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.

Another Day, Another Beach

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Violet and Aimelia enjoying the sand under the umbrella. (Violet tossing, Aimelia eating)

 

My husband says a beach is a beach is a beach. But I disagree. Many factors combine to make an enjoyable beach outing , and I’m always on the quest for something better. I love Trolley Café — they truly do have amazing frozen chocolates (called Freddos on the menu, apparently) — but I don’t love how far the chairs are from the shore. I’d heard good things about Schinias Beach in Marathon, so we met up with a few other families there last Wednesday.

First the pros. The beach and water are fantastic. The chairs are quite close to the water, and at least on the weekdays, we were able to sit in them without having to order anything. We sat by the Delphin Bar and Grill, so I was able to walk up and order some drinks. We picked a fantastic day — high in the upper 80s, not much wind. The water was relatively warm, and quite shallow. I found I had to keep on my knees just so Violet could get wet. And the waves were quite gentle. Violet loved getting in the shallow water and walking along the surf.

Now the cons. The drive took about an hour from my house, though if you take the mountain road over Pentilis, the view is stunning. The frozen chocolate wasn’t nearly as good as Trolley Cafe’s — though to be fair, their machine wasn’t ready, so the guy made one with ice. I did have a delectably sweet strawberry and lemon Icee that more than made up for it. And I was told that if the wind cuts strongly from the East, the beach becomes almost unbearable windy. We lucked out Wednesday, but will have to check the weather report closely next time we come. Also, I almost didn’t make it home in time to meet Liam’s bus!

Despite some of the cons, I had a great time, and will definitely be back. Next week Liam is off school, so I’m hoping to make it to some new beaches before we leave for the land-locked Midwest.

Adventure Park for Grown-Ups

20170610_143451486_iOSDouble date at Adventure Park, woo hoo! After taking Liam here twice, wishing I could harness up and try the more advanced courses, I decided to invite some friends and make a date of it. Joanna, my intrepid biking and aerial yoga buddy, and her hubby Richard were totally game.

We arrived at 5PM last Saturday, paid our 20 Euros for three hours, harnessed up, got a safety lecture, and then we were off! Technically I was about four inches too short for the adult course, but this is Greece, so of course it didn’t matter. “You can just jump for it,” is what I was told. Sounds good to me! Helmets were also optional. Because…Greece!

We started on the four “Wolf” courses, about 30 feet up in the trees. We’d hook in our safety lines, then negotiate various obstacles from platform to platform. There was definitely an advantage to going last, we discovered, though there was always a guide on the ground who would talk us through if we needed help. We each had a zip line apparatus attached to our harness, so after a rope bridges, hanging logs, or whatever else they could dream up, we’d hook into a zip line and ferried ourselves across.

I was surprised to discover that sometimes my height was an advantage. Richard was the tallest in our group, and some of the challenges that were easier for me were a bit awkward for him. Then I had to swing across three ropes Indiana Jones-style and that knocked me down a peg or two.

After finishing up the “Wolf” courses, and feeling pretty good about ourselves, we continued on to the three “Eagle” courses. Whoa. These were much higher and much harder. We were feeling fatigued, but determined, so we pushed through. At one point I could barely reach the guy wire above my head…oh, yeah, I guess I really am too short for this! But I managed to get across. By far the hardest for us was swinging across on a rope to a rope “spider web” — James made it look so easy! I managed to get across, but James had to help me down. Poor Joanna and Richard missed and had to get rescued.

By the end of the second “Eagles” course we were tired, thirsty, and ready to quit. Our hands ached (I found out later you can get gloves…note for next time!), and I had bruises all over. I wish I’d worn longer sleeves. But after a rest and some water, we pushed on, and discovered the last course was all zip lines. Yee-haw! What a way to end the night!

They closed up the park as we left; we were the last guests to leave. We got dinner at a little taverna up the road, resting our weary bodies as we stuffed ourselves with sausages, potatoes, Greek salad and cheese. This was certainly one of the best…and most painful…date nights ever!

Back to the Beach

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Here I am rockin’ Ismenia’s sun hat from Mexico. I totally need one of these!

I love, love, love living 30 minutes from the beach. Or at least this beach in particular, the one I call Trolley Cafe Beach. I’m sure this beach has a proper name, but I cannot seem to find it on any maps. It’s in the town of Artemis, so maybe it is called Artemis Beach? At any rate, the sand is great, the water is shallow, and the frozen chocolates are amazing! And amazing affordable, at about 3 Euros a piece.

We spent a lot of time playing with Khloe here last September. My how these kiddos have grown!

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We were also joined by three other families, thanks to What’s App and Facebook groups that have been set up. There are so many 2-year-old little girls at this mission. I’m glad we’ve finally gotten connected.

So I thought Violet wouldn’t be eating sand now that she’s two. I was mistaken. She picked up a rock, told me it was a cookie, then proceeded to pretend “eat” it, which of course means putting it in her mouth. Mmmm…gritty. She was a little nervous about getting her feet wet at first. I have to remind myself that she probably barely remembers the beach from last year. But soon enough she was holding my hands and wading in chest deep, giggling the whole way. Occasionally a wave would get her in the face, and she’d cough and cry and insist on being picked up. But she would be back at it again in no time. That’s m’girl! I look forward to cramming as many beach outings as I can fit into our packed schedule before we leave for land-locked Missouri.

Right now, though, a summer cold is rampaging its way through the household. I’m patient zero, the one who powers through, so no worries there. But James isn’t feeling so hot now, and Liam complained of a sore throat this morning. I bought us ferry tickets to Hydra island this weekend, which is sounding like a decidedly BAD idea. I want my first island outing to be MAGICAL. And I’ve heard Hydra is quite picturesque and peaceful. Not so with a sick family. Thankfully, ferry tickets are easily transferable, so hopefully we can try again in another couple of weeks.

 

Syrian kiddos take two

Today I came armed with activities — books to read, songs to sing, games to play — and while it was still chaotic at times, I feel like the time was much better spent. I started our hour reading a few picture books I’d brought from home. They loved Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, but I lost them a bit with Peanut Butter and CupcakeIt occurred to me halfway through that the concept of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches might be a bit unfamiliar. I found the books with more prose were harder for them to follow, so next time I’ll try to pick shorter books with less words and more colorful pictures.

After a lively round of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, the girls were begging to color, so I left them to their own devices. Then our intrepid coordinator arrived with her laptop and a pair of speakers, and we spent the rest of the hour dancing to If You’re Happy and You Know It, Where is Thumbkin, and the like. Some songs we found they knew very well. Their English is better than I thought, at least when it comes to songs. I suddenly remembered one of my favorite songs from Liam’s preschool days, something about monkeys teasing alligators and getting snatched out of a tree. That was a big hit. All that jumping around and singing and I was totally breaking a sweat!

I made them all name tags with their names in English printed on them. I was trying to get them to write their names in English underneath, but they weren’t quite getting it, so they wrote them in Arabic. But I think if they keep seeing their names in English, it’ll sink in eventually.

Next time I’m thinking I might bring in some balloons. Maybe we can draw faces on them or something. Maybe English letters of the alphabet. I have to keep the craft simple because of the age range and limited space. And thanks to Liam, I’ve got an impressive number of Michael Jackson hits stored on my phone, so we could always have an 80’s king of pop dance party. I don’t care how old you are and where you’re from, that’s always fun.