Saturday, October 31, 2009
Because, you know, you don't want to get too carried away. Except That Guy in front, dancing like a maniac, a lone hip shaker in a crowd that barely sways to the beat. But who wants to be That Guy?
Secretly: everyone wants to be That Guy. Well, maybe not everyone, but come on, he's having fun. And last night, at the Sunset Tavern, there were a lot of folks who decided to let their hair down and just have fun.
It was the album release party for the Tripwires, and no doubt the fact that these guys have been around for, oh, a couple decades, playing in bands ranging from the Screaming Trees to the Model Rockets, played a part in the festive atmosphere. The small crowd seemed filled with many who knew the band, and connections were tight between the Tripwires and their opening acts, Small Change and Llama. During the first two sets, Liz and I were happily head bobbing to the music, but when the Tripwires came on stage, everyone let loose.
People shimmied and swayed, twisted and turned. Up on stage, the band members sweated it out in sports coats, jumping and grinning and playing to the crowd. As people squeezed by to get to the restroom, I more than once felt someone's hands lightly at my waist - not in an obtrusive way, mind you. These were just people passing through, and rather than elbow their way by or try to skirt around us with as little contact as possible, they weren't afraid of a little touching out of consideration. It was, well, friendly. And like little kids dancing out of sheer youthful joy, we just felt happy to be there.
After all, there's no shame in being that lone dancer when you have a whole crowd backing you up. And dancing to the Tripwires beats doing the Seattle Head Nod any day of the week.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Determined to stay awake until a decent bedtime, we headed out for groceries at Costco. The car radio was tuned to KEXP, and within ten seconds the opening strains of the Zombies' "Time of the Season" came over the airwaves.
Which just so happens to be the song that was running through my head as our last flight made its way to Seattle.
Which proves that the DJs at KEXP are not only capable of spinning a great mix, but are also psychic.
Hey, Seattle, it's great to be home.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
- Enjoying a taste of Italy in lovely Nafplio, with real gelato and a Venetian style old town
- Hiking to the far reaches of the Palamidi fortress in Nafplio
- Enjoying a group meal at a real, non-touristy local taverna in Nafplio, complete with live music and folk dancing - all in some very close quarters (this was about the most fun I had while on this trip)
- Being amazed by the great ruins of the Myceneans, getting up close with architecture that is more than 3000 years old
- Listening to groups singing and reciting from ancient Greek plays in the theatre at Epidavros
- Our group dog, Winnie, who met us when we arrived on Hydra, and was never far away - she even came out to the ferry with us the day we left, and stayed until we boarded the hydrofoil. Michael wanted to adopt her and bring her home to live with us and Lucy (seriously, he was actually considering this)
Greece has been fantastic, and I am convinced that trip to northern Greece is in order for the future - there's so much that we didn't have time to see in three weeks! But for now I'm happy to be heading home, because the cement hard beds of this country can't compare to my own sweet bed at home. And while we'll all miss Winnie, I can't wait to see my own dear dog, Lucy.
The night was an uncomfortable one, my body racked by chills and intense stomach pain. By around 7am the chills had subsided and, in sheer exhaustion, I was able to fall back asleep. The exhaustion coninued the entire day, where I managed to sleep sitting on a bench in the rain while we waited for the ferry, on the extremely bumpy hydrofoil ride to Athens, all afternoon at the Athens hotel, and all night after skipping out on the last night's dinner due to excruciating pain.
Thankfully, this morning I awoke feeling... hungry. I hadn't felt hungry for more that 24 hours - even the thought of food made me naseous - so this was progress. I am still not back to 100%, but am truly grateful to be through the worst of it. It may not have been the most glamorous end to our trip, but I'm looking on the bright side: our flight doesn't leave Athens until tomorrow morning, a day after the tour officailly ends, which gave us the opportunity to sleep in and take our time packing this morning. Tonight, we'll be heading to the airport for the night, since I don't see the point in paying for a hotel when we have a 6:30am flight. I love travel, but there's nothing like getting sick on the road to make you appreciate your health and home.
Monday, October 19, 2009
"Oy! Cold!" I cried.
The water was not so warm after all.
But while each step exposed new skin to a shock of cold, the reality was that it only took a few seconds to adjust, and soon we were swimming in the soothing salt water. Joined by two others in our group, we found ourselves drifting further and further from shore with very little effort. Before long we realized we were more than half way to the rock island that put Monemvasia on the map. The challenge was on! We swam all the way to the island's pier, then managed to make it back through now choppy waters.
We'd visited the island earlier in the day, learning about squirting cucumbers and all other manner of plant life from our guide, David. We hiked to the ruins of the citadel, winding up the steep sides of the natural rock fortification, marveling at the sweeping views of the village below and the deep blue Mediterranean. Michael, attracted by the idea of making as many cucumbers squirt as possible, found a long, thorny stick with which to poke them. The small, prickly wild cucmbers really do squirt - somettimes spraying people as far as five feet from the offending cuke. It's a strangely addicting habit, walking along poking at little green globes in hopes you'll get it to explode.
We decided to commemorate our time in Monemvasia with a poster print of the town created by a local artist. Stylistically rendered, the poster shows the town nestled against the rocky bluff, ruins and the church of Agia Sofia dotting the hilltop. The artist himself showed me the work he was currently finishing - he painstakingly inked each dot and line to sreate a web of miniscule geometric designs framing boxes of color.
"I've worked on this for one month, every day," he told me.
I was impressed with his dedication, and asked if I might take a photograph with him, showing the man behind the art.
"No, take a picture of the posters," he said. "I am nothing."
Nothing, that is, if not modest.
But Monemvasia has been a highlight of the trip for me so far, and thanks to him, I will have always have a way to remember it.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Leaving Kardamyli this morning, we headed deeper into the Mani, first stopping at the tiny (population 40) hill town of Kastania. After a tour of the orthodox chapel-studded village, we sat under the trees for Greek coffee and locally made cheese.
Our lunch stop in the (almost) equally tiny town of Gerolimenas fulfilled everyone's vision of the sunny Greek coastal village that we had missed out on during our rainy stay in Kardamyli. Pale aquamarine water lapped over blindingly white, smoothly polished rocks. The restaurant terrace put us directly above the bay, where we could enjoy views of the water with our lunch of Greek salad, tzatziki, calimari, crispy Mediterranean anchovies (nothing like the kind that, as our guide David put it, "live on pizza in the U.S.A."), artichokes, and green beans in tomato sauce.
But the real entertainment came after lunch, when some decided to roll up their pants and test the water temperature. Lovely - yet treacherous. Those polished white stones proved to be quite slippery when wet, and one woman ended up thoroughly soaked after taking an unexpected tumble. Myself, I was safely on shore with my camera, documenting it all, of course.
But the excitement didn't end there. A Greek fisherman, enjoying lunch with his family, spotted dinner from their waterfront table and promptly went down to get it. The unsuspecting octopus he grabbed was soon the center of attention, trying vainly to wriggly out of the man's grasp. He ended up in a small blue plastic bag, and although he made a valient attempt at a daring escape, he was not fast enough to escape the fisherman, who prompty tightened the knot in the bay (and, we suspect, put the octopus swiftly out of his misery once our group had left).
The forecast for tomorrow is for clouds, but I still feel optimistic. And if it's sunny after all, you may just find me in the water as well - intentionally, of course. I have no plans to fall in clothes and all - I packed too light for that!
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
In Athens, our tour group had the pleasure of a guided tour through the Acropolis and Ancient Agora, followed by a trip to the Archeological Museum this morning. We learned to tell archaic statues from severe, the severe from the classical, and the classical from the hellenistic. We imagined the processions that would wind their way up the Acropolis Hill every four years in honor of Athena's birthday, making their way through the massive gates and ending in front of the Parthenon, the grand temple to the virgin.
But my favorite experience so far has been this afternoon's trip through the museum and archeological site at Delphi. Leaving metropolitan Athens behind, we find ourselves surrounded by rocky, pine forested mountains, with towns clinging precariously to cliffsides. Our guide, Penny, was bursting with enthusiasm to show us the amazing artifacts in the Delphi Museum, and to remind us of those ancient stories - from the the Trojan War to Oedipus Rex - that, with the right perspective still have so much to teach us today. The famous Oracle at Delphi was, after all, a place where people went in search of answers, and when all was said and done, it seems the most important answers were the ones insribed above the temple: "Know thyself", and "Everything in Moderation".
"The answers were not vague," Penny told us. "They were open to interpretation."
One story, an unfamiliar one to me previously, sticks with me in particular. In the museum, archaic statues of two larger-than-life twins stood. "They are the happiest men," Penny told us. "Why do you think that would be? I'll tell you later!"
At the end of the tour, however, Michael and I realized we still had not heard the full story, so we questioned Penny on her own.
"As a parent, what do you most wish for your children?" she asked. Not being parents ourselves, we weren't sure what to answer. Penny told us the story of a rich king who came to the oracle, wondering whether he should engage in war with the Persians or not. The oracles response was, typically, up to interpretation. Unfortunately, the king made the wrong choice, started a war in which he lost all his riches and his kingdom - the things he had mistakenly believed brought him happiness - and found himself about to be burned to death by the Persian king.
Before this tragedy befell him, however, a very different event had taken place back home. In honor of their mother, the queen, a celebration was being held at the temple. Two oxen were supposed to draw the chariot seven miles to the temple, but the oxen were nowhere to be found. Wanting nothing more than to bring honor to their mother, the two twins of the famed statues took the place of the oxen and they themselves pulled the chariot to the festival. Upon their arrival they collapsed, exhausted but happy.
Their mother, pleased with her heroic sons, asked the gods to favor them for their deed. In the morning, the two young men were found dead, having peacefully passed on in their sleep.
"This," Penny continued. "Is as much as you can hope for: to die in peace, with no suffering, having done a great thing."
Finally, on the pyre about to be torched to death, the former king remembered his sons and the words of the oracle, and realized how mistaken he had been in his choices. On voicing his newfound realization to the Persian king, the Persian ruler ruler realized that here was a wise man indeed, and rather than killing him, offered him a position as his very own counselor.
So, in the end, he learned from his mistakes, and took responsibility for his errors. This, our guide told us, is what we can still learn from today. No matter what anyone may say, we are all responsible for our own actions, and within each of us is the ability to find our own happiness in the things that truly matter, and to make a wrong situation right.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Michael and I wound our way through the ancient streets of the Plaka as dusk settled over the city. Without even trying, we found ourselves on top of Mars Hill, a glorious view of the Acropolis and the incredible urban sprawl of Athens at our feet. It was almost enough to take one's breath away.
After drinking in the view, we set off for a three course dinner on the move. First stop: gyros on the go. On traditional and one pork, along with a Coke 0 for Michael, for less than five euros. If only cheap, fast food in the U.S. could be so delicious!
Next up: gelato in the Psyrri district. Disappointingly, the gelato was not up to Italian standards. Plus, it cost more than our gyros! But we strolled the streets nearby as we ate every last lick, peering into clubs blasting house music from what looked like an English pub on the outside, to restaurant floors carpeted in carnation petals while the staff tidied up for the night, to ultra mod night spots where it was evidently still far to early, even on a Sunday, for a crowd to have gathered.
Wandering the back streets, I let Michael take charge, but not without first speculating, "Where are we going?" Instead of streets lined with stings of twinkling lights and crowded cafe tables, we were surrounded by dilapidated buildings dark alleyways.
But then, rounding a corner, we saw the perfect little bar for our final course - ouzo for Michael, campari for me. With orange walls and crazy lamps strung together out of bits of glass, old silverware, and curling scrap metal, we took our seats on tall stools at the open window. In the corner, a jazz band set up to play, and Athenians in their thirties gradually packed in the tiny spot while the DJ spun a variety of songs. We were, in fact, the only non-Greeks there. As the band played, we nodded in time with the music, drinking in the scene. You never know what you might find around a dark street corner.
We got back to our hotel around 10:45 - very early for an Athenian, but just about right for us. Monday would be a long day, full of more discoveries in the incomparable Athens.
But, as with many of our transportation experiences in Greece, it wasn't quite so simple. Point in case: for two days only, most of metro line one was closed. We arrived on one of those two days.
After checking the advice of a ticket counter clerk and a random man-on-the-street, we decided to hop the metro and take it three stops - the end of the line for the day. According to man-on-the-street, from there we could catch a bus to Monastiraki Square, a short walk from our hotel.
Things started off well. We managed to fit (but only just) on the bus heading into the center of town from the last metro stop. When I literally fell into the back door as the bus rounded a corner, I was kindly offered a chance to squeeze in to the one remaining seat in the back. Now all I had to do was keep an eye out for Monstiraki; how hard could that be?
Dang near impossible, it turns out. It finally dawned on me we must have overshot our mark, so I asked the woman sitting across from me on the now half-empty bus, "Pou ine Monastiraki?"
My Greek was apparently good enough to encourage the woman to discuss with me, and then another woman one seat up, in great detail about the location of this place in relation to the bus. Throughout the conversation, I could occasionally make out the word, "Monastiraki," but not another syllable. Fortunately, I did correctly deduce that we should get off at the next stop, which turned out to be about a mile down the road from where I'd first asked the fateful question. No doubt about it, we were far, far away.
But the fates were on our side! The next stop was conveniently located at an entrance for metro line two, and before long we were on a speeding underground train, emerging at Omonia Square, and walking down the pedestrian street to our hotel. Athens, here we come!
Usually, the buses are scheduled to line up with the ferries, but at this point no bus was in sight. I checked out the schedule posted, and saw two distinct schedules listed side by side. Handily, the titles of these two schedules were written only in Greek, despite the fact that there was an English translation of everything else. To further confuse matters, the only difference between the two schedules was that one listed a bus departin at 13:25 - coincidentally the time of our arrival - and one did not. Hmm...
After waiting around for fifteen minutes, I grew impatient. No one else loitering around the stop was Greek, and they seemed to have complete faith that a bus would come. But me, I don't always like waiting. As usual, I decided I'd rather walk, and convinced Michael we should make a go for it.
"How far away is Parikia?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't know. But it can't be that far. It was what, maybe a fifteen minute bus ride?"
Thus we found ourselves walking along a road with no shoulder, clearly not meant for pedestrian traffic. But we had scarcely gone two minutes when a van pulled to a stop alongside us.
"Where are you going?" asked the driver. "Parikia? I can get you half way there."
We clambered aboard, joining the two other passengers, who, it turns out, were on their way to the Paros tennis club.
"It's the finals today. Romania against Croatia. Who are you for?"
When I paused to think, the driver encouraged, "Go for Romania!"
"He likes the Romanian best," the man sitting next me informed us.
"And you?" I asked. But it turned out our fellow riders were the referees for the match - no favorites allowed.
Before long we had reached the club, and waved good-bye to our Good Samaritan driver. Ahead of streched the long, winding, shoulder-free road. Thankful for the ride, we realized we would have had wuite a long walk had they not come along.
Almost an hour later, after much grumbling about dodging the traffic, not knowing where we were, tired feet, and hunger, we made it to the old town of Parikia around 3:00. Famished, we sat down at a waterfront bar for fantastic dolmades and souvlaki pitas. It's amazing what a good meal can do for one's mood.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Of course, this is Greece, and luxury can have a different meaning here when away from the four star hotels and glitz of the high end resorts. In our bathroom, a sign kidly posts in Greek and English, "Do not put paper in the toilet". Instead, one should toss it in the garbage, so as to avoid clogging the plumbing. Our hotel proprietor, Vassilas, also made sure to let us know that we should not drink the tap water. And our shower is little more than a showerhead that hangs waist high on the wall next to the toilet. There is no curtain, only a small raised tile border to let you know where the theoretical shower walls would go. Of course, the spray covers almost the entire bathroom floor when showering, nevermind the tile border. But since the entire room is encased in tile, it doesn't seem to much matter.
The town of Antiparos itself is in process of shutting down for the winter. While the weather is still lovely, tourists are few at this point, and a walk through town finds entire streets devoid of any life other than the occasional cat. A select number of tavernas open in the evening for business. Last night we did dinner the Greek way, and headed to a place far off the waterfront that Gary had recommended. As we enjoyed our mezes of Greek salad, tsatziki, and saganaki, Vassilis and his wife came and took a table across the patio, and not too much later Gary and his Bulgarian girlfriend also stopped by for a leisurely meal. On the way back, we spotted Andy and Leonie, our diving buddies, at another bar. Here, in the course of one night out, we managed to run across every person we know on Antiparos without even trying.
It is nice when most of the people out and about are locals rather than tourists, though. Late this afternoon, we watched as the old men of the village made their way to the tables outside the cafe of the town square. Talking loudly and playing backgammon, this appeared to be the Friday night ritual. Or - who knows? - perhaps it's every night's ritual. The pace of life is slower here, and I could easily see the Greeks taking the time for a regular chat in the evenings.
In the mid-afternoon, all but a couple of small markets and waterfront restaurants are closed tight. It's siesta time (the Greek equivalent, at least). In the heat of summer, of which I've been fortunate enough not to experience personally, I'm sure this is a welcome respite from the overbearing sun. Everyone age two to ninety-two can be seen out after the sun goes down, as late as midnight and beyond.
We've adapted pretty well to the laid-back lifestyle, I'd say. After today's dives, we took in a slow lunch, showered, and ambled down the road for a walk around the northern tip of the island. Other than reading on our terrace and heading out for another two hour dinner, not much else is on the day's schedule. We are temporary Greeks; all we need is to learn how to play backgammon, and I think we're set.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
We squinted across the waves while our boat rocked in the breeze. "Yeah, I think so."
"That's Tom Hanks' house," he told us.
"Really?" I was a little incredulous. But apparently Mr. Hanks had the house built last year, and the family spent seven weeks there this summer, including some time spent diving with his sons and your truly, our dive instructor, Gary, from Blue Island Divers, the only dive school on Antiparos. And it seemed that we were about to dive in one of the same spots the famous actor had tried.
It was our second stop of the day, between two tiny, rocky island between Antiparos and Paros, both uninhabited, but one with a tiny white chapel perched on the shore. Weddings have been held there, no doubt due to its impossibly scenic location, with the wedding party being transported by boat for the ceremony. While windy on the surface (typical for the Cycladic Islands), once submerged the water is calm and clear. How clear? I'd guess at least fifty feet, probably more. Even without the help of contact lenses or glasses, I was awed by the world of craggy orange rocks carpeted in delicate white and green seaweed, dotted with plush purple sponges, sea cucumbers, and the occasional urchin or seastar. We found a shy octopus at home in his tiny rock cave, doing his best to blend in with the scenery, and a moray eel peeked its small head out from its hole hesitantly as we swam our way around the island with the chapel. Small fish, including wrasse and pork fish, swam to and fro in the aquamarine sea.
It was Michael's and my first time diving together. The previous time we'd tried, about four years ago in Kauai, a cold had prevented him from doing anything more than snorkeling. This time, we both made it below, although I had a momentary panic attack when I first entered the water. I couldn't seem to get a good grip on the regulator with my mouth, I lost a fin, and my mask was taking in water. Back when I first learned to dive I found myself facing unexpected fears when it came to breathing underwater, and in a split second I felt those old fears come flooding back. But with a different pair of fins, kindly lent me by Leonie, our boat mate who was spending today's trip at the surface due to an especially sore back, and the realization that I simply needed to tighten my mask, my fears evaporated and I was floating down into the magical blue world below.
"Oh, yeah," I thought to myself. "This is why I like diving!"
"Maybe we should have done six dives," Michael told me when we were back at our apartment, washing up. I could tell he was enamoured, having had his first chance to dive in warm water.
I smiled. Six dives? Maybe. But right now I still have two more to look forward to tomorrow, and I can hardly wait.
Fira is well known as tourist trap central, but the nice thing about being there in October is that the crowds have shrunk to a manageable level. Even as first-time visitors, we could tell that we had missed the usual crowds; while there were certainly many others out walking the winding streets and snapping photos of the fabulous view, street upon street of nearly deserted bars, restaurants, and hotels attested to the fact that this was a place geared for serious tourist traffic. We walked long and hard through the entire town, stopping for lunch at a place far from the town center for a sit down meal of delicious chicken souvlaki for only two euros apiece.
Our favorite town, however, was definitely the lovely Oia. While it, too, is a magnet for travelers, especially for the famous sunset view, Oia managed a charm that escaped the more commercialized Fira. Out on the ruins of a castle overlooking the tip of Santorini, we took in breathtaking views of Oia in the golden glow of the evening sun while the wind whipped around our heads.
By the time sunset was nearing, the entire western edge of town was lined with people hoping to catch a view of the famous sunset. Never have I seen so many professional-looking cameras in my life; many made my dear little Nikon D5000 SLR look like child's play. Tripods were set up upon the rocks, their owners desperately clinging to them to keep them from toppling in the violent gusts of wind. The people watching was just as entertaining as the sunset, if not more so.
Michael and I had other plans however, so we slipped out from the masses early, before the sun had finally sunk below the horizon. We headed straight for the restaurant 1800, a slow food place recommended in the Lonely Planet guidebook that sounded like just place for a romantic splurge out to celebrate our first "real" night in Greece.
The meal did not disappoint. Our beautiful servers and hostess graciously showed us to a table on the terrace, where we were soon greeted with an amuse bouche from the chef - a shot of Greek salad in a minuscule cup - pureed, creamy tomato topped with a dollop of smooth feta and olive oil. It was our first taste of the evening, and it boded well for the meal to come. An elegant take on the traditional Greek salad came next, with thin ribbons of cucumber mixed with sliced fennel, capers, cherry tomatoes, mild goat cheese, and a crisp pita for embellishment. Michael enjoyed tender pork with fig sauce, sweet pepper relish, and herbed canellini beans, while ordered the sea bass. It came with perfectly crispy skin topped with lemon "caviar": beads of light lemon aspic piled like caviar atop the fish, alongside tender cooked fennel and a puree of fava beans. Our wine, far from the Greek stereotype of sweet retsina, was an excellent accompaniment.
Tired and happy, we took the bus back to Perissa. The trip may have gotten off to a rough start, but things were definitely looking up.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Sunday, everything seemed to be going smoothly. We relaxed on the long flight to Amsterdam, and made an easy connection to Athens. From there, we caught the hour long bus that heads to the port of Piraeus. Tired and hungry, we disembarked at the port and headed to the closest travel agency to buy our tickets.
"There is no ferry to Santorini today," the agent informed me.
"What? But - but, I saw it online, there must be!"
"No, only at seven in the morning, and one now, at four. But it is too late."
Don't panic, I told myself. It wasn't quite four. Michael and I decided to make a run for it. We had only to cross the street to the dock, but there was no ferry to be seen. I stopped by the Blue Star Ferry office, hoping they had information the travel agent didn't.
"There is no ferry to Santorini today," the desk clerk at Blue Star said.
At this point, I began to cry. As I turned my face away, big tears rolled down my cheeks, and my countenance crumpled. Here we were in Piraeus, with a reservation that very night for a hotel on Santorini, and no way of getting there. And I had checked, double-checked, triple-checked the schedule online. How had I gone wrong?
"Hey, don't cry," Michael told me. "I could have done the same thing."
"But you didn't," I sobbed. "I don't see how I could make two such huge mistakes! First booking the wrong flight, now this!"
We took a moment to regroup. And before long we were back on the bus, heading back to airport, another hour spent in transit on top what was already a very long day. Despite the considerable expense, we booked a flight for 7:20 that very evening, and made it to Santorini without another hitch. In the end, we decided that it was better to get to our destination where we could relax and enjoy a full day to ourselves today, rather than spend the evening seeking out reasonable lodging in Piraeus or Athens, and spending nine hours on a ferry the following day.
When you travel, expect the unexpected. Ultimately, I am happy to be safe, healthy, and enjoying a beautiful warm day in Greece. Was I happy to pay almost $500 to get here? No, but that's way I plan a large emergency buffer into our travel budget. Up until now, I haven't really had to use it.
So, hello Greece! Our three weeks with you have only just begun, and we hope the best is yet to come. Stick around, I'm sure the adventure is just beginning.