Saturday, October 10, 2009

Greece Travelogue #5 and last

We really enjoyed the rest of our stay in Athens. We were able to move to a room at the rear of the hotel, which was **much** quieter. So that was great.

On Friday, we walked around the downtown area a bit, then went to the Byzantine Museum -- the two maps we had showed the entrance on two different sides, neither of which were correct, so we had to walk all the way around the entire block before we finally found the front! But it was worth it -- it's really a nicely laid out and interesting museum. We mostly spent our time looking at the statuary on the first floor, which is organized historically and very interesting -- the second floor is mostly organized by "type of object," which seems like a tedious way to do things. Rooms full of ceramics, then rooms full of jewelry... yawn. But I did like the ancient glassware; it was amazing how well preserved some of it was.

We spent Saturday morning on a walking tour (starting in Syntagma Square with the *unbelievably* goofy changing of the guards at the Parliament building; finding crepes (chocolate & orange, yum!); strolling through the Zappeion area and visiting the reconstructed Olympieion; seeing the incredibly ancient Temple of Zeus (and running into Rao Kambhampati!); and then wandering around through the Plaka, doing our souvenir shopping and stopping for lunch, then later for coffee. It was a little drizzly, but not too bad. We also went to the Roman Agora.

Sunday we flew home. Let me correct that. We attempted, and failed, to fly home.

Sanity tip #1: Do not, under *any* circumstances, *ever* fly on Olympic Airlines! They are the most mismanaged, incompetent airline I've ever seen. Apparently they are state-run but switching to being non-privatized, or the other way around, or there are political pressures to move in one direction -- whatever's going on, they have their heads up their asses. Our flight from Thessaloniki to Frankfurt, which claimed to be on time right up until they boarded (late), was delayed by FIVE HOURS. First they said they were boarding, but didn't for another half hour. Then they took us on a bus way across the airport, driving forever, and circled around a whole row of parked planes before finally circling back and stopping in front of *a plane that we'd driven past before*. Then they took forever to board because they *checked everybody's passport again as we got on the plane*! (which they'd already done at security and then at the gate -- and don't forget this was traveling between two EU countries.) We finally boarded, then waited a long time for the last bus full of passengers. Then we waited. And waited. Finally they announced that there were delays with security, but they were ready to go and we'd be taking off in 10-15 minutes. Then we waited. And waited. Eventually they said we were supposed to be leaving, but the control tower had informed them with "a problem with the flight plan," but it would be sorted out soon and we'd leave in 10-15 minutes. (Are you detecting a pattern yet?) At this point it was at least an hour after the original departure time, and we were pretty sure that we'd miss our connection (only one hour and 25 minutes), but maybe they could have made up the time in flight -- they were claiming that they would. Then more waiting, and more waiting, until finally they announced that there was a mechanical problem, but the engineer was about to look at it. (Just before this some guy who was sitting in the back of the plane had gone up to the front and gone into the cockpit; this seemed odd, but later we found out that was the engineer -- and he flew with us to Frankfurt; maybe all of their planes are falling apart and they always travel with a mechanic?) More waiting, more waiting, more waiting. After an eternity (during which they actually started coming around with water because people were starting to get dehydrated; we're now about 2-2.5 hours into the delay), they said that some people "no longer wanted to travel with them to Frankfurt," so unfortunately they would have to let those people off and they would have to get their luggage off too. Since that would take a while, they were going to deplane everybody and take us back to the gate!

Then things really started to deteriorate -- people were yelling at the flight attendants about missed connections. They finally got us back to the gate, and it was utter chaos. For one thing, they started to hand back the boarding passes they had collected -- but they were doing this by calling out names *without using the microphone*! So hardly anybody could hear what was going on -- there were over 100 passengers all crowded around the desk, half of them yelling at the gate agents. Then they started calling for people who wanted to "cancel" but wouldn't really explain what this meant -- were there other flights? Would we get our money back? Would we be rebooked? Would the connecting airlines honor our flights that we had missed and rebooked us? If we didn't cancel, when would the flight leave? (Of course, their answer to that was "we'll reboard as soon as we get the luggage off, and the plane is ready to leave." Yeah, right.) Finally, after an hour of utter madness -- during which we were going to cancel ourselves and try to find an alternate way home, but then heard from people who had called US Airways (our connecting airline) that it would be better to go to Frankfurt and take care of things there -- they reboarded the plane. Now it was maybe 4 hours after departure time. And we sat on the plane FOR ANOTHER HOUR while they offloaded and onloaded luggage, and repeatedly told us that we were about to leave when we weren't.

It was truly an awful experience. Not as bad as those folks who were stuck on a plane for 8 hours with overflowing toilets, but plenty bad enough.

When we got to Frankfurt (which luckily we did; no noticeable problems with the plane...), there was an Olympic agent waiting at the gate to tell us that all of our flights had been rebooked and we should go to the ticket counter to get our new tickets. Of course, by then all of the US Airways flights had left for the day, and the US Airways office was closed. They had rebooked us on our original flights but 24 hours later, although there were several United and Lufthansa flights leaving for Dulles within the next few hours. That REALLY sucked. Made me wish I was wealthy -- I would have just gone and bought a (first-class, of course) ticket on Lufthansa and gone home then. Of course, then we had to wait an hour at the ticket counter with the other rebooked passengers, then wait half an hour to retrieve our luggage, then 20 minutes for the shuttle to the hotel. At least they put us up in a hotel and fed us dinner and breakfast, and actually it was a very nice hotel (the NH Frankfurt Niederrad) with good food and extremely comfortable rooms. So we had a good night's sleep.

The next day, we went very early to check in at the airport, just to be on the safe side. Good thing, too. The checkin line wasn't that long but moved incredibly slowly -- it was at least an hour wait. Then they took one look at my cast and said, oh, that's a problem, you'll have to go over to the ticket counter to talk to them about that. They wouldn't tell me what the "problem" was or whether it might actually prevent them from letting me on the airline. Turned out they claimed that my arm might swell up inside the cast, causing a medical emergency. (This despite the fact that I'd flown from Baltimore to Philadelphia to Athens to Thessaloniki to Athens to Frankfurt without incident.) They were willing to let me board, but only after notifying US Airways in the US -- which took 20 minutes of the ticket agent going through various people and voicemail mazes on the phone, and smiling sheepishly at me at frequent intervals.

Other than that, and the fact that we had to walk at least a half-mile to our gate at the Frankfurt airport -- only to board a bus which drove us back to right near where we started -- the flight home was relatively uneventful. It was a very long day, since we had to fly through Charlotte with a 2.5-hour layover to get to Baltimore. And of course we didn't have the "recovery day" that I'd planned, since that was chewed up by the 24-hour delay. So I had to get up and teach the next day, and Caroline had to get up and go to school. We've both been playing catchup since then, both on sleep and on work/homework. Finally things seem to be back to normal.

Remind me again why I like to travel? I think I'll be home for a while this time... maybe I'm just getting too old for it!!

Lasik - Last visit!

I had my last Lasik follow-up visit on October 2 (5.5 months post-op). Everything looks great. At the last visit (a month or two ago) I had a bit of astigmatism in my left eye, but that appears to have cleared itself up. Now I'm 20/20 in my left (dominant) eye and 20/40 in my right eye, which is exactly what they were aiming for with the monovision.

I have ZERO regrets about the surgery -- I'm incredibly glad that I had it done. I can see in times and places I never thought about not being able to see before -- when I look at the clock in the middle of the night, when I first wake up in the morning, in the shower, swimming, when my eyes are tired and dry. *Always*. It's more freeing than I even imagined it would be.

The only negative side effect that I notice is slightly more haloing at night -- but to be honest, I'm really not sure if that's because I have more haloing or because I notice it more. Also, with the 20/40 right eye, there definitely *is* more blurring and haloing, especially at night. It's not debilitating, but I'd feel safer if I had less blurring. So the optometrist at LasikPlus gave me a brochure for "Spare Specs," and I'm ordering a pair of glasses for night driving (clear glass on the left eye, small correction to bring my right eye to 20/20, $24.95 plus S&H). I imagine that eventually my presbyopia will worsen and I'll still need reading glasses, but that would have happened if I *hadn't* had the Lasik too.

I highly recommend looking into Lasik and considering monovision if you are middle-aged and starting to experience presbyopia. Of course, YMMV, but I can say that I'm totally satisfied with the outcome.