Friday, March 27, 2015

Athens...from Crete

 Hello, from Crete!

Here is the news from Greece, I'll go back and fill in the missing stops in the coming days. There should be lots of time, because we aren't moving from here for the next seven days...until we go on a treasure hunt a week from today, but more about that later.

We were only in Athens for 2 days. I did not have very good memories of it from when I'd gone decades before, and I didn't feel a need to see the Acropolis again. However, Martha had never been, and she did want to stop there at least briefly. And I am very glad we did.

We have been just flabbergasted this entire trip by how friendly and helpful everyone is, but the people in Greece have been going far beyond even what we had already experienced. The woman at the airport information desk who we approached four separate times about different things, the young woman at the bakery who added "gifts" of sweets in addition to what we'd already bought - twice, and the young man from our Airbnb rental in Chania who drove us to the grocery store and waited while we shopped so he could drive us back.

It's been genuinely amazing.

But what I liked best about Athens is that we didn't really play tourist much at all. The first order of business was to eat, because we were starving, and to find a prepaid data sim card. Our sim card from London covered France, Italy and Ireland, but not Greece.

We had 60 free minutes of wifi at the airport, but we were trying to figure out transportation and other things, and completely forgot to find out about our data cards.We took a bus into town from the airport, and grabbed lunch from the first place that offered free wifi. A lot of signs in Greece have English translations under the Greek, but the sign for this place happened to be in French, and it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out wifi gratuit.

The building was lovely, it was some kind of foundation, and Café Merlin was upstairs. The restaurant was very nice, and when we walked out of the elevator, we looked at each other and said, "We are going to pay for this." It really looked like an overpriced eaterie, so we were pleasantly surprised by the menu. I had an oversized BLT, which came with potato chips, and tiramisu for dessert. The total was $8. Including tip.

I really liked the Art Deco décor of the place, and the food was good. It was pretty empty while we were there, so it was very relaxing. A really nice start to our Athens stay.

We used their wifi to find a store nearby where we could buy prepaid data cards, and headed in that direction as soon as we finished lunch. Popped into a Vodafone store, got the sims and were out almost exactly at the 2 pm check in time of our Airbnb apartment.

Although we had used Airbnb to get rooms in the apartments of other people, this was the first time we got an entire apartment of our own, and we were thrilled to have a place all to ourselves after a couple weeks of sharing space with others. And this apartment was very spacious, on two levels.

So much room to move around, all to ourselves. I can't tell you how much we enjoyed it. Of course, it wasn't completely without drawbacks. It was up on the top two floors...the fifth and sixth, to be exact.

There was a tiny elevator, which Martha flatly refused to get into except for two times that were absolutely necessary. But even that only went up to the fourth floor...from which we had to walk up, carrying luggage, or groceries.

Wine & Greek olives left for us by our host.
But it didn't really bother us much, we are walking miles and climbing like monkeys these days. It is wearing us out so that we are falling asleep almost as soon as our heads hit the pillows. There maybe wasn't quite as much heat or hot water as we would have liked, but on the whole, we were pretty comfortable here.

One other minor irritation was that big ass key you can see in the photo with the wine and olives. We had exactly the same kind of key in Rome to get into our apartment, and I can't even begin to tell you how finicky they are. It took at least two or three tries to get doors open with these keys. And, in Rome, when we first had to use it, it often took 5 or 6 tries. And why would anyone want to carry a key that big? Whatever.

In any case, the other thing we had really been looking forward to is that we had a kitchen.

The first Airbnb where we got a room was in Cork. We were only there for one night, not worth buying groceries for. Then we were at a hostel in Dublin, which had a fridge and microwave only. The lovely apartment we stayed at in Rome was technically a B&B, so we didn't really have access to the kitchen. Although our hosts were so kind, I'm sure they would have allowed us to make dinner for them. But we were fine eating all the Italian food we could pay others to make for us. Plus, we were too tired from all the running around we did to even think about cooking.

But we had a lovely kitchen in Athens, and were happy to use it. We only cooked dinner the first night, but Martha made us a great breakfast the next morning and we thoroughly enjoyed sitting in there to enjoy the treats we bought from the fabulous bakery from around the corner.

This is where the lower cost of living in Greece was really brought home to us. The total price for all of those bakery items in the picture was $10.

It would have been a little more, but the two dark chocolate pieces and one of the cream puffs was a gift from the salesgirl. We went back the next evening for sandwiches to bring on our early morning flight the following day - and I got a few more pastries - and she added MORE gifts! We had never seen this before. But then, we tipped her both times and she'd never had that happen before, either. So lots of good will flowing in both directions - which is the best.

We had gotten up at 3:30 in the morning our last night in Rome, in order to make our flight to Athens. So, after checking in, hitting the grocery store and the bakery, then throwing together dinner, we were totally shot. But with all the walking around Athens we'd done, plus normal stuff like going to the bakery, grocery and cell phone stores, we felt like we had really gotten a good look at what the city was like. We went early to bed feeling like we'd had quite the full and fulfilling day.

When we got up the next morning, our only full day in Athens, it was raining and chilly. We kept waiting for the day to get even marginally better, but it never did, and Martha's shoulder was bothering her. It had gotten quite a workout the day before, and the damp wasn't helping her broken bones at all. There were a couple of things I might have gone out to look at - the Acropolis, of course, and a jewelry museum that might have been interesting. But we decided that it just didn't feel necessary to go sightseeing at all.

There was a view of the Acropolis from both balconies of our apartment. It would have to do.

From AirBnB listing. We had no sunshine. :(

What we did decide we wanted to do was go out to eat in the most authentic Greek Restaurant we could find. And that turned out to be an excellent choice. We went to To Trikyklo. We were the only ones in the place speaking English, and the bartender had to be dragooned into waiting on us because his English was best of the employees.

The food was excellent and, again, much lower prices than we'd seen anywhere in years. You can see the menu here. I had eggplant in a tomato sauce with cheese, and lemon tomatoes. Also the creamy fish soup, but it was not the chowder I was expecting.

Something got messed up in the kitchen and half our meal came out after the first half had gotten cold. It didn't particularly bother us, we weren't in a hurry. I didn't mind eating my potatoes cold and Martha simply got them to reheat her risotto. We were very happy with our experience, and I planned to get dessert at the bakery on the way home.

But our waiter felt bad because the food service got messed up and gave us each two small desserts to make up for it. Unfortunately, they weren't nearly as good as the bakery pastries I was looking forward to. And, of course, we had to eat them.

It was a really nice gesture, and he was a great guy. But it did seem ironic that I had to eat something I didn't like because I was made to eat half my meal cold.

But we didn't care...

Our motto for the last several months has been "I don't care!" Because so much is going right for us these days, that none of the everyday irritations bother us anymore. We note them, and then say, "But I don't care!". In fact, I had some kind of brain seizure that made me think it would be a good thing to learn how to say "I don't care" in sign language. so we would have the ability to say it to each other when it might be inappropriate to say it out loud in public. Or, just as a shortcut.

Turns out that the gesture involves the nose, because it is kind of like saying "I don't give a snot". Although it looks - and feels - more like you are throwing snot at people. Which, of course, made us laugh insanely.

But here, you can see for yourself.

Anyway, we walked about a mile and a half round trip, so got to see a little more of the city. Again, Athens is a fabulous value and it is filled with the nicest people who will ever walk the Earth. Between that and the incredible food, it should be at the top of my list of Favorite Places to Visit. But I just find it too unrelentingly ugly.

Not really dirty, which was my main complaint the last time I was here. It's just that an overwhelming majority of the streets seem to be filled with dingy, ugly buildings. This was our neighborhood.

And on our walk to the restaurant, it was much the same.

There were certainly nice buildings, but you had to look right at them, and not their surroundings, in order to realize that they weren't at all bad. And even then, their surroundings seem to leech some of their aesthetic  qualities away.

And, of course, there were some extremely nice hotels, apartment buildings and shops. But just not enough of that kind of thing.

The nicest places were often the colorful ones. The neutral ones were the ones showing a dingy front. Still, although those types of buildings make the city look old and backwards, it is actually quite forward, and the tram is positively futuristic looking.

Like many of the places we've been seeing in Europe, Greece is making a very real effort to recycle, and make it easy for its citizens to do so. I loved seeing this separated trash can in the Athens airport. How simple is this? Why can't we have that in all American public trash cans? Along with free ATM withdrawals.


Our visit to Athens was mostly positive, and our trip to Crete is turning out to be the same. The weather is a bit uncooperative today, but tomorrow is supposed to be just lovely. Our apartment has lovely views, but that is because it is high up...which will make walking to the grocery store a couple of times this week a bit of an adventure. We may end up renting a car after all, but I'm not sure whether driving the narrow switchback roads on this hill will be better than walking them. Whatever. We don't care. :)

As always, more later.

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