Travel Misadventures: Europe

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ATHENS

Finally having arrived at our villa in Corfu and having had a chance to rest, eat, and urinate, in various orders, we set off to explore the town and the beach. We spent a lovely few days alternating between lazing on the beach or lazing at the villa. We spent a night watching the opening ceremonies on the patio of a gelato shop. A lot of Greeks, some Germans, and us Canadians watched out for our athletes on TV and naturally, my mom told every person there ‘our story’, despite all the language barriers.

My favorite thing to do in Corfu was to float. I had decided early on that I wanted a floatie, so when we came across a shop that sold air mattresses for €5, I was ecstatic. The waves were so calm and peaceful and I spent hours lying out there floating on the waves. Despite the lack of space in my suitcase, I felt compelled to spend an hour squashing out every single molecule of air in order to roll it up and drag it along on the rest of the trip. Man, I loved that air mattress. It survived the Europe trip only to meet a tragic end floating down the Bow river, where it developed an irreparable gash. I even kept the useless and deflated remains of the air mattress in my shed for a couple of years until a cat peed on it and I was forced to dispose of it. That’s pretty fucked up, hey?


Anyway, after a shockingly uneventful few days at the beach, we flew to Athens. From there, we took a cab ride to a hillside town called Saronida, a small town 40 minutes south of the capital. We were renting the upper floor of a villa way up on the hillside. To get into Athens, our route went like this: hike down a very steep hill until the road met the sea. Turn right down the coastal highway and hike down a 5K stretch of road littered with the remains of innumerable car wrecks. The highway offers a multitude of twists and turns, sharp drop offs, and limited visibility. Surely walking alongside it would be safe. Once down into the town, take a bus from the depot further down the ocean highway into Piraeus and then on to Athens. To get to the complex where the fencing events would be held, we would simply need to continue on the same bus and the athletic park was a short walk away.

We had decided that we should do a trial run of our journey into Athens one day before the actual day of the event. So, to make the most of coming into the city, we figured we would head out to the venue, maybe have something to eat, and then head into downtown Athens. In the Plaka, Team Canada had established a meeting place for athletes and their friends and family. In order to be able to enter Canada House, we needed to be accredited as such. After our trial run to the sports complex, we planned to hop back on public transportation and head there.

We actually made it into Athens and the venue with relative ease. This getting around on public transportation was going to be a piece of cake! We then spent a few hours wandering and then headed for lunch. However, when we arrived at the cantina, every salad, sandwich, and hot dog was sold out. Odd, since this was only about day three of the Olympics, and the fencing events hadn’t even started yet. The only edible thing for purchase was yogurt.

Now, I was chastised by my sister after my recent post about her mental breakdown and profane rant in the Vatican Museum for not properly explaining the circumstances leading up to the incident. And so, I must explain a condition that we like to call ‘the Hanger’. The Hanger is fairly self-explanatory: hungry anger. A lack of proper eating, low blood sugar, and a number of other factors combine to unleash a fury that disregards appropriate social convention and frequently defies comprehension.

Now, after having hiked down the highway, taken an hour long bus ride, and spent several hours in the forty-degree heat, a yogurt was not sufficient nourishment for me. I was already feeling a simmering irritation when we headed to the nearest train station. We located a friendly Olympic volunteer, who gave us instructions on how to get where we were going using Athens’ brand new tram system.

The tram lines had only opened weeks before the start of the Olympics, and there was much buzz from the locals about how fantastic it was. What had not been mentioned was that the trams seemed to have a top speed of about 5 km/h, had faulty or non-existent air conditioning, minimal seating, and a shrill, eardrum piercing alarm that went off for a solid five minutes when the doors opened at each train station.


The volunteer told us which tram line to get on and to take it to the end of the line. Whether we were simply unable to read the Greek name of the tram line and got on the wrong one or were given incorrect information was never quite clear. What was clear was that we spent the next two and a half hours crammed into a tin can going the wrong direction. Hundreds of passengers squeezed onto the tram, generating a significant amount of foul-smelling body heat.

By the time we reached the end of the tram line and disembarked, it was early evening. We were drenched in sweat and tired from standing and bracing ourselves against the tram driver’s herky-jerky speed fluctuations and heavy footedness on the brake pedal. I myself was lightheaded and shaking, my patience strained. Nothing was nearby except the tram station, highways, and far off in the distance, a soccer stadium. Nowhere to find accessible food for miles around.

After some debate, we realized we had no choice but to get back on the tram and go back the same way we had come. Only this time, a soccer match had just finished, so thousands of fans had swarmed the tram platform and packed themselves like sardines into the train. And this time, mixed in with the delightful scent of sweat was also the odor of stale beer.

An hour into the the return trip, I simply couldn’t take it anymore. The tram alarms shrieked a constant ‘REE REE REE’ that penetrated into my skull and created a throbbing pain. My feet ached. It was so, so hot. And I was so hungry at that moment that I could have gnawed my arm off. I snapped. ‘That’s it’! I announced, and amidst all the bodies, I sat down on dirty tram floor, crossed my legs, and buried my head in my knees.

Concerned, my sisters approached, asking if I was OK. ‘DON’T TALK TO ME!!! DON’T TOUCH ME’!!! I shrieked at them. Horrified, my mom encouraged me to get up. ‘NO! LEAVE ME ALONE. I HATE ALL OF YOU’! I burst into tears and sat on the tram floor weeping like a petulant child.

I refused to move or speak for the remainder of the ride. Other passengers gave me looks of disdain as they stepped over and around me to get on and off the tram. I kept my head down and slowly rocked myself back and forth like a crazy person. My momentary elation at finally getting off the evil thing dissipated immediately once we realized that the bus we needed to take to get back to our villa had stopped running for the evening. Upon learning this news, I flung myself onto a bus bench and lay there while everyone else spent the next hour attempting to find a cab that was willing to take us out of the city and down the coast.

Every time I closed my eyes, all I could see was myself biting into a delicious sandwich. The fantasy sandwich kept me going while we finally managed to find a cab who, for an outrageous amount, could finally take us home. I curled into a corner of the vehicle and imagined making and eating my sandwich. I was quite certain that if I didn’t get my sandwich soon, I would literally die of hunger right there in the cab.

We finally did get home, and I immediately went to make my sandwich. Despite my imminent death, I took the time to make a proper sandwich by toasting the bread and slicing up a variety of toppings. The sandwich was heavenly and almost instantly, the Hanger dissipated. Once that happens, it’s only a short time before the shame sets in, when you realize that you have acted like a complete jackass. I headed back into the kitchen to apologize to my family for my poor behavior when I ran into my dad, he himself in the throes of a Hanger attack.

There he was, cursing as he attempted to shove a complete sandwich into the toaster. ‘Goddammit! Why won’t this sandwich fit’? He continued jamming the sandwich into the toasting slot, tomatoes and cheese oozing out the top and sides. Having now recovered from my own Hanger attack, I immediately recognized the signs of imminent meltdown. ‘Dad, you have to toast the bread before you make the sandwich’! To this day, I can still vividly see him trying to smash a sandwich into the toaster. And I just laugh and laugh.

Next week: how an old Greek man saved my panties from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.

Tram photos: Wikipedia

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2 Responses to Travel Misadventures: Europe

  1. Catherine says:

    Those trams were awful! AWFUL!! The god forsaken noise they made when the doors opened will forever be burned in my memory. I took one 5 short stops, and it took an hour. You could literally walk station to station faster then those things moved!

    • admin says:

      Thank you for agreeing with me. It makes me look slightly less crazytown. Those trams should be considered a mental health hazard for all Athenians.

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