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Having a Great Time, Wish You Worked Here

The Greek pace--and phone system--stalled all efforts to get the job done while vacationing, which left catch-up projects for the return to England.

July 26, 2001|KEVIN RYAN |

Greece nearly ruined my working vacation.

The quest to spend the summer in Europe with my family while working on client projects was clicking along just fine as we traveled through Zurich, Paris and London. Then our plane touched down on the island of Paros in the Greek Aegean Sea.

Sure, we had good weather--actually, unseasonably warm, great weather--in Paris and London, but that still didn't stop me from taking care of business in those capital cities.

Everything came to a screeching halt in Greece.

It was an attitude problem.


Our room at the family-run Kalypso Hotel had a balcony not 50 feet from the edge of the Aegean Sea. All sense of responsibility melted in the tropical sun.

Overnight, we were on Greek time: staying up and sleeping in late; living in shorts, T-shirts and sandals; taking afternoon siestas; and spending every waking minute--that we weren't eating tzatziki, souvlaki and moussaka--in or on the edge of the sea.

Each day, I thought about work. Each night, I made to-do lists and fell asleep with ambitious, even heroic, intentions to tackle all of my writing projects in the morning. Then the sun came up. The waves beckoned. And I promised to do twice as much work the next day.

Even the Greek phone system conspired against me. I bought two prepaid phone cards, one with a personal identification number to use with our hotel phone and one to insert in the card-only public pay phones.

The first three times I tried to use the PIN card to check my voicemail back in Sandy, Utah, it didn't work. I got a variety of recordings ranging from "no such phone number" to "there is no operator support for this card." At least, unlike in Paris, the recordings were in English, so I had some idea what was wrong.

I finally decided to try pushing the phone buttons very slowly, about a second between each, and the call went through. Apparently, everything operates on Greek time.

I had nothing but trouble using the pay-phone card to check my voicemail. Sometimes I'd punch in the number and get a dial tone. Other times, I'd get as far as inputting my voicemail security code; then the line would go dead or switch to a dial tone.

I never was able to check my voicemail with this card. I'm still not sure why and neither is the manager of the Greek telephone office in the island's capital of Parikia. He told me, without more investigation than asking what number I was dialing, "Oh, you are calling the States? The trouble is there. The problem is with the States."

But I never had that problem in Paris or London.

I had other problems instead.

In our room at the Hotel le Home Latin, a stone's throw from the Seine River on the Left Bank, the phone cord disappeared behind our bed's headboard, which was fastened to the wall. I thought about asking the night clerk for a screwdriver so I could move the board just enough to plug in my laptop for Internet access. But that's how "ugly American" rumors get started.

So I didn't.

Instead, I stayed in touch with clients using cyber cafes and prepaid calling cards. This was doable for the four days we were in Paris but would be frustrating if not impractical for a longer period.

Most cyber cafes keep minimal software on each computer, so it's often impossible to open attachments or do anything other than read and reply to e-mails. I had to download attachments to a floppy disk to take back and open on my laptop. Luckily, no files were more than 1.4 megabytes. Of the four cyber cafes I visited, only one had Zip drives.

I relied on my Internet service provider's Web-mail feature to check my e-mail at the cyber cafes. However, the service sometimes ran extremely slowly or wouldn't send attachments. So I tried a free service I had heard about, at I logged on to the site and entered my full e-mail address and password. In no time at all, it displayed all of my e-mail. Mail2Web was fast and consistently more reliable than my ISP's Web-mail service.

In London, we stayed with friends who had Internet access, so I thought getting online there would be a snap. I was wrong.

My aptly named Modem Saver International saved the day. I first used the Modem Saver--which is also a phone-line surge suppressor and tells you whether you're trying to connect to a digital phone system--to test the line's voltage level.

The voltage was fine, but a warning light told me the polarity was reversed. I never even knew phone lines had polarity. The Modem Saver included a reverse-polarity adapter, which did the trick. I never would have figured out the problem on my own.

While in Greece, I at least made the effort to check my e-mail every day. After all, I might receive some interesting personal messages. I found a phone-line adapter for 75 cents at an audio store in the fishing village of Naoussa, walked back to our room at the Kalypso and got online without a hitch using my iPass account.

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