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We are flying the Greek flag


It is now three days until we fly out. Our Greek roadmap arrived today. A few days ago, the SIM card came, giving us both phone and map navigation. We‘ve booked lodging, two rental cars, one tour of Athens, and a cooking class in Nafplio. Our itinerary is Athens, Nafplio (Peloponnese), Meteora, Chania (Crete) then back to Athens. Details are captured in a spreadsheet that includes our overall budget, as well as local restaurants and possible day trips. There is a page to accumulate daily expenses so we can split them with Sally. Sally worries more about that split than I do.

We watched U-Tube shows on Greek history and places we might visit. Along the way, we learned essential facts such as not flushing toilet paper. Tap water is safe on the mainland but not always on the islands. Good to know.

Even more fascinating is Minoan culture, 2,000 BC, a matriarchal society with art, palaces, plumbing, and written language yet no fortifications, and home to the mythical half bull, half man in the labyrinth. An advanced culture wiped out by volcanos and barbarians. Similarly, the militaristic Spartans defeated Athens, the birthplace of democracy. Athens left behind art, literature, and architecture. The Spartans left behind swords, shields, and horrific stories of brutality to those who did not measure up.

My readings on Greek philosophy, ethics, and worldview have been refreshing in our society’s thoughtless quest for immediate pleasure. Every time I read Aristotle, I hear my father’s voice quoting some philosopher about virtue and truth. If he were here, he would be packing his bags.

We watched endless programs on food, spinach pies, cheese pies, roasted goat, gyros, and Greek salads. Cretan food focuses on local greens and herbs in big stews. Avoiding repetition, I found a restaurant serving Indian food in a refugee neighborhood. Most of the customers are Syrians and North Africans This will be an adventure.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 00:44 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Athens First Day

A long haul but worth it

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As we approached Dulles Airport, air travel horror stories were on everyone's mind. Cindy has been worrying about the 1-hour turnaround in Montreal. "Next time, we won't do that." "We" is me, of course. There were other options but for $200 more?


As we approached Montreal, we were ten minutes early. The flight attendant said, "They always give you enough time." Once in the airport, people said, "Athens flight, go that way, you have enough time." Gate A66 was a hike. Sally pulled out ahead and then began running when the announcer said, "Last call for Air Canada flight to Athens." There were at least six more people on our flight with the same connection. Some were behind us. We made it. The plane was full, but our crew was delayed on a flight from Toronto. Next, they then didn't have a crew to pull the plane. We made it to Athens an hour and half late. I figured we were paid $100 for a bit of worry. I had two glasses of wine with supper, and they were free. It all worked out.
We arrived at a relatively large modern airport.


After finding the trains and searching online, we walked to the station where we had to decipher the system. The subway was the option for 4.5 euros per person if you are over 65. Cindy swore she was over 65, and we were down on the platform waiting for the next subway. They come every 30 minutes.


On the subway, we met a couple staying in Athens for a few days on their way to Jordan, where her husband was to meet her family for the first time. They were excited. Since they knew Athens, they made suggestions, and we followed them to the correct subway stop.
It didn't take long to find our apartment, down a pedestrian street of small shops, one bar, and some graffiti. Generally, we first locate the apartment and then find a convenient taverna for a chance to go over the process for getting in, usually a lock box combination. The taverna had traditional homemade pies, spinach, cheese, and meat. Two older men were running the place, a collection of wooden chairs and tables, pictures of even older taverns. We ordered two slices of pie and a Greek salad. The salad was large and everything was excellent. I had red wine, and we shared slices of pie.
The apartment was on the third floor. We had a choice of stairs or an elevator designed for a tiny squirrel with only one suitcase. Because of my knee, I was consigned to the elevator. We found large rooms, kitchen, bathroom and on the third floor. We had a special card to cut on the electricity (that is to encourage us to keep everything off when out of the apartment).
Tired and with little sleep, we hit the streets looking for the Hop on Hop off bus.


The bus gave us a quick ( 1.5 hour) overview of the central part of the city.


Athens is a large metropolitan city (4 million people) sitting in the basin surrounded by several mountains and dotted by several prominent hills, the Acropolis being the most famous.
The central part of the city is full of narrow winding streets intersected by several not-so-straight boulevards. There are overhead electric lines for the buses. It is a busy place.
After the bus ride, we had a chance to see the changing of the guards. I was trying to imagine balancing on one foot in the heat, holding it so carefully. It made me want a beer. So after that, we searched for supper. I asked a man sitting on a wall if there were choices other than the relatively expensive posh restaurants nearby. He directed us a few streets away. Wow. We had a massive meal of lamb and pork. We were too late for the lamb on the grill, but the lamb cooked in tomatoes was fabulous.


After three large beers and food, we realized we had forgotten a picture of our feast. The whole meal, enough for several more people, was only 36 euros (about $36).
We waddled back home and to bed.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 14:29 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Athens Second Day

A morning of Acropolis climbing then the streets of Athens

At 7:30 in the morning, we had just enough time for breakfast and arrived at the tour office by 9 AM, but it turned into a walk past closed cafes and tavernas. One cafe had the lights on, tables out with someone sitting at a table, nope, a waitress. She told us they opened at 8:30. Greeks do not get up early.
We backtracked to a fancy bar and had three coffees, two croissants, and a cheese sandwich for half as much as supper the evening before. High rent district.
The tour leader, Demetrius, had been a history teacher.


This is our second experience with The Tour Guy, and both times the leader was a professional. The group was nine people, including us, similar to our earlier experience. He was funny and informative, with lots of additional comments. He gave little bits of information about greek culture, especially about eating late, drinking too much, and being exceptionally friendly. He talked about his family's olive farm in the Peloponnese. Greeks are friendly.


Our tour of the Acropolis was a hot walk up and then a pretty hot tour of buildings on the barren top. It was fascinating, crowded, and beautiful. They are in the process of restoration of all the buildings with big blocks of marble being sawed, scaffolds, cranes, winches, and workers. The Parthenon was as beautiful as any picture. We were astonished to know that it survived from when it was built around 500 BC until being blown up when hit by artillery in 1687 during a battle against Turkish occupiers. Many of the original sculptures are in the museum across the street. The statues on the building are copies that appear as weathered and worn originals.
After several hours we walked down the Acropolis to the Acropolis museum. We saw original sculptures and a very sophistical mock-up of the Parthenon. It was to scale stainless steel columns and the remaining frieze fragments. Early drawings and descriptions clarify the arrangement. Out of the museum's glass walls, we could see the actual Parthenon.
After the tour, my recently replaced knee about worn out, we stopped for lunch, a good but not great meal for twice the price of our fantastic supper the night before. We arrived back at our apartment for a nap and recovery.
After the nap, we began walking in the opposite direction from what we had already seen. We found the Athens Central Market, but it was closed. We bought seafood in a cone and walked with limited interest in food. We stumbled across three breakdancers, music booming and the crowd cheering. I filmed a bit, then stopped when the very best guy was dancing, only caught him in a jump over four people, too bad. Right now having trouble uploading video so will have to view later.


Arriving at our apartment, we saw that the bar we had dismissed earlier was busy. People sat at tables out in the street. The food smelled good and after looking at an exciting menu sat down. Again, we ate a fantastic meal for very little money, just over 30 euros for the three of us, which included several beers, but no dessert. I have yet to have ice cream. Tomorrow.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 18:45 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Athens Day Three

What we learned so far.

Relaxed, with no specific plan, we headed out in the morning to find coffee. We headed to the Central Market, which had been closed the evening before. At a small coffee shop, we stopped for coffee and pastries. I switched from Greek coffee, a little strong, to cappuccino. From our table, we had a chance to watch people walking briskly to work or sitting leisurely for coffee before the run.


So far, we have learned several things, Greeks don't get up early, eat late, and are very friendly. On all our trips, we found people to be friendly, but here they are exceptional. Demetrius, our tour guide for the Acropolis, shared stories about his youth, parties on Crete. Once, someone complained about Demitrius and his friends waking them up at 3 AM, but Demitrius responded, "It wasn't us. We came in at 7." He was clearly a teacher, often showing us where Christianity borrowed symbols and images from the ancient Greeks. Demetrius grew up on a family olive farm that didn't get electricity until the 1970s. He loved to point out that Athens was a tiny city, a few thousand people, until the last 100 years.
Last night, as we wandered home, we stopped at a cocktail lounge with tables in the alleyway. We stopped for a beer, which Petros, the owner, served with some disappointment. While restaurants around were busy, we were his only customers. He grabbed a beer, sat at the next table, and talked about growing up barefoot in a village. Petros is thirty-seven. He complained about kids being addicted to video games when they should be out playing soccer. His son is 5 and already playing games. Petros owned a restaurant in London for years but moved back to "the best place in the world." We talked for over an hour. As we were leaving, he wrote down a list of restaurants in Crete with the names of the owners, a page of suggestions. “Tell them I sent you.” Everyone has been so friendly.


Another obvious thing about Athens is the cats. There are cats everywhere, lying on stairs, lying on walls, walking along buildings and curled up in the sun. They are very mannerly, well fed (bowls of food outside many shop) and cared for. We saw a cat ambulance pick up an injured cat.


After coffee, we walked through the market. Cindy kept moving me forward, past the cow and sheep carcasses, men hacking away with heavy cleavers and the bins of animal parts. The fish hall was interesting, but everyone was ready to get off the wet floors and out of the way of men carrying styrofoam boxes of fish. At the entrance, dark women in print dresses sold garlic. I wondered if they were Roma, people we would call gypsies.
After that, we toured the Archeological Museum. It gave a chronological view from prehistory to Mycenaean and Minoan societies up until the first millennium (but of course we finally were too tired and may have missed a millennium or two). It was fantastic, more than we could grasp in a few hours even after studying a number of articles before we came. We saw the gold mask of Agamemnon, gold hilt swords, fantastic pottery and sculptures, and Greek or Italian copies of Greek statues.


After the museum, we walked through various neighborhoods, stopped for a fantastic lunch of kebab wraps, and returned to our room.
After a nap, we walked out to our favorite restaurant, The Traditional Grill House (we think that. is the name) were we had a feast of lamb and pork on the grill, salad etc, our Mediterranean diet.


After supper we walked down into new neighborhoods, more touristy areas. We again watched the same break dancers who had attracted a large crowd. At one point the police walked through and said a few words to the lead performer. Clearly they didn’t have the needed permits and announced that they show was ending. Very gentle policing.
We walked back up a tacky narrow street of blue evil eye pendants, t-shirts, candy, sling shots, hats, tacky jewelry etc. Finally we emerged on more recognizable streets and slowly made our way home. Another good day.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 15:25 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Leaving Athens

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Today is Cindy's birthday, and again, we are in another country. Travel is her favorite present. Today is moving day.
After packing our bags, we emerged on the street, bags in tow and coffee on our minds. Navigating with my iPhone towards the subway, but an eye out for coffee, we found a cute little cafe where we sat outside, but the inside was worth several visits.
After getting off the subway, we headed to the airport car rental area, hoping to find AbbyCar. Someone directed us to the row of rental offices but no AbbyCar. Someone else said there was a shuttle to the right but to the right were many choices. Another person said they had no idea. We walked to a parking lot where cars were turned in but no flag for AbbyCar. Someone finally said, over there, a shuttle every 20 minutes. Sally started running, thinking she saw our shuttle. They were just loading.
The man at the AbbyCar office took my VA driver's license, International Drivers Permit, passport, and credit card. With no pressure, we finished the deal and were off in our blue Nissan, comfortable but seriously underpowered. With a few navigational errors, we entered the highway. It was a wide limited access highway, with large green signs and traffic moving nicely. We had to pass through Athens on our way to the Peloponnese. As we left the heavy urban areas, the landscape was dry, almost desert, with low bushes, a few trees, and dusty soil. The traffic moved smoothly, but I noticed a tendency for drivers to pass very close and cut in quickly. There were several cars, some battered cars, and one an old pickup truck loaded with boxes, riding on the shoulder, past the sign forbidding driving on the shoulder.
The large green road signs were written in Greek, but we recognized a few words like Nafplio (where we were headed). Our phone and a paper map confirmed our position. Once we entered the Peloponnese, the terrain changed, with dramatic stone formations, steep mountains, and rolling hills below. There were scattered olive trees, citrus trees, and vineyards. It has been hot and dry. Every time we spoke with someone, they mentioned the lack of rain.
We took our exit onto a winding road with hairpin curves and steep hills. After a few miles, we saw a tavern with a large portico covering tables and chairs. The tavern was in a dramatic curve. It had no sign, but a pay phone suggested it was a business, not someone's house. Beside the tavern was a fruit stand. We took a chance and stopped.


Some people were sitting at a table but left as we walked up. A woman came out. She struggled through a list of drinks, the "so sorry, no meat, no food, just Greek salad." We ordered cold Freddo cafe, an instant coffee based drink popular for years. Our Freddos were strong but good. Sally made it clear she didn't usually drink instant coffee.
There may have been five more tables with tablecloths and ashtrays. Beyond the dirt parking lot bushes, a pen with a large dog, maybe Saint Bernard, and a dirt road that seemed to lead to orchards. Another dog walked down the stairs, gave us a glance then walked off past the Saint Bernard. Several adults and a baby were on the glassed-in porch that served as the main dining room. Trucks and cars came down the hill, leaned around the curve at our parking lot, and then shot over a little bridge. Six or seven goats grazed under the trees beside the road.
Back on the road, we followed the narrow road as it headed to Nafplio, A few drivers passed, but I was keeping up with the Greeks. In Nafplion, a small city, there were more hazards, pedestrians claiming the right of way, and people parked in the right lane. The light was in my eyes, but we reached the last traffic circle without running over anyone. We passed through the new part of town as we approached the old city. Beyond the traffic circle, we headed out on a rocky peninsula, water on our right, a fortress-topped mountain on our left, and squeezed between them five or so streets up the lower rise before the mountain's vertical rock. The nineteenth-century Venetian fortress of Palamidi has various names, Venetian, Turkish, or Greek. In 1822 the Greeks took the fortress from the Turks as part of the modern Greek state. A narrow stairway climbs 999 steps up the rock face to the top.
Along our left, restaurants with tables under umbrellas lined the road. At the end of the line, we turned between two buildings, squeezed between cars, and climbed hairpin turns just wide enough for a car and two bicycles until we found a parking lot. Our phone announced, "You have arrived."
Pension Eleni was in an alley. After filling out papers, the hostess showed us up one narrow white-washed stone stairway to another narrow lane to another stairway of polished red stone to a door. The pastel buildings on either side had wooden balconies, shutters, and flower pots, something out of a movie. At the head of the stairway were our two small rooms. We each had balconies with a limited view of the water.


We dropped our things and hit the narrow pedestrian streets full of people, families, and couples on holiday. It's a tourist town, but people come for a reason, relaxed, nice-looking restaurants and a large square where people collect.
We picked up wine at a store down the hill and then at a small grocery for some olives, sliced meat, bread, and cheese. The friendly couple who owned the store helped guide our selections, local products from farms they knew. The woman examined the wine we bought and made suggestions. Again, the Greeks are very friendly. We picked up yogurt in another store. Yogurt with honey and walnuts is a traditional breakfast. Our room had instant coffee. Sally was adapting. Luckily most cafes and taverns served good coffee as well as Freddo.


We walked back to our room, drank some wine with our grocery finds then walked down to find supper. We wandered around the narrow streets, past stores selling jewelry, trinkets, copies of Greek statues, and local foods, especially honey and olives.
In the large square, Syntagmatos Square, an orchestra played on a temporary bandstand. Kids played with lighted helicopters shot into the night with rubber bands, and a few boys tried to play soccer among the crowd. It was family-friendly. Restaurants lined opposing sides, and rows and rows of outdoor tables were on either side of the square. We bought a beer and watched the crowd for a while.
I hope it was a good birthday.


Posted by Deuxenvacances 16:44 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

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