Zeus’ Fallen Temple

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The ruins of Zeus’ temple at Olympia.

The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was once a colossus of stone. Immovable. For the ages. Built around 460 BC, it stood for eight and a half centuries and sheltered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world – a statue of Zeus thirteen metres tall made of ivory and gold.

Today the temple lies in ruins. My guide spoke of Continue reading

a few things

First of all, a correction. It turns out my ferry crossed the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, not the Aegean. Oops. Clearly it’s time to brush up on my geography.

Second of all, it’s only when I’m on the road for extended periods that I recognize the luxury that is clean pajamas. There is truly no chore I hate worse than washing clothes in the bathtub, and they never feel (or smell) properly clean afterwards anyway. I found a laundrette today (and nothing will make you watch the clock quite like hearing ‘please pick up your laundry promptly, because in three hours we close for a week’), so I’m taking a moment to appreciate fresh, clean jammies.

Third, I met up with a friend tonight – another director I worked with in Canada several years ago, who lives in Athens. We managed to find an hour at a posh cafe to catch up. I was so pleased to see him, so delighted to spend time with a familiar face. And it took me a little by surprise how sad I was to leave him at the end of our brief time. The production we worked on was very close to both of our hearts – a very special experience. I would love to work with him again, but whether that happens or not is very, very far out of my hands. And it was only as we were parting that I realized I might never see him again.

Tomorrow I board the train to Thessaloniki, which will be my last stop in Greece before I fly back to London on Monday.

Step two: Crossing the Aegean

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My little cabin on the ferry across the Aegean.

I think the overnight ferry ride turned out to be my favourite part of the journey.

It got off to a slightly rocky start. I got myself checked in okay at the terminal, but the set-up at the port is not designed for passengers on foot. I wasn’t clear where I was supposed to go and ended up dodging cars and trucks as they loaded on to the ferry while I tried to work out where to board the damn thing.

Once I actually got on the boat, everything improved. The porter showed me to my room so I could ditch my bags, then I headed back down to the communal areas to explore. The ferry transported cars and trucks and tour buses as well as passengers ‘on foot’, as it were, so there was an interesting mix of tourists and families and truck drivers.

There was a lounge area and a bar and a cafeteria that served dinner once we set out to sea. The whole place felt comfortable and friendly. We were this island of light on the dark sea, and I really liked the coziness of that. It’s the off-season, so it wasn’t crowded, and I brought my computer down to the lounge and puttered away happily for several hours.

When it was time to head up to bed, I was a little worried. I shared my little cabin with one other person and I hadn’t met her yet. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.

My roommate turned out to be a matronly Greek woman, who seemed as pleased as I was that her travel-mate turned out to not be an axe murderer. Thankfully she spoke a little English – my Greek begins and ends with ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – so we were able to negotiate turns in the tiny bathroom and when to turn the lights out.

I fell asleep to the sound of rain rattling against the ferry’s metal hull.

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Morning on deck of the ferry on the Aegean Sea. Leaving the storm behind.

After breakfast in the cafeteria, I spent much of the morning out on the deck. The weather was cool, but not cold, and I was fine out there in only my sweatshirt.

Islands slid by on either side, grey and beige rock studded with dark green vegetation. Behind us, the clouds still grumbled low over the water, but ahead of us the sun was shining and the sea was glowing blue. I lounged in a metal chair that was part of the outdoor smoking area and wrote a long email to my mom.

Again, I didn’t want to get off when the journey was over. I may need to look into doing a cruise at some point, because the whole ferry experience was so delightful. Maybe one of those river cruises or something.

Next step: getting from the port at Patras to Athens. It was supposed to be simple…

the next great adventure

It turns out you can take the train from Paris to Milan – that’s three countries, seven-ish hours, and zero connections – for the princely sum of £20. As my colleague said when I mentioned this to her, “We live on the wrong continent.”

That train journey is now at the centre of my next great adventure, which will take me from London to Paris to Greece with no aeroplanes involved. (Well, except for the one that will get me from Canada to the UK and back again.) I’ll travel through France, across the Alps, down the coast of Italy, and across the Aegean Sea (by boat, not train for that last). It will take three days, all told, which includes two seven-hour train journeys and an overnight boat. And I can’t wait.

I love trains. I get motion sick on every damn thing that moves EXCEPT trains. I love that I can see the landscape unroll around me. In my travel around Morocco, one of my favourite moments was perching in a window seat on the train journey from Marrakech to Casablanca, getting to see the country without intruding on it.

Taken out the window of the train between Marrakech and Casablanca, November 2009

Taken out the window of the train between Marrakech and Casablanca, November 2009

I didn’t think this epic trip would actually be possible when I started googling. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to visit Paris or tour around Greece, and when I started to check if I could somehow do both I stumbled on the website of The Man in Seat 61.

“Flying has lost its glamour.  Many of us now want a more rewarding, low-stress alternative to flying, which brings you closer to the world you live in and reduces your contribution to climate change.  It’s time to rediscover real travel by train or ship, where the journey itself is an adventure.”

Which pretty much sums up how I feel. The journey itself is the adventure. The website broke down the exact trip I wanted to take into easy steps, with all of the relevant links provided. Like a gift from the gods. And it may have also provided ideas for enough future adventures to last me the rest of my life.

So I’m in the depths of planning and personal logistics at the moment, but that may just be the best part. Because right now, the adventure can be anything I want it to be. It’s a daydream. It’s anticipation.

I’ll keep you posted as I nail down the nuts and bolts. But in the meantime, where do you dream of going? What’s your next adventure? Are there any other rail travel junkies out there?

Eurovision Melancholy

Yesterday was the Eurovision Song Contest and I’m still sad that I couldn’t watch it this year.

For those of you in North America who may not have heard of it (I hadn’t before I moved to Europe), the Eurovision Song Contest is kind of like a bigger, campier version of American Idol, where every contestant comes from a different country and the whole thing happens in one night. Also, campier. Did I say campier? So. Much. Camp.

I was first introduced to Eurovision while I was on tour with the circus. My colleagues were initially appalled that I’d never heard of it, and then felt the need to induct me into the cult. The circus was the perfect environment in which to experience Eurovision for the first time. The group was largely made up of straight women and gay men, and we were from so many different countries that it could get nicely competitive. We all gathered in someone’s hotel room (I can’t remember whose) with plenty of snacks and lots of wine, and it’s possible we laid bets on whose country would win. Since Canada doesn’t compete (the definition of ‘Europe’ in Eurovision is flexible and includes in this case both Russia and Israel, but it hasn’t bent far enough to yet include North America), I rooted for the UK, my second home, and I think I ‘won’ that night, as the UK placed second overall, higher than anyone else’s home country.

That was 2001. I stayed with the circus until mid-2003, and then remained in Europe until mid-2005. Eurovision was a party every year. But in 2005 I moved home to Canada, and Eurovision doesn’t even air here, so it mostly fell off my radar after that.

Until last year. Last year I was on tour with a show in the UK for the first six months of the year. In May, I happened to be renting a room from a lovely married gay couple in Liverpool. I got home from work one evening after the show, and was greeted by Adrian as I headed upstairs.

“We were out earlier, so we taped Eurovision and we’re just about to watch. Do you want to join us?”

“Oh my god, I think I do.”

There were snacks. There was wine. There was slightly bitchy commentary. It was awesome.

So I’m missing it this year. I’m told a bearded transvestite from Austria called Conchita Wurst won it this year. I’m looking for a way to stream the contest from Canada, but failing that, I may just need to look up Conchita’s performance on YouTube.

In closing, I’m going to leave you with my favourite performance from last year’s Eurovision, which was Greece’s entry:

And, just for good measure, the most WTF moment from 2013. This is Serbia’s entry:

WTF ARE THEY WEARING?! I can’t even understand. And I didn’t even show you the entry with the giant in it. Or the one where the woman’s dress telescoped up while she sang.