Greece: A Long Walk In A Big City

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Our traveling company has moved on to Heraklion and this morning we went on a tour of the Minoan palace of Knossos. While the rest of the group went to the museum across from our hotel, I decided I wanted to go out and stretch my legs on my own. I had five hours before writing class and I happily set off on foot. I had two missions–to find a copy shop and get some copies made for my students–and to buy myself a necklace. Several of our company had found a little jewelry store run by a guy born in Boston who now lives here–and I loved the necklaces they’d come back with.

I had directions to the copy store, but they fell apart as soon as I started. So I just began wandering. The neighborhood around our hotel is tourist central and there are blocks and blocks of restaurants and stores–both high end and schlocky. In my wandering, I somehow happened upon the stationery store I’d been told about. I brought in my thumb drive and ten minutes later, I had the copies I needed. I felt proud of the transaction and my success–it’s funny how something so mundane and ordinary at home becomes a special accomplishment when in a foreign land.

This is typical of the tourist area.

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I almost had lunch here, but walked on.

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I also found the jewelry shop and spent an hour picking out two necklaces–I couldn’t decide between them and he gave me a really good deal on both. Both of them handcrafted–by him. When he came to Greece to visit his parents, he told me, he’d fallen in love with a local woman and moved to Crete. And learned the jewelry trade along the way.

I asked him where I should go if I wanted to go for a long walk and get out of the high tourist area. He gave me directions and we looked at a map together, but five minutes after I left him, I was obviously heading in a different direction. I just kept going. I crossed several busy streets (the drivers stopped for me, just like in Hanoi) and headed down an ancient set of steps into what I hoped would be a pedestrian walkway, but ended up being a downtown parking lot. I circled the parking lot and realized the only way out was the way I came, so I climbed back up all the steps. I headed away from the morass of the glitzy buy-me tourist center and pretty soon I was in a business area, walking down a busy street with lots of buses going by. It’s always amazing how it only takes a few blocks to get away from the area that caters to tourists and to start to see other things.

Industrial neighborhood.

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Mr. Print

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Motorcycles, anyone?

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There was a Shell station and next to it, a McDonalds. There were also a series of businesses that were definitely local, though I couldn’t always tell what they were. The street was full of car honking and fumes, so I decided to go somewhere else. But first, I checked out the Greek McDonalds to see what was on the drive-through menu. It looked pretty much the same except for something that looked like a souvlaki sandwich. The Greeks are really into french fries–and those and pretty much every other “normal” McDonald’s menu item seemed to be there–but of course I only had the pictures to go by. The text was all in Greek.

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I wasn’t sure where I was or where I was headed, but the jeweler from Boston had told me you couldn’t really get lost in Heraklion. The city was that small, so I took it on faith that he was right. I figured I could always hop in a cab if I was too far away from our hotel when it was time for writing group to begin.

It was the hottest day we’d had so far in what had been a pretty cool, occasionally warm vacation. Most days, if anything, I’d wished I’d brought a fleece jacket or a windbreaker along. Luckily, today I was wearing my pretty turquoise dress and hiking sandals, and a broad brimmed blue hat. I was comfortable and happy I was stretching my legs to keep them limber after the big hike downhill.

I cut away off the big street, but ended up on another big street. I couldn’t seem to get into a real residential neighborhood. In fact, what loomed up in front of me was the bus station. Would I ever get out of this busy industrial area?

This beautiful path dead-ended at a tennis court.

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But then I did. I looked to my right, down a side street and saw a huge ship and the turquoise water. I’d been told the water was nearby and now I’d found it. I made my way around the waterfront as best I could. I thought about what Karyn had told me–she’d had a conversation with a local woman who’d told her that the Cretans were always aware of all the ancient civilizations right underneath their feet. I wondered how many layers of civilizations I was walking on as I passed yachts and ferries and small little boats, old men scooping ice on today’s fish at a roadside stand, and the Port Authority of Heraklian.

Cute tug boat.

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Right next to the ancient Koules Venetian fort were a whole row of modern, million dollar yachts.

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Loved this humble boat the best.

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Nets.

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Sponges.

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When I crossed the street from the fish market, I faced a main tourist street that led back toward the center of town and my hotel. I was sweaty and hot and getting hungry, but I really didn’t want to eat at one of the dozens of tourists joints lining the pathway. I passed the Fish Tavern Restaurant, which had menus displayed out on the boulevard in fifteen languages. No thanks. All the restaurants were full of tourists. No thanks.

Menus in 15 languages.

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Finally, I found a little stand with a case full of beautiful fresh fruit. For four euros, I pointed at the three fruits I wanted (pineapple, papaya and orange) and the woman behind the counter cut them up for me and put them in a cup. She gave me a spear and I sat down for a refreshing snack.

My fruit stand.

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Yum.

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My refreshing snack.

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Heading back to the hotel, I passed all kinds of interesting things (see photos and captions below), a Starbucks and lots of big stores. I was a little lost, but eventually found my way through the maze of streets and alleys. It was five after three. I was sick of the tourist shops and endless lure of “buy me, buy me, buy me.” I had just enough time to walk the two blocks to my hotel, take the elevator to my room, shower and change, and make it to class at 4. I could arrive to teach fresh and clean.

I guess I was thinking ahead because at that moment, I skidded on something wet and slimy on the ground, my feet out from under me and I fell on my hip. My right hand broke my fall and when I looked at it, it was covered in shit. I mean wet, sticky shit. I smelled my hand and yep, there was no mistaking it. It was human shit. And now it was on my hand and the back of my beautiful turquoise dress, a big light brown smear all across the back.

I got up, grateful I wasn’t hurt and only had a block to go, pushed open the door of my hotel into the air-conditioned lobby, grabbed the elevator, went up to my room, peeled off my pretty dress and inspected the damage, rinsed it out in the sink (yuck), washing my hand (yuck), stripped off my sweaty underwear and bra and jumped in the shower. Well sort of. I was confronted with a baffling array of gleaming silver knobs (see image below). I pushed, pulled and twisted. I got the bath on, figured out the temperature. Then tried to get the shower to work. All that happened was that the flow of water stopped. Finally, I got a trickle of water from the showerhead, then finally more. I lathered up my hear and grabbed a bar of soap–and the water stopped. I fiddled some more and the water came back on, I lathered for another 30 seconds and then it…stopped. And so went my “refreshing” shower.

What the f$&)ck?

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This is the pretty blue dress I was wearing when I fell. I’m standing with Asma, a member of our group. We were a study in blue.

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But now I am clean and my dress is rinsed out. I am wearing my third and final dress (which I thought was overkill), but now that the temperature has gotten hot, and one dress is sweaty and the second one is shitty, I’m really glad I packed the third. I’m wearing it now.

And I’m afraid I have to stop this post now because it’s time to get ready for writing class!

Greek graffiti.

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Fish nibbled the dead skin off his feet.

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The Fish Spa.

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