MY THREE BIG TAKE-AWAYS FROM ART TREK EUROPA
1) DRIVING IN GERMANY IS A HELL OF A LOT EASIER THAN IN SICILY
2) 104 DEGREES F IN ATHENS FEELS PRETTY MUCH THE SAME AS 120 DEGREES F IN RYADH
3) EURO BEARDS ARE IN
1) I’ve previously posted about the ease of our rental Ford’s navigation system and the more problematic one with our French made Renault in Sicily. Well, part of the difficulty is the difference can be chalked up to “roadway conditions” between Germany and Sicily. Now I can’t swear that all Germany is like Kassel when it comes to ease of driving nor can I swear that all Italy is as confusing as in Sicily. But I couldn’t help but notice the difference since we switched from one day in Germany to the next day in Italy.
Of course, Kassel is a fairly small sized town but I have to say in what is called true to form Germany efficiency and thoroughness, road signs were everywhere (I can’t recall a single intersection that was missing a name plate), the Do Not Enter, One Way, No Parking info signs were plentiful, in mint shape and were s snap to decipher. The roads themselves were clearly marked as to number of lanes, lane turnings and no passing zones so I guess that part of the reason our German Navigation Lady was so easy to follow was because the roads were so well done.
Sicily. Well, a totally different set of circumstances. The roads themselves were narrow, winding, hilly, potholed, lacked the most basic lane markings, had innumerable blind spots and signage was most notable for its absence. Plus, add to this not exactly German style physical situation, that Italians – at least Sicilians – don’t seem to follow any driving, parking, passing, yielding, or speed rules. At least none that I could figure out. I mean, okay, I get the occasional husband who’s forgotten to pick up baby diapers on this way home from work, double parking in front of your BICI Italian Quick Stop, jumping out and purchasing the 24 count, size 4 Pampers package and then hopping out to his double parked Fiat 500 and tearing off towards home base. Sure, this I would get and have some sympathy for.
But this is not the situation in Italy. All right, Sicily. Yes, Sicilian roadways probably date from the Middle Ages, whatever street signs might have been evident on building walls have probably just fallen down to the sidewalk as the ancient brickwork crumbles into dust and whatever roadway lane markings there might have been have simply been burned off in the heat. But Sicilians seem to have the habit of a sudden brain flash: “Oh, shit, I don’t have any 1 Euro notes,” or “Damn! Maybe I left my watch at Isabella’s house after last night’s sex capade,” of “I have to piss!” slamming on the brakes, setting the emergency brake and jumping out of the Renault Tico wherever the brain flash occurred, wherever the Tico might have been and double and triple parking for a time.
Now this might have been easier to manage – the swerving, the dodging, the stopping to let oncoming cars pass – if I too had a Fiat 500 or Renault Tico. But, no, I had that SUV style Renault whatever it was called, the only car available at the Palermo Airport. But back to navigation systems. Now I wasn’t all that happy with the French type GPS system, until I began navigating routes with Google Maps. Now Ms. Google Navigation Lady has way to high pitched a voice for my taste, but on previous trips she’s done all right. Can’t complain. But this time we ran into a significant problem. You see, Ms. Google Navigation Lady tell you to turn left 800 meters ahead at XYZ Avenue, or ABC Street or GPS Road or whatever. Which works fine in America and probably would nave worked equally as well in Germany.
But in Sicily? Major stumbling block. You see, when Ms. Google says “In 200 meters turn left at Guissipe Alonzo Suissisimogiancolo Avenue” a problem arises. Well, tow to be precise. First of all, since my Italian is limited to maybe six word, I have no idea what she’s saying. Second of all, unlike in Germany where roads were clearly marked, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a street sign – the name of a roadway – in all the time we’ve spent there. So sure, you can turn left on that roadway 200 meters ahead or is it the one 210 meters ahead? Or is that a driveway. Or is it the one 190 meters ahead or is that a double left turn?
And for some reason, Ms. Google GPS Lady got stuck on some destination one night that was totally in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go; which was back to our Cottage sur Mare Air B&B abode. And, since this was our third day, we knew she was wrong but couldn’t figure out how to change her mind. And it wasn’t an easy trek since you had to go in the opposite direction for four kilometers to get the round about that gave you access to the one way service road paralleling the expressway (which service way, by the way, one often met vehicles travelling in the wrong direction), taking the fifth exit from the roundabout, then making an immediate right that would take you over the expressway and get you onto the service road. So guess what? We relied on the French designed GPS system and did just fine!
But all in all I enjoyed the different driving experiences. At least when I wasn’t screaming at my partner: “Where the hell is the turn?” and “What the fuck do you mean we must have missed the last right turn?” And, when I wasn’t in a panic trying not to scrape, dent, or otherwise cause damage to the Renault rental car. I’ve done innumerable battles over “damage to rental cars” both real and non-existent when my staff used to do site surveys around the country and I did not want to have to go thought that nonsense again. Ever.
2) Back to Athens for our return to the U.S. of A. A couple more Documenta 14 sites to visit and one return visit to the Athens Conservatory. But it’s hot. And I do mean HOT! Yesterday it was 40 Degrees C (104 Degrees F) and today it was the same. Walking around in the sun feels like you are inside a blast furnace used for melting iron ore onto steel. (Or whatever that process involves.) I was reminded while waiting for a light to change to cross Ardittu Avenue (six lanes of speeding Fiats, Renaults and Ford Fiestas) I had a flashback to a time when I was working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As it happened, one day on the roof of the U.S. Embassy (yes, my work often involved roof visits on many buildings in many countries) when one of my workmates suddenly looked at his watch and blurted out: “Jesus Christ! It’s 120 degrees!” And it was. Standing on the sidewalk in the sun, there was not a tree or billboard in sight, waiting for the light to change, it occurred to me that after a certain point – let’s say 100 degrees just for argument’s sake – it all kinda feels the same, the same hot breath filling your lungs, the same burning head sensation, the same air wafting across you face that feels like someone just put a blowtorch to it. Yeah, not all that much different.
3) Yes! Beards Are In ! I haven’t noticed this phenomenon back home but there’s no question that for European men – the under 40 set would be my guess – sporting a beard is now high fashion. And not just those scruffy Number 2 beard trimmer cuts. Yes, there are still those but now there’s an entire crop of full gown, manly bearded men walking the streets. At least in Germany, Italy and Greece. I like it. Well, you would know that if you knew that I’ve worn a beard since my Peace Corps days back in the 1970’s. And I cannot close without saying how attractive all those Italian, Greek and German young men look in their beards!!!!!
Have An Absolutely Wonderful Day!