Archive for the 'Athens' Category

Nov 01 2007

A conversation with an Athens hotel owner

Published by under Athens,Greece

A conversation with a British woman who owns a small hotel in Athens

Ben: Hello, is this the Villa Olympic?

Woman: Yes

B: I’m calling to find out if you have availability for 2 people to stay one week, starting tomorrow.

W: Yes, plenty.

B: Great. And what would the price be?

W: 35 Euros a night, if you stay for a week.

B: OK, thanks very much for the information. We’ll be arriving in Athens tomorrow, so perhaps I’ll give you a call then.

W: Well, what does that mean?

B: Oh, it means I’m calling around to check out prices, so I’ll possibly be back in touch tomorrow.

W: Well, if THAT’S what you’re doing, fine. But don’t expect me to wait up all night.

B: Umm, OK, I won’t? Thanks for your help.

W: Do you really think you’ll find anything cheaper than that price?

B: Well, that’s why I’m calling around, to try and find out.

W: I think you’re just being… (low mumbling that I can’t make out)

B: All I’m really trying to do is compare prices between hotels…

W: This isn’t a hotel, it’s a HOUSE!

B: Umm, I’m sorry if I’ve offended you in some way, I didn’t mean to.

W: Where did you get this address??!!

B: The internet.

W: Oh, you just do your work.

B: OK then… thanks for your help.

W: Yes, you just DO YOUR WORK.

B: Goodbye!

With crazies like this out there, you can see why we’re so grateful for Mudfish’s hospitality! And on that note, we’re catching a train this morning to the Greek port city of Patras, where we’ll hop an overnight ferry to Brindisi, Italy. By Friday night, we’ll be in Naples! Goodbye gyros, raki, and fish… hello pizza, wine, and fish!

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Oct 30 2007

Athens, Redux

Published by under Athens,Greece

The best part about traveling, by far, is the people that you meet. Fellow travelers, ex-pats, locals — we’ve met some incredible people during our journey. Mudfish, also known as Russ, is one of the best! His mi-casa-es-su-casa (er, to spiti mou spiti sou in Greek!) generosity has been much appreciated, and we’ve had a lot of fun hanging out with Mud and co.

Staying with Mudfish has enabled us to see a different side of Athens. There are parks here! And trees! Wider roads! No heavily armed guards on every corner! No street fights at 3 am!

We were lucky our stay in Athens coincided with a Greek national holiday: Sunday was Ohi Day! Ohi Day commemorates the day when Greek dictator Metaxas refused to let Axis powers enter Greece during World War II (Metaxas allegedly replied with an adamant “Ohi!” [no!] to Mussolini’s ultimatum). The fact that only a short while later Axis powers occupied Greece by force does not dampen patriotic spirits. Ohi Day is marked by parades and ubiquitous displays of Greek flags. We’d hoped to catch the parade in central Athens, but since we didn’t get home from the night before until an hour before the parade began in the morning, that didn’t happen (fun side note: the Greeks do not have a “last call” at 2 am).

mike, mudfish, ben, crazy-face brittany
Mike (friend of Mudfish); Mudfish; Ben; Brittany

Saturday night Mudfish gave us a tour of Athenian nightlife. Most notably, I got to see my first Greek punk rockers. Also, we met Uchi from Paraguay, so Ben was able to practice his Spanish a little. We also tried Greek late-night food – cheese-filled crepes! – which ruled.

Ohi Day for Ben and I meant free entrance into all of the ancient sites (which would have otherwise been 24+ euros!). So we set off Sunday afternoon, pleased with our budgetary prowess. We started with the ruins on lower ground – Hadrian’s library and the Roman agora. I am impressed by how even if most of the structure is gone, the restoration efforts have gone far to convey the sheer size of these gigantic buildings.

We didn’t dawdle long, as we were eager to see the Acropolis. One of my favorite moments on the trip so far happened when we were in Athens for the first time, stopping here for a night en route to Crete. We were walking along a crowded street to grab some dinner when, seemingly out of nowhere, the Acropolis emerged in front of me, with the Parthenon all lit up. It was one of those we’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore moments, and sort of made our trip a reality for me. I don’t think many people forget the first time they see the Acropolis. I’m not sure why, but it’s one of those buildings that can be meaningful to someone even if they have no clue about the history or significance of the structure. What makes it more evocative is, while the builders realized they were working on an important project and meticulously made every angle and proportion perfect, they had no idea it would come to symbolize the dawn of Western civilization.

obligatory parthenon shotBefore visiting Athens, I always assumed Acropolis = Parthenon. What I didn’t realize is that there are several other, equally impressive buildings up there – The Temple of Athena Nike, The Erectheion – all with their own fascinating history. What is far less impressive is the massive amount of scaffolding that surrounds the Parthenon. Thanks to the stupidity of more modern civilizations, the building is on the verge of collapse. How something can last 2,000 years and then someone (ahem, Venice!) be stupid enough to BOMB it, I’ll never know. Nor will I ever understand how you can let the air in a city get so polluted that it DISINTEGRATES MARBLE. Which also makes me slightly concerned for my lungs.

We had timed our visit to coincide with dusk, but were disappointed to find that the clouds had situated themselves as to perfectly block our view of the sun disappearing behind the horizon. My disappointment was alleviated when we saw a regiment of men in traditional Greek military attire, accompanied by a band, ascending the Acropolis to ceremoniously take down the large flag that stands at one end of the hill. I wish I knew more about the evolution of traditional Greek uniform because it involves several decorative pom-poms, which I enjoy.

We finished our tour of ancient sites with a nighttime visit to the Areopagus, which is basically a giant rock that sits on one side of the Acropolis. For a rock, it has a remarkable history. It was the meeting place for what was essentially one of the first senates, the location of the judicial court in classical Athens and where the Apostle Paul delivered his famous “Sermon on an Unknown God,” which began the conversion of Athens. Standing on the rock, with the glowing Parthenon on one side and a sparkling modern city sprawling out in all directions on the other is another one of those wow moments I’ve experienced on this trip. Incredible ideas, like democracy and Christianity, were set in motion on this exact spot. Much greater people than me have stood where I am standing and have done things that affected the course of the world.

Greek fast foodWe appropriately ended our day by dining at Goody’s, the Greek version of McDonald’s. We’ve avoided the place for the entire trip, but Ben is strangely intrigued by artificial foods (I mean, seriously intrigued. Like we can’t go to the grocery store without him examining giant tubs of loaded-baked-potato-flavor chex mix), and after weeks of dropping not-so-subtle hints, I relented. My vote: yuck. What our guidebook says is true: avoid the Greek hamburger. I have no idea why anyone would choose to visit Goody’s rather than get a delicious gyro for less than two euros at one of the many street vendors.

In other news, Ben is hairless. Well, not really. He cut his hair (we unfortunately could never get the clippers to work, so Ben had to visit a salon) and finally shaved his beard. I’m so used to him looking like a crazy mountain man, that I do not recognize him anymore. Whenever he walks into the room I do a double take and usually say something like, “what is wrong with your FACE??” Either that, or I run away screaming “STRANGER DANGER!” He was amused at first, but I think he’s getting annoyed.

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Oct 27 2007

Our Savior, Mudfish

Published by under Athens,Greece

We arrived back in Athens on Wednesday, full of Greek Island spirit, but ready to move on with our adventure. Athens isn’t the tourist destination that the islands are, and you don’t find many travelers who want to stay in Athens as anything much more than a stopover on the route to somewhere else. Athens is a city rich in history and cultural landmarks, but it’s not a beautiful one. It’s dirty, loud, and traffic-congested. Still, we needed a place to break for some much-needed Italian route-planning, and we missed out on the Acropolis our first time through the city. So here we are once more!

Always looking for ways to save our dollars from the crushing jaws of the euro, we sought out accommodation in the form of hostels this time around. We had it narrowed down to two of the cheapest hostels in the city, before confirming that one of those options is on the same street as a bustling brothel. That nugget of information quickly narrowed our choices to: the other one. “The other one” is actually the Athens International Youth Hostel, and we were pleasantly surprised at its general lack of grossness after having experienced the Iraklio Youth Hostel on Crete first-hand.

The bad news is that our few meager euros only bought us bunk beds in a crowded dormitory-style sleeping arrangement, and that the hostel is in a neighborhood called Omonia. For those not intimately familiar with the city, Omonia is a seedier part of town than I would normally hope to sleep in/walk through/admit exists. To put it more bluntly, it’s the red light district. And right about now our parents are freaking out! But that’s OK. Enter Mudfish.

A co-worker of mine back home heard we were headed to Athens, and put me in touch with a college friend of hers, who now happens to live in Athens. On Thursday night, we met up for dinner with “Mudfish,” who is an American in Athens, working on a several-years long engineering contract. Mudfish not only treated us to the best dinner we’ve had yet on our trip (and I can now say that rooster is delicious!) but he also offered to put us up in his condo for the duration of our stay in Athens. A condo with A/C, internet, and no bunk beds. I may be proud, but I’m not a masochist. He didn’t have to offer twice.

And so it was that we moved into Mudfish’s condo last night. I don’t think he noticed the tears in Brittany’s eyes when she saw the washing machine/dryer. I never cry because I’m very strong, but I do hope that the noise from my hot shower muffled my manly shouts of joy.

I’m currently charging up Mudfish’s hair clippers, so that Brittany can administer my first haircut in months. Brittany wasn’t eager to try her hand with the clippers, until we learned from Mudfish that the local barber charges 20 Euros for a simple haircut. 20 Euros = 30 dollars = 3 good haircuts back home. Or, 10 jars of Nutella. I think this analogy is what finally converted Brittany. I’m going to miss my quasi-mullet, but pictures definitely to come.

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Sep 08 2007

Hello from Athens!

Published by under Athens,Greece,London

Hello from Athens! We are currently sitting in an internet cafe, which is of course located between some sort of meat market and a purveyor of sidewalk handbags. But first, a recap of our short time in London…

We had a 9-hour layover in Heathrow, so we decided to go through security and see a bit of the city. One 45-minute metro ride later, we were at Green Park, right outside of Buckingham Palace. Green Park contains something called the “Canadian Memorial Fountain,” which struck me as odd, since Canada was still very much in existence when we left the States on Wednesday. Tall gilded gates separate the park from Buckingham Palace. The traditional guards that we associate with the Palace were all there, toting rifles and stomping on cue. Unfortunately, they are largely obscured behind all the Kevlar vests and sub-machine guns that adorn the “less traditional” guards. Still, we managed to take some pictures through the perimeter fence.

I would also like to point out that when I was almost flattened by a double-decker bus, it was only because I was chasing after Brittany, who had run into the street. She did look before crossing, but instinctually looked to her left, rather than to her right. “Look both ways” is our new trip mantra. The fact that our first official brush with death on this trip came within the intitial few hours does not bode well. Of course, neither does the fact that no one in London seemed able to understand us. And this is the only country we’ll visit where we allegedly speak the same language? Hm…

We returned to Heathrow in time to catch our 4-hour flight to Athens, which put us here at 4:00am. It turns out that our hotel is in what one might call a seedier side of Athens, so I began to feel uneasy dragging our luggage through the streets at this hour. The lowlight was when a beady-eyed rodent-like man leered at me flirtatiously and cooed, “bon voyage.”

We collapsed in our hotel room, and slept all day on Friday. We woke up very hungry around 7:00pm, which worked out better than I would have expected. Greeks tend to eat dinner between 9 and 11pm, so by the time we changed into our “non-American” clothes and checked our guidebook for food recommendations, we managed to show up at a taverna about the same time as the locals. The taverna was called Sholarhio, and the best part about the experience in Brittany’s eyes was that the owner initially took us for French. Given Brittany’s careful research into how NOT to look like an American tourist, this was the first small victory of the trip.

Sholarhio is off the beaten tourist-path, and this is reflected in its lower prices and more authentic fare. We chose to eat in traditional Greek style, by selecting several mezedhes to share, which are smaller portioned offerings (think tapas). 24 Euros bought us 5 mezedhes: pork with red sauce, fried eggplant slices, sausages, tzatziki, and something that the waiter insisted was not french fries but is in fact french fries. Also included in the price: a large bottle of mineral water, a basket of bread, a half liter of red wine (tastes like Franzia!) and some kind of dessert that you can imagine for yourself by combining the look of lemon squares with the exact taste of Frosted Mini Wheats. We finished in much less time than the locals, and we realized that this is a reflection of our American culture. The Greeks make an event out of dinner, and often take 2 hours or more to eat, regardless of the quantity of food. Apparently this extra time is subtracted from breakfast, because the only thing the locals seem to have that resembles breakfast is a pastry in hand on their way to work. Of course, this was fine by us, because it meant chocolate for breakfast today!

We are on our way to the Athens Archaeological Museum this afternoon, before catching a 9-hour ferry ride for Crete tonight. We will write again from there, and begin uploading the pictures we’ve taken. Hope everyone is well back home, and talk to you soon.

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