Archive | September, 2013
September 25, 2013

Change of plans

We completed our summer travel and returned to Austin on Labor Day weekend 2013. Hank, Nadine and I had planned to leave again in late September and travel in South and Central America until Christmas. Unfortunately, Sarah must stay and work in Austin during that time in her campaign for County Judge, http://saraheckhardt.com/. After further thought Hank, Nadine and I have decided to skip the next four months of our trip and we will stay in Austin with Sarah and support her in her campaign for County Judge. Hank, Nadine and I will leave Austin in early 2014 and travel through June 2014. We hope to travel in Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, Hawaii and Alaska during those six months. Hank and Nadine are now back in school at O’Henry Middle School and Mathews Elementary. If you are in Austin between September 2013 and mid-January 2014, stop by and visit.

September 2, 2013

Driving in Greece

Driving in Greece is an adventure.  According to the Lonely Planet book, Greece has the highest traffic fatality rate in the EU. The intricate, beautiful and sorrowful miniature churches that dot the roadside where people have died attest to the truth of that statistic. But that did not deter us from striking out in our rented Super Racing Hyundai to less-travelled beauty spots of Greece (many when we got lost).

The Hyundai dutifully hauled us over narrow mountain passes, across sand and dirt roads, and down/through/over innumerable and expensive tolled roads, tunnels and bridges. The kids complained of the heat, pleaded car-sickness on the twisty roads (an excuse to get another Coke, I think), and expressed justified terror on mountain passes with no guardrails to guard against sheer drops of hundreds of feet. Not to disparage the Hyundai, but a small 4-wheel drive vehicle with a sturdy passenger compartment and cold AC would have been better.

I’m happy to say that I have proven myself a superior navigatrix. I came, I saw, I conquered vague directions, maps without highway names and highway signs that perplexed, amused or scared us silly. As Kurt said, if they would quit writing everything in Greek and write it in English things would be a lot easier. Kurt and the kids came to see me as the Delphic Oracle of the Road.

Maps of Greece are helpful only to a point. They are not detailed and even major highways rarely have a universally agreed upon name or number. Most people don’t rely on street names or highway numbers at all, instead describing streets by where they go – “the road to Thesoloniki” or “the road over the mountain.” This is fine unless you don’t know where you are in relation to Thesoloniki or what is on the other side of that mountain. Language barriers added to the confusion with written instructions like, “at the right fork to Greek, go left.” We started giving each other joke directions of “Turn left at the olive tree,” or, “At the next goat, go right.”

The sign–making department at the Greco DOT is prolific. Traffic signs are everywhere – signs that contradicted each other, signs that were redundant, signs that were out of date, signs every tenth of a kilometer telling you that you’d traveled a tenth of a kilometer, and signs warning of multiple life-threatening dangers just around the next corner. More is not necessarily better. Interestingly, while there was too many traffic signs, there were blessedly few billboards.

The silver lining in driving around in ignorance, confusion, and sometimes bare-nuckled fear is that sometimes we found ourselves lost in really cool places we would not have otherwise seen.