Posts Tagged ‘greece’

Trip to Greece: part 4

September 1st, 2010

This is the final installment of my 4 part series about my trip to Greece. See parts one, two and three.

I saved the best for last. Here I’m going to talk about my reactions to some of the differences between California and Greece.

The weather
In Greece, more often than not, I found myself covered in sweat. With the 100+ degree heat and the occasional humidity spell, this is understandable. But the amazing thing is how rapidly I was sweating.

I’m not saying my deodorant was failing. No, this was an all-over kind of sweat, where you need to take a shower. I’d shower the sweat off, but by the time I was done toweling myself off I was already covered in sweat again. Cleaning yourself becomes a lost cause.

I never thought I’d miss the cold, foggy weather in San Francisco. But I did.

Municipal animals
Hotel catStray animals in the US are either adopted, or put down by the authorities. But do we really need to?

In Greece, stray dogs and cats are given shots by the government, but they’re not incarcerated in a shelter. Instead, they’re allowed to roam freely with government vets giving them shots now and then.

I semi-jokingly call these wild domestic pets “municipal animals” since they’re like pets for everyone to use.

Anywhere outdoors that you might find people, you would also find municipal animals begging for food and attention. Most Greek restaurants and bars are outdoors, and while eating you would often be visited by feline beggars. On the one hand, that might seem unclean. But on the other, cats keep away the rats and birds. Also, they’re adorable.

Serious problems
One restaurant owner in a small town said to us, when told him where we lived: “Arnold Schwarzenegger!” He then said, somewhat vaguely, “I hear California has problems.” Marc came back with “I hear GREECE has problems.” It’s funny because it’s true; both California and Greece are in bad shape financially, and both have an immediate and dire employment crisis.

But the differences are striking as well. During our time in Greece, we hit a snag with gasoline availability. Due to legal changes that will make retirement a challenge for them, tanker truck drivers went on strike.

Imagine if you couldn’t get gas. Now I know, most San Franciscans wouldn’t care, they’d just walk and bike… right? WRONG. Gas doesn’t just affect your commute, it also affects the food supply, emergency services… without gasoline we’re basically all screwed.

Greece’s gas crisis went on for 4-5 days. Thankfully, there were a few stations here and there that remained open. All of those stations had lines, and it wasn’t uncommon to see people pushing their cars to the tanks.

Basically we got lucky with this one; we never got stranded. We spent a lot of time worrying about the issue, and went to the trouble of calculating the mileage of our Hyndai Accident Accent and how much the tank could hold. Based on that, we could figure out how far we could get at any given time. It’s not particularly difficult to do but it’s also not something you ever want to have to do.

Plumbing
Typical Greek toiletWhen you travel to Europe, you don’t think plumbing is going to be a problem. It’s not like you’re going to a tiny village somewhere in Asia where you have to shit in a hole.

But while Greece does have flush toilets, said toilets do not take paper products. Those go in a little trash can next to the toilet. As you can imagine, this trash can smells awful. Especially in the 100 degree weather.

Greek showers tend to be the “hose” variety. Expect a small shower stall or bathtub with a shower head on a hose. Fortunately the water pressure tends to be very high, so this isn’t as bad as it sounds. Water pressure trumps shower design any day.

And yes, you can drink the tap water. Sometimes. On the islands, I’m told it’s not necessarily safe to drink the water, or even get it in your mouth while brushing your teeth. But the price of bottled water is regulated by the government so this was never an economic concern.

Service expectations
In the US, if you ask for your check at a restaurant, you can expect it in what, five minutes? Maybe 10, tops?

In Greece, it often took more than half an hour. Some restaurants would bring a free desert, and not come back with the check until after you finished. Free desert is always good, but when you ask for a check you expect to get it. This wasn’t the only part of the restaurant service that seemed to be operating on a different time scale than the rest of the world, it was just the most noticeable.

Sure, it’s good to relax, and it’s not good to always be in a rush. But let’s be realistic: taking too long is just bad service. Promptness is appreciated in every culture, so it’s not a cultural difference in that sense. And in fact, the cooked food always came to the table promptly. The difference is priorities; the Greeks don’t prioritize timeliness in the same way we do in America, so people can get away with taking their time. If service was faster, I don’t think anyone would feel rushed or as though they were being kicked out of the place. But those people in a hurry would be grateful.

What do others think?
We kept meeting service industry workers who were from other places; Australia, Texas, and — get this — Oakland. None of them seem to have adapted to the Greek culture.

When asked, the conversation would go something like this:
Me: “Have you gotten used to the Greek concept of timeliness?”
Them: “NO!!! That and other things…”

It’s good to know you’re not alone.

Conclusion
Should you go to Greece? Hey, I’d say as long as you don’t go during the hottest part of summer, yes. The food is great, the beaches are really nice, and there’s a lot of historical sites to visit. Hell, in terms of history and beaches, you really can’t beat Greece.

That said, I hope this guide helps manage your expectations. And if you do go, I hope you have better luck with the strikes than we did.

Trip to Greece: part 3

August 19th, 2010

This is part 3 of 4 of my series about my trip to Greece. Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

Days 11-12 Mykonos

The Ferry to Mykonos IMG_0525 Hotel cat Beach Tiny church Restaurant pelican IMG_0515 Nutella

We got on another ferry and headed south to Mykonos, which as anyone who’s skimmed a Greece travel book at Borders for 3 minutes can tell you is the “gay” island. Not to be confused with Lesbos (the lesbian island, obviously) Mykonos has a fair share of gay bars and clubs that would fit right in with the Castro. Hell, there’s even a gay bar called Kastro.

But it’s not all just drunk gay people trying to dance; there’s also some of the nicest beaches in Greece. And our hotel was associated with a surprisingly excellent beachfront restaurant. (A good restaurant — that’s something you won’t find in the Castro! PWND.) If you wanted, you could sit on the beach under an umbrella and order food and drinks… assuming they ever served you (more on this later.)

The old port of Mykonos boasts nightlife and excitement. It’s a town with extremely narrow streets and plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants. We ate a place there that would have been forgettable except we were visited first by a hungry calico cat, and then by a rather large pelican. I really wish I’d gotten a better picture of that pelican.

Mykonos is not a cheap place by any standard. They cater to tourists and will gouge you every way they can. I paid 14 Euros for a bloody mary that may have well been a virgin bloody mary. I’m not joking here — 14 Euros is like $18 USD — and there was less alcohol in it than in a can of PBR.

In spite of the prices, many underage British girls were getting drunk, then puking and passing out. Given how narrow and crowded the streets are, you have to wonder how they would get an ambulance to take care of the wealthy children ODing on booze.

All that said, Mykonos is very laid back and if you’re looking to spend some time hanging out at a warm beach, you couldn’t do better.

Days 13-15: Santorini

IMG_0740 Eric Greek walking Banksy t-shirt Wires Sunset-watching tourists Coca-Cola The Gang Captain Ilias and crew Sleepy cat

Santorini is allegedly the site of Atlantis, before a volcano blew up the island sometime around 1600 BC. Or something like that… unfortunately their museum had some structural problems and closed up (OMG CONSPIRACY) so I didn’t get to see any evidence of this firsthand.

Every tourist on Santorini is basically required to visit the quaint little town of Oia, where you can see a picture-perfect sunset against the water while hanging out on the little blue and white stucco buildings.

The highlight of this island was a yacht cruise around the island. For some reason, the crew let Ilias be captain on the way back. Considering he was significantly more sober than the real captain, this may have been a good choice.

The final day on Santorini, we spent some time at Fira, the old port town. People still ride donkeys here, a good idea since there’s no room for cars, and it’s more than 500 stairs between the port and the city. You’d better believe those donkeys have some buff legs.

Day 16: Monastiraki

OBEY Faert The church Lucifair

No vacation is complete without buying touristy junk for your friends and family. Thankfully, Athens has a “flea market” area just for this: Monastiraki. Overpriced t-shirts with embarrassing slogans, bead stores, kitschy decor, it’s all here! You can also find pretty much any olive-related product ever made. And there was a store called “Faert” which was unfortunately closed at the time.

You don’t have to be a linguistic genius to figure out that “monastiraki” might have something to do with a monastery. And yes, this mecca of shopping happens to have a small church in the middle. And right next to the church was a store called “Lucifair.” Seems appropriate. That reminds me, I’m looking for investors in my plan to build a pork butcher, alcohol, and pornography store next to a mosque. Let me know if you’re interested.

Trip to Greece: part 2

August 17th, 2010

This is part 2 of 4 of my series about my trip to Greece. Part 1 is here.

Days 6-7: Corfu

Awesome shower/jacuzi Sidari sunset Hotel patioGreek walking Yee-haw! IMG_0267

We drove our car onto a boat and went to the island of Corfu. Ilias had booked us an incredibly nice hotel; great beach, lovely balcony… actually who cares about any of that? The jacuzzi bathtub was all I needed to see to fall in love with the place. I could have lived in that bathtub.

This was the island where I started to notice a phenomenon I’ve nicknamed “Greek walking.” Basically you get two people, sometimes more, onto a little Italian motor scooter and zip around the tiny streets at ridiculous speeds. Safety equipment? Leave it at home, pussy.

Even though it’s a beautiful island, Corfu is touristy as hell. In particular it seems to be a place for British tourists to go, as evidenced by the drunk 13 year old British teens singing along to celebrity impersonator Amy Housewine at a bar down the street from the hotel. But the most touristy part is Sidari, which you should avoid at all costs. It’s like Fisherman’s Wharf, except in Greece. It’s really almost exactly the same.

On the other side of the island, Corfu has an old-school port town with narrow streets, deafeningly loud cicadas, and more Vespas per square inch than I’ve ever seen in my life. I was really glad not to be behind the wheel here; Vespas were zipping around our car on both sides! Chaos on the street.

Day 8: The Cabin in Matsouki

Tunnel FISHIES Boats

After ferrying out of Corfu, we took a long road trip through some more tunnels — did I mention the tunnels yet? No? Well, major roads in Greece tend to fall into one of two categories: 1. Goat paths and 2. Freeway tunnels. Until recently, there weren’t many freeways in Greece it seems. Now they’re building like crazy, replacing their old barely-paved roads with heavy-duty freeways that tunnel right through hills and under bodies of water. It’s like 19th century meets 21st century, and not much in between.

Anyway, we hit up a little town on the way to Ilias’ father’s cabin and had some fresh fish for dinner, then we completely neglected to get gas. Oops. That evening we contemplated siphoning gas from other cars, but ultimately were saved when the bread man came by (you know, like a milkman, but for bread) and told Ilias that a nearby gas station was rumored to have gas. This turned out to be true and saved our asses in a major way, and if I ever run into the bread man I’ll give him a big juicy and total non-homoerotic kiss.

Day 9: Mycenae

IMG_0365 Dogs at Mycenae "Treasury" Switchboard

More old rocks? Yes, but you’ll recognize the Lion’s Gate of Mycenae from your middle school history textbook. Still, not much is left of the place, and crappy archeological work didn’t help preserve what little still stands.

Unlike other historical sites, this was more of a dog place than a cat place. The dogs were running around like crazy and begging for food. Marc fed one of the dogs some chips and made a friend for life.

After a brief visit to the museum and a stop for pizza, we headed down for a traditional Greek play, which the non-Greeks among us could only understand thanks to Wikipedia on Marc’s iPhone. Seeing a play in a traditional stone amphitheater was a refreshingly new and different experience, but my ass still prefers the comfortably padded seats at the IMAX.

That night we stayed at hotel with some strange fire safety rules and an antique phone system that they stole from Lily Tomlin.

Day 10: Acropolis

Greek metro IMG_2433 Acropolis Niki, Eric, Ilias in and the Caryatids Peroni Niki, Marc, Ilias, Yanni Greek Salad

Back in Athens, the four of us took public transit to Greece’s best known historical site, the Acropolis. Before we get into that, their public transit is actually quite nice. Athens is a county about the size of the entire SF peninsula, maybe a bit larger. They have a brand-new Metro system and large buses, all of which you can ride for 1 Euro per 90-minute transfer.

The Acropolis is a beautiful old temple. Currently it’s being restored; the restoration has been underway for 20 years or so and it looks like things are nearing completion.

Down the hill, there’s a new and impressive museum about the history of the Acropolis which I highly recommend. It’s built on top of a bunch of ruins, so they have a glass floor where you can see what’s underneath. A lot of the statues, etc. that were once in the Acropolis are in the museum, and those that aren’t are handily labeled so you can see who stole them: the British Museum and the Vatican are the top two offenders. What a surprise!

After the museum, but unfortunately before having a chance to bathe the sweat off, we headed to an Italian joint and met up with one of Ilias’ friends, Yanni, for the evening.

Oh and in case you were wondering, yes even the Italian places serve Greek salads.

Trip to Greece: part 1

August 17th, 2010

This begins a 4 part series about my trip to Greece; the first two parts will be about the road trip, the third will be on the islands of Mykonos and Santorini, and the final installment will be a wrap-up of thoughts and conclusions about the trip.

Why write about it? It’s a lot easier than answering questions about what I did and saying the same thing each time. Instead I can just say “go look at my blog” and then go hide in a cave where I don’t have to deal with you people.

Day 1: Arrival in Athens

After 14 hours of plane flights/baby screaming sessions, Niki and I met up with Ilias at the airport, picked up our car, and got dinner. Every meal in Greece must have at least one Greek salad, which is basically bell peppers, tomatoes, olives, and feta. I think it’s a law.

This was also the day that we discovered the horrors of Greek plumbing. Their sewage system isn’t capable of handling toilet paper, so every bathroom has a foul-smelling little garbage can next to the toilet. You do NOT want to forget to take this out every night. Feces in a bucket + 100 degree weather don’t mix.

Day 2: Temple of Poseidon

IMG_0035 IMG_1649

Marc flew in from Spain, and our gang of four drove up some crazy highways to the Temple of Poseidon… or what’s left of it. Scumbag vandals like Lord Byron have left the place in poor shape.

Day 3: Delphi

Tuba music upsets the mighty Apollo! Temple of Apollo Apollo's cat

ROAD TRIP! We set out in our Hyundai Accident Accent on the open road for the driving portion of our trip. First stop: Delphi.

The once great city of Delphi is now a mess of rocks overrun by tourists and cats. The stadium and the theater are still pretty much intact, but as luck would have it you’re not allowed to go into either.

The Delphi museum may have had the weirdest photography policy I’ve ever heard: no flash, and no people. That’s right: you can take photos of everything in the museum, but you can’t take a picture of your friends standing next to a statue. Why? The folks who worked there didn’t explain.

It was also on the third day that we started to get worried about the gas crisis. You see, the truck drivers have a program quite similar to the SF taxi medallion program, and the Greek government wanted to float many, many more medallions to help with their budget deficit. This would pretty much wipe out the truck drivers’ retirement, so almost every gas truck driver went on an indefinite strike. We were afraid of getting stranded, but without gas there’s serious consequences to emergency services, medicine, and even food. A bad situation for everyone.

Day 4: Mt. Olympus

Mount Olympus Graffiti IMG_0094 Outlet at our four star hotel

The hike up Mt. Olympus is a grueling all-day hike with steep trails. It’s not for amateurs, which is why we decided not to do it. Instead we just took a hike around the side to a nearby waterfall, which is where the town’s water supply came from. In fact it wasn’t a trail we were walking on so much as an aqueduct.

Our hotel was pretty proud of the fact that they had FOUR STARS. Apparently though, having wiring that’s up to code does not factor into whatever equation gave them FOUR STARS. Luckily, no one suffered electrical burns.

Day 5: Agios Stefanos

Monastery sign Monastery Meowers Garden gate Monastery Restaurant Meteora

The surprising thing about this cliff-side monastery is how peaceful and serene it is, despite being a tourist magnet. The nuns feed the cats who live there and maintain the garden.

The view from the monastery is beautiful, and the little town below is actually kind of charming. We went to a restaurant there where in lieu of a menu, they took us to the kitchen and shows us what was available. I wish more restaurants would do this, it’s adorable. And the food was great.

This was also the worst day of the gas crisis. We had to take time to calculate the gas mileage we got in our Hyundai Accident Accent so far, and confirm that we would be able to make the next day’s drive without filling up the tank. It was a close call. This is also why you should always travel with nerds.

INSTRUCTIONS TO THE CUSTOMERS FOR THE FIRE EMERGENCY

August 10th, 2010

Here’s the fire safety instructions from Hotel Galaxy in Loutraki, Greece:

Fire instructions

$10 says there’s a reason they don’t want you to call the fire department.

P.S. I’m now back in San Francisco, jetlagged and pooping out feta cheese.

4 ways Greece is like California

August 2nd, 2010

If you think about it, there’s plenty of ways Greece is NOT like California; the countries are on different continents for cryin’ out loud. But the two do have some odd similarities when you get beyond the trivial details like olive oil production or a taste for beachfront property.

Here’s four ways that Greece is like California which you probably haven’t thought about:

  1. From the freeway, it’s all brown hills and oleander bushes.
  2. It’s always “hella this” and “hella that.”
  3. The deficit.
  4. Half the people you try to talk to only speak a foreign language.

That said, come to Greece for the unbelievably good food and warm beaches, but head back to California when you miss the ability to flush your soiled toilet paper down our superior sewers. Hell, the first thing I’ll do when I get back to California is to flush an entire roll of toilet paper for absolutely no reason, other than the fact that I can. And you can quote me on this.

Pancho Villa’s new location

July 30th, 2010

Pancho Villa’s new location is in Sidari, Greece, which is on the island of Corfu.

Pancho Villa?

Greek Pancho Villa is pretty different from their San Francisco locations, since there’s disco lights, loud music (they were playing Sean Paul when we walked by) and table service. Also, most of the people there were British. And I didn’t see any burritos.

Ancient Greek Michael Jackson?

July 27th, 2010

Did Michael Jackson live in ancient Greece?

Greek Michael Jackson

Greek Michael Jackson

Spotted at the Temple of Apollo museum (motto: no flash photos, no photos with people in them, and no we don’t understand that second rule either.)

Gasoline shortage in Greece

July 27th, 2010

Here in Greece there’s a severe shortage of gasoline due to a delivery driver’s strike.

In this photo I took two days ago in Athens, the traffic to the left is moving. To the right, cars are lined up for almost three blocks waiting to pull into a gas station.

IMG_1681

Another common site is closed gas stations. Here’s a BP that’s closing up shop.

IMG_1680

This isn’t limited just to major areas; small towns are having the same problem. Not a good time to go for a long drive since there’s no guarantee you won’t run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere.

Hopefully the strike will end soon. But in the meantime there’s still plenty of tasty Mythos beer to drink while we’re stuck in Kalambaka.