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Willover’s Travels Pt 4.

My first experience of culture shock would have been in Bali, as that was the first place I’d ever been where the inhabitants didn’t look like me (i.e.  wasp) and English wasn’t the national language (ok, granted I’d previously lived in NZ, and while I don’t look like a Maori, technically the Kiwis do kinda speak Nglesh). However, even though Bahasa Indonesia doesn’t sound anything like English, at least the alphabetic characters share the same Latin ancestry as my own native language, so while I couldn’t speak it, I could at least make out what the name of the street was.

Russia ,on the other hand, somewhat threw me for a loop, for even though the people looked pretty much like me, things were seriously askew; not only did they speak another language (I think yell another language would be more accurate), but they used different squiggles to write it too. Consequently, I had no idea what was going on around me or where I was, and I was in constant fear that I’d get so lost that I’d  end up in a labour camp somewhere north of Siberia. Needless to say that didn’t happen, in fact I found the people very warm and friendly, and this was before Perestroika. In fact it was before the 1980 Olympics, the one where America decided to put politics before sport and took their bat home. The only down side to this was that you were constantly asked by people on the street to either sell you jeans and t-shirts, or change money (the guys on the street would be offering 50 Rubles for a Dollar when the official exchange was about 5), I soon learned from the tour guides that some of these guys were KGB, which scarred the shit out of me.

I think my two most striking memories of that time were a) standing in Red Square and realising that I was standing in Red Square, and b) seeing a queue that went for about 100 yards and asking the tour guide what they were lining up for and he replied “I don’t know, and neither do they, but they need whatever it its”.

All too soon my week of boiled Kielbasy, potato and cabbage was over and I was on the plane to Athens. But not before going through another bizarre aspect of visiting a closed country, for the first and only time I’ve had my bags fully searched (even down to squeezing my toothpaste) as I was leaving a country. Although, come to think of it, they did a check of my money when I was leaving Sri Lanka once too, but they didn’t go through my luggage.

Athens, is a really wonderful, crowded, chaotic city with friendly people, great food and spectacular bargains. But it is a city, and therefore smoggy, sticky and smelly (although no more than any other big city) so I only spent a few days there before heading south to Crete.

That’s probably enough for now, but I’ll leave you with a picture of a place that really stopped me in my tracks. Coming from a country where the oldest man-made structure  was less than 200 years old (as at the time I’m writing about), walking in and around this amazing piece of history, the sheer antiquity of it was simply staggering…

Stay tuned for more exiting adventures with WT….

24 Responses

  1. I have a friend who still tells me how much she regrets not being able to compete in those olympic games. She was set to go then not allowed.

    You’ve obviously had some wonderful adventures abroad. Greece is one place I’d love to visit.

  2. I loved Crete, except the time I spent there? Well, my daughter, my newborn son (16weeks old) and I had measles. But luckily we spent a whole month – so after a couple of weeks we were able to enjoy ourselves.

    Where did you go?

    We flew into Heraklion – then drove down to Paleochora where we stayed in an Olive Grove near a beautiful beach. That’s where our daughter got stung by a jelly fish and my husband couldn’t pee on demand. Hey! We were a 50 min walk from the villa and my 5 yr old was screaaaaaming. And pee works wonders on jelly fish stings.

  3. p.s. where is the link for the daily trivia contest??

  4. wait! wait! you blew through russia way too fast….

    i remember those lines. i got in several, and one time it was a guy selling pre-made ice cream cones out of a big carton. the woman in front of me bought all he had left–just whipped a plastic sack out of her purse (people carried sacks with them constantly, in case they found themselves in a line) and bought them all.

    it was a hot day, and i wondered if she was headed toward a freezer, or if she was just going to eat them all, one after another.

    i was bummed until he went back to his truck, got down another carton, sliced it open, and voila! more ice cream cones!

  5. I’m glad to see the trivia quiz link back~ it wasn’t there yesterday for me!

    I’ve never visited Greece although I did get the offer to go in Sept. (would not have been Athens though); I’ve opted just for the week in Corfu as I couldn’t afford both.

  6. The only foreign countries I’ve visited are Scotland and England. We were to take the train up to Scotland for the majority of our stay after spending a little time in London, but London was so huge and such a *city* that we only walked around for an afternoon before hightailing it out of there. Now I wish we would have gone to some museums and been brave enough to stick around for a little longer. It freaked me out that they spoke an entirely different language which I was supposed to understand though. I seriously thought one gal we asked for directions was another tourist from some non-English speaking nation. Scotland was so peaceful in comparison, and even though they also spoke a different language, they spoke more slowly and it was easier to make out.

    I’d like to think I’d make a braver and more saavy traveler now, but that Russian experience would scare the hell out of me. Crete looks absolutely beautiful. I just love your travel series.

  7. BTW, when we were leaving Scotland after our second trip there, our bags were fully searched. They didn’t just single us out, though. It seems they were looking through all the luggage. Now I wonder if they had a tip and were after something specific. That would have been in about 1995.

  8. I’ve never been out of the country. What a loser.

  9. I remember the first time I traveled to abroad and actually saw things that were really old. I was astounded. Prior to that, I had been to the American east coast. The enormous trees and old buildings fascinated me, but it was nothing compared to the age I encountered in Europe.

    Last March my daughter had the same kind of experience in Paris. We stood in original section of the Louvre and she marvelled at the old structure. I loved watching her amazed at the age of things almost as much as I loved discovering it for myself.

  10. I can not describe how much I LOVE these posts. I love traveling. I would not do well in Russia in regards to the language issue but I would love to go there. I really, really want to go to Greece. To see that history would blow my mind!! I love old stuff.

  11. Now I’m craving Kielbasa. Thanks.

  12. Our country is pretty young in the general scope of things, except for the few Indian artifacts that remain, so I always wondered what it would be like to see the ancient buildings in Greece and to try to comprehend just how old they REALLY are…it’s so far removed from anything I’ve ever experienced. Really cool picture! You are so lucky to have traveled so much and seen the things you’ve seen!

  13. Australia is like the US in that the history is so new….(especially the West Coast). So – I love going to places where you stand on a piece of street that is older than anything I could see here.

  14. Great post! And it is sad that I’m going to comment on only one little part. It would be a sad day to have shit scarred out of you. I hope the scarring didn’t last. It’s awful to have your butt scarred. 😀 I hope you appreciated that!

  15. Dear willowtree. Well, this’ll shock ya. My bags were searched when I left toronto airport – it was less than a year after Sept 11 – they had all these search stations set up before check in.

    To this day, at Sheremetyevo airport, they x-ray your bags before you walk through the aiport door. Then again inside, then again when you board the plane.

  16. Jenni – That picture of Crete is actually the Acropolis (in Athens).

  17. Wow you have been around, haven’t you?

    Speaking of being searched, my then sixteen year old was subjected to a so called random search when she went to Melbourne a couple of years back. I was absolutely fuming when I found out. She travelled with my sister who is blond, blue eyes, and was pulled from the line simply because she had black hair, brown eyes. When my sister stepped from the line also they said they did not want her. She stated that since her niece was only sixteen and she was her legal guardian for this trip they would just have to have her. (M is quite tall for her age and looks a lot older!)

    Oh how I would have loved to be a fly on the wall, our little blossom is not as passive as her big sister. She would have really let them have it. I just have to wonder though, how many other poor kids without a blond relative got subjected to the same treatment? And I just cannot fathom anyone picking my book loving, placid child as a terrorist!

  18. I’m a sucker for ruins.

  19. I love your travel stories. I never get to go anywhere(sigh) and you make me feel as though I have(sort of :-).

  20. Greece is on my list of places to visit…some day!! Russia, i’m a bit ambivalent about, no real reason, certainly not any political ones.

  21. Oh my, I’m nearly hyperventilating! Don’t stop now! …

    Just last night I was looking at photos of, and reading about, the very place in that photo.

    C’mon back over to my place. I was working on today’s post when you stopped by earlier. 🙂

  22. P.S. Your new place here is looking pretty good.

  23. I loved this. I’ve never been to Crete but have had a couple of weeks in Corfu which is just stunning. White pebbled beaches, clear blue water, great food, lovely people and amazing views. I love how green it is. I mean, it’s hot, but it doesn’t seem to get desert-like and arid like Spain. The blue water, green olive groves and white buildings are just so beautiful. Sighhhh. Now I want to go there again.

  24. I love reading about your adventures. I have not been west of Kansas, south of Florida, north of Ontario, or east of Delaware so I read about adventures with relish.

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