Missed Boat, Wrong Train, Lost Ride

When the sun comes out, the Meditteranean is BLUE!

When the sun comes out, the Meditteranean is BLUE!

I have something of an infamous reputation for travel misadventure.  I’ve been known to miss flights, crash land, fly to wrong destinations, or get abused by the travel industry in any number of ways.  I’ve enjoyed a number of years now relatively devoid of significant mishaps, and I’d even ventured to believe I had entered a sort of pax eo.  But then a day like today comes along and shatters the ceasefire with a barrage of mishaps that reminds me that the war is far from over.  What started out as a pleasant cruise among the islands of the Aegean turned into a late night of jaywalking across 4-lane highways in a futile quest to find a working payphone.

My day started uncomfortably early as I awoke sans alarm at 4 a.m.  My mind must have been worrying about missing the first crucial piece to the travel puzzle that was my day.  If I didn’t make the right train into Athens I would miss the bus that would take me to the port in Pireas, which would make me miss my boat and the whole plan for the day.  Part of my problem was that I failed to gather the key information about the train the night before, so I was unsure of the schedule.  So armed with a scant 3 hours of sleep, I got ready and walked out into the crisp morning air and down the quiet country lane to the train station.  It turns out that I arrived with about 45 minutes to spare, but I enjoyed watching the first golden rays of sun illuminate the brown stones of the taverna next to the tracks.

The bus ride into Pireas brought me by some of the rather extroverted new structures that served in the recent Olympics.  Pireas itself turned out to be an immense port bustling with cargo vessels, cruise ships, and giant ferries.  A modern control tower, much like an air traffic control tower, stood authoritatively over the bay.  I realized that a country so integrated with the sea would obviously have a pretty strong emphasis on shipping.

After boarding my ship, I found my way up to the top deck where I had a good vantage point as we made our way out of the harbor.  The sun was shining and it looked like it would be a pleasant day for the blue waters of the Meditteranean.  About an hour into our voyage, however, we entered some heavy fog.  Our ship began following a protocol of periodic blasts with its horn.  At one point I looked up when I heard a double horn return call from an oncoming ship.  A passing cargo vessel emerged faintly in the mist, no more than a few hundred yards away, and then faded back into the mist.  I realized how treacherous fog must have been for early sailors without the eyes of a radar.

As we approached our first stop, the tiny island of Ydhra (Hydra), the fog evaporated and I enjoyed spectacular views of the surround islands.  Ydhra was a charming little island that maintains an even more compelling ability than most places to transport visitors back in time.  The island is completely traffic-free (even bicycles are banned) and the only form of transportation is by foot–either your own two feet or the four feet of a mule.  I sprang from the boat and headed left along the coastline and up to a rampart with large, black cannons.  I had to dodge a pickup truck that was backing its way up the narrow road and into an alley next to what appeared to be a municipal building.  I’m pretty sure that this truck was the only vehicle on the entire island, and of course I had to run into it.  After trotting around the rest of the town, I had to wonder where that vehicle possible went.  None of the roads in town could accommodate a vehicle.  I concluded that the truck must only be used by the local government to access other remote parts of the island away from the town.

I explored some of the maze of narrow, stone streets and steep switchbacks of steps.  Most of the town had a very pleasant, sleepy atmosphere and nearly all of it enjoyed spectacular views of the saphire waters below.  The busiest part of town was right along the waterfront where several quayside cafes and a stretch of shops keep a steady bustle.  A couple of school children walked along the quay, chattering to each other and waving hello to several of the shop keepers as they passed.  I got the feeling that living here where a population of less than 3,000 shares a small seaside village must create a rather closely-knit community.  I decided that I very much liked this place and the escape to a slower life that it represented.  But alas, my life was moving on, and soon I boarded the ship for our next island destination.

Our next stop was the only slightly larger island of Poros.  This island is almost not an island at all, separated from the mainland by less than a thousand feet.  Poros Town features a landmark clock tower atop its small, rocky summit.  I scampered up to this piedmont for a nice, but ultimately underwhelming view of the town below.  I descended south through some of the narrow streets til I reached the shoreline road and turned right to slowly make my way back towards the boat.  Alas, here is where my troubles began.  I distinctly (yet incorrectly) remembered hearing that our boat would be leaving at 3 p.m.  So I began rounding the bend towards the northwestern edge of the island at about 8 minutes til 3.  I saw a large boat that looked an awful lot like mine as it motored north towards the lip of Kalavria.  Sure enough when I reached the quay where my boat had been docked, I found nothing but a lonely dog and a couple of shirtless old men sitting on a bench.  The warm, Mediterranean sun must have melted any cares away, and I was remarkably unconcerned as I watched my ride fade into the distance.  I shuffled over to a tourist office and plunked down 10 Euros for a ferry that would bring me to the island of Aegina where I should arrive in time to catch my boat before it returned to Athens.

The worst thing (other than losing an extra 10 Euros) was that I had to scrap my plans to explore some of the further reaches of Aegena.  This was to be our longest stop with nearly 3 hours to explore the island, and I had my eye set on Perdhika, a charming-sounding town at the southern end of the island.  My first stop was to check in with my boat to find out when it departed for Pireas, and to ask why in the world it left well before 3 (turns out they had announced a 10 til 3 departure, but I didn’t hear the “ten til” part).  I learned that I had only 45 minutes, so I resigned to a brief walk along the shoreline road.  I stopped at a waterfront cafe to order an ice cream crepe.  I told my waiter that my boat left in 20 minutes, but the service was still so slow, I only got to eat about 1/3 before I had to get up and leave.  At least I made it onto my boat for the ride back to Athens.

Unfortunately, my day was far from over.  When I arrived at the train station, I had trouble figuring out which train would bring me back towards the Lawson’s house.  To make matters worse, I couldn’t remember the name of my station.  I did remember that the station right before mine was called something “Stephanos.”  However, I was told that the next train did not stop at Stephanos.  I went back into the station to ask for help.  The agent asked me where I was going, so I looked up the Lawson’s contact info on my iPhone.  I showed him the address and he directed me to the next train that would bring me that direction.  The train finally arrived and soon I was being whisked along the tracks.  Something still didn’t feel quite right, so I asked a girl sitting across the aisle if I was going to Halandri.  She explained that the trains were closed around Halandri due to construction, and I suddenly realized that the address I had for the Lawsons was not for their house at all but rather for the church!  In fact, I found out later that the Lawsons don’t actually have an address.  The quiet lane they live on has no name, so mail is simply addressed to their name and town.  Like a saint, the girl across the aisle allowed me to use her phone to call Brent.  She got on the phone and discussed my situation and helped map out a new destination where Brent would come pick me up.  I had to transfer trains at the next stop and then get off at a station called Kifissia.  She actually was making the same transfer at the next station, so she stayed with me until we arrived at Kifissia where she prompted me to disembark.  Brent should be somewhere around to meet me.

I found the station at Kifissia to be a bit unusual.  It was a small, modern stop in the middle of busy highway interchange.  The platform was situated in between two 3-lane highways.  The only escape I found was an elevator that brought me up to the outer edge of another highway.  Up above was yet another giant circle of traffic, but no apparent way to reach it.  I wondered where passengers would meet their rides.  There was a stretch of road that pulled off from the highway, but it appeared to be completely blocked by breakaway stick reflectors.  I loitered for about 20 minutes before deciding that it would be best if I could just get on the phone with Brent to find out where I should meet him.  My feet were beginning to protest after two busy days in sandals, but I decided to walk along a sidewalk towards a sign for a Starbucks that I could just see peeking over a highway ramp.  The road sloped upwards with a retaining wall to my left and pretty soon the sidewalk came to a crescent end, leaving me standing next to a guard rail with 8 lanes of traffic to my right and 3 to my left.  I waited for a lull, hopped the rail, and scampered across the street.  I found a newspaper vendor who directed me to a Goody’s fast food restaurant in a nearby building.  I found a payphone back near the bathrooms.  Not entirely sure how Greek public phones worked, I plugged a few coins in, and dialed up Brent’s mobile phone.  I was relieved to hear him answer, but realized quickly that he couldn’t hear a word I was saying.  I tried again, this time calling Vanessa’s number.  She too answered but couldn’t hear a word I was saying.  I grabbed someone from the restaurant, and they informed me that the phone wasn’t working properly.  Was there another payphone nearby?  They had no idea.

The grand finale of my bungled travels. (Click to enlarge)

The grand finale of my bungled travels. (Click to enlarge)

Back outside, it appeared that most of the surrounding buildings were office towers and electronics stores, both of which were closed at this late hour.  Across 11 lanes of highway appeared to be some sort of mall, but I had no idea how to cross the gauntlet of traffic.  I found a man with his daughter getting out of a car, and they directed me to a pedestrian underpass just past a church.  It was a little difficult to find in the dark, and when I descended the ramp I was startled to find myself in a long, completely unlit tunnel.  All I could see was some dim light from the street at the far end, but my immediate surroundings were completely ensconced in darkness.  Hoping this underpass wasn’t used primarily to ambush lost tourists, I trotted quickly to the other side, my metatarsals complaining the whole way.  I found my way into a sort of dining/entertainment complex where I asked around for a pay phone.  It seemed that there was none to be found.  I tried asking about public WiFi, which would allow me to use my phone to Skype Brent, but that too was unavailable.  I knew that Starbucks had Forthnet WiFi, but I needed to purchase an access card.  The guy at the counter went back in search of some cards, but returned saying they were out of stock.  Who would have thought that in today’s uber-connected world, my quest for a simple phone call would end up being a ridiculous wild goose chase?  I finally found a nice man working at a children’s arcade who let me use his personal phone.  He wouldn’t even accept payment when I tried pushing several Euros to him in deep gratitude.

It turned out that Brent had been waiting on the opposite side of highway where I had originally waited for 20 minutes.  He must have pulled in just as I walked up the sidewalk on the other side, beginning my long, futile search for a phone.  By now it was after 11, and I felt terribly for being such a disastrous disruption to Brent and Vanessa’s evening.  Brent graciously assured me that it was no big deal.  Gracious is too weak a word.  Not only had they taken me, a complete stranger, into their home for the week, they had picked me up at the airport, purchased meals and train tickets, and now spent a good hour and a half driving around to rescue a guy who couldn’t even get on the right train.  It’s not like I’m an inexperienced traveler, so I really kicked myself for being such a moron.  I’ve decided to attribute all the stupidity to the inadequate 3 hours of sleep I got the night before, but this has certainly not been one of my prouder days.

Before heading to bed, I made sure to write down names of stations, times of trains, and other basic things like how to tie my own shoes.

3 Responses to “Missed Boat, Wrong Train, Lost Ride”

  1. Dolly Says:

    This was a great blog. You really write well. Glad all turned out ok:) Love, Mom

  2. Ken Says:

    Thanks Mom! You’re my biggest fan! 😉 Of course, with only 3 people who ever read my blog, I’m not sure there’s much competition for that spot. 🙂

  3. Brent Says:

    We look forward to doing it all again…the vist part that is 🙂

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