Wednesday, July 10, 2019

That One Time I Got Stranded on the Island of Skiathos in Greece

Without naming names I can tell you that once I got stuck behind the Disney Electric Light Parade in Disneyland California. As Aladdin flew by on his magic carpet and Cinderella waved from her carriage, the preschoolers I was with fell to the ground and sobbed out the injustices of their lives. Their heartless mother laughed and laughed with zero pity in her heart. 

Don't you wish you could be stuck in Disneyland right now?

Every summer I go to a writing workshop on a tiny island in the Aegean Sea. The workshop is hard work. Getting there is hard work. To get there this year I'll be flying from a small airport in New York to Detroit. Then I'll fly from Detroit to Chicago. After that it's an overnight flight from Chicago to Athens, Greece. Mind you before I leave Chicago I'll have been traveling for twelve hours already.

When I get to Athens I'll stay at the Airport Sofitel. After twenty-four hours of travel it's time to sleep. The next day I fly from Athens to the island of Skiathos. It's a popular tourist destination for parts of Europe. I meet people from England, Germany, and Italy there. 

Depending on my flight from Athens and the ferry schedule, sometimes I spend a night in Skiathos. I like to stay around the port area. I walk along Papadiamanti Street and the sea. It's very touristy with yogurt shops and tavernas. There are kababs of chicken souvlaki, blindingly strong cups of Greek coffee, and places to buy a wide brimmed hat to wear on the ferry. 

Like many towns in Europe the streets are filled with pedestrians but SURPRISE it is a road too so watch out for scooters and vehicles while you shop or use the ATM. 

Usually I stay at the Aretousa, Filoxenia, Hotel Kostis, or Meltemi. Sometimes the stars align just so and after a few hours of wandering the port I can catch a ferry to Alonissos the same day. 

There are slow ferries and fast ferries/hydrofoils. The slow ones are huge and filled with cars and trucks ferrying between islands. I like to slather myself in sunscreen, plop on a hat and sit outside on the slow ferry and watch the sea as we stop by Skopelos (of Mama Mia island fame). Sometimes dolphins swim the ferry wake. 

No matter how long it takes me to get to this point I always know that it's all been worth the effort as the stress of a long journey drowns behind me in ferry wake the color of wintergreen breath mints. 

Eventually we arrive in the port of Alonissos. Gathering luggage and disembarking is chaotic, but this place feels like home. 

The return journey is the same thing in reverse. It's not nearly as refreshing though—leaving is always hard. I get nostalgic, farewell monk seals, farewell to my balcony over the port, farewell writers, farewell Aegean blues, dolphins, tomatoes, and lavender.

Skiathos seems loud and abrasive now, something to be endured after my weeks of floating and writing. But I make my way to the Skiathos airport and drift to my seat at the gate and wait, wait, wait. 

Once after several delays my flight never arrived. Cancelled. My vacation float vanished that quickly. I had a hotel in Athens that night and an early morning flight in the morning. That flight would be airborne before I could get tomorrow's flight out of Skiathos.

I was STRANDED in Greece, TRAPPED on Skiathos. I took it better than those preschoolers at Disney. On the outside.

My hotel in Athens was non-refundable. I'd chosen the cheaper fare. My Greek travel agent took my call at nearly midnight, apologizing though he'd done nothing wrong and booking me a hotel for tomorrow. I tried to call my international airline's 800 number to change that flight home. Those numbers don't work internationally. They're for the USA only.

Around me airline employees began the slow process of re-booking people. There was no quick computer processing. There was literal paperwork going on. People rudely fussed when instructions were given first in Greek, "WHY AREN'T THEY SPEAKING ENGLISH?" This amused me since we were in Greece! Don't blame that comment on Ugly American Syndrome either. I was the only one and I'd lost all hope of going anywhere fast. 

Eventually I was the last person there, still trying to contact my international airline to re-book. I got caught in a loop. I couldn't dial an 800 number from Greece, but I couldn't dial the international number from my American cell phone either. One of the Skiathos employees let me use their phone. I got a new flight to the US leaving in a few days. 

Now I was officially STUCK in GREECE. tee-hee. Let's be real, this is kind of my goal in life. 

Now I had plenty of time, except the lights were being dimmed in the Skiathos airport and employees were leaving. Someone opened their wallet and handed me cash—not vouchers—for dinner. They put me in a lone taxi back to the port area and gave me a hotel to
stay at. That's how I discovered the Meltemi hotel. 

Despite the late hour the port area was in full swing. I picked up bottles of water, dragged my luggage up three flights of stairs to the FIRST floor and dropped into bed. TRAPPED in Greece. I fell asleep watching feet walk up and down the old stone steps outside my window. It was the best night. Ever.

Nothing against Detroit or Philadelphia, but they've got NOTHING on getting stuck somewhere when your flight gets cancelled. Do you feel my joy? Or was that time you got stuck somewhere not wonderful? Dish.

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