Saturday, September 1, 2012

Day One: The Real Journey Begins

Here we are on the Delta plane heading to New York from St. Louis, exchanging our "look of love". In reality that's a look of apprehension. We have no clue what lies ahead of us on the Island of Crete. A place we haven't been to since 1986. A place where we met, got married and lived for four years. We heard that Crete has changed so much, with resorts on all the beaches and more traffic. In fact, rumor has it that it's not the same Crete at all that it was years ago. The Air Station where we were both assigned is what people are now calling a ghost town. America pulled out of Greece in 1996 and so we weren't real sure how well received we would be. With tickets purchased and hotel reservations made we were at a point of no return. I've posted our agenda of how we hoped the trip would go. But this is how our Aegean Journey really happened.

We woke up at 6:00 a.m. and took a brisk walk around our subdivision neighborhood to stretch our legs and to find some motivation for the long plane ride. After our showers we packed up the car and headed for the airport. Aside from an minor accident on the interstate and the beginnings of the rain from Hurricane Isaac, we made it to the airport effortlessly. 

Michael tends to get a bit antsy in the airports, all other aspects in his life he is in complete control and navigates our lives smoothly. Put him in an airport, he appears lost and has a constant urge to ask for directions, which is so unlike him. 

I'm usually a whirlwind of a mess in all aspects of life. But, you put me in an airport and suddenly, I have a sense of direction and remain very focused.

And the fact that Michael promised me cake and coffee once we got settled at our gate, that really kept me focused.  We arrived at the airport at 8:30 a.m. and with plenty of time to relax at our gate I walked to the nearest Starbucks and got us each a piece of cake and some nice hot coffee. We then departed St. Louis at 11:20 a.m. and arrived at JFK airport in New York at 2:45. With a 2 hour scheduled delay we decided to get a salad at Chili's. We ended up getting separated for about 10 minutes. I'm not sure how that happened but after a few phone calls on our cell phones we found each other. 

Before our trip, Michael took me out to dinner in Paducah, Ky. While we were eating I took a present out of my purse that I had bought for him. He opened it and was intrigued by it. But I wasn't sure if he liked it.  

That's him waiting for our plane to depart from the states. Turns out the little travel journal actually came in handy. He used it to log every aspect of our trip and to store our receipts.

We departed from JFK airport at 2:45 p.m. looking a little more at ease knowing that we were now together and on our way to Greece. Ten hours seems like a really long time to be on an airplane. But, with the movies, the refreshments, the meals and constant movement of the people on the plane. The hours seem to pass by quickly. It was no time at all until we landed and found ourselves in the Athens Airport. We found our way to security where I was frisked and then frisked again. I'm pretty sure she thought I had junk in my trunk. After much inspection she come to the conclusion that it is what it is. Hm.

Getting the rental car on the Island of Crete went smoother than I'd anticipated. The Greek attendant went over all the details and Michael seemed comfortable with it all. I just kept staring at the manual gear shift, wondering if Michael even had a clue how to use that thing. Did I mention that on Crete there are no rules of the road? It's a two lane highway with drivers passing on curves along a mountainside with an edge that drops off into eternity. We pulled out of the parking lot and into the traffic with no clue where we were going and me nervous about the transmission being put into gear manually in what seemed like a real life bumper car ride.

Michael's confidence was low which is unusual for him and when he is unsure of himself it leaves me terrified. He is my rock and I can't be my confident self unless I know for sure I have him to lean on.  When I'm nervous and terrified, I talk incessantly. I sat next to him in the rental car just amazed that I could not stop talking. I knew he needed quiet in order to get himself acclimated. I'm sure that he hoped I could stop talking too. It's hard for him to get his bearings when we're both unnerved. But, now that we were on the road hopefully he would find the Erivolos Apartments at Lygaria Beach. We drove along the New National Road that didn't exist 26 years ago. We were both so irritated and tired that fussing and giving each other new names as we drove along the foreign highway seemed to be the only thing we knew how to do. Maybe it was our way of having something familiar to focus on. The more we fussed the more we were probably wondering what brought us together on this island to begin with. Michael eventually stopped at a BP station and filled up the tank that was said to have been started at a half tank for us but was actually only a quarter tank (this tidbit of information will be relevant at the end of our trip). We filled the tank not knowing if we would see another gas station on the way to the apartment. The attendant that pumped our gas pointed us in the right direction and off we went. We reached our destination only to find that a steep driveway took us to our apartment. Up Michael went with me hoping that we wouldn't roll backwards in between gear shifts. 

The view from the apartments, absolutely stunning. Mountains, sea, sky and the pool. Keep in mind that none of the photos that we have taken have been altered in any way. What you see is exactly how the photo was taken. The landlord greeted us with fresh cake and ice cold water and warm kisses on each cheek.  The homemade raisin cake was delicious. Liza showed us to our apartment and gave us the run down on how everything worked. I loved that there were no screens on the windows. That's because in September there are no bugs! With the constant cool sea breeze, there was no need to use the air conditioner.

One of the most important things to remember when on the island of Crete is that you never put bathroom tissue into the toilets, ever. The hot water is generally provided by solar heat.

With our bags unpacked and our bodies exhausted. We decided to indulge in their culture and participate in their daily 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. rest. The jet lag, the heat, the car ride and the debate over whether renting a car was a good idea or bad idea left us sleeping like a rock for those two hours. After our rest we freshened up and headed for Gouves to try to find the old Iraklion Air Station. I was impressed that without much effort and following the Old National Road Michael was able to find Gouves and the Air Station without much effort. 

This is how we remember the base entrance.

Visiting the Air Station was quite moving for me. I experienced a lot of pivotal moments at that base. It was very dilapidated and eerie standing at the base gate. This is the main gate now.

 The Iraklion Air Station Base Chapel before and...

the base chapel now. The entire base looked very depressing so I asked Michael if we could just leave. Even the beach that held so many fun memories seemed gloomy and depressing. The compound where we both worked was gone altogether.

We left the base and headed further down the road in Gouves where we both lived in separate apartments across the street from each other. This the mountain view from my apartment with my neighbor Tammy standing by my terrace doorway in 1982.

The view from the opposite side of that doorway 2012. I lived in the 3rd set of doors apartment. It's overgrown with foliage now. But, back in September 1983 Michael showed up at my door on the wrong night for a get together. He ended staying for a while and talking with me. And so, the rest is history.

This used to be the busy beautiful taverna below my apartment. I worked in that taverna. Giannis Taverna,  is where I met Michael for the first time. Most military people did not work off base. Michael just assumed I was a Greek woman.

Michael's apartment building which was across the street from my apartment. 

Don't go up the stairs, walk to the end of the banister on the left and go down the stairs and we lived in the apartment in the back. We had a great patio area back in 84, now it is overgrown with plants and such.

This used to be George's Taverna that was built onto the side of Michael's apartment. Excellent food!

We lived in Michael's apartment for almost a year and then we had to move to a bigger apartment in Kokkini Hani to get ready for the birth of Brandon. 

This is Brandon in 1985. He weighed less than 4 pounds at birth. He went through a pretty traumatic ordeal at birth. But he received excellent medical care once he was air lifted to Athens on July 6, 1985.

Brandon is playing in the courtyard of the apartment that we lived in at Kokkini Hani in Crete.

Brandon celebrated his first birthday in the apartment in Kokkini Hani. 

 This is Brandon nowadays. He weighs around 240 lbs. This photo taken in America where our family now lives.

The sun was setting quickly so we didn't have time to look for the apartment in Kokkini Hani, but made plans to look for it another day. After an emotional day we decided to head to the Themis Beach and look for a taverna. We weren't prepared for how much the area has been built up with resorts and souvenir shops. It looked very different than back in the early 80's when it was just a big huge sandy beach.

Michael taking a seat at Zorba's. This is where we ate our first meal on our first day on the island.

Dogs and cats roam freely along the streets stopping by random restaurants and begging for food. The locals peacefully co-exist with them. This particular dog reminded us of the movie, "Lady and the Tramp for some reason. Maybe it was the romantic music in the background and the forlorn look in his eye as he pleaded with Michael for just one noodle of spaghetti. 

 Our first meal, souvlaki, tzatziki, Greek salad, Saganaki and limonada.

All in all, it was a stressful, emotional and yet beautiful first day along the sea on the Island of Crete. You can look at our day one agenda also posted on this blog and compare what we had planned to do. But this is what we actually did do.

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