Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Monthly Expenses for March 2010

March 31, 2010
By Chuck and Claire

We are happy to report that March was our least expensive month so far.

Camping, €328.78
Eating Out, €246.70
Groceries, €280.34
Attractions, €8.00
Fuel, €237.01
Other transportation, €53.60
Ferries, €116.00
Hotels, €225.00
Misc., €211.79
Grand Total €1,707.22

Daily average: €55.07
In dollars: $2,309.55

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Leaving Greece

By Claire
So here we are on our last full day in Greece. The weather is suddenly overcast and chilly, a prescient taste of things to come as we head north. No matter, we're both reading excellent books: The Surrendered by Chang Rae Lee for me and Chuck is almost to the end of A Breath of Snow and Ashes. Seems like a good day to just lounge inside with a book.

Yesterday afternoon, we tore ourselves away from our books to invite Mik over for a beer (or two). He seemed surprised and pleased—I guess this doesn't happen much for him. His English is good, even if he did blame the beer occasionally when he couldn't quite come up with the right word. I'm always impressed when someone can carry on a conversation in a second (or third) language. He's been traveling alone for a long time and has a caravan back in a small town in France where he spends a lot of his time. He's a writer from Germany but doesn't plan to return. It was a stimulating conversation.

We'll get around to reorganizing and cleaning up tomorrow morning then head to Patras for our 5 pm ferry to Ancona, Italy. We're supposed to arrive at the port 2-1/2 hours before departure. This is another one of the upsides of this kind of travel. We'll just be moving our home to a different location—who cares how long we have to wait? We'll be inside with our books, making tea. It's an overnight crossing and we are camping on deck. This will be another adventure.

Meanwhile, we are in search of our new Magic Mini Duster. We excitedly dusted our computers and Kindles and both remember Chuck getting a large zip-lock bag to store it in. That's where it gets foggy or I should say, blank. We have taken this place apart and CANNOT find it. Could Mik have seen us using it and slipped in during the night to steal it? I can see him over at his camper wearing rubber gloves and washing his van. So German. So clean. A Magic Mini Duster would be right up his alley. Chuck seems to remember that we took the last one from the store. We have checked inside the refrigerator, inside the clothes closet, in the bathroom, I mean, Homer is only so big--how many places do we have to hide this thing? The mystery continues.....

Four hours later, WE FOUND IT! Hiding in plain sight in one of our little plastic organizers that we checked again and again. Can you see it?

We both excitedly cleaned our computers and Kindles again then did the magic cleaning technique to release all the dust.

Oh the stresses of this life.

I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts. ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), Sherlock Holmes

The Good Life in Kato Achaia, Greece

By Claire
We always think it can't get any better and then it does. We are currently in the tiny town of Kato Achaia, 21 km. west of Patras. The birds are singing, flowers are blooming madly and the sun is shining warmly. We even have a 1,000 year old olive tree in residence which overlooks the amazing water below!

We rode our bikes into town today, using Konstantinos's directions. It wasn't far, perhaps 2 km. We walked from one electronics store to another with no luck and I was all for giving up and heading back. Each store was so small I couldn't believe they would have a power supply for my computer. But, Chuck wanted to persevere so I went along with it. Imagine my surprise when the guy in our last stop pulled out a box with different adapters, fitting one neatly into my computer! His shop was small, maybe 200 square feet. I can't begin to explain how I felt when my computer screen lit up and there was my last email, still waiting from when my battery shut down. Be still, my beating heart! I was so sure it was an internal problem. Isn't it amazing what a journey it can be to come to a solution? We have had so much friendly help from the Greek people we have met along the way in our search for the repair of my computer.

Naturally, we had to celebrate with cappuccinos on the town square.

We were just unlocking our bikes to head home when Konstantinos walked by, saw us and asked if we had had any luck. What a nice man.

Our second big purchase of the day was a Magic Mini Duster. What a miracle. Our laptops and Kindles are very dusty and this little guy does work like magic. The photo on the package shows a person spinning it between their hands to release the dust.

I am now headed outside to join Chuck with my Kindle.

The Mediterranean has the color of mackerel, changeable I mean. You don't always know if it is green or violet, you can't even say it's blue, because the next moment the changing reflection has taken on a tint of rose or gray. ~ Vincent van Gogh

Monday, March 29, 2010

Good Will Among (Repair) Men

By Claire
We moved on to another campground in Athens, curiously called Camping Athens. We loved this place, even if it was expensive at €28. It was a huge improvement over the last place—perfect showers with lots of hot water, very friendly owners and close to a bakery, coffee shop and ultimately a place to get dinner. In fact, we found a wonderful pizza place with brick oven and a soccer game playing. One “Traditional Greek” pizza and two beers later, we sat and enjoyed the soccer match on TV.

Our plan for today was to get the refrigerator repaired and look for a computer place along the way to get my computer fixed. We really lucked out, as we have so many times on this adventure of ours. The refrigerator repair was setup by Spiros back at Camping Finikes in Finikounda, upon the recommendation of our former repair place in Thessonoliki--they did not have the part but thought the place in Athens might. They did and we set the date for today.

The campground people at Camping Athens kindly provided a map and some directions to where they thought the camper repair place was located. We had a name and phone number but no address, just a road. This has been typical throughout Italy, Greece and Turkey--no street numbers. We followed their directions, turning Sunya off (don't get me started on her) and found it with just one turn-around and a stop to ask for help. Not bad. The repair guy, Milos, at Nikolaos Kastritis Holiday Land got to work right away, pulling the refrigerator completely out of Homer. In the meantime, Chuck went to ask the manager, George, (who spoke perfect English) if he knew where we could get the oil changed and where we could get the computer repaired. He pointed down the road and suggested we go immediately to get the oil changed to save time while they worked on the refrigerator. We were on a roll!

Frig removed

We found the Fiat service place about a block away with George, who had gone ahead, waiting to lead us there on foot. Is this service or what? The guys at Fiat were wonderful; Andreas, the service manager, asked if we'd like coffee or a cappuccino. We jumped at the cappuccino offer since we hadn't had breakfast. He even asked if we wanted a Freddo (cold) or if we wanted it hot. How much sugar, medium or sweet? This is the kind of oil change you can enjoy. We read our Kindles inside Homer while the work was going on. Andreas came over and signaled us through the window that his estimate was incorrect--it would cost us €10 less. Apparently the oil needed for 11 year old Homer is cheaper.

Andreas, Service Manager

Back at Happy Land, Milos began the installation of our newly working refrigerator. What joy! Yogurt! Cheese! Beer!

Meanwhile, George gave Chuck a couple of names of computer repair places as well as directions to the Lidl grocery store. Off we went, encouraged at how well the day was going. Unfortunately, the streets in town were tiny and driving was a bit of a challenge. There wasn't a parking place anywhere as we drove past Xtreme PC and Multirama. Finally, off in a neighborhood somewhere, we found a spot that looked like small cars could pass by with Homer looming over the tiny street. It was a short street so we were pretty sure big trucks would not be trying to get through. We walked down to the main drag and found Multirama right away. They were mildly helpful but felt we should drive to a town called Alimos to the HP computer support place. She did give us an address but when she called no one answered. We weren't exactly ready to hit the road to some unknown place just to find them closed.

However, it was lunchtime, which might have been why they did not answer the phone. We did give it some thought but decided to see if we could find Xtreme PC in the meantime. Yep. Just down the way. This guy was really helpful and knew what he was doing. He tested the power supply cable and determined that it was the problem, not the computer. That was good news and not surprising. We've had trouble with it; every so often it would emit beeping sounds and not work. But, he didn't have a replacement. Instead, he sent us to see Spiros down the street and around the corner. Spiros was great and also tested the power supply cable. He agreed that the power supply was dead. He said he would have one in tomorrow at noon. OK, so we were on a roll for a while there. We walked around some more but didn't find anyone else to help us. We did go back to Multirama and asked the woman there to call the HP place again but she just didn't want to do it.

Deciding to go to Lidl to get much needed groceries, we took off deciding to think about what to do later. At the store, we both decided to just continue on to our next campground on the beach, hoping we might see an electronics store along the way or maybe in Patras, our next destination. We will be at this campground, Kato Alissos, for 3 days and then head to the port for our ferry ride to Italy. The weather is the warmest it's been so far this year and we had the side door and both windows open until 8 pm. I love spring!

Amazingly, the one other camper here, Mik, helped us out by going to get the manager, Konstantinos, son of the owner. He is an engineer and was very helpful, suggesting a few PC repair shops and even testing the power supply for his own satisfaction. We will probably bike into town tomorrow to check out what is available. The good news is, we made it here easily, we love the place, the beach is beautiful and we spent the time driving looking at the incredible blue water of Greece. We've named it Avatar Blue.

The best thing, though, is that the refrigerator is working and we have cold food.

The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair ~  Douglas Adams

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Boats, Trains, Buses and Taxis

By Claire
Friday Chuck and I scooted into the port town of Parikia to turn in our wheels. It was very windy and all thoughts of taking a scooter holiday, moving from town to town on back roads, immediately evaporated. My eyes were tearing and I couldn't see a thing. Being buffeted by the wind wasn't too fun either. So, instead, we spent the morning in town. First on the list, coffee and a pastry.

We wandered aimlessly around town, enjoying the morning and the winding streets. We found the Church of 100 Doors, Chuck's favorite so far, plus a few other things along the way.

Chuch of 100 Doors

Inside the church

Around town

By then it was lunch time and we were in search of a gyro. We found the perfect place, right on the square. It even had a cat and with the gyros at €2 each, a real deal.

We took the bus home, did some laundry, relaxed and then while Chuck napped, Karin and I sat on her porch in the sun drinking beer. What a wonderful new friend.

We all met again at 7 for dinner in town and a chance to meet some friends of theirs, Ardy and Al. Great food, great conversation and a fun, final dinner.

Up this morning, we were ready to go and sat on our porch in the sunshine for the last time, reading our Kindles. Karin came by at 8:45 to go to the bus stop with us. It was fun taking the bus—this time on the other side of the island seeing new things. This place has so much to see. Back in Parikia, she took us for coffee, handing over some hand picked bakery goodies to take on our ferry trip back to Athens. Yum! Michael met up with us and the four of us walked over to the ferry.

Once again, it's sad to leave but onward we must go. This time we were on the ferry with plenty of time to spare, waving and waving to Karin and Michael below. We found great seats up top in the open air with an opaque roof to keep the sun off. The bakery items didn't last long enough for a photo.

Ferry leaving

We arrived in Piraeus after a relaxing 4 hours of reading. Little did we know what was ahead. We hoped to catch the 4 pm bus but knew it would be tight. We found the train station, bought tickets and jumped on the waiting car. I relaxed and opened my Kindle and we pulled out of the station with an hour of travel ahead of us. Ha! Next thing we knew, a nice young woman, who must have heard us speaking English and probably figured out that we were tourists, told us to get off at this stop and catch a bus to the next train station due to work being done on the metro line. OK. We grabbed our things— bag, backpack, purse, jacket and now Kindle in hand, and raced after the crowd going we knew not where. She found us again and directed us to the #13 bus. Off we went where we got into conversation with another nice young woman who talked to us about Athens and travel until she told us it was time to get off. We followed the crowd to the train station, hopped on and took off until we found out we had to get off once again. By now we had no idea where we were but found a very helpful train employee who spoke excellent English. We asked her how to get to where we were going. She frowned and admitted that it would be very difficult. Oh dear. She started explaining while I hurriedly pulled out a notebook and pen. She said it would take 3 steps and began to write them down. First, downstairs to catch the metro. Then, the #X8 bus, then another metro and then a taxi. In the process she was very firm about warning us against being robbed by the taxi driver and to be careful with our things. She carefully wrote down the names of each stop for us and we went off in search of the stairs, dragging all our things with us. The bus was the most challenging since it's often very difficult to figure out where to get off. Even if you can see the bus stop name, it's not in English. Try Greek! We showed the guy in front of us the name of our stop and asked how many stops it was and he said about 5. Little did we know it was the end of the line. How helpful that would have been. I wouldn't have been straining to see the names of each bus stop and trying to translate. Oh well, we did find everything and the taxi driver was extremely kind and only charged us €5. The entire trip from the port at Piraeus to our campsite took 2-1/2 hours. Thinking back on our decision to take a taxi to get to the port when we were leaving for Paros, I'm just horrified that we even considered taking the bus and metro. We never in a million years would have made it.

So, we are done with Athens. No way are we going to even consider going back to see the Acropolis and the museum. Been there, done that, both of us a long time ago. We donated the metro/bus tickets we had bought to Manos at our campground. We have decided to leave and head to another campground closer to where we are having the refrigerator repaired. Tomorrow is Sunday and traffic will be light and easier to search for the place. My computer has died so that is another thing to deal with but we will find somewhere to get it fixed along the way. In the meantime, I am using Chuck's.

The good news is, we survived it all! We even went out for gyros again tonight. We found a real hole in the wall place behind a gas station about half a kilometer down the road. The guy who took our order was astounded that we were Americans and told us his father lived in Iowa. Huh? I can't even imagine what took him there.

Why don't you try the airlines? It's faster and you get a free meal. ~ Cab driver in the movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Our Greek Island Idle

By Claire
It's been a very relaxing week. We've gotten into a routine of breakfast on the porch then out come our Kindles. Chuck is reading the 6th in the Outlander series, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, by Diana Gabaldon. His bursts of laughter followed by gasps of horror indicate to me that he is enjoying himself. Remember, real men read romance.

We went on a great hike Tuesday, riding double on Karin and Michael's scooters to find the trail. The views were gorgeous, as was the day.

Karin in the flowers

Michael waxing poetic

Fanos Arch--photo by Michael Shephard

Karin wading

We had Karin and Michael over for Greek salad and dessert that night (store bought cookies and ice cream). This was preceded by gin and tonics and homemade tzatsiki on their front porch. We are getting lots of good advice and recommendations for Ireland and Prague. It's really nice to be able to have a coherent conversation with other Americans for a change.

Wednesday morning we actually slept in until 9 am! A first for us. After a leisurely breakfast, We walked into Aliki to pick up a few things at the store. It takes about 2 minutes to get there.

Aliki Village

Aliki Harbor

Later, Karin and I went into town in search of motor scooters to rent. Nothing until next week, unfortunately, so we're going to try going to the main town tomorrow. We headed out to the bakery where I purchased another chocolate treat for Chuck and our daily bread. What a nice place this is! I love riding on the back of Karin's motor scooter. What a life.

Sitting on the porch, alternately reading and viewing either the seascape or the hillside, I became aware of sheep bleating and a little old man—Pappous (Grandpa), I later discovered—singing while he watched over them. He was comfortably seated in the sun. Eventually, he rose and led them nearer, sat himself in another favored location and began singing again. I remembered hearing, many years ago, that Greek men, dancing by themselves in tavernas, were insulted if you applauded them; they danced to please themselves, not for approval. I am sure it was like that for Pappous.


This morning I saw the smallest newborn lambs I have ever seen. They were adorable as they wobbled, weakly, around their mother.

Meeting up with Karin and Michael at 1:30, we headed out by scooter for another walk, this time in the opposite direction from yesterday's walk. We saw so many beautiful views and flowers along the way.

Photo by Karin

We sat on the beach for awhile and just had a relaxing time until we decided it was time for a drink at a local taverna. Three beers and one ouzo later, we parted until dinner time at Karin and Michael's.

Photo by Karin

The beauty surrounding us, the mild climate and the sound of roosters, sheep and birds is very soothing. We are in full-on relax mode and enjoying ourselves immensely. I'm loving all the walks we're taking.

Dinner was another one of Karin's masterpieces. Michael cooked up some wonderful sausages as his contribution to the meal, a goulash that was just a bit breathtaking—she used a hot paprika, not knowing just how hot it would be. Yogurt helped to tame it. We loved it. She even picked out a selection of wonderful desserts at the bakery for us to choose from.

Thursday morning I watched the goats jumping over the fence and hopping around while I sipped my tea. Did I mention this is a really fun place to be?

Our beach view

Later, we all went to Parikia, the port where we arrived, to rent motor scooters for Chuck and me. Unfortunately, my driver's license was one of the things lost when we were robbed so I wasn't able to get my own scooter. It was probably just as well since I haven't ridden one since I was 18. Chuck, on the other hand, used to ride a motorcycle and had a Vespa for awhile. Today's plan was a tour around the entire island. Our first stop was the Mycennaen Acropolis where the view was spectacular.

Hike to Mycennaen Acropolis

View from acropolis

We wound our way around, stopping at various gorgeous spots and a few little villages, some more untouched than others. This one was Naoussa.

We surprised Chuck by going to a Buddhist retreat center for lunch where they serve Thai food. They offer workshops and yoga classes. It was a beautiful, serene place and the owner, Ran, who is from Israel, was so nice and even gave us our tea and spring rolls on the house. He gave us a tour of the Dharma center, which included a huge meditation hall.

Tao's Center

Pad Thai

Sweet and sour pork and pineapple

Fried banana for dessert

Meditation Hall

Chuck in the meditation hall


What pure delight; and what a treat to have Thai food. The place is beautiful—I just wish we could stay all day! But, more delights awaited us. We stopped in two wonderfully Greek towns, Lefkes and Drios. I'm so glad we came to Paros. We have finally found the Greece we've been looking for.


Interesting wreath

A coffee break was in order and once again, we arrived in a charming village where we sat in the sunshine looking at the water.

Our final village of the day was Drios, completely quiet except for a little old man who couldn't start his motor scooter. Michael went over to help him and was able to fire it up but the little old man couldn't seem to keep it going and seemed to have trouble coordinating the accelerator with the kick starter. We're pretty sure he'd been drinking.

What a perfect day. We really have an appreciation for the size and variety of this island, a place we never would have seen if Karin and I hadn't started corresponding via email. Another place we will be sad to leave.

Traveling is not just seeing the new; it is also leaving behind. Not just opening doors; also closing them behind you, never to return. But the place you have left forever is always there for you to see whenever you shut your eyes. ~ Jan Myrdal