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5/26, 5/27: Days Zero and One, San Francisco to Zurich to Athens
Josh was nice enough to drive Caroline and I to the airport, so I dropped my luggage off with her the day before and then took my carry-on to work with me. Walking around on the ferry with this completely monstrous-sized bag was funny; people at work looked at me a bit strange when I left early looking like I was going on a backpacking expedition. I took the bus to Caroline and Josh's apartment (man, that sounds weird), and helped my packrat sister pack.
Caroline packs. Doesn't she look happy?
Somewhere in there we decided we needed to go to Border's, she to return a book and me to buy a copy of Follett's "Pillars of the Earth," as that was my chosen book for the trip and I couldn't find my own copy. (It's a really awesome book that follows a family of masons through the building of a cathedral. Aww yeah, historical fiction.) Somehow, Caroline managed to piss the hell out of a woman driving in front of her (who had committed some evil sort of traffic deed), and as we drove through the parking lot, this woman got way carried away and started sitting on her horn and flipping Caroline off through the window, for the entire duration of a stop light. It was magic.
So, eventually we made it to the airport. I somehow misheard the gate number, and we ended up way outside SFO's International Terminal and in the area where the shuttles take off. Um, okay, go Alison, making everyone walk around with these tragically heavy bags for an extra 10 minutes. Yay! Anyway, we made it to the right terminal, and our first deed was to exchange money. We each got about 17000 drachma (~$50), and marveled over how pretty and cool the money was. Drachma are weird in that there is both a coin and bill for 100 drachs, and they are both in wide circulation. After that, we ate at this little weird place (is there any restaurant that isn't weird in the airport?) called "Patio Cafe". Since I was still having problems swallowing (remember the strep throat incident?), I got nachos (please don't ask for rationale here; there is none). Caroline had taco salad and Josh ordered much more food than he could eat. Yay.
Caroline and Josh have tearful goodbye. Alison watches and thinks about her hamster. (She was to do this a lot during the trip; it was a way not to get completely frustrated with the millions of times Caroline moaned about how much she missed Josh. Talk about giving Alison a jealously complex! Caroline missed Josh, so Alison missed Pumpernickel. How sweet.)
La la, sit in terminal with a bunch of people who are looking at us funny, get on airplane, sit in the window and middle seat (Caroline made me sit in the middle seat on both 10+ hour flights. Fair, eh? Well, I got back at her on the bus in Greece!), next to this pretty cool older guy. He wasn't mean or crotchety or anything. Sleep on plane. Wee. (For the record, we took Swissair, which Caroline says is not nearly as cool as Virgin. The one nice thing -- you get lots of free Swiss chocolate!)
Arrive in Zurich. I was so extremely excited to be in a foreign country, but I was also falling on my face exhausted. We first went to the transfer desk (something weird that you had to do in this country if you wanted to go to your connecting flight -- it's like, but different than, check-in).
Some nice Americans from our flight take a pic at the transfer desk. We feel like death.
Then we went to wash our faces in order to wake ourselves up and came across the first super-weird Swiss phenomenon -- many women in a bathroom for no reason. We couldn't even open the door to the restrooms, because these women were just HANGING OUT in there. They weren't waiting, they weren't primping, they were just in there. We had to wait 10 minutes for them to exit. It was really quite odd.
Caroline takes this opportunity to make herself beautiful for the Swiss men. This, of course, is after all 2000 women left the restroom.
After freshening up, we had ice cream for cheap in this cafe downstairs, and then wandered around the airport, eventually stumbling upon Compaq's free Internet corner. While standing in line, we found out that the people behind us were from our hometown, San Rafael. We chatted with them about the fact that Swiss people don't smile much, which I believe is weird, even if they are polite -- can't you be happy and polite at the same time? I chalked it up to a bunch of people being angry at Switzerland's neutrality. Anyway. :)
Sit in terminal, talk to strangers (per Alison's usual), get on plane, fly to Athens.
I have one thing to say about the Athens airport: yellow. The signs are all yellow in the non-Olympic airlines terminal (they have two: one for Olympic and one for everyone else), so the place practically blinds you when you walk through the door. While we were waiting for our luggage, Caroline got into a talk with this other couple, who had recently completed a tour with the same group we were using, Contiki. They told Caroline that Contiki actually weighs the luggage, because there is a strict 44 pound limit (and in SFO we had learned that mine was 34 and Caroline's was 54. Someone here was having problems decided what to pack... can you guess who that is?) Caroline freaked out. Alison said she could transfer stuff into her bag, which soothed the beast. We got out luggage and walked out to the taxi queue.
Our taxi driver, I now know, took us to our hotel the long way. But, watching him drive was completely fascinating. People in Greece turn 3 lane highways into 5 lane highways. They all completely ignore the concept of the lane divider and the turn signal. They have their hands constantly pressed to the horn and the brights lever, getting ready to warn someone who might veer into their lane to STEP OFF! It was almost like being in a boat, driving to the hotel. I was really fascinated with the city, which looked unlike any I had been in before. Seeing signs in Greek, and feeling the warm wind in my face (at 2am their time), was wonderful. I was really happy to be there, even if I was at the mercy of a scary cab driver. (I asked him what he was listening to on the radio, as it was some guy talking Greek, and he said, "He's talking about the Jesus Christ." It was really weird to me to think people in this formerly extremely polytheistic area were listening to Greek Orthodox preaching.)
The one cool thing about the taxi driver is that he told us what stuff was. He pointed out the Acropolis/Parthenon, and the Parliament building, where he pointed out the guards who, much like in the UK, have to wear funny outfits (these include skirts) and stand for long periods of time without moving. When we got to "the temple of dios" (Temple of Zeus), we were getting close to our destination.
We eventually arrived at the Olympic Palace hotel. Since we knew we had missed the Contiki welcome, we put our stuff in our room and went over to see these two guys who Caroline (and to a lesser extent, me) had been emailing with, Matt and Andy. Andy works at the Fed and I can't remember right now what Matt did, but they had been friends for a really long time and would be going to both Greece and Egypt with us. They told us a bit about the meeting, and after hanging out in their room a bit (we had woken them up, but they were expecting us, so we didn't feel super bad), we went to sleep.