Things are certainly looking up. Once we got out of the Hotel from Hell, life seemed much better. There's a bit of traffic noise here, but it's just normal noise, not like the Elektra Palace. [Kiri: I have earplugs, but this was not earplug-relevant noise. i.e, he noise filtering provided by earplugs was negligible compared to the decibel level being produced. :-)]
Today I went to the conference for a while (yes, there actually is a conference, and it's pretty good despite receiving little mention in the blog... because really, who wants to read a blog about AI planning papers?) Then we picked up a picnic lunch (prosciutto and toast crackers) at a deli, and walked down to the White Tower, where we caught the "tourist bus." The deal is that for two Euros, you can ride the tourist loop all day, getting off and back on whenever you want. The problem is that it only runs once an hour -- and as we found out, not on a particularly fixed schedule. So we got off to visit a church, the Roman Agora, and the ancient baths, got back 55 minutes after we disembarked -- and the bus never came. So we went up to see an old mosque and stopped at a "Krepas" (crepe, surprisingly common around here) shop for a snack, then picked up the bus again -- 10 minutes earlier in the "hour cycle" than we'd been dropped off. We also stopped up at the Byzantine walls and strolled through the old monastery (though the buildings themselves were closed for the afternoon "siesta"). Then we rode the bus back downtown. I tried ouzo (very strong anise liqueur, actually rather good albeit pretty intense) at an outdoor cafe. (The city is positively *littered* with outdoor cafes and bars -- many more cafes and bars than actual restaurants, or than any other type of place of business. People here are very serious about their relaxation!) Then we strolled around for a while, looking for a restuarant in the guidebook. We never found it, but ended up at 1901, "a traditional Greek taverna," which turned out to be quite good. We had beet salad (kind of like tzaziki (yogurt sauce) with beets mixed in), grilled calamari, french fries, and (for Caroline, of course) smoked salmon pasta. Later we wandered back to Aristotelus Square and got Caroline a cherry crepe -- but she was quite disappointed, because we expected real cherries and ended up with a crepe filled with maraschino cherries. So we also got her mango ice cream.
The bus trip back was a bit of an adventure, but we found our way.
To answer Kiri's questions -- I don't have many Greek phrases, but do know how to say thank you. When I can't remember how to say something, I usually ask how to say it in Greek. That does break the ice for a lot of people. I think we just had bad luck with a few people early on. I do feel like the culture here is very aggressive -- people in general won't step aside to let you off the bus, or take turns when there's a crowd trying to get through somewhere. And forget about anybody offering a seat on the bus to an older lady, or a kid, or a person with a cast. (Hey, we're the traveling trifecta of neediness, but you wouldn't know it in this country! Luckily despite our helpless appearance we're actually all pretty tough. :-)
Tomorrow: the end of ICAPS and onwards to Athens! Internet access in Athens unknown, but I'll keep y'all posted. :-)