Athens, June 20-21

We're currently on board the "Blue Star Ithaki" ferry for the 4½ hour ride from Athens to Tinos Island. The very large boat, complete with escalators and multiple snack bars, is a seething mass of Greek humanity. Somehow we have excellent reserved seats in a quiet lounge -- probably a result of booking well in advance, a luxury we won't enjoy very often on this part of the trip. (We preplanned only the first 6 days, plus a portion of Morocco in September.) All four of us are fiddling on our laptops, although the kids are disappointed that the ferry's wireless internet isn't complementary.

Athens was just as advertised: hot, busy, loud, polluted, and chock full of really interesting ancient sites and museums. We enjoyed the Acropolis & Parthenon of course (photo 2), although it was overrun with tourists. The Temple of Zeus (photo 3) was an uncrowded favorite. The National Archaeological Museum was excellent although Jennifer and Emily, whose museum attention span is much shorter than Alex and Tim's to begin with, had some severe bouts of jet lag starting around the 20th room of ancient statuary. (Overall, jet lag has been very minimal considering the 10-hour time change.) The kids got into souvenir-shopping gear, although Tim must be coming of age -- he declared the endless identical shops in the tourist area "just junk," while Emily still insisted on inspecting each one.

Our hotel was excellent, and we had no problem diving right into our trip policy for cities: eat a huge breakfast at the hotel and then snack our way until dinner. Speaking of dinner, wow is the food delicious! We ate at the same place both nights, instituting another trip policy: When we find something we really like, don't hesitate to repeat it.

It feels a little different embarking on a trip of this length. Jennifer is an organization and routine freak to begin with, and traveling for so long inspires a new level of packing & unpacking strategies -- Jennifer's cup of tea for sure. It also inspires a new level of strictness on size & weight of purchases at those "just junk" shops, a policy we've yet to fine-tune to everyone's satisfaction. (As always on our trips, the kids get about $1/day allowance for souvenir purchases, which they manage themselves.)

Now for the challenges: Poor Emily! The cold that arrived on departure day blossomed. She had a lot of trouble with her ears on the plane flights, to the point that many rows of passengers were offering their ear-clearing tricks. By the end of our first day in Athens she'd developed an eye infection too. Fortunately getting antibiotic eye drops was a snap, and her cold is much better in all respects today. Meanwhile her questionable sandals yielded a nice suite of blisters (but so did Jennifer's) and her brand-new hiking shoes have also gotten mysteriously tight. As a grand finale, at a low moment we ducked into Starbucks to get Emily a frozen drink and she gashed her ankle deeply on a table leg. Greek Starbucks clearly have lower furniture standards than American, although according to Emily their caramel frozen drinks are better -- though considerably more expensive.

Speaking of money, the very low dollar and Greece's adoption of the Euro means Greece isn't nearly the budget destination it would have been a few years ago, but it hasn't been as bad as we expected. Overall, Athens is surprising us with how easy and "civilized" it is: drinkable water, modern subway, and nearly everyone we've encountered has been very helpful and speaks very good English. Apparently Athens came a long way for the 2004 Olympics, and it shows.

In other news, we found our first two geocaches of the trip, and we spent a fair amount of time in phone stores: Jennifer's cell phone worked fine when we popped in a Greek SIM card. However the second phone we purchased for the trip -- a tiny Panasonic worldwide pink thing that looks like a toy -- worked about as well as a toy too. We'll jettison that one and use Alex's much-loved Blackberry as a backup phone for now.

Look for the next travelog in a few days from the islands.


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