Sunday at the Athens airport

James had to leave town today — to Rome, the lucky duck — and rather than have him take a taxi as usual, I offered to drive him so the kids could give him goodbye hugs and see him off. He won’t be gone long, but he rarely leaves on a day or time that is convenient for us to drive him, so I thought it would be fun.

I forgot, though, that this is Greece.

The airport in Athens isn’t especially big, and in my experience it’s been pretty easy to navigate. The taxi usually pulls right up to the curb and drops you off at your airline, lickity split. But I guess there’s a separate lane for taxis, and cars dropping off passengers have to pull over to a median. Which would be fine except…this is Greece. Every five meters there’s a huge blue and red sign that clearly says, “NO PARKING,” and right next to it is an entire line of cars parked along the median. Some people had the presence of mind to put on their flashers before abandoning their cars, but most of them flagrantly ignored the signs and simple parked there. Next to the “no parking” lane were two other lanes, which now became one lane as cars dropping off passengers had to double park to let people out. The whole thing became a complicated logjam, and at some point I gave up on trying to find James’ airline and just let him out. No hugs, just a quick bye bye.

Because…Greece. Next time we’ll just hug our goodbyes at our front door when the cab pulls up.

Sating one’s thirst in Europe

The other day we had a delightfully friendly Greek electrician working on some lighting issues in our house. He’s been here many times, sent by the Embassy throughout our stay here, and he’s always especially sweet to Liam, who follows him all around the house like a lost puppy, peppering him with questions. So when he had a specific request for water …”not too cold, please,” I was happy to grab that for him. I took that to mean no ice, so I filled a glass from the refrigerator water dispenser. After taking a sip, he sheepishly walked to the sink and filled it with some warmer water. Then he explained, “The water shouldn’t be too cold. You shouldn’t feel it going down your throat.”

Ah-ha! So that’s why I can never get ice water on this continent! I’m not sure how scientific his reasoning is, but I’ve learned that science and societal habits don’t always overlap. Usually at restaurants the water is served relatively cold, in a chilled bottle, but never with ice.

While perusing my local supermarket’s revamped beer aisle, I came across Budweiser Budvar, a name that rang some bells in my addled brain. Was this Budweiser’s European offering? Turns out, I wasn’t exactly right. Czech’s finest apparently predates the American version, and there were some legal trademark disputes that were eventually settled in the 1930s. They are, in fact, two different beers…though that was lost on me. To be fair, light lagers tend to all taste the same to me. At any rate, both go well with hotdogs topped with American condiments.

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On a side note, the closest supermarket to my house went through a MAJOR renovation in the spring…so much so that I didn’t even recognize it when I went in late May. They added a second level, an elevator, and about quadrupled their selection. Grocery shopping without a car has gotten so much better!

A few other European beers caught my eye, so I bought those as well. I recently went on the Boulevard Brewery Tour in Kansas City, and I remembered that the founder had been inspired to try his hand at microbrewing after he’d sampled several beers on a tour of Europe. Back in the early 80s, Americans didn’t enjoy the variety of beer that their neighbors across the pond did. I remember my dad always drank Pabst Blue Ribbon, a Milwaukee swill that allegedly won a blue ribbon about 100 years ago. Selection was paltry and money was tight, so I totally get it. Now, I’m pleased to say, his taste for good beers (Tank 7!!!) has arisen to a respectable status. I can’t say I’m much better — in college we drank an awful lot of Milwaukee’s Best, or the Beast, as we called it. My taste has gotten a lot more respectable, too.

Here’s a rundown of the other three beers I sampled. (FYI, I didn’t do this all in one day…just in case you were worried…)

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This Greek beer intrigued me: “With a cool refreshing taste of the Mediterranean summer.” What, exactly does Mediterranean summer taste like? Budweiser, apparently. Light lager…sigh.

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The Angelo Poretti Bock Rossa from Italy also caught my eye. A red bock, perhaps? I need to brush up on my Italian. I’m not sure what all this other stuff on the label means. Hops masters…ok. A number 6? Not sure about that. Anyway, the beer was a bit too hoppy for my taste, bitter to the very end. Of course I finished it because this stuff ain’t cheap at 2 Euros a bottle.

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Finally, out of Spain, the Estrella something Damm something Barcelona. Seriously, I can’t figure out these beer labels. My iPhone translator says the bottom part of the label says, “Mediterranean beer with malt and rice.” Sounds appetizing. But they’ve been in production since 1876, so they must be doing something right. Of the four beers, this was my favorite. Not as dark as I’d assumed from the brown bottle, but rich for a light lager. Not your average Budweiser.

The embassy is hosting a Greek beer tasting in a couple of weeks. James will be between work trips, so he’s going to sit this one out while I get my beer on. I’ll be sure to report back with my findings.

Full Moon Monday

The kids have been staying up until 11 PM and getting up around 10 AM all week long — what I call jet lag, the Greeks call summer. And I can’t seem to get drowsy much before 3 AM. I figured we should take advantage of this momentary noctunalness and do something with the kids at night. Monday the Athenians celebrated the full moon with various concerts and activities with free admission to the famed museums after 8 PM. We met up with my friend Ismenia and her family for dinner and revelry. Or about as much as we could handle on a hot and humid August night in a crowded city. We rode the train from the Embassy to the Plaka for an incredible dinner at Thanasis. We took a table outside, wisely sitting the four older kids together on one end, the two youngest on the other, and we adults in the middle. Khloe and Violet had so much fun sharing snacks and little toys, making them talk to each other and doing a fare job of leaving the adults to visit in peace.

Full of awesome kabobs and greek salad, we trundled our large group toward the Acropolis, stopping for gelato along the way. As we neared the museum, it became apparent that every other tourist in Athens had the same idea we did. Admission to the Acropolis museum is pretty damn cheap, so the long line for a free ticket wasn’t really worth it, especially with two little ones in strollers. So we pushed on up to Mars Hill for some night time views of the Acropolis and just maybe this full moon everyone had come out to see. As we walked along the the every increasingly darkness, we scanned the cloudless sky for the aforementioned white orb. No dice.

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Unsurprisingly, Mars Hill was also jam-packed with tourists. I’d climbed up there about a year ago sans kids during the day, but I thought better of attempting the climb with two kids and a stroller while wearing flip flops. Plus, James had to work in the morning. Ismenia and her adventurous crew folded up the stroller and clamored up the steep staircase while we bide her farewell. As we walked back down to the Metro we spied the full moon rising low and heavy past a mountaintop…and suddenly I remembered there was a partial eclipse! How cool! I stopped to snap some ineffectual photos with my iphone.

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An hour later or so later back at home, Liam and I traipsed up to the rooftop to see the moon, but the eclipse was over by then. So we just laid in the hammock and looked at the sky.

“Look! A shooting star,” he shouted. Sure enough, as I looked over I saw a tell-tale streak in the sky. We talked about meteors, craters on the moon and on earth, the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs, how far away the stars are, and how light years work. After the kids finally went to bed, I texted Ismenia. She was bummed that she didn’t get to see the moon rising over the Acropolis from her vantage point on Mars Hill. It made me glad we’d skipped the hassle and come home early. Our night out with friends was great, but our little rooftop lie-about in the hammock was my favorite part of the evening.

Jet Lagged and Depressed

It’s hard to believe we packed so much into six weeks away. We took the kids to the Kansas Arboretum, drove down to Texas for an awesome family reunion with my husband’s side of the family, saw old friends in Wichita, shot off fireworks with my family and James’ dad, learned how marbles were made at the Moon Marble Factory, ate at Liam’s two favorite restaurants (BJ’s and Fritz’s), saw the Mummies exhibit at Union Station, and I had a fantastic beach vacation at 7-Mile Island on Grand Cayman with my girlfriends. My dad made chocolate chip pancakes every single morning, and he cooked almost every meal we ate for dinner. We had a few play dates with old, dear friends, and the cousins played and played and played. Liam went to a spy class at Longview Kids College, and when the weather took a turn for the better, we took all of the kids to the zoo. We spent our last day at Loose Park, hugging our goodbyes, knowing we wouldn’t be making a return trip for two more years.

And now we’re back home…in Greece…sleeping until the mid-afternoon and up all night with my thoughts and worries. This lifestyle, this little adventure, it comes with a cost. It was easy to dismiss at the onset, but seeing the kids with their grandparents, their aunts, uncles, cousins…seeing the joy in my mother’s face when Violet climbed up into her lap unbidden…seeing Liam ride a four-wheeler and pal around so well with his cousin Colton…hearing cousin Evie beg and plead to spend the night yet again…all I can think about is all the time we’ll be missing with all of them while we’re here. Email and FaceTime are poor substitutes for a hug and a smile.

Four years is a long time. It’s the longest we’ll have ever lived anywhere. And after so many weeks away, Greece is feeling very foreign and decidedly NOT like home. Today I ordered groceries on my phone using an app called e-fresh. No need to dress the children and tear them away from the TV. I don’t think I could have handled the heat and the traffic that is August in Athens. What a relief.

1:03 AM. Still not tired. Hungry for dinner, actually.

My State Department friends, the ones who move every two years from one foreign post to another, I wonder how they manage this? Taking children in and out of schools, making all new friends, attempting to stay in touch with family from abroad. It’s exciting, yes, but it’s lonely, too. Learning a new language, new customs. Seeing famous sights, museums, getting a sense of the history. That’s all fantastic…and exhausting. Sometimes you just want to sit and have a drink with your sister.

Our First Greek Island

It’s been a long time coming, but we finally made it to one of these famed Greek islands. Actually, the one we went to, Agistri, isn’t one of the more famous ones, but this Saronic island is a short ferry trip away from Piraeus, and with two kids in tow, I need easy. My friend from Gymboree, Karen, set the whole thing up. Bless her! She even sent me detailed instructions on where to park. They were so hilariously, typically “Greek”, I have to share them:

Once you turn, you will be on a street that dead-ends at the sea. This same street is a little chaotic, especially because the bus lane is seemingly in the middle of it with traffic on both sides of this bus lane. You will want to be behind it (so all the way to the right) or keep in mind that you will have to turn right on to the coastal road so be prepared to maneuver accordingly. Now here is the tricky part, once you turn right on to the coastal road, you have to move quickly left because you need to turn left at the first light for Gate E8. (Try not to miss this turn!) While you are waiting at this light to turn left, you will see the PPA parking garage on your left (this is the photo that I took). So immediately after this left turn light, turn left for the garage entrance. I know that this sounds complicated but I wanted to give you a visual (without street names, I know…but this is Greece!)

She even had to send a photo, sheesh! And, after dragging my kids out of bed at 6:30 AM on a hot summer morning, rushing out the door without packing any snacks (d’oh!), and negotiating heavy traffic down to the port, I managed to miss the turn into the garage! Somehow there was a disconnect between reading it and doing it. Thankfully I could call her and she helpfully stood on the corner and pointed me in the right direction on my next go around. Whew! Made it!

On the tickets it says they recommend you arrive 30 minutes before the ferry departs. But this is Greece, so our boat wasn’t even there yet. Karen said in the not-so-distant past, Greeks who knew the captain would call them and have them hold the boat for five minutes or so if they were running late. But they are cracking down on things like that. Now the ferries run almost on time!

We bought tickets on the high speed Flying Dolphin — not the fastest boat in the fleet, but at 32 knots, it felt like we were going at a pretty good clip. The ride took less than an hour, even with a stop. The price was fairly reasonable, as well – about 40 Euros for an adult, a child, and a free infant. I worried that the kids would get seasick. In addition to forgetting snacks, I also forgot an extra change of clothes for Violet. But everyone fared well. In all we had four adults and six kids, and we managed to find seats on the boat together. The advantage of going on a weekday before most of the schools are out.

After a short stop at Aegina, we headed south toward Agistri. Liam was glued to the window while Violet was glued to the snacks. Thankfully a more cognizant mother brought lots of food. Perhaps my jumbo bag of sand toys would help make up for my lack of sustenance.

We made it to port without any major meltdowns, and a short bus ride later we came to our hotel. We rented it just for the day so we’d have a place to change and shower. Definitely the way to go for an island day trip. We were able to pay a discounted day rate, which apparently wasn’t terribly discounted, but I thought 40 Euros per room sounded pretty reasonable. But what do I know? At any rate, the accommodations were nice, the staff very friendly, and I was definitely thankful for them both.

We trucked our stuff down the lane to the beach. I was really starting to regret how much crap I brought. But I think the kids appreciated all of the toys and big beach towel I brought. My shoulders didn’t, though! The beach was…ok. Living in Florida kind of turned me into a beach snob. Of course it looked beautiful, but there was a lot of churned up kelp in the water, and there were some uncomfortable rocks you had to wade across. The surf was gentle, and the sand perfect for digging, so our pickiest beach-goers were satisfied. There was a concrete dock on one end that the oldest kids could jump from, and the little ones could play together in the shallows. Liam did a fare amount of complaining, as is his wont, but I tried not to let it get me down. He really hit it off with the other eight-year-old boy in our group, so that helped tremendously.

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Later in the afternoon we decided to head to another beach closer to our hotel. We ordered some dinner and laid around in the superior beach loungers. The kids, on the other hand, were planning a mutiny. One cannot deny the view at this beach was spectacular.

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But the rocky sand wasn’t conducive to digging, and there was no sand in the water — just cumbersome rocks that the kids couldn’t wade on without hurting themselves. I didn’t care much for the rocks, either, but I was ready to sit in my lounger, so I didn’t mind. But the older kids were definitely unhappy. Guess which kid was complaining the loudest? I got a burger for Liam, and while he waited for the food, another mom offered to take the three oldest back to the other beach to play. I owe her big time! The peace and quiet of one toddler happy to dig in the rocks with her Gymboree pals was priceless. I ordered a sangria and enjoyed it immensely. They served it with buttered popcorn. Yum!

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Around 5 we headed back to the hotel to clean up. Our ferry was scheduled to leave at 6, and we had to catch the 5:30 bus back. My kids were a little punch drunk — there was much rambunctious, naked playing in our room. But we managed to get everyone ready in time. The kids were great on the ferry home, but once we drove home and walked in the door, the long day in the sun with no naps caught up with us. Both kids begged for dinner, but then barely ate anything, and I started to lose it. Instead I sent them both to bed, and they were asleep within minutes. In hindsight, I wish I’d stayed the night on the island. Hotel stays come with their own set of challenges for my children, but I think a day trip to an island, even a close one, is just a tad bit ambitious for us.

I’m hoping we can make it to Hydra in the fall. I hear September is the best time of year for that. And we plan to take an island cruise at some point in our stay. This may be the first island we have visited, but it won’t be the last!

The Electric Train Museum

Monday I decided, perhaps against my better judgement, to take the kids on the Metro down to Piraeus to see the Electric Train Museum. I say that because they almost always get sick after riding the train. It’s just a cesspool of bacteria. With so much going on this week, an illness is the last thing I need. But I also can’t stand to sit at home all day entertaining my bored kiddos. So I packed tons of anti-bacterial wipes and hoped for the best. 

Now that Violet is two, she is much more interested in the whole train-riding experience. And when she tired of people watching, a couple of matchbox cars helped keep her occupied. Once we changed to the green line, the scenery outside kept her busy. 


Finally we arrived in Piraeus. It’s the oldest metro station in Athens, and the building is grand. But like so much in Athens, old is juxtaposed with new — classic skylights illuminate graffiti-covered train cars. 



Violet did her best to thwart my germ-fighting efforts, practically licking the floor. 


The museum was small and privately owned. No admission and no photography. But the kids enjoyed the exhibits. There was a replica train car they could sit in, and a video of a train’s-eye view of the ride along the Green line that Liam couldn’t keep his eyes off of. They had tons of old photos from construction of the metro dating back to the mid-1800s. And lots of artifacts — tickets, tokens, switchboards, lanterns, and tools of the trade. Definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in Piraeus with your kiddos. 

Next to the museum was a little sandwich and pastry shop, so we found a cosy window overlooking a construction site and noshed on ham sandwiches. Our table was surrounded on all sides by old men sitting at tables, drinking their coffee and animatedly talking about…something. I have no idea what. But they were entertaining. And the kids were entertaining to them as well. Watching a two-year-old decimate a six-inch ham sandwich will definitely brighten your day. 

A Fruitful Friday

So…I hit a motorcycle. Calm down, everyone is fine. He didn’t even lose his balance. It was more like a grazing. I stopped to see if he was ok — not actually getting out of the car, because what could I possibly do to help with two kids in the back? But he checked himself over briefly, gave me a wave, and went on his way. I was making a left into the Embassy on a one-way street, blinker on at least 50 feet before I turned, so I don’t feel like I was in the wrong here. These motorcyclists zip around cars without abandon. Traffic anarchy.

So, let’s see…I’ve hit a parked car, been rear-ended, hit a pedestrian, and now hit a motorcycle.

Wait…is that…do I have a Bingo?

So, after my near brush with, um, Bingo, I made it to the Embassy for a little play date at the pool. Except as I was walking to the pool gate, I heard a clap of thunder. Fantastic. Undeterred, we took shelter under an awning, hoping this would be a quick summer gale. It was not. We had to quickly usher the kids back inside the building as the rain came down in buckets. Not your typical Athenian June weather, for sure. We killed a little time in daddy’s office, then tried again later in the afternoon. The clouds cleared, the sun came out, and the kids had a lovely time. Violet didn’t get to nap, but we planned to have a sitter that evening, so I figured I’d let her deal with the aftermath.

A friend recommended we buy our movie tickets at Germanos…the Radio-Shack-if Radio-Shack-was-still-a-thing of Athens. Apparently you can pay cash, so no need to have a Greek credit card billing address. Huzzah! James almost didn’t make it home in time — seems the luck I had that day was rubbing off on him. His bus randomly rerouted miles out of the way, with little or no explanation that he could decipher. Even the native Greek speakers were perplexed. I had just enough time to run to Germanos to buy our tickets after he got home, and I discovered the problem…a broken down trolley bus was blocking the road. Several Greek guys were standing around in the rain as steam and noises came out of the engine block. Who knows how long it sat there until they managed to tow it.

At any rate, I managed to get our tickets, and we rushed to the theater. We had to scan our receipt at the kiosk to get our tickets, then walk to the other side of the mall to the Gold Class theater. It wasn’t cheap — 22 Euros per ticket — but we got free champagne at the front door and plush recliners so we could put our feet up while we enjoyed Wonder Woman. Of course, we were the first ones there…because, Greece. Seriously, why do I bother rushing to get places on time here?

The food we ordered wasn’t that great, but also not terribly overpriced, at least by our standards. We got two appetizers, two entrees, and two beers for under 45 Euros. Next time I think we’ll just stick to appetizers and drinks.

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I am Wonder Woman, hear me ROAR!

As I’ve previously mentioned, the movie is shown in English with Greek subtitles. We had a little issue when we saw The Magnificent Seven — all of the native American dialogue was subtitled in Greek, so we never figured out what they were saying. I thought surely we wouldn’t have that problem with a super hero flick. Except, turns out Wonder Woman speaks, like, 100 different languages, and she proceeds to do that in a few scenes. Guess we’ll just have to catch that on the Blu-ray, lol.

I enjoyed seeing ladies kicking butt on screen — the scenes in the Amazon were simply amazing, making me kind of tear up a little. I couldn’t really explain why. I wouldn’t have mentioned it, except later I read this was a common reaction. I doubt James was crying into his mozzarella sticks… in fact, I’m sure his reaction was more, “Look, boobies!” than, “Look at how far feminism has come!” But aside from what I call CGI video game fighting fatigue, and a bit of a ridiculous ending fight scene, we both totally dug the movie.