Category: fail

Misadventures, the finale

Day 9 - Corinth

The streets of Corinth were full of stray dogs. On our way to the bus station to visit the ancient city, Chandra decided to pet one of the friendlier looking of these strays.

Suddenly at least four dogs were following us at all times. They also got into fights with each other, barked a lot and almost got hit by a few cars. We were definitely causing a ruckus. The Greeks we walked by tried to yell at the dogs to get them to be quiet, and a couple of men had to break up a dog fight around us.

We went to where we were told the bus stop was, but the kiosk there didn’t sell tickets for Ancient Corinth. We finally asked in the nearby cafe. There was only one person who spoke English. He told us it was the right place, and to wait and he would tell us which bus to get on. We went around the corner and there was another kiosk there that sold our ticket. And then every Greek person in the cafe seemed to know we were trying to go to Ancient Corinth - because every time a different bus pulled up, someone would say yes or no to us. Sometimes they were wrong, but it was nice of them to try!

We finally got on the bus and walked around the ancient city for a while in the pouring rain. After wards, we went to eat lunch. We were the only people in the restaurant. We sat down and ordered.

Within the next ten minutes the restaurant was full. The waiter said we were his lucky charm and the reason they were so busy.

We walked back to the sketchiest bus stop ever and got the bus back to Corinth. We grabbed our luggage from the hotel and wandered off to find the bus stop, which was supposed to be nearby. We walked around in circles for a long time, until finally we pulled the same trick of following buses. We got a bus station, and she told us we had to wait on the corner, and we had to take the bus that would drop us off at the main bus station near the canal. We went back to the corner, which happened to be in front of a bakery. Chandra went inside to get some drinks and some baklava for us. She came out with two sprites, but no baklava.

Apparently she’d been trying to tell them what she wanted, and they didn’t understand, because they told her “No,” sold her the sprites and she left, confused.

I really wanted baklava, so I went in. I looked at the girl, and I pointed to the baklava and said “δυο” (pronounced ‘theo’, meaning two). I was catching on to a bit of Greek, I guess. I got the baklava and came outside. Chandra was amazed.

We eventually found our way to Olympia that night, though we were yelled at in Greek by the bus station cafe worker and the lady in the bathroom.

It was late, we got the last bus to Olympia. We were wandering the streets, heading towards where we thought our hotel was. A Greek man on a bike rode by and said hello. We said hello back, and continued on our way. He followed us. He eventually came up besides me and said “You are Montgomery, right?” I blinked, confused and a bit creeped out. “Yes… How did you know?”

“You are going wrong way. My hotel is this way. You have reservation,” he replied. I  guess we were late and he decided to track us down. Makes sense, since we were his only guests that night.

Day 10 - Olympia to Athens

We went to see the ancient city the next morning. We were surprised that the group of people ahead of us were decked out in Harley Davidson paraphernalia. Apparently ancient ruins really are for everyone!

Chandra got attacked by a giant bug while we were walking around. She screamed like a girl, which I suppose is forgivable, and I had to save her from it. She didn’t make my job easy, however, bouncing up and down and twitching the whole time I was trying to get it off.

We took the bus back to Athens that afternoon, since we were flying out the next day.

The bus arrived at a completely different station from the one we had been at before. I’m convinced this station was barely in Athens at all. But we had to get off, so we wandered around trying to figure out how to get into central Athens. Eventually we found a bus which would drop us near a metro station.

It did, indeed, drop us off in the city centre, near a metro stop called Omonia. We’d never been there before, and we soon found out why. All the things people say about Athens being a dangerous or dirty city made sense in Omonia. We were being watched, the entire time. We finally asked a non-threatening looking man how to get to the Metro. Thankfully, the Greek word for metro is metro, or we would have been extra lost.

When we finally got to the station, we found some new “friends.” Two men came into the train next to us and looked us up and down rather forwardly. One of them followed us out of the metro when we got off. It was creepy.

We had to catch the tram to our hotel, which was outside the city. I was starting to get more than a little annoyed, trying to drag my suitcase through all of these strange places, a fact that I was taking out on poor Chandra. I snapped at her about where we were standing in line and moved.

The tram finally came and we joined the crowd to get on. Usually, I keep my purse in front of me at all times so I can watch it. But in trying to get my bag and myself onto the crowded tram, it was still behind me. I went to grab it back when I saw that the man behind me had his sweater draped over my purse and his hand on my wallet inside. I gave him a look and the bastard smiled. I yanked my purse away from him, too flustered to say anything to anyone, and by the time I turned around again he was gone.

When we finally stood safely in the tram, I told Chandra what had happened.

“It’s another adventure!” she said. I gave her a look that said I was not impressed.

“I’m done with adventures.” I said dryly.

The end. Mostly. Except for us almost not getting back to England because of volcanic ash. But we did, eventually!

Chandra’s attitude was contagious, though, and in the end I did agree that our misadventures were the best parts, because they gave us great stories to tell when we got back.

Misadventures continued

Day 6 - Athens

We’d managed to stay misadventure free for a few days, but no longer!

This was one of the days that we were touring around with our class. We spent the morning all together, then took a break for lunch. We were supposed to meet up with the group at the Archaeological Museum at 2. We finished lunch early and decided to invite everyone up to the rooftop patio of our hotel while we finished our ice cream to waste the rest of the time before the museum.

As we walk into the hotel, I grab the key for our room so I can go to the bathroom. The woman at the desk looks at me and the key, then at the group of 6 people behind me.

“You are all in one room?” she asks, clearly distressed.

“Um, no. We were just going to go up to the roof.” I say.

“Only people who stay in the hotel can go on roof!” she says. We grumble a bit and then turn to leave. Finally, she concedes and says we can go up for a little while.

We chat on the roof top, looking out at the Acropolis, for a while. Suddenly, we realize that it’s 1:30. We were planning to take the Metro, but we’re still pushing it to get there on time. We get up and leave quickly, heading to the Metro station.

Turns out that the Metro is packed at that time of day. It’s hot and sticky and everyone is packed together tightly. The train seems to be going impossibly slow, and just stops completely several times between stations.

Across from me, Chandra is starting to look very uncomfortable. Her face is turning red, and she’s shifting nervously. We all look at her strangely, wondering what’s wrong. It’s Jennifer who realizes it first, looking past Chandra to the man behind her.

Back up, please!” Jennifer snaps at the man, who grins and pretends he doesn’t understand. Jenn pulls Chandra closer to her and the guy finally steps back. Turns out he decided it was a good opportunity to grope poor Chandra’s ass. We got off at the next stop. Chandra was a bit shaken up, but Jenn was our new hero.

We were severely late for the museum. When we arrived, our professor and the rest of the group were waiting. We started our tour, but for the next hour or so our professor pointedly emphasized the importance of punctuality at every possible opportunity.

Day 7 - Athens

We got severely lost on our way to the train station, heading from Athens to Delphi. We ended up in some random neighbourhood, but according to our sources there was a bus station there. We had all but given up hope, until I noticed that there were an awful lot of buses driving by us. My solution? Follow the buses! They must be going to the bus station. This theory proved extremely useful for the rest of the trip as well. Greece has a great bus service - providing you can locate the bus station (which is sometimes just a random unmarked corner.)

As we walked out of the bus station with our tickets in hand, we noticed that the buses looked very nice. They were shiny and new and had lots of space. Until we got to our platform. There was a really old looking bus parked nearby. I turned to Chandra and said “Watch that be our bus.” We laughed and were sure it wouldn’t be, when every other bus was so nice and new.

It was, of course.

Day 8 - Delphi

We woke up bright and early in the beautiful city of Delphi and headed out to see the ruins. We started walking uphill. We climbed the longest staircase ever. When finally got to the top of the hill, I was definitely sweaty. We walked towards the site, not sure how to get in but following what seemed like a path.

We ended up at a locked gate.

We turned around and went the other way.

Another locked gate. But there was a woman standing there. We asked her how we were supposed to get in. She said that it was an employee’s entrance and we had to go in the public way. We asked her where it was.

Apparently the entrance to the site was down the hill. About five minutes from our hotel. NOT up a giant hill.

That afternoon we took the bus back to Athens on our way to Corinth. We took the Metro to the stop where we had to catch the suburban rail service. As we were trying to buy our tickets, a huge gust of wind blew by and both Chandra and I exposed ourselves to everyone in line. Classy.

We got on the train. We went a few stops. Everyone got off, except us. The train then started going backwards instead of forwards. Apparently we were on the wrong train? Lucky us, we got to ride it twice!

When we finally did get on the train, there were no seats to be had. I was exhausted with all the dashing from station to station and taking many trains, so I decided it would be a good idea to sit on top of my big suitcase.

My suitcase has wheels. A thought which didn’t even cross my mind until the train jerked and the suitcase rolled out from under me and we both hit the ground with a loud crash - breaking the absolute silence of the train. I turned bright red and, of course, said “Sorry,” even though I was in Greece.

Still a few more for tomorrow!

The one where I get stuck in a ruined city

On August 24, 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius, an active volcano in the vicinity of modern Naples in Italy, erupted and buried the surrounding settlements of Pompeii and Herculaneum under a mile of rock and ash, killing up to 25,000 people.

Pompeii and Vesuvius, by me

Pompeii remained buried until the 16th Century, Herculaneum until the 18th. In 1804, the first real excavations of Pompeii began to uncover the city. Large scale excavations of the ruined city continue to this day making Pompeii one of the largest and most famous archaeological sites in the world.

The plan was to get to Pompeii from Rome and back again in one day. Pompeii is closest to Naples, about 2.5 hours from Rome. We arrived at Termini, the central Roman train station, at about 9am on Monday. We struggled through buying our tickets, and spent about 20 minutes with a dictionary trying to read the Italian tickets and figure out where were supposed to be waiting for the train and where we would sit once it arrived.

We boarded the train and found our seats, only to be almost immediately yelled at in Italian that we were in the wrong seats. We tried to show the two ladies our tickets and prove that we were in the right place, but they just kept saying “No, no!” And so, assuming we must be wrong, we left the seats and went up the carriage to ask an employee and another man who spoke English. Both pointed us back to where we had come from. Finally, we squeezed our way through small, crowded hallways to the seats we had started with. The ladies were gone and our seats were now vacant. We sat down and I watched the Italian countryside through the rain on my window for most of the journey (punctuated by naps, of course, because it was quite early still.)

With the train and a transfer to the Metro in Naples, we got to Pompeii at about 1pm. The site is open until 5pm, so we had enough time to see most of it (not all, though, because it really is an entire ancient city.)

It was pouring rain by the time we arrived, and though it was frustrating to have to hold up my umbrella and my camera at the same time, it also made the site a lot more interesting to me. Pompeii is a major tourist location, and I’ve heard that in the summer it’s packed beyond belief. Since it was the off season, and since it was raining, Pompeii really did look like an abandoned, ruined city. A city of the dead. You could walk several streets before running into another person. It gave a very surreal, ghostly aspect to the site.

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The streets of Pompeii are still paved with cobblestones and still have the stones in place for the pedestrians to cross without stepping in puddles or debris. In the rain, they were more rivers than streets and we were glad for the raised sidewalks on either side. We wandered the streets of Pompeii, walking around a city that was frozen in time in 79AD. It was amazing to see the way a town looked in the Roman Empire. With wall paintings, mosaics and graffiti still in tact, it was easy to imagine yourself a Pompeian in the houses and courtyards.

A room with wall paintings, by me

When they excavated Pompeii, they didn’t find dead bodies. They were incinerated in the heat. But the way the ash and rock had fallen created pockets of air in the shape of where the bodies had been. Therefore, archaeologists were able to make plaster casts of the people who had died in Pompeii. In the summer I understand that many of these are left in situ, among the buildings of the city so that you can see where they died. In the off season, however, the casts are kept in an open storage area.

Praying, by me

As someone studying archaeology, Pompeii was a wonder to see. I have been reading in textbooks for years of all the things we’ve found out from Pompeii. Because it was frozen in time, it alloys us to see how a Roman city would have looked in the 1st Century AD. Graffiti, wall paintings, amphorae and shops can tells us countless things about the Roman way of life.

Needless to say, we spent as much time as possible at Pompeii.

At around 4:25 we made our way back to the main gate to buy the guidebook. The last admission was at 4:30, so we ran out quickly to get the book and then nipped back in. An employee told us not to go too far, since they were closing in half an hour. We told him that we were going to go see the Villa of the Mysteries and exit that way.

And so, we walked across the city to the Villa. We got there at about 4:50, just in time to see the Villa and exit on time. But when we were done looking around the Villa, we realized that we couldn’t find the way out the book had described. There was a fence that kept us from going any further past the Villa.

We decided to go back up the hill to see if we had missed the exit on our way in. A man told us that we had to go back towards the main entrance. We were confused, but we continued up the hill anyway.

After walking for a while, we realized that the path we were on wasn’t going to lead us to an exit. By now it was 5:20 and dark, and there was no one else in Pompeii. Everyone had left for the day. We still had no idea how to get out.

We had two options, either to go back down into the city and keep walking to the main entrance and hope we could still get out that way, or go back to the Villa of the Mysteries and continue to search for that exit. Standing on top of the hill, we could see Vesuvius, the city of Naples and the intense dark of the dead city below. The only house nearby had dogs that were barking loudly and, in my anxious mind, angrily. I was worried we would have to stay in Pompeii all night.

Stuck in Pompeii at night, by me

We decided to go back to the Villa and try our chances there.

When we got back to the Villa it was about 5:40. We jumped two fences to get past it, trying to follow the signs that said “Uscita” (Italian for exit.) Finally, walking around with only the flashlight on my keychain for light, we found the exit. A woman in the building at the exit saw our flashlight and opened her window. She started yelling in a mix of Italian and English that they were closed, we had to leave. I yelled back “I know! We’re trying! Uscita! Uscita!”

Finally, we got out of Pompeii and didn’t have to spend the night with only two toblerones and a package of Fruit Joys, possibly ending up food for the famous Pompeii stray dogs.

Of course, on the way down the hill in the dark I tripped and went over on my ankle and I ended up having to buy a Tensor (/Ace) bandage to keep me walking all over Rome for the week.

S as in… snail?

I like to pretend I’ve got it all together. New country? Sure! I’m a pro! England can’t be that different, can it? Because after all, it’s our Motherland and we both spell the right way (colour, cheque). Easy.

Not so much.

The following is a list of the things in the last few days that have had people glaring at me and thinking “Ugh. American.” (I don’t expect many people to realize that I am, in fact, Canadian.)

1. Dollars?

Sunday I went on one of those hop-on-hop-off city tours of Newcastle. In typical fashion, I arrived at the bus stop just as the bus was pulling away and had to wait the full 30 minutes for the next one. Sigh.

When the bus finally arrived, I hopped on and smiled at the bus driver. There was a silence.

“Uh, so it’s what, 8 dollars?” I say, finally. He laughs. I try to correct myself as quickly as possible. “I mean.. pounds.. not dollars…”

“8 dollars wouldn’t get you very far, love.” You’re telling me.

2. Can you repeat that please?

I hadn’t eaten anything all day Sunday. My stomach is not happy, so I didn’t push it. After thoroughly exploring the city, I came home briefly to put away my camera and pick a place to eat from the city guide I had. I finally chose one and headed off in that direction.

I walked nearly across the city, only to discover that this place was not open on Sundays. I then proceeded to walk the streets and realize that most places weren’t open on Sundays. I wanted a real meal, something that someone brought out to me. But the only places I could find that were open were McDonald’s and Subway. A lot of the places I passed had been serving food until 5pm, but were now only serving drinks.

I finally found a place to eat. Apparently a vodka bar? But it had food. I went in and sat down. The waitress finally came to ask what I wanted to order. I ordered the veggie burger and then asked her what was on tap. Do people not ask that in England? Is there a different saying for it?

“Like, lagers?” she asked.

“Uh, yeah.” I’m so articulate. Keep in mind that this was only the second conversation I’d had outside of my head all day. She listed them all really fast. I blinked.

“Um… can you repeat that please?” I asked, timidly. I was really hoping that one of the beers she listed was Newcastle Brown, because, well, I’m in Newcastle and it’s a great beer.

“Something, something, Carlsberg, something else,” she said.

“Um, I’ll have a pint of Carlsberg…”

3. Um, which one again?

This happened to me twice. I’m okay with bills (do they call them notes here?) but as soon as I get to the change part, I can’t tell a penny from a… 20p?

When I went to pay admission for Castle Keep, it took me a good two minutes of riffling through my wallet. I knew they had a 50 cent (p?) piece. But I could not remember what it looked like.

Then I paid for my dinner. The waitress who already didn’t like me much.

“That’ll be 10 pounds and 5 p,” she said. I handed her a 20 pound note.

“Uh, I have… 5 cents.” Cursing myself in my head, I know it’s not cents. She waited. I riffled through my wallet. Finally, I gave up and pulled out a 10p and handed it to her. She gave me a look.

“It’s 5p.”

“Um, yeah, which one is that again?” I asked.

“The small silver one.”

“Oh.” I handed her the 5p.

4. S or F?

People never think of their own accents as hard to understand. I certainly never thought anyone would have any trouble understanding me. I guess it’s one of those culture-centric things we do.

Yesterday morning I called the electricity, water and broadband companies to get my accounts set up. That required stating my address. Easy enough, right?

Wrong. My postcode ends in the letters S and G.

Everytime I gave my postcode, they thought I had said F rather than S. And then when they said it back to me, I thought they were saying S rather than F. This was worst with the lady at BT Broadband. She was desperately trying to find my address in the system.

“I think I must have your postcode wrong,” she said. She spelt it out. “…And F as in foxtrot, G as in golf?”

“Oh. No. It’s S.. as in snail.” I tried to think of a better s word. It failed me. S as in snail?! Sigh.

Hipster film

Dear Urban Outfitters,

Until I walked into your store this week, I had no idea that film was now cool. Here I was, stuck in the past, thinking that digital cameras were everywhere and paying $16 to get my film developed. Little did I know that I could walk into your store and buy a camera that was new in 60s. But I guess that’s vintage now, right?

I looked down and saw a Blackbird, and I was surprised. Cute, sure, made of plastic with a top view finder. At least it shoots 35mm film, which despite the failing film market can still be processed at your local Loblaws or drug store. For all the old fogies out there who never learned how to use digital or kept trying to throw away their memory cards after one use.

But then I turned around and I saw it. The little package I used to dread in my years of loading film. The 110 film. The film that required loading into a special canister in a darkroom. You have to actually break the plastic into pieces and pry out the film. The film that I always left for last when printing, because it required changing the mask and recalibrating our printer.

110

Now you have all these hipsters out there shooting 110 film on plastic toy cameras. But let me ask you one question: How are they going to get this film developed? At the time my dad’s photo store closed, we were the only people in the city who could print 110 film. Now there’s no one. Maybe in a bigger city you’d be lucky to run into someone who actually knows what 110 film is. I bet most of those kids who work at the Loblaws photo counter would have no idea.

holga

I’m all for going back to our roots - I still love shooting the occasional roll of film. But everyone abandoned the film processors of the world years ago. And because of that, the industry is almost dead. Because people were all too happy to shoot a million digital pictures and never print a single one. Because now the average suburban family has as many dSLRs as children.

So you’re too late, Urban Outfitters. Even your loyal hipster following can’t revive film.

I still love your dresses though,

Hez