Expats in Athens

I’m getting a better feeling about Greece now that I’ve sent messages out to more than three dozen apartment rentals in Athens. First, there seems to be a large number of apartments available in Athens in my price range. That’s good. Second, there seem to be a lot of Anglo expats in Athens. There is an Anglo expat e-newsletter that even lists where movies in English are showing in the city. The group’s site also has a long list of apartment rentals, a second source for my search. And there are several Athens expat groups that get together on a regular basis. Finally, I have received about eight answers to my messages about rentals, all in good English. That’s a good sign.

Here are the two sites I’m using for Athens: http://athens.angloinfo.com/ and http://housing.justlanded.com/en/Greece/For-Rent_Apartments/1

So far, three of the apartment owners say their units are available for the time slot I have (Feb. 21-May 20). I’ve told them all that I will contact them just before departing Sicily. Hopefully, in the six weeks I have left here, I will turn up even more apartment possibilities. I sure don’t want to endure the stress I had in Croatia or here in finding a place to live.

It’s all Greek to me

Woke up this morning in a cold sweat. It couldn’t be a hot sweat because the apartment is too cold. Anyway, I woke with something on my mind that wouldn’t let me go back to dozing. You see, I took my first look at the Greek-English dictionary I brought with me. And, of course, the dictionary doesn’t always align with the online translator I use. But back to the problem.

Here are some Greek word examples (the first translation is from online, the second from the dictionary):

hello = Γεια σου or Xaipete

excuse me = Συγνώμη! or (sorry but I don’t know how to type the word)

thank you = Ευχαριστούμε or euxapiotw

do you speak English? = Μιλάς αγγλικά; or miagte ayyaikg

In short, it’s a completely different dictionary and letter and word-formation than anything I’ve encountered, except for Asia (think Chinese symbols and Japanese writing). Reading and then speaking the words/phrases will be nearly impossible. I will have to learn and memorize the phonetic pronunciations provided by the dictionary. The online translator does not provide phonetic help.

Then there is my usual practice of writing down translations to show when needed. This has been a fairly easy process, even in Croatia, as long as I know where I’m going and what I typically might ask in that situation. But writing Greek is like writing hieroglyphics.

In Costa Rica, I also had my own printer, which allowed me to translate on the computer and print the translation out for show and tell. I travel too light now to carry a printer. One answer, of course, is to find a tech shop in Greece that sells low-priced printers. Something I will discard when I leave. My Greek dictionary did come with a CD. That should help some.

So far, I haven’t worried about learning a little bit of the language of the next country I’m visiting until a few weeks before going there. For the first two months in Croatia, for example, I concentrated on learning enough Croatian words and phrases to get me by there before turning my attention to Italian. Now, I’m trying to get the hang of the Italian language before turning the page at the end of January to worrying about Greek.

Maybe I shouldn’t have looked at the Greek dictionary so soon. It has me concerned. Guess I need to treat this as the latest challenge and learn how to get around the problem. Languages are not my forte but I’m sure I’ll find a way to get through 3 months in Greece with hand signals, rudimentary approximations of key words and whatever English the locals know. And lots of humble smiling for my lack of knowledge. I understand signage is often also in English, so maybe it’s spoken more in Greece than in Italy. Also, if I do end up in Athens for my stay, there should be more English-speakers there than in a smaller town like Nafplio, my original destination. Athens is touristy and that often means English-speakers.

I did receive several responses to my e-mails about apartment rentals in Athens. Three people said their units were already rented for the time I will be there. A fourth said his apartment is available but he wants a month’s deposit to reserve it. I told him I couldn’t send him money sight unseen – of him or the apartment. The rent is slightly above what I’m paying here. It doesn’t look like much online (http://housing.justlanded.com/en/Greece_Attica_Athens/For-Rent_Apartments/ATHENS-Palaio-Faliro-Nice-apartement-to-rent) but it would do for 3 months. At least it’s on the ground floor. The stairs here are starting to get to my knees. If I can find an apartment in Athens in my price range, I will probably settle there for my stay. As a bonus, the apartment is only two blocks from the sea. But I’m not sure if it has Internet.

I must be insane.

Today, the weather forecast was correct. It’s drizzling, although it was a beautiful, sunshine morning for my walk. I’m hoping the forecast of slightly cloudy for tomorrow is accurate as I plan to finally take a road trip (by bus or train) to Taormina, just north of here. Just me, my camera, my dictionary and a few euros. What could possibly go wrong?

Buon anno! Happy New Year!

Five weeks into my Italian experience and seven weeks to go before I depart Sicily, I started yesterday looking at my next destination. I’ve decided on Greece instead of Turkey and hope the 90-day Schengen zone limitation doesn’t sidetrack me somewhere in transit. So, yesterday, I sent out inquiries to maybe 20 rental landlords in Athens. I haven’t been able to find any apartment listings for Nafplio, my original choice in Greece, but I did notice on the site I’m using that there are a number of apartments available in my price range in Athens. This was a surprise, as most of the listing are for twice or triple what I can afford. As a result, I figured Athens was just too expensive for anything more than a 3-day stay to see the sights (ala Rome). So I e-mailed all of them. Several have already responded negatively. Nafplio is still a possibility but Athens would be more interesting to live in for three months. Stay tuned.

Also, I’ve already researched airfare and I can get a roundtrip from Rome to Athens for about $150. One-way would be at least twice that. Can someone explain why that is? I already have a return flight booked and paid for from Catania to Rome on Feb. 20.

No horse heads, please

I’ve been told that the mafia is still a force in Sicily and runs a lot of the businesses here. I suspect that would include liquor stores. The one I’ve started walking to, about a mile away, has employees who look the part. And you have to be careful about being overcharged. When I was in the store this week, the old man working the register tried to charge me 12 euro more than what I bought. I try to calculate the totals of what I buy in my head before paying so that I can have correct amounts ready and to make sure I’m not being charged too much. This time I was and pointed it out. The total was recalculated, although I don’t think the man was too pleased.

Flirting, or friendly?

I may have received my first flirt from a Sicilian this morning. I go to the same market for groceries across the street at least every other day and, of course, deal with the same cash register employees. They’ve become kind of used to the tall American who can’t speak Italian and barely knows how much money to give them. But they’re always nice.

There is one woman, I think she is a manager, who has smiled at me a lot. She’s about 40, I guess, and attractive – except for the redish-purple hair. I guess she felt the need to radicalize her look. She’s also wearing a ring on her wedding band finger. This morning, she decided to extend her hand to shake mine and said something. I suspect she was wishing me a happy new year and I replied in kind. She was probably just being friendly with someone she felt sorry for being so far from home during the holidays. Nonetheless, I’m trying to learn some new words, such as husband? (il marito?), dinner? (la cena?) and tonight? (stasera?) or tomorrow? (domani?). She doesn’t speak any English.

Book sales

The going is slow but I’m into the third chapter of my next book. I feel like such a rookie every time I work on it. I’m pretty sure that “Brothers Lost” was not really that good and I hope I get better at this as I practice, practice, practice. Sales of my five published e-books have been slow, but consistent. In fact, I’ve sold enough copies lately that I should be receiving small commission checks soon. I mean really small, like $10 or so each. Those would be on top of the whopping $11 commission I’ve already received from Kindle. Not going to get rich on those first five books, that’s for sure.

I did an accounting yesterday of total sales: Love Letters from Mama -20; Brothers Lost – 2; Mother & Son (poetry) – 2; Costa Rica: An Expat’s Tale – 27; and Visions of Vodice – 0. So, 51 total sales. One of the e-book sites tells me how many samples of each book have been downloaded and shows more than 200 in that category. The other two sites don’t provide that statistic. I am, however, selling about one Costa Rica book daily. I suspect these things build momentum over time if the books are any good, and that appears to be what I’m seeing with the Costa Rica book. But I’m just writing to write anyway, not to get rich.

New Year’s

No big plans here for the evening as I write this on the afternoon of Dec. 31. I do plan to walk to a trattoria I found the other day for dinner. Its tables are covered with red and white checkerboard tablecloths, so Italian. Not sure what they offer but will have my camera with me and will report tomorrow. After dinner, I plan to walk my camera around town to see if there is anything worth photographing on New Year’s Eve.

Exploring

The bad weather this week delayed my plan to take a bus or train trip to a nearby town. I’m hoping the coming week will be better. Thinking about Taormina, a small town to the north that sits above the sea by several hundred yards and is supposed to be quite beautiful. Just a day trip with a lunch included.

Pool at Metropolis

Finally got into a good pool match with a young local Thursday night. We played the local version of 8-ball and he whipped my butt, although I was shooting the 8-ball in every game. The young guys here don’t often speak English. He was with a group of four or five, including a very pretty young lady who did speak some English. Rachel helped with a bit of translation before she had to leave. The guy I played is a regular so I’m sure I’ll get a rematch. The pool’s not cheap ($8/hour) but it’s the one entertainment I have that gets me out of the apartment. It’s too cold to fish (not that I was catching anything anyway) and I don’t like to go to restaurants by myself. So it’s good there’s a pool hall across the street.

In remembrance

Yesterday, Dec. 30, was the official two-year anniversary of my father’s death. He had been kept alive on the machines for the previous 74 days. That whole scene I left in Atlanta on Oct. 20, 2009, still infuriates me. My reactions then and later to the injustices then and during my life have led to a splintering of my family, which deeply saddens me. I would not, however, change what I did, or have done since. Those who have always been the closest to me will be once again. Patience, patience.

I have also been giving a lot of thought to my sister, Robin, and brother, Jon. I do not know where either now lives, or even if they are still alive. Jon, of course, was the brother who was auctioned off when he was young and ended up a lifetime criminal as a result. Robin is my half-sister, one of two daughters born to my mother with her last husband. (I’m not really sure how many husbands she had.) The other sister, Jennifer, died of cancer in her early 30s. Robin disappeared shortly after her father and sister died, and I have not been able to locate her since. If my life is any guide, they will both show up at my doorstep in the not-too-distant future.

Buon anno tutti! (Happy New Year’s, everyone!)