amber waves of grain

Lisa and I have spent two days driving, 8 hours on day one and 5 hours on day two. Day one took us through the Allegheny Mountains (literally, five tunnels) and some heavy rains. Passing by Harrisburg, Carlisle and Pittsburgh, we landed in Columbus, OH and found a great restaurant and a cute coffeehouse thanks to friends in town. After waking up in the middle of the night to some collegiate sprinters pounding down the hallway and slamming their doors .. we still managed to get some sleep.

London?

Day two took us on the world’s straightest road to the west: Route 70. With little traffic, some construction and a lot of tractor trailers, I was grateful to have a travel companion to talk to on the way. We passed through Indianapolis and a wide array of places named after other places: Brazil, Paris and London to name a few.

Turning off of Route 70 is a welcome diversion, and then you have 16 miles of Route 16 which is farm after farm after farm. Golden cornfields unfold in my windshield and I think “hello, heartland.

We throw our bags into the hotel room, and head back out to see a total of eight apartments. That whole Central Standard Time thing worked in our favor as we gained an hour in the day. Less so when we backed out of a realtor’s lot with a 5 inch screw in the left rear tire of my car. We quickly toured four local auto body shops trying to beat the 5pm closing bell that seems to sound across town like a siren. A big THANK YOU to the fellows at Neal’s Tire & Auto Center who happily took my keys at approximately 4:57 p.m. and saw to it that the screw was removed and the tire plugged in record time. I’ll be baking them cookies as soon as I secure a kitchen.

The black cat didn’t cross our path until later in the evening (yes, really). But now it appears the Yankees may lose to the Rays .. so maybe not such bad luck after all?

the madness of multitasking

This is never something I thought I would say out loud, never mind broadcast it to the wide world via my blog. But here it is, folks, write it down: I have discovered that I don’t like multitasking.

Bogus, right? Let’s think about this. Where is the #1 place you see the words “ability to multitask,” “must be able to multitask“? Job posts, that’s where. All of those potential employers work long and hard on their wish lists for the almighty position description and each one wants you to be able to juggle projects, people and paperclips like a street performer. Here’s the funny thing – this used to reign supreme in my cover letters and job applications. I worked in a fast-paced, higher education institution for four years and multitasked with the best of them. I had to, if I wanted to survive.

In fact, in my former life I used to THRIVE on fast-paced, highly charged situations. Out of necessity? Yes. Did I want to live this way? I think so. I have always said I prefer being busy, rather than idle. This is still true today, I haven’t totally shed my American ways. But here are some of the ways that multitasking is really flipping me out:

1. driving. I love driving. I love my car. I don’t love traffic. I don’t love other drivers. I have had some moments in the last few weeks where I have been in complete disbelief about the drivers around me. Everyone is in a big, fat hurry and they’re all on their cell phones. For the love of the road people, focus. I don’t care who you are, you’re probably not that important. If you are, get a damn chauffeur. See #2.

photo credit: davesblogcentral.com

2. cell phones. A new addition to my automotive world is the big red stop sign car magnet that reads: STOP TEXTING. Here’s what I recently discovered and confirmed: talking on your cell phone is NOT illegal in Pennsylvania. Fact! A year ago I would absolutely be guilty of this, but now that I am not using a cell phone I am fully conscious of how often I used to reach for my phone while driving. What an idiot!  I’ll be the car driving in between the painted lines, at the prescribed speed, without my phone in my ear, dodging everyone else.

On a local note, I’d like to applaud the Lehigh Valley Health Network for their recent collaboration with Coca-Cola to get the Stop Texting sign on 20 of our local trucks in the area. Do I think it will solve the problem? No, but I thank you for efforts. Now build us a railway system!

3. eating. The average duration of a meal in the country of Spain is approximately 3 to 4 hours (or 12, if it’s a first communion). How many times have I watched tourists freak out about their waiter ignoring them or having to wait an extra 30 minutes for their check? Where’s the fire? This is Spain – we don’t rush anywhere unless it’s to 100 Montaditos on a Wednesday or to the stadium for a fútbol match. And our waiters don’t work for tips. Sabes? Once you get over the initial panic you might realize there IS no rush. Enjoy your glass of wine, eat a bit slower and actually taste your food. Just don’t try it in America. I have no problem with the To Go culture, but I’ve learned to say no to To Go. Coffee tastes so much better when you’re standing still.

I appear to be a bit more patient, more conscious of my surroundings and a lot happier when I can focus on one thing at a time. Don’t all of these things deserve my undivided attention? Don’t you?

Toll free is the way to be

Monday means a return to Athens via Mycenae and Korinth. In celebration of National Monument Day we luck out with free entry to the site (normally €8). After reviewing the bus schedules to Delphi for the following day, we decide to keep the car. The ability to come and go as we please, stopping for a beautiful church here or a curious sign there – so worth it.

Mycenae is enveloped in tourbuses and crawling with French kids presumably on an excursion. We wander through the ruins detouring each time they cross our paths, loud and oblivious to the fact that other people are trying to read signs or take photos. I am at my limit when I am forced to clear my throat in an effort to encourage a young girl to please remove her feet from the sign I am trying to read. The sigh she heaves is larger than life, as I am an incredible inconvenience.

Korinth is sad and devoid of English. In typical fashion, Thao and I provide great entertainment for the locals who are blatantly curious about the petite Asian and tall blonde. We dip into a bakery for some sustenance, forgetting our intention of a leisurely lunch by the water.

Motoring on to Athens we attempt to find the Korinth Canal, a four mile long stretch of water that is barely wide enough to permit freighters. We nearly fly right past it and screech into a parking lot. Walking out onto the bridge we see a bungee jumping set up and raise our eyebrows at each other. But it’s far too windy and far too cold.. or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. The walls are over 300 ft and they were built over a hundred years ago by the Hungarians. Grabbing two freddos to go from a roadside cafe, we commiserate with a family from Texas who are traveling with a group of 8. The frazzled mother details a stressful day of unsuccessful sightseeing, and I admit we just came from where they were trying to go. We take solace in our cappuccinos and our trusty maps, bidding them a good journey.

We go toll free on the way back into the city, and the view is stunning. An enormous expanse of water stretches alongside the car, and mountains flank our other side. The word we use the most while driving is “fake” because the natural beauty is so mindblowing it can’t be real.

Our vocabulary changes significantly and becomes a great deal more colorful as we descend into Athens. Unbeknowst to us, a political rally is taking place in Syntagma Square, resulting in a incredible snarl of traffic and hostile motorists. After a white knuckle drive through the city, we park on some random corner and stalk to the Hotel Metropolis. It is pure karma that a private parking space for guests exists in front of the building and we drop our things only to go back to the car and begin again. Standing with the city map spread out on the car, a kind English speaking gentleman asks us if we need help. I could kiss him. We are equally fortunate when a policewoman at a catastrophic intersection answers my questions and points us in the right direction. Thank god for people like these.

We dive into pasta and salad at an Italian restaurant and come up for air only after plowing halfway through two desserts. At this point we would not be disappointed if we never saw another map or ruin ever again. But we will, tomorrow.

The great heart of the world

Henry Miller – “At Epidavros, in the stillness, in the great peace that came over me, I heard the heart of the world beat. I know what the cure is: it is to give up, to relinquish, to surrender, so that our little hearts may beat in unison with the great heart of the world.”

I wake up with hair like the demon Medusa after a night of tossing and turning. Church bells enthusiastically chime the hour and I decide at this time of day they are not quite as charming. A shadow moving outside our window on the terrace is not a peeping tom but a middle aged man doing tai chi. I lose track of time watching his movements from behind the curtain. We grab breakfast on the move and buy a map of the Peloponnese Islands. After balancing our caffiene levels with gorgeous drinks at a cafe, we pick up our bags and head for Avis car rental.

The Avis office in Athens enjoys a scenic location across a main road from Hadrian’s Arch. We haggled here the day before for a suitable pick up time, and Thao selects a tiny silver Clio for our drive. As a lazy American, I haven’t driven a manual car in over a decade so I will assume the role of navigator and Thao will drive.

Maps in hand we make our way to Nafplio via Epidaurus. Leaving Athens is easier than expected and we are soon cruising west along E94. We speed through the industrial side of Athens and get our windshield cleaned against our wishes. Afterward the boy looks at us and Thao shakes her head and when she mouths the words No Money he simply shrugs and walks away. I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding and am both surprised and grateful for the non incident.

Exiting the major highway, the coastal road is long and windy, with few cars. Our fellow motorists zoom by at top speed and we cruise along past dozens of roadside shrines, screeching to a halt in front of the most spectacular. We are rewarded with stunning views along the water and into the mountains and stop several times for photos and fresh air. I hear sheeps bells clanging in the distance and very little else. Mother earth demands your attention in this place.

Epidaurus is dotted along the landscape with houses, churches and signs for the ancient theater. Pulling into the archeological site we devour our sandwiches and enter the site behind a vocal group of French students, scowling at them for their mere presence. We prepare ourselves for the trek up what we assume will be the typical set of innumerable stairs and after just a few steps, our eyes are filled with ancient stone. It is a sight to behold: a sandy circle with a small marble disk at the center, and hundreds of steps rising stadium style around the arena in a semi circle. People of every age eye the center circle and entertain ideas of performance: oration, theater, music, dance. A brief smile as I imagine an orchestra conductor and a full house – thoughts that echo from the Odeon of Heracles in Athens.

We climb to the top and perch on the cold marble watching people below experiment with the acoustics. A tour guide speaks quietly but her voice carries to us way at the top. I am shocked when she drops a coin onto the marble disc and it sounds like she is sitting beside me.

When requesting directions on to Nafplio three Greek men point in three different directions while I stand with our roadmap stretched between my hands. We motor on through increasingly serpentine roads and a town sprawled across the hills. We encounter the sheep and their shepherd, darting across the road. They head for greener pastures and so do we.

We arrive to Nafplio in drizzling rain, txirimiri as the Spanish say. Baby-faced sailors eat ice cream in pairs or threes and I wonder how old you have to be to join the navy in Greece.

The Palamidi Fortress towers in the distance and a beautiful small town stretches to all points in front of us. Blue shutters, hand-lettered greek signs and tiny shops call out from the small streets of the old town. Hotel Agamemnon at the end of the seafront promenade will be our home for two nights. Pocket doors to the terrace do not push or pull, but slide open along a track. My jaw drops as the doors slide and I find myself looking at the small castle (Bourtzi) on the water. We settle in for a siesta and a cruise ship rolls by on it’s way out to sea and I wonder if it has taken half of this small town with it.

We have dinner at souvasomething on the waterfront, recommended by our adorable hotelier. The shrimp saganaki is delicious, the house wine cheap. Fish roe salad too salty, but the eggplant salad is good. The ouzo is of course complimentary, and upon seeing our facial expressions (a not so subtle cringe) the waiter instructs us to add water to our glasses.

We walk home at 1:30am and an ice cream store is open. An Italian man and his Greek wife offer us myriad flavors of gelato in thei colorful shop. Thao holds my ice cream cone and hers, posing for a photo op. Then she leans over and says to me “I don’t know if you know this but the waffle cone is still warm.” There is no better way to win our favor, we love this town.