One great thing about traveling alone is that I can change my plans at any time and I don't have to consult anyone else. When I left Molyvos with Dan and Bethany for Mytilene, I expected to spend one night there, then catch the ferry the next afternoon. I'm not sure why I thought I needed a night in Mytilene, but I quickly decided I'd take the ferry with Dan and Bethany that afternoon. Just about 90 minutes prior to boarding, I had a ferry ticket to Piraeus and we had some time for a small snack at a cafe before we claimed our rooms. I'd booked a 4 bunk room and for most of the overnight trip I was the only one in the room. D & B (Dan & Bethany) let me stash my backpack (I now affectionately call it The Beast) in their room as there was no way to secure it in mine. I slept pretty well and when I awoke in the morning, there were two other women sleeping in my room! I slept right through their arrival! D & B & I took a taxi to their hotel so they could stash their bags. It was too early for check in, but they had a great looking breakfast buffet out so we sat and ate breakfast while I tried to firm up my plans. Bethany is a whiz on her iPad and she discovered it would be better to take a bus instead of a train to Patras where I would catch another ferry to Italy. So off we went in search of the bus to Patras. We wandered around until an off duty bus driver took pity on us and set us in the right direction. D & B walked with me the entire way to make sure I got on the right bus. It was such a rushed departure (trying to make the Greek bus driver understand I wanted to get off at the central bus station in Athens took a minute) that I never got to properly thank them for all the kindness they showed me. Such angels they are!
The bus driver alerted me to my stop and I was let out on a city block in an industrial area. I was perplexed as I saw nothing that indicated the bus station. I looked at the driver and pointed to the left with raised eyebrows. He rolled his eyes at me, pointed to the right, shut the bus doors and drove away. I headed right and within 20 feet spied two women rolling suitcases down the cracked sidewalk. I followed them when they veered off between a plumbing supply store and a drapery shop. Very quickly it became obvious we were at the bus station. I found the ticket counter, bought my ticket for Patras and went to sit at Slot 28 where my bus would leave from in an hour. I was so glad to get The Beast off my back. Within minutes an elderly lady carrying a purse and three large bags sat beside me. She glanced at the snack bar a few doors down, then at her many bags, then back at the snack bar. I tapped her on the shoulder and indicated I'd watch her bags. She seemed thrilled with the idea and rushed off. Soon enough she was back with a drink and a bag of chips and offered me some. I declined and she picked a carnation out of a bouquet in one of her bags and gave it to me! She smiled broadly when I put it in my ponytail. We tried to talk, but I know no Greek and she knew no English, so we sat side by side until the bus came. She let me know it was the correct bus and I helped her carry her many bags to the luggage compartment. She then grabbed my hand and led me around to the other side of the bus where passengers had already started loading. As we walked up the stairs of the bus she asked me something and I don't know how I understood her, but I showed her my seat number-6. Believe it or not, she was in seat 5. We shared a pleasant 4 hour bus ride to Patras and when she exited the bus one stop before me, she made sure I had a half package of cookies to take with me along with a big hug and kiss.
My Greek angel
Patras, on the western coast of Greece, is lovely in a worn out sort of way... like a favorite old sweater you can't wait to wrap yourself in on a chilly morning. As with most all the Greeks I've met, they are happy, infused with an ebullience I find immensely appealing. They live with such joy and enthusiasm! ENTHUSIASM. ORIGIN: Greek, from enthousiazein, To be inspired.
Carnivale, or the Patras interpretation if it, was in full swing when I arrived. Huge crazily dressed statues stood like sentries on each corner of the square where my hotel was located. Vendors selling balloons and glow sticks roamed the streets and folks were dressed in wild costumes.
It was fun to watch the festivities as I walked through town to buy my ferry ticket. They partied all night long under my hotel window - I was on the sixth floor - and I was grateful I wasn't on the ground floor!
The view from my balcony
As I was getting off the bus at the port the next afternoon, I turned to say goodbye to Patras behind me and was greeted by a beautiful rainbow over the city.
I was the first person on the ferry! I found my room and discovered I'd have the entire thing to myself - the joys of traveling in low season!
I wandered around the ship as it wouldn't be leaving port for an hour. I bought a bottle of water at the lounge
and then told the bartender that I was leaving Greece and hadn't tried Ouzo and I needed to! He threw his hands up and told me it was a TRADITION to drink Ouzo while in Greece and he grabbed a bottle off the top shelf and poured a bit in a small paper cup which he handed to me with a flourish. I slugged it back and immediately ordered one. I pretty much knew I'd love it as the flavors of fennel and anise are favorites of mine (I even use fennel toothpaste!). I took a seat in the lounge and the waiter brought me a tall glass half full of Ouzo and another glass half full of ice water. The bartender called over for me to mix the two (better me than him...what would you think if you saw a bartender water down a drink?) and my clear glass of Ouzo immediately turned milky. I enjoyed the tradition as I watched the passengers slowly board the ferry.
It was an uneventful night and when I went into the lounge the next morning to get coffee, the waiter looked at me and cried out, "Ouzo!" and came over and took my hand (?).
I landed in Bari, Italy around 10 a.m., hopped in a taxi and made it to the hostel soon after. Check in wasn't until mid afternoon, but they let me check in early and choose my bed, a bottom bunk in the corner of a 6 bunk room. One other bed was occupied and David, the hostel manager, told me it was another American! David provided me with a map of the city and suggested a few places to check out and some possibilities for lunch. I headed to the train station first to purchase my ticket to Milan for the next day. Then off to Old Town, the walled part of the city where, for the most part, time stood still. Stepping through the stone arches into Old Town was like entering another era. The streets were all cobblestone and not much more than narrow alleyways. Small ground floor storefronts in tall stucco and rock buildings. A few apartments had flat screened boxes set outside filled with drying freshly made orecchiette pasta.
I found the Osteria David had recommended and I ordered Local Orecchiette with Turnip Tops and Mussels.
The mussels were plump and briny, the turnip greens sauce was fabulous and filled the hollows of the al dente pasta. What sauce was left in the bowl I mopped up with thick slabs of bread.
On my way back to the hostel, I watched a woman walking a half block ahead of me. I sensed she was American although I don't know why. When I walked into the room at the hostel, there she sat on the bottom bunk across the room! The hostel filled up quickly and we visited in the hallways and the kitchen - guests from Holland, Korea, Poland, Germany, Australia, the States and of course Italy.
The next morning I was up early to pack The Beast and head out to the train station. Since The Beast is heavy and bulky, I tend to plow through doorways driven by pure momentum - there are no quick stops! As I was leaving the hostel I whipped out the door, made a hard right turn and an attractive older gentleman was on the sidewalk in front of me and I almost slammed into him! He grabbed my shoulders and squared me up as the rapid stop almost toppled me! We were face to face and he had the sweetest, most kind eyes and a big smile on his face. "Well good morning!" I said to him in English (?), "So wonderful to see you!" He looked at me like he was thrilled to find his long lost daughter and I put my gloved hand to his cheek (my default action when I am taken with someone). We both leaned in, did the left cheek/right cheek kiss, held hands for a moment, shared one last smile and walked our separate ways. A block away I was still glowing from the chance meeting. What a way to start my day!
The 8 hour train to Milan was a chance to catch up on reading and nap a bit. I arrived in Milan at 6 p.m. to a rainstorm, so I put up the hood on my raincoat and slogged the mile to the hostel. I claimed my bed in a 4 bunk room, cleaned up and headed out for dinner. I was told the best pizza in the area was a half block away so I headed there. I ordered a prosciutto and mushroom pizza and was brought a massive, paper thin crust pie. It was unsliced, so I grabbed my knife, cut a wedge, folded it in half and dug in. After I ate a few slices I started noticing other patrons eating their pizza with a knife and fork! No kidding - cutting off small pieces and forking them into their mouths! I followed suit, but wondered if this is a northern Italian thing? I don't think I've ever seen anyone eat pizza with a knife and fork!
This morning I got up early and checked the time on my phone - 5:36 - so I stayed in bed a while longer not wanting to wake my roomate. It was after six when I got up and padded into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. I took it back to my room, crawled into bed and started to check my mail. My phone was dead. I knew it was fully charged, but no matter what I did I had a black screen. I messed with it for a full 30 minutes and couldn't get any response. It was toast. I sat quietly and considered the implications of not having a phone. I didn't panic, but felt remarkably calm. I decided I could not function without it. I have a small, $50 Amazon Fire tablet that I blog on (I figured if it got lost or stolen it wouldn't be the end of the world), but the phone is different. I went into the kitchen and there was a Greek couple in there and a young Italian guy. I asked the Italian guy if he thought any Apple stores in Milan would be open on a Sunday. He expressed doubts, but said he'd check. Five minutes later he was back and we sat on the couch with a map of Milan and a map of the metro system and he proceeded to walk me through getting to the store that could (maybe) fix my phone. I wasn't encouraged when he started off by saying, "This is very far away. Not even in Milan!" It involved walking to the correct metro stop, buying a day pass from the machine, getting on the correct metro train, getting off at the correct stop, walking to the tram, getting on the correct tram, getting off at the correct stop, then walking 10 minutes to the Centro Commerciale Fiordaliso, whatever the hell that was! That's a lot of things for this directionally challenged gal to do correct! As I got ready to head out on this trip, the biggest challenge I've faced in my 5 weeks of traveling (I know, I know, it's been pretty easy on me so far), I kept feeling like this was a test and I had no choice but to give it my best shot. I felt so calm it freaked me out a bit! I walked to the metro and proceeded to nail it, step by step until I stepped off Tram 15 and across the highway I saw this:
It was a freaking shopping center!!! I made it over there and just spent 10 minutes walking around amazed. I found the Apple store and walked up to a couple guys in Apple shirts standing around and asked if they spoke English. One of them said, "A little..." and held his thumb and forefinger a quarter of an inch apart. I handed him my phone and started telling him my tale of woe and within 30 seconds he handed it back to me fully functional. I asked him what he did and he told me, but it was what I'd been doing all morning and I told him so. "It must be the magic of the Apple store, right?" I asked him. He laughed and agreed. I asked what I owed him and he answered, "Nothing at all." I offered my first born, but he declined (Sorry Sage, but I knew he wouldn't take me up on it...). I walked out of the store with tears in my eyes, honestly. To celebrate, I walked to a cafe and got an espresso and a croissant, then picked up a few groceries at a huge market, smiling the entire time. And know what? I nailed it coming back, too.