Tuesday, May 6, 2008

BACK TO THE FUTURE: PART 1

Dear Friends,

Well, here I am...finally. Not only am I here on the island of Crete but I am online as well. I have to admit, it was quite an ordeal to get here...both on Crete and online! Everything started out well enough, but have you ever had those moments when everything was going so smoothly that you knew that it just couldn’t last? When I checked in at the airport terminal in Nashville on April 30th (Wednesday morning), the Delta ticket agent had a problem checking my one piece of luggage. According to his printout my luggage wanted to go to the island of Corfu, next it wanted to go to the island of Cyprus. We finally got it straightened out and was able to check my one piece of luggage straight through from Nashville to HER, which is the three letter designation for the airport at Heraklion. The flight from Nashville to New York was on a Boeing 727, was smooth and we arrived on time. After disembarking the Delta flight at JFK Airport in New York I asked for directions to the terminal from which Olympic Airways aircraft departed, and was told that it worked out of the terminal directly next door to the Delta terminal. I was pleasantly surprised that I would not have to travel halfway across JFK International Airport searching for the Olympic terminal. I left the Delta terminal and in less than three minutes I had walked to the Olympic terminal. After checking in at the Olympic counter, I was given my boarding pass and then proceeded through security to the waiting area for boarding passengers. As I sat there waiting to board my flight, there was an older, white-haired gentleman wearing a Greek fisherman’s cap sitting not far from me. He was sixtyish with a tanned face, a broad smile, and a knack for conversation. He had sat down beside two older American ladies who were with a tour group heading for Greece. He talked with them enthusiastically and gestured wildly with his hands as he told them stories about his native Crete. Crete! That’s it! I knew that he reminded me of someone – Zorba... Zorba, the Greek! I had just finished reading ZORBA THE GREEK only a few weeks before, and here was the living embodiment of Zorba, a man who loved life and enjoyed living to the fullest, sitting just a few seats away. I could tell from his talk and his demeanor that he was the kind of man who would never settle for just half a glass of wine...he would have nothing less than a full glass...or perhaps the entire bottle! I enjoyed the way he told his stories and the way in which the ladies responded...sometimes with amused smiles...and sometimes with embarrassed laughter! When the call was given to board the aircraft, I lost sight of “Zorba”, and never saw him again. We all boarded the Olympic flight on time and the plane taxied toward the runway at about 4:30 PM...and there we sat – waiting. After about a 35 minute delay, we took off. I have to say that the French-made Airbus 340 was comfortable, smooth and quiet. I was half expecting the food to rival some of the meals which we were served at midnight chow at Iraklion Air Station, but mine was actually rather good. The pilot was able to make up the 35 minutes which we had lost sitting on the taxi way awaiting takeoff at JFK in New York, and we landed on time at about 9:15 on Thursday morning, May 1st in Athens, Greece. This was where things began to go awry. After entering the airport terminal, I proceeded to the area to make my connecting flight to Crete. It was there I was told that my flight to Crete had been canceled due to a national one-day general strike affecting all of Greece. The lady behind the counter suggested that I get my luggage and then make my way to the Olympic ticket counter to arrange for a flight out of Athens to Crete for the following day. I went to the baggage claim area to get my one piece of luggage...only to watch the baggage belt go around like a carousel multiple times without producing my luggage. When I was convinced that my bag was not going to appear, I went to the complaint counter to inquire as to the whereabouts of my luggage...all the while thinking that my one bag had landed on either Corfu or Cyprus. After about an hour, a baggage handler appeared with my luggage. I didn't know whether to hug the baggage handler or hug my luggage. I decided that if I hugged the baggage handler, he might like it; and if I hugged my luggage, pleople might think I was crazy - so, I did neither! But, I have to admit, I was never so glad to see a piece of luggage in all my life – after all, it contained my provisions for my entire three month stay on Crete! After that I went to the Olympic ticket counter to get booked on a flight out of Athens to Heraklion for the following morning. The lady was very apologetic about the strike and the ensuing cancelation. She informed me that I was eligible to stay at a local hotel located about 25 kilometers outside of Athens and that Olympic Airways would pick up the tab. I told her that I just wanted to get out of Athens and get to Crete as soon as possible. So, she booked me on an Olympic Airways flight leaving about 1:30 Friday morning. I purchased a phone card for 4 Euros and then made a telephone call to my landlord, Mr. Mavrakis, explaining that I would not arrive until the following day due to the national strike. He seemed understanding and indicated that he would hold my apartment until my arrival. I spent the night in the Athens airport...sometimes dozing, but mostly trying to remain awake with my hands on my luggage, my camera bag, and my laptop computer case. I flew out of Athens early the next morning and landed on Crete at about 2:20 AM, Friday. I knew that my landlord, Mr. Mavrakis would not be awake at that hour, so I waited in the Heraklion Airport terminal until 7:00 AM, then I went outside to hail a taxi to Amoudara. The first taxi driver who approached me said that he would take me there for only 20 Euros. Now, folks, I don’t know if you have kept up with the decline of the American dollar against the Euro, but to put it mildly, the Euro has been kicking the American dollar’s butt! Those 20 Euros are equivalent to about $31 or $32 dollars! To put it more in perspective, the trip from the Heraklion International Airport to the village of Amoudara is only about 15 kilometers or about 9 miles or so! I looked at the other taxi drivers lined up outside the airport and asked if anyone else would take me there for less money. There were no takers. So, I put my one piece of luggage into the trunk, and climbed into the back seat of the Mercedes taxi with my camera bag and my laptop computer. Now, this is where things began to get a little interesting. We left the airport with the squeal of tires, a puff of blue smoke, and a hearty, “Hi-Ho, Zorba, awaaaay”. I was immediately pressed back into my seat by the G-forces, then slung from side to side of the taxi as Mario passed other cars on the road, shouted obscenities, and made gestures with his hands which were not on the steering wheel most of the time! I felt as if I were hurling down the Highway to Hell with Satan behind the wheel! However, in just a few short minutes we stopped in front of a market in Amoudara that had a sign indicating the Rania Apartments were behind the market. With shaking knees, I emerged from the taxi and felt like I should kiss the ground or make a burnt offering to whatever deity that had allowed me to arrive in one piece. I gave Mario the 20 Euro note, we shook hands, and off he went again, in the now familiar squeal of tires, puff of blue smoke, and the still hearty, "Hi-Ho Zorba, awaaaaay!” I walked down a narrow alley-way beside the market, and saw a hanging sign indicating that I was in front of the Rania Apartments. I tried to gain access, but the door was locked. I went back to the market, which was closed, and waited until a lady arrived to open the market at about 8:00 AM. She spoke little English, but understood enough to telephone Mr. Mavrakis. A few minutes later Mr. Mavrakis drove up in front of the market, got out of his vehicle, and introduced himself. He then informed me that my apartment was not ready. I tried to explain that I had reservations, and that meant my apartment was supposed to be ready and available for me upon my arrival. Still, he persisted, but then informed me his brother had a small apartment building just a block or so down the road with an apartment where I could stay until mine became available at the Rania. What else could I do? I was in a foreign land, and unless I accepted his offer to stay at his brother’s apartment, I would have no place to stay. I felt that I had no other option but to accept his offer. I loaded my belongings into Mr. Mavrakis’ car, and he drove me a short distance down a narrow road in the direction of the beach. We stopped in front of a small, new looking apartment building that was a mere 75 feet from the beach. Mr. Mavrakis’ brother met us out front, gave me a building key and a room key, and then led me up a winding flight of stairs to an apartment marked, “1”. I opened the door to my temporary dwelling. It was small, neat, clean, and had everything that I needed...a small bathroom, a kitchen sink, counter, cabinets with cooking and eating utensils, a small refrigerator, a microwave oven with three stove burners mounted on the top, a color cable T.V., a small dresser, a wardrobe, a small eating table with two chairs, and two single beds with a nightstand between them. Then I opened the balcony and stepped out. I stood there and looked around; toward my left was the Aegean Sea with Dhia (Dragon Island) in the distance. I watched as the waves rolled in and kissed the shoreline, then gently caressed the beach as they retreated back into the sea. I was immediately reminded of a line from Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel, ZORBA THE GREEK, and as I stood there on that balcony, I quoted that line, "'Crete,’ I murmured, ‘Crete...’ and my heart beat fast.'” I felt as if I had come home!

3 comments:

William said...

Bobby, sounds like you arrival was just as I expected. When I used to ask my landlords when something would be done they would say "Avrio, meth avrio" translated "Tomorrow, or the next day". Laid back is one of life's simple pleasures. Enjoy it while you can, and post often with photos. Asprobato, drink up, and enjoy. Bill "Hair" Simmons

mac said...

Bob,Glad to see you made it in one piece.You are in a very nice area.Keep the info coming...Mac

Don said...

Bobby,I was there in spring of 72 thru December 74. Lived in Mallia most of the time. Try to get out that way and see Yanni at Yanni's Cafe. It's still there only bigger. His wife is Tula (from Cyprus). Tell him Don said Yassou. Tell him Don was Mario's buddy. He will remember. You dog!
Don Smith