A trip rewrite

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The Article

Our trip to Morocco started OK. After tons of planning and finally wrapping things up at the house and at our jobs for a nearly month-long adventure, we did it. Everything checked off our list, off to the airport!

But as brothers-in-law do (or as mine does), we got teased (we thought) as we arrived at the Vancouver airport with a text saying that “you guys really know how to shake things up!”

It seemed, he wrote, that Morocco had just had an earthquake. Nobody including my bro-in-law knew it was serious. We got on the plane.

It was serious.

Minutes after we landed in London after our nearly ten-hour flight (London was our one-night stopover before flying to Marrakesh out of Gatwick), we boarded the coach to take us from London Heathrow Airport to London Gatwick Airport to be nearer our Gatwick hotel (we planned this well!).

First things first: check our email, because that’s what we all do now. Sure enough, we got an email from the tour company we’d paid to guide us around Morocco starting the next day. The tour’s off, they wrote, because of the earthquake and the devastation that was caused. Ignorant as we were as travelers, we immediately started looking up details of the tragedy we knew nothing about.

Of course they were right. Awful news. Our hearts sank — not for us — but for those poor people who we were about to meet and literally live amongst, in some cases in their homes (and tents), but who were now clearly suffering or God-forbid, amongst the thousands now dead. Our ride to the hotel was pretty grim, to say the least.

What to do? We could proceed to Morrocco and — we didn’t know — maybe help them move bricks or something. We obviously had the flight booked and all. But that idea we dashed as we more soberly considered the situation which would, as all huge historic natural disaster emergencies do, require plenty of more qualified, professional help and aid to move in, quickly, and we certainly didn’t want to get in the way of that. We might not even have been allowed to. We tossed those London-to-Marrakesh plane tickets.

But here we were, having flown overseas for nearly ten hours and we had three weeks booked off with literally nothing to do, now. We discussed it over a beer (ok two) at a nice garden pub near the Gatwick Holiday Inn, and we decided to move ourselves to London (City) and spend a couple of days just figuring out what to do and where to go. We booked a hotel in the Westminster area and took out a London Library card so we could use their computers to book… well we didn’t know what to book yet. Spent hours on their computers traveling the globe virtually.

When called upon, that same hilarious brother-in-law suggested Athens, Greece. So we jumped on that idea, basically on the basis of what the hell?, and started booking air travel and hotels wherever we could find them. We threw money at the problem the way progressives in government throw money at problems. Wheelbarrows of the stuff. British pounds, Euros, anything that paid. Luckily for you all, it was our money!

We loved Athens and the Acropolis — which we could see from our last-minute room — and the Parthenon and all the many other historic sights, some of it thousands of years old. The city’s traffic was its own amazing thing. We’ve never seen driving like that. Absolutely nutty. Crazy. Insane. (But it worked! It’s like their attitude is never mind the rules. They’re just suggestions. Just get ‘er done — and they do. I fully endorse it.)

We walked for miles and miles (you have to walk through these places to really capture the culture and soak it all in), and we took the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus around the city. It was amazing the way they drove those double-decker tour buses through the nuttiness — it was its own tourist attraction.

When I say we walk, I mean it!
Here’s an example of one day — this one
in London on our way home. But we had lots of days like this.

Then we went to Naxos, a Greek Island known for its beachy resorts lined with beach-front restaurants and bars (as much of Athens was, only here they serve you right on the beach — fantastic!). Naxos is a nearly four-hour ferry ride away from Athens on a huge ultra-modern “Seajet” waterjet ferry — very fast! And the driving or piloting… same as all Greek driving! Insane! But it works! BC Ferries are archaic in comparison!).

Lots of history in Naxos too as we found out in our walking and hiking. Glorious.

Hiking: We climbed a 3000-foot mountain named after the Greek God Zeus (and saw his legendary childhood cave-dwelling halfway up). Not a meandering forested trail, this, but a rocky, scrambling climb where only mountain goats were encountered (along with a couple of rather unprepared Brits who needed our water badly).

And in lower elevations, we again walked galore, took a lot of local busses traversing the island, did one full day at the beach (very hot!), and mostly we ate, ate, ate. And drank really good Greek beer. (The Greek wine we could have done without. Not great! Wines from British Columbia are much, much better, but you can’t even get them in Alberta or Ontario much less Naxos Island in Greece.)

Then after nearly a week, back to Athens overnight, and then we flew to Lisbon, Portugal for six days. Lisbon is also full of ancient Roman, Greek, Muslim Moor, Spanish, and other history, obviously, and we loved it all. Walked, walked, walked, museums, Sintra of course, (for those cool cats in the know) and of course more restaurants.

The restaurants and bars number in the countless thousands in Lisbon as in Athens. They’re all over the place — in every corner. All over the marble-tiled sidewalks (and yes I mean literally paved in marble and marble tiles. They use marble there like we use concrete here). Our climb up Mount Zas was a climb up marble rock.

Hard to leave Lisbon but leave we had to get back to London for our originally booked overnight stopover before our grueling 10-hour flight home. We landed at Heathrow, took the Heathrow Express train to Paddington station, and had a great time exploring Notting Hill and other places we’d missed in previous visits. London is just amazing. Super modern and super ancient.

And here we are. Since this site is about politics, let’s turn in that direction, alas: I will remember, among other such instances, the random Athens Uber/taxi driver who asked what the hell was going on in Canada. And others in our travels who alluded to much the same thing. That will stick with me because I was actually shocked. Nobody had ever noticed Canada before, in our world travels. Now they are noticing.

I gave some stock answers, but in truth, I’m still trying to figure it out.

Joel Johannesen
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