Saturday, September 11, 2010

Say It Ain't So

So it seems my sabbatical is over. (Pause here to reflect on the sadness of that statement.)

But at least I have my memories. When you last heard from me, I had just arrived in Santorini--specifically Oia--a place so beautiful it seems like a movie set. (Well, it was a movie set! I actually found the house they used as Lena's grandmother's house in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants! My friends make fun of me for being so excited about this, but I love that movie--and I'm crazy about the guy who played Kostas.)

This is the place they used as Lena's grandmother's house
in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (1 and 2).

Remember when Lena comes home after going to see Kostas on his boat, and
she looks up at him on the stairs? Well, this is where he was standing!

The only problem was, my hotel was less than stellar. Long story short, I ended up finding a new hotel (Ifestio Villas) and asking for a room. They had only one villa (yes, villa) left. They weren't sure I would want it since it was so huge. (Being from New York, the land of closet-size apartments and overcrowded subway cars, I felt that a space being too big was not a problem. I wasn't even sure "too big" was possible.) So they took me to see the place, and before we even entered, my answer was "I'll take it!" We went down several fights of narrow, whitewashed stairs, flowers and colorful doors on all sides. Finally we reached the lowest landing and entered a spacious private balcony directly overlooking the caldera. There was a big table with blue mosaic tiles on one side next to a giant umbrella for shade. Below the balcony was a wild bush bursting with bright pink flowers and a small patch of tomatoes. In a word, unbelievable.

Still, that in no way prepared me for what I saw when she opened the door: An enormous living room with two comfy couches, a dining room area big enough to seat six people, and a full kitchen with a refrigerator stocked with ham, cheese, bread, milk, orange juice, homemade tomato jam, butter, sweet fruit roll, bruschetta, and my own bottle of wine! (Mind you, this was not a mini-bar type of thing. All this was included.) Continuing the tour, I was shown not one, not two, but three bedrooms, one of which had it's own private bathroom. Each one had a closet, a dresser, candles, and two or three sets of flip-flops. Then there was the master bathroom, a big cavelike room painted blue (all the other rooms were white) with a deep sink and, most important, a jacuzzi tub. I wish I could say this is how I roll all the time, but the truth is, I have never rolled quite like this in my life! It was pricier than I'd hoped, but come on, did you read the description? Since it was only for two nights anyway, I went for it. I felt like such a baller! I couldn't believe I had this enormous space all to myself.

Anyway, Santorini was incredible. While I was there, I walked all the way down the steps of the cliff to the Amoudi Port and swam at the black beach at the bottom.

I took a sunset catamaran cruise and swam in the hot springs and snorkeled along the coast while wild goats looked on from the mountains. I met a family of Australian tourists who told me I am welcome to stay with them if ever I find myself down under. I sat on a low wall and quietly watched the sun set surrounded by dozens of strangers doing the same. I fell in love with Santorini.

But before I knew it, July 4 had come and it was time to move on. I packed up my things, kissed my out-of-this-world villa good-bye, and only two cab rides, three shuttle buses, and three plane trips later, I was in Prague! Too bad I had forgotten to bring my Prague handbook and didn't have the address of my hotel, because my cab driver had never heard of it. Luckily I remembered that I was right across from Kinsky Gardens, and before long, I checked into the Red and Blue Design Hotel.

The next day, my friend Brian (who I used to work with but who now lives in Prague with his wife and kids) showed up early in the morning to be my personal tour guide. He actually used to give tours there for a living, so I was in really good hands. That first day we walked all over the place! We saw a house that one of his students (he teaches English now) was given by the government after the fall of Communism--to replace the one they had taken from her father. Apparently, under communism in Prague, it was common for the government to seize the best houses to give to its leaders.

We walked on and stopped into the Church of Our Lady Victorious, which was beautiful and full of amazing pieces of art. We walked through Lesser Town, over cobblestone streets and beneath high stone arches, heading toward the famous Charles Bridge. We stopped in at Cafe Louvre, where the writer Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein used to hang out, and I had my first Czech meal: roast beef in cream sauce with bread and cranberry sauce.

Me at the Cafe Louvre, pointing out all the famous authors who have eaten there.   (And adding myself to the list!)

We saw the National Theater and the theater where Mozart debuted Don Giovanni. We toured the Museum of Communism--which, ironically enough, houses a big McDonald's. Mostly we walked around and marveled at the beauty of the architecture and the river. Then later that night we met up with his wife, Dana, and her nephew Jan at a Latino restaurant in town, where we talked and laughed for hours. Eventually Dana and I ditched the boys and headed out for a girls' night out on the town! Too bad everyone else was out of town. It seems that I was there on a holiday weekend, which is when all the residents of Prague go elsewhere. So when we tried to go out clubbing that night, we instead found a lot of empty places and a handful of high school kids staying at local youth hostels.

Where is the party, Prague? I couldn't find it. And by then, my foot was killing me anyway. It's pretty hard to be a party girl when you're limping and wincing in pain. So Dana put me in a cab and sent me back to my hotel.

The next day I was in so much pain I could barely walk! I stayed in my room all day and tried to do some writing. I also watched Roots and a ridiculous number of Lifetime movies (the only things playing on the lone English channel).

By morning I felt a lot better and ventured out into town all on my own. I figured out the tram and the Metro and made my way to the Prague Castle.

The president of the Czech Republic lives here!

Pretty cool, right? Later I met up with my tour guide and he showed me around Letna Park and the rest of the area known as Prague 7, where he lives. I had dinner with his family, and by the time I left his little boy Liam was calling me Auntie. (Aww...) But before I knew it, it was time for me to go, since I was flying home the next day. Too bad I got on the wrong tram and ended hopelessly lost in Prague! (Oops.) Luckily for me, I met someone who pointed me back in the right direction and I made it back to my room right before midnight. In one piece! I used the very last of my Czech money to catch a cab to the airport, and thus ended my European adventure.

Phew. Sorry this posting has gone on forever. And this was the short version! Anyway, obviously I had an amazing time in Greece and Prague. I look forward to my next international adventure! But for now, it's time to resettle into my life in good ol' NYC.

I have lots of writing updates for you too. But I'll do it tomorrow after I come from the Princeton Public Library's Children's Book Festival, where I will be reading from YOUR LIFE, BUT COOLER. Wish me luck!

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