“The Global Trip: Tomatoes, Grease & Beer” was originally hosted by Blogger.com.  It contains twenty-five entries that include Erik’s accounts at two world-renowned festivals: Valencia, Spain’s wild and sloppy La Tomatina tomato food fight, and Munich’s traditional and international celebration of beer, Oktoberfest. The two festivals are the book ends to a two-week jaunt through the Greek Islands, where Erik “lives his own myth” (as the Greek tourism slogan goes), going from island to island, getting into random adventures on the way like Odysseus in Homer’s The Odyssey.




TRAVEL DISPATCHES (in chronological order)

After Timbuktu

Posted: August 07, 2006

It’s been roughly four months since my “Escape from Mali” — the ending of an emotionally draining, albeit memorable journey through the western African nation of Mali to the legendary-turned-anti-climactic city of Timbuktu (all of which have been immortalized in The Global Trip blog “Trippin’ to Timbuktu”).  Since then, life has returned to a state of normalcy — if you considering working in a youthful NYC interactive advertising agency being “normal,” sending funny YouTube and ytmnd.com links to friends and coworkers all day.

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Liquids On A Plane

Posted: August 26, 2006

DAY 1:  “So how does it work?” I asked, holding a bottle of Diet Coke.  “Do I get rid of this now?”

It was my first flight since the LE scare (Liquid Explosive) of August 2006, an airline terror threat not to be confused with the other one of the month, SoaP (Snakes on a Plane).  No liquids were allowed to be carried on-board any commercial flight.  No snakes too, for that matter.

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United Nations of Malaga

Posted: August 27, 2006

DAY 2:  “So most people don’t go out until midnight around here?” I asked my buddy Jack as we walked from Malaga’s airport to the train that would take us to his apartment by the beach.

“People don’t go out until one,” he told me.  “This is actually pretty early.”  My watch read about 11 p.m. local time.

“I got here just in time then.”

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Homes

Posted: August 30, 2006

DAY 4: “Erik, we are homeless,” Sylvina told me at El Mercader, after they had packed all their belongings in suitcases and bags to move their lives out of Malaga.

“I’m homeless too,” I smirked.

“No, you have your home in New York.”

“Mi casa es tu casa.”

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Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Posted: August 31, 2006

DAY 5:  “Two tickets to Tomatina, with a return ticket,” said the young traveler in his British accent.

The Spaniard behind the ticket counter rolled his eyes, unimpressed at the Brit’s complete disregard of the local language.  However, he knew what the guy wanted since almost everyone in the Valencia train station was headed towards the same place: La Tomatina, the world-renowned tomato food fight in the small town of Buñol, about 45 minutes from the city center of Valencia.  At 7:45 that morning, the station was crowded with Brits, Germans, Aussies, Japanese, Americans, Canadians, and some Spaniards — some wearing Tomatina t-shirts, some toting waterproof disposable cameras — all gearing up for the sloppy tomato-filled G8 summit.

“Dos para Buñol,” I requested at the counter.

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Stuff In Me

Posted: September 02, 2006

DAY 6:  There’s an underrated but funny quotable line from M. Night Shamalan’s movie Unbreakable where a comic book store owner tells Samuel L. Jackson that he has to leave his store because he’s closing up and he’s hungry.  It goes something to the effect of, “You don’t understand.  I gotta go.  I gotta get some chicken in me!”

How this popped in my head I don’t know, but it spawned an on-going joke throughout the day.

“I need to get some paella in me!”

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It’s All English To Me

Posted: September 02, 2006

DAY 7:  One of my pet peeves is when a traveler goes to a foreign country and doesn’t attempt to learn the local language.  It’s one thing to not grasp it, but it’s another to not even have the intent to learn and assume everyone will speak English.  There’s something about that that just puts you in the “asshole” category in my book.

In Greece, it’s a little different because many people do speak some English, after Greek of course.  Like Tagalog in the Philippines, the Greek language is slowly dying; it has become less-popular with future generations to embrace since it isn’t really practical outside the country.  However, I was told that a local Greek would still be impressed if you tried to keep the language alive, which is why I invested in a phrasebook and language CD this past summer.  In addition, I was lucky to meet Lia, a Greek-American friend who had transferred to my work office for the summer, who had schooled me on some basic phrases:

ne = yes
ohi = no
yia su = hello
tekanis = hi, how are you?
efkhariso = thank you
parakalo = you’re welcome / please
signo me = excuse me / sorry

and most importantly:

milas anglika? = do you speak English?

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Ruined

Posted: September 03, 2006

DAY 8:  Athens, center of the Greek universe for millenia, is as legendary as the Goddess of Wisdom it was named after, Athena.  The present-day capital of a civilization credited with democracy, philosophy, art, mythology, and the Olympic games, it is truly a “must-see” on any traveler’s list.  But perhaps Athens’ attractions are on too many tourists’ lists because groups come by the bus loads, almost hourly in the summer days, completely breaking the mystique that is supposed to come with a Wonder of the World.  The ruins of ancient Greece have been ruined.

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Wandering Without The Cyclops

Posted: September 05, 2006

DAY 9:  In Homer’s Greek epic The Odyssey, Odysseus wanders the Greek Isles for ten years, trying to get home to Ithaca from the Trojan War, getting into sticky, episodic situations along the way, like MacGyver.  (My Cliffs Notes dub this part of the book as “The Wanderings Of Odysseus.”)  In one of his earlier episodes, Odysseus encounters the one-eyed Cyclops, son of Poseidon, and defeats him in true MacGyver-style — by simply blinding his eye with a paper clip, a teabag, and some ammonia.  (That’s a joke in case you hadn’t read the Cliffs Notes.)

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Speculations and Interpretations

Posted: September 05, 2006

DAY 10:  Archaeology is not an exactly science; it does not deal in time schedules.  However, there is a fine line between science and speculation, and when you’re dealing with the ruins of something wiped out hundreds of years ago, it could go either way.  This is such the case with the Temple of Knossos, the greatest archaeological find of the Minoan civilization — and home of the Minotaur in the labyrinth legend — a half hour bus ride from Iraklion.

During the hey day of archaeology in the early 20th century, the British “discovered” the ruins of Knossos on the island of Crete, and for 43 years excavated and restored it under their lead archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans.  However, Evans sort of guessed his way around Knossos, so blatantly to the point that every guidebook and informational sign prefaces all facts with “according to Evans…”  For example, in this one famous fresco found on the site, Evans had only fragments of the entire piece (lower right of photo) but simply drew in the rest from his imagination.  This is like getting 20 pieces of a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle and drawing in the rest without ever having seen the box with the final picture on it.

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The Beaten Path

Posted: September 06, 2006

DAY 11:Hania, which in Greek letters is spelled “XANIA,” is Crete’s second largest city and its biggest center of tourism.  Hania’s old Venetian harbor is a hub of cafes, boutiques, souvenir shops, restaurants, clubs, internet shops, photo developing shops, glass bottom boat tour desks, accordion players, horse carriage rides, a few begging old gypsy women, and mimes.  (Well, the one mime that I saw.)  In the Plaza Venizelou, vendors sell balloons by day while promoters hand out club flyers by night — some to self-proclaimed “Scandinavian clubs.”  Collectively, the uber-touristy scene is what many call, “The Beaten Path.”

However, there is an escape to this Touristville, particularly one for those appreciative of nature: the Samaria Gorge in White Mountains National Park — the longest and deepest gorge in all of Europe at 16 km. — a must see in my Let’s Go Greece guidebook.  Only an hour away by bus from Hania, it too is an attraction for the masses — or at least the fraction that can handle its day-long trek — providing for another sort of beaten path.

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The Old Man and the Sea

Posted: September 06, 2006

DAY 12:  When you’re in a tourist hub like Hania, you can either bitch about its commercialization non-stop, or shut up and go with the flow.  That’s what I did that day, the shutting up I mean, after leisurely spending my last morning in the Neli studio, packing up, and enjoying the view from the terrace one last time.  Down from my street, the town was just waking up as well:  old men sat in alleys and discussed the news, while out on the tourist strip, the usual waiters and hosts of restaurants called out to potential customers.

“Hello!  Oh, I see you are wondering about a good restaurant!  Please, come have a seat…”

Some would try to presume the language you spoke and vie for your business accordingly — one guy pinned me for Spanish.  It was competitive out there, especially with guidebooks leading foreigners to the same restaurants.  Molly and E.J. had gone to one Lonely Planet recommended two days prior and said that the surrounding restaurants were sadly empty all because everyone has the same book.

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The Santorini Thing

Posted: September 09, 2006

DAY 13:  Santorini, according to basic geography, is a micro-archipelago of the greater Cyclades island group in Greece.  The remains of a collapsed volcano, it once held a settlement of Minoan prosperity — until a volcanic eruption wiped it out.  None of that barely matters today for Santorini is now a popular honeymooners destination with its unique, brightly painted architecture contrasting gray metamorphic cliffs that swoop down to black sand beaches.  Its overall appeal is so romantically mainstream that it is a port-of-call on the list of every luxury cruise ship in Greece.

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Searching for Atlantis

Posted: September 09, 2006

DAY 14: Santorini’s central volcano Nea Kameni erupted around 1625 B.C. and destroyed what the Minoans had settled there, causing a massive tsunami across the sea that washed away many Greek settlements — the most well-known being the lost city of Atlantis.  Some believe the Atlantis that Plato spoke of (was it Plato?) might have been near the Temple of Knossos in Crete or somewhere near Gibraltar, but many believe it is in fact near Santorini itself.  One way to find out is to go underwater and see what’s there, so I set up two scuba dives with the Santorini Dive Center.  I had hopes of seeing something cool, like the remains of the mythical city, or if anything, an octopus.

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The Lotus-Eaters

Posted: September 10, 2006

DAY 15:  In Homer’s epic The Odyssey, hero Odysseus travels from island to island, getting into several MacGyver-like episodes, on his way home to Ithaca.  In one episode, he arrives at the Land of the Lotus-Eaters, a tribe of people addicted to the lotus plant, a food which has the power to disempower someone; once addicted to the lotus, one loses all ambitions and motivations to go anywhere or do anything (but eat more lotus).  Odysseus had a hard time pulling his newly-addicted crew away from the Lotus-Eaters, so that he might get on and continue his odyssey — before the word and poem “Odyssey” might be named after someone else.  (MacGyver perhaps.)

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Wanted: Poseidon Adventure

Posted: September 11, 2006

DAY 16:Poseidon, King of the Seas in Greek mythology, is a deity so powerful that he can take Hollywood remakes baring his name and turn them into box office duds.  (Seriously, that was in theaters for only about two weeks.)  As King of the Seas, he is responsible for many seafaring adventures, and the one I was looking for was to be a bit tamer than The Perfect Storm.

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When You’re Here, You’re Family

Posted: September 13, 2006

DAY 17:  I noticed a big impressive schooner named Galileo docked in the port that morning when one of the ferries was coming in.  I went to check it out and shoot a picture when I ran into Oula, the woman who had touted me two evenings prior when I had landed in Naxos, and gave me the room I was staying at in her house in Naxos Town.

“[I am late for the ferry arrival,]” she told me, knowing that family came before her job touting people off the ships for a place to stay.  “[I had to bring my daughter to school.  In Greece, today is the first day of school.]”  While back in America the 11th of September would be remembered for something else, in Greece kids went back to their classrooms.

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The Legend of Vasillis

Posted: September 13, 2006

DAY 18:  This tale should be prefaced with the following instant messenger chat between me and Tracy, my former Creative Director during my dot com bubble days (and fellow globaltripper):

ME (place annoying AIM “message sent” chime sound here): yo
ME: where should I go in greece?
TRACY (place annoying AIM “message received” chime sound here): i can recommend NAXOS
TRACY:  north east tip, tiny hamlet named [Town X]
TRACY:  find the hotel kouros and the owner, vasillis — tell him you are a friend of Mississippi’s.
TRACY: Vassilis calls me Mississippi
ME:  ok
TRACY:  its a great, small village. right on the water. he cooks for you at night and drink home made wine
ME: nice

Tracy was skeptical on letting me in on his special Shangri-la in Naxos — so special that he doesn’t want it to be overridden with too many people, like in the book/movie, The Beach.  Instead of using its real name, it is to be known for all intents and purposes as “Town X,” although anyone who’s been to Naxos can pretty much figure it out.

And so, like a character in a video game quest like The Legend of Zelda, I went off to venture on a quest to find the old man Vassilis in Town X, that tiny hamlet of Naxos, and to see what sort of treasure I could find there.

X marks the spot.

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Bag of Winds

Posted: September 14, 2006

DAY 19: To paraphrase the copy of Cliffs Notes for The Odyssey I packed along in my carry-on (deemed safe by Homeland Security, but not by your sixth grade English teacher), Odysseus was right on course to go home to Ithaca with the help of the Aeolus.  Aeolus, King of the Winds (a.k.a. Joe Blow) had used his powers to take all the adverse winds and stick them in a Ziploc® freezer bag.  The bag was then sealed shut (“Yellow and blue make green!”) so that none of the bad winds would escape and send Odysseus off course.  However, when Odysseus & Co. were right within sights of home, a couple of crewmembers with the munchies thought that there was some sort of hidden treasure in the bag — or maybe just some leftovers — and opened it.  Their boat was sent way off course, leaving Odysseus to think that maybe he should have labeled his bags accordingly:

“ADVERSE WINDS”    |    “MEATLOAF”


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The End of the Myth

Posted: September 14, 2006

DAY 20:  “Good morning!  Are you leaving today?” Mamma of the Dolphins restaurant in Naxos Town greeted me.  She saw that I had my big bag with me.

“Yes.”  For brunch she served me my last fill of grilled octopus, prepared from one of the tentacles hanging on the banister outside.  Her son Giorgo served me a free coffee and old man Gregory gave me some free wine.  It was sad; I was about to leave the family I had come to learn about through daily observation.

“Where are you going?  Santorini?” Gregory asked.

“No, Athens.  I’m going home.”

Before sending me off to the ferry port, the grandfather-type wished me luck, kissing me goodbye on both cheeks in a respectful family way, like the tough guys do on The Sopranos.  “[Good journey,]” he said.  “Take a card, so you can remember Gregory!”

“I’ll see you soon.”

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Beer Team, Assemble!

Posted: September 18, 2006

DAY 21:  On my first night in Athens, I had learned that I wasn’t the only one with the same idea: to throw tomatoes at the Tomatina festival in Valencia, Spain, then travel somewhere for two weeks — in my case, the Greek Islands — and then head over to Munich, Germany for the ultimate beer festival, Oktoberfest.  Not surprisingly, most of these like-minded planners were fun lovin’ Australians — so many that I came to believe that I’d seen nothing but Aussies in Munich.  A young backpacking German couple from Hamburg that I’d met that first night in Athens concurred, telling me that Oktoberfest was a big annual festival for tourists and no Germans actually ever go there — sort of like how hardly any New Yorkers go to Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

I figured that people would travel from afar to celebrate in Oktoberfest — I mean, who wouldn’t? — and like Tomatina, they’d come in groups of non-competitive teams with matching outfits.  My suspicions were confirmed when I landed in Munich’s Strauss airport and immediately saw another Team Canada at the baggage claim:  a group of guys in matching red hockey jerseys, with a logo on each — half maple leaf, half beer stein.  Inspired, I picked up my bag and ventured off to gather some guys for my own team.

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The (Drunken) Man Show

Posted: September 20, 2006

DAY 22:  On October 12, 1810, Bavarian Prince-turned-King Ludwig the First got hitched to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in a huge fairy tale wedding that would make any Bridezilla green with envy.  The reception was such a blast that the king decreed it be celebrated again the following year — it’s good to be the king — with another huge festival of dancing, singing, horse races, good food, and above all, good beer — a beverage Bavaria prided itself on.  Over the centuries, this October festival, this Oktoberfest was celebrated annually, minus a couple of times lost to war.

Nowadays, Oktoberfest actually takes place the three weeks before the first Sunday of October, meaning it always starts in mid-September — for no real significant reason other than that the weather is better — and therefore it is, for the most part, a Septemberfest.  But seriously, with a festival dedicated to celebrate the Bavarian cultures of dancing, music, cuisine, beer consumption, and hot German chicks prancing around in corsets that accentuate their cleavage, why wait for October?

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Team Crossbow

Posted: September 21, 2006

DAY 23:  “Happy Birthday, man,” I greeted Terence.

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot,” Jack said.  “Happy Birthday.”

“Thanks.”

If there’s anyway to really celebrate a guy’s 32nd birthday, it’s at Oktoberfest, although it was actually debatable for months if Terence the Birthday Boy would even come; he was wishy-washy about spending the cash to travel all the way to Germany for only three days, but ultimately figured what the hell, it was more than just regular weekend trip and more than just a birthday.  With me already planning on being at Oktoberfest and Jack wanting one last big hurrah in Europe before relocating back to the USA, it just made sense to go this year — and so he maxed out his credit card and got on plane.  In the end, I think he had no regrets and came to believe in one law that I do:

Every man must make the pilgrimage to Oktoberfest at least once in his lifetime, the way a Muslim must make the pilgrimage to Mecca.

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Buzzkill

Posted: September 24, 2006

DAY 24:  To leave Oktoberfest is quite possibly the ultimate buzzkill, although it was probably best to leave after only two days to leave on a high note.  Like my experience at my brother’s bachelor party in Las Vegas, anything longer than three days and you cross the threshold; a fourth day is not nearly as fun as the first day, just like the fourth breadstick is never as good as the first in the unlimited breadstick deal at the Olive Garden.

What I didn’t realize when I woke up that last day of my trip — the 24th day of “Tomatoes, Grease & Beer” — was that the act of leaving Oktoberfest wasn’t the only buzzkill.

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TOMATOES, GREASE & BEER (in chronological order):



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