November 23, 2019 found me leaving my ocean view apartment and hunky lover in Dubrovnik Croatia, to board a plane for Athens, Greece. This was my final stop before returning to Reno, repack and launch off to Portugal and Italy to decide which sandy beach I would call home. Well, we all know how that went! Thank you $@#& COVID!! A 30-minute Uber ride with a burly-non-English-speaking-fur-ball Croatian named Igor proved exhilarating. We raced along twisting coastal roads like a monkey swinging from tree to tree, eventually delivering me and my jostled kidneys to the airport.
Foreign airports are always full of surprises and Dubrovnik was right there in the mix of confusion for this little Oyster. Upon arriving (early of course) 🙄, I noticed Aegean Airlines was not represented at the check-in counter. Rut-Row!! A long line of baggage-laden tourists revealed, what looked like, humanoids who might speak English. Inquiring about the missing airline company, I learned that as my flight time approached, this efficient airport would simply switch logos to reveal your airline. In other words, the Ryan airline counter magically becomes Aegean airline counter. How cool, and confusing, is that.😆 These small airlines have strict baggage limits! I'm not exaggerating when I say the luggage police pompously bring out the tape measure and smugly charge a whopping $100.00 to check in a secondary carry-on bag. I travel with a small carry-on backpack (affectionately called The Turtle) and a tinsy winsy red suitcase. That's it! Needless to say, most of my clothing, including my travel worn red suitcase were donated in France. I was naked in Croatia (there's some truth to that), figuring I would secure new duds in Greece.
To say I was excited to visit Greece is an understatement as I was blessed to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's in this ancient country. Being part of the Schengen Zone, I was limited to my remaining 55 days...or else! What is the Schengen you ask? In short, it's a collection of 26 European countries that you can freely mix and match your travel up to 90 days - no passport checks or boarder haggling. However, then you must leave these countries for 90 days. That was part of the reason I spent 90 days trekking around England, sipping afternoon tea like the Queen's BFF. There's a fabulous iPhone app called Schengen Calculator 90/180 that I use to keep track of days lest I wind up in some dank European jail in an undisclosed region of the Alps with a cell mate named Vladislava.
TRAVEL TIP: If you're living in Europe long-term, I recommend you start in the Schengen zone, then spend 90 days outside of it, in England perhaps, after which you can return to the Schengen. This may provide you with options for tramping around more countries.
The Schengen is wonderful and nerve wracking. After all, should you overstay your limit, there's oodles of potential fines, deportation, confiscation of your passport, your cat, forcing you to eat Boiled Sheep's Head, arrest or jailtime with the above mentioned Vladislava. While this varies from country to country, frankly, I wouldn't push it Grasshoppa! All this sounds easy, until you mix in pet-sitting. You will wind up with chunks of time that don't fit with Schengen regulations and pet sit opportunities.
Arriving in Athens, I had no idea what to expect. I also broke my own rule about NEVER, EVER arriving after dark. Think single woman, restricted to public WIFI for WhatsApp, trying to decipher that crazy Greek alphabet that makes your head tilt sideways like a lost dog. Getting from point A to point B in this part of Greece is laborious...but oh, so worth it! The process - flight to Athens, then take a 45 minute airport shuttle to the port, take 30 minute ferry ride to Salamina Island, then take 20 minute bus ride to your destination. Thank the Lawd, my American hostess provided detailed instructions and was fetching me at the ferry terminal. Picture me standing on a chaotic street corner in a bustling port city with a massive amount of people, all talking FORTISSIMO, looking for a lady I've never met, in the dark. Every time I change locations, I overcome some form of travel anxiety and this night was no different. My hostess was no where in sight. Heart rate increased, eyes dilated, mental red alert alarms go off in my head with a side order of adrenaline and white knuckles.
TRAVEL TIP: Public transportation may run late, there's traffic issues, weather delays...we've all been there. When meeting someone in a foreign country, take a breath, remind yourself you travel in safety and abundance - and give it 30 minutes. Chances are it'll work out.
Sure enough, out of the darkness I heard, "Sandi...Sandi" and fixed my bulging eyes on a petite blonde lady waving her hands. How I heard her through the static of all the yelling, I'll never know. A blanket of relief fell over me. Thoughts of sleeping in an alley way with feral cats and 4 day old fish bones dissipated. Yabba Doo! After a quick 'Boy am I glad to see you and a 'sorry, the ferry was running late', we hustled across the street to her car, boarded the last ferry of the day, and cruised to Salamina Island.
My charge for this holiday season would be 7 adorable kitties (4 instant lap cats and 3 feral...not the one's in the proposed alley ways). Upon exiting the ferry, we made a late night stop at a REAL Greek bakery. Brightly lit glass display cases beckoned me to load up on Baklava and assorted 'I can't pronounce' cookies, pastries, and incredible bread. One would think I was preparing for the apocalypse. I hope your taste buds are raging with jealously right now...😂
Arriving at her quaint, beautiful home, I met the 2-legged and 4-legged family. And after a grossly sweet piece of Baklava - crashed. Now I pride myself in being an early bird, yet, I awoke at 9:00 A.M. the next morning. Say what?! There's something about this home that sucked out any stress, leaving me rested and ready to embrace everything Greek. Well, except the high volume communication style. Let the adventure begin.