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We woke with the rooster at 7am, which I still found charming, but Sean was finding less so as time wore on. Our rooster friend didn’t just crow once at dawn, he crowed constantly from about 6:30am to 10:30am, so I could sort of see Sean’s point. At any rate, I love roosters, so no big to me.

AppoloniaWe hustled down to breakfast ala Spiros. Hustled? Why? We had a bus to catch! Say what? Yes! I said a bus! The day’s plan – to venture forth to the bustling metropolis of Appolonia, capital city of Sifnos! We virtually inhaled our breakfast, at least in Greek terms, since we only had an hour and a half to eat, bid goodbye to Spiros, who had started our morning with a wonderful new custom as he snapped to attention upon seeing us and gave us a huge salute. Ahoy!

The bus was right on time and was not at all the public transportation I’d expected, based on pub-trans in Chicago. These buses were more like nice tour buses, with working a/c and cushy seats. Neat! We thoroughly enjoyed the ride to Appolonia, which took about 20 minutes and wound up, up, up the island’s tallest mountain.

I suppose we’d become accustomed to our small, quiet town of Kameres, because when we arrived at Appolonia, it sure seemed big and bustling – never mind that its population was probably smaller than our three-block neighborhood back in Chicago. The bus let us off in the town’s main square. At a nearby cafe, we found water and a handy little Appolonia map, which we tucked into my daypack to be used nevermore.

“I spy, with my little eye, a path!” I said, pointing at a wide walk going up.

“I think we should take said path, which might just lead to yonder church!” Sean said, pointing way, way up at a beautiful church at the very top of the town.

Church in AppoloniaAnd so we did. We walked and we walked and we saw maybe four people the whole way. At times, we stopped to rehydrate and gaze at the view, which really was spectacular. Although we weren’t sure we were on the right path, we seemed to be at least gaining on the church at the top of the hill, so were happy. As we rounded a bend, we heard a voice from above.

“Kaleemera!” said the voice.

We looked up and saw a very old man sitting on a veranda to our left and slightly above.

“Kaleemera!” we responded.

For the next twenty minutes, Sean and I leaned against the cool stone and chatted with the man. This would become one of our favorite moments in the trip. He actually spoke fairly descent english and what he couldn’t express, he enthusiastically pantomimed. As it turned out, he was in his late eighties and had come from a large fishing family who lived down the coast. He’d spent his early years fishing off the coast of the island, but left in his thirties to join the merchant marines, or something like that. Through that organization, he roamed the world and even came close to Chicago on one trip. He told us how the sea around Sifnos used to teem with life but due to over-fishing and pollution became barren. He explained that over the last ten years, particularly, the people of Sifnos had gone to great lengths to stop the pollution, and now the water was crystal clear and the fish were coming back. Finally, he asked us if we were going to the church and assured us that we were on the right path. He said we should find a tiny old woman (he held his hand about 2 feet off the ground to illustrate) tending the church and advised us to ask her about “the artifact”.

Church in AppoloniaWe bid him a fond farewell and resumed our journey upward, finally coming to the church at the top. After gawking at the outside, we did as instructed and walked inside, where we immediately spotted the tiny old woman (though, she wasn’t two feet tall, but more like four and a half feet or so). She had her back to us as she arranged fresh flowers on a packed alter, so we just stood in the doorway in silence.

Like the grocery in Kameres, this church, which looked as though it would be rather spacious from the outside, was packed so tightly with stuff, it would be difficult to fit 10 people standing shoulder to shoulder inside at once. Paintings, gilded artifacts, thrones, crowns, cups, incense burners, flower holders, urns and other assorted things packed the place from floor to ceiling. It was almost overwhelming.

After a time, the old woman turned and smiled warmly. Shuffling over to us, she grabbed my hands and greeted us both. We greeted her quietly, complimented the beauty of the church and asked about “the artifact”.

As it turns out, the woman did not speak one word of english, but pulled us in and pointed at a glass case in the center of the mound of treasure. It held a painting and a cup. She then told us a long story, in Greek, while pantomiming, mostly to me. I smiled and did my best to interpret what she might be saying. It went something like this:

“A long time ago, there were guns or canons and those guns or canons shot into the … ocean. Or hillsides. No ocean. And the enemy came and they plundered the town. Or they might have sat down at a cafe to eat. But, I’m pretty sure they were plundering after they ate. At any rate, the people of this church feared that the enemy would steal the artifact, so they wrapped it in rags and carried it to the sea and then swam with it to a nearby island, or boat. The enemy left, or became part of the town, or died, or fell asleep on the beach. At any rate, the church people felt safe and they swam all the way back, hundreds, maybe thousands of miles — ok, probably tens — with the artifact. And God protected and blessed the swimmers and the church and the artifacts.”

She told us the name of the church in there too, I think, but we didn’t understand. So, to me, it is the Church of the Swimming Artifact. A beautiful church and a wonderful woman. Sean was kind enough, as we left, to compliment me on putting the story together. I admitted I might have gotten some things wrong. Obviously the woman was a master pantomimer, but I was barely apprentice-grade as a pantomime interpreter.

Kastro Overlooking the AegeanWe took another path down the opposite side of the mountain which ended at a crossroad. There, we met a tall, sinister man holding a banjo and a fiddle. Just kidding. We did, however, manage to sound out the sign, which said “To Kastro”. On a hill, far in the distance, we saw a town. Even though it was noon and getting very hot, we decided to walk and I am so very glad we did.

It took us about an hour to make our way from Appolonia to Kastro. Maybe two cars passed us the whole time, oh, and one man on a donkey. On that quiet, magnificent trek, we stopped again and again. I found the terraces fascinating, some of which held groves of pomegranates (my favorite fruit as a child), others olives, grapes and tomatoes. It seemed like there was a tiny church around every single bend, probably only big enough for one family to use. At some point, we looked down the gully to our right and saw a monestary with a courtyard filled with sarcophagi. As we got to the edge of the town, we stopped to play with two darling kittens wrestling in the yard of a tall house and the picture I snapped of them is one of my favorites from the trip.
Kittens of KastroOur water bottles were completely empty, so we stopped to rest at a cafe, which had an amazing view of the valley below. I attracted the cafe cat which thumped the dickens out of my hands before curling up next to me for a nap.

Kastro was utterly gorgeous. We spent the entire afternoon winding our way through the town. The view of the sea stunned us both. The little paths through the streets had many ancient artifacts sitting out in the open, which shocked us both. At some point, we came upon a small archeology museum and marveled at the treasures it contained.

We found out that a bus came from Appolonia at 4pm, so we decided to take it back, rather than walk the distance. I am sorry, as I write this, that we didn’t spend more time in Kastro. What a delightful place.

But, back to Appolonia we went! The bus let us off in the town square and we found we had an hour before the bus to Kameres. Fortunately, there was a little folk museum right there, so we went in. We were the only ones there and although all the signs were in Greek, we managed to get the general gist. The owner was very nice and very enthusiastic, so he helped a great deal.

The Old Captain in KamaresOur feet thanked us as we boarded our bus to Kameres and sank into the plush seats. When we arrived in Kameres, we realized we were too tired to sit at a restaurant for hours, so we stopped in at a local tavern called The Old Captain, which got a nice write-up in Barrett’s guide. In fact, if you look closely at the picture, you can see a sign that says, “As seen in Matt Barrett’s Guide!” Sean ordered a local ouzo and I ordered something called Metaxa. Metaxa turned out to be a brandy type of liquor which had a heavy floral taste. I fell in love.

After finishing our drinks, we ambled down to the “zweeee” grocer and bought a bottle of 5-star metaxa (there are 3, 5 and 7 star). Then, we stopped by a “fast food” counter and bought two absolutely delicious smelling souvlaki (gyros-type wraps with yogurt sauce), which I think contained lamb, and spicy chipies (greek fries). Heading for home, we passed Spiros’ counter and he flashed us a quick salute before waving us over and handing us two ice creams. He absolutely would not take money for them, but simply wanted to be hospitible and catch us up on town news – a ferry had come in, nothing much else to report.

We waved goodnight to Spiros and headed for Alkyonis, where we devoured our feast under the stars on our veranda. As a delightful surprise to the end of the night, a number of Turkish Geckos decided to dine with us, although they had bugs, not souvlaki.

Cats in KamaresAh, another hard day in Sifnos.

We rose with the rooster at 7am. What to do today? First, breakfast with Spiros! Down to town we went. I was saddened when Spiros told me there was no baklava, but tried another recommended treat called ekmek kataifi, a baklava-type sauce over stringy dough-like noodles. It wasn’t as good as baklava, but damned tasty just the same.

Over breakfast, Sean and I decided that our rocks probably missed us and we should visit them again. We also decided to stop and look for snorkel gear at one of the local grocers.

The first grocery was across the street from “our” breakfast place, so that seemed an easy candidate. The establishment was about the size of our living room at home and packed to the gills with stuff. It seemed as though a Wallmart-sized establishment somewhere far away had exploded, volcano-like, and all of the merchandise had traveled in a cloud to land in a heap – a merchandise cone, if you will – that the townspeople then attempted to enclose with walls.

Bug spray stood next to panties, which stood next to car oil. It was simply the most random store I’ve ever seen in my life. Shelving units ran from floor to ceiling and every one overflowed. I have utterly no idea how one even saw, much less got to, items near the top. As I tried to force my way down an aisle, a young man hustled in with a crate of items. He looked around for a second and then upended the thing into the corner, kicking a few rolling bits out of the way as he left. We felt rather sure that we’d find snorkel-gear eventually, but weren’t sure if we’d have any vacation time left after doing so, so we opted to try the other store in town.

Kamares SupermarketI must admit that snorkel gear wasn’t the only thing on my shopping list. Although I don’t feel I’m excessively vain, I’d grown weary of letting my hair air-dry into a frizzy, knotted mass, so I was also looking for a hair dryer, which I hadn’t seen in the other store (though it was probably there somewhere). So, off we went to the other grocery, which had a few less items but the same sort of anti-arrangement. We managed to find cheap snorkel sets and took them to the young proprietor, who was snoozing in the sun at the storefront. I asked him if he had a blow-dryer.

“Blue… dryer?” He repeated, looking incredibly confused.

Helpfully, I held my cocked fingers up to my temple in a suicide gesture and made the universal noise for blow dryers: “Vweeeeee!”

“Oh! Like pistol! Bang-bang! Vweee!” He laughed, mussing up his moppish mass of hair with his gun fingers.

“Neh! Perfect! Where?”

“Don’t have!”


He rung up our snorkel gear, still laughing and “vweeeing” from time to time. I couldn’t help but giggle at my own stupid vanity and made a decision to live without the vweee.

Another perfect day in the ocean followed. With our cheap snorkel gear, we discovered that the bay didn’t have a whole heck of a lot of sealife. Likely, this was due to the fact that there wasn’t a lot of vegetation, quite unlike the underwater gardens we’d seen in the Caribbean. But, we did see lots and lots of spikey urchins and about 15 or so species of colorful and friendly fish.

Stephanie at Our Swimming HoleAs the afternoon turned into evening, we drug ourselves from the water and trekked back to Alkyonis, accompanied by goat bells as the herds descended from the mountains above us.

That night, it was back to Boulis at a slightly later hour, so we actually arrived as the dinner hour started, not before. The same group of older women sat down right after us and I hoped for another dancing demonstration later. Two kittens from the night before took up spots at our feet as we ordered the house red and our appetizers – revithia keftedes (fried chick-pea balls), yigendes and greek salad. I ordered kota psiti (herbed chicken with roasted potatoes) mostly for myself, but I thought the kittens would also enjoy that a great deal and was right! Sean had a selection of meats from the huge outdoor grill. Both were fantastic.

Right on cue, as we ate the last bites of our dinner, the older women stood. I turned in my chair to watch as Sean ordered another litre of house wine and settled in contentedly. The owner ran out with the small CD player and the women commenced dancing.

I spent years studying Anthropology, so I find this sort of stuff absolutely fascinating. I watched and mentally noted all of the social aspects of the dance. One woman would lead the line. In one hand, she held a lace kerchief high in the air, while she clasped her other hand tightly with the second dancer. As I watched, it became clear that the leader was putting steps together, which the others were expected to follow. So, it wasn’t just a dance, it was a game! The songs seemed to be traditional folk songs, but instrumental only. The women added the vocals as they danced. After a time, some sort of group consensus took place and the lead woman was ousted and replaced by the second in command. I noticed the second woman’s dance steps seemed harder, as if she was trying to outdo the first woman. After a bit, two of the older women broke away and began pulling women out of the crowd of diners.

See, this is the thing. I am a born observer of humans. I love to watch human rituals. However, I don’t always like to participate. So, I tried to lay low. That didn’t work. One of the women spotted me and, to Sean’s great delight, grabbed onto me and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She led me towards the dance and I looked back at Sean and shrugged my shoulders in a “oh well, what the hell!” gesture. He laughed and laughed.

I ended up about 4th in line, between one of the older women and a young, delicate Parisian in a flowing skirt. The music began. The dance-game turned out to be exactly what I’d thought – a follow-the-leader type of gig – so I did my best to follow the steps, which didn’t go so horribly. My Parisian friend took a more celestial approach, which caused my left arm to be ripped from its socket from time to time as she tried to interject spinning into the already complicated steps.

As the third song began, I started to really, really enjoy myself. I got into the steps and began listening to the wonderful music. One funny thing, I was about 5 inches taller than any of the other dancers, so every time the line veered too close to the dance area’s perimeter, my head became entangled in the low-hanging vines covering the veranda’s roof. This caused the older women no end of delight and they began yelling out “giraffe!” every time I became entangled. At least, I think that is what they were saying.

At long last, Sean caught my eye and pantomimed a yawn. It was time to go. The older women grabbed my hands and tried to hold me out on the dance floor but I managed to make it through “thank you but nono! Need to go! Tired!” in Greek. They hugged me and said good night.

Sean and I walked home, hand in hand, with huge smiles on our faces. Unforgettable.

We awoke the next morning at 7am to the dulcet tones of a rooster crowing. By “dulcet tones”, I mean that I leapt from our bed to see if the animal had somehow become entangled in vines and was strangling itself.

Welfare check: Rooster, okay.

I returned to bed where Sean lay grinning. Everything smelled sweet. The sun streamed in through the veranda doors. A nice breeze touched and tickled us. After cuddling for a bit, I got up to take a shower. The water was ice cold. Unfortunately, I’d taken a shower after swimming the day before and forgotten to switch the hot water refill switch to “on”. Oops! After a very bracing shower, we wandered down into town for some nosh.

Kamares Main Street 4The shops were all open and the merchandise stalls set up along one side of the street. Shopkeepers, for the most part, sat on chairs outside the stores, talking with passers-by. Most everyone seemed to know one another, which made sense, since this was off-season on a fairly tourist-quiet island. Everyone we passed raised a hand and smiled, “Ya-sas!” or “Kaleemera!” (“Hello!” – “Good Morning!”)

We passed a number of nice looking breakfast spots and finally came to a pastry shop. In the glass case, which served as a store-front, sat row upon row of tasty looking, flakey tiropitas and other savory sorts of pies. An amazing smell wafted out of the interior and I followed my nose. Inside, another glass case held all manner of sweets, including my absolute FAVORITE dessert in all the world – a pan of gooey, sticky, juicy baklava.

The cafe’s owner, Spiros, absolutely charmed us from the start and would, over the next week, become a face we looked forward to seeing every day. We selected a tiropita (filled with feta cheese), a zambonopita (ham and kaseri cheese), baklava, almond cookies, a hot nescafe (all non-greek style coffee was called nescafe) and an iced unsweetend, no milk, coffee (frappe). Spiros shooed us off to the table and we sat by the sea, watching huge schools of fish swim by beneath us while he prepared our feast.

Καλημρα, Sean!We savored breakfast for two full hours, which barely did the spread proper justice. It was that good. As we sat, we discussed our plan for the day, which really only consisted of swimming. So, after breakfast, we headed back to the villa for our beach necessities and then set off for the rocks to the south of the Kameres beach.

We didn’t see a soul as we walked from our villa down the road through the tiny village of Agia Marina. At the end of the town, we found a small goat path through the stickery brush and followed it to a gulley, which we scrambled down towards the water.

I could have explored the coast forever. Just when it seemed we’d found the perfect rock-lined swimming hole, we’d travel a little farther and find one just that little bit prettier. We only stopped exploring when we were so drenched with sweat, we absolutely had to cool off. We stripped and dove into the beautiful blue sea, which is where we stayed for the next 6 hours. God, I love the water.

Towards the late afternoon, small clouds started to gather and Sean and I decided to head back to the villa. Marie greeted us as we ambled up and we stood and chatted about our day for a bit, before wandering down the flower-lined path to our apartment.

Hummingbird Hawk MothI showered first and then paparazzi’d local wildlife while Sean showered. As I settled down on my haunches to catch a Hummingbird Hawk Moth feeding on jasmine, I head a soft ‘gonging’ noise from the hills above. Camera in hand, I walked up the drive, scanning the hillside. To my surprise, I spotted a huge herd of goats. The ‘gonging’ sound became a symphony as the herd, each individual with a bell around its neck, descended from high in the hills going, well, somewhere. Sean emerged all squeaky-clean and we watched for the next hour as the two hundered some odd goats moved in the general direction of our swimming rocks.

After the goat parade, we consulted our Barrett guide and chose the Giorgos Boulis Taverna for dinner. Arriving at about 7pm, we found the taverna virtually deserted, so chose a seat on the huge veranda, near the outer edge. Giorgos Boulis Taverna isn’t on the water, but rather is directly off the town square, which makes for some great people-watching.

A young and cheerful woman brought us menus and we ordered the house retsina. Having learned our lesson the night before, we didn’t even crack our menus. When she returned, we simply had her rattle off some recommendations and then choose something for us.

Something to note about Greece for Americans – mealtimes move at a much slower pace than in the States, probably owing to the fact that every single food item is incredibly delicious and must be properly appreciated. A typical dinner lasts around two to three hours and there is a lot of time to sip, nibble and look around. It was shocking to return to the states and watch people in restaurants shoveling food in their mouths as if the waitstaff would, at any moment, rip the dishes away and shuttle them out the door with empty bellies. This pace doesn’t exist in the Greek Islands, at least not from what we experienced. The staff at most restaurants seemed so glad to have you there, in fact, it was pretty hard to get your bill at the end of the night.

Giorgos Boulis Taverna CatAs we finished our appetizers – yigendes (fava bean stew), capari salata (caper salad) and keftedes (fried meatballs) – the real dinner hour began and people started to fill the tables around us. The litter of kittens that had taken up residence around our feet and on the chairs beside us dispersed to work the gathering crowd. We noticed a very large group of older women arrive and sit at a number of pre-arranged tables near the back.

It took us another hour to fully appreciate our dinner – Sean had arnee stee carbonah (charcoal-grilled lamb) and I tried the pastitsio, a very dense noodle dish with minced lamb. Honestly, it was probably wonderful pastitsio, but I found I didn’t like the dish as much as I thought I would. You can’t like everything!

As we paid our check, a few of the older women rose and called to the owner. He ran into the restaurant and emerged with a small CD player. Ah, music! Nice! The music started and the older women grabbed hands and began to dance. I became entranced. If it hadn’t been for Sean, I might have stayed several hours more, but when he finally got my attention, I could tell he was half asleep. We ambled back to the Alkyonis accompanied by the fading music and the laughter of the dancing women.

After four hours of sleep, we hustled down to our hotel lobby to find that they had kindly prepared a small meal for us, since we were leaving too early to enjoy the breakfast buffet. Thank you, Gentlemen! At 6:30am on the button, our cab pulled up and whisked us off to the port of Pireaus and the ferry terminal.

Some things I noticed about Athens during our dawn drive-through:

  • The city just feels ancient. Even though the modern architecture is nothing spectacular and, at times, actually sort of ugly, there is something so ancient about the feel of Athens, everything seems stunningly beautiful.
  • There is graffiti on every single surface. I kid you not, I have never seen so much graffiti in my life.
  • Even at 7am, there are tons of people walking around, many of them obviously still club-hopping from the night before.
  • Athens seems very haphazard in its design. Roads wind in every direction and it often feels as if you are going around in circles when you are not.
  • People drive very fast in Athens.
  • The stoplights and stop signs seem to be more of a suggestion than a hard and fast rule to stop, or even slow.
  • Dogs roam about alone everywhere, singly and in packs.
  • There are a LOT of motorcycles and scooters. As Eddie Izzard would say, “Ciao!”

Pireaus at DawnThe Pireaus ferry port was pretty large. Two ferries seemed to be preparing to embark and our cab pulled up in front of one – a huge catamaran called “Highspeed One”

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the modernity of Highspeed One caught me off-guard. The inside was very sleek and I instantly felt underdressed. A porter escorted us to our seats – left side, on the windows. After settling in, someone announced our departure over the loudspeaker in Greek, French, German and English. We didn’t even feel the boat leave the dock.

The sun started to come up as we eased out into the Agean Sea. After about 45 minutes, Sean and I began to wonder when the boat would pick up speed. It felt as though we were barely moving and there was absolutely no engine noise in the cabin. We decided to go out on the back deck and investigate the situation.

When we opened the door to the back deck, the wind nearly blew us over. We weren’t just moving, we were hauling ass! Our ship left a massive wake and the speed generated a wind so intense, we really couldn’t stay out there very long. Once back inside, we experienced only silence and calm. Neat.

We went back to our seats and Sean instantly fell asleep. Wound for sound, I planted myself by the window and watched as various rocks and islands came in and out of view. I kept thinking, “I’m in a boat on the Aegean Sea. Ho-lee shit.” Surreal.

After three hours, we pulled into our first port – Livadi, Serifos. I got my first good look at a Cycladic island and it surprised me! I knew the area was very arid, but I didn’t expect quite the rock and desert tundra tableaux before me.

Pulling In to Serifos Read the rest of this entry »

We landed at Heathrow at 6:35am and dragged ass off the plane. Unfortunately, I’d saved about $700.00 on our plane tickets (through Orbitz) by agreeing to a 10-hour layover. Due to the insane security issues of the day, we couldn’t leave, so we had to spend the whole time in the airport. We were dog-tired and I was further exhausted by whatever illness had decided this would be a funny time to attack. So, we spent the next ten hours shambling like zombies around the duty-free mall that is Heathrow airport.

Even weak and sick, I managed to marvel at Heathrow’s insanely multi-cultural environment. Talk about a melting pot of humanity! Absoloootely fascinating. Sean and I played a game where we sat on a bench and tried to identify the languages of the people passing by. I am guessing we must have heard well over 50 in just one hour.

I started to get the “I’m in a foreign country” vibe and I was liking how that felt. My stomach gurgled its assent.

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The wait for our vacation to commence has been utterly excruciating, but finally the day has arrived! Our flight, American Airlines #86, leaves O’hare at 4:45pm, bound for London. I’m excited. I’ve never been on a trans-Atlantic flight and I love to fly. I mean, I love to fly and it SHOWS!

Here’s how it went:

We made it to the airport in plenty of time to catch some lunch and a few beers pre-flight. At some point during our meal, Sean turned to me and smiled. “Holy shit! I feel fantastic. I can’t believe how relaxed I am right now. We’re going to GREECE!”

We clinked bottles and laughed. God, it was good to see him relaxed and smiling. Woot! As our plane lifted off an hour later, we clinked imaginary bottles again. My stomach gurgled a bit.

At first, I hated the proximity of our seats to the bathrooms. We were in the next to last row of seats on the plane and it didn’t smell so daisy fresh back there. But, after an hour, I was thanking God for our placement, because my insides weren’t liking something I’d eaten one tiny little bit. I was sick for the first 6 hours of the flight. The nice thing is, I was out of my seat running to the bathroom so much, my legs didn’t get cramped like all the other passenger’s legs did. Take that, everyone … else… sigh.

Well, still and all, I was on my way to Greece, so put that in your baklava and smoke it**!

[**This author and this website do not condone the smoking of baklava and will bear no responsibility for individuals attempting to smoke baklava or any other Greek pastries.]

Sean and I decided to devote the following weekend, this would be late mid-July, to Operation Warehouse Vacation. Feeling a bit unfocussed, we opted to seek help from the experts and so went online in search of a local travel agent. Over the next few days, we called as many as we could and, in the process, discovered something interesting – travel agents don’t really exist anymore. Due in large part to online booking sites like Expedia and Travelocity (which we always use too), the travel agency industry was swiftly going the way of the mighty dodo. Most agencies that had actually managed to stay in business spent their time working with big corporate clients, not wasting precious resources on little guys like us. The few travel agents who did talk to us tried to sell us pre-packaged vacations that sounded, honestly, lame and cost many, many more yams and goats than we currently possessed. Not to be discouraged, we turned again to the internets.

That’s when we found an immense website written by a guy named Matt Barrett, who, as it turned out, was an American ex-pat and vocal Greekthusiast. His online travel guide covered everything about travelling to Greece and the Greek Islands in exquisite and loving detail and Sean and I devoured every last page.

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Sean and I embarked on a 15 day trip to Greece on September 15, 2006. The trip meant a great deal to both of us and turned out to be spectacular (even with a mishap or two included). I intend to write about each day in travelogue form using random notes I kept (many on napkins), my feeble memory, and our 400+ pictures on our flickr site. With any hope, one person (if I get lucky, 2!) will stumble upon the travelogue and say, “Honey! We should go to Greece! Check this travelogue out. Doesn’t it sound fun?” Thus, random people similarly embark on a wonderful vacation and I bank a shitload of good Karma points. Everyone wins.

But, before I start the travelogue portion, I would like to discuss a few things: 1) the decision-making process involved in choosing our destination, 2) once the destination was chosen, the sometimes frustrating and sometimes wonderful adventures we had booking the trip, and 3) why this trip meant so much to both of us. With any hope, my curious reader and fellow traveler might find nuggets of wisdom and, more importantly, practical aid and advice so that their booking goes more smoothly. So.

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August 30, 2005 at 7pm, Elijah passed, almost 10 years to the day from when we first brought he and his brother home from Harmony House. I write this the day after as a way to find some solace from my unimaginable grief and to pay tribute to our beautiful Mr. Grey, our Elijah Lee.

In late January of this year, I went to Bellingham, Washington to be at the side of my cousin Tim who was dying of a brain tumor. He died February 13, 2005. The second day I was there, I got the most unbelievably terrifying and shocking call of my life. Sean, who was back in Chicago, had been in an accident and I needed to get home as fast as I possibly could. I did. Sean was in a coma for 9 days and over the next months made a hard but absolutely miraculous recovery from a traumatic brain injury. On this day, he is, as he says, 98% back and I feel inexpressible gratitude and love towards him for working as hard as he did to come back. I can’t imagine life without Sean. He means everything to me.

A large part of his healing was support of his family and friends. A large part was the unconditional, inexhaustible love he got from our two cats, especially Elijah.

When Sean came home from the hospital not actually sure of where we were going or what ‘home’ looked like, Elijah and Equus were at the door. They saw him and both started ‘talking’ and purring and rubbing him. For the next particularly hard several weeks, when Sean basically couldn’t get out of bed because of the intense pain in his head, Elijah and Equus quietly laid with him – Q sometimes with me. Elijah simply never left his side. When Sean was at his lowest, I saw him hugging and petting Elijah and actually smiling as Elijah purred and looked him straight in the eyes and laid his paws on his arm. The comfort and help in healing that Sean got can’t be expressed, really.

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Tim passed quietly, surrounded by friends and family. In April of 2004, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor – a glioblastoma multiforme, which is the most invasive type of primary brain tumor. He went in for emergency surgery to have it removed and lived. My small, close family felt so thankful.

Tim always had an amazing spirit. He was one of the most positive and committed people I’ve ever met. He gave so much more than he took – from people, from the environment, from everything. It did not surprise me to see that he attacked this disease the same way. He rode his bike the many miles to the hospital for chemo and radiation. He told me that it was his goal to keep his body as fit as possible so that it would be up to the task of fighting. My mom spent a month with him in September of 2004. He lived in a commune devoted to self-sustaining, environmentally friendly, living. Every single second of his life was devoted to his convictions. What an inspiration. Mom said they gardened, rode bikes, talked, cooked, walked and just had a wonderful time together, laughing all the time. She said he was in great spirits.

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