Barcelona to Amsterdam - Jock Pichette (November 2000)
Our story began on a Sunday evening, November 8,2000 when Bill and Iny drove two excited travelers to Dorval Airport. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight 672, MD-11 Plane. It would take us about 6 hrs and 35 minutes to reach our first destination "Amsterdam Airport" and then transfer onto a Boeing 737 to our final destination of Barcelona, Spain. A further 2hrs and 10 min.
We had Turbulence over Boston, Mass, and even more when we reached Ireland. In all fairness to Airlines, the weather can't be predicted, because they do their utmost to make passenger comfortable and safe. It would be equivalent to riding a car on a bumpy road.
Our first glimpse of Amsterdam Airport illustrated a well-organized, clean looking, operation. Moving sidewalks to help you get from one end to the other with your luggage. Plenty of shops, fast food restaurants including a Burger King, and even a large grocery store. If you worked at this Airport, roller blades would be the ideal form of transportation.
Our connecting flight is starting to request passenger to gate 57. It's been a long day so far, with our early departure from Montreal we are a bit tired, but looking forward to Barcelona, Spain. Visiting new cities and countries has a way of supplying medicine to your body, it makes your trip so much easier to endure. We are about to reach Barcelona Airport, and informed that it's raining, 55 degrees, windy, and to adjust our watches for six hours ahead of Montreal time.
Adrenalin begins to flow with tiredness set aside we are two happy campers, we could not care less if the plane smacked the tarmac, as long as we can get off, collect our luggage and move on to our hotel located some 20 minutes away from the Airport. Cost for this ride is 3000$ Peseta's. .0089=1.00$ Canadian. If you think our dear Bill drives fast, you have not witnessed driver in Spain, these guy's travel at 140K, and smack walls for the fun of it.
We arrived at our hotel in the heart of Barcelona, at 12.30 PM their time. A bit early to take advantage of our room. We stored our luggage, and we decided to head out immediately even though we both looked like zombies. I found a barbershop, and Karen looked around the shops on Gran Vie de les Corts.
Within 30 minutes, we were heading towards a most romantic square, "Placa Catalunya", and La Ramblas. It took us about fifteen minutes to reach the square.
Karen and I were amazed at the pace of the people, flying by us, we were at a standstill, and that's perfectly normal when visiting a new city for one reason, we are awed by the sights and they have an agenda. The Olympics took place here in 1992. You could see the changes. New buildings, hotels, sculptured Gardens, and plenty of new statues. You could actual find your way around Barcelona, once you realize Barcelona slopes gently upward from the harbour to the mountains.
The best way to visit Barcelona is by Turistic bus.
There are 15 stops along a 28 km route. So we bought a two-day pass allowing us to get on and off as often as we wish. The one statue witch impressed us was the Monument of Christopher Columbus, which stands tall with his index finger pointing towards the American continent. Karen and I also tackled the "Temple expiatori de la Sagrada Familia" located on the Gaudi Route. We walked to it's top, by climbing too many stairs while circling and hugging the walls. Once above you get the best view of the Mediterranean Sea, not to mention overlooking a wonderful city.
The Bus had two lines, Blue and Red;
The Old City Route, on this route we would visit the old quarter of Barcelona. The tour guide always mentioned Architectural gems. Starting as far back as the Roman Period right up to its maximum splendour in the medieval Gothic period.
The Port route, touched of course the Olympic Port, it's curved wooden walkway, and a modern day marina. The Olympic Stadium holds 150,000 spectators. We were impressed with the Passeig de Gracia route, which is located not too far from the Placa Catalunya, we have some pictures illustrating its beauty. Built by Gaudi it represents an expression of modernist architecture.
Our most impressive memory will no doubt be Placa Catalunya and La Rambla, which we frequented at night and people watched while listening to the fountains spraying water above the trees, and the glitter of lights all around us as we slowly sipped away a pint of San Miguel beer. We frequented a restaurant called "NURIA" right off Placa Catalunya, it was a great experience, but the one aspect of life in this city, which chokes you, is the smoking.
We endured five gentlemen puffing away while we ate, fortunately they left ten minutes after we arrived. La Rambla is an extension of Placa Catalunya.
We kept a stroll along La Rambla for the next day. It's 9.30 AM and the street is jammed. There are two sides to this beautiful walkway, each having a sidewalk with all sorts of shops, selling everything from post cards, to gold, food, and clothing.
Each side has a street, with enough space for one car to park, along with hundreds of scooters. Then you have the huge walkway dead center, approximately 25 yards wide. More boutiques, many selling birds, magazines, flowers. You also have areas where you can sit and enjoy food and drink under canapé's/tarps. We picked a spot after some shopping to take in the action. You face the public of course, and it all becomes an urban carnival with street performers, Flamenco, Fortune-tellers, and only a few feet away, and American busker, is entertaining passers-by as he sings and clowns about a play on Broadway. Amazing stuff. One of my favourite authors W. Somerset Maughan declared the area, "the most beautiful street in the world".
Males and Females dress impeccably, dark shades are prominent, leather suits on the ladies are spectacular. Lots of tall beautiful people on both side of the gender scale, and they have a way of making colours Charcoal-Grey, and black outstanding to wear.
We found the people polite, nice, full of life, exciting, entertaining. Drivers respected pedestrians, and tons of cabs searching for fares. Our stay in Barcelona has ended, now it's off to the harbour, and the Royal Caribbean cruise line.
We had one bad experience, as we waited for our cab outside the Hotel doors. A cab pulled up, driver got out, and we thought he was our ride. After loading our luggage, we noticed that the meter was already running. How the cab business works in Barcelona, is that you have a running fare unless you make a deal. They charge you for instance 1,100 Peseta's for three pieces of luggage. We were informed that our fare should be 1,400-2,000 no more. Once we got in our cab we asked how much would it cost, he say's about 3,000-4,000 Peseta's.
That's not right, we said. We were told half of that. He get's upset, so I get upset, please don't yell, we are the customers. He yells, back you Americans, all you want is deals, please pull over, I said. Ok, Ok, as he rants and raves with arms swinging. He drops us off at a corner, throwing our luggage to the sidewalk.
Within seconds another driver pulls up, and he is totally opposite, he can't do enough for us, and places the luggage in the trunk of the cab. . I asked how much to the port, he say's between 1,200 - 2,000 Peseta's. Let's go. We arrive at the port and the meter reads 1,400 pesetas. at which point we tip him with our remaining change, and his face lit up with joy.
WE LOVE BARCELONA DISPITE THE ARROGANCE OF THE FIRST DRIVER.
It's now 2.30 PM, and we are entering the hanger to register for embarkation. Good system, lines are short and before you can count fifteen steamboats, were registered and on our way up the gangplank of the Legend of the Seas with our identification card and carry-on. We walked up towards the bank of elevators, gliding if you wish on these gorgeous carpets, while all about us the glitter of our home for the next seven days welcomes our presence. Without hesitation the elevators doors open, and the carpet on the elevator reads, Wednesday, when we hear a voice, going up with a ding as the door closed behind us.
Our departure time from Barcelona, Spain is set for Wednesday evening November 8, 2000 at 7.00PM, and tonight's dining room attire is Casual, being the first day on board. Our luggage is placed outside our suite, we unpack, and begin our orientation of the ship.
It takes about one hour to tour every deck familiarizing us with the locations of restaurants, dining room, and in our case it's the Romeo & Juliet Dining Room. Located on Promenade Deck, Champagne terrace, deck 4. Our table seats 8 guests. Our main waiter is Anthony who hails from India. He is a handsome man, extremely polite, and on our first night explains the procedures. Cink, from Turkey offers us all the liquids portions. There is also a wine steward, after dinner drink steward, and the maitre'd. So it goes without saying that we get good service.
Our Dining Table Guest are; Chairman of the Board is Tom, and his wife Anna from Panama City Beach, Florida. He is a retired police Officer/Jeweler while Anna was a Pharmacist. Gladys and Francisco recently retired are on a major tour, and come to us from Puerto Rico. Shirley is from San Diego, California, and Lois comes from Vallejo, California.
We all are on our best behaviour, as we introduce ourselves, before we enjoy our first meal on board. We are the main seating at 6.15PM
After dinner, we have a variety of places to go, which include Entertainment Theater and the Welcome Aboard Show, and on this night it's "Make Mine Broadway". Staring the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers. Show time is set for 9.00PM. After the show we checked out the Casino, and then headed straight for our room.
Day two at Sea - Thursday, November 9,2000 and it promises to be a great day with Partly Cloudy Skies with a High of 57 degrees. We enjoy an all you can eat breakfast at the Windjammer Café on Deck 9. We walked for 1-¾ miles on the top deck, overlooking the ocean. Besides being formal night, this day is administration day, reserving tours, and Foreign Exchange bureau for some Lira's, then off to the Internet at the Centrum lounge. We have an appointment with all the honeymooners on deck 4 and we are greeted with a glass of Champagne, prizes, and wedding cake plus meet new friends from Michigan. We managed to get some sun on deck, and witnessed an Ice Carving demonstration. We played a game of mini golf, and Karen got two holes in one on a very professionally design course atop the cruise ship. We took in the Galley Tour on Deck 5, and then back to our cabin, shower, dress in our best attire, for the Captain's Cocktail Party in Anchors Aweigh lounge for 5.15 PM. Enjoy a drink and Chit chat with new friends, before our first Captain's Gala dinner. Each night after dinner, a waiter shows up with a tray of after dinner drinks, colour of glasses change each night. So Francisco began a tradition of having a drink each night until he got every colour. A fun thing. We also informed each other at these dinners what we did that day, because we all did our own thing. Tours would vary, and with this round table discussion, we would learn about each other's tours, and experiences.
We took in the show with our dinner guest, and were well entertained by Renato Pagliari. Great voice, and funny to boot.
Considering that this was a day at Sea, we certainly were kept busy. If you wish, you can just do your thing, and skip all the fanfare. There is a television in your room, offering a variety of channels for your pleasure.
Day three - November 10, 2000
Livorno, Italy - Partly cloudy skies, 54 degrees.
We took the PISA tour.
Pisa is situated some 12 miles from Livorno, on the banks of the River Arno. It was once a republic and the city of commercial importance, and bears witness to this period with its majestic buildings and art works, the most famous being the Leaning Tower. The tower, Cathedral, and the Baptistry are all within walking distance of each other. But, you do tend to hang around the wonder of the Leaning Tower. It began to rain, so we strolled with ease throughout our stay.
DAY FOUR - Saturday, November 11, 2000
Civitavecchia, Italy we were informed that it would be a great sunny day, 54F. We saw the ship enter port, and park for the day. A tremendous sight. Ciao, and off we go by bus towards Rome, the Capital of Italy, it's a hike, so the tour guide had plenty of information for us as we ventured our way towards the "Eternal City".
We were informed that we might see the Pope today, and sure enough, there he was, sitting under an umbrella taking in a mass. St.Peter's Square was jammed with visitors, we were about 100 yards from the Pope, and the police turned us back. We lined up for the Sistine Chapel, 1 ½ hours before entering, hugging the walls of Vatican City. It was worth the wait, wall to wall people in the Sistine Chapel. Since we had plenty of time in Rome, we walked to "Fontana di Trevi, a most impressive Fountain, and while on our way, touched the "Spanish Steps", Piazza San Pietro, Piazza Novona (Square) with fountain. Patheon, and of course the famous Tiber River which we crossed.
This tour took a toll on our feet, and when we returned to the ship, we immediately returned to our suite, and called it a day. Need more time for this great city. We ordered from our dining room menu, and ate in our cabin.
Day Five, Sunday November 12, 2000
Naples, Italy - Predicting mostly sunny skies today, and 64F. All the shops are closed today. It's 6.30 AM, and we are approaching the Port of Naples. A mountain looks over the harbour with many homes flourishing towards the top. The landscape very much similar to Mount Royal, except that its at the waterfront. From our balcony we watch the ship of 70,000 tons slowly penetrate the harbour, when all of a sudden it stops, and parks in reverse at the dock. The custom building with horses greets our ship some thirty feet below our balcony, so it goes without saying that this ship is many stories high. Ships are parked all about the harbour, including ferries. Cranes for unloading container ships are within eyesight. Modern tugboats sleep as we finally dock. Fisherman are cleaning their boats. We found out later that Naples is the second biggest port in Italy after Genoa.
We ordered room service so the waiter is at the door with our breakfast. On this day we decide to eat breakfast on our balcony while enjoying the view. After our breakfast we disembark from the ship, and head towards town. We find a church in the heart of Naples, and we enter to find only two natives, and one of them is a young pregnant women sitting at the front. Karen lights a candle, as I watched the local priest pacing the floor, just like a husband would do if that was his wife.
I wanted so much to talk to him, but every time we made a move in his direction he would saunter elsewhere. We departed and headed towards another church "Domo", which was located higher on the mountainside. We were now very much into a busy Italian community, with kids running all over the place, mo-peds speeding along with plenty of park cars, stationed in every direction as if they came home drunk last night, found a hole and parked.
We climbed many steps, through a passageway. All along galleries had flowers and plants beautifying the neighborhood. We finally find the church and enter only to find young kids being thought religions classes. It brought back many memories. We sat and watch.
We parted company, but rather than return to our ship we continued down a tiny street. Clothes were hanging across and over their balconies. Karen purchased a couple of gifts making the merchant so happy. As we walked along the street towards a street vendor selling fish & Sea food we noticed a lady on the fifth floor screaming at another merchant for a loaf of bread. Down comes a blue basket tied to a cord, and inside the money for the bread. T
The merchant takes the money from the basket, places the bread with change into the basket and up it goes. Only a few feet away another neighbour, but this time it was a Mother on the street screaming for her son to come out and send the basket down. On her bike she had three bags, which the son slowly pulled towards the gallery. That's when we noticed the whole neighborhood had blue baskets. The fish kiosk vendor was interesting you would think that the last place you would look for fish would be in the middle of a street. Oyster's, Snail's, eels crawling around a barrel, a variety of fish chilling on ice, crabs, and shrimps. What a great experience of every day life. Senior's were gathered at the corner sharply dressed enjoying the beauty of life chirping away a mile a minute. We took in a cute little restaurant, enjoyed a cappuccino, and Italian biscuit before heading back towards the ship
The afternoon was spent on a bus touring and reaching the highest peaks of Naples. We stopped for a beer at the Marina before returning to the ship.
We dined, took in the Comedy show, and then went Latin dancing at the Viking lounge with Gladys and Francisco. Had a few drinks, then off to the toga party in the solarium, what a party, more dancing, and a lot of people wearing the bed sheets as clothing. After another drink, we packed it in about 1.00PM.
Monday, November 13, were at Sea. We slept in knowing that a full day at sea was the order of the day. Karen and I decide to order breakfast, and eat on our balcony. Play a game of who can see a ship on the horizon first. We spotted two, and we were hoping they would be a cruse ships, and close to ours. One was a fishing boat, while the other was a ferry with speed to waste. On this playground of salt water the ships were miles away. At one point our ship was sailing on the Ionian Sea that was 10,000 feet deep. Talk about sea creatures? We spent most of our day at poolside, playing some shuffleboard, and having a few drinks to pass the day. Dining was great, and passed on Showtime for the Casino, and then our room. After all tomorrow we reach Greece.
Crete is the most southerly and largest of the Greek Islands. It is rich in scenic variety, natural beaches, tall mountains, and gorges of astounding beauty, plains thick with vegetation and a wealth of historical relics.
Today, its panoramic Tour of Crete, and then we get off at the city center, and enjoy the City, and dinner on the square. Talk about a busy place, gold shops everywhere, leather goods and many ally ways to get lost in.
The Village is surrounded by stonewalls, to reach the shops and restaurants you must pass through these walls, and once you surface, you see tons of people window shopping, others inside buying gold, others hanging around the squares main statue, while restaurant beg for your money. The Morosini Fountain in Venizelou Square is the most popular monument built during the Venetian occupation of Iraklion. The 17th-century circular fountain is graced with marble lions. A great spot to have lunch and enjoy the view. It was at this café's that we met our dining room waiter "Anthony" having lunch just a table away. He even broke a beer bottle, which we never reported on his evaluation sheet. We dragged ourselves back to the ship for a siesta, the sunny day drained us.
As we passed through the walls there is a sight for sore eyes, as you not only see your ship, but many others it's a welcome sight. We dined, took in the show, and tried our hand at Jackpot bingo, Jock needed two more numbers and Karen three to win $3,000 US. We won our bed for the night.
Day eight - November 15, 2000
Santorini, Greece - Great weather, sunny at 70F. Tender Boats will take us ashore on this stop. When we first looked out from our balcony, the Legend of the Seas was just approaching Santorini. We saw Rocks, lava rocks that is! The lights we did see were from homes atop the mountain. The tender boats can transport a minimum of 120 persons, and in this case we would be dropped off at the pier of Skala.
From this position a bus would zigzag up asphalt roads to the top. My first impression of Santorini was a city asleep. Homes and hotel are white and blue.
Fira is the Capital, and many of the natives are away for the winter. Street are so tiny with shops lining the sides. This town landscape looks a lot like Ez, in France. You are either walking up a slope or down. Stairs get you to the next level. You can also use the cable car to ascend or descend, walk of course, taxis or Donkey's. Karen and I decided that we would take the Donkey down hundreds of steps towards the Pier.
Wending our way to the Donkey station, some 100 steps below to a plateau, we looked over the animals. It appears that if the owner, own five (5) Donkeys they would be tied up together. So if there were five persons wishing to go down or up, you would get that owners group. There were over 60 Donkey's parked.
You can hear the owners yapping away and looking us over. A women standing next to us decides to run up the stairs as a pact of three donkeys heads her way. The husband follows, imitating a chicken, you're a chicken honey. Fear, my dear friends is not a time you take a donkey.
We have about another 500 steps before reaching the pier, and these steps are not equal, so your choice is to climb back up 100 steps, take the cable car down/taxi. Or walk, which by the looks of it would be safe, your only problem is that when you get down, throw your shoes into the garbage, because you will be avoiding or walking into Donkey dodo. Riding a donkey down the slopes is dangerous, these owners stop on a dime, while the donkeys behind you smacked into each other. Good thing some of them have gages around their mouth, or they just might take a bite of your leg. These Donkey's appear to be tame, it's the owner you got to be weary of! We slowly approach the stage where you get on these animals, since I'm first I get the leader, he is a small Donkey, attached to mine is Karen's Donkey, gray and much taller. Behind Karen three others are attached. Another couple joins, and they get on. The man is in is 70's, he is placed on the last Donkey while his wife get the fourth leaving the middle one free. She is much younger, possibly 40 years of age. We begin our descent on our Mules getting tossed from one side to the other. The owners, tells us to throw our bodies back, and relax. Right on. But he keeps looking at my Donkey's leg, and then up towards his eye's. I can see that my Donkey is slipping every now and then.
At this point I can hear the lady in the back yelling to her husband, breath honey, breath honey. Obviously the man is scared, and I don't blame the man, if he falls, he could break his neck, bones or for that matter fall over the edge.
We are now about halfway down, when the owner spots a women walking down. Points to his lonely donkey, he can't talk English, but his gesture suggest she could get on. The lady is about 60 years old, and had every intention to ride the donkey down, but changed her mind, but when she saw us, I guess, she said why not. At this point you don't have the dock, to help you on, so the owner, who appears to be in his 60 himself, decides to boost this lady. It was a total laugh, she grabs the saddle, he puts his shoulder to her behind, and together they find a way to get her up. I can tell you one thing, when this lady got to the bottom, she was so happy, she did not want to get off until a picture was taken. Then Karen wanted a picture, and then the last two wanted a picture.
The owner tells me to get down, then points to Karen, wife, wife, and begins to put his fingers to his mouth, moola, moola, Karen say's he wants a tip. Yes, the man gestures. Does that mean if I don't give this guy a tip, Karen stays up?
It was scary, but a total blast.
Day nine - Thursday, November 16, 2000
Rhodes, Greece. We visited the Acropolis of Lindos, and the Ancient Kamiros. We also visited the new and old towns of Rhodes.
The old town surrounded by medieval fortress walls welcomes you to its streets, only minutes from our ship. Almost everything of interest in Rhodes lies within these walls and its network of pedestrian streets and ancient alleyways. Plenty of souvenirs shops, gold smiths, and small café's.
Café's in Greece work this way, Karen and I wanted a beer with a Sandwich. We spotted a bunch of Café's, five as a matter of fact, and all together facing the town fountain. Lovely spot for a break. As we approach, yes sir, please take this table, good food. Good prices, while the other owner with his table cuddling the others, yells, yes, beer, beer, over here good seat upstairs. We are worried about the food, because they're not so quick with the food once you're seated.
The square is jammed, and we want a seat for our tired feet. We plunk ourselves dead center with the most aggressive owner, and order a great beer "Mythos", we get the beer quick enough, but it took 40 minutes to get a sandwich.
These guy's run out of food. When we were in Santorini, we took over a visitors table who were leaving they informed us that they have been waiting for an hour, so if you like a club sandwich, and two glasses of water, take ours. We waited, but also left when we were informed that they had no tomatos, cheese, or bread. Just incredible.
Day ten, Friday, November 17, 2000
The Legend of the Seas is due in at 7.00AM
Can't wait, and it's the one country Karen feared, only because of the old movies. As they ship approaches the port, you notice in the distance a small pilot boat, and this happens at every port, where the local pilot embarks the ship through a small door at sea level. This man is responsible for making sure the ship enters the port without a problem. As a matter of fact, when the pilot brings us out to sea at departure time, he gets an ovation when he leaves the boat from the many passengers on decks. As the ship approaches the pier, you will notice four men waiting two at each end of the ship, these men are responsible for tying the ship to the pier, so they wait for the rope to be tossed over at which point, they wrap the huge ropes around these mooring post, and off they go. Like clockwork, you notice a vehicle approach the boat and park their van or car at the gangplank, these are custom people and with their business cases embark the ship. I presume to officially welcome the ship, and verify the list of passengers. As we looked over the city from our balcony, we saw a modern waterfront, and extremely busy port. Ships were docked all around us, including ferries, and fishing boats heading out to see. The landscape illustrated office buildings, towers, and homes. Since our ship was only a stones throw from the streets, we saw hundreds of vehicles on the move, including our tour buses, and Taxi's. It' a total explosion encompassing, our ship being re-fueled, goods being brought to the ship, security preparing gangplank for disembarkation, the locals gathering, offering everything from books of the city, to rides into the market place by bike. Nothing to worry about, even the music from the mosques is welcoming.
Today tour will take us to, Ancient Ephesus.
You see Turkish bath's along the route, but are not frequented as they were years ago. Homes today have their own. Ephesus is the best-preserved classical city on the Eastern Mediterranean. In ancient times, it was a great trading and religious city and was once home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World.
Today the remains are so well preserved that it is easy to get a feel for what life was like in Roman times. Behind the fence we could see the Amphitheater, which seated over 24,000 people
The market place is full of excitement, the music, the merchants, the gold in the windows, great looking leather jackets hanging from the shops, and the owner enticing you to come in. Alabaster vase, brass, copper, ceramic, you name it they have it. Part of the market place is covered, while alleyways seek your entrance. The carpet industry is considered art in this part of the world, and once inside, you get a lesson on how they manufacture the good stuff. A purchase here includes delivery to your house in Canada, tax-free.
We thoroughly enjoyed Turkey - We returned to our ship for a siesta. Our cabin looked great, Kenneth who has taken care of us for the past ten days, always kept our cabin spick and span. He liked Karen, and made sure she had a sufficient amount of chocolate each night before bed. He also wanted a good rating, so that he could get a day off.
Amazingly luggage was already placed outside in the hall, the whole scene, was climatic. We don't want the cruise to end, yet hundreds were already packed.
Tomorrow is it folks! we will dress casual for our last dining room dinner, we will exchange addresses with our new found friends, before returning to our room to pack our luggage, and take in the show which tells it all. Farewell Revue Spectacular Starring The Royal Caribbean Singers & Dancers in
Our ten days on the Legend is over, but it's not so anti-climatic for us, since we will begin a three-day stay in Athens, Greece.
Our friends Tom & Anna are staying overnight before departure Sunday Morning. Gladys and Francisco depart on Monday Morning, while our California friends Shirley and Lois hit the tarmac Saturday morning.
Saturday November 18,2000
For the last time on the Legend of the Seas, we introduce ourselves to the great port of PIRAEUS, Athens, Greece. A most modern port, and the busiest so far. On our side alone there are 7 Ferries, and I mean huge ferries, which sails the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean, and Black Sea's. So there is no doubt that Maritime shipping is a huge part of the Mediterranean's ports.
Despite its vast history, the Athens of the 20th century is a bustling modern city with overcrowded streets, traffic jams, pollution, and characterless modern cement buildings. The city has been criticized for lack of overall planning during an enormous population growth in the 19th and 20th centuries.
When Athens became the capital of Greece in 1834, it was a mere village of 6,000 residences. The Athens of today is home to 3.1 million people and covers an area of 165 square miles.
Although at first glance we may not see the splendor of the Ancient Athens, the mental images of an historic civilization comes alive with the first glimpse of its most prominent architectural masterpieces, the Acropolis.
Karen and I spent a morning, climbing and finding our way through one of the great wonders of the world, which actually consist of four ancient buildings; the Parthenon, Temple of Athena Nike, Karen's favourite, the Erechtheion, and the Propylaea. The acropolis was built during the apex of Greeks Golden Age in the 5th. Century BC. Throughout history, it has served as a military fortress and religious center.
Located 7 miles from the center of Athens, Piraeus has been Athen's port since early 5th century BC. Of course we needed a cab to reach our hotel, mostly because our luggage for some reason grew. We collected our luggage and headed towards the terminal, first you see limo's, then the black-market taxi drivers, followed by a long line of yellow taxis, BMW, Mercedes, great looking cabs. Black-market ( 40.00US) is in full force, so we joined the taxi line, which is the way to go. Our Taxi (20.00US), and pleasant. The Black Market people must have thought that we just got off the boat with a chicken under our arms or something.
Next stop, hotel Acropolis in the heart of Athens. We are in for a big surprise.
Our room is ready, great news. Second, its only 10.30AM, and all our faculties are working perfectly. Excitement is brewing, after all we are in Athens, Greece.
We ask the desk clerk, how to get to the Plaka? And she replies, zip, here, zap right, veer left, and bingo. As we walk towards our hangout for the next three days, we spot the Acropolis in the clouds. What a sight for sore eyes. Huge, and in our neighborhood. Excitement grows as we see a fountain ahead, but it's only an Archeological find. A sight we will often see during our stay. A sign directs us to the Plaka.
PLAKA, is the older area of the city, like old Montreal, but much older and located on the north slope of the Acropolis. You can walk the narrow cobblestone streets with winding staircases and old mansions, or take a rest in one of the numerous tavernas. Gold shops, tee's, leather and artisans products try to attract you into the many stores. There is many Greek's frequenting the area. Tavernas, are Café's to a certain degree. Tables are circular 24' with four chairs. We ate three times within these walls. The atmosphere outstanding, with a wide choice of food. Our favourite beer at this point was "Mythos".
Within range of our hotel, we ran into Dionysos theater, open air of course. Built in the second century AD. Seating capacity of 17,000, we were informed that to this day they use the Amphitheater for concerts. We also took in the Acropolis Museum, Tower of the Winds, Hadrian's Arch, and the Zeus Temple. From this point on, we used the public transportation (150 Drachma's each) to reach Syntagma. When we got of the bus, I felt as if I was in time Square.
Buildings all around us had advertising posted reaching towards the skies. Buses, cars, scooters, and noise pollution bounced off our ears. Wall to wall people, American style fast food joints. Just awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We ask for direction to the famous market place, and ultimately we found it. Dear friends, its huge, its big, its wide, and its long then the meat vendors catch your ears. You can't tell where one kiosk begins or the other ends. Is there a fight going on? Then why are they screaming? Attraction! We turn the corner, and more kiosk, but this time, its seafood and fish. We are now walking with our hands in the pockets of the man in front, the floor are wet from the ice keeping the fish fresh. One person was buying shrimps, and as soon as the customer placed her order the vendor went ballistic, screaming at a higher pitch, to let the people know that he is filling an order. Amazing strategy. Then dry goods section, and at this spot, we bought some peanuts.
From this point we spotted a church a few blocks away, and paid our visit to our first mosque. I sat back and watched people kiss statues covered with plate glass, not one, but many who sauntered into the church, solely to kiss the glass.
Back on the street, our sense of direction brings us back to Vasilissis Olgas.
Our next stop the Parliament Buildings. We are informed that they are only twenty minutes away. Great, need a beer, great Idea. Finally we reach the parliament bldg. and we definitely want to see the changing of the guards, and so does 150 pigeons along with half that many visitors. It's the attire these guy's wear that catches your attention. Pom-pom laden clogs, short pleated skirts (Foustanela), and pony-tail-tasseled hats. On the other hand, a young gay man, was drooling standing next to Karen, I could not help see the good-looking young man stare down the two guards. Both guards were at least 6'5" tall, the black coloured jacket just about covered their butt's, with white leggings teasing our friends imagination. The young man never budge, then came the changing of the guards. To our left, we could hear footsteps, haw, more guards, three as a matter of fact. They approached the steps, the middle guard began sounding orders, at which point some fancy stepping started, and like puppets, the fluid motion of these guards, illustrated a step these eye's never seen before. Somewhat like half a can-can steps, with a twitch of the toe forward, and for good luck, clogs with spikes, scratched the surface like a horse.
They repeated these steps until a complete change was made. I guess you are wondering what happen with the young gay individual? Well, he did follow the retreating guards.
Now its our turn to retreat, and we decide a walk would do us good considering that we are so tired, and walk all the way back to the Plaka. Great, we stop at the first bar and order a nice cool beer spending some 90 minutes just surveying the people as they walked by our café. Even a beggar with her hands wrapped with bandages, cheerfully asked for coins. On this night we would be back for dinner, evaluating our stay in the Mediterranean.
KC and I learned so much on this trip, with notes that Barcelona is a definite return for more than a few days Just as Rome needs a week or more.
With our cab ordered for early departure, we hit the sack early.
Our trip to the airport was smooth, exciting, because soon we will be in Amsterdam, enjoying half a day plus.
AMSTERDAM - Schiphol Airport is a modern Airport, and we got around by using moving sidewalks. This was our stopover getting to Barcelona, Spain as well as returning to Montreal from Athens, Greece. Most of the Gates have KLM/Northwest Planes. You can see a few 747, Asian connection on the tarmac.
On our return trip, we had a longer stay over, so we took advantage of this time by touring Amsterdam. From the Airport, we journeyed by Mini-Van first towards the countryside. We actual drove on a Dike separating higher grounds from lower. Many dams exist in this country, otherwise parts of it would be underwater. We visited a cheese Farm, and Clog Manufacturing plant along the way. While in the city, a diamond factory was visited as well as touring the canals by boat.
It's a most intriguing city, and when we passed the Red Light District, we saw a dancer in the window attracting our attention. Two young men from Bombay, India were flabbergasted, and questioned the driver about the lady in the window. We were told that Amsterdam has 2,000 registered prostitutes, regulated by the government. Each prostitute is self employed and incorporated. Others do exist, and use pimps. We were also in an area where the criminals live, as described by our tour guide, these people own expensive property. Some homes sell at 2.5 Million and up. Drugs from what I understand are legal to a certain degree.
We would have to conclude that nightlife in Amsterdam is awesome, covering every aspect of life. The canals, one after the other, and the boat you see in the postcard, actually stops at Museum during the summer months.
The homes as you can see are not too wide, solely for tax reason. They are long and thin. Each home has a hook installed at the top end, with a pulley as a means of getting furniture from the street to the windows, which are larger than the door, or stairway. It's not unusual to see an apartment, leaning slightly.
Bicycles, take a look at the picture, 600,000 of them hang about the city. If they are not locked to a pole, salut la visit. The tour guide informed us, that the canals we sailed on have 1 meter of Bikes,
1 meter of automobiles, and 1 meter of water.
This tour was more than we expected. We returned to the Airport to have a snack, and a bit of duty free shopping before heading home. Amsterdam would be the type of city, you spend two days, one day for museums, one day to sightsee, and take the train to our next destination after a nice dinner at a café along the square.
Enjoy the trip.