Monday, July 23, 2012

The month of incredible travel

English/Arabic sign at The Light and Sound Show,
"May Peace Prevail On Earth."
June 2012:

1 month, 3 trips, 7 countries, 3 continents!!

It was a big month! And, i made a profit off the 3 trips combined! i love my life:-)

i started the month by traveling to Egypt by myself, for a history and culture adventure. Since there was lots of FoxNews-ish talk about riots in Cairo, i stayed outside of town in Giza. From that home base, i spent three full days sightseeing and getting to know Egypt and a few Egyptians. My path took me through the ruins and museum of Memphis, Egypt's first capital; to the pyramids and pyramid-builder-school of Imonhotep at Saqaara; into the Sahara desert at Dashur; through the mosques, synagogues and churches of Cairo and into the museum there to find the mummy of 2 of my favorite Egyptian personalities, Ramses II and Akheneton; not to mention the wonders of Giza: The Great Pyramid (of Cheops), the Sphynx, and  The Light and Sound Show there!
The Light and Sound Show, Giza

i found the Egyptian people to be down-trodden, maybe, but optimistic, incredibly friendly (though, as vendors, annoying persistent), excited to meet an American and severely sheltered from the outside world (knowing nothing about the condition or location of Egyptian art abroad, which their people made, nor of the Occupy Wall Street or similar protests around the world, which their own Revolution helped to ignite!) (You can read several more blog entries on the Egyptian trip here.)

Then it was time to get to work:

i had been hired to lead a "student group" around Italy and Greece. "Student" in quotation marks because it was actually a pair of professors who instead of students, had invited mostly friends, family and colleagues (bravi!!).

Rio-Atirio Bridge, Greece, and our bus

i helped them (a group of 28 Americans) get used to the Old World in Rome and Florence. Then one day we hiked to the top of, and looked down into the active crater of, Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that destroyed the ancient town of Pompei...then we went to see the excavations of Pompei itself. Then we drove across the boot of Italy, through the thousand-year-old olive trees of the Puglia region to the port of Brindisi, where we boarded a ferry to Greece!

From the port of Patras, our first stop was Delphi. On the way there we took an especially long break at the lunch restaurant, as it happened to be right on the Strait of Corinth and we wanted to go swimming! Floating on my back there on the coast of Greece after a delicious meal of moussaka i remembered, "Oh yea, i'm working!" ....and i remembered that my life is pretty awesome.

(Though i am a local tour guide in Rome and The Vatican, when i travel like this i am an accompanier, meaning i have to help clients with logistics, planning, communicating, navigating, historical and cultural context, etc., - it's like i'm a personal assistant for the group.)

Penny teaching ancient Greek to a student, in Delphi
Next day we visited the fantastic ruins of ancient Delphi, where the Oracle of Delphi (or Delphic Sybil) doled out advice that was never needed and rarely listened to: the inscription at the entrance gave all the worthy advice there is to give: "Know yourself" and "Everything in moderation." Our tour guide there, Penny, is not only the most fluent and interesting licensed guide i've ever seen in continental Europe, she is also the only one that both encourages and effectively stimulates critical thinking - for days after this tour the group was still discussing the civil, philosophical and historical topics that Penny told us about (watch for an upcoming blog post with more about that.)

Then it was on to Athens, where the American-fueled agency i was working for had forbidden any of the paricipants, even on their free time, from going to the main square of the city, Syntagma Square. So, we went to the city credited with inventing democracy, but we were not allowed to see even the outside of their Parliament, because we don't like how (in months past, not recently) their democracy looked when they held protests.
Syntagma Square, Athens, June 2012

(i would later find out that if they had been allowed to see this forbidden Syntagma Square, they would have found a peaceful, quiet space with grandmas and granddaughters playing, dorky foreigners toting H&M bags, stray dogs sleeping in the grass in the shade - they would have found that this supposedly scary place was actual peaceful and normal.)

Maybe by coincidence, but the agency did not even put us in a hotel in Athens but in a nearby suburb called Glynfada which has...shops. We did get one day to actually enter Athens, an hour-long bus tour of the city followed by a trip up onto the Acropolis to see the Parthenon, all with a local Greek tour guide (entering at about 9.30am was a baaaad idea, it was so crowded that i personally did not even look around. i went back a few days later at 8am and had the place to myself;-)

Syntagma Square, Athens, June 2012
Then off on a ferry to Greek Islands and Turkey: First Mykonos, the island famous for windmills, shopping and nude beaches. It was pretty cool, but our stop there was in the evening and didn't leave very much time to enjoy the island.

That night we sailed to Kusadasi, Turkey, where we went on a guided tour of the of the Roman ruins of Ephesus. The ruins there are amazing, the entire city is intact, unlike anything we have in Italy. After the tour the local guide took the group to a carpet shop. Acting on instinct, my friends and i skipped out on the carpet presentation and went to get a good Turkish meal near the bazaar of Kusadasi Our other friends told us we had done well by not going. A bit of advice: always, for your entire life, in every moment, avoid eastern carpet demonstrations....unless of course you thoroughly enjoy a never-ending hard sell!
The ampitheater of Ephesus, in Turkey.

Already then that afternoon we had sailed to Patmos, the island where the guides would like to tell you that the Book of Revelations was written. ....there are also shops there that rent scooters for 15euros per day, so i found some beautiful, wonderful female company and cruised out to a nice quiet, unpopulated beach off the beaten path;-)

Roman mosaic, Ephesus, Turkey - i found it!
Our final stop, the archipelago of Santorini, was perhaps the most spectacular. The main island there, Thira, sits above huge cliffs that lead to the water's edge. Several of my friends and i had bought the Volcano and Swimming Tour (its real name was much less interesting than that!) that took us to Nea Kameni, the island at the center of the archipelago where a very nice, British guide told us all about the formation of the islands, the volcanic activity in the area past and present, and all about the islands themselves. Then we got back on our caique (sailboat with a motor) and were taken to a volcanic spring that spews hot, volcanic water up into a cove where people go swimming. Looking back on it, i don't really understand why it was so nice: sulphur water STINKS, so many people visit the cove that it's dirty and full of garbage, plus there were many boatloads of people all there at the same moment so it was packed......but somehow i still came away thinking it had been an awesome, fun time!

Then that afternoon i rented another scooter and zipped over to the excavations of Akrotiri (amazing to think about and to have witnessed maybe, but definitely not much to look at..) and then to the famous Red Beach (beautiful, and seriously red!) and then to Kamari beach to meet friends. Kamari is a cool, commercialized beach with the excellent innovation of apparently pouring smooth concrete into the water's edge, making a nice (urchin-free) surface to walk on in the swimming area.

On our cruise ship, crossing between Greece and Turkey. (The photo was taken through the sun-shading glass of the tower bar;-)
Then the cruise ship took us back to Athens where we went just from the port to the airport, and i had to sadly send those 28 Americans back home, and i went into Athens by myself.

i had a couple of days before i was scheduled for any tours in Rome, so i got an hotel near the Archaeological museum with the intention of both relaxing and getting out to see some of Athens. That evening i watched sunset from the hotel roof pool bar while enjoying 13year old brandy while in a pool on top of a building with the Parthenon on the Acropolis visible on the horizon (and savored the fact that both the hotel and the brandy together had cost me less than $40!) ....and again i remembered that my life is good:-)

Construction equipment and soldiers at the Parthenon
On my one full free day in Athens i got up early as if i was still working and got to the Acropolis just before it opened at 8am. Since it wasn't open yet, i went across the walk way to the Hill of Mars, where Saint Paul and others preached and debated, and was there completely by myself, not another person within view. Then at 8 i went back to the Acropolis entrance and found it wonderfully quiet. As i arrived to the top near the Parthenon, there was one other tour group. Then were just a few families of travelers - the opposite of the experience i'd had when i entered later in the morning.

i must say though, it is a relatively lousy time to visit the Parthenon, these years. It is heavily covered with modern construction equipment as they work on restorations.

Fiber optic wires monitoring the Parthenon
Then i went to the (waste of time) Acropolis Museum. It was RIDICULOUS. There is precisely one thing museum-worthy in the whole museum, and that is 5 of the original 6 caryatids (beautiful woman columns) of the Erechtheion temple. It is a farce. The only reason they built this whole (modern, air conditioned, huge) museum is that the British Museum supposedly told Greece that the reason they couldn't have the frieze of the Parthenon back is that they did not have a museum to hold it. ....Greece!! What are you thinking about?? That's not why they are never going to give you back the frieze of the Parthenon! It's because THEY HAVE IT. And if you had been capable of not losing it, you'd have it instead. But you weren't, probably aren't, and are simply never getting that lost art back, unfortunately for you.

i went back to The Athens Archaeological Museum and it was, again, fantastic. i love the ancient gold death-masks and the bronze and marble statues that have been discovered in shipwrecks.

Then i flew back to Rome and thought i was done with traveling tours for the season. But the very day i get back the Rome office of this huge agency calls me to ask if i would please go do one more tour. i said no and hung up. A few minutes later though i called back and asked what the tour would be like. Turned out they needed someone to immediately fly to Paris to pick up a group 6days into their tour because they had chosen to fire their Tour Director. Oh, and it was a group of 50 Girl Scouts, who are not supposed to get male Tour Directors anyway. This cemented the case for me: again i said no and hung up.

Then, for some reason, i called back once more and let myself be talked into buying a ticket to fly to Paris right then and there during the phone conversation and fly the very next morning! Once i arrived in Paris i went to the agency office there to get what info there was to get from the fired TD (she didn't speak English. She is a licensed, local guide in Spain, but i could not manage a conversation with her in English. AND that apparently wasn't even the worst of her problems! EF later asked me what i thought of the situation she had created - i told them to keep assigning her tours, and to keep my phone number handy!...but i was kidding. We should really push, instead, for a higher standard of English among European tourism professionals.)

Our Chalet WAGGGS World Center, Switzerland
i met the group at their dinner, and then boarded them in the morning onto a bus to Switzerland where they had an appointment at Our Chalet, a small international conference center of WAGGGS, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. It was a wonderful place to work, as the Girl Scouts running the place pretty much made everything happen and i was at my leisure to participate or not (when there was a hike to a waterfall, i definitely participated, and it was pretty cool...but i skipped Arts and Crafts!)

After their time there with the Scouts, we drove to Lucern where we had a scheduled "Swiss Culture" lunch where the entertainers yodeled and sang, spun flags and blew horns, all while we happily ate cheese fondue. i don't have the enthusiasm to describe it much here, but it was actually really cool and many of the Scouts told me they'd enjoyed it. Then, most of us had chosen to go up onto Mount Olympus. To get to the top, we took the steepest rail road in the world....and promptly found out that visibility at the summit was approximately one arm's length. ...luckily the trip down was on a series of gondolas and that was pretty cool.
A Swiss guying showing the Girls Scouts how to blow an Alpine Horn

And from there, we drove on into Italy!! Pisa, Florence and Rome, i thought this was a pretty good introduction to Italy for this group. Four days: One on travel arrival time, and half day in Pisa. Then a full day in Florence and two full days in Rome. Obviously the more the merrier, but i thought this group was lucker than some others i've seen that get just one day and a quarter, or even less, for Rome.

A while back someone asked me if i travel much. And i immediately said no. Because i've never thought of myself as someone that travels a lot.....but i have in fact realized that by any reasonable standards, yes, i do in fact travel a lot. And i'm not someone who loves traveling - instead, i live in the wonderful places other people wish to visit;-) But i am a very and increasingly able and efficient traveller, so i am so glad to have found a niche of lifestyle that combines employment and travel. And what a way to live! Not that it's not hard work. It's ridiculously long days (usually 12hours minimum) with no days off or even designated breaks. Most of my friends and colleagues that have seen me do these tours, or even just heard about them, think i'm crazy and they want no part of it. But i love it most of the time, even if some times more than others.

That work-travel combined with the flexibility of being a free-lance tourism professional in Rome means....yea, i guess i do travel a lot, especially this month with these 7 countries (Egypt, Italy, The Vatican, Greece, Turkey, France, Switzerland) on three continents, it was a pretty memorable month!:-)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...