Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Katie Needs to Read
Which Book Goes to Greece?
Voyager (Book 3 in the Outlander series) by Diana Gabaldon
Dead Souls by Nokolai Gogol
Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon
A Game of Thrones (Book 1 in the series A Song of Fire and Ice) by George R.R. Martin
Villa Golitsyn by Piers Paul Read
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Have you lost your mind? These book choices suck. Something else entirely (but you have to comment and tell me what you suggest)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Progress. I Think.

Oy vey! Insead of actually working at work yesterday, I immersed myself further into Fodor's, then threw in some Let's Go Greece! to mix it up a bit (thank god for out of state conferences I don't have to attend - if not for them, I would have no chance of getting this trip planned in time!) Between the two books, I think I've decided on an itinerary, transportation and hotels to get us started. Assuming the hotels are available, of course. And that the roads actually exist like google says they do. And that they are traversable.

So I've put together some ideas and, while a few are crazy, most seem manageable. I'm going to throw some of them out there for feedback, suggestions, criticism and laughter. Remember, this is all very subject to change. I'm simply inviting you all in to take a peek at my personal madness.

First, a note on how we are going to travel on this trip. While keeping costs down is a consideration, my main priority is getting an authentic experience, which should, in and of itself, keep costs low. Now, getting an authentic experience over the course of twelve days (did I mention we extended our trip??) is impossible, but I want to immerse us as much as possible. No big hotels for us ~ we are staying in small villas and pensions. Bathroom in the room? Optional. I don't intend to spend more than 100 euros per night for a double - I'm aiming closer to 50 or 60, honestly. I'm looking for small places tucked into a centralized yet charming nook in the area where we are staying. Things that float my boat? Here are some quotes about the hotels that are catching my eye:

...the owner will happily provide you with his excellent homemade area hiking maps...

...a restored neoclassical mansion...within the walls of the citadel...boasting only 7 rooms for hire...

...breakfast (upon request) is homemade jams, ham, cheese, fruit and local honey...

...the owner's mother tends the lovely little garden...

Okay, are we in the mood now?
The locations I'm choosing for us to visit are a blend of the unfortunately necessary tourist trap locations (but hopefully we'll undertake them with a bit of non-touristy flair, you'll see) and a couple of spots off of the well-worn path. Luckily, it seems so far that, in comparison with some of the other spots I've visited recently, Greece itself is less traversed than most of Europe. Of course the islands are out of control party-insanity, but I'm going in expecting that. Apparently, mainland Greece, other than Athens, has been somewhat forgotten. Am I wrong?
Places we are going:

Ben, if you are reading this and want to be surprised (you DO want to be surprised, by the way, it's much more fun) click away from here NOW!! I mean it! Go away!

Day One:

We arrive in Athens at 9am. Ben's foremost preparation for this journey is the securing of the sleeping pills. I usually doze mightily on flights, but I might just be overly excited this time. We will need the rest. It's a seven hour time change and as soon as we step off of that plane, we are going.

I decided, after all, to rent a car. With the extra days, it makes the most sense to take our plans (and our lives) into our own hands rather than risk the possible hideousness and expense of a (gasp) package tour. So I've got three requests out there for local car rental agencies for bids. We (or rather, Ben, since I don't have a license any more) will be driving 5.5 hours that first day to Ioannina (way north).

Here's the problem I'm having right now with that drive. Thank you very much, Google. Anyone speak Greek? Hello?

See, Ben's other pre-trip responsibility (aside from drug acquisition) will be to get that elusive International Driver's License. The Internet says it's easy. I supplied him with the address for AAA. It's in his hands now. Which is quite scary.

In Ioannina (assuming we make it), we'll stay at the Hotel Kastro (that's the 7 room neoclassical mansion within the walls of the citadel. That reservation is confirmed ~ someone there speaks English, yea!) and I think we'll have dinner here.

To do in Ioannina:

  • Take a small boat to the island Nissi, where the womanizing, violent Ali Pasha tried to hide from the sultan's men in a priest's cell. He (Ali Pasha, not the priest) was shot from downstairs while he was hiding upstairs, shot through the floor. The building is now a hotel and the boards with the gunshot holes are on display. The island is supposed to be a prime spot for an evening stroll and the last boat back to town is at midnight.

  • Enjoy the International Festival, which takes place in this town the first two weeks of July each year. What that entails, we shall see. Dancing, maybe? Greek music? I hope so.

  • Eat Kalmaki. I don't even know what that is, but I think it's something sweet.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Getting It Together

Surprise! Here I am with an out-of-the-blue trip to plan and a travelogue to create and update. After much (apparently effective) prodding, Ben announced to me three days ago that he'd purchased tickets for us to rendezvous in Greece in celebration of our 5-day holiday in July. (IlovemynewcompanyIlovemynewcompany!) We're out of town for 10 days and I only have to take 3 days of vacation. How awesome is that?

Greece! Coolness! I totally pulled the idea of Greece out of my butt one day while chatting with Ben, as we rounded the construction on that building in Columbus Circle, the one that's going to become the new Museum of Art and Design someday. Who knew Ben was even listening? Who knew he was interested in Greece? Lesson learned, happiness ensues, but now I'd better figure out what Greece is all about. Like...where exactly to visit...where to stay, you know, all that little stuff.

If you have insight, please insight me! I ordered Fodor's Greece (but there are no photos! Ack! Need better book!) and some book about Greece on a budget that I haven't even cracked yet. I've gotten totally lost in this site and can't figure out if it's more of a travel review, a blog or advertising.

Ben has "0" interest in helping me plan our itinerary ~ which is just fine by me. I like this sort of thing.

We pretty much have nine days in Greece, flying in and out of Athens. Here are the places I think we should go (in no particular order):

Athens. Of course.
Daytrip to Delphi
Mykonos Island
Daytrip to Delios Island
Hydra Island

The first problem I'm having now with logistics is how to get to Meteora. Meteora is for me, the site where the monasteries perch on precarious ledges in a place as rural as can be and entirely photogenic. It's about 4 hours from Athens by road. The private taxi tour quote was 600 euros. WHAT? Say that again, WHAT?? That doesn't even include lodging! No, no thanks, Mr. Taxi Guy; this strange recommendation from that site I mentioned above is what leads me to believe that it might just be a gilded advertisement, because that's ridiculous.

Since driving in Greece requires in International Driver's License (how long would that take to get?) and I can't even manage to replace my US license after seven months, let's dismiss the notion of a rental car at once.

I've contacted a tour company about what appears to be a private 2 or 3 day guided tour of Meteora, just for the two of us at a much more palatable price. But Hellas had better contact me back soon or I'm just going to have to figure out the train system.

Anyone have hints about trains in Greece?

As you see, I'm trying to plan for some time on the Islands. I know some people go to Greece just for the islands, but we're not those people. Mykonos is reputed to be the Party Place, the go-to island for drinking heavily, sunburning and meeting other tourists in various states of undress. Ben would never forgive me if we missed that; monasteries for me; check! topless beaches for Ben; check!

Delios appears to be a big batch of ruins and rocks, perfect for a day trip on a boat. I'm hoping for a really scroungy, kinda smelly fishing boat. No, really! The leakier the better; it makes for superior blog fodder.

Hydra is the donkey island (no cars allowed!) and sounds like a prime post-Mykonos hangover antidote. And my life will not be complete until I ride a Greek donkey.

Delphi is where the ancient oracle sat. Maybe she can offer some advice on this grad school stuff.

I don't know how we're going to fit it all in, but keep clicking over and we'll find out. Suggestions are highly appreciated!