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I would like to share a couple stories about Athens on our trip to Greece. 

One day our group was traipsing through Athens.   Let me tell you something - Athens is a vast city!  Once you climb up to the top of the Acropolis in the center of Athens, you can see the entire city stretch for miles in every direction. 

The city is so huge it looks like it must be 40 miles wide.  Now let me add that Athens was not the easiest place to figure out.  I was so lost I had an attack of vertigo.  Most of the time I had no idea where I was.

Don't forget to multiply this picture Athens in four directions!

Have you ever heard the saying, "It's all Greek to me"? 

Apparently this saying goes back to Shakespeare.  The line was first spoken by Casca, one of the conspirators against Caesar in the first act of Julius Caesar.  Casca was referring to the comments made by Cicero after Caesar refused the crown of emperor three times.  Despite Caesar's attempts to calm the fears, the Senators of Rome were terrified of giving Caesar too much power.  So behind his back they began to conspire against him. 

In this scene, Cicero actually did speak in Greek.  He used that language as a device to make sure that casual passers-by could not possibly understand his remarks. 

Today the expression 'It's all Greek to me' simply means that what has been said is beyond the speaker's understanding. 

Let me add that during my visit to Athens I did not require any explanation of this phrase.  It made complete sense to me.

Every sign was in Greek.  Every map was in Greek.  And the Greek taxi drivers with their foreign language were determined to overcharge at every turn.

The city was vast and difficult to fathom. Plus unlike Rome, very few people spoke English.  I felt completely and utterly lost.

This is a diagram of the Athens rail system.  Does it make sense to you?

One of the members of our group, Iqbal Nagji, offered to guide a large group of us through Athens. Things started to go wrong immediately. The taxi drivers worked as a unit. They each demanded 25 Euros ($50 US) for a 10-minute drive to the Acropolis even though the sign in the cruise ship parking lot specifically stated 8 Euros.

Iqbal realized how expensive it would be for us to use taxis. He led our entire group of 22 over to a bus stop, personally paid for every ticket, and got us a quick bus ride to the Metro subway station. None of us would have had a clue where the bus stop was or which bus to take.

Furthermore we would have never found that Metro station in a million years. It was at least a mile from the ship and virtually unrecognizable if you didn't already know where you were going. But Iqbal knew exactly where it was.

We trusted our lives to Iqbal, pictured on the left

Once we got off the first train, Iqbal discovered there was a problem. Something was wrong.  There were two lines, but only one was working.  Apparently half the Metro workers were on strike that day till 9 am.  This made little sense to me.  Who on earth strikes for a couple of hours, then comes to work?  And why did one half strike and not the other? 

Iqbal said that one of the two Metro lines would not be in service till 9 am. This meant we could not reach the closest exit to the Acropolis.   Since it was only 8:15 AM, Iqbal got us back on the Metro and took us in another direction to an exit close enough to the Acropolis for us to walk.

As I followed Iqbal around like a puppy dog, I  wondered how did he figure out what the problem was and know what to do?  He doesn't speak Greek.  And how Iqbal could decipher that train system was more than I could ever understand.  That's why he was the leader and I was the follower.

Now Iqbal led us through an incredible twisty, winding maze of narrow streets and alleys. I kept expecting the Minotaur to leap out and eat one of us for breakfast.

Suddenly out of nowhere the Acropolis appeared!  Iqbal had successfully guided us to our destination! Amazing!

For the next hour or so, our group of 20 people wandered around this huge fortress situated atop the highest point in all of Athens.  We had a lot of freedom to move around because Iqbal's train had allowed us to beat the tours and the crowds.

However, we ran into a few people from our cruise who were there ahead of us. They didn't want to wait and had taken a cab at the pier instead.  It was worth it to them to spend $50 on a cab that brought them here quickly and without fuss. 

But on the other hand, thanks to Iqbal,  every person in our group had gotten here for the cost of 1 single Euro.  And we were only 15 minutes behind the taxi people.  For those short on cash like me, we were grateful. 

Nor did our trip end at the Acropolis.  For the rest of the day, Iqbal patiently led us through Athens. He took us to the Temple of Zeus, he took us to see the changing of the guard, he found a great spot for us to get lunch, he took us to the National Museum, he found a great spot for us to shop for souvenirs, and at the end of the day he even got us home with just a few minutes to spare.  Iqbal was the perfect tour guide!

The National Museum was one of the highlights. But I was squeamish to notice the care my 17-year old daughter Sam took while inspecting each statue.  Gee whiz!  In one hour, Sam probably saw more nudity at this museum than she had in her entire 13 years of private school education!  I had to go into another room just to stop squirming. 

When I got the courage to return, I noticed Iqbal was patiently explaining some of the history about a statue of Eros and Aphrodite to my daughter.  Iqbal was constantly sharing his knowledge like this.  Not just with me, but with EVERYONE!

That is when I realized Iqbal had given up an entire day of his own vacation to help us negotiate the deeply confusing streets of Athens.  What a service!  He is so unselfish.  We were very fortunate for his kindness!

Another story from this same day involved a lady who took me aside and thanked me for organizing the trip.  Our conversation occurred as we were walking through more of the deeply confusing twisty, winding streets of Athens behind our fearless leader Iqbal.

As I always do, I quickly explained to her that Marla had done all the work. The lady smiled and nodded that she understood my point. Then she said she had something she wanted to tell me.

She said that she signed up for this trip by herself.  She said that she had wanted to visit this area of the world for a long time, but didn't have anyone in presently her life at this time who could accompany her. She said this trip was literally the answer to her prayer. And although she didn't know a single soul in our group, the people in our group had been so kind to her!  Now she wanted to say how grateful she was that a single lady from the other side of the planet could feel so completely safe in such a confusing environment.  Thanks to us, she was fulfilling a dream. 

I smiled. I had heard this story before. I remember feeling the same way about MG Anseman back in 2004 when he led an entire group of us through the crazy streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras with insane drunk people screaming all around us. Thanks to MG, we had the absolute time of our lives and felt totally secure in the process.

So I thanked the lady for her kind words. Then I added I have felt the same way she did many times. In fact, there are always people in the group there to look out for someone who needs help.  Today it was Iqbal who guided us through the strange land, but I ruefully thought back to how lost I had been in Rome a couple days earlier.  Thank goodness we had Iqbal to guide us through Athens!

Not only did Iqbal save each person a tremendous amount of money, but he made us feel secure and at ease.  We were able to enjoy Athens so much more knowing that we had someone who not only knew how to get us back to the ship, but could keep an eye on the clock as well.  Iqbal's knowledge allowed us to squeeze every precious moment out of our trip in Athens and still get back to the ship on time.  Without him, most of us would have returned much earlier due to our inexperience.

It was fun for me to hear this nice lady tell me how much she appreciated the opportunity this cruise offered her to make a wish come true.  Not only did Marla and Iqbal contribute so much to make this trip work, the neat thing is that everyone looked out for each other. 

For example, my friend Rhonwyn loved having different men like Greg and Ken put their arm through hers to escort her all day long! Rhonwyn had the biggest smile on her face as our big strong men walked along beside her arm in arm!  Not only did Rhonwyn feel safe, she didn't worry about stumbling or getting separated from the group.  Plus she thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and the company. 

It was so much fun watching our gentlemen be gentlemen, I was inspired to offer Rhonwyn my arm as well.  Looked like fun!  So the moment I saw her arm free, I smoothly slid my own arm through hers from behind.  Good idea - Rhonwyn was very entertaining!  She told some great stories as I walked next to her.

Nor was Rhonwyn's story an isolated incident.  If it were not for the fear of needlessly embarrassing some people, I would share several more stories along these exact same lines.  It was a wonderful experience for me to observe how close knit this group had grown.

Here at SSQQ we have a wonderful community. Not only do we have great fun together, we all look out for each other as well.

Never was this truth more apparent than on this particular trip to distant foreign lands.  Our group trip offered safety, comfort, and companionship to all.


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