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Adventures of the Travel Griot
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Atop the Gizeh Plateau outside Cairo, Egypt, our hardy camels are the preferred method of travel

Welcome !

On this travel home page we'll share some of our exploits both foreign and domestic, in the Middle East, the Greek isles, and the gentle hills of Tuscany and inside the Pyramids of the Gizeh Plateau outside Cairo, Egypt. We took copious photos, so enjoy.
Also, visit frequently to get the best in travel deals from our surveys of various websites, such as those listed below:

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We like these sites because they're straightforward about the prices, route segments, and fees. For example, who only flies One Way?!
 
NETITOR SAYS: Our featured travel site this time is http://CHEAPFLIGHTS.COM
 
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Adventures of the Travel Griot

Cyprus Excursion,

Haifa Visit

Island Nation Moves To Front Of The News As Cruise Stopover Point For Lebanese Extraction

by Kevin J. Walker
http://travelgriot.tripod.com/photos

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What are the odds that a Travel Writer would get a chance to use his notes on Lebanon, Cyprus, and Haifa, Israel in one story because they were all in the news the same week? The Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean are in political turmoil, but their natural beauty and attractions cannot be entirely dimmed...

With a couple of current Middle Eastern crises, two places where Angela and I visited in the Middle east and Mediterranean were very much in the news. Haifa, the pleasant usually quiet sea harbor northern Israeli city just across from Lebanon, and Cyprus which has had crises of its own.

This was another war zone that in our weird vacations we ended up. We had just left the Greek island of Rhodes and they had Greek Navy frigates in the harbor; Greek army convoys on the road, and jet planes circling overhead as a show of force to the Turks just across the water; and a visit by the President of Greece to reassure the population.

This was all in response after a provocative Turkish military overflight a day or so before. I missed it because I was asleep the afternoon it happened after another of my Long Walks. I know I'm a reporter, but I was also on vacation, so there. Still, I made a courtesy call to the Associated Press bureau in Athens, so my duty was done.

Angela and I hop-scotched our way from Italy, then Greece to visit the African Hebrew Israelites in Dimona, in the Negev desert of Southern Israel. We came to Cyprus because our ship to Israel connection was made through here. This was after being marooned on the ancient Greek island of Thera, now called after Italy's imperialism for Saint Irene, corrupted into Santorini.

This was a way station, en route to Israel. Although its somewhat part of the Greek Federation we found out that's a touchy subject. More on that later.

                              LEBANON AND AMERICA ARE JOINED

Many Americans can claim connections with Lebanon, an eastern Mediterranean nation. It's a crossroads country much like Egypt, hence its population is a racial and multi-cultural mish-mash of Christian, Muslim, Jew, Arab, European, American; many with dual citizenship and as many agendas and alliances. Danny Thomas the entertainer and father to Marlo Thomas ("That Girl") and wife of talk show host Phil Donohue are just a few Americans of Lebanese ancestry.

This is also why there was a sea-based evacuation from southern Lebanon because of the military movements by Israel against the Hezbollah, clients of the nearby Iranians who have been supplying them with powerful and more accurate rockets to augment their mass produced Katushka rockets that have been raining down on Northern Israel for some years now. They claim to have missiles of greater range, with the goal of hitting the practically new city of Tel Aviv, midway across Israel.

Lebanon inherits much drama because its near Syria to its west, and north of the new proxy nation of Israel, which with the help of Britain and the United States and others, forced out the native population of Palestine over half a century ago. This banditry has caused enmity to be focused on the largely European Descended Israelis (not the region's Jewish population, which has coexisted for centuries). In fact under Saddam Hussein, Iraq had a small Jewish population which drew no notice until after America's invasion.

Lebanon's capital city of Beirut has been called the Paris of the Middle East, and for good reason. It is a land noted for its poets, which apparently includes most of its population. Indeed, Khahil Gibran was Lebanese, whose sublime poetry tinged with the taste of the exotic lands, inflamed America in the middle of the last century. Even the disastrous civil war between the French Catholic influenced beneficiaries of their privileged and upper classes and Israeli-influenced mass killings haven't entirely dampened the spirits of the Lebanese people.

Tyre, to Lebanon's south and closer to Israel proper has a history that goes back to Biblical and Roman days, and played a part in the battles of WWII. The Hezbos who control the southern part of Lebanon and are in fact a member of its Parliament have made it a target for Israel military, who plan to establish a buffer zone clear of any other force that can threaten the northern part of the country, which is roughly the size of New Jersey.

Hezbollah has used its position in the south to launch rockets of increasing sophistication into northern Israel, many of which have hit the beautiful, shimmering port city of Haifa. The seaport is Israel's third largest city where we sailed by off-season cruise ship after leaving the sunny Greek island of Rhodes, and onto a stopover in Cyprus as we headed ever southward. We sailed along the Lebanese coastline on our left for hours in the morning light until we came into view of Haifa, Israel.

HAIFA, ENTRY BY SEA TO ISRAEL

Sailing into Haifa is a beautiful sight; the old city is perched on the slope going down to meet the sea, and the buildings are predominately white, the better to contrast with the blue-green of the sea and the sky, with a few puffy white cottony clouds. We'd been awakened by the captain of our off-season cruise ship after we'd sailed the evening after leaving Cyprus, our stopover after Rhodes. We were grateful for the wakeup call, as we revere to this day the sight of the dominating Ba'Hai temple, flanked by the green gardens of the sloping old portion of the city.

Haifa is the start of Israel's electric train to Tel Aviv, a clean, fast and efficient mode of travel, and once again we were reminded of how mass transit in America, particularly trains, get the backhand treatment from the authorities while overseas their governments continue to build and keep up their infrastructure. Which Amtrak has to purchase.

Israel because of its size is principally bus based mass transit, with small vans that act as shuttles that whisk people to smaller communities such as Dimona, where we visited the African Hebrew Israelites. But I digress.

Haifa for a long time was like Eilat the resort town far at the opposite end at the nation's southern spear point, far from the tumult and strife from marketplace bombings and ethnic and political strife. That changed of course, and both, like sleepy Be'er Sheva in the nations south central Negev desert whose claim to historical fame was a onetime home of the patriarch Abraham, all suffered suicide and/or marketplace bombings.

From Palestine's southern cities we went west to Cairo, Egypt - after a misadventure in Taba, entry point into the Egyptian Sinai Governorate region, still twitchy and populated by military checkpoints after being handed back to Egypt by Israel as a prize after the Six Day War between it and a simultaneous attack by Syria, Jordan, and Egypt.

CYPRUS - GREEK, BRITISH AND TURKISH

Cyprus usually is in the backdrop in the news, as a staging area and a sort of middle ground for foreign correspondents since it is ideally and centrally placed between the continent of Africa, Europe and the Middle east. It is not uncommon for reporters to file stories about countries that are nowhere near the island nation. This would be akin to being a reporter in New York covering the beat in Los Angeles, and about as effective.

Cyprus is a British enclave after their own bit of Colonialism. This is all a contrast for the idyllic island on the far eastern Mediterranean Sea. The divided island nation has a history that for modern political purposes goes back to Medieval times, involving promises by a King of England to the Turkish leadership.

The conflicted storylines made the actual "ownership" of Cyprus so twisted it laid the groundwork for civil strife that continues to this day after the Turks made a move in the 1970s to take back the island that had been ceded to them, ala Hong Kong to the British for 99 years.

The Turks were turned back after they'd taken about half the island, mostly the top Turkish half. Cyprus then became like the divided Korea, the old Germany, and Palestine with their Gaza Strip, West Bank of Jordan, and Golan Heights of Syria - a divided land, tense with the propensity for military action while diplomats trade words instead of mortar attacks.

Turkey is part of NATO, and so it was given lots of leeway because of their much needed help as a staging and listening post against the vulnerable soft underbelly of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

So there is an infrastructure in the north of Cyprus that is friendly to Americans and the Western powers. This is why the aforementioned news bureaus tend to cluster in Nicosia in the Turkish north of the island.

It's a short hop but across a military no man's land dividing the British/Greek and Turkish controlled parts of the island, with border checkpoints and flashpoints along it. When we were there, a young man had been beaten to death by the Turks on the border not long before, and tempers were still hot. Things have cooled a bit because of strictures laid down to admit them into the European Union. There have to go in as one nation, none of this 2-part divisions stuff.

The Old Heads are besides themselves, but the current generation of the people of Cyprus are ready for change, and to have some change in their pockets, too! The young cosmopolitans can't remember what the fighting was all about. Turkey as an officially secular nation is only nominally Muslim even in its mainland, with religious groups being actively persecuted much as they re in Egypt.

Its young population on Cyprus couldn't care any less if they tried about middle eastern politics. As we've seen in American history, populations removed from the culture of their original land develop their loyalties and aspirations.

"WE WILL DISAVOW ANY KNOWLEDGE" OF YOUR CYPRUS VISIT

In Cyprus, when you hand over your passport for entry, you get a small piece of paper when you come in from the Greece islands. When you leave they take back the small script instead of stamping your US passport. Thus, we have no tangible proof other than the photos we took and the postcards we mailed back that we were ever officially in Cyprus! This is because of the tightrope-walking amongst the Greek Cypriots, Turkey and Britain.

(Incidentally, because it is illegal for US citizens to visit the proscribed nation of Cuba 90 miles off the coast of Miami unless you're a member of the media or on a humanitarian mission delivering, say medicines; the same sort of wink-wink, nudge-nudge shell game is used because tourism is very much desired by the Cuban government to replace the subsidies they used to get from the now defunct Soviet Union. I know people who indirectly come into Cuba from Canada, or from one of the Caribbean nations. Just a thought...).

Angel and I made our visit to Cyprus when we sailed from Greece to Israel during our Year of Travel in the late 1990s, which actually turned into two years, but that's another series of stories about exploring the temples of Naxos, Greece, Jerusalem, and Egypt, and escaping the banditry of Egypt's Sinai Taba town

Cyprus looks like a miniature United states, with an elongated spike where New England would be, and Texas all smooshed down into the bays and inlets that makes the Mediterranean nation such a vacationers delight, as well as a handy naval staging area. This was the place much in the news when Lebanese refugees (they're not "evacuees" any than the Katrina affected were) were sent there.

Some will fly back to America because they were only in country for weddings and vacations and such. Students have more difficult choices to make, as do businesspeople and those with dual citizenship.

The long coastline has plenty of beaches along the southern portion, with pleasant sea breezes ideal for windsurfing, cookouts, and strolling along the promenades with eateries and an invigorating nightlife on both sides of the wide boulevards of the port city of Llimossol.

The constant 70s degrees climate of the Sun-kissed nation is ideal, and its an archeological dream for we Seeker of Knowledge types. Since this is a Greek and British enclave - at least the southern part where we were - the atmosphere was a mix of Greek easygoing-ness and a bit of the British reserve that seems to have been largely bred out of them much like the laid-back Australians, but Cypriots even when mixed culturally with Greeks don't go that far. So it was very much feeling like America in a fashion.

They're friendly and talkative on southern Cyprus. The people there have British accents which to their ears they might be able to discern between Australian/New Zealand, Indian, Nigerian/Ugandan, Canadian, and South African, even American New England; and their other provinces from a bygone era when the sun never set on the British Empire.

The city of Limossol is a long, meandering strip that runs along the southwest Cyprus coastline, and is also defined by the mountain ranges to its north. Clearly, the onetime British subjects got the better end of this bargain!

Travelers will note the similarities to Hawai'i, Miami, California and other oceanside, tropical or island locales. Indeed, part of being a global traveler is keeping in mind how very much alike many urban areas are no matter the language culture or time zone.

THEY DRIVE THE WRONG WAY!

However one thing in Cyprus takes getting used to, and that is the very different driving directions there, a legacy of its British heritage. To we Yanks they and their Colonies drive on the "Wrong Side" of the road! An inattentive Travel Griot could get run over by not keeping this in mind, always. After surviving a real-life game of "Frogger" on the clogged streets of Athens, Rome, Cairo and Tel Aviv it would have been a shame to get run over on pleasant Cyprus, but it happens to Americans overseas all the time.

One story of how this came about is that in England their Medieval knights acquired the habit of keeping their lance hand free as they passed people on the road, and exported this custom to their colonies. Except in America as a rebellious stiff-necked people, it didn't take anymore than their counting money by sixpence, ha' pennies, crowns sterling, farthings and the like. Our decimal money is as much of the French-designed Metric System as we cared to adopt.

This means that when you enter a bus in Llimossol you come in behind the driver, and the bus is pointed the opposite direction. These are among the few things to remind you that indeed you're not in Milwaukee anymore!

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Go Madagascar!

Africans in World Cup Soccer Matches In Host Germany Face Problems With Hooligans;

Using Soccer Mania In Getting Out Of Taba, Egypt

 

by Kevin J. Walker, Netitor
The Word NetPaper

Its world Cup time for most of the planet, unless you’re in America. Magnify the frenzy around Superbowl by fifteen times or so, but stretch it over a month, and then you’ll begin to get the idea.

The African nations of Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Angola, and Tunisia are expected to comport themselves well in the World Cup games of soccer in Germany this month, and into July. Even for a sport whose games don’t take breaks that’s a loooonnng time for a series to be played. Even in comparison to the NBA Finals.

The African Descended are making their presence felt, no more so when Ghana takes on the United States June 22, Thursday at 9 am Central Daylight Savings Time. Other teams of note include Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, and Costa Rica. Madagascar is not in the games.

These will be multi-appearance matches, in keeping with their egalitarian Parliamentary political system, which uses multi-elimination methods. Thus there is no Win Or Go Home. You win/lose, and then play somebody else; and still could make it into the finals. Brazil beat Germany and went onto the Finals in 2002, and so now the Nazis and White Aryan Supremacists have a real reason to hate those of African descent.

There have been some concerns about the reception in Germany for African Descended TRAVEL GRIOT IN EGYPT> soccer players, let alone for African teams. Monkey “oohga-oohga!” noises have been made when the athletes take to the field, with some of the soccer hooligans holding up bananas and putting their curled arms beneath their armpits like stereotypical chimpanzees. Some players have even been physically attacked by fans on the field.

Angola will be playing Iran June 21, and a neo Nazi rally is being planned that same day. The leader of Iran denies the Holocaust, which is an official crime in Germany. He said he may attend the match with his country’s team, and the Nazi rally is in his honour. That should be interesting.

The football maniacal crowds and the attendant nationalism have long been fertile recruiting grounds for European Skinheads and other White Aryan Racial Supremacist groups, who go by the telling acronym WAR, for what they plan for the upcoming World War III.

HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIPS – IN JUNE?!

Speaking of sports finals, the Hockey championships for the Stanley Cup are also being played. I don’t know about you, but I have a real problem with a Winter sport holding their finals in months with marathon runners falling out from near 100 degree heat!

In Madison, Wisconsin recently a marathon was ended with 500 runners still out on the course when several were felled by heatstroke. And here hockey players are in full gear, with the water chillers and the Wisconsin-invented Zamboni polishing machines going full blast.

Soccer mania stateside isn’t as intense but there are pockets of it. Viewing is aided by the more favourable time zone distance since Germany is about nine hours ahead of Central Time. The morning matches there tend to fall into the 11 am to 2 pm period here, meaning people who are real soccer/football fanatics could get into the games during their extended lunch hours. Bars and nightspots are counting on it, and some are adopting open door policies for the early morning games. If there’s a World Cup game on, c’mon in, pull up a seat. And have a beer with your lunch with the bar peanuts on us.

BREAKING OUT OF TABA TOWN

My own acquaintance with soccer has been fleeting. I’m an American. Basketball, Football, Beer, Baseball and Brats and all that are my main sports of viewing interest and activity. Sometimes, aside from the Olympics, there is tennis, Greco-Roman wrestling, and distance running/marathons since these are sports I did while in school.

I realized the importance of soccer and an understanding of its appeal to those overseas while Angela and I were abroad and steadily making our way southwest to Cairo, Egypt toward the end of our Month in the Mediterranean when we were in Greece, Italy; Greece again; several lovely Cycladian islands including Santorini/Thera and Rhodes; Cyprus; Israel/Palestine/Jordan and the African Hebrew Israelite community outside Dimona; and now Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

We were told by the few freelance cab drivers left that they couldn’t take us straightaway to Cairo, which was 8 hours due West, but across the forbidding Sinai Desert. For frustrating reasons I don’t really care to revisit we missed our critical bus to Cairo. For reasons known only to them you could easily only be taken south to the tourist center of the Medieval St. Catherine’s monastery near the Gulf of Oman, but not east. Not even if you offered to pay. The monastery was put there during one of the Crusades, and was believed to be one of the Old Testament Biblical places, apart from Jerusalem which is more for Christianity.

We had to speak to the Big Boss Man of Taba for permission. He and his crew were in his bar watching a soccer match. After spending half a week marooned on the Greek Isle of Naxos I’d had quite enough of quaint out of-the-way Mediterranean towns, and our timeline on our discounted tickets was growing near. We had to get the blessing of the Goombah if we were to make it out of the border area and onto Cairo, and the nearby Pyramids of the Gizeh Plateau.

I left Angela with our things while I went inside to parley. This was Man Stuff. One thing you find out quick when you travel is that Feminism and women’s rights is practically nonexistent in many areas of the Middle East, especially when you get outside the larger cities. Angela was not a happy person, but I was cool with the setup.

NEGOTIATING WITH JABBA THE HUT

The desert GoodFella who owned the only bar in town was like a Boss Hawg who had his fat fingers in everything, and people paid him homage as if he was the Godfather of his little desert fiefdom. When I was led to him in a side room area he was sucking on the little hose for a countertop Coke syrup dispenser. Looking at the pudgy, sausage-fingered, slit-eyed desert gangsta, I had to stifle a small giggle because for an instant while he rubbed his fat tummy across a too-small T-shirt he looked like Jabba the Hut with his hookah. (I also made a mental note to not order the Coke if we indeed got trapped in this Taba town in transition).

Looking for any advantage, like the beer ad that showed the two visitors scanning the bar for the local brew, I noticed for whom our perhaps patrone and his boys were cheering. It was for Madagascar, which is an island on the Indian Ocean side of the continent. They were playing Spain or somebody, and that team got no love here. We were for the Africans!

Go Madagascar!!

I know nothing about soccer-- excuse me, --football, except that you’re not supposed to use your hands. Unless you’re a goalie. And it is unsuitable for American TV because they play straight through, without commercials. I mean breaks. It’s also a low-scoring game, which it shares with hockey. Somebody recently suggested making a soccer goal worth seven points instead of just one, so it would seem more exciting. Therefore, a 3-2 game would then be 21-14. Perception is important.

Another thing is that socc --football is big everywhere else in the world except America. This last is taken by some elitist and the Blame America First crowd as proof that there’s something wrong with the US. Of course it could just as well be taken that there’s something wrong with the rest of the world in their love of the sport, or that they need to progress to our level of consciousness, but that’s just me.

Anyway, the small crowd of Sinai good ol’ boys in the dark bar near the border with Israel in the Sinai desert in Taba Town were cheering some plays and not others, so I started to catch on to the rudiments of what they choose to call football.

FAKING LOVE OF SOCCER TO GET OUT OF TOWN

I saw a beginning of a grimace on one of Jabba’s krewe at a referee’s call. I tossed my hands up and shook my head; frowning in a near universal display of disgust and resignation at something one of the accursed referees did, may their mothers be cursed for ever birthing them, those offspring of mangy dogs!

This was an easy call. People the world over dislike refs when the home team is taking it on the chin. I shrugged my shoulders and glanced about, inviting anyone nearby to join in on the condemnation.

The fellas started to think or act like they thought I was a pretty OK guy. We just might make it out of this desert hick town of Taba and to Cairo tonight after all!

Now Taba, at the southern point of Israel that isn’t usually shown on the evening TV news that overly concentrates on Tel Aviv, the Gaza strip and Jerusalem, wasn’t a one-camel town. After all, as the first town on the northern Sinai border with Israel it played the role of Neutral Ground host to the Israeli-Palestinian talks with America’s Secretary of State at their fancy new hotel.

We could see it gleaming off in the distance over the flat desert but had no wish to spend the night there if we could be in downtown Cairo at the once opulent hotel Carleton where we had reservations. Besides, Taba’s looked expensive, and we were running low on cash especially after early on our Mediterranean trek by making the ultimate Traveler’s No-No of doubling back after first landing in Athens, then making our way to Italy by ferry boat, and back to Athens.

Anyway, this was my first real practical experience with soccer mania outside of the US. Work is slowed, TV sets are tuned in, and the street corners afterwards are abuzz with discussion of the game action, and the bad calls by the incompetent referees, who aided in the cheating against their beloved teams.

WHEN IN ROME…

We eventually got out of Taba Town and into crowded, exotic and steaming Cairo that night, but not by my ploy with glad-handing and backslapping Jabba the Hut and his butte-kissing soccer-watching tavern krewe. He turned us down flat. But we were well experienced at the black market by then, as well as the old adage of “When in Rome,” or in this case Egypt, you Do As The Egyptians Do.

So we cheated our way out of Taba town. Oh, grow up and get that expression off your face!

This is permitted when you find you’re in a crooked game and the dice have been loaded. Suckers who then play by the rules get taken, and we weren’t naīve Americans, we’d been around plenty. “Rich Americans” as they call those of us who travel for leisure or enlightenment are always fair game; everyone from low level hotel workers to bureaucrats in suits will have their hands in your wallets and purses. Its like a sport. They must sit around afterward and swap stories about their big scores on us.

We had a need in Taba, but they wouldn’t even let us pay our way out of it; we had a strict deadline, and so we made a way. Middle Easterners would understand perfectly. The full story will be told in an upcoming Adventures of the Travel Griot, with some excisions.

Angela and I still must protect those who helped us. After all, kingpins, even in two camel desert backwater towns, didn’t get there by being nice guys. Besides, for all we know Jabba is right now sucking on his Coke syrup hose, surrounded by a new krewe of fawning sycophants, with his dark restaurant with Broadband Wireless Internet access, and is now a canopied Fern Bar for travelers just across the border with Israel.

And they’re surfing the Web when they’re not watching the World Cup games on a flat panel, large widescreen plasma TV, or drinking a Coke, now in air conditioned comfort for those who don’t care for the big expensive hotel a couple of miles across the desert.

Go Madagascar!

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sept 9 thurs. 1999 filename: athens adventure.tg

CHRONICLES OF THE TRAVEL GRIOT, by KEVIN J. WALKER

website: "The Word NetPaper" http://travelgriot.tripod.com

Adventures In Athens

The Travel Griot in Greece

PART I

by The Travel Griot

Half of all the citizens of the nation of Greece live in the city of Athens, which was recently rocked by an 5.4 level earthquake, just ten days after a deadly quake rocked nearby Turkey, killing approximately 14,000 people there.

Athens was luckier, due no doubt to more stringent building codes, and the death toll so far seems to be around forty persons.

I was privileged to travel to the ancient city in February and March of 1997 during our self-declared Two Years of Travel, where Angel and I spent a month in the Mediterranean exploring Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.

We'd already explored American areas such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, which will be subjects of Chronicles of the Travel Griot.

In these next couple of "Chronicles of the Travel Griot" articles we will take you on a tour of Greece, staring with Athens. Athens, after its classical period ended about 1500 years ago was just a site of ruins until the late 1800s.

Then another wave of Greco-Roman fever swept Europe and America, which lusted after all things Grecian and Roman. Urns, pottery shards, even statues with no arms, they wanted anything to have to do with the people and the era.

The modern era of Athens then began, and hasn't stopped since. The city is huge at 15 million persons, crowded, noisy, and is beyond a metropolis, its a full-fledged megalopolis, a modern city-state like New York City, Chicago or Cairo.

I loved it!

The area where the original ruins at the foot of the Acropolis is called the Plaka, a working-class area of the city with inexpensive food and lodging. since we were in the Mediterranean for a month we were well acquainted with such places!

The shops and restaurants nearby the Plaka are a delight for bargain hunters and lollygagers. Since we were on vacation, we did that a lot!

Since traffic is so congested, mopeds are a substantial mode of travel, so the pedestrian had better be wary! It was nice just sitting in Syntagma Square, in the heart of the city near the Presidential Palace and the Greek Parliament buildings.

A bottle of Santorini Boutari wine (semi sec) some bread, honey butter and you have a picnic, plucking oranges from the trees nearby which along with lemons, grow wild around the Mediterranean much like apples do back in the States.

We went through Athens much, using it as our base as we criss-crossed the central city as we back-tracked to Italy, then came back through Athens on the way to sailing ancient trade routes to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.

Next week: More on Athens as we arrive, settle in and immediately start exploring the ancient sites and the modern attractions.

CAPTIONS:

[A] ATHENS IS HUGE, AS SEEN IN THIS PHOTO TAKEN DURING THE TWO YEARS OF TRAVEL of Kevin J. Walker, the Travel Griot, and Angel. The photo was taken from atop the ancient Acropolis looking down upon the sprawling city. The recent earthquake that struck the city hit the northern suburbs of the megalopolis, one of the world's largest cities. This view looks north towards that area. At the bottom of the frame is the Plaka, the ancient marketplace area at the foot of the Acropolis, which is fenced off as historians and preservationists do their work inside. [Photo: Kevin J. Walker]

[B] ATHENS, AS SEEN FROM INSIDE THE CITY AS THE TRAVEL GRIOT and Angel get settled in their hotel room in the heart of the crowded city. It is a rare apartment or hotel room that doesn't have a balcony, which is like a basic right in the Mediterranean. Walker and Angel spent a month in the region. Seen in the background is the famous Acropolis, the ancient seat of government and whose architecture was copied from the Northeast Africans ("Egyptians") at whose world-famous universities they studied, as chronicled in the Greek's own words. [Photo: Kevin J. Walker

[C] SAILING PAST ATHENS FOR ALMOST AN HOUR, and the sprawling city is still seen in the background as the Travel Griot stands by the railing of the Mediterranean ferryboat taking them to the placid islands of Ios, Thera, Naxos and Rhodes after the hustle and bustle of crowded Athens. What looks like rocks on the shoreline are actually buildings upon buildings of the congested city.

By convention, structures near the shore or on hillsides are white, to better contrast against the cobalt blue of the sky and the aquamarine colour of the water. The gigantic ferryboats, which can park six semis in one of their holds, are like the Greyhound buses of the Mediterranean sea as they ply between the islands that make up half of Greece.

To respond with your opinions about this article or any other matter, please contact: Kevin J. Walker.

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kevin j. walker milwaukee, wis. usa 53201

e-mail: walkernet@gmail.com

website: "The Word NetPaper" http://wordnetpaper.tripod.com

sept 16 thurs. 1999 filename: athens adventure II

CHRONICLES OF THE TRAVEL GRIOT, by KEVIN J. WALKER

website: "The Word NetPaper" http://wordnetpaper.tripod.com

Adventures In Athens, II

The Travel Griot in Greece

by Kevin J. Walker

CAPTIONS:

[A]: ATHENS IS HUGE, AS SEEN IN THIS PHOTO TAKEN DURING THE TWO YEARS OF TRAVEL of Kevin J. Walker, the Travel Griot, and Angel. The photo was taken from atop the ancient Acropolis near the Parthenon, looking down upon the sprawling city. The recent earthquake that struck Athens hit the northern suburbs of the megalopolis, one of the world's largest cities. This view looks north towards that area. At the bottom of the frame is the Plaka, the ancient marketplace area at the foot of the Acropolis, which is fenced off as historians and preservationists do their work inside. [Photo: Kevin J. Walker]

[B] ATHENS, GREECE IS A LAND OF BARGAINS, AS ANGELA strolls through the Plaka shopping area by the Acropolis near the city's center. The Women of downtown Athens are very fashion conscious, and very well aware of their appearance, and appeal. Their reputation for sexiness is not wholly undeserved. [Photo by Kevin J. Walker]

# # #

Hello, Milwaukee!

That’s "Hello, Milwaukee!," in Greek. I think.

Or I just asked for room service, or insulted someone’s mother again.

It’s been awhile since I had to use my Greek to get around, which really isn’t all that hard to learn. But when you’re trying to catch a train or get something to eat, you pick up these things pretty fast!

Last issue we talked a bit about the city-state of Athens, as we launch the Adventures of the Travel Griot in the Mediterranean. During what became Two Years of Travel, Angel and I in a month’s time there in 1997 hit several nations in the eastern Med.

We experienced Italy, Greece, Israel, the West Bank region of Jordan under Israel’s illegal occupation of that gentle nation; the island nation of Cyprus, and the antiquities of Kemet/Egypt.

We learned how to ride camels around Pyramids on the Gizeh plain outside Cairo; plan our own ferryboat trips; count money in foreign denominations like the Greek Drachma and the Italian Lira; and most importantly, how to haggle for the best price on everything from bananas to hotel rooms in world capitals.

It is true, especially in the Mediterranean: you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate!

CLUB MED

It is no myth about why the Mediterranean coastal region is considered a paradise: the weather is gorgeous, even when it’s not perfect and the waters aren’t bathtub warm; the region is politically stable, for the most part (we’ll get to Cyprus later).

The people are warm and personable, when they aren’t trying to cheat you out of your money. (By the way, when in Egypt, never hand over a LB 20.00 note and expect change back for a 15.00 purchase. Don’t say you weren’t warned!)

We landed in Athens after a 14 hour flight across the Atlantic. This was six months after the TWA Flight 800 blew up over the water, and I must confess I clinched up when I found myself thinking of what it must have felt like to be on that doomed plane. Those poor people, cart-wheeling over and over thousands of feet up in the air when their jet broke apart…

The Greek airline names their aircraft after the gods and goddesses you studied in high school such as Hermes, Aphrodite, Apollo, et cetera. We rode the Athena back to America, and discovered anew something we found out our first day: nonsmokers rights are a joke here. The Greeks smoke in the airplanes, their offices, everywhere. It’s like Tennessee or North Carolina times ten, and I’m not sure if Greece even grows tobacco..

We stayed in some places that were one star minuses! They would have been shut down here by inspectors in the states, that's after the owner was dragged outside, and thrashed.

"GREEK TYCOONS" GET COMEUPPANCE

Our first hotel in the heart of the city was... well it was a bit of a dump. But at the very favourable exchange rate of US $ to the Greek Drachma it was a $23.00 a day dump, which considerably improved its charm in our eyes!

We found out about it at the airport, where lurking hotel consolidators meet you and give you a range of options. This has only just gotten to America but it’s a matter of course overseas, including Hawaii where we got some really great deals.

I’m talking $50 a day rates for nice places that have the misfortune to be one block away from the beach. Big deal --for that price I can walk to Waikiki, grinning all the way and thank you very much! And we did, using the money to party hearty for two weeks in our Pacific Rim El Niņo Getaway trip the February before last.

Anyway, Angel and I were checking out the place, noting the shower, the television --this was mandatory with her. I studied the transportation systems, and she cataloged the TV shows in 8 foreign nations.

It is a rare apartment or hotel room that doesn't have it’s own balcony, which is like a basic right in the Mediterranean. When you looked out and down the street you could see the Parthenon atop the Acropolis in the near-distance. The full moon shining down on the ancient ruins is a sight that will never leave me.

We paid the guy and started to settle in our first foreign room on vacation, unpacking our single backpacks from which we were to live out of for a month.

Then Angel said "Hey! Where’s the toilet?!?"

"What do you mean," I said.

"It must be right there… no. Look behind the shower, then," I said my voice trailing off as I realized something the travel books warned us about. Lots of these old buildings in older countries were constructed when indoor plumbing was just a distant dream.

We found out the toilets were down the hall. That $23 a day rate was losing some of it’s luster!

But it’s just a hotel room meant for crashing and we weren’t going to be spending a lot of time there anyway, there was too much to see. We had to make the cash last a month’s time, and you find yourself getting used to a lot of things when you travel to other countries. And if we wanted clean and appointed, we could’a stayed in America for that. After all this is traveling, not tourism. There is a difference.

THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT

Our balcony looked down on a street where revelers walked back from the party zone to the north. They woke us up singing on the streets below, full of potent Retsina wine and syrupy Ouzo. After we did some Parthenon gazing and restaurant-hopping the next day, we headed up there ourselves, to the five pointed intersection where the youth gathered to take in the area’s bars and just hang out.

There are little shops open all hours of the night, and it reminded me of Atlanta’s Underground with the mish-mash of people, ages, and merchants. The traffic jams also reminded me of New Years Eve and Freak Nik in that city, with it's bumper to bumper traffic, car horns, and tipsy people passing from car to car.

Some people don’t like crowds. Me, I’m just the opposite, I love ‘em. It means there’s something going on.

Athens at 15 million people is terrifically crowded, with half of the nation’s population packed into it. The rest of the country's population is on the mainland and Peleponesian Peninsula (basically the old Sparta city-state); and the innumerable islands, large and small that dot their seas.

When I travel, I like to drink deeply of a place. This is why I like to walk through it, such as when we went on a walking tour of Athens one fine sunny afternoon. The crowded markets are just northwest of downtown with their hanging meats of headless chickens and innumerable lambs, with merchants thrusting their raw cuts of meat at you assuring you that theirs was the very best, lean and juicy!

Near the Plaka, an old area consisting of classical ruins that have been fenced off while archeologists do their thing, there are curbside merchants hawking everything, T-shirts, handbags, cameras, fruit, and ferryboat tickets to other far-off places which we made use of when we left Athens. The first of three times. But that's another article.

Restaurants in the area with outside seating are all around, and within easy walking space of our little restroom-less studio. We sat and ate our first meal in Greece, taking in the sun, air, smells, and people as the sun grew and reddened, sinking on our horizon as it was headed to you. It was then we allowed ourselves to relax from the 10 hour long plane flight, and the bustle to find a place and get settled. We were on vacation!

MIDWESTERN HOMIES ATOP THE ACROPOLIS SCHOOL US IN GREEK

The nest day, we ran into some homies, sort of. Some Detroiters were up on the ancient redoubt and seat of government of the Acropolis, and they’d been in the area for some time. They schooled us on aspects of the Greek language.

Acropolis means "High City;" (Acros = high, Polis = city). In fact you’ll find out you already know lots of Greek, especially if you were in the sciences, as I once was, where Latin and less Greek were used a lot.

Our female impromptu tutor told us "One of the most important phrases you’ll learn is ‘thelo me beera.’ That means 'Gimme a beer'," she said. I wholeheartedly agreed. We’re from Milwaukee and we oughtta know! This is a very important phrase, and we used it a lot!

She continued our lessons as I scribbled away:

good morning" is "kala-MEH-rah"

"Goodnight" is "kalee-neek-tah." (This is like the Latin "Nocte" or the German "Nacht", you'll notice).

"water" is "nero"

"home" is "spetee"

"thank you" is ef farrestal (ef-HAA-orstall) It's hard to say, but use this a lot. I think it came from something Turkish, like a lot of Greek stuff is. More on that in another installment of the "Chronicles of the Travel Griot").

"You're welcome" is "parrah colo"

"yes" is nai.

This last one would cause some confusion if you forget.

You'll know what being a retard is like as you struggle to make yourself understood. This is one of only many reasons why in order to be a well-rounded person you must travel.

Staying at home is like an adult who stays with his mama his whole life, you’re missing out on life. Get out, and travel!

NEXT: Leaving Athens, and enjoying it's central Syntagma Square .

Contact: Kevin J. Walker Milwaukee, WI. . E-mail to: walkernet@gmail.com; Website: http://travelgriot.tripod.com

--30–

kevin j. walker milwaukee, wis. usa 53201

e-mail: walkernet@gmail.com

website: "The Word NetPaper" http://wordnetpaper.tripod.com

sept 23 thurs. 1999 filename: athens adventure III

CHRONICLES OF THE TRAVEL GRIOT, by KEVIN J. WALKER

http://travelgriot.tripod.com

< http://wordnetpaper.tripod.com

Adventures In Athens, III

The Travel Griot in Greece

by Kevin J. Walker

Athens is a vivacious, bustling city, and in the heart of it is Syntagma Square. Near the Greek Parliament and a large wooded park, it’s a favourite gathering spot for noontime workers and tourists alike because it’s within walking distance of the Acropolis and the Parthenon.

Even though we’d just gotten over 14 hours of flight and were feeling the nighttime back in the Midwest, we were energized quick when we saw the high natural stone walls of the Acropolis dominating the downtown area.

It was a picture I’d seen many times in books, pamphlets and magazines, and there it was before me, to see with my own eyes!

Since Syntagma Square was a major transportation hub near our hotel --the one without a bathroom in it that I wrote about last issue, we were through there a lot. Since we were on vacation during our month-long Mediterranean Trek, we made it a point to stop and sample the square’s charms.

There were orange trees whose fruit grew like apples do here. With a few mighty leaps I ended up with a couple of hand-fulls, and we had our breakfast fruit!

THOSE CRAZY ENGLISH

A bottle of wine, some bread with the sweet thick jellies and delicious honey butter that is a staple in Greece and Egypt and we had ourselves a picnic. Angela took out the knockoff Swiss Army knife we’d bought whose most important tool was its wine corkscrew, and we got our eat on!

Passers-by who rushed to get back to work downtown stared at the "crazy English couple" (interestingly, nobody overseas ever mistook us for Americans; Black American travelers seem to not get past Jamaica or the Bahamas enough for other lands to see what they look like. Pity.)

Being the Travel Griot is the right profession for me. I love new and different things, and adventure. There are many who do not, and they are what escorted tours are for. Angela and I would have none of it. For our "Month in the Med" we had our maps, guidebooks, and personal knowledge to draw from. Anyone could do it, but many people wouldn’t want to deal with the hassle. We went halfway around the world in an arc from Jordan in the East to Hawaii in the --East?

JET LAG IS A REAL PHENOMENON!

I also want to tell you, Jet Lag is real. I could feel the time back in Milwaukee. We were nine hours ahead in the eastern Mediterranean, and I could feel it. Conversely, when we returned to the Midwest I could feel it being lunchtime in Syntagma Square although it was 9:00 pm!

We were wide awake in the middle of the night and sleepy at noon, which our bodies were telling us was nighttime. Although we didn’t sleep all that much when we were there. That’s what home was for! People in the Med know how to have a good time.

Athens is a land of bargains, as Angela quickly found out. There were leather purses and handbags that took her breath away, soon followed by her money!. We had agreed that we weren’t going to haul around a lot of stuff. "Remember, we’re going to be overseas for a whole month." That promise didn’t last long! Next time I plan to take an empty bag along that will come back stuffed with stuff.

We strolled through the Plaka shopping area by the Acropolis near the city's center, which is sort of like the East side of Milwaukee near UWM, or St. Louis’ University City. People-watching is one of the attractions anywhere, and we were in a country where everything and everyone was new to us.

THOSE GREEK WOMEN!

The women of downtown Athens are very fashion conscious, and very well aware of their appearance, and their appeal to men. Their reputation for sexiness is not undeserved.

The mixture of races has been stirred into a very pleasant package, and plain women are hard to come by in that land. (We will revisit this topic of race-mixture and beauty during the articles on Israel-Egyptian leg of the trip, to be sure!)

When American women were still self-consciously wearing big, floppy T-shirts to hide their rear ends while wearing leotards, Greek women flaunted their fine fannies with flair, they wanted men to see their nice bottoms.

Little wonder when Greek women like actress Greta Scacchi ("Presumed Innocent" and "Shattered") or conservative activist and pundit Arriana Huffington come here they are automatically stamped as sexy. It’s just habit and tradition.

GETTING AROUND

Getting around Athens is easy, or about as easy as getting around a city almost six times the size of Los Angeles! There is a modern subway system that was just being finished when we were there because of the Olympic Games that will be returning in a few years.

When we left the country on our way to Italy we blessed the European foresight to use the WWII Marshall Plan money to rebuild and maintain their train lines. Greece also has an extensive system of fast electric and diesel trains linking their half of the country that is mainland based, and a system of colossal ferries linking the rest of the island-based population to each other like gigantic Greyhound buses.

One of the options we used was "Airplane Seating" sections of a gigantic ferryboat on the Aegean sea. We wondered why we seemed to have one of the few cabins. Where was everybody else?

Airplane seating is simply buying an upright seat for the day or three it takes to go between islands or countries.

This option many prefer because it's much more affordable than the cabins. What do you do when you get sleepy? Then do what many of us did --nap out on the floor in between the seats so you won't get stepped on. Smart boatriders know to get the seats in which give you more floor sleeping room. After a couple of trips we knew enough to get those prized seats, too!

This is how you make your budgets stretch when you're traveling --as opposed to "sightseeing" or being a tourist-- overseas for a month. It's definitely not for everyone! But that’s why I’m the Travel Griot. I do the hard work so you won’t have to.

NEXT: Leaving Athens for Patra on the Adriatic coast by train.

For more travel adventures and tips, access the Travel Griot's website at <http://travelgriot.tripod.com>; or "BEENTHERE" at "The Word NetPaper" at http://travelgriot.tripod.com.

--30--

__________________

kevin j. walker milwaukee, wis. usa 53201

e-mail: walkernet@gmail.com

website: " The Word NetPaper" http://wordnetpaper.tripod.com

oct 1ro fri. 1999 filename: athens IV

CHRONICLES OF THE TRAVEL GRIOT, by KEVIN J. WALKER

http://travelgriot.tripod.com

http://members.tripod.com/travelgriot.index.html

< http://travelgriot.tripod.com >

Adventures In Athens, IV

The Travel Griot in Greece

by Kevin J. Walker

"You don’t take a trip, a trip takes you." --Faulkner

Since we used Athens as our base for transportation, we picked up a lot of experiences there. I already wrote about how we met some fellow travelers of the Midwest from Detroit, who schooled us in some useful Greek phrases.

Athens will be the biggest city for the start of the Millennium Year parties for New Year’s Eve. Rome is another destination for millions making their way to bring in the new year. (Not to start an argument, but the new millennium doesn’t start in 2000. The upside is you get to party twice!).

Me, I wouldn’t get within a 100 miles of either Rome or Athens. Either city is a madhouse in the best of circumstances, let alone when millions of partying tourists are being added to it’s population.

In Athens, mopeds are a mode of travel for millions because with their small sizes they can slip around the traffic jams which are a fact of life. People are amazed when they see me cross busy streets since I’ve been back, using my peripheral vision to judge speed, judge intervals and gaps.

"Aren’t you afraid of being hit by one of these cars?" they ask me. Not when you’ve played games of real-life Frogger in Athens, Rome, Tel Aviv, Cairo; and the "wrong-way" traffic of Llimmasol, Cyprus. After those experiences this American traffic doesn’t have anything for me.

NUBIANS IN ATHENS

We walked around Athens for hours looking in the sites and sounds of one of the world’s greatest cities. Ironically, overseas they consider Chicago a place they’d like to go to. Everyone knows where it is, its history.

We stopped to talk with some Nubian brothers hawking ravel services. Nubians and other Africans are a presence throughout the Mediterranean. Since English, British, and Canadian sounds the same to the untrained ear, we were variously thought of, but nobody thought we were African.

Since I’m light skinned and had a beard, I was thought to be a Turk, which isn’t the best thing to be in Greece! Later, on the island of Rhodes it was even less. But that’s another Adventure of the Travel Griot!

The buses and subway system is a help for getting around in Athens. They were built and augmented for the Olympic games next year, although Athenians are mixed in their opinions of the return of the world athletic contests that started in Greece thousands of years ago. Some told us they didn’t like the taxes that were raised to pay for them, the mess made from the construction for the Olympic Villages, the security strictures because of concerns about terrorism, et cetera.

From the subway station near the ancient seaport of Piraeus you can see the dome of the Olympic site, gleaming bone or cream white, as many Greek structures are, to show the contrasts of the blue of the sky and the blue-green of the water. The Greek national flag is blue and white. That’s why all the Greek restaurants here in the States use that colour.

ADVENTURE IS MY MIDDLE NAME

People complain about the sprawl, traffic and population density of world capitals, but they still go, and I’m the same as they are.

Being the Travel Griot is the right profession for me. I love new and different things, and adventure. There are many who do not, and that’s what escorted tours are for. Angel and I would have none of it. For our Month in the Mediterranean we had our maps, guidebooks, and personal knowledge to draw from.

Quoting Faulkner, who said "You don’t take a trip, a trip takes you," sums it up exactly. We knew this would be the trip of a lifetime, and didn’t want to wait until we were one of those elderly couples who were too old to enjoy it. We planned for over a year, educated ourselves, watched the news of political upheavals and turmoil. With our luggage on our backs, we went all around to every place nearby we knew from history books

Anyone could do it on their own, but many people wouldn’t want to deal with the hassle, and so escorted tours have plenty of business even for those adventurous souls who finally make the move to see more of the world than just their small corner of it.

What’s the difference? During a cruise for example, you skim the surface off a place. On those land escorted cruises you spend a smidgen of time in several places, just so you could day you were there. That sentiment was expressed in the early 1960s film "If This is Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium."

TRAVEL WIMPETTES

I’ve heard of travelers who were on a trip to Africa who hardly left the bus in some small villages. One lady handed her camera to someone and said "just stick the camera out the window for me and snap it."

Later when something was on her side she did it herself, thrusting the camera out of the bus window, hardly looking at the people whose land she was a guest in.

Next time she should just rent a travel video and save herself a lot of money!

Speaking of saving money, there are lots of little things you could do to stretch your U.S. cash. You have to flexible, frugal and inventive when you're a global traveller. Those little kits you get on the plane, with the eats and toothbrushes and such? You want those, take ‘em with you. Ask the flight attendant for extras.

And those little bottles of shampoo and stuff from various motels you’ve been saving up? Now you finally get to use them! They’ll come in handy when you see what passes for hotels overseas, where they look at you funny if you ask for a shower curtain. (This actually happened to me in a three-star hotel in Rome).

When we disembarked from our TWA MD- 800 jet we kept the blankets. They had plenty. Besides, I figured that if we ended up having to stay in a train station or a cold hotel room it could come in handy. Mediterranean breezes sometimes turn a mite chilly.

Which is what happened in the train station of the port city of Brindisi, Italy. (Which is near Bari, which was made famous for a hot second when it was mentioned as the little town where Meryl Streep told Clint Eastwood's character she came from in "The Bridges of Madison County"). It's a lovely, slow seaside town that is on the rail trip to and from Rome to the main Adriatic seaport of Brindisi linking Eastern Europe and Italy, and Greece. When we came through from Patra, Greece we went through it twice.

I’m going back, maybe soon. Perhaps to escape whatever Y2K disaster might be headed our way (it’s not, but its as good an excuse as any for a trip!) . You can never get enough of Italy, and I’m far, far from sated with it!

I’m going to get another "Big Ticket" 1,000 Kilometer rail pass and revisit a lot of these places. With it you can ride until it runs out, like drawing down on your ATM account. Amtrak has a regional Railpass that is similar and time dependent. It’s also not as flexible because you can’t go back and forth on a route.

With Italy’s "Big Ticket" with two people it becomes a 500 K rail pass, and so forth. Angel and I did this, going up and over to Rome, then Florence, over to the other coast on the Tyrrenian sea to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower, then down to Naples, where nearby is the ancient town of Pompeii, buried under volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius.

We saw a lot in our month in the Mediterranean, and have the pictures to prove it. Keep reading!

NEXT: Patra, the port city leading to Italy on the Adriatic coast by train.

Do you have a travel experience to relate? Don’t let me do all the work! For more travel adventures and tips, access the Travel Griot's websites at <http://travelgriot.tripod.com

http://travelgriot.tripod.com

at "http://wordnetpaper.tripod.com"

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