The kids were done with school, Mark got home from work, I had wrapped presents and packed all day and we were ready to head off on our first adventure from KAUST. We were all excited except for the fact that our plane didn't leave until 11:05 pm. A friend from church had offered to let us park our car near his home because the Jeddah airport doesn't have long term parking - weird but true. So we left somewhere around 6:00 and headed south to Jeddah. I dislike driving in Jeddah because it's so crazy but I particularly disklike it around rush hour. So this was not a pleasant trip and my eyes were closed quite often. But we made it safely!
We were all hungry but thought we'd stop somewhere on the way to get some food. I've probably said this before but it's kind of hard to get around Jeddah and if you want to get to something on the other side of the road, you often have to drive a couple of km to turn around to get there and then do the same thing on your way back. So as we drove, everything of any interest in the food category was on the left hand side of the road. We knew there was a McDonald's close to our friend's home so we decided to just stop there and as we pulled up...guess what time it was....prayer time....and we were sad because we wouldn't be able to get any food for 30-40 minutes. Hungry kids stuffed in a car for 30 minutes was not a good idea so we drove to our friends house, dropped them off and headed back to McDonald's. We waited in the drive thru line until they opened again, got a bunch of cheeseburgers and fries and went back.
Then off to the airport. It was a little later in the evening and our friend Alex, knows better ways to get places since he lives in Jeddah and he got us to the airport easily. We checked in and headed off to wait for our flight.
Continent #2 - Africa
We landed in Cairo about 1:00 am local time (2:00 Jeddah time). Our flight to Athens didn't leave until 10:30 am the next morning so I had booked a night at the Marriott so we could sleep a little better and not be exhausted before we left. Our luggage was checked all the way to Athens, we had gotten a shuttle from the Marriott scheduled, got our VISAs easily and went through immigration quickly. It was probably only about 45 minutes after we landed that we were checking into our hotel!
The hotel was gorgeous - decked out for Christmas. We were sad that we weren't able to enjoy it very long.
Alex at the JW Marriott - Cairo
Christmas tree at the JW Marriott - Cairo
A view from the window in the morning
A funny thing happened, our friends the Ketcheson's ended up being at the same hotel as us in Cairo. They came down in the morning to see us at breakfast. They were headed to Peru for the holidays when their flight through London was cancelled due to the terrible weather that Europe was experiencing. They had to totally refigure out their flights and then ended up still leaving Saudi Arabia on Monday and spending a few days in Cairo before flying out on Christmas Eve on the rest of their journey. We enjoyed seeing them and it was fun to know someone else so far from home!
All of us with the Ketcheson's - David, Belky, Elena and Victoria
We headed back to the airport and boarded our flight to Athens. A few things that I've noticed when we're flying internationally rather than in the states are:
- Often there are no jetways - you take a shuttle to the plane and then up the stairs to board.
- No fees for luggage
- Meals are always served and you don't have to pay for them
Continent #3 - Europe
We arrived in Athens about 12:30 pm local time and got our luggage easily after going through immigration - nice that no VISA is required for US citizens! So the next step was to find our apartment. I rented an apartment though VRBO.com which we always used when going to Florida. This was our first experience using it internationally and it was definitely acceptable. We found our way to the metro station at the airport and got our tickets.
Alex in front of the picture of a "hot dog" plane
near the metro station in Athens airport.
We knew which stop we needed to get off the metro but once we got off we were a little lost. Our street maps never quite matched the street signs because of the Greek letters. We knew we were near the President Hotel and a nice man nearby told us the general direction. We headed that way and were soon walking down tiny little streets with 5 kids, backpacks and 3 pieces of rolling luggage. While we had been at the airport, we decided to buy a couple of SIM cards to use in Mark's and Megan's phone while we were in Athens. It was relatively inexpensive (5 EUR for the sim card and we put 20 EUR credit on each). This was very handy because I ended up calling the gentleman who had rented us the apartment. He came down and met us and we were soon there. In hindsight, it wasn't that bad, but in the middle of all of it after a long trip, we were all a little cranky. We soon got over it though.
The apartment was located in the Ambelokipi area and was fairly close to the metro stations, some shopping and restaurants also. It was a small 3 bedroom apartment and I mean everything was small! There was enough sleeping space, but the dishwasher was tiny with only one rack and there is was a small washer/dryer. I'll tell a little side story now even though it happened later in the week. I always pack for our family like I will be doing laundry somewhere in the middle - it is difficult to pack for 7 people everything you will need for a week without taking tons of luggage which we don't like to do. So I "assumed" that the dryer would actually dry the clothes but our rentor informs me when we get there that the dryer doesn't work very well and he would never use it. Well, when he said it doesn't work very well...he meant that it doesn't work at all. I left clothes in there for maybe 3 hours and they were still very damp. Everyone must hang their clothes out to dry but I was not happy because for a family of 7, that is A LOT of clothes. Plus to really get them dry, it took like 2 days! I'm pretty sure I could not live like that :-) We washed the minimum that we needed and that was that. Most of the light switches were outside of the rooms and there were no electrical outlets in the bathrooms so I had to use my curling iron in the hallway while using the bathroom mirror - kind of amusing. All in all, the apartment was nice enough and had what we needed plus it was less expensive than 2 hotel rooms in Athens - so I would do it again but I would pack more clothes!
Here are some views from our apartment balconies (there were 2 balconies)
Our first night in Athens, we headed out to find some good food for dinner. We headed up to the shopping area near our apartment and we were finally invited in to a restaurant (we would soon find that is standard practice in Greece). Neither of the two men working there spoke english, but luckily the menu had english information on it so we communicated well enough. We ordered many things, Megan really enjoyed the french fries with cheese and BACON on it :-) The little kids ordered hamburgers which were nothing like hamburgers in the states and they didn't really like them. I had souvlaki which was awesome and I can't remember what Mark and Spencer ordered. The funniest thing was that we were sitting waiting for our food in this little restaurant and all of a sudden the waiter walks in the front door from outside and brings in the salad. All of the food ended up coming in that way and we finally figured out that the kitchen for this restaurant was actually next door.
For those of you who have been to a Greek restaurant in the Detroit area or in Greektown, you probably have experienced saganaki where they light the cheese on fire and yell "OPA!". Well, we asked about saganaki here and they do have it but it's basically just fried cheese (which is still very tasty) but no fire and no "OPA!". They looked at us like we were a little crazy when we asked about it - hahaha!
Greek salads in Greece do not have lettuce -
veggies and a big chunk of feta - YUM!
Rachel and the hamburgers she didn't like
but the fries were good!
The sign outside the first Greek restaurant we ate at -
we have no idea what it says!
Well, that was the end of the first 24 hours....more to come soon....thanks for reading!