I've traveled to and from Greece often enough over the last few years that I should not be surprised or put off by anything, but each time, no matter how collected I try to act, something strikes me as particularly bizarre, makes me uncomfortable, and reinforces my feeling that I do not travel well.
1. Inexact Time. To get to Ancient Corinth you can take the train from the airport. This isn't difficult. You just take the regional rail from the airport station to the end of the line and then literally walk across the platform to the train to Corinth. There is one ticket, all the trains leaving the airport go the same place, the platforms are well labeled. But still, I managed to get confused. I am going to blame the person who sold me the ticket, but because it makes me feel better about myself and not because it was her fault. When she handed me the ticket she told me that the right train would leave in 30 minutes. On the board in the well-marked train station there were numerous trains arriving (all going the same place, it would seem), but none that arrived in 30 minutes. In fact, there were two trains that arrived almost exactly 5 minutes before and 5 minutes after the 30 minutes the nice woman had told me to wait. So, as any season traveller seeing the possibility of 2 well-marked trains going to the exact same place, I panicked and randomly picked one. It worked out fine and by the time I arrived in Corinth, I had recovered.
2. Blank Billboards. As the train sped through the Attic countryside along the route of the modern Attic Highway around Athens, I couldn't help but notice the number of blank billboards. The billboards looked new and presumably they were set up for to capitalize on the flood of Olympics tourists, but now in an era of economic uncertainty in Greece, the billboards are a bleak sign. It can't be a good sign when companies can't afford or be bothered to advertise their wares in the summer months - high tourist season - on the main route from the airport to downtown Athens. The Greek countryside is filled with abandonment both ancient and modern and the empty billboards with their exposed and blank plywood pallets just contributed another aspect to the Greek scene.
3. Producing a landscape. Once I lost interest in staring at blank billboards (and abandoned a crazy plan to count them) and transferred onto the high-speed train south to Corinth, I began to look forward to my first glimpses of the Isthmus of Corinth. While I am not usually associated with work on the Isthmus - David Pettegrew is probably the next in line to be the new Mr. Isthmus (Dr. Isthmus?), I still do get a thrill to see the familiar landscape of development, olive groves, market gardens, citrus orchards, archaeological landmarks, and, for lack of better term, human detritus. The idea of finding such a historically important (at least for what I study) place to be familiar is a remarkable feeling. Moreover, my little archaeologist's ego is further stoked when I see the ridge of Mt. Oneion and its imagine that I can make out the faintest traces of its less well-known site. See, the thing is, I documented that site. In fact, I "discovered" it and documented it (with the help of numerous other people) and published it (with my co-author, Tim Gregory). It was cool to see Mt. Oneion and imagine its fortification. It gave me an instant feeling of familiarity and of accomplishment. I know it's dorky, but...
4. Always an outsider. I still feel like an outsider in Greece and doubly so when I settle into my oftentimes home-away-from-home at the American School in Athens. This summer, my short field season, will have me living at their famous compound in the village of Ancient Corinth. I had visited it numerous times, enjoyed the hospitality of its community of scholars and directors, and frequently marveled at the collected, historical expertise of the Corinth folks. At the same time, I've always felt like an outsider there. Now, part of this is because I was an outsider! I have never dug at Corinth and most of my research on the region focuses on the margins (both in terms of interest and in terms of geography). Moreover, I am not renowned for my academic confidence or my ease in fitting into different kinds of professional and personal situations (as I said, I don't travel well). That being said, I had hoped one day to feel more comfortable at the Hill House and the American School more generally. It hasn't happened yet, but maybe this year it will begin.
More from the field as I capture the time to blog.