THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 10TH AND FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 11TH:
So, and entire week and a half in Nashville. Some kind of record for me this year. 🙂 Flying to Athens, Greece today with bluegrass stars The Grascals. I took them to Japan a few years ago. Great group to work with and lots of fun. We met at the Nashville airport a little after noon and check in was smooth. Our flight out of Nashville was delayed due to “congestion” in Atlanta. Fortunately, we had booked a connection that gave us plenty of time. But, when we landed, we had to go straight from our flight to board the Air France (scares me. Hope this one doesn’t disappear over the Atlantic. And if it does, hope my laptop floats my office can salvage my files.)
We are now on board Air France and flying to Paris. We then fly to Athens, arriving at around 2 pm in the afternoon their time.
I was really stressed about being gone this weekend, home for one day (Monday) and then having to fly to Hong Kong and Korea for 10 days. I managed to leave my Greece itinerary and a very important file on my desk in the office. I had planned to work on the Iraq trip during the flight but that’s the file I left. Oh well. Keep telling myself it’s just for a weekend.
Grascals are really excited about performing in Athens. I’ve tried to tell them how fabulous the promoter, his family and his staff are and what amazing sights they will see not to mention the best food they will ever eat! I love the Greek yogurt and coffee and their olive oil is the best in the world…even better than Italy if you can believe it. I have to fly home on Sunday but they are staying until Monday. On Sunday they will go to a beautiful beach and the home of Nikos’ (our promoter and radio star). His Mom will have cooked for days and have a 20 foot table filled with everything imaginable. Maybe you remember that fact from last year’s road report. I was lucky last year to have 12 days in Athens and took a one day cruise to 3 of the islands. Just the opposite this year. Land on Friday, show on Saturday, home on Sunday. 🙁
The plane was nice and there was a girl sitting beside me who slept the entire flight. There were several great movies to choose from. That always happens when it’s only an 8 hour flight and I have to decide if I’ll sleep or watch a movie. I only got 3 hours sleep the night before but started watching a movie where Russell Crowe was a reporter. The dinner choices were excellent and the food was much better than on U.S airlines. They gave us one tiny bottle of water though and never replaced it. Fortunately I had purchased a large bottle in Nashville and still had most of it. I decided to watch the entire movie it was so good. Then about 30 minutes before the end, the video went off and it went back to the menu screen. The flight attendant had to reset my monitor and then it took me about 20 minutes to fast forward to where it has stopped because my handset didn’t work properly. I slept for 2 hours and then we landed in Paris. They kept us waiting about 15 minutes or more for a gate. Our connection was an hour and an half but we had only 50 minutes by the time we got off the plane. We had to go through passport control and then walk halfway to Greece to get to security. We only had 10 minutes before take off as we stood in the security line. A family in front of us was arguing with the security staff. They were in the wrong gate area and didn’t want to get out of line and go to where they were supposed to clear security. I was getting really anxious when they finally moved aside.
When I got my boarding pass in Nashville, they moved me from 4C to 1C – a bulkhead, which I hate. I tried to change it but was told that 4 was economy class. When I got on, all the seats were the same size but the middle seat in business class is “blocked”. The lady sitting next to me asked a man across the aisle to change with her, which he did. Then he asked the flight attendant if he could move his wife out of economy to sit in the middle seat between us. I didn’t want to be rude but I told him I had paid a lot of money to fly business class from the U.S. The flight attendant probably would not have allowed it anyway since she didn’t pay for business. I didn’t have any problem with the guy moving back to economy with her. 🙂
As we pushed back, the plane started bumped and lurching like we had a flat tire. We stopped and I asked the flight attendant. He said it was just the machine pushing us back that had the problem and we were going to be allowed to go forward instead. They also announced that there are thunderstorms in Athens. Should be a fun landing. NOT!
There was definitely a lot of turbulence on the flight. One of the Grascals was a nice guy and switched his seat to let a couple sit together. He was then in the back of the plane and was “green” when we got off. No good deed! 🙂
All our luggage and gear made it and I started trying to find Kristen – the other member of the Grascals who was coming in from Charlotte on different flights. Her flight was supposed to land when ours did but it wasn’t showing on the arrival board. I asked the Information Desk and they said the flight came in at a different part of the terminal and we would have to exit baggage claim and meet her in the arrival lobby. We had told her specifically to NOT leave baggage claim until she found us. I knew we would have trouble finding her, but nothing we could do as her cell phone doesn’t work over here.
Nikos and his friends and family were waiting for us. Feels so much like “home” every time I come back here because of these wonderful people. We got the Grascals loaded into the van and I stayed behind with Nikos to try and find Kristen. Neither of us had ever seen her before so we were just looking for a female with dark hair carrying a banjo! Nikos asked several times and was given different information. At one point he was told that her flight wasn’t coming in until 6 pm. I finally called Lindsey at home and she went on line and found out that the flight was arriving 30 minutes late. We had her paged and waited and waited. Nikos had to keep going outside to the car park to move his car, poor guy.
She finally showed up (I recognized the banjo J ) and her personal bag with all her clothes and electronics for the banjo did not make the flight. She had spent an hour filling out paperwork. She said the lady was really nice that helped her but spoke very little English. We walked out to the car park and I felt so sorry for Nikos. He was not driving his own car because it is “open” (a great jeep!) and it was raining (something I have never seen in all my visits to Greece!). He couldn’t remember where it was and finally had to ask someone. The whole time we’re walking around, he’s being the gentleman and insisting on carrying the banjo. He made us wait for him while he retrieved the car, which was parked in an entirely different area from where we were. I can certainly relate because I lose my car in parking lots at least once a week and it is the one I normally drive. 🙂
This hotel is beautiful and our rooms were ready. I worked for 3 hours, showered, had an omelet and met everyone downstairs to go to Nikos’ great coffee shop and then to his radio show. If you get a chance, listen to him on line on WSM AM on Sunday evenings (I think it’s Sundays). They broadcast a one hour show by him.
His mom and dad were at the coffee shop and several of the girls who work for him. I was surprised to learn that his brother is now in love. His girlfriend is beautiful. Nikos’ Mom just wants grandbabies and has been putting pressure on her two sons to get married and “deliver”. Looks like she’s got a shot with John and his new love. So happy for them.
Grascals were on Nikos’ show for two hours and it was wonderful. We headed back to the hotel at midnight. We were in the van and John and his girlfriend and a couple of other people were in the car beside us in the other lane. One of the Grascals “mooned” them and I thought John was going to wreck the car.
We had been unable to get any information at all on Kristen’s lost bag. My office kept checking and finally they said the airline found it and it was being delivered. Of course, it was not at the hotel when we got back. I tried calling every number I had, but everything was closed. We will have to try again tomorrow.
Leaving for sightseeing at noon tomorrow. It is now 3 am and I am DEAD tired.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 12TH – ATHENS, GREECE:
I did not sleep last night. I was up until after 5 am and still could not sleep. I rarely have that problem! Went to the little gym in the hotel. Very limited selection as far as workout equipment but I made it work. Had breakfast with one of the guys and then we left for sightseeing. It was still raining so we went into the new museum first. It is overwhelming there is so much to see. Things from 600 BC!!! The rain stopped and Acropolis was beckoning so we cut the museum tour short. Grascals loved climbing up to the top. Took tons of photos. After 5 visits I still tend to take the same photos. We left there and headed down to Old Town and shopping. They had planned a nice lunch for us but that would have taken all the time we had so they opted to shop instead. Magda accompanied us again this year and she is incredibly knowledgeable about the history of Greece. We visited my friend Nikos at his jewelry shop and he gave everyone half off on their purchases. I stopped by a little t-shirt shop where I buy something every year. In case you don’t know it, all Greek men are incredibly charismatic. The shop owner spends 10 minutes complimenting me. Then I remind him that I am in there every year and he has pretty much the same line every year. Told ole Demetreus that he does not have to charm me into buying anything. I’m already a sure thing. He tried to get me to have a drink with him in the back of his shop after I made my purchase. While I was not at all worried that his motive was otherwise, I assured him I did not have time this year. Plus I wasn’t sure what the drink was he was offering. Rushed back to the hotel to pick up instruments and go to sound check at 5 pm. Was not surprised to find that the sound company did not have the stage ready for us. It is the European way. No one ever gets in a hurry and you can count of things starting an hour or more later than scheduled. Guess that’s why the Europeans are so much less stressed than Americans. Something to consider. Since we are only here for one day, I packed light. Like I said, it never rains here and is always very hot. No umbrella and no jacket. It has rained the entire time and I had to borrow a jacket from Nikos for tonight.
Got back to hotel after sound check for almost 2 hours. Time to shower and have dinner. There is a Greek bluegrass band opening the show tonight. They were actually very good although not like bluegrass in the US. Rocked a little more and definitely didn’t dress like our bluegrass artists. Nikos — the jeweler sang 3 songs and the Grascals took the stage for 90 minutes. They were terrific. The crowd was a little less this year because of the weather. But the ones who did attend were definitely fans. Signed autographs for everyone afterwards. Got back to the hotel at 1:30 am and going to bed soon. I leave for the airport at 10 am to fly back to Nashville for one day. Leaving for Hong Kong and Korea on Tuesday for 10 days with Charlie Daniels. The Grascals are going to Nikos’ parents’ beach home and have one of her wonderful home cooked “Greek” meals. I can’t believe I’m missing it!
It was another great visit and like Nikos reminded me — only 9 months until the next one in July! 🙂
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 13TH – FLYING HOME:
I am afraid that if you read this, you’ll never travel again…at least not with me. Here goes…..
Actually got 4 hours sleep last night. Leave for the airport at 10 am. Little bit concerned that my connection in Paris is so short — only one hour. You may remember, we had to run for the plane when we came in and we had longer than an hour. Normally I would be thrilled to be stuck in Paris for a day but I have to get home today so I can leave for Hong Kong on Tuesday. As much as I would have preferred to stay here today and enjoy the visit to the beach with Nikos’ family, I do feel like it was the right decision to leave. I could have routed my ticket so that I flew from Athens to Hong Kong tomorrow. Having even one day home to re-pack though is a good thing. Plus I want to be with Charlie Daniels group for the flight over. Not that they need me but I am more comfortable arriving with them. I hate that I didn’t get to jog during this visit, too. I love running in the area where our hotel is located. Athens is like any big city — lots of traffic, noise, and “energy”. There are so many museums I’d love to see here. I remember my 12 days here last year flying by and wishing I could stay longer. The shower has really great water pressure but it is one of those handheld wands that is also supposed to clip to a holder near the ceiling. My clip would not stay stable yesterday until I performed a little “surgery”. Had everything working fine until the maid cleaned the room. She screwed it up again. This time when I turned on the water, it flew off the hook and hosed down the entire bathroom and me before I could catch it. I didn’t mind getting soaked since that was my intention — only “in” the shower. But everything got soaked — all my cosmetics, the toilet tissue, the towels, the mirrors. Like I said, there is great water pressure here. Had breakfast of wonderful Greek yogurt. I have never had yogurt anywhere in the world that is as good as it is in Greece. It is so thick, you can stand a spoon in it. The Grascals thought it was cheese and hated the taste of it. Nikos picked me up and drove me to the airport. No traffic today. I checked in at Air France only to learn that my flight from Atlanta to Nashville at 9:45 pm tonight was booked for tomorrow night. My office did not catch the mistake that the travel agent made. There was nothing the ticket agent could do so I had to call the emergency number for the travel agency. It is not toll free from a cell phone in another country. So just short of 45 minutes later on my dime at international rates, I was supposedly re-booked. I lost all the original seats I had reserved. Air France still showed the Nashville flight as full and would not let me check m bags through to Nashville or issue me a boarding pass. Since I have a short connection, I don’t have time to go to the ticket counter when I arrive Atlanta. I have a feeling I may need to rent a car and drive the 4+ hours home. I am not going to book any more trips where I only have one day home between flights around the world. I had the entire row to myself but it was once again bulkhead, which I hate. I moved over to the window seat to sleep but it didn’t work very well. It was one of the older planes and I couldn’t sleep. This guy sat down in the seat that was mine on the aisle and I thought he was just waiting for the toilet to open up. I was going to move back over before we landed so I could get off quickly but he settled in. The flight attendants didn’t do anything even though he had moved up from a coach seat. I would have been thrown off the plane I’m sure.
We landed 10 minutes early and he stood in the aisle blocking my way. I just pushed past him, said excuse me, and grabbed my packpack from the overhead. I was talking to the flight attendants about my short connection and mentioned that I had heard we had to ride a bus to another terminal. They told me under no circumstances should I get on the bus. They told me to talk to the terminal where the flight was departing from and gave me that information. I was the first one off the plane but when I got to the end of the jetway, there was an airline employee in front of the roped off corridor where I needed to go. She would not allow us to walk and made us go to the bus. The bus took 10 minutes to go from Terminal D/E to Terminal B. We walked through passport control, went out the other side of the building and got on another bus. The bus took us straight back to the terminal we had just landed at which took another 10 minutes. By the time I got in the very long line for security, I had 30 minutes to wheels up! When I was waiting to get on the bus the second time, this little Korean couple was in front of me. There was a security guy there telling people which stop to get off. He kept telling them “second stop; not the first stop; second stop”. They just sort of looked at him and didn’t speak. So, he said it again only louder this time and he “acted it out”. He would hold up one finger walk forward and stop quickly and then say first stop – NO – shaking his head! Then he’d walk forward again, hold up 2 fingers, stop and say second stop – YES – nodding his head. He did this about 3 times before the Korean couple stepped around him and got on the bus. I sat across from them and got a big kick out of hearing them converse with each other in perfect ENGLISH. 🙂
The security line was moving unbelievably slow. There were only 6 people in front of me and I was still standing there 15 minutes later. I changed lanes but it didn’t go any faster. There were people standing in front of the scanner asking lots of questions. Seems that in addition to taking out the usual laptop computers and liquids, we had to remove shoes, cameras, cell phones, and video cameras. I literally ran for the plane and as I neared the gate, there was a man standing there yelling at someone behind me to run because they were closing the gate! I did not have time to try and get a boarding pass for the flight that they say I don’t have from Nashville to Atlanta. No idea what will happen once I land in Atlanta.
It was so wonderful to spend even a short time in Athens again. Nikos and his family and everyone who works with them treats me like “family”. I’ve worked with the Grascals before and they are so “easy” and “fun”. It was a fantastic, short weekend in Greece. 🙂
The flight was full but it’s the first time in a very long time that there was NO turbulence. Very nice. We landed early and I breezed through the “Global Entry Kiosk” (for once it actually worked), grabbed my luggage, rechecked it outside Customs and headed for the gate. There was a Delta Service Desk before I reached my gate so I stopped to see if I had a seat and could get a boarding pass issued. She gave me a boarding pass with no seat assignment and said I’d have to go see the gate agent for the boarding pass. When I got there, he told me the flight was oversold and he had a list of people including me he was trying to get on. Didn’t sound very encouraging. They boarded everyone and FINALLY he called my name and gave me a boarding pass. It was a window seat but short flight and I was just happy to have a seat. Landed on time in Nashville and then it took 40 minutes for the luggage to come out on the belt. Welcome Home. 🙂 Jude