Chania, Crete, Greece

Now that my first trip to Europe is over, I get to tell you all about my trip!  I already told you about my scary drive up a mountain to a peak sanctuary and my trip to an ancient refugee settlement.  Now let’s go back to before that and talk about my trip to Greece and the gorgeous city of Chania on Crete, the largest of the Greek islands.

Rays of the sunset through clouds over the United airplane garage at O'Hare Airport.

The clouds over O’Hare Airport in Chicago as I waited for my plane.

I started my travels with a late night flight to Frankfort, Germany.  I had a few hours to get to my next flight so I sat down to a quiet German restaurant and had an “Eistee” with my meal.  I guess the term “ice tea” came from English so that is how it sounds in German.  It took me a few minutes to figure that out but the drink was quite good.  After a leisurely meal I headed to my departure gate.  After getting slightly lost I realized that I still needed to go through passport control.  Um, I had a little over an hour until my plane started boarding and I had to wait in a line as people from every non-EU nation in the airport went through the three police stamping passports and making small talk.  I finally got through with less than half an hour until boarding so I hurried to my gate.  Next time I’m traveling through an international airport, I’ll remember to find my gate before eating if I only have a few hours of a layover.  I found the same set up in the London airport I passed through on the way back to the States.

The flight from Germany took me to Athens for the night.  There I explored the airport since I didn’t get a hotel there.  I found it interesting that most of the shops were behind gates that needed boarding passes. In the States people go through the security check to get to duty-free shops on the way to their gate.  In Athens a boarding pass gets you to duty-free shops and you still need to go through security to get to your gate.  I didn’t learn my lesson in Germany.  I got into Athens as the stores were closing so I quickly got a sandwich to go and found a nice quiet hallway to spend the night in.  I wasn’t sure if I could sleep in the airport so I pulled out my e-book reader and finished the mystery I had been reading.  About 6 am I got up and went hunting for breakfast.  It was about 7am that I started looking for my gate.  That was when I learned that I still had to go through security.  Um…opps!  The line wasn’t long so I got to my gate with time to spare.

A bird's-eye view of Athens, Greece.

Saying goodbye to Athens.

In less than an hour I landed on Crete in the Chania airport.  I stopped at the small airport to use the internet for directions and wound up asking the bus station attendant how to get where I needed to go. She gave me a print out that was a map and told me where to go when I got off the bus.  After the bus ride I made the walk as the map said…and couldn’t find the right street.   I finally stopped and walked in circles to find the street names to see where I was.

A tan fortress wall next to a dry moat and topped with bushes and trees.

The city wall of the Old City in Chania

I was walking beside this wall looking for the street I needed.  It turned out that I needed to be inside the Old City. In other words, I should have been on the other side of that wall.  It took me another twenty minutes to get where I needed to be and then I couldn’t find the people who ran the place so I grabbed a chicken salad lunch and waited for them to get back.  By then I had about 4 hours of sleep in 48 hours and knew I would sleep forever so I relaxed online for an hour or two before heading out to wander Chania looking for food.  A few minutes from the place I was staying was the boardwalk area for souvenirs and fancy restaurants with a great view.

A street with multicolored buildings with shops on one side and water on the other side of the street.

The boardwalk area in Chania, Greece near sundown.

It was my first Greek meal so I let him suggest what I should order.  I should not have been surprised that I got a huge meal.

A bowl of salad, a plate of dip, a plate of rolls wrapped in olive leaves, a plate oof toats, and a plate with fries, salad, and rice under beef in cream sauce made up my meal along with a small bottle of wine.

My huge Greek supper

I’m not sure about the dip.  It was yogurt and spices and tiny cucumber pieces that I never decided if it was good or not but it was odd.  The beef in cream sauce was REALLY good and the veges wrapped in olive leaves were good, although too much for one person.  With the meal done and my eyes not staying open, I decided to head back to my bed and sleep for hours.

A view over water of the Greek town by the long walk to a lighthouse.

The view during supper

I slept well all night and part of the next morning until I had to get up to get on the bus for Pacheia Ammos, where I would stay for a month while I explored East Crete and cataloged pottery sherds all week long.

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Kavousi Vronda and the Parrot Place


Ah, the beach… It seems like I will never get sick of watching the waves roll in…
   But I can’t sit around watching the waves all my life, not with so much exploring to do.  That is a picture of where I met my professor and two friends to go exploring Crete at 10:30 this morning.  After admiring the waves for a few minutes (and because it was morning when all of us would rather have still been relaxing) we crawled into my professor’s rental car and he drove to Kavousi, a larger town just up the peninsula from where we are living, and turned up a winding mountain road to go up the mountain. Eventually we got out and walked through trails that had grown over with shrubs to get to the lesser known archeological site of Kavousi Vronda.  It’s not as impressive as Gournia, the site I’m helping do the paperwork for, but it does have some awesome views.


    According to my professor, who played tour guide for this trip, Egyptian manuscripts speak of attacks from “sea people” which were a lot of different people that had taken to the sea for various reasons.  People think that some of those nomads stopped in Crete and set up villages far from the sea.  Vronda is thought to be one of those villages. looking beyond the little rental car you can see how far from the water Vronda is set.


Beyond the site on the other side from the picture above it (maybe to the side instead of directly behind the site) is the other Bronze Age refugee camp.  At some point thousands of years ago they gave up the stone houses at Vronda for the higher and more inland site at the peak beyond Vronda.  (If you look closely, on the closer peak you can see a late Bronze Age village of Asoria, which is an active dig, on the peak between the two refuge sites which are no longer being studied.)  At some point after Vronda was abandoned, it was used as a cemetery and there are a few tombs on the site, one of them was found inside the abandoned shrine.  Most of the pottery and figurines of the shrine were found in a heap down the hill a bit from the shrine as if the grave diggers had merely thrown the artifacts down the hill to get them out of the way.


    Here is an image of the grave they dug in the shrine.  On the left is the ledge that they had put most of the figurines to the goddess (often called the snake goddess but modern scholars think that the snake was merely a reference to her dominion over the underworld, not her only power) and various memorials to dead family and pets.  The Minoan people seem to have worshiped a great goddess and something about bulls (bull leaping seems to have been their national sport and the “horns of consecration” are found in most of the important buildings) and who ever lived in Vronda seems to have adopted that religion since a lot of goddess figurines were found in the heap from the shrine.


   One thing I find fascinating about Crete is how the mountains are covered in terraces.  Now a days the terraces are used to grow olive trees but in Gournia there are terraces from the dark ages that probably were part of vineyards to fill the wine jugs made at the site.  That means that over three thousand years ago people were carrying bricks or stones from place to place to bend the landscape to their desires.  The abilities people had before cars or modern technology fascinates me.


   Of course, if the refugees didn’t farm then there was plenty of land for sheep and goats to graze around Vronda.
    After about an hour of wondering the site, reading the plaques and listening to my professor talk about what had been found and what it said about the people that lived at Vronda we piled into the car and headed to the nearby city of Ierapreta.  We found a parking space and walked to the archeological museum in that city.  (Here I should pause to mention that there are very few parking lots in Crete.  People just park on the side of the road or big stores may buy extra lots to create convenient parking lots for their customers.) No one is allowed to take pictures there (since many of the finds are yet to be published and therefore it’s rude to put up a picture of an item online before it has been officially studied and published for other archeologists to read about first) but we got to walk through it.  Gournia is an early Minoan city so I get to see a lot of what is called Vassiliki ware and crude decoration on the pottery I see every day so it was very nice to see the fancy decorations that most people think of as Minoan art.  There was also some parts Roman statues and a complete Persephone statue but I was mostly interested in their Minoan pieces and the tubs that the Minoans buried their dead in.
   After we got done in the small museum I was hungry and suggested we eat so we went to the “parrot place” as everyone on site calls it and ordered drinks.


   You can guess by the picture why it is called the parrot place.  It actually has a parrot perched by the side walk.  After we had ordered our drinks (an iced tea, a fresh squeezed orange juice, a decaf coffee with ice cream, and a beer) one of my friends noticed that we were at the wrong parrot place.  Two places on that boardwalk had parrots and they were separated by a single cafe!  The one we stopped at had this blue parrot laying on his pillow in the high winds next to the sidewalk area but the other one, run by a friend of my professor, had a big red parrot that had been moved out of the wind into the cafe so we had walked by it!  I expected we were getting food but after an hour or so of talking and sipping our drinks we got up, paid and got back in the car.  My professor dropped us all off at the beach and we went our separate ways, me to one of the restaurants on the beach, my friend to his place, and my other friend to the beach with her book and a take-out salad.   Ah, the beach…

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Terror Route

“I need a hug!” I thought repeatedly last Sunday afternoon.  I was in a small rental car with coworkers trying to go up a steep, rutted “road” to a Minoan peak sanctuary above Anatoli, Crete, the largest island in Greece.

A man wearing a backpack looks up a short incline at the station wagon on top of the dirt path strewn with rocks and ruts.

Sometimes we had to walk up rocky inclines.

It turns out that the mountain roads here on Crete are not the paved roads I’m used to, but more along the lines of a farm path.  I was lucky that my professor, who was driving, was very comfortable on any road, or path in this case, and never got worried.  As you can see, we did have to get out a few times so the bottom of the car could get over rocks or up hills, but we never had to push it.

A view of Crete: the dead long grass beside the road leads to a steep rocky drop. Over the rocks you can see a green hill criss-cut with light gray roads and speckled with dark green trees and dark gray boulders. The hazy bluish-brown mountains beyond fade into the ocean to the left and light blue sky dotted with puffy clouds. All that is framed by the upper edge of a car window.

The glorious countryside of Crete on a sunny day.

This was taken out my car window as we went and can show you how high up we were (along with one of the amazing views we saw on the way).

A black circle emphazes a barely visible white cross peeking over a rocky hill.

So far away…

We were trying to get to the peak of the mountain where a pilgrimage church now sits.  I circled the cross in this picture which I took about halfway up the mountain.

A picture through a windshield of a SUV driving winding mountain roads taken between the driver and passenger of the car.

Our Guide

We had been going on the gravel path up the mountain for about a hair-raising hour when a pair of locals drove up in a Susuki jeep and asked what we were doing.  I don’t speak Greek so I don’t know what they said, but it was agreed that two of the five of us would ride in their car to the peak to make it easier on our car.  A few minutes later the professor decided the road was impassable for our small car and we would have to walk up the mountain the rest of the way.  He backed down the mountain road (“I’m not looking, I’m not looking” was going through my head as I resolutely faced forward) and he navigated to the side of the road to park and we got out.  By then the locals had noticed we weren’t following and came back to see why.  After another conversation in Greek, we got back in the car and drove down the mountain.  They were going to lead us back to the actual road used for the yearly pilgrimage made to the modern church at the top of the mountain.  About forty minutes later we were off the rutted gravel road and onto a road paved in a white stone.  It wasn’t as smooth as an asphalt road, but it was much less nerve-wracking than the gravel road had been.  I never did get my hug that day, but by the time we got to the peak I was no longer worried and didn’t need one.  The professors along all agreed that next time they would try to get a sturdy Susuki jeep instead of the small European car they had gotten this year.  The jeep was much better for the less used roads that archeologists (which we all are this summer) use to go to less traveled sites.

A small white square building sits on a gray stone wall overlooking the mountains of Crete that fade into a faint ocean and vast blue sky as fluffy white clouds roll in from the right.

The pilgrimage church now on the peak of the mountain

Anyway, the locals drove us up to the church, shook our hands, and drove off to whatever had brought them up the mountain in the first place.  Here is one part of the two-part church that was built on the mountain peak.

The bottom of a huge white cross faces the city on the island far below the mountain it stands on.

Overlooking Ierapetra

Do you remember the tiny cross I circled in the picture above?  This is that cross from the peak looking over Ierapetra, one of the biggest cities on the large island.

A lady in a blue shirt and dark jeans stands at the edge of a rock outcropping overlooking the majestic mountains of Crete in the background and the city far below to the right.

Looking out over the largest island of Greece

Millennia ago ancient people made the walk up that mountain to worship someone in some way.  To be honest, I was more interested in the amazing views of Crete than in learning about the archeological finds that had been discovered at the peak.  What I did hear gave me the impression that the ancients came to worship their thundering sky god. You can see why that site is a great place to worship a sky god, so far above the life-giving fields and sea.  Modern people who fly in airplanes may be used to a view from hundreds of feet above sea level, but the ancients who may have traveled on donkeys only if they were rich would never have seen a view like that in everyday life.

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A City Of Color-Kansas City, Missouri

I stopped in Kansas City today, the Missouri side, on my way to the airport to see my sister ot west.

A street with stone buildings including an interesting tower.

The Plaza in Kansas City

I’m staying with someone I found through which is interesting.  Basically my sister signed up to join Airbnb, who than did a background check.  Once the background check proves she wouldn’t steal or harm people, she could sign up to stay in people’s houses instead of hotels.  It’s generally cheaper to stay in a spare bedroom than at hotels, especailly in big cities.  The awesome thing is that the website is international! I can stay in London or Italy, or almost anywhere in the US or other countries often at half the price of most hotels and the hosts are often willing to give ideas for attractions and food!  Many also allow pets, although most are merely a single bed so families probably can’t travel this way.

Okay, enough with the sales pitch, let’s talk about KC!  I live in Lawrence, Kansas about an hour away and took local busses all the way to a stop about six blocks from my host’s house.  It took a few hours and she would have picked me up at a station but I’d rather learn the buses in a new city than make a stanger go out of the way for me so I got to see a lot of the city.  When I finally got to her house it was early evening and she had somewhere to be soon after i got there so she dropped me off in a shopping are in KC near her house called The Plaza and I checked out what was around.

A squat slightly domed tower on a building in Kansas City that almost looks like the adobe coloring of the South Western Uniterd States.

A tower on a building in The Plaza.


A tile mosaic of a knight on horseback lancing some sheep while labourers egg him on.

This odd mosaic is on a wall outside a building

After walking around the first night I had supper at Calfornia Pizza Kitchen and walked the half mile or so back to my host’s place to stretch my legs before bed.

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Chicago-Day 0ne

  My first day in Chicago started out really late since I spent all the morning in my room reading my Kindle.  I left my room after 1pm.  It took a while to get to the airport from the hotel by shuttle and another hour or so to get to the area in the city where I would get the bus to where I’d planned for that day.  I had planned to go to Navy Pier that day, but I got to Union Station around 4 pm and spent nearly another half hour searching the streets nearby to find the bus stop for the bus to Navy Pier.  I finally found this:

(chicago2 001)

I thought that meant that the buses would stop somewhere between 6 and 7 at night.  Since it was already going on five at night, it seemed pointless to me to go there in time to get on the bus to come back, I decided to wait and visit Navy Pier another day.  Hm, so where to go?  I went back to the subway station to find something that would be open at night and found The Merchandise Mart.  I remembered that as in the fashion district and assumed it was a mall.  I got on the subway and headed out before looking through my fliers.  That’s were I read what painted The Merchandise Mart was more of an office space only open during office hours, more showroom than store.  By that time office hours were over so I needed another plan.  I decided to get off the subway where I would have to switch trains and find supper.  It turned out that I got off at the stop for the huge city library.


After a long walk just wandering to find food, I settled for a deli of a local brand I didn’t know and stopped into Potbelly for an awesome wrap and delicious smoothie.


After that I still had some time to wander and found these two Indians firing at each other.


By then I was rather bored and annoyed at myself for not planning well enough to make my plans work so I decided to head back to my room.  I stopped at a corner store for breakfast the next morning before getting on the subway.  When I got back to my room I sat down and planned out the rest of my trip.  I was not going to go through another day trying to decide my plans as I went.  I had learned my lesson and looked forward to the next day.

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Traveling Days 3-5

Wednesday was a long day. I got up at 6 am in order to get dressed, grab a quick breakfast, and head to my college for orientation day.  I’m glad I spent the day before getting my bearings (meaning getting lost but finding the place in the end) since it took me nearly an hour to get to the college.  Thankfully I had planned for it and got there with a half hour to check in and grab a bite to eat.  Through the rest of the day I learned a lot about my school and answered some of my questions.  It seems I was the only one there with my major (not surprising since it’s a specialized history degree) so no one from my specific department was there to answer questions about my courses.  Still, I’m happy with my classes and rather excited to start them all.  (Okay, not the math class but the sooner I get that requirement done, the sooner I can get better classes.)  I got done around 3 pm and decided to go searching for my dorm before heading back to my room.  As I wandered the campus with a general idea of where I was going, I called my parents and filled them in on my updates.  It was hot out and I finally got sick of wandering so when I saw my dorm in the distance, I turned around and headed for my room.  I stopped at the local co-op for supper, picking up a local shake and a dish of cold Thai noodles.  Weary from the long day with unfamiliar people and two hours in the sun, I kinda zoned out and wandered the internet and channel surfed for the rest of the day.
Thursday was a day of forced idleness.  I got up in time to get breakfast from the hotel and tried to pack everything up.  My usual travel outfit was jeans, since it was recommended for my college trip and dealt with the air conditioning in airports, but that day I had planned walking outside so I didn’t want to wear the heavy jeans.  I hadn’t realized how much space a long pair of jeans took up compared to the lighter summer outfit I chose to wear.  I finally had to just throw everything together and I had my bags closed a half hour before check out at 11.  However, my bus didn’t get to town until 6 pm.  I explained the situation to the lady behind the front desk and she kept my bags while I went to get lunch at Dominoes up the street.  After lunch I came back to the hotel and sat in their small lobby with my Kindle (a definite plus for technology.  I can now easily carry a library with me without extra heavy baggage to tote around.  The electronic book holder doesn’t replace the feel of reading an actual book but for a bookworm like me, it is a must-have for traveling.)  I finally left the lobby at 3 pm to have time to get to the gas station that served as the Greyhound station in town.  Since I’d figured out the map earlier, it was easy enough to get to, just an annoying half hour walk with my suitcase and heavy backpack.  I got there much earlier than they usually let people hangout but it was a slow day so the attendant let me take a seat and I read more.  About 5 pm I had a supper of cheesy bread I had saved from my trip to Dominoes at lunch and waited for the bus.  It was forty minutes late and there were no empty pairs of seats so I shared a pair of seats for the hour long trip to Kansas City.  I finally got there and another long taxi ride to the hotel meant I got there about 8:45 at night.  I freshened up and redid all my packing so I could just leave in the morning.
It didn’t quite work that way.  I didn’t look at the paper the hotel attendant had given me so I wound up getting a forty dollar taxi ride instead of the twenty dollar shuttle ride I needed to book three hours in advance.  I got there as my plane started to board.  I checked in and got through security (both had longer lines than I had anticipated for such a small airport) in time to get on the plane as the line ended.  I was not the last person on the plane, thankfully.  A few people got on after me and the “last person” moniker was an Asian woman about twenty minutes later.  The plane was in the air ten minutes later than expected, but that was due to traffic in Chicago, not anything in Kansas City.  We finally got to Chicago and after a really long walk (I had forgotten how big the place was) I got to baggage claim to wait, and wait.  Turns out my bag had gotten off the plane but somehow wasn’t on the belt.  The attendant assumed it was still on the cart somewhere and would show up so I filled out the paperwork for them to take it to the hotel and went to get my bus.  I grabbed a sandwich and a drink on the way and got to the hotel early afternoon.  The plan for that night was to get settled in the hotel, get supper at the restaurant attached to the hotel, and spend the night de-stressing and catching up on various things I’d let slide while traveling.  Um, yeah, I picked up my Kindle and no work got done.  I did get down to the Harry Carry restaurant attached to the hotel.

A bust of Harry Carry in front of photos of him with famous people.

Harry Carry and his guests

I got down there when there was a half hour wait for the dinning room so I opted for the bar which had self seating.    I ordered a cheeseburger, mainly for the simplicity of the choice (the other options all seemed a little off the normal I would have expected) A burger and fries in a bar with a stick in the burger.  The stick has a face on it.and because it’s really hard to go wrong with a handmade cheeseburger.  When it comes to comfort food, some things are really hard to cook wrong, especially when it says “classic” or “original”.  Burgers are definitely a classic American item I can rarely get enough of now that I’m back in the States.  (I just wish they were healthier.  🙂  )  While looking on the drinks menu I saw something I couldn’t miss: a watermelon martini.  Hm, watermelon and fruity alcohol?  Sounds like a party and it tasted like one too!  What a treasure for a fun Friday night! To not leave you in suspense, I stopped by the hotel lobby on my way back up to my room and my suitcase was waiting for me.  Now on to Chicago!

I'm waering an Chinese inspired shirt, black with red accents, and holding a red martini in front of a window.

Oh, the joys of a Friday!

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Travel Day 2

Ugh, what a day!  Monday ended a little after midnight when I was talking to my sister in our Milwaukee hotel and realized I would get three hours of sleep before getting on the shuttle for the airport.  We sadly but quickly wrapped up the interesting conversation and I finished packing to be ready to get up, get dressed and go a few hours later.

The day started out as planned and I got to the airport two hours before my flight with a very light breakfast (that’s what happens when you leave before continental breakfast is served).  Unfortunately I put my credit card in the self-check-in kiosk wrong and didn’t have my confirmation number with me since I haven’t had easy access to a printer in a few months so I had to pay 9.95 for a month of airport wifi at most airports across the country.  (I didn’t see the point of paying $5 for an hour when $10 was a month long.)  That took nearly an hour and I had some fruit from my kitchen to finish so I sat down to eat them.  The plums were good but the line at the security check point was long.  I finally got through it all when my ticket said they would start boarding.  I got to my gate to Atlanta about ten minutes later and they just started boarding the first people so I ran to the restroom next to my gate and got in line before the line completely disappeared.  I wound up between a college girl immersed in her headphones and an older lady going for a lady’s trip with her friends across the aisle.  I didn’t complain since I slept most the trip, waking up a few times to change positions, but mainly sleeping.

I woke up as we set down in Atlanta and hurried through the airport.  The place was huge, I was still tired and cranky as well as hungry, and I had a little over an hour until boarding time.  As I neared my gate I realized there were no food places near my gate so I grabbed a chicken sandwich and fries with a water from Checkers as I hurried past.The logo on a Checkers take out bag advertising burgers-fries-colas  Checkers is a popular burger joint in the South and one of my favorite fast food places from when I was living in Florida for a year.  Yum!  I had the fries and half the water done by the time I sat down at the gate to eat the burger.  I love those fries (dreamy sigh).  Anyways, I had about ten minutes before boarding started and I listened to a college soccer player discuss her trip with a kid, maybe ten, who was going down to Florida for a while.  Kind of amusing as the boy’s mom or sister sat on the floor nearby comfy among their bags, half listening to the conversation while reading her book.  The plane finally boarded and I was in a window seat with only one person between me and the aisle, a business woman.  That’s all I remember since I slept much better on that flight and was jolted awake when we landed in Kansas City.

From there I left the plane to find myself in a terminal with only one other gate.  Talk about small airport!  Anyways, I got in a Supershuttle van to Lawrence and talked to the driver some during the forty minute drive.  He was an immigrant from Somalia and Kenya that’s been in the US for three years now.  He’s still learning English so it wasn’t the most intellectual conversation but I enjoyed hearing about some of his large family and why he chose to leave Africa when some of his family didn’t.  We got to the hotel about 1pm and I was disappointed to learn it wasn’t on or really near the campus as I had hoped since the hotel used the college name in its title.  Oh well, I relaxed some in the hotel but I was hungry and needed to find the place for my orientation tomorrow.  Good thing I went looking.  After a few mistakes reading the vague map, I found the meeting place two hours later and it took another hour to walk straight from the meeting place on the far side of campus back to the hotel.

I’m rather disappointed in the town.  I’m used to living in a big city or a full town in a small area.  This is the definition of a college town in that the only big thing is the college.  The town is mostly houses for college students, people who work at or run the school, a few locals and two sets of a few blocks on a street that pass as a “downtown” area.  (Luckily there is a local coop so there is a grocery store in town.)   How am I ever going to stay sane and active if school work doesn’t take 24/7 like people seem to tell me?  Oh wait, thank God for the internet and campus wide wifi!  Who needs shopping or games when nature is a great gym (if I ever have the motivation to run the many hills around here) and the internet can show me anything I want to see (and a lot I don’t want to see)?

Oh well, I’m here now.  Tomorrow I have the full day of orientation, then I want to explore the campus some and locate my dorm as well as the greyhound station for Thursday.  Time for bed so G’night world, I hope tomorrow is awesome for everyone.

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The Trip Begins!

Red-haired me in a green dress and green dragonfly necklace with trees in a window behind me.I left my house today to begin my summer trip to various cities in the United States before school starts in August.  Yes, I am finally going to college after six years traveling since high school.  (I’m trying not to think about being surrounded by the stereotypical ditsy female freshmen and hormonal male freshmen.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can find some friends more my style but I know I need to broaden my horizons.  Yeah, not thinking about that yet.)

Anyway, I stayed up late packing (I know how hard it is for me to wake up so it is easier to get most done the night before) but still had to wake up at 8 am to finish my eggs at breakfast, do my last packing, a small amount of cleaning, go to the post office to check mail (I finally got a letter sent to Japan in May when I left), and went to Subway for a second breakfast so I could check my email.  I had an important meeting in the afternoon and I wanted to see if there were any changes.  There weren’t so I didn’t stay there long.  My brother and his girlfriend picked me up in northeast Wisconsin and we made it to my appointment near Milwaukee a little after 3 pm with a few stops.  After a late start to the meeting, we finished satisfactorily and we all went to meet up with my parents nearby.   My mom and dad, my older sister, my brother and his girlfriend, and I all went to a Mongolian barbeque place for supper and ice cream for dessert before everyone went to their homes.  My sister and I went into Milwaukee to our hotel where we are staying the night.  I will be waking up very early to get to the airport two hours before my flight and my sister will be staying in the room until she has to leave for her thing in Milwaukee in the morning.

All in all it was an amusing, if long, day and I will enjoy my bed, but it was good to see family again and begin my newest adventure.  What are you doing this week?

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My Farewell Party, Part 2

One last night out with my friends in Japan, a night to remember, and it all started with a long train ride and a meal at the Alice In Wonderland restaurant in Tokyo.  By the time we left there the three of us were all a little buzzed and relaxed.  I took out my train directions and we got from Ginza Station to Shibuya for the next part of our night with plenty of time.  Unfortunately the directions only got us to the station, not to the restaurant.  It took us nearly an hour to get to our restaurant since we walked a long ways down the street off the train station before we finally decided to as for directions.  We asked a few people before a cashier at a convenience store finally looked at the address and told us we had to walk nearly all the way back to the Shibuya train station before turning up the other main street in the area and walking a while to a side street.  Luckily it was only a block off the main street and the external decorations were obvious.  We made it to the building but couldn’t figure out how to get to our restaurant.  We could see the lines for the other two restaurants (one below the ground floor, the other in an upper floor with a waiter calling reservations near an elevator) but couldn’t see our entrance.  Finally we found some stairs but the door on that floor wouldn’t open so we went back down and took an elevator to the second floor( a different elevator than the other restaurant).  We stepped out of  the elevator and saw this:
A plastic mummy highlighted with blood behind aged bars.
We had arrived at Alcatraz E.R., the original themed restaurant in Tokyo.  According to the sites I read, this prison-hospital themed restaurant is the success that started other themed restaurants, like the Alice In Wonderland restaurant we’d just left or the ninja place I had considered.
The red "bloody" logo of Alcatraz E.R. the Shibuya Medical Prison Restaurant
In order to open the door we had to press a button of our blood type
Four buttons behind bars list blood types for you to press in the dark room.
and were waited on by nurses and male orderlies.

A nurse and male orderly behind some paper-covered bars looking at a book

Looking up my reservation

Then we were led through the dark rooms, over “dead bodies”
A partially disected body under glass in the floor
to a second floor “cell” to our table.
My blackhaired female friend in front of the bars at our table.
From there we looked at the amusing menu serving body parts as various foods (such as fried rice shaped like breasts) and drinks served in medical inspired instruments.
Drinks served include baby bottles, floating eyes, and head with drink instead of brains.
Since we’d already eaten at the Alice restaurant, we tried the drinks first while our appetizers were prepared.  John ordered a drink that came in beakers for him to mix
John behind a large beaker of orange juice and a set of small beakers to mix into it.
and I ordered a drink that came in a baby bottle that was more cream than alcohol.
Drinking my alcohol from a baby bottle
Jen ordered a drink that came in two syringes and a beaker of bubbly clear liquid.  An earlier picture shows her drinking one syringe and John drank the other one.  They were both pure alcohol of different colors while the beaker turned out to be flavorless soda.  We decided too late that we were supposed to mix the syringes of alcohol with the beaker to get a mixed drink.  Oh well, they enjoyed their colorful shots and our food arrived:
Some fried and seasoned chicken in a cage.
We ordered a fried chicken appetiser which was pretty good, a hotdog with no bun intended to look like a body part (which was amusing to play with but none of us could bring ourselves to eat it and I’ll leave the pictures up to your imagination 🙂 ).
A white bag with a bloody design on a metal container.
We also ordered a serving of fries that came in a bag we shook in order to add flavor. When the food came we all ordered a round of the beaker drink for each of us.
A medium sized beaker with orange juice in front of five small beakers with different colors in them on a wooden rack.
The drink turned out to be a beaker of orange juice, two or three beakers of alcohol shots, and the rest shots of juice for flavoring.
I'm carefully adding two beakers of drinks in a larger beaker of orange juice.
I mixed mine like a mad scientist
A greenish drink in a beakerin front of the wooden rack of empty smaller beakers.
and the drink turned greenish into an odd tasting fuzzy navel-ish drink.  Not bad for a drink, rather bad if it was supposed to be a fuzzy navel.  🙂
While we enjoyed the atmosphere, the lights suddenly went out, a few red lights came on, and the nurses and orderlies came out with a birthday cake for someone.
Sparkler candles are a vibrant contrast to the dark room for this birthday cake.
Jen said that one of the entertainments she had read that they do sometimes is that the lights go out and a “convict” escapes and sneaks around: jumping on bars and generally causing good-natured panic.  However, we didn’t see that and it was soon time to leave

My friend Jen and John pleading with the camera from behind the bars at our table.

But will they let us?

and take the train ride back to our places.  It was a fun night and we enjoyed the different themes we saw.  Both were fun but going to Alcatraz E.R. for drinks after the meal was a bad idea.  I would have had trouble finding food to make a full meal there (I’m slightly squeamish about eating body parts) but the drinks were not very strong.  We got there all kinda buzzed and all left sober even with the drinks we’d ordered.
All in all it was a great night with great friends that left me with memories I will treasure forever. (Along with some pictures I will laugh at forever.  Some pictures are so unique that you can instantly remember the joke of the moment.  They may be hard jokes to explain to others but yeah, I got a few of those that night.)  As y life sets up for yet another major life change, I hope that this is just one of many nights with good food, great memories, fun pictures, and most of all: great friends.

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My Farewell Party, Part One!

Red headed me, black- haired Jen, and barely-haired Jon posing over food.

The waitress agreed to take this picture of my friends and I during one of the courses. The “peace sign” I’m doing is the typical pose in Asia. I’m not sure why they do it but most friends posing together in Asia do it o it seemed appropriate.

I knew I was leaving soon but I wanted one last party, one last night out with friends.  I had a problem deciding who to invite.  You see, I have a habit of having a few good friends, not a bunch of people to party with.  However, I also have a habit of hanging out with odd people, the ones that you love ’em or hate ’em and there isn’t much in-between. So how do I figure out a group that could get along?  Finally I decided to go with my friends Jen and John and to quit fussing.  Jen, John, and I came to Japan within a few months of each other and had worked together for most of our stay.  Since I can reasonably say that I would have gone crazy a while ago if not for those two around to laugh with and at, I figured that  it would be fitting to finally hang out, just three of us.  We’d hung out with the rest of our coworkers a few times but that isn’t quite the same thing as the three of us alone.
Now that the players were in place, I just needed to figure out what we would do and when.  Hm, where did I want one last memory of Japan?  As my thoughts drifted through my time in Japan, I kept getting drawn to a memory of a coworker talking about the odd restaurants in Tokyo.  He had moved away so I couldn’t ask him to repeat the story so I did what everyone does when they have a question these days.  I Googled “themed restaurants in Tokyo”.  I was rather surprised at how many popped up since my coworker had only mentioned one.  Well, I looked at a number of sites that reviewed various places and settled on three possibilities.  After talking to John and Jen, we decided to go to two of them in a night so the ninja restaurant was rejected and I made reservations for the other two for that Friday night.  (Patience.  I’ll tell you which ones we went to.  Is the suspense killing you yet?  🙂 )

Me wearing makeup and barely visible black hair spray with a faint streak of neon purple.

I rarely dress up so that night I decided to have some fun, but it didn’t turn out as shocking as I had hoped. The black and purple spray weren’t nearly as obvious as I wanted. It confused people more than shocking anyone.

Friday arrived and our boss let us get off work early for our awesome night out.  (Okay, Jen convinced him that just this once he really didn’t need all of us there since most of our workcenter weekly work goals had been met and he liked to let people off early for going away parties.  As much as work can be a pain, we have been lucky in our bosses over the past three years.)  We each headed to our houses to relax and get ready before we met at the local train station in the late afternoon.  It was a long ride to Ginza station in Tokyo and we were all excited since none of us had gotten to these restaurants before.
Two Japanese businessmen amused on the bench across from us.–>
These guys were across from us for much of the ride and found our antics, as we teased each other, amusing.  That or they enjoyed the conversation they were in and their jokes matched up with ours a lot.  🙂  We finally got to the Ginza station and went looking for the first restaurant.  And looking…and looking…Okay so we were probably only looking for about twenty minutes before we got in a cab…that drove us two blocks and said it was somewhere on that block.  Thanks guy.  We finally asked a teller at a convenience store on the block and she led us to a building that had the restaurant on one of the upper floors.  Thankful and just in time for the reservation, we took the elevator up and were met by this when the doors opened:
A "aged" image of Alice leaning against a door surrounded by clocks.
Did you catch who that was?  One guess, give up?  It was Alice and the theme of the restaurant was Alice in Wonderland.  Jen loves the Alice stories, I rather like them, and John was okay with them so it was our first stop.  We were led through a short maze of curtained booths to our booth.
A folded blue cloth napkin on a plate and blue or pink coasters at each  place.Soon it was time to order.  This shadow box was on the table while we looked at the menu
A box of paper art showing a garden party with playing cards on pillars nearby.and the drink menu was a pop-up menu in Japanese.
A menu with a black po-up "book" surrounded by smaller "menus" with the discriptions of the drinks that you flipped open to see the picture of the drink.
None of us can order in Japanese so we each pointed at a drink we thought looked cool and ordered a seven course meal (the food menu was in both English and Japanese but the seven course meal seemed easier than each getting al a cart dishes).
My friend John posing with the waitress dressed in a blue Alice dress.
We were served by a girl in an Alice outfit and settled in for an hour or so of fun.
A salad for three with ham and greens in a clear sauce.
The first course was a big plate of salad of greens with dressing and croutons.  And yes, eating greens with chopsticks is rather interesting, at least for a beginner like me.  🙂

I'm holding a piece of lettuce in my chopsticks before I eat it.

The fork and spoon they gave us was just for serving. We used chopsticks for eating.

But I managed!
A business card decorated with a fancy skeleton key that says "Eat Me" under the key.
The next course was a soup course.  I don’t remember much the creamy soup but I’ve never been a soup person.  However, the decoration on the plate with the soup amused me.  Needless to say, we obeyed!
A plate of yellow noodles with bread for ears, eggs and olives for eyes, a cherry tomato for a nose, and sauce on the side forming a Cheshire Cat grin.
The next course was a Cheshire noodle dish with ham.  Tasted good and it amused us.  What more could anyone ask?
A light pink drink with tiny roses resting on the ice next to a red straw and a black staw.
During the noodle dish my second drink came with roses on top.  I didn’t drink the roses but I thought that they added a great deal of sight appeal to the tasty drink.  One thing we all agreed to was that the Alice restaurant had some awesome drinks (even if we had no clue what alcohol we were drinking 🙂 ).
Four medium sized chunks of meat in sauce decorated with sprigs of parsley.
The next dish was a fish in cream sauce.  John and I shared this dish as Jen didn’t like seafood.
Lettuce ears, egg and olive eyes, and a cherry tomato give the impression of a bunny on this beef and vege dish
Our fifth course (of the main meal) was a beef dish designed like a rabbit and John and I let Jen have more of this one since she didn’t eat the fish dish.  The last two dishes were desserts, YUM!
An illusion of a snail is created with green cakes cut with whip cream between and chocolate antlers next to a slice of chocolate pie, a slice of pinapple, and a strawberry.
The first dessert was a chocolate pie, a green tea snail with whip cream, and a small bowl of fruit for each of us.
A pastry decorated with fruit in front and a bun for a tail in back of the icecream look like the famous cat.
The last dish was a happy kitty as the Cheshire Cat bid us goodbye in ice cream and fruit.  YUMMY!
The food was done and we were feeling pretty good (like I said: the food was good,the company was fun, and the drinks were GOOD) so we paid our bill and headed to the next restaurant.
A plastic figure stands behind glass in a nurse outfit but with its heart removed.
Can you guess what this restaurant is?

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