This is what a snow day in Athens looks like. They were calling for 3 inches of snow, but in Halandri, at least, we only got about an inch, if that. Still, it was enough to close the schools. I shouldn’t be surprised. Under the best of weather conditions, this town is abysmally dangerous to drive around in. Now imagine ice-coated roads and a shuttlebus full of embassy kids. Yeah, probably for the best. I’m sure they got more snow in more mountainous suburbs. James drove the car to work and said the roads were completely fine. By the end of the day most of it melted, and as you can see, the rain will wash the rest of it away this week.
Liam had only been back to school one day before he got another day off. We spent it doing science experiments with his new chemistry set, so I managed to cram a little learning into his day.
I was warned that last winter was unusually mild, and this winter was set to be one of the snowiest on record. So I guess if it snows more than 2 inches, we’ll have more of these snow days in store.
School supply shopping is still kind of a new thing for me. We did it twice in the States, then once very hastily in January here in Greece. Many parents I know love it: the joy of fresh supplies, new beginnings, kids back in school. But me? I’m not a fan. Poring over a vague-yet-very-specific list of items while dodging the usual clientele at Walmart is not my idea of fun. And now I have to do it in a foreign country. Double not fun.
I wisely left baby Violet with the sitter. I knew this was going to take the better part of an afternoon. First stop, IKEA, because of one item on the list: 3 of each Zip Lock IKEA style bags (small, medium, large). I decided to attempt to make this a fun mother-son outing, so we had lunch first (Meatballs without mashed potatoes…still gets my goat), then headed to the ground floor to hunt for these bags. Along the way we picked up some markers and erasers that were on the list…and nothing else. Apparently IKEA does not have a robust back-to-school supply section. We wandered around a bit, asked someone who told us to go to the wrong place, then happened to find them along the way. Each box was about 4 Euros, and I was unclear if they wanted three boxes of each size or just three boxes total. I decided to err on the side of cheapness.
Next stop, everybody’s favorite, Jumbo!
Now I can’t quite figure if this is a Greek thing, or maybe just an ACS thing, but instead of listing regular pocket folders like we’ve always gotten in the past, Liam has to get these enormous plastic folders with bands on the corners that cost twice as much. Then we had to find a ruler with centimeters on it…mostly so I could measure the requested “Greek style” notebooks that were apparently smaller than all the others. He needed five of those in four colors..don’t ask me how that figures out. We ended up with two red because that was his favorite color. But then he needed a regular, non-spiral bound A4 size notebook for Greek as a Foreign Language, so then we had to find one of those. There were seriously piles and piles of notebooks everywhere, and they were either spiral bound, or didn’t have enough pages, or weren’t the right size. But in the end we found everything we needed.
Liam was emphatic about his new backpack. It had to have wheels, and lots of pockets. He picked out a very cool Star Wars one. Holy Hell, it’s 40 Euros! This kid doesn’t even like Star Wars! But he begged and pleaded, so I told him he’ll have to keep this back pack for the duration of our stay, probably until fourth grade. And it is a pretty rad back pack. Maybe I can have it when he’s done.
At the checkout I plunked down 100 Euros. So that’s 60 Euros just on school supplies, roughly $70. Oh, and another 15 or so at IKEA. Ouch. I don’t think I ever broke $50 on my last two school supply excursions back in Kansas. And that was including a new backpack. But maybe my memory is hazy. Anyone want to weigh in?
Yesterday Violet and I set out for our first lunch in the city, a Valentine’s Brunch sponsored by the PTO at Liam’s new school. I’ve gotten pretty adept at riding the bus around my neighborhood, but this was my first time navigating my way downtown via bus and Metro. All those years living in New York and DC, not to mention vacations in Paris, London, and Prague, prepared me for my new big city life. Still, it was a little intimidating without James there to help, but thankfully almost all of the signs were in both Greek and English letters, and the announcements on the subway were spoken in both languages, too. The other challenge I faced was actually finding the restaurant. My smart “phone” is still being held hostage by AT&T, so I had to find a creative workaround — bring up a map of the area on my computer at home, then take a photo with my phone and save it. I had a little trouble finding it on the map — all of my map apps don’t seem to like the format of these Greek addresses. But I finally figured it out. And it worked like a charm! I feel like I’m hyper-aware of my surroundings because I can’t make heads or tails of the street signs, so I paid close attention to where I was going, and I was easily able to make the return trip without consulting the map. What I really had to watch for were the motorcyclists. They have a nasty habit of circumventing traffic via the sidewalks. Yikes!
I met a couple of moms on the way up to the restaurant, called The New IT Place, and we had a lovely table set aside on the top floor. I have a feeling my stroller is going to be completely useless on outings in the city. Violet was the belle of the ball, and she happily munched on croissants while I got to know the other parents. A few had kids in first or second grade, and I came away with a couple of email addresses and phone numbers. Hopefully I can score some play dates for Liam. He is getting increasingly whiny and bored without his toys here.
Speaking of toys, our first shipment is set to arrive next Tuesday, huzzah! It’s been almost a month since they packed up all our things, and I’m really starting to feel it. Three weeks is about as long as I’ve ever been away from home since I’ve become a mom, so our stay here is starting to feeling less like a long vacation and more like a permanent move. I’m really antsy for our stuff to arrive. This shipment is the smaller one, containing most of Violet’s toys, a few of Liam’s toys (probably not nearly enough), and a few odds and ends like towels, blankets, and my bathrobe. Oh, my bathrobe! How I miss you!! Our limit was 700 pounds, so I’m sure there’s a lot I’m forgetting we packed in there. It’ll be like Christmas in February! We still have a long wait for the rest of our things, including the kids’ beds, the rest of Liam’s toys, and the car, which probably won’t be here until late March. Or later. Sigh.
James left for his first day on the job just as Liam left for his first day of school this morning. Both were a little nervous. I walked Liam down to the “bus stop” – across a busy street with only a faded cross walk, and we stood on a narrow corner as traffic buzzed by really fast. The streets here are very narrow and dirty…what you’d expect from an old European city. But there is A LOT of traffic, especially in the morning. I expected to see more cyclists, but it was rather cold, so maybe I’ll see more later in the spring. We waited, and waited, and waited, and just as we were about to give up on this whole school thing, the bus showed up. Yeah! I rode along with him so I could meet his teacher and get him all settled in. I think Liam was a little shell-shocked when he finally arrived, hung up his backpack and sat down in his seat. The kids all crowded around him, all wanting to talk to the new kid. The class sizes are so small, less than 20, so it wasn’t TOO overwhelming. The school psychologist who directed us to his class assured me she’d check on him throughout the day. So I gave my sweet, unusually quiet boy a hug and kiss goodbye, then Violet and I made our way to the bus stop for the return trip home.
So, this whole navigating by mass transit in a foreign country without internet or a working phone thing isn’t as difficult as I feared. It’s all a matter of paying attention to your surroundings. In this case, I have no idea how to read anything, so I’ve got to go by other types of landmarks. I found the bus stop right away, and I’d carefully studied the route online a couple of nights before, so as the bus lumbered around my neighborhood, I was able to pinpoint exactly when to get off. I looked around for a busy street, the very one Liam and I had been standing and waiting forever on. From there I found the gas station I’d seen, and the cross walk, and the little park, and then our street, which I knew started with an A, but then the rest was Greek and impossible for me to read. And then we were home, no problemo!
Next on my to-do list was a much-needed trip to the store. I again employed my illiterate navigation skills to find the grocery store that we’d walked to the day before. Up our street, past the U-pay parking lot, past the street cart bodega, heading away from the big church on the square, across the street from the kid jumpy jump place (amusingly called Balloons), and there it was! We don’t need no stinkin’ GPS.
Despite the name, there wasn’t much “super” about this supermarket. It wasn’t even big enough for proper carts, just these funny little baskets with wheels and telescoping handles. I bought as much as I thought I could carry, figuring they probably don’t deliver. (They didn’t.) Next on my to-do list: find a bigger supermarket that delivers. I’m uncannily reminded of our time in Brooklyn, only there we had our Hobo Cart to help get our groceries home. We still have that cart, but it’s somewhere on the Atlantic right now. In the meantime I managed to stuff laundry detergent and softener into my diaper bag, carry the rest on either arm, and carry a sleeping baby in the Bjorn. All that weight I gained at Christmas will be melting off soon!
Back at the house I was confronted with another foreign appliance, the dishwasher. But, really, how hard could it be to operate? I pushed what looked like the “on” switch, pushed the dial to the first setting, and then it started doing its thing. It seems to have worked – I have hot, clean dishes now. Mission accomplished!
I also got much-needed trash bags for our microscopic trashcan. I thought the embassy was trying to skimp on us, but the bags I bought fit the itty bitty can perfectly, which makes me think this is a normal size for trash cans over here. James says there’s a store here called Jumbo, “if Walmart and Kmart had a baby” is how he described it. If we can’t find a bigger trash can there, we won’t find one anywhere.
Before I knew it, it was time to bundle up the baby in the Kangaroo coat and meet Liam at the bus stop. This time he could get off on the other side of the street, so we didn’t have to cross at the scary cross walk. Liam chatted all about school on the way home. I think he really liked it. Except, ever the complainer, he was upset that he didn’t have much time for a snack. But I saved the day with these kid yogurts I found at the store. He asked me what the flavor was, and I told him we’d have to just look at the picture and guess. Graham cracker? Sounds good to me! I had one, too, and it was delish.
Next up, what’s for dinner? What with all the laundry soap, dish soap, trash bags and yogurt, I didn’t have room for proper food from the store today. So I perused the various take-out menus that I found tacked to our door today:
Hmmm…one is entirely in Greek with no pictures, no idea what they’re selling. One has wonderful pictures of Greek food, but nothing in English, so that’s a maybe. The last one has all the food names in English and descriptions in Greek. And it’s a burger place. A unanimous vote for burgers! (James wasn’t home yet, and Violet was asleep.) Funny enough, this is the second burger place I’ve tried here. I feel like burgers might be the second most prevalent food in Athens after Greek food. The first place by our hotel was pretty terrible (Goody’s…a misnomer, for sure), but this place, called Home Burger, was actually pretty good. They even had Dr. Peppers! One can was almost $2, but beggars can’t be choosers, right?