Thursday, January 26, 2006

This Honeymoon Stuff Is Greek to Me

My wife, actually fiance at the time this story starts, loves to travel, see the world, etc. I, on the other hand, can exist very happily right at home here on terra firma in the good, ol' U.S. of A. When we were planning our honeymoon, though, I wanted to do something she would love (and something I'd appreciate as well), so I chose Greece as our honeymoon destination. I was fascinated by the myths, Olympic Games, and Greek (and Christian) history and she'd love seeing the Parthenon/Acropolis, countryside, and just traveling in general. Plan was, first we'd do the island of Rhodes for three days/two nights, then fly into Athens for a couple days, take a quick jaunt over to Delphi, circle back around to do the Peloponnesian Peninsula, hitting Corinth, Sparta, and Olympus, and finally back to Athens to leave.

Huntsville, where my wife was located (and where we remain now), had a good little travel agency (read: cheap), and so I'd come on weekends from where I was living in Atlanta, GA, and we hit the agency together. We'd have rental cars for both the island and the mainland. And we did the best we could on hotels in different places. Booked and ready to go.

Wedding bells.

Rhodes was great! The island was small enough and lacked many tourists, so we basically drove our automatic car around the island, through town, anywhere we wanted. And we spent our time being newly married. Except the last night. Most of the whole night... through men were yelling in the streets in a foreign (to us) language likely Greek, some shots fired, and it sounded like a revolution had broken out. We bolted the door, turned out all lights, and just hoped. And whatever melee had gone on during the night, it had ended by morning, and that next afternoon we flew to Athens, where the story really begins.

[Note heading into the Greece mainland: I'll confess, I'm not a true man. I never learned how to drive a stick shift car. Everything was automatic for me. There. Laugh now so we can move forward.]

We fly into Athens at night, so it's dark. We go to the rental car booth, and as we're filling out paperwork, we notice that the car we're renting is a five-speed. "Whoa," says us. "We told our agent 'automatic.'" The rental car clerk points to our itinerary, which to our ill fortune reads, "manual." Okay, we'll just trade up. "No can do," says the clerk. "We don't have many automatics, and they're all out." After checking with a couple other booths and finding the same information, we briefly debate our options, go back to clerk # 1, and say, "We'll take it." [Mistake # 1] We get a map and make sure it's in English, and the clerk outlines our route to the Caravel Hotel, where we're staying. Off we go.

I don't know how many of you have been to Athens, but it's a city likened to the size of Rome, New York, or London. My wife does fine driving us out of the airport, but once we hit city traffic, we know we're in for it. Unlike nice, tame America, Athens doesn't have street lines save one down the middle. So you have these wide streets, cars in a jumble, with maniacs zigging and zagging in and out of traffic, and we're the "old blue-haired ladies driving 15 kilometers under the speed limit." Still, slow and steady and we'll get there... until a problem hits. The directions we were provided show us going up the wrong way of a one-way street. I point out an avenue that might lead us around, and my wife heeds my advice, unfortunately. Of course, it doesn't get us back on track, and the more we drive the farther we get from our destination. High tension is building in the front seat of our economy sizer, the kind you don't speak unless you have something reeeeeeally beneficial to say, and once said, it better be accurate. Somehow, we're on day three of our marriage, and lo and behold we've lost that lovin' feeling. We're going up and down hills, and my wife's riding the clutch hard. Really hard to make sure we make it up these hills. You can hear it grind a bit. And it's not helping anything that now that we're off the major boulevards, there aren't any signs in English. Everything's in the Greek alphabet. That burnt rubber smell starts seeping in through our dashboard vents, and looking over at my wife I see that the clutch pedal is somehow at a 45-degree angle between where it's supposed to be and the dashboard. My wife's knee is approaching her chin. Finally, we pull over in front of a small pizzeria, and when she takes her foot off the clutch, the pedal rises to the dashboard. A car that has only 6,000 km on it, and we've burnt out the clutch. I'm thinking I better start looking for an embassy now.

Best thing to do we say is, "As long as we're stuck here, why don't we eat?" It's a little ma and pop pizzeria, where the ma and pop are about our ages (25). We eat and pay, and then we try to discuss our situation with the nice young establishment owner lady, in English. She knows a little of our language, most Europeans I've found do, but not that much. In the end, she tells us to go outside and hail a cab, and my upset wife tells me to do just that. Cars go by. Cabs go by. I call and I hail and I call and I hail for about a half hour, my wife visits three times to check my progress. Finally, bless his heart, one cabby pulls over for me. I say, "Caravel Hotel," and he starts loading my bags in his trunk. Then, he asks me a question in Greek that I only make out the word "Caravel." I shrug and tell him, "I don't understand." My wife is coming out at this point ready to hop into the cab, and the guy comes around and stops her. "No, no, no." He pops open his trunk, sets the luggage back on the sidewalk by me, gets back into his taxi, and peels away. Aside that we're American pigs, I still don't understand why he did it. At this point, I'm feeling not so manly, and my wife is no doubt thinking the same thing. She takes it upon herself to help out. So we call and we hail and we call and we hail. Thirty minutes later and no stoppers-by, we head back into the pizzeria with our proverbial tails between our legs. We, once again, explain our current predicament to the nice, young lady, telling her that no one is stopping for us. She gives me a puzzled look and a, "Huh," and leads us outside. No kidding, first cab we see coming our way she starts waving it down, and the friggin' guy pulls over. "What the...?" I'm thinking, "I just did what you did for an hour and not one guy... brickinbrackinsuckinsuccatash." The lady gives the cabby orders, and he takes our luggage, piles it in, as the lady pushes us into the cab. Brenda turns to me and gives me one of those looks. Drops of emasculation are running down every part of my body.

We make it to the Caravel and get a room okay. I've mentioned once before on the blog that my wife at certain times can have a "wee bit" of a temper. Well, she wants me to call this rental car place, but I'm not exactly sure what she's asking me to tell them, but I gather it's a lie. Mixed feelings of my non-confrontationalist nature along with wanting to please my newlywed along with a desire not to sin by lying all get mixed in my head, so I start probing my wife with more questions. At last, she rips the phone outta my hand and starts dialing.

I'll just tell you that the Hertz Rent-a-Car message taker got an earful about how they gave us a defective car and how we're not going to stand for this and how we better get another car pronto, and this time an automatic. If nothing else, she's spunky. Two contrite men from Hertz showed up the next morning. We gave them directions to where we had left the other car, the defective one, and they had us fill out some paperwork for the new, luxury automatic they had brought us. Give the girl some credit, Rich.

Another thing about Greek drivers, they parallel park like nobody's business, with just inches between cars. It's actually amazing how close they can get these vehicles. Well, our new rental was right out front, and we were ready to head to the Acropolis. This time, the Rich-man is driving. Everyone can calm down now, relax, because everything's in good hands and it's going to be okay. In front of me, a man in a tailored suit and custom shades has wedged himself between our cars with his trunk up. It's going to take about a hundred and seventy-eight pull-backs and ups to get our car from between the two vehicles it had been parked between. But I can do it. The man in front of me isn't going to move, and he keeps digging through his trunk. Every once in a while, he turns back and glances at me, but he's in sunglasses so I can't really see if they're nice or mean looks. Then, I pull back a couple inches, then forward, then back, over and over. Still the guy goes through his trunk. He must be covering up a body in there, I laugh to myself. Finally, the right edge of my car is going to make it past his left rear bumper. The path I'm pulling out into is a one-laner, with cars parked on the hotel side and a long row of stairs on the other side, so I need to be careful here. Don't want to pull too far out and start driving down the stairs. I want to cut it close to the dude-in-the-trunk's car, just missing it. And I do just miss it. Perfect, thinks I.

CRUNCH!!!

That sinking feeling immediately hits my stomach, the same kind you get when a cop's lights go on behind you when you're doing 80 in a 55 zone. Except worse. The well-dressed man that had been stuck in his trunk, has spun around and is gaping at me pointing at the corner of our car and then the ground. Swallowing hard, I get out. Instantly, I breathe a little easier seeing I didn't hit his car. Then, I peer down and see a crushed attache case on the ground. Again, a stomach cringe. The guy sees that we're English-speaking folk, and immediately starts in, "What have you done? What have you done?" A real Captain Feel-Good here. At first, I offer to pay him in drachma for his briefcase. I offer a sum that should more than cover the cost of the case and any pens, materials held within.

He starts shaking his head. "I don't want money. I want what's in my case. How are you going to pay for that? In five minutes I have a meeting with the President of this hotel." And then he starts in flashing his passport and saying he has a place in New York, and I have no idea what he's trying to get across other than he's very important and I'm not. My wife gets out, and he starts in on her, too. Finally, he throws his hands up, and then he tells us he'll accept drachma. But not what we offered. No, he wants enough money to buy him the car we're driving. Or about five hundred of his attaches. Which instantly ticks off my wife. Now, she's giving him nothing. Not only that, but the Hertz guys have come outside, and they're looking over the scene. Ends up, they think we're in the right. The guy had his briefcase in the road. They sort of start arguing with the guy, and they tell us we need to go to this place and file a report. Then, they keep arguing with the guy. My wife tells me to get in the car. We both get in. "Go!" she says. We're terrible people, I think as I drive away with the man running behind us assuredly cussing us and our mamas in Greek. We went and filed the requested insurance report. And to our good fortune, we never heard anything else about this situation.

The Acropolis was cool with the Parthenon and Temple of Athena. Our drive out of town to Delphi went well, as did our journey to Corinth. Heading toward Sparta to Corinth, which is a good ways away, we were sort of stopped in the road a time or two by sheepherders walking their flocks across the major highways on the peninsula. To us, this was just extremely awesome. We don't see that in the parts of the U.S. that we go to.

We arrived in Sparta in the late afternoon and parked where everyone else had, on the town square. Our hotel was located at the edge of the square, so we wandered up to that and checked in. We did some touring around town, and we asked the hotel concierge where we should tour. He gave us a great place, and after eating on the square, filled with people, we headed back to our room and sacked out.

The next morning we awoke, showered, dressed and took off to get our car. However, all the cars that had been parked on the square the previous night were long since gone. Instead of cars, there were stands, booths, and trucks all over the square. It was the daily market on the square, and we had no idea. Walking to our auto, we found crates and vegetables and fruits stacked atop it and a stand built around it. There was no way out. The lady running the booth that was atop our car walked up to us.

"This your car?" she spoke, heavily-accented. We nodded. "Police looking for you."

My wife and I stared at each other. It was getting comical. "Okay," we told her, and we explained that we hadn't known. She just kept repeating her line about the police.

Back at the hotel, the clerk told us we'd probably be alright, but yeah, we should have moved our car last night. He pointed us to where we could grab a tour bus, and we went and toured some cool, old churches, abot 52 of them all together on a hillside.

After Sparta, we started driving to Olympus up the western coast of the peninsula. The country here was mountainous, and soon we veered away from the coastline into the mountains. The downpour hit as we veered off. A long, lonely drive that was too long, and with my wife's silence, too lonely. Because of that, I sped up, hoping to get to Olympus a little faster.

"Watch out for that rock!" my wife alerted me. A large rock had fallen from the mountain, and as I swerved past it, more such rocks lay all over the road.

"I'm not going to hit any rocks," I assured her. "Lord knows, I don't want to be trying to change a tire in this mess.

Along with the pouring rain, fog set in, making visibility really bad. We had slowed down to a crawl again, and I was restless. This whole trip had thrown my manhood into question, and now here was a trip and I was having to drive like a kid on a permit with his mommy in the car. I'd had enough.

About forty miles outside Olympus, atop a mountain, is where I smacked right into the rock you knew I was going to hit. KA-BOOM! goes the tire.

"I told you..."

Before she could finish the sentence, I jumped out of the car into the driving rain. Soaked to the bone and freezing, I spent a good forty minutes -- in which only one car passed by (not a Good Samaritan, by the way) -- changing the blown tire. But better near dead outside in the rotten weather than sitting inside the fairly pleasant, luxury interior of our fine rental automobile with my wife at that point. And it wasn't even close. The car's spare was smaller than regular sized, so we were going to have to go slow. The whole trip had just gotten better and better.

When I did finally get back in at about half past midnight, I was once more warned about going slow and rocks, but I knew that before getting in. We went so slow it was like driving on ice without radials. Nearly three of the most painful hours of my life later -- and this was our honeymoon, dang it -- we finally drove into Olympus.

After that, the comedy of errors pretty much ended. We got a new tire in Olympus the next day. We ran on the old olympic fields. Drove back to Athens and sort of figured things out. But after the flat tire, the whole Honeymoon feel was over, too. Our life had started, for better... or for worse.

The honeymoon, though, has been a microcosm of our relationship. Many ups and downs. Several expectations not met. Many times self-inflicted problems. A lot of me not being the man I should be, but then, a lot of times me actually coming through, like I did by changing the freakin' tire in the deluge. In some respects, there are parts I'd like to take back. Many respects, actually. But there are also parts you wouldn't trade for heaven itself. And in total, if I was pressed, I don't think I wouldn't trade My Big, Fat Greek Honeymoon and the memories it's left me for anything else.

Here's to a good story, but Cheers to it being better down the road.

1 comment:

DugALug said...

Rich,

At least it wasn't 'Geek' to you, like your writing buddy. Open admissions of watching shows like Geek 2 or Ellen are priceless and should be ridden 'til there is nothing left in the saddle.

I thought you liked Greece?! Maybe it was just the company that you like. Anyway, for the record I didn't help with the birdseed prank. That was pretty low.

Did I ever tell you that I got 2 speeding tickets on my way home from your wedding? Needless to say, I will remember your wedding for quite some time.

-Doug