Archive for May, 2008

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Athens, In Five Minutes Or Less

May 27, 2008

Sorry this is going to be a quick post, but we are packing to leave as I type this.  Normally, we would have had a lot more time to pack, but we got ambushed by the need to see some family in town here last night.  I’ll add links and pictures in later.

The day was another scorcher.  We realized the other day that the reason my father-in-law loves Arizona so much is that it must remind him of Greece: dry, hot, desert plants, houses with tile rooves, etc.  Despite the heat we had a good walking tour through the city.

We started at the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  It is amazing how tall those columns are.  We have a nice picture of me standing next to one to give a good idea of how big they actually are.  (Keep in mind I am six feet tall.)  We also saw Hadrian’s arch while we were there.

Then we started wandering through the city to look at churches.  There are a lot of hills in Athens.  We must have climbed them all.  In fact, I think we went uphill much more than downhill.  I would believe anyone that went to school in Athens if they told me it was uphill both ways.

Back to churches.  We saw a good five or six of them, but my favorite was Agios Nicolaos.  It was not just because it was a pretty church, but because of the caretaker that was there.  When she found out Ritsa spoke Greek, we became her best friends.  She gave us little cards with pictures of icons on them to watch over us, gave us each a loukoumia, and showed us where to get some cold, cold water.  I think the water was my favorite part.  I sweat a lot normally, but put a backpack on me and put me in 80 degree weather, and I am my own special little fountain.

We also did some shopping and found gifts for a few people.  We also picked up some embroidery patterns for ourselves.  They are really pretty and a lot less expensive than we thought they would be.  We managed to stumble across them almost by accident.  Actually, that is how we found all the stuff we wanted to buy.  When we were actively looking, we could not find anything, but when we stopped trying, we found exactly what we wanted.

Shopping was not an entirely enjoyable experience, however.  Ritsa slipped and fell in the fish market.  She bruised a knee a bit, but also got her hands and pants covered with water from a fish market.  It was not a pleasant perfume.

We made it back to the hotel around 5pm, and that was when we got the phone call telling us that the aunt and uncle we thought were in the village were actually in Athens.  A flurry of phone calls ensued, and our uncle Nico took a cab to come pick us up and bring us back to his place.  It was really nice to meet them, but everyone involved felt rushed.  I think aunt Dimitra really wanted to put out a big spread for me, but with the short notice, she only managed a really nice meal instead.

We were too tired to pack when we got home, so now we are up at 6am cramming stuff into bags so we can get to the airport to rent a car to drive to the village.  I have no idea when we will have internet access again, so until then, goodbye.

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Ta Kala, Ta Kaka Kai Ta Askhima

May 26, 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

That was the story of today.  Things started off well with a rather warm walk to the Benaki Museum.  It was full of great art and a lot of really neat traditional dress from all over the country.  Oh, and it had two recreations of reception rooms in a Macedonian mansion that were drool-worthy.  We already will have to work hard to make enough money to cover those rooms and the alabaster and gold ceilings.  The collections themselves cover everything from neolithic Greece to the 1920s.  We also had a couple of really good frappés with ice cream in them at the cafe there.

Next we were off to the Cycladic Art Museum.  They had a really cool exhibit about Russian art with a couple of really neat cubist/futurist pieces in it.  The next floor was all stuff collected from prehistoric burials in the Cyclades.  The last floor we got to go to (one was shut down for re-building) was about ancient Athens.  It had some really neat stuff along with one rather… risque ampuole on display.

All that historizing made us hungry, so we walked up a really big hill to get to Taverna Filippou.  To put it simply, it was amazing.  We started out with our Greek salad horiatiki and then moved on to our main courses.  Ritsa had beef kokkinisto while I had arni youvetsi.  The food was fantastic.  It was down-home cooking in the middle of Athens.  My dish even came with these little pasta squares that my mother-in-law makes and puts in lentil soup.

That was the good, now on to the bad.  We need a map of the Peleponnesos for when we are driving around there.  There is a great travel map store in Athens.  So, we hop the metro and get there, only to find it had closed.  Now, this was at 4:15 in the afternoon.  However, Athens (and probably a lot of Greece) has this thing about Mondays having lots of stores and government buildings closed.  We went to another bookstore nearby, but they had maps of every other part of Greece, except the one we needed.  Since that did not pan out, we headed over to see the National Archeological Museum.

This is where the ugly comes in.  First off, there is no really close metro station to the museum.  The closest one is about seven or eight blocks away.  This would not have been so bad, if the area between the metro stop, Omonia (pronounced a lot like ammonia, by the way,) and the museum was not the victim of urban blight.  I swear I saw at least one drug deal going down, and there were a lot of people just loitering around, and a lot of people begging.  Add in the distinct odor of urine from various parts of the sidewalk, and it made us really not want to be there.  Nonetheless, we survived the trek and made it to the museum just before 5:00pm.  Great, the museum is open until 7:30pm on Mondays.  Well, every Monday except this one, apparently.  They closed at 5:00pm today.  So, we wasted our money riding the metro there, had to deal with panhandlers and foul odors only to have the doors practically shut in our face.  Thanks.  A lot.  Really.

All that aside, we have still enjoyed our trip here so far.  Part of that enjoyment has been the hotel we are staying at, the Athinais Hotel.  We have a really nice view from our balcony.  Even though we overlook a major road, the balcony doors are soundproof.  Also, they serve a really nice breakfast buffet.  We still need to try out the cafe downstairs, though.

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Acropolis, Agora, A Lot of Walking

May 25, 2008

I love alliteration.

We got up early, hit the breakfast buffet (I wonder if the Greeks were ready for me?) and headed off to the Acropolis.  We had another pleasant metro experience and were quickly in the gate, walking up the south side of the Acropolis.  Lots of neat ruins.

Then we headed down to the ancient agora. That is a really old market.  Ritsa fell in love with this little old church there, and I really liked the Stoa of Attallos, which apparently was one of the world’s first strip malls.  Then we headed up to the Hephaisteion or Temple of Hephaistos.  There an American couple was kind enough to take our picture.

Next we ate a yummy lunch of salad, saganaki and loukaniko and headed off to find the Roman Agora.

And we did.  We even found the Tower of the Winds my dad had looked for a couple of weeks before!

Then we walked over to Hadrian’s Library.  We kind of wish I could have seen it with the alabaster and gold ceilings, but we will just have to wait for that until we can buy our own place.

Then we came back and showered, for we were very sweaty, and took a two hour nap.  I hope tomorrow is just as exciting, only a little less tiring.

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Getting There

May 25, 2008

The trip started off well.  We had three hours of sleep due to a late night packing and wrapping up all the loose ends that pop up when you are travelling.  Then we made it to our friend Sarah’s house where I ran over her son’s ball.  To continue the trend, she got lost driving us to the airport.  Amazingly, my wife was entirely calm the entire trip there.  For those of you who do not know her, she has a fiery Greek temper.

It actually was not as bad as it sounded.  The airport was fine, and our trip from Baltimore to Cleveland was uneventful, and we had just enough layover time to make it to our next connection.  That is when the long trip began.  We flew from Cleveland to Paris without event.  It was about nine hours, and I could not really sleep on that leg.  I read a book, Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.  It was pretty good, in the vein of American Gods if you liked that one.

Back to our flights.  De Gaulle airport was not as terrible as we had heard.  We did not have to take any of the shuttles to other terminals, so our five hour layover was quite a bit more than we needed.  Thankfully, we went to the Continental transfer desk, because one of the random workers told us the wrong terminal.  We had really good grilled ham and cheese sandwiches at one of the restaurants and Ritsa fell asleep for a little while in the terminal.  Oh, and Greeks cannot form a queue.  Boarding the plane was a lot like a scene from a cattle yard.  I was hoping they had those gates that hold cattle in place so they can be injected with stuff, tagged and whatever.  It would have made the experience much more amusing.

I do not remember most of the flight to Greece.  I could not manage to stay awake.  Of course, by that point, I had been up for about seventeen hours on three hours of sleep.  The only two notable things on the plane was the guy with strong B.O. sitting next to me, and the forty-five minute wait we had for them to load a few more meals onto the plane.

The subway from the airport was nice, clean and decently priced.  When we got out of the hotel, Ritsa turned us around, but since I noticed the numbers were going the wrong way, so after only a couple of blocks, we turned around and headed the right direction.  Ritsa is continuing her tradition of staying near U.S. embassies.  We are only a block and a half from the one here in Athens.

We checked in, showered, and then headed out to eat.  The guy at the front desk recommended a place called Craft where they had good beer.  You may have already guessed it was a microbrewery place.  They brought out a small sample of all their beers, and we quickly decided we like the black lager the best.  So, we tried to order a two-liter growler of it, purely for the economy of spending three euro more on almost twice as much beer, but they were out of growlers.  So, we got stuck with the pitcher.  The food was good, and the beer was great.  Between the travel and the beer, we fell asleep very quickly that night.

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Leaving Soon

May 22, 2008

Friday the 23rd of May my wife and I leave for Greece.  We return the 14th of June.  So, we have a good three weeks there.  I am unbelievably excited!

We’re bringing the laptop and our digital camera with us, so I’m going to try to update my blog at least a few times while we are there with information and pictures.

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Investing With The U.S. Treasury

May 20, 2008

Everyone is familiar with savings accounts, CDs, and the idea of investing in stocks and bonds.  (I’ll get into stocks and bonds in a later post.)  However, not as many people are familiar with Treasury bonds, notes and bills.  Here’s a quick primer on them.

Treasury Bills

Treasury bills are short-term investments, and by short-term I mean from 2-weeks to 26-weeks.  The way they work is very simple.  The U.S. Government says, for example, “If you give us $99 today, we’ll give you $100 in four weeks.”  That would be a 1.01% return for four weeks of loaning money to the government.  They usually don’t return that much money, but it is an example.  One benefit to Treasury bills is that the profit you make from them is not subject to sate or local income tax, although they are subject to federal income tax.

Treasury Notes

Treasury notes allow the government to rent your money.  They pay you interest every 6 months on the amount you loan the government.  At the end of the note, they give you all the money you loaned back.  For example, if you bought $5,000 of 10-year notes, at a 2% interest rate, every 6 months, the U.S. Treasury would pay you $500 of interest and after 10 years, they would give you your $5,000 back.  Again, the interest is subject to federal income tax but not state or local income tax.

Treasury Bonds

Treasury bonds, not to be confused with savings bonds are just long-term notes, usually 20-30 years in length.

Since they are backed by the U.S. government, Treasury products are considered extremely safe.  Because of that, they do not give as good of a return on your investment as a lot of other products.  However, that security is their biggest benefit.  They are the closest to a sure bet you can find in the financial arena.

I’ll go into U.S.savings bonds and inflation-protected investments in another post since this one is probably making someone’s eyes cross already.

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The Cure (For Happiness)

May 20, 2008

Friday the 16th, my wife and I went to see The Cure at the Patriot Center.  It was my gift to her for her birthday.  They were far better than a group of middle-aged guys have the right to be.  They played for three hours, including three encores.  By the end of the night my hands were numb from clapping.  I also experienced this weird thing where they would start playing a song, and I would suddenly realize I knew the song.  I never would have guessed I knew as many Cure songs as I actually did.  The music was great, but there was also great people-watching as well.

Before the concert we noticed a young couple:  one a very skinny, very pale, slightly androgynous guy with spikey black hair with a girl with hair a great shade of green.  They were the perfect couple for a Cure concert.  They made my inner goth write bad poetry about the world’s pain.

Then there was the guy that looked like Robert Smith will look in about ten years.  He had the weird wispy ‘fro thing that Smith has going on, and he had the long black, button-down shirt.  It was a dead-on Robert Smith cosplay.

Then we had metal girl, pictured below:

Way Too F\'in Metal

She eventually got kicked out, and the only thing I can figure is that she was, in fact, way too metal to be at a Cure concert.  That, or she was smoking.  I swear I saw smoke coming out of her mouth, but again, that may have been because she was way too metal.

However, the very best people-watching was seeing a girl in section 106, somewhere around row G.  Yeah, that’s right, I’m calling her out.  Her dancing style could best be described as Jazzercise meets Rocky.  With the flailing fists, I’m surprised she didn’t hurt anyone, especially herself.  If I had had a video camera, there would be a video of it here and on YouTube.

All in all, the concert was voted the best birthday present ever by my wife, and that’s what really counts.