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Friday, June 30, 2006

Spinalonga Island

Our day started off in an internet cafe and it's ending in one, too. After my last blog, we headed on the boat to Spinalonga Island. We stopped for a brief swim in the sea. Teagan got into the sea, but immediately wanted out. The other two had a great time snorkeling.

The island was very interesting, but our guide focused on the leper colony that was there in the early 1900s. I wanted to hear all about the Venetians and how they fought the Turks over that island. Eventually the Turks took it over and built some "homes" around the Venetian walls, but recently the Greeks "remodeled" and took out anything that resembled Turkish influence. (If you don't know about the Greeks and the Turks, you need a history lesson. But suffice it to say they don't like each other.)

After our trek around the island, we headed back to town for a meal out. I know, I know. I said we'd cook in, but after all that swimming and walking in the heat (at least 90-ish today), none of us were up for cooking. Then the kids got an ice cream. They were so excited. (Simple pleasures, eh?) Then they watched a movie in our room. (I have a DVD player on my computer, so we brought a handful of movies for nights like tonight.)

While we ate dinner, we watched the Germany-Argentina game. Wow! It went to penalty shots. Germany has a much better goal keeper, so they won that match. Now we're watching Italy-Ukraine. You know Italy will win this one.

I'm hoping tomorrow that England will win and so will France. Then we'll have the rivalry of those two, and England will win. Then German will beat Italy and it'll be just like 1966, except England will win this time.

Ah, one can dream, eh?

Now I'm off to focus on my beer, my ouzo, and my snacks. Oh, I forgot to say that I tried Raki today. It's a liquor made from grapes. I think it's from the pith that's left after making wine, but I'll have to do some research and let you know.

And it's noon your time and yet no one is on Skype or Yahoo. Hmm. More slackers in the crowd or are you all logged off so you can watch the game? :-)

Lovin' it here

We got all settled in to the hotel and checked out a lot of the town. Terry and I found five internet cafes, so we're in business. Two of them let us use our own computers, so now I can upload some photos. (I was beginning to think I'd have to burn a CD to get them up).

I've uploaded a handful of images (reduced) and a short movie of a bus ride, so you can see how wide the roads are. The movie shows one of the widest roads we've been on.

Later today or tomorrow we'll head to Spinalonga island. Teagan doesn't want to go on the boat, but I told her you can't come to Greece (especially an island during Navy Week) and not get on a boat! Maybe I'll have photos later.

We ate at a fabulous Italian place near the marina. We ate tons of food and drank more beer. We packed some food in the hotel room, so we're good for breakfast. We'll likely have dinner in tonight. We'll see. Depends on the boat ride.

I'm trying to get us to Lasithi plateau, but the tours only go on Monday and cost a fortune. I'm going to look into renting a car for a day and taking a drive up there. We should be able to see the towns and do some minor spelunking in the Dikti Cave.

So do any of you have questions about what it's like? Anything you want to pass on to the kids? Only three people have left comments, so I feel like I'm writing into a void.

Terry went running this morning. I "slept" with Erin. That's in quotation marks because she twists like a tornado and sleeps like a rock. I got elbows in my face, knees in my back...all night long. And she nearly pushed me off the small bed. So, tonight she's with someone else!

More later.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Mπρρρρρρ! 31C

I had to laugh at a sign today. The title for this blog is a greek transliteration for Brrrrr! I saw it on a sign advertising ice cream. The Mπ together make the B sound and P (rho) is the R sound. It's 31C here. Remembering 9/5+32 (I think), that's a nice and hot 87F.

So we made it to Aγιοσ Νικολαοσ (Agios Nikolaos) on the eastern side of the island. There are three internet sites here. I'm currently at one that's run by a British couple. Unfortunately, here we can't use our own computers, but they do have skype installed and I logged in, but NONE of you are up at 7am and logged in! You slackers!

This place is gorgeous. We have two rooms in the hotel. One "room" actually has two rooms in it, one with a double bed, the other a single, and then the girls have the other room with a double bed (it's smaller). We also have a kitchenette in the big room. It's called Pergola Hotel, if you want to look it up.

We just had a late lunch next to the port. After this, we're headed to the beach.

They're having a version of "Fleet Week" here, so tonight they're doing tours of one of their "war ships" docked just down from our hotel. They will also have a few other things going on, including fire works on Sunday--not too off from 4th of July!

Did I say we're staying here for 5 nights? Ahh...this place is much more relaxed than the big city. It's also a bit more touristy, but still very Greek. Last night in Ιρακλιο (gotta love this Greek keyboard), we woke up at 4am when Teagan made a loud cough that sounded like she was puking. Both Terry and I jump out of bed, turn on lights, see that she's OK, and then he passes out and I'm left tossing and turning. Fifteen minutes later, a loud jet takes off. Talk about no noise abatement! (The planes take off west-ward and do a steep climbing turn to the north; they're in the steep climb as they raise their gear.) Then some idiot across the way decides to wash a car and the street and lord knows what else at FOUR THIRTY in the morning! I swear, it took me at least an hour to get back to sleep, and then Terry's up getting ready to run (he's so noisy).

Devin's sitting next to me playing Runescape. He got free 30 minutes by correctly doing a Sudoku puzzle. He's thrilled.

I'll definitely have some photos soon. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Knossos, minoans, and moving towns

We went to Knossos (pronounce the K) today and then to the archeology museum in town. We overdosed on Minoan artifacts. I was in love, but the kids thought it was all rather boring. Erin's begging for a beach.

We took the bus out to Knossos palace. I have mixed feelings about what Sir Evans did with the place. He reconstructed some walls and rooms. That's fine. But I don't like how hard it is to figure out what's original and what's fake. With cement floors and stones, it's easy, but then he redid things like the Bull's head fresco. Argh. The real fresco was moved to the museum, so we saw it there. We also saw one disk with linear A text on it. I think it's really interesting that no one yet has translated that language. Some things are still secrets for us to reveal. Isn't that what life's about?

We're heading to Agios Nikolaos on the east side of the island. We're getting two rooms for 50 Euros a night. The Greek currency used to be the drachma/drakma, which was a weak currency, so everything was really cheap for us. But now they are using the Euro, which is about $1.26 per 1 Euro, everything is expensive. The main city is also very expensive, so we'll likely get much cheaper hotels and meals outside of the city. I should clarify "expensive" for those who haven't been to Greece. It might seem reasonable for you to spend $90 on a hotel in California. Heck, you can't get anything that isn't flea infested in SF for less than $130. But here, that 70 Euros gets you a room with no A/C. There isn't a TV usually. There's no comforters on the beds--just a single white sheet. And the best part about Greece is that you can't flush toilet paper, so you have to put it in a trash can next to the toilet. So, for that, you pay 70 Euros a night. Also, no one has family rooms. Can you imagine hotels in the US with only single beds? Or only one "double" bed? Nope. All of our hotels have rooms with two queen beds. Dinners here are about the same price in the states. We're spending about 35-50 Euros. When we were here last, you could by dinner for about $3-4. So yeah, prices have gone up a lot. (Do I sound like some whiny old geezer saying "you know, when I was a kid pop was 5 cents!)

Anyway, the busses are cheap. Renting a car is expensive...about 30-50 Euros a day. No Orbitz special deals here.

But we're all having fun just being together. We got a bit of a scare today when Erin locked herself in the toilet at a restaurant, but I managed to talk her through undoing the latch. Whew. Poor kid was very scared, although it seems hilarious writing about it now. (Bad mom! Bad!)

So it's after 10pm here. I have to go pack for tomorrow. If you don't hear from me for 5-7 days, don't worry. We're going to the sticks and may not have internet access. We'll see.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Air sickness...

I'm sitting in an internet cafe in Heraklion/Iraklio, Crete. I swear this is totally weird. There are about 40 men (ages 18-45) all sitting around computers gaming and smoking and smoking and gaming. Cough, cough. The sacrifices I make to let you all know we're OK. (I'm going to try coming in the morning when most of these dorks are in bed.)

Anyway, on the flight over, both Erin and Teagan threw up. I wasn't sure if they were air sick or sick of British food, but in any case, they are both fine now.

Crete has great weather. It took us a few hours to find a hotel. Everything in Heraklion is very expensive. We're staying at Lena Hotel in the center of town. It's 70Euro/night for a four-twin room. It's very spartan and caters to the backpack crowd--it's across the street from the Youth Hostel and takes their overflow at times.

I'm getting by with my rudimentary Greek. Thank God many of them speak English, but I find myself asking "Please, do you speak English" about every twenty minutes. When I say a few words in Greek, most of them are very happy, smile, and say "Ah, you speak Greek!" Uh, no. I just know how to ask dorky things like "Where is post office". I find grammar rules aren't needed to get your point across.

We took a ton of photos, but I have no way of uploading them from this computer. When I eventually find some place that has wireless, I'll load a bunch of them.

We gorged ourselves on Greek salad today. Feta cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, olives. Ah, this is the life! Oh, and we're drinking the local beer, Mythos. It's refreshing after a day of walking around the Venetian Fortress.

Tomorrow we head to Knossos. Instead of taking some packaged tour that rips off the English and German travelers, we're taking the morning bus out and then the palace plus the archeological museum are 10Euros per adult. I don't know about kids/students.

OK. I've had enough of this smoke. This asshole just blew smoke in my face. Well, he meant to hit the guy next to me, but I'd prefer not to get lung cancer.

More later. As the Greeks say goodbye: Adio. (Yeah, that's hard to remember, eh?)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

signs in American please...

I'm always amused at the differences in language between the UK and the US. These differences are best seen in the signs posted everywhere. "Way out" is slightly amusing, especially if you grew up on the Flintstones and remember the hip band Fred played with. My all-time favorite: DEAD SLOW CHILDREN PLAYING. Without punctuation, that's hilarious. There are all sorts of signs that point down a road and say simply:

Wall -->

(You're supposed to know the wall has some historical significance.)

This sign was posted in the local grocery store. I laughed so hard. Sorry if the quality is bad. It was taken with Terry's cellphone.

It's something you'd expect in, say, Amsterdam, until you realize they mean "cup" (eg cup of noodles).

Today Terry and I are both working. We took the kids this afternoon to play in the local park. Tomorrow we head to Manchester, so I doubt I'll have any net access. Then on Tuesday morning we fly to Crete. I'll write again as soon as I find an internet cafe.

And now, we're off to a pub to watch the England match. (If you're missing one of my usual rants, check out my other blog.)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Monkey forest

Today's trip was an easy one--the Monkey Forest. It's a 60-acre plot of land with two groups of macaques. This is the birthing time, so we saw one that was only 6 days old and a few that were just weeks old. They are a friendly bunch, with the males comparing, I mean, grooming themselves.

Here are a load of other images. Teagan was on my back (like the macaque) and then I helped her up onto the roof. She liked it up there.

After that, we had a party. A bunch of the neighbors came over for BBQ. I made vegetable lasagna and it was scarfed up. The girls hung around the kitchen watching me make it all--mostly because they weren't used to seeing cooking from scratch. And here I was apologizing for not making the sauce myself. :-) There was a lot of good food and pies. Best I've eaten since we got here.

We started the party with margaritas. No one had had them before. Ah, they tasted good. We drank a lot of really good bitters (beers): Old Peculiar (my favorite), Old Speckled Hen, and Ruddles County. After that, Terry opened the Maker's Mark and everyone went nuts over fine American whiskey. Needless to say, everyone was a bit tipsy.

A few of us snuck into the house to catch bits of the Argentina-Mexico game. What a drag that Mexico lost, but in the over time, Argentina did play a stronger game. I don't think I've picked a single game yet, so if you hear me rooting for one team, I suggest you bet on the opposition.

Castle Warwick

Yesterday (Friday) we went to Warwick castle. Parts of the castle were built in the 1300s, but much is from the 14-1500s, There are 530 steps to go through the top of the turrets, across the path, and then up and down another section. While Warwick is an expensive trip (£45 for two adults, two kids, plus another £10 for the third kid, which converts to about $90), there is a lot to do and you can spend the entire day there. We saw a bird show where they had trained birds fly over us. We saw an African eagle, a bald eagle, and a vulture. It was really impressive.

But I'm not sure if the kids liked the birds more than the trebuchet. For those of you not into Lord of the Rings or ren-fairs or medieval warfare, I've included a
photo of the trebuchet. (And if I can buy a fire-wire connection today, I may upload a piece of video.) Two people get inside the wheels and walk a la hampster to wind up the machine. The large arm is counter weighted with a large wooden container that holds five and a half tons of rocks and brick. The container is hoisted up, the arm is brought down and loaded, and once it's all set up, the arm hurls a cannon at the castle. For the demonstration, they hurled a soccerball-sized cannon
set aflame. If flew about 250 yards, whooshing as the ball flew high.

I'm including a photo of me and Teagan. Some explanation: I had just taken a photo of the family in this same spot. Teagan caught Erin giving her "rabbit ears" behind her head, so of course she has to cry over the injustice of it all. I had Erin take this photo, and on the count of three, the two of us stuck out our tongues. If you look closely, you can see that Miss T is not at all happy. Contrast that with now: as I write this, the two of them are playing on the living room floor and giggling. Ah, sisters!

Now we're getting ready to head to the monkey park. That is, if we can even get ready. Terry's doing work, I'm writing, Devin's taking a shower, and the girls are playing. I think I'll go tickle a few ribs.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Dictionaries and writers

Steve, this quote is for you: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money."

Now, who said it? Samuel Johnson. Yes, THAT Samuel Johnson. I visited the house where he was born. Lichfield, a 5-minute drive from here, seems podunk at first. Sure, there's the cathedral. But once you've seen one, you've seen one. So the kids went to the park with their dad while I squeaked around the four floors of the corner house reading pages of the dictionary. (My college dorm mate once caught me reading the dictionary and thought I was if she needed that scene for an excuse!)

Johnson's house, which was built by his father, was interesting, and they have little bits and pieces from his life (paintings, reproductions, and books, books, books). But here I was tucked away in this non-descript house in the center of town when I saw a guest book. Aha! I'll sign it and be the first Californian going back at least weeks! Right? Nope. Another Californian was in earlier that day and another was in just four days ago. Sigh. The world is already too small.

We'll head back to Lichfield maybe tomorrow, depending on the weather. Erasmus Darwin (Charles' father) lived here, and he was the one who gave Charles quite a few of the ideas around evolution--it's just that Charles gathered more evidence (eg Galapagos) and presented it in papers. More later...

I spent about half an hour or more walking around the town looking for the park where Terry took the kids. I finally found it, but they weren't there. I headed to the car, and there they were huddled inside keeping warm. It's still in the 50s here and windy. We're expecting RAIN tomorrow. I'm reading about the CA heat wave and wishing we took some of that weather with us. We're telling everyone that this "summer" weather is what California gets in December.

It took us a while to find a place for lunch. I wanted Indian, but unlike CA where all the Indian restaurants open for lunch and not dinner, here it's the opposite. I did see a Subway, which made the kids happy, but I refused on principle. We found a really good cafe with loads of vegetarian options. I had a wrap with roasted bell peppers, feta cheese, and a sweet chili sauce. I also had a huge mochaccino. The girls split a baked potato; the guys ate (don't laugh) quiche.

I think I'm going to start a cultural differences entry each day. Today's entry: ICE. You can't get it here. Seriously. We asked for tap water and got it--straight from the tap, no ice. We brought over tequila to make margaritas this weekend, but they don't have ice at the house. Well, we could make some...yeah, right. So we said we'll just go to the store and grab a bag. A bag? You know, of ice? Uh...sorry. So we went through this ordeal of where we might actually purchase a large quantity of ice. Ah, try iceland. Not the country, the store. It's all about the frozen foods. (No, you won't find CostCo here.) They had 4lb bags of ice for a pound, which is about $1.90. So we bought two. You'd think that in a place as cold as this, ice would be free. Or at least cheaper than it is in the states. But see, because it is so cold here, no one wants a cold drink. We put our cans of beer outside to get cold. (The fridges here are slightly larger than ones kids put in their dorm rooms in the states. Really.) (You can get "American style" ones; some friends of ours who lived in the states for two years ended up buying one after getting spoiled.)

Now we're all tuckered out and everyone's in bed except me, as usual. I'll leave with a photo of the entry for "resty". The quote completely describes the traveling life.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

We're here!

The flights were easier than I thought. The only problem we had was that neither of us specified vegetarian meals, so we had nothing much to eat other than the apples, powerbars, and crackers we bought. (I fixed this for the return flight.) The problem with US carriers is that you pay a thousand bucks for a ticket and they give you four bites of lettuce and call it salad. Oh, and they wanted $2 for muffins. My advice is to fly Virgin or BA or any European airline if you're coming out here; you'll get much better service.

The kids all slept a bit, I nodded off twice, but Terry hasn't slept since. I think it has something to do with the two Java Chip Mochas he drank.

So now we're at the in-laws' house just outside of Birmingham. It took about 16 hours to get here: SJ to Chicago was just under 4 hours; Chicago to London was 7.5 hours; London to Birmingham was just over a two-hour drive. Add in some time waiting around, and you get a rather long day--the longest in fact. It's the summer solstice for those paying attention.

We got a larger rental car than we requested. Hertz didn't have our mid-sized ready for us, but they gave us a Vauxhall Vectra "estate" (wagon for those speaking American). It fit all our luggage nicely, although the kids keep arguing over who sits in the middle.

We're all doing fine. More later.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Bags packed and ready

The gardener's been hired. Ditto for the pool guy. The kids are packed and finally in bed. We leave in 6 hours, and yes, I've decided to blog.

Here's a photo of our packed bags. Can you tell whose is whose?

I'll give you a hint. Mine is the smallest one. :-)

I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but I'm tired and stressed. I've been working on a DVD editing project for a non-profit and it's just about ready for final proofing. However, Encore DVD is taking forever to render the DVD image. I tried burning the DVD straight, but that hung my computer, so now it's making an image on my hard drive. After I'm done here, I'm going to see if it worked. It was a fun project, but I hate how slow computers can be sometimes--even the latest and greatest. Video editing just makes computers smoke.

A lot of work goes into leaving home for 6 weeks. Who will watch the cat? Who will take out the garbage for pick up? I threw out a bunch of food today. Sort of a waste, but you can't really ask your neighbors if they want the remains of some jar of jelly.

Well, everyone is asleep. I wish I could sleep as easily as the kids. They went swimming and then conked out. Erin was so sweet today asking what she could do to help. Devin and Teagan needed prodding to help, but really they all did a great job getting their stuff organized.

Next entry: the UK.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Packing and prep and losing my mind--oh my

We are not packing light. Much to my dismay I see we're packing bag after bag. First there are gifts to take to the cousins and the in-laws (including a big bottle of tequila for margaritas). I've told the kids to pack about 5 days worth of clothes, mainly because I don't want to be doing laundry every other day. Even at this rate, we'll be spending too much time in the laundromat. (How do you say that in greek?)

Because both Terry and I are working during the trip (and blogging), we're both taking our laptops. Then we have our really cool camcorder (including a firewire cable to transfer video), two digital cameras (one of which is waterproof), my webcam and USB headset (for "work" and for skype calls). We're taking four SD cards ranging from 256MB to 1GB. I packed eight 1-hr DV tapes and some blank DVDs. Each kid is taking an MP3 player, plus Terry's taking his iRiver media player. That's at least $5k in digital equipment. We're going to appear ostentatious. At least half of the equipment can hide in a pocket, though.

Because we're going to the beach, we've packed our masks and snorkels. Terry bought sunscreen in bulk from I bought deet on sale. I am packing enough shampoo, soap, and toothpaste for the 6 weeks. Why? Well, both me and one of my daughters have really sensitive skin and the last thing we need is reactions and rashes while on vacation.

Even though it'll rain in the UK, we're NOT taking umbrellas. We are packing light jackets. Bulk. Then there's a few beach towels. Necessary but Bulk. (We're taking towels instead of buying them because everything over there is twice the price it is here, plus the dollar is so weak.) At least shorts and shirts pack down well. We're going to have four pieces of luggage, which already freaks me out. That's way too much, but what can you do when taking 5 people overseas? I find myself longing for my backpacking days.

We're also taking quite a few books. I plan on reading at least two, perhaps three. The biggest question is which books to take. I just started reading The Chalice and the Blade. I have a few heavy books on my list: The Lucifer Principle is one of them. However, I'll likely leave that here and take As I Lay Dying instead. I need something escapist, so I'm looking at another Vonnegut book. Mumbo something...

The kids are excited about seeing a few of the World Cup games in the UK. As I write this, Australia and Brazil are playing. Erin asked if it's only men who play in the World Cup. I said yes. Her response: "darn it. That's not fair." Yep. I wish the WUSA had found a way to survive. If I only had a few million...

On that note, I'm going to watch the game.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The plan so far...

Here is our rough itinerary:

20 June leave San Jose, fly via Chicago
21 June arrive London Heathrow 6:30am
26 June stay night in Manchester
27 June 6am departure to Iraklio/Heraklion Crete. Arrive 3:30pm.
4-6 July stay in Matala, the southern Cretan village where Terry and Kelly met on 24 March 1989. (If you caught yourself sighing, you're a hopeless romantic. We're not that mushy.)
6 July arrive in Chania on the west coast, stay at Irene's
18 July leave Crete (sniff!)
Try to find some last-minute tour to Spain, the Canaries, the Balaerics...keep your fingers crossed.
31 July stay in London
1 August leave LHR, arrive San Jose later that day

I've been trying to find hotels to stay at in Heraklion. I still haven't found a place. Most of the "rooms" for families are expensive apartments. The major hotels all specialize in all-inclusive packages. I just don't see the point of traveling to Greece only to hole up in a hotel, eat bangers and mash for breakfast, a relax around the pool until tea time. Not my idea of a holiday.

We're hoping to do a lot of walking, hiking, swimming, exploring, and reconnecting to each other and to our planet. Nature. Nature. Nature.

For those of you looking to follow in our footsteps, here are some sites I'm using:

As for tour books, by far the best are the Lonely Planet guides. Their website also has some great info on Crete/Kriti.

I have a long to-do list, which includes things such as get some money converted, get hotels and cars arranged, and dig up some photos of Terry and me in Greece way back when. We're hoping to show them to Georgos, the guy who owns the pub where we met.

Here's to the trip of a lifetime!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Welcome! Καλωσορίζω

So you want to follow us on our trip to the UK and Greece the summer of 2006? I'll try to post every couple of days to let you know how the family is doing.

Right now my ambitions are high: I want to post pictures, maybe some video, and also some descriptions of where we go, who we meet, and what we eat. However, I may just find myself too busy loafing at the beach drinking Amstel or raki (local alcohol).

Here is our short itinerary:

20 June leave San Jose, fly to London via Chicago
21 June arrive LHR
27 June leave Manchester, arrive Heraklion/Iraklio at noon
4-5 July Matala, Crete. This is the southern village where Terry and I met way back on 24 March 1989.
5-18 July in Hania/Chania, actually in the small town of Kastelli-Kissamous west of Hania.
18 July leave Heraklion, arrive Manchester
31 July leave the UK
1 August arrive San Jose

I still have loads of planning to do, like finding us a hotel in Iraklio. I'm also under the delusion that we may find a cheap, last-minute vacation for a week, so we can ditch the UK for someplace like Ibiza or Barcelona or Tenerife or whatever. Wish us luck.

Feel free to leave a comment or two. I'll do my best to read them when we reach a village or taverna that has Internet access.

Yiassou! Γειασου