Sunday, June 7, 2015

Day 11: Athens Bound

I was a bit sad about leaving Vienna, I found the hostel I stayed at very convenient and I really appreciated being able to do my laundry cheaply. But I had to move on. 

I arrived by train and today I was leaving by plane. Either way, Vienna's metro was super easy. Every station has a ticket dispenser that looks like an ATM. Touch it and it can be in whatever major language you want. Going to the airport was easy, I could either buy an airport ticket for €14 or I did the other way which saved me €0.80.

I paid €1.10 on the U4 to the Landstrasse (Mein Witt) and from that station, you can catch the airport express train and from there it was €12. But it's a nice "first class" train with nice seats, multi level so you can see the sights(which really didn't have any). 

Vienna International Airport was nice, when I walked through the arrivals area, a big floor to ceiling LED monitor displayed all arrivals. Color lights were all around me lending to the excitement of the crowd gathering. 

It was a long walk from the train station through terminal 3 to get to terminal 1 where my flight was leaving. Even though I was over 2 hours early for my flight, they already had a gate assigned. Amsterdam doesn't assign a gate until practically the last minute. 

I really appreciate the Schengen treaty, I do miss having stamps on my passport. I was told I could stop and ask for it to be stamped but I just wanted to get on with my trip.

The Viennese security agent was so nice, it was around 9am so there was no crowd. But I forgot my iPad was buried deep in my back pack and he helped hold the backpack while I struggled to get it out. For once I didn't feel like I was being looked upon with suspicion.

I found a nice little place where I paid too much for breakfast, but then it was an airport, you ALWAYS pay too much. It really didn't feel like a long time before my flight arrived and we were boarding.

The difference is flying Europe is that there doesn't seem to be a boarding sequence, the flight is ready to be boarded and a mad dash ensues.

Arriving as early as I did, I was able to pick out an emergency row, aisle seat. Heaven for me. Then having boarded as part of the very first wave of passengers, I found a spot for my big old backpack as well. TThen the middle seat was empty while a kind pilot from Aegean Airlines had the window seat. 

He was Austrian married to a Mexican woman and their son lives in Guadalajara and he has often visited Chicago. He even knew about the billy goat curse on the Cubs! Did I know his name? No, you never get the chance to introduce yourself in that short time. But that's ok, it was still a pleasure to meet him.

Aegean airlines have got to have the prettiest flight attendants, they could have been models. The straight tunic dress with the slit up the middle proved each woman was proportionate to their height. 

Kudos to Aegean Air for serving us a small meal with the beverages, including beer and wine free. I had to pay €4 for my mineral water on SAS.

Not realizing that there are ferry schedules to meet, I was told by my AirBNB host that 1630 was the final ferry to the Greek island I was scheduled to stay. My flight landed exactly at 1415, I dashed through the airport with my luggage firmly on my back and somehow managed to get a ticket (€8), land on the right train, found an American Greek who knew the way around. My ticket would take me all the way to my final destination.

I literally went from one end of their transit line to the other end, 23 stops, one transfer(which went beautifully because the signs were simple and direct) and over an hour to arrive. The Greeks also have "mind the gap" as well.

I paid attention to the information on the train carefully but it is all in the Cyrillic and in English. I did see how for €1 you can ride the trains all day-or am I mistaken? But the American told me that my ticket can take me anywhere for the day, the €8 was special since it was coming from the airport. If I spend only €8 to get to the airport, that's a winner.

My ferry was €7 which is nice, but Piraeus was crowded and I was warned to watch my belongings carefully. As I sat at the pier I watched a man plying his begging trade. And it was a trade, I saw him smiling and joking around with someone at one of the little stores that dotted the pier. A few steps out of the door, he notices the gathering crowd and begins to wail and moan. He's waving some kind of picture ID, proclaiming something in Greek. I didn't understand it but I could hear the wonderful acting. He was wracked with sobs and crying, I completely ignored him despite his literally standing over me wailing. 

I looked like I jerk, I know I did, but I was born in a country that has a gang of beggars and I know not to succumb. His next step was to an elderly woman who did give him money and said something. Probably a God Bless, decent of her indeed.

But after he passed on, a woman came with a baby straddled on her hip and made a bee line for the older lady. She sat down next to her, way too close, and sang her song of sorrow as well. It was so well orchestrated. It was sad because who knows what's the truth? It's confounding and it left me a bit ashamed of myself for judging so harshly, but I saw the lie and I couldn't reward it.

After days of infernal heat in Vienna and a hostel with no AC, the mild weather in Greece was a welcome change. The ride on the ferry was refreshing. I've ridden on ferries, the ferry in Amsterdam rode the crest of café au brown. The Chicago River has a green tinge, both opaque to the bottom. I've ridden on the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Gulf and the South China Sea, some were bright and clear but had a green tinge. The waters of the Saronic Sea is a deep blue, the likes of which I had not seen before. It was a deep color and opaque but it didn't have the salty tang I usually smell with the ocean.

I don't know if it's because it's that much cleaner than those oceans and that romantic salty air is just nostalgia. I'll find out tomorrow when I take my first full day in this large island and see just how clear the waters are.

Oh, I also made a few immediate friends.

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