Posts Tagged ‘greece’

Two weddings on Hydra

July 14th, 2018

Hydra, Greece

As I stepped off the ferry on Hydra I met up with a friend. We’d already arranged to split an Airbnb together on the island while attending our mutual friend’s wedding. Our apartment promised spectacular views, but as our host led us to the place from the port what proved far more spectacular was how quickly we became exhausted. We walked up one cobblestone street lined with stairs after another — my friend later said she counted 387 steps — all in the unrelenting Mediterranean summer heat.

I’d briefly visited Hydra during my trip to Greece last year as part of a one day cruise. I had a feel for the main port area of the island; you can easily walk from one end to the other in ten minutes. But on that brief visit I didn’t have time to explore the hillside so I had no idea how steep the streets could get.

The view from the roof of the apartment really did look amazing as you can see in the panorama photo above. Still, the thought of admiring the view in direct sunlight after walking up that hill had as much appeal as entering a sauna after running a marathon.

Another twist to all of this was Google Maps doesn’t have great directions on Hydra. Some pathways are on the map, some are not. While trying to find the place again and getting lost, I went back and labeled a bunch of pins on the map so we’d know how to get from the port to the Airbnb and back. This worked well and I’m glad Google Maps lets you do this… otherwise I might still be lost on that little island.

Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece

Housing issues aside I’m still enamored with the island itself. The port town is a charming old place seemingly frozen in time with dusty old stone buildings, restaurants with fresh seafood, beautiful beaches, and a night sky glowing with lights.

The only modes of transportation on Hydra aside from walking are boats and donkeys. It’s nothing like the more touristy Greek islands; nobody’s going to try to sell you pirates movies at the beach, and none of the restaurants have barkers trying to drive you in. It’s easily the most laid back place I’ve traveled to. Just don’t step in the donkey droppings.

Hydra, Greece

In Greece you’re always going to have some cats. This scrawny little one kept appearing on our patio. I felt guilty because I kept forgetting to bring back some fish for her (at least I think it was a her.)

Those allergic to cats should remember to pack allergy medications when visiting the smaller islands of Greece as there may not be any pharmacies, and the cats tend to be very friendly.

Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece

On to the double wedding. Both grooms were brothers marrying their long time girlfriends among a large audience of friends and family from around the world. Just to get this out of the way, no, there was no plate smashing, and I don’t think anyone drank any ouzo.

The first ceremony was very traditional in a Greek Orthodox church. Here my Greek friend and his girlfriend (the same couple mentioned in my post on Rome last year) were married in a ceremony I didn’t fully understand — because it was all in Greek. It began with a dramatic, almost operatic mass, proceeded by a number of marriage rituals. Seeing which guests knew when to stand, sit, etc. made it clear who was from Greece and who was not. Rice was thrown, hundreds of photos were taken, wedding favors were handed out, and many candied almonds were consumed.

Soon we all made our way to the port to board boats headed to the next wedding.

The second wedding was held at a large outdoor venue on the seaside with the sun setting in the background. This was a more contemporary wedding in English. Both ceremonies featured the traditional stefana crowns, or ring-shaped crowns tied together with a long ribbon. One is placed on the bride’s head and one on the groom’s, and then the best man swaps them back and forth three times to represent the holy trinity.

This was followed by dinner, drinks, and dancing at the same venue well into the night.

Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece

Many meals were shared on the island, from a very late lunch after I’d arrived to a very late dinner the night following the weddings. Aside from catching up with a few familiar faces, I also met a group of American volleyball players I’d heard about but somehow had never seen face to face.

My final morning on Hydra I had to quickly pack up and make my way down those 387 cobblestone stairs to the port to catch an early ferry. Once I’d taken a taxi back to the airport, I hopped on a plane to my last stop on the trip.


December 24th, 2017

Mount Lycabettus, Athens

After checking out of my Airbnb in Rome, I caught the “Leonardo Express” train to the airport, then hopped on a flight to Athens. My friend was gracious enough to pick me up at the airport and let me stay with him and his father at their home in Glifada, Athens.

I was a little nervous about returning to Greece — the last time I was there, we experienced a gas shortage due to a strike that almost left us stranded a few times. It turns out my fears were almost warranted; shortly before I left Rome, Athens resolved a garbage worker’s strike that had gone on for ten days. If that doesn’t sound so bad to you, remember that Greek summers are very hot, and this is a country where toilet paper goes in the garbage, not the toilet.

As luck would have it, everything went better this time around. It was also a less hectic trip, and I spent most days exploring Athens on my own. Having already seen the major sites last time, I opted to look for small, unusual tours and to somewhat off the beaten path destinations.

Street art, Athens Street art, Athens Street art, Athens Street art, Athens

My first full day in Athens was packed. My friend drove me to the nearest Metro station, where I was shocked to discover the price hadn’t increased in the seven years since I’d been on the Metro last time. Although I was running a little late, I arrived more or less on time for the street art tour I signed up for. The group was surprisingly large and diverse.

The tour explores the street art in the Thiseio neighborhood, ending near Monastiraki. The tour guide treated it almost like a museum tour as he knew the names of the artists, how and where they learned their craft, and which murals were commissioned and which were informally painted on abandoned buildings. The art ranged from silly and abstract to overtly political, and in size from small murals on doors to sides of large buildings.

Mount Lycabettus, Athens

Having some time to kill before my next tour and feeling guilty for eating so much pizza back in Rome, I decided I should work out a little. So I climbed to the top of Mount Lycabettus.

This turned out to be much harder than I’d anticipated. Not only were the directions on Google Maps confusing about how to get to the starting point of the trail, but even once I got on the trail it wasn’t clear which direction I should go. So there was a lot of fumbling around and asking locals for directions.

Eventually I got to the peak, which has a patio outside a small chapel. The view is incredible (see also the panorama at the top of this post.) But at this point my heart was pounding and I was drenched in sweat, so I wasn’t prepared to appreciate it. Luckily there’s an enormous restaurant near the peak that has great air conditioning. You can also take a funicular up and down the hill from this building, but that’s cheating. Anyway, after a beer and a huge bottle of water I was ready to go back outside, take some photos, and apply another layer of sunscreen.

Acropolis, Athens Roman water clock, Athens

As the evening approached I took one last tour — the Athens Free Walking Tour. This was a pretty big group, but the guide was very knowledgeable about the era spanning from Ancient Greece to the Roman days, and explained many artifacts, ruins, and religious monuments near the base of the Acropolis hill.

In the above photo on the right there’s a funny looking octagonal tower. In English it’s called the Tower of the Winds and is believed in Roman times to have housed a device known as a water clock. Unlike a sundial which can only be used during the day, a water clock runs as long as water is able to flow through it. Though the building’s exterior is in good shape the clock mechanism is no longer intact.

After the tour I wandered back to the Metro, grabbing a much needed bite to eat at a local market. I also stopped by Pittaki Street to see the unusual light installation. Despite being dark it was not illuminated — I found out later that some locals had rallied against it for some reason I never clearly understood, and as such it had been shut off. Sigh.

Athens Athens Athens

The next morning I woke up exhausted. After another trip on the Metro system I found my way to the starting point of the aptly titled “Get lost in Athens with an Insider” tour. This low key tour involved only me and the guide, as apparently nobody else had registered. The tour really lived up to its name, as I learned all kinds of odd trivia that even my local friend wasn’t aware of. Here are the highlights illustrated in the photos above.

  • One of the first stops was a sculpture representing the Star of David all ripped apart (big photo above.) This represents how the Jewish population of Athens had been torn apart in the Holocaust. Today the Jewish population in Athens is a small fraction of its pre-World War 2 days.
  • Anafiotika is a small neighborhood built in the same architectural style as the old towns on many Greek islands. Think small blue and white stucco buildings, narrow winding streets, all built into the hillside landscape in such a way that patios and rooftops all blend in together. On the way there, we walked by a restaurant where the cook was throwing pieces of meat and fish out the door, which had attracted a crowd of cats.
  • Some local Irish crank named Tom squats in an abandoned building just down the hill. He’s allegedly a local drunk who makes his living selling wire sculptures, and is particularly well known for his pro-Irish and anti-EU views. Though I wandered by later in the trip as well, I never saw Tom or got to speak with him but his presence spanned a small intersection. From what I gathered based on his painted walls he’s very much pro-Brexit despite now living in central Europe. (Talk about a mixed message.)
  • What’s missing in Athens? My guide’s unexpected pop quiz led to an answer I wouldn’t have ever guessed if I hadn’t been told. The historic architecture of Athens intentionally excludes the entire period in which they were ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Ancient and classic Greek architecture stands alongside a handful of Roman buildings, but Greeks resented Turkish rule so much they demolished hundreds of years of historic architecture, plazas, and statues once they regained their independence in order to forget an entire era.

Athens Athens

After the tour I wound up having an hour or so to kill before dinner, so I decided to spoil my appetite by visiting a nearby vegetarian restaurant called Avocado. I ordered a couple of appetizers — a small gazpacho soup and some guacamole — in addition to a beer and a glass of wine. Not traditional Greek food by any means but it hit the spot.

Shortly before heading back to the Metro I got a brief glimpse of the changing of the guard ceremony outside of the tomb of the unknown soldier; more on that later.

Spetses, Greece Spetses, Greece Spetses, Greece Spetses, Greece Spetses, Greece Spetses, Greece

The next day was Saturday, and the three of us got together again for a long weekend on the Greek island of Spetses. The hydrofoil ride there from Athens takes a couple hours. Spetses was once a naval asset, and while most of it doesn’t look like a fortress there are a few rusty cannons still positioned along the shore. To add to the old fashioned ambiance, many couples and families ride along the harbor coastline on horse-drawn carriages.

We were lucky to get an Airbnb not far from the harbor with a friendly and helpful host. We got lost walking to the place, because as it turns out Spetses doesn’t have addresses. As such, Airbnb and Google Maps led us to a random location on the island. After calling our host he gave us a course correction and we soon found our way there. The home turned out to be more spacious than we needed; the opposite of our cramped Airbnb in Rome.

Sunday we figured out how to take a crowded tourist bus to a beach called Agioi Anargiri on the west side of the island. The beach features a natural cave known as Bekiris. The tide was too high to get into the cave while we were there, but I’m told it’s well worth exploring if you can. The trail there is short and well marked. We had lunch at the beach’s only restaurant before heading out. Although the restaurant had a captive audience and an ambiance I can only describe as “nearly deafening cicada chirps,” the food was surprisingly good.

That night we watched Going in Style, the American bank heist comedy at an outdoor theater called Titania. It was reasonably priced, the beer was cheap and they added an intermission which was useful for a bathroom break. The only other movie theater I spotted on the island was also an outdoor theater so if you’re there when it’s raining, I guess you’re out of luck if you want to watch a film on the big screen.

On our last day on Spetses before departing, we took one last trip to a beach near our Airbnb. While Spetses is advertised as not having cars on the island, well… many of the locals have cars and they drive at insane speeds on narrow roads without sidewalks. As I’ve stated numerous times in my blog posts about Greece, Greeks don’t seem to take safety very seriously. That said it wasn’t a long walk to the east side of the island where we found a nice beach with a variety of amenities.

Grocery store, Athens Grocery store, Athens

On the way back from the port, my friend mentioned he needed to do some grocery shopping at a supermarket. Normally in Europe a “supermarket” is about the size of an American convenience store, but this one was the size of your average Safeway or Albertsons, if not larger.

All their shopping carts all had a built-in mechanism that required the deposit in the form of a coin that could only be returned if you brought back the cart. Strange idea, but it seemed to work as long as you remembered to carry the required coin with you.

The store carried a dazing array of worldwide foods from kopi luwak coffee to a display of Mexican foods to… Anchor Steam beer! My memories of eating a burrito in Berlin were flooding back. While I wasn’t about to make a burrito, we had to buy a couple overpriced bottles of Anchor Steam just for fun.

We eventually wound up drinking most of the beer while playing the remastered LucasArts classic adventure game Day of the Tentacle. Never though I’d wind up halfway around the world re-playing an old video game but hey, that game still holds up.

Greek/Turkish style coffee, Athens Food tour, Athens Food tour, Athens Food tour, Athens

My second to last day in Greece I went on a food tour called Taste of Athens. Once again, I wound up being the only person in the tour group.

  • The first stop was a traditional Greek coffee joint called Mokka. They brewed the finely-ground coffee in a small pot that was partially buried in sand, which I’m told is to help maintain heat consistency. And yes, Turkish and Greek coffee are exactly the same thing — but don’t tell them I said so.
  • At the cafe I also learned a completely unrelated factoid. The Greek version of “jinx” (where two people coincidentally say the same thing at the same time) works a little differently than ours. Both parties are required to touch something red, otherwise according to legend they will start a fight. The more you know!
  • We walked through the meat and fish markets, then through a number of shops that sell dry pasta, spices, etc. Plenty of options if you want something to take home, or are planning to cook for yourself in Athens.
  • Next up was a cafe with a new twist on a classic baked good. A koulouri is the Greek version of a narrow bagel that’s common in that part of the world. At Oven Sesame they have koulouris that aren’t completely hollow in the middle, but contains a pita pocket. You can order these with a variety of fillings.
  • At another nearby cafe we got an enormous plate of appetizers. The sheer quantity of food rapidly became a problem at this point, and I was starting to think I wasn’t so lucky being the only guest on this tour.
  • Finally, and against my better judgement, it was time for dessert. We went to Lukumades, nearby joint that sells, well… loukoumades. What is that, you ask? It’s a bunch of fried dough balls, basically like donut holes but served fresh, and covered with a variety of toppings like chocolate sauce, nuts, etc. Certainly delicious but also very heavy for someone who was already on a gluttony streak. Fortunately I also got a small bottle of tsikoudia, a type of brandy from Crete. This numbed my digestive system to the point where could choke down a few loukoumades.

Athens Athens Athens

When the tour was over I walked back to the Parliament Building just in time to see the changing of the guard. A large crowd was already gathered to watch the soldiers in silly uniforms go through their weird hourly ceremony in which the guards slowly march in front of the tomb of the unknown soldier to change shifts. The slow march looks ridiculous, but makes sense considering the heat.

Next I headed to the National Gardens behind the Parliament Building. It’s a large peaceful park with plenty of shade and a variety of animals including ducks, chickens, and turtles. It’s easy to get lost in there, but it’s also one of the few places in Athens you’ll find free bathrooms.

While relaxing in the garden deciding where to go from here, my friend sent me a text message suggesting I check out a bar on top of a hotel called A For Athens near Monastiraki. I headed over there along Ermou Street, a busy shopping corridor with high end stores and outdoor chandeliers above the street. Finding the entrance to A For Athens proved challenging as it wasn’t well marked, but once I was inside and asked for the bar the front desk staff waved me to an elevator in the back. Soon a glass elevator lit in red took me to the top of the building. From one side, there’s a glass wall with an amazing view of the Acropolis in the distance with Monastiraki Square down below. I sat for a while sipping a cappuccino while taking in the view.

Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece Poros, Greece Aegina, Greece

My last day in Greece I embarked on an adventure to three small islands I’d never been to on the One Day Cruise. After a lengthy voyage the first stop was Hydra, an island with a small harborside town where all transportation is either by foot or by donkey. Tired and somewhat hungry, I stopped by The Pirate Bar (also known as The Pirate Cafe) for a salad and a Mythos before exploring the naval fortress. Much like Spetses, a few rusty cannons still sit along the old fortress’ walls.

At this point we were heading back towards Athens so the stops were much closer together. Next up was the tiny island of Poros. Along with many other travelers, I climbed up to the peak of the island where there’s a clock tower and a huge Greek flag. From here the mainland looks so close you could swim there, not that I’d recommend this. I took a long walk along the shore before we had to head back to the ship.

Our last stop before returning to Athens was Aegina. These days this island is mostly known for growing pistachios, but was apparently an important place throughout various eras of Greek history. The port town here isn’t terribly interesting, many of the businesses look to have closed along ago, and the beach is small and uninviting. That said, there’s a small stand near the port that sells bags of pistachios. If you’re a fan (or know someone who is) definitely buy a bag or three, you won’t regret it. You can also find pistachio flavored gelato and such at restaurants and cafes around the island.

My last morning in Athens we said our goodbyes and I hopped on a plane back to Barcelona for the last few days of the trip.

To conclude my post on Greece, here’s all the tours I went on.

  • Street Art Tour from Alternative Athens. If you like exploring side streets and looking at street art, you can’t go wrong with this one.
  • Athens Free Walking Tour. This tour mostly covers the historic area around the Acropolis, and ends near the entrance to the Acropolis and the Acropolis museum. Totally free, but bring a cash tip for your guide if you found the tour enjoyable.
  • Urban Athens Collective’s Get lost in Athens with an Insider tour. I paid 32 euros for a group tour, but since I was the only one who registered it wound up being a personalized tour. Not sure if this is the norm for this one, but ten euros an hour for a one-on-one tour of Athens’ best kept secrets is an insane bargain; even a coffee was included. I’d do it again.
  • Taste of Athens from Urban Adventures. Again I lucked out and had this tour to myself. Aside from a glutinous amount of food included in the price, the tour also stops by a few local markets and shops in case you’d like to buy food to take home. The tour ends not far from the Acropolis. I called ahead and they were happy to accommodate my vegetarian diet.
  • One Day Cruise. This three island tour starts early and ends shortly before dinnertime. They have a bus that stops by many nearby hotels to take you to the cruise ship terminal. Grab breakfast before you go as only lunch is served on board. Various tours are offered on each island as an upsell, if you do any of them I’d recommend booking one on Aegina as it’s the last stop and there’s not much else to do there.


For more photos from my trip to Greece this year, check out this Flickr album.

This blog post concludes my month long journey over the past summer to Spain, Italy, and Greece. For all blog posts in this series head over here.

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.

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.

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.


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.)