Friday, August 31: I have a 6 a.m. flight to Athens this morning on Egypt Air. I am anxious about it because I know I have to drive from Nizwa beginning at 2:30 a.m. to get to the airport by 4 a.m., two hours prior. I debate about going to Muscat to spend the night, but even the cheapest hotels in Muscat cost over $50 and I know I am going to be spending a lot already in Greece. As it is, I take a nap from about 10 p.m. Thursday night until about 12:30 a.m. Friday, get up and shower, make sure I have all my documents in order, and drive early to the airport to make certain I don’t miss my flight. I have been looking forward to this trip for a long time and I am determined I WILL BE ON THAT PLANE!
The flights are fine: 4 hours from Muscat to Cairo, a 2 hour layover, and another 2 hour flight to Athens. However, after standing at the baggage claim for a long time, as every other passenger departs with their bags, I realize my luggage has gone on a trip of its own to some unknown destination. It certainly isn’t in Athens! This is a highly unpleasant surprise because in all of my MANY travels, I have never lost luggage!! I guess I’ve been lucky. Once I met a girl traveling in Istanbul who had been waiting 5 days for her luggage ( I don’t know if she ever got it)! One of my closest friends says Delta Airlines knows the route to her house by heart because they’ve lost her luggage so many times.
I used to pack a carry-on bag with pajamas, toiletries, and a change of clothes, JUST IN CASE. But because I’ve been so lucky, I didn’t have a carry-on bag at all this time! As a matter of fact, I prided myself on fitting all my stuff into one medium-sized suitcase that I checked. All I have are the clothes on my back, a small backpack with my camera (but no charger for my battery), my phone (but no charger), money, credit cards and my passport.
The Egypt Air staff takes all my information and tells me they will let me know whenever they find it. I tell the woman I am heading to Crete on Sunday, so I hope it will be back in my possession by then!! She says she imagines it is still in Cairo and will likely arrive via tomorrow’s flight. I tell her to please call me as soon as she hears something.
I’m sure most intrepid travelers are a lot braver than I am about diving into a new city. I am always overwhelmed at first, being all alone and faced with a confusing transport system. I worry I might have to go through a bad area of town, that the metro or buses will be bewildering or scary, or that I might be traipsing the streets lugging my suitcase looking in vain for a hard-to-locate hotel. Possibly most people arrive in a new town and just grab the first hotel they see, but I usually plan ahead by reading reviews on Trip Advisor, looking for prices in my range (I budgeted around 35-50 euros a night for this trip), and booking the hotel. There were too many times when I lived in Korea, where it was next-to-impossible to make hotel reservations, that I walked up and down streets looking for a reasonably priced and decent accommodation. I find that too frustrating. I don’t have the patience for it, nor do I have the courage. I admire travelers that do, certainly.
For me, one of my priorities in travel is to have a clean and comfortable place that is a bit charming and has something special to offer. In the case of the Acropolis View Hotel, it has a rooftop terrace with a perfect view of the Acropolis, the staff is friendly and helpful, and they let you buy a drink at any hour of the day in the lobby and take it directly up to the terrace. The price is right at 52 euros a night.
So, I confess I usually take the easy, and EXPENSIVE, way into to a city on my first arrival. In this case, I arranged a hotel pick-up at 55 euros!! That’s about 72 freakin’ US dollars!! I know it’s crazy, but for me it is the most comfortable way to approach a city for the first time. Most hotel pickups are not that expensive, but I am still willing to pay for the convenience and peace of mind.
Since my luggage is nowhere in sight, I could have probably taken the metro easily; however, the hotel pick-up has already been arranged and I feel too dejected to do anything but sit quietly in the back of the taxi trying to figure out what on earth I am going to do for 2 weeks if they never find my suitcase. Here I must admit I can be a pessimist; it usually works for me to be this way as it avoids disappointment. As long as I believe the worst will happen, I am always prepared for disaster and am pleasantly surprised if everything turns out fine.
At the hotel, I check in, although I really have nothing to check-in! I glance quickly around the room, sizing it up. It is fine but nothing fancy. I head out to explore the streets of Plaka, intending to go to the Acropolis Museum as my introduction to the Acropolis itself, which I plan to see tomorrow.
I take my camera along, taking shots of the Plaka neighborhood, where my hotel is located. All the time, of course, I am worried about taking too many pictures in case my battery runs out of charge. Plaka is the old Turkish quarter which used to be the whole of Athens when it was declared capital of Greece. Its paved narrow streets run along the base of the northeastern slope of the Acropolis and pass right by the Acropolis Museum. This area reminds me a bit of the Sultanahmet area in Istanbul; it’s a tourist-friendly and charming neighborhood with leafy trees, outdoor cafes and shops selling artsy jewelry, Grecian urns, T-shirts, paintings of the Greek islands, souvenirs and trinkets. I love its ambiance, despite its tourist focus. On the periphery of the cafe-lined streets are quiet neighborhoods with restored neoclassical mansions.
After strolling around Plaka and checking out fashionable young Europeans sitting at cafes and walking hand-in-hand down the street, I feel a little envious of their youth and exuberance, the romance they have so obviously found. I feel a little downhearted and worried about my suitcase. I make up my mind that no matter what, this is not going to ruin my vacation. I head to the Acropolis Museum…..