ASSOCIATES (2020, March, v. 26, no. 3)


A Globe Trotter Retirement

Sue Knoche

A traveling I will go…. When it was time for retirement in the USA, although I totally enjoyed my job as a medical library support staff member in the library for 31 years, I had to start thinking of all the possibilities of what to do next. Always loved to travel and as you probably know I don’t have family, but so many great friends who I could bounce suggestions off and they responded with honesty and support for my ideas or to confirm that I wasn’t going crazy at the prospect as to what will follow. Months of deliberation and finally on December 9th, 2019 I left Tennessee for adventures beyond the horizon. I guess my expectations were a little too high that things would be perfect. But when I arrived in Greece my bag did not. I assumed most people in Greece spoke the international language of English, but not so. When I filed the paperwork for searching for the bag, another problem happened. When they found it they tried contacting me with someone speaking in a language I didn’t understand so it took 2 days to get the bag back. Staying in an Airbnb type apartment in Vironas, Greece (suburb of Athens) I was saving money, able to cook meals etc… My plan is to return to the USA November 1st 2020.

Athens of course is known for the Acropolis, as well as Parthenon, but is undergoing restoration and is not easily accessible. I was surprised to learn of the Acropolis Museum across from this famous structure. I got more out of the Museum than climbing the high roads to get to the the actual structure. I learned so much in the museum talking for about an hour to an archaeologist & roaming another couple of hours at the museum. I learned about the earthquake about 5 years ago and most of the pieces were taken to this new museum and posted on walls for everyone to actually touch pieces of history over 1000 years old. Narrative, earphones and video of what times were like at each exhibit was a great experience. The Acropolis of Athens is one of the most famous ancient archaeological sites in the world located on a limestone hill high above the city. No idea that the term acropolis is defined as any citadel or complex, fortress built on a high hill derived from the Greek ‘akro’ high or extreme/extremity or edge so this isn’t the only structure called an ‘acropolis” in Greece. Athens was close enough to walk every day and discover new things including a farmers market, and most people go shopping for groceries every other day. In December unfortunately a lot of tourist sites were closed for the season or because of holidays, but there was more than enough to do or just exist — after all I am retired now. Took a day trip tour to Mycenae & Epidaurus about 2 hours outside of Athens and the beautiful picturesque countryside of Greece especially along the coastline was special. As we arrived we were told of the acropolis or fortress walls where we were going to walk and a brief history we could imagine the many ancient games/fights that were held here over time, as well as, the many preserved graves. A little difficult for my knees climbing the ancient stone stairs but the concern was the temperatures for the day were predicted in the 50’s (F); so I and others didn’t prepare for the reality of being in the 30’s (F). The amazing views and learning so much history being with fellow passengers from the UK, a couple from Philadelphia, a couple from Israel so even though our lips were turning blue, we all enjoyed the experience but next time always be prepared for anything when traveling.

After 5 weeks off and on of various tours, a long history too much to describe, but each site had its own uniqueness and long walks made it enjoyable. Interesting that each day shops, restaurants were open 8 – 2 then close down from 2 – 5, then re-open 5-10 pm and unfortunately I was not too crazy about the Mediterranean cuisine, so losing 15 pounds was a plus. Greece is an amazing place to visit but the language was a problem for me, although I pointed a lot with hand motions made do. Time to move on to next location.

Arrived in Krakow, Poland on January 15th and this time my bag came through okay. I tried a new airline RyanAir or a bare bones type simple airline with budget prices but very comfortable and enjoyable. As we were landing through the loud speaker was a grand heralding type trumpet fanfare, as if royalty were arriving. Some passengers from the UK started applauding as did the rest of the plane, apparently a common thing in Europe when any plane lands safely, very cool and definitely felt welcome. Again staying at an apartment through Airbnb was wonderful, exactly as described online even had a reception/door man to greet me with keys. The apartment was light & airy, on the 3rd floor with a modern elevator, a good view and across the street from a river walk which leads to the castle and downtown area. The river was full with ducks, swans, pigeons, sea gulls and so tranquil/peaceful to think or enjoy the fresh air although still a little cold I walked almost each day. I actually thought I would be knee deep in snow but they haven’t had a snowy winter in 3 years, this was good news and the almost 5 weeks here with sun and cold was great. I loved Krakow with the castle and so many other historic sites including parks, learned so much history. An old town center with typical restaurants featuring Polish & International cuisine, the horse drawn carriages and also learning of a city underground the main square. Each year for a few days old sea faring families gather in the square for a “shanti/maritime” Festival singing all types of songs similar to what pirates would be singing. We swayed, bobbed and also started dancing with whoever was near, had so much fun…then went to a restaurant for giant rib eye medium rare steak and Polish beer, a great day. Apparently there is an ancient underground city when the city/country was at war with various countries they needed an area to hide important papers or people who were of royal descent or officials. Graves were found & skeletons on view behind glass in actual grave sites. Most bodies had a hole in their head the guide suggested from gunshots probably from all the battles these remains over 150 years old.

The castle is also a popular site with all rooms of ancient paintings of the previous royal families usually from Russia and the grandeur of ballrooms where the imagination can picture people waltzing in these rooms. Looking up at the magnificent ceiling one can see paintings as well as the 3D type artistic heads of likeness of royalty from about the 15th-18th century. An impressive part of the castle grounds is the church originally of catholic origin was very ornate in 1500’s but around 18th century was changed to Christian Orthodox origin. Including all weddings and burial chambers are beneath this structure. Apparently there hasn’t been a monarchy for about 400 years and this part of Eastern Europe was claimed by Russia. The fall of communism occurred about 100 years ago or when this country became democratic or independent. The Polish currency bears a picture of the last king. The president or prime minister over the years decided against living in the castle and making it a tourist attraction with all admissions charged to government budgets. The street architecture of buildings from the seventeenth-eighteenth century and cobblestone streets/sidewalks make this a great place to visit. Also discovered a place called History Land and all exhibits are constructed from LEGO blocks. For admission you also get headphones and recorded history that takes almost 2 hours to complete and learn all the history Poland has to offer including both world wars. On this site was a public library (bibliotec). Some of my friends in the states asked about how different libraries were in these countries, so of course being the library geek or support staff I was curious to see how things are cataloged, etc. The librarian who spoke English was very nice and young and said I was the very first American she ever met or visited their library. Not so different, but definitely different and the most common phrase was MARC record. So many things to do in Krakow, highly recommended for a visit, and hope to return some day; but time to move on.