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.

The summer crunch

It’s that time of year again, that sweet spot before the weather gets unbearably hot when we try to pack as many things into our itinerary as we can. Plus, we’ve got a very long stay in the States coming up, so there’s even less time to pack it all in. Tomorrow I’m off to the beach with Violet and all of the littles from the embassy, our first beach outing of the season. I expect there will be less sand eating this time around, which is a relief. This weekend is a long weekend (something called “Whit Monday” that both the school and the embassy have off), so we’re finally getting to one of these Greek islands people have told us about. Hydra (pronounced “Hee-dra” apparently, but I had to butcher it a few times before I caught on) is our destination, an island totally devoid of cars. People walk, bike, or ride donkeys. I expect much blog fodder from this trip.

We’ve also got an adults-only trip to Adventure Park planned, plus a beach island excursion with Gymboree friends once Liam is out of school. A tennis tournament, a baby shower, a plethora of birthday parties, and two dental appointments will also be keeping us busy in the coming weeks. Let’s hope I can keep everything straight!

A lovely coastal bike ride

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My bike has been languishing in my garage since we moved here almost a year and a half ago, so when my friend Joanna mentioned that she liked to bike along the coastal road in Sounio, I jumped at the chance.

First, though, I had to tune up my bike. Pump some air in the tires, makes sure the brakes worked…as I stood there staring at it, I kept thinking something was off. Until I tried to get on it and realized the pedals were missing!! Thankfully, I noticed the movers had taped this big wad on the back of the bike. I initially thought that was just extra padding, but after unwrapping it I found my pedals inside. Whew!

After getting our kids to school and with the babysitter, we met in the parking lot of the Varkiza Resort in Gylfada, about 40 minutes southwest of my house. We had to ride along the shoulder — not ideal, but it’s pretty much the only way to bike around here. Up a hill (the first of many) and around a corner we came upon a vast expanse of sea cliff and sea. Breathtaking. I’ve driven this road before, but you can enjoy the views better on a bike.

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The water here is this amazing shade of aquamarine, simply astounding. Sheer cliffs had stairways and ramps cut into them to aid beachgoers in getting to the water. Joanna and I wished we’d brought our swimsuits. We briefly entertained just swimming in our underwear, but thought better of it. The weather seemed hot in the sun as we pedaled up hill, but it was still only in the mid-70s.

Up the hills, down the hills, we undulated along, pausing to take some photos along the way.

Joanna kept well ahead of me; with my heavy bike frame, plodding fat tires, and — let’s face it — less that stellar physique, I was no match for her streamlined racing bike. I was having serious bike envy. She even had special bike shorts with padding in the crotch. Adding those to my shopping list Right Now.

Along the way we passed a one-legged cyclist. I did an honest-to-God double take. What an inspiration! During one section of downhill coasting, a line of flowering trees wafted their intoxicating fragrance mere feet from my face as I carefully hugged the shoulder. And every kilometer or so, we’d pass a beautiful little shrine. They are all over the place in this country. Read about their meaning and origins here.

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After going about 10 miles, we turned back and stopped at a seaside restaurant we’d seen along the way. Just a few meters from the water, we had a lovely view from our table as we noshed on Greek salad with bread and taziki.

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The way back was a little hotter with more traffic. Joanna says she likes to come here early on Saturday mornings — there are hardly any cars, only lots of cyclists. Last time she came, she made it all the way to the Temple of Poseidon, 50 miles round trip. Yowza! Twenty miles was about my limit today. I can’t fathom going 50…though perhaps if I had a lighter road bike, I could manage it. Maybe I can rent or borrow one and give it a try. Sometime soon, I hope…I didn’t realize how much I missed biking until I got back out there. Such a lovely day! Can’t wait to go back!

Syrian kiddos learn English

Remember back in February when I said I was going to do volunteer to work with refugee children? After three months of paperwork processing, spring break conflicts, and a little bit of phone tag, I finally got started this week. Like I mentioned before, the folks at Caritas run several refugee centers throughout Athens, and they are in need of volunteers to teach English. Our volunteer network at the US Embassy put out a call for willing teachers, and a few of us decided to give it a try. During our initial meetings, they discussed needing volunteers to organize activities for children, as well.

Once my paperwork was processed I was able to pick a location to volunteer in — I chose one close to a Metro stop so I didn’t have to contend with Athens traffic…and parking. We met with the location director last week to iron out the details. I wasn’t sure what to expect…and neither were they. It was a little disorganized, but this is a brand new class, and we’re contending with three different languages, so it’s to be expected.

This particular building houses a handful of families for about 6 months before they are relocated to various areas around Europe. We volunteer in pairs — at another location, both of the embassy volunteers teach English to the adults. The children learn English at a school they attend in the afternoons. But in our location the school is too far, so I’ll be supervising the children and organizing activities that will teach them some English, while my partner teaches their parents in a room next door.

On my first day, I thought I would just get the lay of the land. There are games, markers, and toys in the play room, so I figured I would let the kids pick what they want to play with and I’d observe them. You know, get a feel for how much English they already know, what their temperaments are like, see how well they listen.

I was picturing Deborah Carr in The King and I singing Getting to Know You. We started out with four little girls and one boy, and as more kids filtered in, I asked them their names and wrote them in English on a name tag. The girls colored; the boys played a fishing game. As more and more children came in, the scene grew more chaotic. Ahmed, my mischievous one, took a lot of my attention as he started pouring through the cabinets for things to play with and/or destroy. I was warned about this one. Soon I had eleven kids in a tiny room, games and toys were everywhere, there was some mysterious black powder on the floor (thanks, Ahmed), and the two-year-old kept trying to escape into the hall. The King and I? More like Kindergarten Cop.

I checked my phone. Ten more minutes. Okay. After getting Ahmed to help sweep up his mess, I came up with a game — Everybody Stand Up and Copy What I Do! I would say very clearly in English an action — touch your nose — and they would follow suit. After about five minutes I ran out of ideas to do. I tried to get one of the oldest boys to help me out, but he wasn’t understanding. He leaned over and conspiratorially whispered, “I only know a little English.” Fair enough, kiddo. We’ll remedy that soon enough.

Time to clean up! I sang my favorite song from Gymboree, Everybody’s Tidying Up, and the kids all took the hint and helped pick up the room. Some of them even tried to sing along! Some of the older kids begged me to let them take toys back to their rooms. I had a feeling that wouldn’t be allowed — hence all the begging for the “new teacher” — and sure enough, it wasn’t. But they eventually got the room in order and I said my goodbyes. Back again next week!

Next time I plan to have a handful of games and activities that will help foster their growing English vocabularies. One idea I had was to write their names in English on large name tags and have them copy the letters underneath each time I come. I’m sure the quiet little girls will love that (they are so sweet and lovely — I want to take them all home!) I’ll have to find some active games for the more rambunctious boys, as well. Incidentally, the most challenging children were the 7-8 year old boys and the 2 year old. No wonder my life at home is so difficult lately! (That, and the month-long solo parenting — that is finally coming to an end this weekend!!!)

Despite the chaos, I really did have a great time. The kids were very endearing…even mischievous Ahmed, with his big grin and bigger hugs. I look forward to learning how to properly pronounce their names (One of the moms was laughing with me at my poor attempts), and the translator helped me learn how to greet the children in their language. A simple “Ach – Lan” or “Welcome”.