Back on dry land
We are adding some photos here that we weren't able to post last week; now that we're home, it's a lot easier to access our files.
Our Road Scholar tour ended on Friday morning November 15, when we had our last breakfast on the boat, and then were transported by bus to the Athens airport. Most of the group was flying out that day, and many of them had plans to stay overnight somewhere in the States after they landed. There are no direct flights to the US from Athens, so everyone would be changing planes in Munich, Vienna, Frankfurt, Paris or Amsterdam.
John & I chose to spend the day relaxing at a Sofitel just across the street from the Athens airport terminal, which allowed us to get a decent night’s sleep Friday, and then be able to complete our entire trip home on Saturday. While we waited a couple of hours for our room to be ready, we were able to catch up on email and other computer chores. The internet was FAST! Since the airport was a minute walk from the hotel, we went over there to eat and walk around (they had two small museums inside the terminal, a playground plus the obligatory shops). We could complete the check-in for our flights, and the machine (where you scan your passport) even printed out our boarding passes and luggage tags. So the following morning, we just handed in our bags, and were through security and at the gate within 15 minutes of leaving our room!
We were up early on Saturday to be on the 6 AM flight to Amsterdam, and then transferred to one to Detroit. That one was delayed 1.5 hours, but it wasn’t a problem for us since our original layover in DTW was 4 hours. The last leg was also delayed 45 minutes since (as the pilot announced) “You don’t want to fly on a broken plane”. They got us a new plane, and we arrived safely back in TC by 6 PM. Our friends George and Sharon picked us up and we were home by 6:15.
Both John & I fell asleep for quite a while on the two longer flights, so we adjusted to the 7 hour time change fairly easily. We each saw a couple of decent movies (and ate too much); I watched 2 excellent flicks: one about the making of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, and another about Pavarotti. It was good to be home, and we were glad to see that the snow that had closed the TC schools earlier in the week left only a bit of white stuff in our driveway.
We discussed the highlights of the trip while we traveled home. For me, it was the two national parks in Croatia: Mjlet and Plitvice Lakes. It was also neat to walk up to the Athens Acropolis and to roam the Greek walled town of Monemvasia, where I headed to the lighthouse by myself. I also enjoyed the dogs and cats in both countries, and got a kick out of meeting tourists from all over the world. I am not shy about striking up conversations with strangers, which is pretty easy to do since most of them can speak English.
I am not a fan of shopping, and prefer to try to get a feel for how the normal people live. Another highlight was visiting Sandra’s home in Zagreb. We ate far too much food in the past month, and now I have to cut back considerably. Late fall is a wonderful time to visit southeastern Europe; the weather was really nice almost all the time. We had a total of two days of rain.
One of the best things about getting home occurred on Monday, when I returned to TC Central HS to volunteer in the calculus classes. Lots of kids cheered when they saw me; they said they missed me, and that they were glad to once again have two teachers around to help them!
Post script: After we wrote to Road Scholar to tell them about the fees to check our luggage at the Zagreb airport, they will be crediting our account for the $160 we had to shell out that day. When we changed our Euros back to dollars, the currency exchange wouldn’t take coins, so I gave the 1.40 Euro to a teacher who is heading to Venice for Thanksgiving. I’m paying it forward!
We hope you have enjoyed our jottings. Our next adventures will be to Costa Rica and Cuba in March. Stay tuned!
Here are a few of my impressions about the Croatia and Greece. Croatia has been over-run with tourists the last couple of years, and the people are getting tired of dealing with tourists who don't always respect their culture. For example, in one town they posted notices that if you walk in their downtown area wearing your swimsuit, they will fine you $700! This seemed pretty excessive to us, since the downtown is one block from the beach, not unlike in Traverse City. You also have to pay to use a public toilet in many places. Since about 70% of the Croatia economy is based on tourism, they seem to be biting the hand that feeds them. Right now the country that sends the most tourists to Croatia is South Korea! Apparently there was a movie that was filmed in Croatia, so it has become THE place to visit. (Note from Lois: it was Game of Thrones, which we have not seen.)
On the other hand, Greece has been hit hard with a struggling economy and they welcome tourists with open arms. For example, in Athens while I was walking, I was looking at my map and trying to read the street sign, and a cab driver walked up and gave me directions to where I wanted to go. He followed that up with, "Welcome to Greece!" I also found the food in Greece was more interesting than the food in Croatia.
However, what I enjoyed most about our trip was the mix of people we met, and I am not just talking about the tourists. For example, I bought some food in the Athens airport, and the young woman who was the cashier spoke excellent English. So I complimented her on it, and she told me that she was from Morocco. The young woman who cleaned our cabin on the ship in Greece was from the Ukraine, so I was able to talk to her about what life was like there. When you are able to talk to people and hear first hand accounts about the cost of living and salaries, you start to understand why people do things like take a job on a cruise ship and work 12 hour days, seven days a week, for eight months without a break. We also met a large number of Taiwanese tourists. One morning at breakfast we sat with a group of them, and we learned one of them had gotten her MBA from the University of Chicago! When we told her in front of her friends that she must be very smart if she went to the U of C, she just beamed! We quickly tire of visiting museums, and seeing ancient ruins, but we never tire of meeting people from all over the world.