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Archive for May, 2008

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Trip Writeup

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

I’m in the process of writing up the Greece entries. They’ll be backdated and can be found in the Greece category, for ease of navigation.

The write-up proper starts here, then follow the right-hand link above the entry to get to the next one, etc.

Comment Spam

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

Hm, I see: an entry I wrote while still in Greece has not been posted. That is because of the crappy WordPress layout. For most blogs, a highlighted ‘save’ option means the entry is published. WordPress saves it as draft. I doubt that I’ll ever get used to it, but it sure drives havoc with the order of my entries.

Then again, since this was the only entry I have written while actually on the road, it doesn’t matter. The rest of the entries will follow over the next week or so, once I’ve sorted out my pictures and whenever I get some spare time.

In other news, this blog has been hit by hundreds of spam comments. Since I get so few genuine comments I’ll just delete them all unread (being unpopular can have its advantages 😉 ). Sorry for anyone who’s posted a genuine remark.

[EDIT: comments should now be turned off. If anyone wants to contact me, you know my email, or try via my LJ.]

Heraklion: Airport Hassles

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

Heraklion Airport Catering

I wish I could finish on a good note, but nothing went right once we got onto the bus to Heraklion.

The journey took longer than expected, and there was no stopover. A shared spanakopita from the bus station was all we had to sustain us while I fantasised about our Last Supper at the ‘to Xania’ Tavern.

The bus drove past endless beachside developments for what seemed like an hour before we finally got to town.

“There are no door trees here,” John said sadly.

Indeed not. Just a few sad potted saplings and row upon row of concrete.

We had about an hour in the centre of town, and that wasn’t enough to try and find a reasonable taverna. I had to forget about eating lunch in the shade of a plane tree, dithering about what wine to choose, having one final cigarette with my legs stretched under a table.

Instead we quarrelled and spat while we flitted from one kiosk to another, buying up cigarettes and tobacco. When we got onto the bus we had forgotten to also buy tickets, but thankfully the driver accepted change. And at the airport it turned out that the snackbars across the street were closed.

Over two hours to kill and no place to eat except for the truly vile, sole catering franchise which sold the worst cardboard pies I have ever encountered on my travels. With hundreds of people milling around and the restaurant likewise closed (missing out on an opportunity to print money, the stupid cunts), I wished for a Mac Donald’s for the first time since Eastercon.

But the two hours would go past faster than we counted on.

The check-in opened on time, even if it took another twenty minutes or so to sort out the logistics. Then the passengers were sent on, one-by-one, with their suitcases in tow.

“Go to counter 31 to check in your luggage,” the woman said.

Counter 31 was a sight to behold. About 300 people and their luggage were gathered in a queue that stretched from the corner of the hall to the entrance at the opposite side before doubling back on itself, and the sign above the counter read ‘Hamburg check-in’. There wasn’t any point in even trying.

I left John guarding the bags and went looking for answers.

The lady at the information counter sent me to the offices of Goldair Handling which, according to a sign that covered nearly the entire door, is considered by Lufthansa (among others) to be the best.

There I was ignored by another woman who typed boredly on a keyboard until I aroused her attention. She sent me on to the Duty Manager with a few succinct words: “It’s not my problem.”

“Trust me, it is your problem!”

I left with her still staring open-mouthed at my back, but the duty manager must have been notified because when I got back, five or six counters were open and the original queue was much diminished. John had almost reached the desk where people were still ostensibly waiting to check in for their flight to Hamburg.

“Some German bloke came up to me when you were gone,” he said. “He was almost in tears. He said he’d been waiting for 2 hours and his flight to Hamburg was about to depart, whether he could go in front.”


“I said no.” A shrug. “Well, I sent him to the managers’ office.”

That’s right: pass on the love.

With that, we had reached the head of the queue. The backpacks had barely left our hands—and we had barely lit a cigarette—when Easyjet invited its special assistance passengers to board the plane.

Several people in the queue began to twitch.

We made our way to security.

Haggling in Reverse

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

There was a tiny grocer’s in the alley of Chania Old Town where we stayed, and since we had decided to get very drunk on our last night, this was the place to get some refreshments before facing the glare of the morning sun.

I was pleased when I handed over the money to the grandmother behind the till: 1.30€. That was cheap.

But wait a minute, that couldn’t be right. The orange juice had a price sticker on it. It was 1 euro. The coke couldn’t just be 30 cents, it’s not even that cheap at Lidl.

I looked at the woman’s wrinkly, smiling eyes and wrestled with my conscience. Difficult as it was, I would have to explain. Otherwise she’d lose out on her livelihood.

So I shook my head and pointed at the receipt. “No, no, no. That is not right. I give you more!”

And was met with blank look.

Thinking myself clever, I went back to the fridge, but of course the coke wasn’t priced. I took out a can of iced tea. That was 80 cents, so I carried it back to the till, pointed at the price sticker on my juice, then at the one on the can and wrote:

€1.80 – 1.30 = €0.50

Then I pointed at the receipt for €1.30 and made the gesture of giving her some money.

Then I searched for—and couldn’t find—my wallet.

Now it was the grandmother’s turn to shake her head. Apparently she now thought that I thought she’d overcharged me. She waved away the iced tea, pointed to the coke and wrote on the receipt:


So the coke was only 70 cents. Whatever.

I finished fumbling through my rucksack and discovered the wallet in the juice bag. I fished it out triumphantly and saw that it contained no change.

With her questioning eyes on me, I turned the receipt around and wrote: 0.50€ (a gesture from me to her), 4.50 (a gesture from her to me) and handed over 5 euros.

She shook her head emphatically, turned the receipt over and scribbled in decisive strokes:


Then she took the fiver and gave me €2.30 change.

Passing Friendships

Thursday, May 1st, 2008


Our guidebook, so the blurb on the back cover claims, is like ‘having a local friend’.

If only.

I always thought it would be great to have a local friend: to get an insight into people’s day-to-day life, to have somebody to guide you around town or teach you about food.

I had forgotten that the trouble with travelling is that you have to leave the local friend behind.

We’re missing Yanis, although I doubt that he’ll miss us as much. He has many friends; he makes new ones every day, and those who meet him are lucky people indeed. The Cosmogonia Bar is one of those rare places I won’t forget. It will stay with me as I grow old, alongside fading memories of a shisha house in Cairo, a beach off Dar es Salaam, a table in a shady village square in the then Zaïre where a man with flashing eyes and ebony skin seduced me and I contemplated eloping for the first time until, panicked, I hurried on.

These are all sites of passing acquaintances. Moving on left a little pang and a lasting—but hazy—memory. There were closer friendships as well. People I felt sure I would meet again one day, and perhaps with the age of the internet there will be a truly global community of ‘local friends’: travellers and those who reciprocate and come to visit them in London, Sydney or New York.

Ironically, for all the friends that Yanis has made in Europe, Australia and the US, he has yet to travel anywhere. He’s too busy.