Ah, Athens. Thanks for the Memories.

It was the trip of a lifetime. My husband and I had long wished and dreamed and hoped and planned to travel to Europe. To see all the places we had read and learned about our whole lives. We were going to Greece, Italy, Turkey, Switzerland, France, Britain and Ireland. We would visit the ruins of the Parthenon in Athens and Ephesus and experience the Greek Islands. And as for Italy, we would visit the Vatican, Rome and all its ancient ruins. We would spend time in Naples and Pompeii and the Isle of Capri. We would explore Venice, Florence and Pisa and drive down the Amalfi Coast from Sorrento. Then on to Switzerland and France. It was amazing! The trip through Britain and Ireland would be great, as we wandered the streets of towns and cities we had only heard and read about. All in all, we would be away almost seven weeks. Yippee!! I could go on and on about that trip and I probably will in future posts – watch this space.

We had a fantastic flight with Emirates (still my favourite airline) from Brisbane to Dubai and then on to Athens. This was post-9/11 so we expected security to be high in Athens. Well, we got that wrong. After collecting our luggage we were merely ushered out into the arrivals area with no security checks. Interesting.

From there to the hotel. We were tired from our flight so had a rest and then took a walk and decided we would go to a nice looking little restaurant for dinner that night rather than eat in the hotel. Afterall, we were seasoned travelers. We had managed to fly from Australia to Greece without incident. How good were we?? We had our first meal overseas in an almost deserted restaurant (remember, it was Athens). The eatery was near the hotel so catered for tourists of which we were and still are, unashamedly. We thought we were eating late at 8pm. The Athenians don’t come out to eat until much later. I still can’t do that. Sigh.

The following evening we met our Tour Director and our traveling companions for the next three weeks. We met folks from Australia, Canada and New Zealand. We had a pleasant time of meeting and greeting and then a light dinner and an early night. The next day was the beginning of our adventure. We were visiting the Parthenon on the Acropolis, for goodness sake. Need to be on the ball.

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On the Acropolis, we were given an informative talk by our experienced local guide and afterwards explored the ruins on our own (translate to, with the other 10 thousand tourists doing the exact same thing) until it was time to board the coach (remember, it is not a bus). It was arranged that we would all have time in the Plaka and the city centre for shopping and lunch and that the coach would pick us up at a designated time. So off we went on our separate ways.

We found ourselves in a part of the Plaka that is a roadway and therefore not for pedestrian traffic. We realised that and I was stepping from the roadway onto the footpath. I literally had my right foot on the footpath and was lifting my left leg up when I felt a heavy weight on the calf of my leg. In a split second, a car tyre had nudged my leg and I immediately felt my leg begin to swell and become very painful. My first thoughts were, “Oh, no, this is the end of my holiday!” and “Ouch – that really, really hurts!”

The woman (Katherina) who ran into me, parked her car and came over to me to see if I was alright – which I wasn’t. Katherina was a consultant engineer and an academic who spoke excellent English. She was very upset and insisted on taking me to the doctor. She left her car in the city and we caught a cab to the hospital that only treats broken bones and accidents – no sick people. Well, that was an experience in itself. Athens’ cab drivers are notorious for their crazy driving and their bright yellow cabs are known as yellow demons – referring to their drivers, no doubt. We arrived at the hospital and I thought we were going to drive through the glass front doors, we were so close. However, he wanted to get me as close to the entrance as possible as my leg was swelling at a rapid rate.

Into the hospital we go and I think “where am I?” The paint is peeling off the walls and while it is clean it is quite dilapidated. Nothing like the hospitals I am used to in Australia. It wasn’t very long before I am X-rayed and then seeing a doctor, all in record time. During this time I had noticed that Katherina had discreetly slipped money to attendants and whoever needed to be hurried along to ensure we passed through the system in the minimum time. The upshot was that I had no broken bones but a very bad sprain and so I was duly strapped up and told to keep off my leg for THREE WEEKS minimum (how long was this tour , yes, that’s right THREE WEEKS argh!!). The doctor provided a handwritten recommendation (not a prescription as in Australia) for pain killers. Katherina has had the cab wait, so off we go again. We stop at the ATM for her to access some cash and then to the pharmacy to purchase my painkillers and crutches.

Then back to my hotel. Katherina is upset – Ummm, so am I, let me tell you – so she calls one of her friends who is a doctor to check me out. I am in my hotel room feeling very fragile when the older doctor arrived. Following our conversation about my medical history and my current injury, he advised that I should probably be medivacced back to Australia but given my situation, there may not be an airline that would take the risk. Well, that’s handy.

My husband says that if I have to go back home, he will miss me but … he is not going home with me. We would see about that. Following discussions with our Tour Director, we  delayed the decision to go home until after the upcoming three day cruise around the Greek Islands.

Well, that’s what we did. And, no, I didn’t fly back to Australia. I wheelchaired, crutchered and hobbled my way around Europe. I went everywhere. Even hobbling around Pompeii on their huge cobbled streets. I had waited far too long for this trip and I was NOT going home. A big thanks goes to our Tour Director, Jonathan and my wonderful tour mates for their support during that time.

There were some good things that came out of the incident. Firstly, we made some great friends that we still keep in touch with. Some live close by and we regularly meet for lunch and catchups. We have had further travels with many of those on that tour in 2009. The other is my love for travel was strengthened after that first European trip. We have since been back to Europe another few times. Each time staying a little longer. But, ah, Athens. Thanks for the memories!

Do you like to travel? Have you found yourself in unfortunate circumstances while traveling? What is your favourite thing about travel? I would love to hear your thoughts in the Comments Section. Thanks for visiting.

 

 

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HMAS Sydney Lost 75 Years Ago

Today, Saturday, 19 November 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Sydney off the Western Australian coast.  The Sydney was sunk with the loss of all the ship’s company of 645. It remains Australia’s worst naval disaster. The Sydney was sunk by the German HSK (German Navy) Kormoran disguised as the Dutch merchant ship Straat Malakka. Until 2008, the resting place of this ship and its company remained a mystery. There have been many countless words written on the history of this disaster by professional historians, and I am not in that illustrious company, so will not be adding to that. So, for those interested, you should check out this link HMAS Sydney History

My thoughts today go to Petty Officer Henry Buccleuch Shipstone. According to the records he was my first cousin, 1 x removed. My grandfather and Henry’s father were half-brothers (they shared the same father). Confused? Family history is a bit like that. Many’s the hour I have spent trying to work out just who is who in the family zoo.  Anyway, we are related. That’s what counts – I think.

Back to Henry Shipstone. In 1941 Henry was 28 years old when he and his 644 companions went down to the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Evidently, Henry liked to write. He wrote poems. A few days, or weeks before the sinking of his ship, Henry wrote the poem below, A Sailor’s Prayer. This poem was read as part of the memorial service for those lost on the Sydney after its discovery in 2008. I am fortunate to have a framed copy of the poem which was given to me by a much-loved uncle.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened to Henry if he had survived the awful war that did indeed take his life. He was 28, single and had grown up in Graceville, a leafy Western suburb of Brisbane with his mother, father and four sisters. I didn’t know the family personally as I was born in the 1950s.  I didn’t find out too much about Henry until more recent times. Would he have gone on to be a writer or author of some kind? or would he, as so many did after the Second World War, work in an ordinary job, have a mortgage and a family. Just one of the crowd. Of course, this is just musing because Henry never did get to do anything after the War. His war ended on this day 75 years ago. Along with so many other young and, not so young, men and women who never reached their potential. War does that. It robs a generation of so much potential. Families grieved for never to be seen again, husbands, wives, children and siblings. What is sad about the sinking of the Sydney is that the families left behind never really knew where their precious loved ones were lying. Many of the immediate families had passed on before 2008, when they discovered the whereabouts of both the Sydney and the Kormoran.

It’s funny, though, if it wasn’t for this tragedy I probably wouldn’t have given Henry Buccleuch Shipstone much of a thought as I worked through the family history. That is, except for the unusual name. That my friends, is another story for my Saturday Arvo Thoughts…

Poem A Sailor's Prayer by Late Petty Officer H.B. Shipstone, of HMAS Sydney II

First blog post

Welcome to my first blog post. WordPress suggested I introduce myself and let you know what to expect from my ramblings on Saturday Arvo Thoughts. Well, I am a retired 60 something female. I am married with two children and a swag of grandchildren. For more than 25 years I worked in university administration. That’s right, not everyone who works at a uni is an academic. There are many of us behind the scenes, helping everything to flow smoothly. I enjoy family history and history in general. Although, as my friends know, I prefer European and Australian history. My other passion is travel. I haven’t been to all the places on my bucket list, but I am working through it. As time goes on, I hope to explore some of the issues I am interested in and if any one else is interested, that will be a bonus. Hope you will join me on the journey.