May 24-25:  Los Angeles to Athens

At the official pre-trip weigh-in I was at 166.5 lb, down a bit from my all-time high of 169 on Apr 14.  That's what happens after 9 straight months of sitting at my desk at work.  I suppose I shouldn't be relying on international trips as my sole source of physical activity, but I've had a lot going on and have had only one Saturday free for hiking in LA this year.  Hopefully this tour will make up for it all.

A half hour before I left the apartment I read that Clayton Kershaw was called up by the Dodgers, so I got my bid in.  If I hadn't caught that blurb in time and wasn't able to get to an Internet cafe in Athens before 8am Monday, I would have been shut out.  (This involves my Rotisserie or "fantasy" baseball team, Merkle's Boners.  I explained how it works to some people in the group.  If anyone else wants an explanation, look it up your own damn self.  I'm doing enough work as it is trying to entertain you.)

As usual I took the FlyAway bus from Union Station to LAX.  On the bus there were two girls sitting behind me.  They looked kind of Brazilian.  One had a mottled face, the kind that seems to be common in those kinds of countries.  I couldn't figure out what language they were speaking wasn't quite Portuguese, not quite Spanish.  I though I heard a few Spanish words but the cadence was unfamiliar.  There were gutteral H's too.  I did hear a lot of "th" sounds and possible a "cotha", so maybe it was something like Castilian Spanish, rather than the simplified Spanish that was invented for Mexicans to use.  (Oh!  The brutality begins.)  The whole thing reminded me of Billy Crystal as Joe Franklin with his guests Seņor Cosa ("Cotha") and Ricardo.  It was the 3-30-85 SNL ep, which I remember because of Ricardo's pick in the NCAA title game that Monday ("Uh...I like Georgetown") and because Liberace ("I agree with the puppet") was on and it was the night before WrestleMania 1 at which he appeared.  Oddly, this was my second reference today to Billy Crystal/Joe Franklin...before I left I sent LG a link to a story about some kind of nipple cream being found unsafe, which necessitated a reference to Raymond Burr's Nipple Rouge.  For the blush of springtime...anytime...every time.

Highlight of the bus ride to the airport was when we passed a sign that said Ventilation Building, and one of the Brazilians in a very erotic and exotic accent said "Ventilation Building."  Also the bus passed a Green Line train going down the center of the 105.  What's the point of having a Metro system if the trains go SLOWER than cars on the road?  The worst are the parts of the Blue Line and Gold line that have to go even slower because they're at street level and they want to minimize accidents.  I say, speed up the trains, and if some stupid kid gets hit by a train, it makes the world a better place.  In the meantime, $4 gasoline is still preferable to taking twice as long to get there.

I'd checked in online yesterday, so when I got to LAX I bypassed the line and went straight to the bag drop.  Walked into the airport at 1:30pm, had my bag at X-ray and free to go to the gate at 1:37pm.  A world record, and rather Pietroesque.  The regular British Airways line was very short though, so I didn't save that much time with the early check-in.  Maybe there was less international traffic because it was Memorial Day weekend.  The Aer Lingus line stretched all the way around the front of the terminal though.  I still recommend the online check-in whenever possible, although the time saving is minimal if you still have to check a bag.

Along with my boarding passes I got all manner of instructions on how to proceed efficiently through the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow.  They were having all kinds of luggage problems when that thing opened and it sounds like it's still a mess.

The main reason I check in early is seat selection, which on some airlines you can't do until 24 hours before the flight.  I got seat 53J, the window seat in the very last row, also known as the "leave me the fuck alone" seat.  The last row is key because there's no possibility of having some defective child kicking your seat for 10 straight hours...if you're intending to sleep on the flight, I've found this to be a more important consideration than having a window seat.  The only drawback is that the toilet is right behind you, so you have incontinent drunks flushing throughout the night.

I also had a little bit of extra room because the plane narrows toward the back and they take out what would normally be seat K.  I told LG yesterday about this yesterday and he found the K thing odd because in a 3-4-3 configuration the full rows should go only to J (ABC-DEFG-HIJ).  I informed him that "these go to K."  He said it would be appropriate if they were showing Spinal Tap on the plane, and indeed they were!  It was one of dozens of movies and TV shows available, but still.  By the way, the reason the 10th seat is K is that they skip I.  Maybe all the passengers are supposed to be a team, and as you know there's no "I" in "team".  (Bobby Heenan:  "There is on MY team.")

Before I tried to sleep (impossible when they're still going around bugging you with food and whatnot) I watched Family Guy (Road to Ruppert) and Extras (finale).  George Michael is in that Extras ep, was on American Idol a few days ago, we're seeing him at the Forum next month...the man is literally everywhere now.  Literally.  Extras always makes me ponder this question:  Scottish actress Ashley Jensen or porn star Ashley Jensen?  It's a tough call for me.

I had salmon for dinner.  With that, the seat and the entertainment, I'm calling this the best flight ever.  I feel good about this trip.

I put on my iPod for a bit.  I had it on shuffle and a lot of UK songs came on at the beginning, which was nice.  The very first song though was Muhammad Hassan's entrance music, which is the worst thing to hear on a plane.  But I'm glad I added all my WWE themes to the iPod, because it's fun hearing a bunch of regular songs and then being surprised by Mr. Perfect's theme.  They're best when yesterday at work, when my phone rang in the elevator and I struggled for 15 seconds to shut it off, but by that time enough of it had played that when the doors opened I informed the half-dozen strangers "yes, that was Ted DiBiase's entrance music", and laughter ensued.  We all grew up with that stuff.

Ultimately I slept a few minutes at most, but I wasn't tired.  I'd had two 187.5-mL bottles of wine and could stretch out comfortably with the extra room, but the missing seat K actually left me too far from the wall to rest my head against it.

During breakfast they made the usual offer of coffee or tea.  I imagined a bad sketch in which an incompetent stewardess offers everyone "toffee or key" and her supervisor has to be called over.  I don't know if the supervisor would be a Frank Nelson type or Ricky Gervais in the "When the Whistle Blows" wig.  Seems like the latter would work better...I see it as an overly broad British-style sketch, like with a comically oversized key, reminiscent of Adam Ant's pound note pound note.  Wow, Adam Ant is mentioned in a second consecutive travelogue!  So many things and words have been named after him (adamant, adamantane) and he's still underappreciated.

The Best Flight Ever ended with the Lightest Touchdown Ever at Heathrow.  During my 2-hour layover I tried to give LG the requested "London Calling" call, but realized I didn't have the UK instructions for my calling card.

The ensuing 4-hour flight to Athens ended with the Roughest Touchdown Ever.  Still, it didn't mar the fact that I arrived in Greece, country #40.  The gruelling road to the 40-40 Club (40 countries before age 40) has ended.  David Butler Goodell, kiss my grits!

I took the Metro into the city and got off at Syndagma Square.  I misread the map (maps don't work very well in Grece) and took a roundabout way to the hotel, but in doing so I got to see a lot of the streets in the Plaka neighborhood.

My first view of the Acropolis down one of the Plaka streets.

I tried to call Lainas (Pilichos cousin who lives in Athens) from my hotel room but couldn't figure out how to dial out.  I tried 0, 9, 8 etc. but nothing worked.  Oh well.  Would've been cool if I'd hung out with him, however briefly, but with sightseeing and the tour schedule tonight was really my only chance.

Since there was still daylight left, I figured I'd go see the nearby Panathenaic Stadium, which was supposed to be open till 8:30pm.  This is the stadium that hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896, not the 2004 Games (although it was used as the finish line for the marathon then).

Along the way I took this pic of the Temple of Zeus through the gate.  I'm going back tomorrow when I can actually enter.

This is the street on the way to the stadium.  Try to spot the dogg!  At the time I thought this was noteworthy, but we ended up seeing hundreds of stray dogs all over Greece.

Right around where I saw the dawg, an old man quizzed me about where I'm from, where I work, etc., and he chastised me for not being happy now that I'm in Greece.  I tried to explain that I hadn't slept in a while and would likely be much happier in the morning.

So I gets to the stadium, and it's not open like the book says.  Good enough for me though.  It still saves me from having to come back tomorrow.  I don't mind that I'm losing out on the "on your mark, get set" pose that all the cool tourists do on the track here.

Panathenaic Stadium.

Closer shot through the gate.

I'm surprised at how big this place is for an 1896 stadium...I believe it holds 70,000.  It resembles the LA Coliseum somewhat, and is probably more comfortable.

I'm guessing these rings were added for 2004.

Next 4 pics were meant to be stitched as a panorama, but I don't have room here for it, so I've kept them separate:

With this visit I've been to the 1896, 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics stadia in less than 2 months.  Yes, that's only 2 stadia, but it's quite a span.

On my way back to the hotel, some cross-eyed fuck chatted me up saying his sister or something has a restaurant in Chania (where the group would be in a few days) and he wanted to give me his card.  He also wanted to have a drink with me.  So he leads me into a bar, and I look up and see the name "Pub Love".  Whoa!  In my pre-trip research I made a note that there are two bars to avoid in Plaka because they're scams, and Pub Love is one of them.  I think the usual scam involves a girl who lets you buy her a drink, and then when the bill comes it's for hundreds of dollars, and goons show up to enforce payment.  This is why I prepare so much for these trips.

I got back to the hotel.  And by the way, this was the Students & Travellers Inn, which is really a hostel, but I paid extra for my own room and private bath.  Checking into the G.A.P hotel a night early would have cost twice as much.  I picked the hostel because it seemed like it had a good atmosphere (Let's Go recommends it) and also had a bar, but being exhausted and planning for sightseeing early in the morning, I didn't get to hang out with any of the backpacker residents.  I still recommend the place though.  Not as rowdy as other hostels I've stayed out, which can be good or bad.  My room was very quiet (surprisingly) and faced a narrow "courtyard", and I didn't smell cigarette smoke anywhere as I had feared.  And it had an A\C [sic].

Well lookie here!  Every since my brother (or was it my dad?) found $100 in a hotel room once, I check all the drawers, behind the bed, etc. in every hotel room to see if I find anything interesting.  And this time I did.  The passport belonged to a 54-year-old woman from Minnesota (I should have made a note of the name) and I can only assume so did the c-c-condom wrapper, that whore.  I won't presume she's also responsible for the massive stain in the lower drawer.

And look what was on my bed...a towel shaped into a bunny rabbit!  I put sunglasses on him because that always makes a hilarious photo.  I always thought that only the most expensive cruise ships in the "Carribean" provided this kind of perk, but leave it to Athens to "Teach" me something new!  (This is an inside joke at the expense of one person and for the amusement of another.  You know who you are.)

I checked my e-mail, showered and went to bed at 10:51pm.  I'd wanted a good 11-hour night of sleep but this will be close to normal since I'm getting up at 7am for sightseeing.  So last night's all-nighter just gets written off.  (No Seinfeld write-off jokes here.  So...played.)