Nan and Walt's Greek Vacation
(with Ken Johnson and Evie Rozanski)
June 17 - July 4, 2003

 

Evie and Nan wrote a paper early this year on incorporating HCI (Human Computer Interaction) into the computer science curriculum. The paper was accepted for the ITiCSE conference to be held in Thessaloniki, Greece from June 30 - July 2.  As none of us had  been to Greece, we decided to spend a couple of weeks touring there before the conference. A short time after this decision,  Evie and I realized that we have a former student, Dimitris Nouris, living in Thessaloniki. Dimitris was an enormous help in not only helping us organize our trip, but also in entertaining us while we were there.  For example, just before we were to leave, Dimitris notified us that the European Union Summit  that was to be held in Porta Carras about 100 km south of Thessaloniki was expected to draw 100,000 protesters to Thessaloniki! :-(  It was anticipated that they might well create havoc leaving us in our hotel room for the first five days of our visit.  Not good.  Our itinerary was quickly reorganized so that we would start out our visit in Athens, rather than visiting there later.

map

Tuesday, June 17 - Flew Jet Blue to JFK and then boarded Olympic Airways heading to Athens.

Wednesday, June 18 - Arrived in Athens, took a bus to the city (1 hour), then metro and foot to our hotel. (Walt did a little scouting so we didn't run around in circles dragging our suitcases once we were in the area. :-))  We had decided to take an intercity train to Thessaloniki rather than fly - especially as the train station was close to the hotel whereas the airport was an hour and a half away.  So, we next headed to the train station to arrange our tickets.  Alas, the station was without power so we could not do so. However, we didn't find that out until after we had stood in several (wrong) lines. (Well, these travellers didn't  really seem to understand lines.  They pushed in from all sides. Chaos!) We headed back to the hotel and took a short nap. In the meantime, Evie scoped out tours which we organized for the next four days (Key Tours - blue package).  The conceirge also called the train station and found that the electricity was back on, so we headed back to the (very hot and smoky) train station to struggle with "lines" once again.  We finally did get tickets!

Pedestrians are an endangered species in all of Greece, but particularly in Athens.  Cars double park anywhere, any time.  Motor cyclists seem to follow no rules.  They go the wrong way down one way streets, drive on the sidewalk and between lanes of traffic.  It's amazing that any of them are alive!

Then we headed for the Plaka, an interesting touristy shopping area of Athens.  And, a bit quieter than the main streets as the area is mostly pedestrian (with the occasional motorcyclist.)

Walt in Subway         Above the restaurant

Walt in metro ... Above our taverna

We had a wonderful dinner, shopped and then Nan saw a sign for an Internet cafe.  It turned out to be four stories up, hot,  very smoky and didn't readily support access to her mailer, but after much manipulation, she did get a note off to Dimitris to tell him that we'd arrived safely.

Plaka         Acropils

Plaka, Acropolis, Tower of the Winds

Thursday, June 19 - We took a day long bus trip to Delphi. It was very nice and allowed us to sleep a bit both ways and to see some incredible scenery. The only problem was that on all of the bus tours, no one was allowed to use the bus bathroom facilities! :-(

Delphi         Delphi

Delphi - We were there!

Delphi

Panorama of Delphi

And, we found an internet cafe close to hotel which was more easily accessible and where my mailer actually worked.

Friday, June 20 - We took a city tour by bus. This was the only tour we did that was disappointing. We think we would have done much better on our own in a lot less time and a lot less money It was interesting but late enough in the day that the heat was overpowering. (The high temperatures ranged from 35-41 C; that's 95-104 F - all the time we were in Greece!)

Temple of Zeus         Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus         Hadrian's gate

 with Acropolis behind and Hadrian's Gate

Parthenon

Parthenon

Acropolis

View from the Acropolis

Acroplis         Down from the Acropolis

Another ... and on our way down

We didn't take the tour bus back, but rather walked down to the visit the Plaka again and a little shopping. We later found that one cannot buy the Athens jewelry anywhere else but in Athens. Had we known this, Evie and Nan would have been much more serious about shopping! Walt bought another Greek sailors hat. The one he's worn for years is just about shot.

Back at the hotel, we saw TV reports of fire bombings in Thessaloniki.  Of course they were in Greek, so we didn't really know what they were saying.  :-)  However, Evie's daughter, Lindsey, called from the Netherlands and was quite concerned about us going there.

Saturday, June 21 - Another full day tour - a three island cruise: Poros, Hydra, Aegina  The boat was packed!  That was a bit disappointing, but we did eventually wander down to the lowest (crew?) deck and found a place to sit where we could enjoy the view and the water.

boat trip

Our first stop was Poros where the main thing to do seemed to be to shop.  It was a relatively short stop, so we just walked around and enjoyed the scenery.

poros panorama

Panorama from Poros

Lunch was provided on board, but it was not very interesting.  However, we dined with someone traveling from Brazil who was interesting. The next stop was Hydra.  This was the most picturesque of the three islands.

HydraPan

Panorama from Hydra

churc         alley

We climbed to the church                            Typical alley way

transport         ship

Transportation options

windmill         frappe

Windmill                                              Ice cream and frappe

We walked quite a bit, enjoyed the views and had ice creams...except for Ken who was having one of his many Nescafe Frappes.  (He enjoyed them so much that he's learned how to make them and has them frequently at home!) There was an opportunity to swim.  The water looked very nice, but the beach was large rocks.

Before the next stop, we attended a performance onboard that was in principle about Greek dress, dance and culture.  The was also some comic "relief".

dance         dance

Traditional dress

MadameButterfly

"Madame" Butterfly

Then it was on to Aegina.  This was the largest island, least picturesque and our longest visit. We had an opportunity to spend more money and go on one of three tours.  We chose instead to explore the town.  Aegina is one of the largest pistacio producers, so, of course, we bought and sampled some.

Sunday, June 22 - In the morning, Walt and I took the metro to the end to Piraeus where we had sailed from on the previous day.  We were looking for the naval museum.  We didn't find it, but did find a huge market. We managed to scrunch through two rows before Nan's claustophobia took hold.

We all did an afternoon tour of Cape Sounion. This took us along the coast south of Athens to the Temple of Poseidon where Byron carved his name for posterity. The shore was beautiful, but the trip back was very slow from all the people returning to Athens after the weekend. Witnessed a motorcycle hit two cars while traveling between them to beat the traffic. (No one was hurt, very little, if any damage.)

Sounion

Sounion Panorama

Poseiden         Sounion

Temple Of Poseiden

Monday, June 23 - The conference that prompted the trip was to be held in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece and one that has a much different ambience than Athens. It does suffer from similar traffic hassles.

Instead of flying, we took the intercity train to get there - a 5 1/2 hour trip. It was very comfortable and very scenic - through mountains (saw Mt. Olympus!) and by the sea. The only uncomfortable, but interesting aspect was an altercation between a few passengers over what was clearly an accident. (We saw several altercations during our visit.) Dimitris met us at the train. His car was small, so he loaded a few suitcases and me into it and took me to the Egnatia Palace Hotel. Unfortunately we were staying at the Egnatia Hotel - not quite the same. :-) (The Egnatia Palace had received some damage from the protesters and there was a car parked outside that had had its windshield busted.)

The plan had been for Walt, Evie and Ken to get a taxi with the rest of our luggage and come to the Egnatia. Alas, it was not to be. The taxi drivers refused to take them! They weren't taking on Greek passengers either though, just driving into the train station, yelling at the people waiting in line and driving off with empty cabs. (The taxis went on strike for the next two days all over Greece. One of the things they were protesting was that the government wanted them to be nicer to their customers! :-) ) The strike did allow us to ease into driving in Greece.) So, Walt went over to the bus kiosks and sometime later had figured out what they needed to do to get a bus to the hotel. While there was a young passenger on the bus who tried to get them off at the correct stop, the bus driver told them to stay on longer and to get off at the Egnatia Palace stop. This was, of course, in line with the map that Dimitris had marked for them, so they did. Fortunately, Dimitris was there waiting. He made a couple of trips between hotels and eventually we all got into our rooms and settled.

We did a little napping, and a little walking around the area and got something to eat before Dimitris came back at 7 P.M. and showed us around - saw several bombed out stores, many sunken Byzantine churches, where the rental car place was, walked along the water front, and had some yummy ice cream before retiring for the night.

church

Just one of Thessaloniki's many Byzantine Churches

We also noticed in the paper that Olympic Airways were planning to strike on the day we were to leave Thessaloniki. Fortunately we learned later that the courts declared any such strike to be illegal and it actually carried weight.

Tuesday, June 24 - Tuesday, we got a late start, but we did pick up car - late. To try it out we drove to Pella, a nearby ancient ruin. We visited the museum, which has an amazing collection of tile floors, and the dig site across the street.

By the way, the Greek lettering on street and road signs was a challenge for us! Our scientific and math backgrounds helped a little. In some cases, there would be duplicate signs in Roman lettering, but not always. Street names and road signs in town were often hidden by foliage which added to the fun. :-)

floor         floor

Tile floors from the dig

gold         heads

Funiary items

sire         walt

The Dig                 Curious?

Wednesday, June 25 - South of Thessaloniki, is an area called Halidiki. It consists of a large peninsula that has three long narrow peninsular fingers off it. The westernmost, Kassandra, is the most touristy. The middle, Sithonia, is less so and more like the islands in character. It is said to have some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece. The eastern peninsula is inaccessible by land and is home to many monasteries, including Mt. Athos. Females are not allowed and even for a male to visit, arrangements must be made well in advance.

Evie and Walt and I went to the beach in Porto Carras (Sithonia) where the European Union summit that had delayed our arrival in Thessaloniki had been held. Ken didn't come along as his back was bothering him too much. The hotel where the Summit met loaned us towels and let us use their beach (gorgeous).

hotel

The EU Summit Hotel

beach         beach

Our beach at Porto Carras

PortoCarras

Porto Carras Panorama looking to the north from our beach

On the way back, we stopped for lunch on the beach down the road - a selection of salads. By the time we got back to Thessaloniki, we found ourselves in the midst of the first of three thunder storms of the the trip. (The tour books all say it never rains in summer!)

Later Dimitris stopped by to introduce us to his daughter Efi. What a doll!

Thursday, June 26 - We visited the much touted Thessaloniki archeological museum which proved to be a bit dissapointing as it was under construction. Also, several of the exhibits that we had most wanted to see had been moved back to Vergina - only one of three tour books was actually up to date.

Later we had an adventure getting to IKEA, the Swedish furniture/housewares store whichWalt and I have visited in every country where we've seen it. What should have been a 20 minute ride turned into an hour and a half one, while we battled traffic to get to the wrong Piliea. (IKEA was in the municipality of Piliea, not the suburb of Piliea!) But this mistaken destination did get us to Panorama which is a suburb very high up with extremely gorgeous views. We had lunch at IKEA. Evie and Ken were previously IKEA virgins.

We then napped before meeting Dimitris and Maria, his wife to go out to dinner. We took two cars and followed Dimitris up, up, up windy, narrow streets thru the old city walls to the Tower Taverna. The view was extraordinary as was the food and the company. Greeks eat their meals very late. When we were done with ours at 11:30, people were still streaming in for dinner. We had another adventurous car tour getting back to the hotel.

restaurant

The Tower Taverna

Friday, June 27 - In the meantime, Ken's back continued to worsen. Dimitris arranged (through his uncle who's an anistesiolist for Ken to visit a doctor. (Ken seems to make a habit of visiting the local hospital whenever he visits a hot foreign country. :-) :-( ) We mistakenly dropped Ken and Evie at the Army hospital instead of where they were supposed to go. Luckily they were able to get a taxi to take them where they wanted to go this time! The Dr. prescribed some salve and muscle relaxants which did the trick.

Walt and I spent the day walking and shopping. The photo below will give you some idea of the traffic/parking/delivery in Thessaloniki. It's worse in Athens!

traffic

(Steve, how'd you like to be delivering Coke here?)

Saturday, June 28 - As I mentioned before, many of the items we had expected to see in the Thessaloniki Archeological Museum had been returned to their excavation site at Vergina. The Archeological Museum here is magnificent, built into the mound where four tombs (dating to around 400 B.C.) have been located. Two of the tombs had been looted, but two were found intact quite recently. They belonged to Philip II, Alexander the Great's father and the other to his son. The entrances to the tombs are in situ, and much of their contents are on display. A truly outstanding experience. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed.

We also visited the site of the palatial complex. Alas, all that is left is it's foot print.

We went on from Vergina to nearby Veria which has many dilapdated houses from the Turkish era which are undergoing preservation.  The main street is the former Roman road and some vestiages are nicely visable.  We wandered about one of the Turkish building neighborhoods before heading back to Thessaloniki.

Veria         veria

Veria Turkish buildings undergoing preservation

Sunday, June 29 - We met Dimitris, Maria and Efi at 11 AM and followed them along the shore to a Taverna on the beach where we chatted and had drinks.

NourisFamilyPhoto

The Nouris Family: Maria, Efi and Dimitris Nouris

We got to the conference registration slightly before its opening time, picked up our stuff, visited the internet room and then headed back to get ready for that evenings opening reception held at the Prefecture.  Unfortunately it rained so we were mostly stuck inside which was quite warm.  What a spread though!  Nan also met with the members of the panel that she would be on on Monday to discuss logistics.

Monday, June 30 - The conference begins in earnest.  This was the busiest day for Nan who was on a panel comparing Java IDEs and was also a session chair. The presentations were uniformly good and worthwhile!

In the meantime, Ken and Walt took a trip on their own to Sindos, just outside of Thessaloniki, to visit the Technology Museum of Thessaloniki. (This museum will be moving soon to a new location on the other side of Thessaloniki that will include a planetarium.) They had a few challenges getting there as the signs that they could read for the museum seemingly stopped soon after they turned off the main highway. Then once they found it, all of the signage was in Greek! :-) But they managed with the help of an employee.

The reception this day was on the Astoria Hotel balcony in Panorama. The views and the food was spectacular.  Donald Knuth who is one of the keynote speakers sat with us and borrowed my Athens Olympic 2004 visor!  (I'll never have it cleaned!) Jane Prey who also sat with us took a photo of me with Dr. Knuth.

Veria

Tuesday, July 1 - The morning saw Evie and me back at the conference.  Traditionally ITiCSE offers a variety of excursions on Tuesday afternoon.  This year was no exception.  Besides tours of Thessaloniki and Vergina, there was a tour to Sani Beach (Kassandra) which we opted for.  It was a bit disappointing after our visit to Porto Carras particularly as we had extemely limited time there.

Tuesday night was the night of the conference banquet, held at the Maiami Taverna.  The food and location (water front) were marvelous, but we had a hard time getting there.   A bus was supposed to pick us up at our hotel at 8:00 P.M.  Up until this time, everything to do with the conference was very punctual.  By 8:15, no bus was in sight and 32  hungry people were starting to get a little anxious.  At this point, I asked the conceirge to call the Egnatia Palace Hotel (remember the confusion on the 23rd?) to see if it was there by mistake.  Alas, it wasn't.  He then called the Maiami and talked with the organizers who called back to say that the bus was on it's way.  By 9:00 when the bus still had not shown up even though there were a couple of go arounds with phone calls, we decided we needed to take taxis.  The orgainizers agreed and said they would pay the drivers once we arrived.

Well, this was just the beginning.  After finally getting into one of the taxis, we had (and this was true of many of us) the taxi ride from hell.  The traffic was horrendous and every time there was a break, the driver would speedup to over 100 kph.  Pedestrians were leaping out of the way.  45 minutes later we arrived  (around 10 PM).  As I said though, the food was spectacular and they kept us plied with wine and ouzo.

By the way, it turned out that our bus had gone to the ABC Hotel and picked up some of the attendees before spending an hour trying to find the Egnatia, so it only arrived about 15 minutes before we did!  I guess real bus drivers don't ask.  :-)

Wednesday, July 2 - Wednesday was the final day of the conference and our paper was very well received at the final session of the conference!  Following this, we spent  a short time at the closing reception and then went to dinner at Dimitris and Maria's apartment.  They own a lovely fifth floor apartment.  While we were there, Efi discovered the joy of throwing stuff off the balcony for her father to fetch.  Maria fixed a wonderful selection of typical Greek dishes. It was a very relaxing end to a very hectic three days.

Thursday,  July 3 - After turning the rental car back in, we visited the Byzantine Museum which was wonderful.  Its description (mostly religious and funiary) wasn't as attractive as the Archeological Museum but it  turned out to be very well done.  Plus, it was air conditioned - a real positive aspect when the temperature is hovering at 41C (106 F).

BM         pots

The Byzantine Museum (and Pots for Matt!)

We then visited the Church of the Agios Dimitrios, went back and  packed for the trip home and had dinner at our favorite local restaurant before going to bed early. (We once again had to ask our neighbor to turn down his music - this was a daily occurrence during our Thessaloniki stay. :-( )

Friday, July 4 - Dimitris whose work is near the airport took Evie and two suitcases to the airport and saw us off.  The rest of us caught a cab.   It was the best cab ride we had in Greece!  Our travel home was uneventful but long - a mere 24 hours. Fortunately, Evie noticed our bags had been checked to Athens, not through to JFK as we had been told they would be on the phone.  And, the Olympic Airways agent at JFK was persistent in locating a whole cartload of luggage that had gone awry and which contained two of our bags.

 

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Nan C. Schaller
Rochester Institute of Technology
Computer Science Department
102 Lomb Memorial Dr.
Rochester, NY 14623-5608
telephone: +1.585.475.2139
fax: +1.585.475.7100
Email: ncs@cs.rit.edu
18 July 2003 (Updated 6 December 2003)