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Text and Photographs by Gregory Combs.

August 1, 2000

In the Spring of 2000, my wife Lorin and I traveled to Greece for a week to see some sights and to hang with a great friend. Being that my wife has a background in Classics and ancient Greece, and my friend there, Bruce, knows the archeology there as well as he does computers, we figured we’d both have something to enjoy together. Bruce and Lorin can talk Greek, and he and I can talk Geek. So we put the trip into planning stage about five months ahead of time; we ordered the tickets and received our passports well in advance.

The plane ride there was not un-terrible. We flew in a 747 to Amsterdam from Houston, then on to Athens. The entire trip was about fourteen hours one way, though this seemed a bit excessive, I had to remind myself it was our first overseas trip. Being that the 747 is one of the largest commercial jets, one would think that there would be some legroom. This is an incorrect assumption. It’s so damned big in order to pack 440 people inside like sardines. Think of sitting under your desk next to two other people (by the wing or five in the middle) for fourteen hours. Bathroom breaks are discouraged since all you’ll accomplish is pissing off your neighbor by waking him up once he finally got to sleep, as well as wet your pants in the small assed water closet. Add to that a showing of James Belushi’s K-911 and the ever so delightful Tarzan for the video entertainment.

So the trip there sucked. Once we got there, however, we entered the Athens airport only to see security guards with H&K MP5 submachine guns. Startling, to say the least. Bruce met us right on time, but not before I could try my hand at a credit card phone. Don’t they know the instructions should be in English? By the time I figured out that it’s not a real credit card it wants, Bruce walks in like he’d been there the whole time. We grabbed a taxi then headed out to the apartment. The traffic was amazing. Wherever someone needed to be, or wanted to be, they went. Forget the lines in the road. Feel like a little slalom around pedestrians on the sidewalk? About mopeds, as Bruce put it, “You can spend 45 minutes walking or driving in a car to work every day, or you can spend five minutes in a video game with no reset button and no extra lives.” The next morning he took me on a ride on the back of his moped down the main road by his apartment, to get a peek at the Acropolis looming over downtown. “Watch your knees,” he yells over his shoulder as we blaze down in between the lanes of traffic in the highway, mere inches from side-view mirrors on other cars. My warm urine was the only comfort as I gripped on to Bruce as my life did depend on it.

Later that night we decided to go walking around downtown to see what the nightlife was up to. Mere minutes before we walked into the main square, I asked Bruce, “Hey when is that holiday where Athenians club the crap out of each other with bats? I’d sure hate to be around for that!” Bruce said, “Good question,” as we turned the corner. That night was the last evening of Carnival. It’s like the Greek Orthodox version of Mardis Gras. Teen-Greeks, indeed, were running around beating each other up with large plastic “Flinstone-ish” bats. Occasionally these roving bands of thugs will target tourists. I suddenly turned chicken, err, rather I felt sleepy, and asked if we could retire back to the apartment, since it was getting a bit late. My companions displayed less wussiness and out-voted me. Bruce and Lorin got whacked a few times, but I guess my bad-ass-ness just projected a force field of doom around me.

The food was great, though I didn’t know what to expect prior to this trip. As Bruce mentioned, the produce is outstanding. I’ve never had oranges this good. My one complaint was there wasn’t a whole lot of variety in our restaurant choices, at least in Athens. Some of the best pizza we’ve ever had was at Kolonaki Pizza.

The sights were just amazing. We went to the Acropolis, Delphi, Corinth, Mycenae, and Eleusis. The Acropolis was packed! Evidently it is a yearly tradition where nearly everyone in Athens takes Clean Monday (beginning of Lent) off from work and brings the family out to the Acropolis and the surrounding ruins to fly kites and picnic. What a sight! I’ve only seen more people in one place at a Bon Jovi – Skid Row concert back in 1989! I was honestly surprised, and pleased, that the Athenians made such an effort to appreciate these ancient ruins that they see practically every day.

From there we took a rent-a-car to Eleusis. This, from my fragmented memory, was a spot where cults would gather to make sacrifices to Hades. I took pictures of an actual
portal to Hell. It was a hole with a mouth about three-foot square, and it was bottomless. At least that’s what the documentation said. Funny there wasn’t any sort of fence or gate to prevent you from falling to your eternal doom.

We then drove on a few hours to Corinth, where Paul the Apostle evidently spoke to the Corinthians. Speaking of Paul, it really seems like he got around in this area a lot. Everywhere we went, he had been there before us. This was quite a
beautiful spot. At the top of a mountain above the town was a settlement called Acrocorinth, or Upper Corinth. Really it was a castle built (by the Franks) behind an enormous fortifying wall that circled the whole top of the mountain. We couldn’t stay too long here since we had other places to go and such.

We drove down the hill to Old Corinth. The ruins here were pretty impressive. If there’s one thing that Greece isn’t lacking, it’s temples to
Apollo. The one here was in great shape. The water house was pretty cool, too. They built this building all round caves with an underground spring running through. From here the spring water would run down troughs to a small courtyard. Though the water was no longer visible from the outside, you could still hear it tinkling around in the back of the caverns.

From Corinth, Mycenae was just a drive down some backcountry roads for about an hour. Here was where Agamemnon lived and died as king. Something like he told his wife he was going out for some dinner, stays gone for about twenty years, comes back with a wench under his arm and says, “Hey, sweetie, meet my new girlfriend! While you two catch up, I’ll just go take a quick bath.” As you can guess, his wife, who surely waited the all those years faithfully for him, walked into the
bathroom and hacked him into bits with an axe. I tried to get Lorin and Bruce to replay the bathroom scene for the camera, embarassment won out. One of the coolest things there was the tomb of Agamemnon. It was an underground cone shaped fortresses, for the most part. The upper peak inside was about forty feet from the floor. We stood in the exact center and stomped on the ground, a-whooping-and-a-hollering. The bass was fantastic, Too $hort would be jealous.

After Mycenae, we headed on down to town for some lunch, which was delicious. About this time, my allergies along with a serious case of Athens Nose exploded with some serious pain, sneezing, and snot. I cried to myself as we drove back home to Athens for an early bedtime. According to all but myself, I had a nasty fever. Lorin couldn’t come near me from the radiating heat. This all sounds strange to me since I was positively freezing my ass off. I had long-johns, jeans, and two t-shirts and a sweatshirt on and I felt like a cold wind was cutting right through me. After a few hours of intense nightmares, the fever broke and I was hot as Hades. I felt fantastic on the way to Delphi the next morning. Bruce on the other hand was about to keel over while he drove. Seems as though he picked up what I got. For the first time during the whole vacation, I saw a yard and a garden in front of someone’s house.

The drive was exciting. We went through winding roads and mountain passageways and the scenery was fantastic. We stopped for a little breakfast in Thebes; Bruce mentioned they would be digging up a huge palace there over the next few years. This is where Hercules grew up. The breakfast was tasty and the people out in the boonies acted like they’d never seen an ugly American before. We were back on the road in no time.

We weaved through several hours of winding single lane roads with little white crosses at the other side of every sharp corner, identifying where people had been killed in car accidents. If that wasn’t sobering enough, I was so paranoid about our gasoline situation in the car, I must have mentioned it fourteen times, just to assure myself we wouldn’t be stranded for days in the Greek countryside. Eventually we came into a very mountainous area with white rock slopes, tall thin green trees, and snow-capped peaks. We had arrived at Delphi. There was a line of unsightly tour busses parked along the narrow mountain drive, but the view was absolutely breathtaking. We parked near the sacred spring and washed our face and hands in it as travelers had done for three thousands years. You couldn’t just go see the Oracles with road grime on you, now could you?

Delphi itself is built into a rocky mountainside; so just walking from building to building was a tiring task. There was an enormous Temple of Apollo here, but even more impressive was a near pristine 600 foot long stadium, complete with
box seating in the stands! As with most of the sites we had been to in the past few days, there was still a bit of reconstruction and restoration materials around; scaffoldings around the temples, column slices lying about. Sadly in addition to all of this extracurricular litter, there were also carved signs in English, French, and German stating that you should most definitely not climb up into the temples or the stadium stands. There didn’t appear to be any armed guards around, but I showed some restraint in not running up and down the stands as we did for athletics in high school. The only real disappointment was the amount of little obnoxious French teenagers running about.

Bruce and Lorin spent some time translating a portion of a walkway with Greek on it, listing what
slaves had been made free. Lorin remarked that it wouldn’t be too hard for a slave to sneak in at night and write his own name on the wall, but I guess that’s assuming that the slaves knew how to read and write then, which it appears they didn’t. We also were able to see where the tripods were placed, and where the three Oracles would sit and preach to the wary patrons. “You are not The One, but you already knew that didn’t you?”

The ride home was a blur, as exhaustion from the whole week was definitely setting in. I think we stopped at a little place on the way, Levadhia, to get a bite to eat. There was a lengthy path alongside a mountain stream that led up to a cathedral built into the mountainside several hundred feet up. Every week churchgoers walk all the way up there, and all the way back down. They had also erected a small open-air stadium for plays, though it had been heavily painted with graffiti, advertising the coolness of “Sepultura” and “Run-DMC”. Rather than sit around too long and correct the English grammar in the graffiti, we booked it back home as it was starting to get dark.

I think we sleepwalked the rest of the time we spent in Athens, since I don’t remember much about that. We probably spent most of the time wandering around in that sweet German-built subway system, or avoiding the panhandlers clinging to early tourists in Syntagma Square. Bruce left a day before we did on a trip to Gerga in Turkey. Sometime soon Lorin and I will be writing a screenplay (or musical?) of the mysteries of Gerga. It will truly make you vomit in terror.

All text and pictures are Copyright ©2000, Gregory S. Combs. Written permission required for any reproduction, electronic, or printed.

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