One of our routines in Cape Town has been a weekly trip to the vineyards of Stellenbosch and Franschoek. We tried to ship a few cases of our favorite bottles but the import laws for personal consumption in The States make this a daunting task. We thought these wines would be the few souvenirs we collected on our trip.
As I was packing our two duffle bags for our Wednesday departure for Brazil, I was struck by how similar their contents are to when we left home on November 1, 2011. Despite the colorful markets and unique items we have seen around the world, our bags are generally devoid of souvenirs. We left with two bags stuffed with clothes and shoes and are returning home with the same. Some of the clothes are different, since the kids got a change over mid way through our trip when our families showered them with gifts in India. That worked out well since they’ve been growing at such a rapid rate. Sandeep and I bought a handful of clothes along the way, generally to replace something that was wearing out.
We have been pretty strict about wanting to complete our journey light, with the same luggage that accompanied us out of New York. That has meant that we have not accumulated much by way of material goods. We have restricted ourselves to two mementos from each country. The first is a Christmas ornament. Ever since Sandeep and I started dating, we have been collecting ornaments from every place we travel. These aren’t traditional round glass ornaments, but rather something we can hang on a tree that reminds us of where we have been. They range from a Thai hanging elephant to a wooden South African flag.
Our other collection is coins. We have gathered two coins from every country, one for each of the kids. We used these currencies every day, yet when the kids grow up they may not exist in their current form (the Euro as an example!). The kids also started an impromptu collection of stones and sea shells. We’re not sure how the kids will decipher the origins, but they feel very attached to their selections.
It would be wonderful to fill our new home with things that remind us of this journey but it’s impossible to materialize memories. How do you carry the experience of climbing a Himalayan mountain or eating at a hawker market? We can’t bottle the Greek sea air or travel with a Turkish hammam. We’re so happy to have our stories documented on this blog. Each post will take us closer to where we were. We’ll reminisce extra every Christmas as we look up at the tree. We may forget where each shell came from, but hopefully not the happiness we felt as we collected them.
In April we introduced the International Toddler Haircut Index. A haircut is a good way to gauge the cost of services around the world. Our guinea pig is Kayan, whose hair grows at an alarming rate. Besides, Ava wont let us touch her hair, I can’t be bothered with mine, and Sandeep has none. Therefore, Kayan takes one for the team in the interest of travel research. Kayan has had his hair tended to in New York, Thailand, Malaysia, Turkey and today in Cape Town.
This is the hairdo Kayan sported this morning.
Here he is getting his haircut at Scar, whose tagline is “Good Hair for Bad People”. Kayan may be smiling in the picture above, but he is going through a phase of night terrors and tantrums so as far as his parents are concerned, he’s been bad. Scar was calling his name.
The haircut came to 80 South African Rand (US$9.5), which is the most we have paid for a haircut on our journey so far. Istanbul was $5 and South East Asia $2. The hairdresser was very impressed that Kayan stayed followed all her instructions. I realized that Kayan’s last several haircuts were given by people who spoke Thai, Malay, and Turkish. This was his first “English” haircut since leaving New York. “He’s just happy he understands what you’re saying,” I replied. She seem confused but Kayan was brushed clean before I could explain. This is Kayan after.
Now that I look closely, it’s probably time to subject Ava and Taniya to International Toddler Haircut Index research.
Until this month we had stuck to the itinerary we mapped out in October 2011, when we set of on our around the world journey. In April we realized that our fantasy of driving through Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan was much more complicated than just renting a car. The logistics and visa requirements to execute the road trip were more than Sandeep and I wanted to navigate. We needed an alternative.
At first we wanted to stay away from Europe, thinking the cost of living would be too high to maintain the relatively extravagant (as compared to New York City) lifestyles we’ve become used to on our trip. Despite this, we ended up in Greece because it was a unique opportunity to live in a crisis that will likely change the world and, very naively, we thought that prices would fall as the crisis got worse.
I just wrote a piece for Huffington Post about why domestic prices in Greece remain high. To add some additional perspective, here are a couple of insights into how wide we’re opening our wallets.
We had to send a fax to our booking agent in Namibia yesterday. The two page message cost us 33 Euros ($42). This is the receipt for our dinner in Vari, probably the best value for money we’ve had so far at a restaurant in Greece.
Notice the 23% tax on every menu item, including food and wine. As with many establishments in Greece, this Vari restaurant is absorbing the cost of the tax hikes so as not to increase menu prices and lose demand. Sadly, despite their best efforts, the restaurant was still relatively empty when we were there.
The Greeks are struggling and, like the owner of the Vari restaurant, are doing everything they can to stay afloat. We came here thinking we would find a few bargains but, after seeing the hardship that many people in Greece are facing, we’re willingly stretching our wallet as far as it will go to eat out and purchase local goods and services.
The Greek god of wealth is Plutus. Zeus blinded Plutus so that he would disperse wealth without prejudice or favoritism. Despite these extreme measures, wealth distribution in Greece, accentuated by the economic crisis, is an issue that is shaking the country and reverberating around the world. We have seen one stark side of it in our new home of Vouliagmeni.
Vouliagmeni is a suburb of Athens and is the southernmost point of what is known as the Athenian Riviera. The small seaside town has one of the highest real estate prices in Greece and is where affluent Athenians have their second homes. What we didn’t realize is how affluent Athenians are and how a town that caters to the uppermost crust of society can be so isolated from a crisis that is impacting the rest of the nation.
The restaurants in Vouliagmeni were buzzing on the weekend, with groups of polo-shirt clad men and designer sunglass-clad women sipping drinks on white cushions overlooking the Mediterranean. The shabbiest car we have seen here is an Audi. It’s hard to take a picture of a luxury can without it being eclipsed by another one. Here is a red Ferrari turning a corner where a white Lamborghini was parked. I tried to get a clear shot but a group of policemen started yelling something about pictures not being allowed. It was all Greek to me, but I didn’t want to argue.
In the beach parking lot, it’s all Porsches, BMWs and Mercedes.
The only grocery store in town has prices that put Whole Foods to shame. The cheapest sit down meal is the souvlaki corner where lunch for the family came to 30 euros ($40).
The streets are lined with orange, olive and fig trees. All of them are ripe with fruit that we haven’t seen anyone daring to pick. Every time we leave the house, Ava and Kayan beg us to pick fruit. We keep telling them that it’s just for decoration. I suppose when one has so much money, why bother plucking fruit when you can buy it instead?
Vouliagmeni is an the ideal location for us. It has great beaches and a quiet vibe, but is easy access to Athens and a few other beach towns. However, we feel isolated from (what we had imagined to be) Greek culture and what is happening in the rest of the country. Then again, the town of Vouliagmeni has been very welcoming to us and giving us the opportunity to experience their side of the crisis.