearing a mask when she was happy rawdogging you all last week! Hahahaha!” BFotY then jabs Brendon in the guts and says, “Don’t you ever tell anyone about that, ya cunt.” And they carry on a bit more like that as we are boarding the aircraft and they decide not to get up and wait in line like ‘fuckwits’, but to cut in when the girls they are trying to avoid make it towards them. Ugh. Two more gross young humans I could never imagine… I bet their parents are so proud. 😐

Anyway, I digress, we wait at the airport and eventually get onto our Aegean flights and thankfully it looks like our luggage is coming with us.

It’s probably quite a nice view if the windows were cleaned, like ever. Aegean isn’t the worst airline I’ve flown, but it’s definitely not my first choice – our other option though was to fly Turkish Airlines and go Dubrovnik > Istanbul > Istanbul > Athens, so here we are. Athens Airport – greeting us with a n information point that was a decidedly unhelpful Google search page. We didn’t have too much trouble getting through customs though we were vaguely wondering whether Angus’ Covid positive status was attached to his passport at all given he’d had to provide it as ID when he went for the PRC test. At some point while we were in the air, the Boys back in Budva and Angus all receive an email telling them they need to isolate for seven days?! WTF Montenegro??? You can’t PCR test someone on a Friday and then tell them on a Sunday they can’t go anywhere… that advice probably should have been given at the time the test was administered! Now the Boys in Budva were starting to make noises of serious buyer’s remorse – they were possibly going to be stuck there for an entire week, and were wishing they’d bailed with us!Customs was okay, I managed to limp through to baggage claim and thankfully our bags had made it with us (yeah, the faith is really gone on that one, thanks Lufthansa!). We then find ourselves ordering an Uber – I still feel dirty every time I do it, but here it turns out most of the Uber drivers here are in branded taxis anyway – so I guess it’s at least one way of knowing exactly how much your trip is going to cost you before you get in the car. We give him the name of the hotel in Athens, it’s about a 35-40 min trip and I sit back thinking I can relax for a bit… we’re nearly there… we’re nearly there Until we hit the highway and I think, shit ‘we’re going pretty fast’ and look over and see the driver is doing well over 140kmph in a 100 zone! I double check my seatbelt and make sure Angus has his on before grabbing my camera to take a snap. I manage to just grab a pic just as HE’S SLOWING DOWN TO 130KMPH TAKE AN OFF RAMP. Fark.. no wonder you only had a 4.87 rating, Besian! Somehow, perhaps by magic or the gods finally taking pity on us, we make it to our hotel without incident and check in. And immediately I feel half my stress melt away – this is immediately followed by a conviction that this is now when I’ll get sick for sure. Running on cortisol and adrenalin for the last couple of days has not been fun; now I’m stopping, that’s when it’ll take me down.

We get into the room and immediately make ourselves at home by moving all the furniture around so that my bed is as far away from Angus’ as possible and our heads about 4m apart when sleeping. We send Mr K a proof of life pic and then back on with the masks and a well deserved nap. In the interim at some point, Mr K has googled up the hotel and found out it has views to the Acropolis, and sent me a message asking if we can see it: Like, literally my head is beneath the window in question, but I had zero energies to get up and check.
We spent Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights in the Athens Hotel. Angus was feeling quite a bit better and hadn’t had any fever since a slight temp Sunday morning… while I was going slowly mad wondering when I was going to come down with it.

The hotel was good, we had breakfast included in our rack rate but I’m not a big breakie eater so I had my cup of tea and some fruit for breakfast, and I pulled out the old backpacker habits and managed to squirrel away bread, butter, ham, cheese, boiled eggs and feta each morning so we didn’t have to worry about lunch. Also got to know Wolk really well (Greek MenuLog) and had some nice souvlaki and grilled skewered things ordered in at dinner times.

So here we are staying until Wednesday when the transfer hell will start all over again.

Postcards from Greece… Santorini

Got up early this morning and head over to Santorini – there was lots to do and lots to see, but honestly, the pictures of this place almost speak for themselves…!

Finally a picture where we are able to get far enough back from the Royal Princess to fit the ship into the shot!  This is one huge ship, and this is what it looks like form 700+ feet up.Santorini 1 Three options to get to the town of Fira – 1) by cable car, 2) walk up the windy path to the top, and 3) take a dodgy donkey ride.  Most of our group opted for donkey, and lots of fun was had.  We were considering walking down, but the smell of donkey shit in the heat is not for the faint hearted!Santorini 4 And then when you get to the top – it’s all just so picturesque.Santorini 5 Santorini 6 Santorini 7 Santorini 8 Santorini 9 Santorini 10 Santorini 12 This is not painted on – all appearances to the contrary!Santorini 13 Santorini 14 Santorini 15 Santorini 16 Santorini 17 Santorini 18 Santorini 19 Santorini 20 Santorini 21 Tomorrow – a much needed sea day…

Athens – where all the cool gods come from

Woke up this morning feeling tired and exhausted (a combination of too many port days in a row and sleeping on NotMyBed), and with an 8 hour organised tour ahead of us that was meeting at 7:30am  :/  I am so not a morning person anymore.  The weather looked beautiful, if a bit hot – 34C and 35% humidity – and I was looking forward to seeing how much had changed since I was last here in 1995.

We debarked the ship around 8am and hit the road from the port in Piraeus, heading straight for the Acropolis – in the vague hope of beating both the crowds and the heat.  We managed to beat the crowds pretty effectively – but the heat?  Well, that just proved inescapable today.  The Acropolis and the Parthenon are one of the most spectacular monuments of ancient civilisation, so of course I came here on my last visit to Greece, and I remember very strongly what struck me most about the city on that trip… it wasn’t the ancient monuments, it wasn’t the incredibly detailed and interesting history, it wasn’t the famous hospitality of Greeks – it was the god damn smog!  Athens was so horridly polluted back then, that the entire city looked like it was covered in a greasy brown unpleasantness, that came with an equally queasy awareness that you were breathing that shit in!

Today however… gorgeous!

The amphitheatre – designed to hold approximately 45,000 people, the Acropolis amphitheatre is very impressive and with it’s restored and reconstructed seating, it is a popular place for modern concerts still. Look at that view – no smog at all… clear all the way to the port and the mountains in the other direction.  I was seriously impressed at what a pretty city Athens is now.  And all the buildings so low – no high rises.  I think part of me expected it would have gone the way of many other large cities and be dotted with ridiculous 50 storey buildings, but the average building height is 4 to 6 storeys only.

After climbing 80 steep and slippery marble steps, you reach the main west entrance gates, called the Propylaea, to the right of that is the Temple of Nike – goddess of Victory.

Of course, we climb to the top and find the west face of the Parthenon under scaffolding, and it is the nature of touring these ancient sites that the restoration process is never ending, so while it is always disappointing to see the scaffolds, it is good to know that they are preserving these monuments for future generations.But were very pleased to see that conservationists are obviously doing things one end at a time and the east face looks splendid.
If you look carefully under the edge – you can see what looks like Lego brick markings…?  What’s that about? Porch of the Caryatids. Beautiful work on the capitals. Always impressive.
After we left the Acropolis, we did a drive by stop at the original Olympic Stadium that was built to host the competitive sports of 1896, and is where the Olympic torch passes for every modern Olympics. It was quite a beautiful stadium, but we were unable to go in, so from there we went to the Temple of Zeus which we had seen from the Acropolis.  The Temple of Zeus originally had 100 of these enormous columns holding up an gigantic roof, but now only about 17 remain.  It is not hard to imagine how impressive this building would have been with it’s large number of columns (even taller than those of the Parthenon) and large indoor space. The kids were getting a bit restless with all this stuffy old history – so I asked them do build us a cheerleading pyramid.  🙂  On short notice, I think they did great! One of the columns was on the ground in broken form, which was in itself very interesting to see.  From photos you can’t always tell how the columns are constructed, and as one of the kids pointed out, they had always thought the columns were in one big piece of stone, but here you can see how they are carved to fit together and taper correctly for stability.  It was interesting to see this deconstructed column laying down, looking very much as if it were left where it had fallen.  After this a quick drive around Constitution Avenue to see the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – complete with funny be-pom-pom’d tap shoes.  We were on the half hour, so saw them perform their little routine.  It is a cross between the US Marines doing a change of the guard at Arlington Cemetery and Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks.  Seriously.  Google up a Youtube video – you’re sure to find one, they look very odd. From there we went to the Agora – which represents the old Greek marketplace (late used as a Roman forum) where trade and commerce would be executed in the city centre.  There is spaces for worship, spaces for commerce, spaces for retail and trade.  There were also places of regulation here – someone to regulate coinage and stop counterfeiting, someone to regulate weights and measures, someone to regulate even the size of tiles made for construction.  Obviously since time immemorial, retailers and merchants have been trying fun and interesting things to rip off their customers, and vice versa!

After all our traipsing about, we found ourselves having a leisurely lunch of way too much good Greek food – salads, mixed grilled meats, various tasty entrees, and we were served up so much food, we literally had an entire plate of meats left over that were probably going to end up being fed to local dogs.  Seriously – I thought American portion sizes were huge, they seem to have copied their ideas of ‘reasonable’ serving sizes from the Greeks!

Lunch all tidily squared away we head off to the Plaka Markets for the afternoon.  My memory of the Plaka Markets was a vibrant quarter of the town on the south side of the Acropolis with loads and loads of souvenir shops, clothing stores, jewellery stores and all sorts of exotic delights.  We got there this afternoon though, and things seem to have altered dramatically.  Gone were all the stalls and over-friendly shop keepers chasing after you insisting you have broken their heart by walking on past their shop… and in their places seems to be cafe after cafe after cafe and a few spares shops thrown in.  And mostly tacky shopping at that.  This once living shopping district now seems to feel the best way to extract $$$ from tourists is through their stomachs.  So sad really.

I also noticed that Athens has changed in other ways too.  While the city seems cleaner in the air, and on the ground (didn’t see a single mattress or toilet cistern on the side of the roads!), high youth unemployment has yielded an inordinate amount of graffiti on nearly every building.  There is so much graffiti, that it would appear the authorities have given up on attempting to remove it.  It is seriously sad to see beautiful old buildings covered in painted tags.

All up we had a marvellous day out in Athens, though we are all foot sore, hot and tired at the end of it.  Tomorrow – hopefully we can set a slightly slower pace.  🙂

Beautiful Mykonos

“Set within the lapis blue Aegean Sea, the Greek Island of Mykonos is a dazzling gem of a destination.  Dating back to antiquity, sophisticated Mykonos maintains its old-world charm, welcoming visitors with blue- domed churches, whitewashed houses and golden sandy beaches.”  And that ladies and gentleman is Mykonos in a nutshell.

We arrived in Mykonos this morning – sun is shining, sky is blue, sea is sparkling, breeze is lovely.  It’s perfect.  The ship organised a shuttle into town (a shuttle which btw actually drops you about 1.5kms from town, but so be it), and there we find a winding maze of cobbled stone streets that make up the village of Mykonos.  Apparently the original design of the town’s layout was to confuse pirates – but for tourist the winding little narrow corridors that pass for streets in Mykonos provide a beautiful backdrop of white and blue to the cute little town.  We got to town quite early – seemingly before the patrons of the Rhapsody of the Sea that was also in town for today (they were tendering, we had the only cruise ship dock) and managed to have a goo look around before the place got too busy.

Mykonos has only one major historical/archeological point of interest and it is the ruins at Delos on another nearby island which date back to 3000BC.  You can get to Delos by ferry but we were warned that weather could make returning a bit unpredictable given the strong afternoon winds the island gets.  Mykonos is simply beautiful, though, as you would expect, way too touristy.  With streets lined with jewellery stores and items for sale that cost almost as much as my house – you can tell this island, (along with Corfu, Crete and Santorini), is one of those playgrounds for the truly rich and famous.   One of the first things we saw on entering the harbour was a long row of beautifully appointed luxury yachts, which makes you wonder about the people able to enjoy that lifestyle.

Familia restaurant… Flowers, white wash, blue paint, lovely lovely lovely!  Must be in Greece! I think I saw this in a coffee table book somewhere…