Domum dulce domum Armitageworld!

I can hardly believe that I’ve been back from my trip for two weeks already!  I had a fabulous time in Greece…both on the tour and on the side trip at the backend of it.  Apart from a few hiccups along the way – let’s just say that at least one person saw far more than she expected of the inside of a Greek village medical clinic – I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people.  There were twelve of us in all…ranging from mid thirties to mid sixties in age, from a variety of backgrounds.  The group ended up being about half students and alums from my university and half Armitageworld peeps.

Early on, I passed out badges, which had been generously donated by Guylty,  so that the Armitageworld peeps could identify each other without “outing” themselves to the group at large.  I’m actually not sure how this worked…I already knew who was an Armitageworld peep going in.  I’d love to hear from others if they covertly discovered each other, or proclaimed their Armitage Allegiance loud and proud!

Every time I do one of these trips, I gain a bit more insight on how to make the next one better.  One perennial issue is the amount of climbing required to access some of the sites.  There’s not a whole lot to be done about this in general as nearly everything one wants to see in Greece is uphill.   However, I think reversing the itinerary might break it up a bit…

Marching up from the Agora for lunch...at least we'd already been up to the Acropolis by this point.

Marching up from the Agora for lunch…at least we’d already been up to the Acropolis by this point.

It’s hard to avoid the march in Athens – so much to see, so little time, but I could handily lighten the workout in the next few days since in the immortal words of one group member (you know who you are  🙂  ), “You said food and culture…not Greek fat camp!” after two days climbing around sites in Athens and the Argolid.  I would note here, that the speaker was in fact one of the most intrepid cragswomen in the group.  She scaled every citadel, castle and rampart we visited…I cannot wait to see her pictures!

All in all though, people did great – they went up as far as they felt comfortable (Mystras and the Nafplion Palamidi are not for the faint of heart (or lung, knee or hip!)).  Fortunately, in the digital age, it is wonderfully easy to share photos so that even if one didn’t climb to the top *waves* one might still see the pictures of those who did.

Mystras...we cheated and entered 2/3 of the way up to the top of the fortress.

Mystras…we cheated and entered 2/3 of the way up to the top of the fortress.

One thing that I wish had been better was the tour guide.  On past trips, we’ve had a professional guide who travelled with us and guided us around the sites.  I will admit to a certain amount of impatience with this since we are sort of hostages to the guide’s schedule.  This trip, my Greek tour agent George was travelling with us, and I thought, guiding us.  Apparently, I thought wrong.  When we rolled up to the Acropolis on our first full day in Athens, George informed me that he doesn’t go into the sites and that I would guide.  Say what now?   It’s not that I lack the background, but there were two small wrinkles in this plan:

  1.  I was not aware this was the plan.  Contrary to popular belief, I don’t have instant recall of 500 years of Greek history and archaeology.  With some advance notice, I’d have jotted down a few crib notes!  (and the words to one song – all I could think to sing at Epidauros was Roll out the Barrel!)
  2. Perhaps more importantly – technically I am prohibited from guiding on sites since I don’t have a license issued by the Greek Ministry of Culture.  (I’ve since discovered that evidently, there is some wiggle room for University professors, so back to 1.)

These little details aside, I can say without a doubt, that my guy George (aided by a fantastic driver with the famous name of Leonidas) put together an amazing tour that checked a lot of different boxes.

George and Leonidas

George and Leonidas

I would love to do another one of these in the future…in fact, at dinner in Kalamata, I got the distinct impression from the 45 minutes he spent grilling me, that George would like me to do them every year…a partnership of sorts.

“Listen….you don’t understand…” he says.

I do understand, and I would totally love to lead tours more often, but until Mini Me is not so put out by my absence, (I give that another 2-3 years) I think I have to table that partnership idea for the immediate future.

Faces blurred to protect the innocent...

Faces blurred to protect the innocent…

That said, thanks to the Experience Greece Tour 2016 for a fantastic trip!!

This is the last time…I promise!

As we enter the “Bleak Midwinter,” I can’t help but look forward eagerly to 8 months from now when I, and an intrepid group of travelers, about 1/3 of whom are Armitageworld connected, will be trekking around the Peloponnese of Greece.

I’m especially looking forward to seeing some places I’ve never been, but also to revisiting some old favorites like the fortified Byzantine town of Mystras.

Pondering if I'll go all the way to the top

Pondering if I’ll go all the way to the top

I did go all the way up once

Dig that hippie strap!

Dig that hippie strap!

There I am, circa 1995-ish perched gingerly on a wall at the top of the town, pretending not to notice the sheer cliff dropping away right behind my left hand.  Good times (BTW, that tan is 99% the product of excavating in Greece in July – and I did indeed use copious amounts of sunblock – only 1% beach…I detest sand.)

I told you about the details here and here, and I bring it up again to let anyone who might have been on the fence in December, or who is just now hearing about it, that my lovely tour agent in Crete has extended the price to March 1st, so you can still get in on the fun.

The more, the merrier Armitageworld!!

There’s still time Hellenophiles…

As it happens, the travel agent I’m using to book the airfare for the 2016 tour to Greece recently negotiated better group fare terms with the various airlines which means that I’ve been able to hold a few extra seats past the original October booking deadline.

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If you were interested, but couldn’t make the October deadline for booking, there is still time to join. Lest you think you’ll be sailing the wine dark seas solo, fear not!  There is a solid handful of like minded Armitageworld peeps (and one very brave spouse!) who’ve already signed up for the adventure .  It’s bound to be a blast…drop me a note in comments or via the “About” page for more detailed information.

By the way…have I mentioned to food???

Kolokothakia

Kolokothakia (from 2011 trip…my travel buddy takes great food pix  🙂  )

 

 

I’m so excited!!!!

…and surprisingly, it has very little to do with Richard Armitage,

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but I still can’t hide it (apologies for the obvious Pointer Sisters nod).  

Some of you may remember that way back, I’d wondered if anyone might be interested in coming along if I were to arrange a tour to Greece.  Well, TWO YEARS LATER!!  I’m elated to report that I am organizing an upcoming tour through my university that I’m also offering up to all of my friends.  Have a look at one of my new hobbies…brochure writing:

greece 2

greece 1

We’ll spend September 9 – 18th, 2016  (September 8 is a travel day for those coming from the US) beginning in Athens and then traveling to a variety of places around the large peninsula of the Peloponnese…The Island of Pelops.  History, archaeology, culture, cuisine and more.  September is a fabulous time to be in Greece…the temperature is milder than the summer, but the water is still warm, the summer crowds have tapered and the pace is leisurely.  This tour is being marketed toward our Alumni and non traditional adult student population, and I’ve designed it to have a more leisurely pace than the cultural marathon I take the traditional students on 🙂  For those who are interested, but not originating from the US, you can arrange your own airfare and meet me in Athens.  (I can provide the cost for the land portion of the tour only)

If anyone is interested in joining in, let me know via the contact form below, and I can share more of the details… (just overwrite my info with yours in the boxes…I’m not sure why it came up like that…)

The past year or so has been incredibly challenging (I’ve tried to spare you all the bulk of the gory details along the way) so this trip has become something of a lifeline…I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it, or how pleased I am at the prospect of perhaps meeting some of my Armitageworld friends at the same time…A good times double dip!

acropolis

Καλό ταξίδι Armitageworld!!

inter alia: Postcards from the coast…

Well, here I am back safe, and mostly sound from my family trip to Oregon.  This certainly isn’t a travel blog, but every time I travel, it seems relevant (and usually comical) to reflect on the experience.   This was a trip that I was unexpectedly ambivalent about taking.   Usually, I’m counting down the days until these family reunion trips…for the most part, I like my extended family – they are smart, articulate and undeniably quirky (seems to be a genetic marker…)  The lead up to this trip was different somehow…mitigating factors maybe.  Had I not already been committed, I might have simply bowed out and stayed home, but that wouldn’t have made me happy either, so I’m glad I swallowed my misgivings and got on board.

There were a whole lot of firsts on this trip.  While the rest of my family has gathered in the Pacific Northwest previously, I was in Greece on excavation that year and could not attend, so this was my first time visiting that landscape – it did not disappoint.  One thing that did disappoint was that ShowBiz Son wouldn’t be sharing the experience.  For the first time since he’s been on the planet, he did not attend due to prior commitments (which fell through only after we had already booked and he had firmly decided that he was no way going…upside?  Petsitter.)  It’s too bad really – he would love coastal Oregon since the weather, cool and misty, is his favorite forecast.

Mini Me was also a first time air traveler on this trip – we’ve road-tripped them all in the past decade since she arrived on the scene.  (and even before…she was a “stowaway” for the July 2005 assemblage in Dodgeville, WI)

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Apart from a death grip on my hand during takeoff and exasperation that her Kindle was not compatible with the plane’s inflight streaming service, she did great.  (Her airport wandering is another story!)  Truthfully, my mother constantly tapping me from the other side for help with her crossword was far worse…can’t you see I am watching THOR woman!?   Speaking of my mother, this trip also marked the first time that I have recently traveled by air with my approaching elderly parents.  My mom and dad are veteran travelers, but since my mother had both hips replaced five years ago, they have traveled exclusively on the ground…and for good reason.

While she is mostly ambulatory, my mom can’t walk long distances quickly, or without tremendous pain.  It didn’t seem like a major obstacle – I’ve seen wheelchairs and motorized carts buzzing around American airports for decades, but I got my first personal taste of how shockingly able-ist air travel is this trip.  Theoretically, there are accommodations made for passengers needing wheelchair conveyance…and from the check-in counter, we found this to be mostly true.  The airline personnel called for a wheelchair and it arrived within ten or so minutes to pick her up.  We all lined up to follow behind to find that we would get also get the fast track through the TSA Security check…no need to drag out the liquids, etc.  The story was a bit different upon arrival at our destination though.

As it turns out, we didn’t do enough research or apparently ask the right question of the original desk agent in Chicago.  What we were supposed to have done was to arrange this all in advance by calling a airline reservation agent – fair enough.  Our bad.  However, once he learned that we hadn’t done this, given that she needed a chair to get to the gate, and she would certainly need one back from the gate at her destination, would it have killed the guy in Chicago to 1. Call ahead to his colleagues in Portland to arrange this or 2. tell us that we should do it while we waited for our plane?  Evidently the thought did not occur…and so we had significant clusterduckage on our return flight as well.

It certainly didn’t occur to me while I was wrangling my parents and my daughter through security and then several gate changes (weather, weather, weather) and then through the food court, considering that no one had eaten since breakfast and there would be no food service on the flight.  As the recently designated trip coordinator,  two things occurred to me here as well,

  1.  my mother and daughter need to be fed a regular intervals to ensure optimal behavior
    1. a.  I’m going to need to carry snacks!
  2. I may need to start pinning a note on my dad’s shirt…”If found please call 555-555-5555″

Don’t get me wrong – I adore my parents.  They have been a never ending source of love and support for me.  I simply had not recognize that they have definitely slowed down a few steps and we need to leave room for that in the future.  On the plus side, the experience has made me aware of some of the challenges I might face next year as I plan to take an alumni group on a tour of Greece…lead time, lead time, lead time.

After a couple of customary room sharing hiccups and a hearty brunch where my mom kvetched about the prices and my dad eulogized the mustard, we got on the road in the late morning to head to the coast.  Did I mention that I was also the designated driver for the trip?  Indeed.  That was great fun trying to find the hotel the night before.  The narrated navigation wasn’t working on my phone and Oregon has a hands free cell phone law.  Handing it to my mother to read the turn by turn directions was futile as well..”It turned off…how do I turn it back on?!”  *face palm*   Once we purchased a paper map (and a bottle of ibuprofen for me) my mother was an excellent navigator from the back seat…if only she was a less aggressive back seat driver!  The drive was fine until we worked our way into the curvy, sun dappled road over the mountains to the coast.  It was like a scene from a National Lampoon film…MiniMe was getting green from the curves, Grandma needed a restroom, and Obscura needed an espresso because the sunlight through the trees was putting me to sleep at the wheel.  Only Grandpa was stoic – he saves it up.  After a visit to the filthiest McDonald’s in the lower 48 states (they were also out of soft serve which sent my mother back to her seat grumbling like a toddler)  we were on the road again…yours truly considerably revived from sipping on iced coffee  (Say what you will about McDonalds…and this one left a lot to be desired…but they always have a bathroom and some kind of caffeinated beverage on hand.).  

The final leg of journey offered some truly spectacular natural vistas…the coast here abuts almost right up to the mountains so there are incredible views…

Sheer rock faces on one side of the road

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and the Pacific coast on the other

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Gorgeous.  The view from the hotel didn’t disappoint either.  My mom had said that for budget’s sake, she hadn’t reserved a “seaside” suite.

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The view from the balcony disagreed…turns out this is a “seaview” suite as a apposed to a “seaside” suite which is only a few steps down to the actual beach.  Not a problem from where I was standing.  I could hear the surf, and we had an excellent view of Haystack Rock in the distance.  Cannon Beach is a really beautiful place, and the Pacific is just massive.  I’ve been to the Pacific Coast in Southern California, but here it just seemed so much…I don’t know…More.

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From the misty expansiveness of the beach even at high tide,

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to the burst of color in the lush hydrangea bushes that were lovingly tended all over the property.  It was a fantastic setting…I have to tip my hat to my cousin…she picked a great location!

The reunion itself progressed pretty much as they all do…smiling greetings as people trickled in (we arrived a day early, so we were the unofficial welcome wagon)  far too much food…(I think my west coast cousins may not need to buy groceries for awhile thanks to the leftovers) lots of laughter and only a few tears.

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I inadvertently contributed to laughter, and tears from laughter when during a beach side bonfire,  I stood up, promptly tripped over the very same log I’d been sitting on and face planted into the soft sand.  I would like to assure you that alcohol was not involved…I have a certain gift for magnificent falls.  This little ding was the repercussion…that and the fact that this tumble reminded my cousin of the infamous Swing Strip of 1982 and the Otter Slide of 1984…timeless tales of Obscura taking spectacular spills.  I told you it was a gift!

Happy Sunday ArmitageWorld!!

“A rolling stone gathers no moss”

This idiom popped into my head just now as I took a look at the latest airport pic of Richard Armitage (at JFK this time…)  The man does get around.  The way my brain works, the pic also made me wonder about a side of travel that I was ruminating on yesterday as I returned home from my brief runaway…

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While the Greyhound Bus trip always yields a fascinating cross section of society, a clip from my RL Facebook feed reveals me pondering how it is that I always seem to end up in proximity to a certain demographic.  Don’t get me wrong, the smelly self talkers need to get from point A to point B as much as I do, but some days, my tolerance for the special combination of fermented male funk combined with a running stream of nonsensical gibberish, is fairly low.   Even so, although there were plenty of open seats on the bus, I couldn’t seem to bring myself to move…I didn’t want to offend the guy.  (I have to say though, that had he reached through the seats and grabbed me the way he did the woman in front of him, there would have been a rapid exodus on my part…offense or no.)

As much as Richard Armitage travels, it stands to reason that in addition to the occasional ad hoc photographer, he also encounters his share of the smelly and the chatty (I’m sure first class travel weeds some of this out, but not all…).   I wonder how he usually deals with it…polite smile and plug in the headphones?  A quick seat switch?  A quelling John Proctor style frown?  Questions for the ages…

I’ve been wondering…

In addition to my home life, my regular teaching gig, my volunteer work (I’m looking at you VBS!) and of course, intensive devotion to Richard Armitage studies, I have another little hobby.  Every so often I design and lead tour groups to Greece.   We visit remnants of a storied past….

Acropolis of Athens

Acropolis of Athens

Charming mountain towns…

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Dimitsana, Arcadia

A plethora of seaside tavernas…for fun in the sun, or in the shade 🙂

greece beach taverna

Greece is one of my favorite places in the world, and I love bringing people there and showing them paths less traveled.  My last trip was in 2011, and I think I’ve been missing Greece since I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.  Then a thought occurred…what if I combined my two favorite hobbies – travel to Greece and Richard Armitage fandom? 

Actually, Guylty and I were giggling about this topic via email a while back and I started to think about it again this week.  So,  I’ve been wondering if anyone out there in Armitageworld would have an interest in a fun filled vacation with plenty of inspiRAtion for conversation.  (**I’m not in league with any travel agent or tour company and stand  to gain nothing  but the pleasure of your company 🙂  )    I’d think about late spring or early fall of 2014 or even 2015… Am I crazy?    Wait, don’t answer that   : )

OT: Family vacation here I come…

For the past two decades, since my grandmother’s death, my far flung maternal relatives have assembled for a family reunion every other summer.  We are a good sized group.  My mom is one of ten children.  All but two of her siblings have children of their own, and most of those children now have children too.  At last count, over fifty of us will descend upon a Midwestern lakefront resort for a long weekend of camaraderie, reminiscing and, of course, eating! My maternal family lives in various places all over the US, and we’ve made it a practice to take turns hosting the event.  Every other reunion one of the group who still lives near the “homestead” in Wisconsin hosts, but in other years we’ve travelled to all different locales – Florida, Georgia, West Virginia, Washington State, Colorado.  Travelling to these events has become part of the vacation schedule for my immediate family.  Next week, I will climb into a mini van, loaded with a car top carrier, with my husband, my two children and my parents to make the seven hour road trip to our designated location.

Ready to hit the road...

Ready to hit the road…

As road trips go, this one is pretty short, but I predict it will not go without incident.  In an effort to conserve fuel, we’re all going together in one vehicle – fortunately, my sister was banned from family road trips several years ago (actually, I volunteered to pay for her plane ticket…her + my kids + extended car trip = DRAMA, DRAMA, DRAMA!)  My husband is a new addition this year – he’s been unable to go along on the past trips – we’ll see if he needs a plane ticket next time too.  Now that the cast of characters has been established, the first thing that will happen is that my dad and my husband will pack the car and say, “It won’t all fit!”  This will require my mother and me to unpack/repack the car…and not say “yes, it will!”

NATIONAL-LAMPOONS-VACATION

So here we are, ready to get underway…well, not quite 🙂  Now comes the people loading…under no circumstances can the two kids sit next to each other, unless we want to have a stop after 15 minutes of driving to pull them apart.  The teenager sits in the very back row…the little one sits immediately in front of him, a cooler under her feet – they have to sit on the same side of the van since that’s where the power outlets are and Lord knows they cannot go without their electronic devices on a car trip.  Actually, experience tells me that it is essential that they, (the teenager especially, since apparently the sound of his sister’s voice provokes him to immediate snark about said voice) be plugged into ear buds and electronic media.

A Griswold sing-a-long

A Griswold sing-a-long

I have ceased pondering this really.  I know that “in the good old days” there were no such things.  My sister and I rode all over the country in the back of a station wagon (not unlike the Griswold’s) with nothing but coloring books and crayons to amuse us.  We counted cows (that gets old FAST in Wisconsin), we “collected” license plates or played alphabet games, and sang road songs (never once questioning if it was appropriate to sing 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall), etc.  Of course, the outboard motor and the tank of gasoline in the back may have had something to do with why we slept a lot along the way!  In lieu of inadvertently anesthetizing them with fumes, I’ll settle for having my kids plug in if it maintains harmony for all passengers.

Ordinarily my parents would insist that we leave at stupid o’clock in the morning to “make the best of the daylight,” but due to extenuating circumstances, we’ll be leaving in the early afternoon and having a stopover by early evening.  This will necessitate another time honored horror – the family hotel room.  Thank heaven for legal requirements that won’t allow a hotel to cram all six of us into one room.  Otherwise my mom would totally argue for this in the spirit of frugality.  In the spirit of at least one person getting some sleep, we  are definitely getting two rooms, and I still predict that someone will end up spending at least part of the night in the van!

No really, I'm fine!

No really, I’m fine!

Now that we’ve gotten ourselves settled, we have to figure out where to have dinner…always a challenge between my son who eats from three food groups:  pizza, chicken tenders, or mac and cheese to my dad who maintains that any and all fast food will make him instantly sick to my daughter who is always a wild card.  This takes at least an hour to plan which will set us up to get back to the motel thirty minutes before the pool closes.  Forgetting that there is a pool at home, this generates a mad dash on the part of the seven year old to get changed and into that over chlorinated human stew for at least 20 minutes before she has to be dragged back to the room and showered before bed.

It's definitely not a waterpark...but...is that a hottub?

It’s definitely not a waterpark…but…is that a hottub?

Bright and early…at stupid o’clock…the next morning, we’ll be underway again.  I imagine we’ll arrive at our destination sometime around midday.  Ahhh, time to relax and let vacation begin right?  Wrong!  We are on for group meal numero uno – fish fry.  Part of the reason we needed the car top carrier was to make room for the giant fryers and coolers we need to bring along to lay out this spread for fifty.  My dad will be like a whirling dervish within minutes of arrival…I predict he’ll have the car unloaded and be breading blue gills in less than 20 minutes – woe onto anyone who gets in his way, or offers advice.

Fish fry...where are the french fries?

Fish fry…where are the french fries?

Doesn’t this sound like fun?!  Actually, I really love these trips.  The small trials along the way are nothing compared to the laughs that we have together, the places we see and the people we meet along the way.  Happy travels Armitageworld!