Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Best of the European Outtakes

It’s been a week since we returned to Denver, and it feels great to be home.

The past four months have been unbelievable in every sense of the word. I’ve chronicled much of it within this blog, but there were some things that didn’t fit.

So, here are a few of the highlights from the European Leg of FunEmployment.

If you get lost in Athens, this dog can show you the way.
Ego Boost: I walked into a restaurant in Athens with Fran and our friend Karyn. The waiter who was showing us to the table stopped me, shook my hand and said, “Just you and two beautiful women? You're a legend.”

Unlikeliest Tour Guide: As we walked to the Acropolis in Athens, we stopped to look at a map. We knew it was on the hilltop above us, but we weren’t sure which roads provided the most direct route. Just then, a stray dog came wandering by. He looked at us, barked and then started walking on a road ahead of us. Based on the map, we were going the same way as the dog, so we followed. He led us up the hill and to the parking lot, occasionally turning his head to look at us. Once we arrived at the ticket booth, our canine friend disappeared back down the hill. Apparently, strays in Greece are very well trained.

Most Unique Restaurant: Near a market in the heart of Athens is a doorway that leads down to what appears to be a dark cellar. We walked in and the proprietor motioned for us to sit at a nearby table (there were only about 5-6 tables in the room). He spoke no English, so he just started delivering random plates of food to us. There was also a chunk of ice that he put down below a copper pot full of white wine directly from a barrel. Once we got our fill, he walked over and wrote 25 Euros on the paper table covering. We paid and went on our way.

Our waiter (right) made himself comfy at a nearby table.
Sometimes You Shouldn’t Ask a Waiter for Advice: During our first night in Nafplio, Greece, we went to a restaurant that was quite crowded. The waiter, a stout man with a long, curly ponytail hanging below a sizeable bald spot, stopped at our table to take our order. However, he quickly changed his mind and said he would be back after smoking a cigarette. His ill-fitting glasses kept sliding down his sweaty nose. We asked him what he liked on the menu and he cackled with delight, reminding me instantly of Tom Hulce playing Mozart in Amadeus. “I don’t like anything here,” he said. At first, I thought he was kidding. I’m pretty sure that he was not. We ordered four small dishes to share and he said that we were up to six. We asked what they were because our count did not add up. “I added a few others. If you don’t like them, just push them aside, and we’ll pretend they never happened.” The bizarre scene only got more strange 15 minutes later when we looked a few tables over and saw the waiter sitting there, smoking a cigarette and drinking beer. When he caught our eyes, he cackled again. It was something like this:

If the House is Rockin’: At our hotel in Nafplio, Greece, we were awakened at 7 a.m. For about a minute, we heard a strange noise and the room seemed to be spinning around us. Since we had not consumed ridiculous amounts of Ouzo the night before, Fran thought a crazy dog had gotten loose somewhere in our room or the room above ours. Other people we talked to reported that they, too, were awakened at the same time but didn’t really think much of it. It turned out to be a 5.6 magnitude earthquake that was centered right between Crete, Athens and Nafplio.

Scrambled Gambling: The language barrier was not terribly significant in most of the places we went. Most people we talked to knew at least enough English that we all could get our points across using English, a butchered stab at the other language and a heavy dosage of charades. Of course, our confidence that everything was understood completely evaporated at restaurants, especially in Greece. Every time that a server left with our order, our eyes were always wide as we wondered what would make it to our table. Most of the time it was close enough, but there were a few exceptions. My favorite happened to our friend Dan in Napflio. He ordered eggs one morning. The waiter delivered a banana split to the table, and then he argued that Dan definitely ordered it. The banana split sat on the table melting for several minutes until the manager came over to ask if anything was wrong. I wish I would have been there to see the look on Dan’s face.

If Colorado is the Napa Valley of Craft Beers,…: When our adventure started, I told Fran I wanted to try the local beers whenever we visited somewhere. Perhaps it was not a wise decision. The Ecuadorian government runs the brewery that creates the majority of beer in that country, all of which give Milwaukee’s Best a run for its money when it comes to mediocrity. Peru beers weren’t much better. Copenhagen and London had a few that were pretty good, but Italy should probably stick to red wines. Greek beer, however, sets a new standard for beer. I wouldn’t call it a high standard. Most Greek beer tastes like the smell of sweaty feet.

Despite being drained and surrounded by construction
materials, the Trevi Fountain had a line of people
wanting to get a closer look.
Sorry, Folks, Park’s Closed. Moose Out Front Should Have Told You: I have been told that in addition to the Coliseum, everyone visiting Rome needs to see the Trevi Foundation. But when we arrived, there was plexiglass around a drained fountain. According to legend, if you throw a coin in the fountain, you are guaranteed to one day return to Rome. In the construction zone, there was a bathtub-like side pool. According to a nearby sign, visitors were welcome to throw coins in the substitute fountain. We were not surprised, of course. Every major tourist destination that we went to in Europe seemed to be under construction. Parliament in London is mostly covered on one side.  Workers have had scaffolding around the Parthenon for more than 30 years.

Did You Know Peter the Great Was a Dentist?: While we were in St. Petersberg, we had a tour guide who told what some might consider an overly romanticized history of Peter the Great. Some of the better nuggets of “fact” included the following:

-       Peter the Great never had any servants. His wife, Catherine, cooked his meals, including his daily 30 eggs for breakfast.
-       Peter the Great was an inspired architect who seems to have designed just about everything in the city, including buildings and several fountains.
-       Peter the Great was a dentist. Sometimes at dinner parties, guests would point to someone and say that he was suffering from a toothache. Peter the Great would go to the unsuspecting man and tear the tooth from his mouth. I’m sure such practical jokes caused great laughter among those present, especially the person suddenly with one less tooth.

After telling this story to a few people during the wedding weekend of some friends in Napflio, it quickly became a drinking game that lasted the entire weekend. Randomly throughout the weekend you could hear people say things like, “You know who built all of the ruins around Greece? Peter the Great. Drink.”

Random Stats Since May 22:
Total Flights – 25
Total Airports - 24
Total Air Miles – 29,081
Total Beds Slept In – 31

Total Hours Spent in Buses - 27

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