Saturday, July 7, 2018

Wandering in Athens

It’s May 1st, also known as Labour Day in Greece.   My Eyewitness Travel Book tells me that traditionally, families would go to the countryside & pick wild flowers, which were then made into wreaths with garlic to be hung on doors, balconies, fishing boats, and even car “bonnets” to ward off evil.  In major cities, like Athens, there may also be parades or rallies, usually led by the Communist Party.  

We are lucky like this – we’ve experienced some interesting such rallies / protests / demonstrations in other countries – so I’m privately kind of excited to see what happens today.

We see some evidence of Police presence as we round the corner onto the street bordering the Acropolis – where the Parliament Building sits, just down the road.

But first we are on the hunt this morning for coffee – the real stuff, the kind that will sustain us through jet lag and propel us well into our 1st day in Greece.

Trip Advisor tells us that there is an establishment within range of our fine hotel will serve both as a coffee station and also supply us with breakfast – except, alas, they are closed today for Athen’s version of “Laboror’s Day”.   So we happen upon “The Coffee Dive” instead, and it is very fine indeed.  

Greeks love their coffee as much as any nation we’ve visited, so we are right at home right from the start.  I'm especially attracted to the open-air counters here that allow for excellent people-watching.

This roasting machine and grinders are testament that the grounds are fresh-fresh, and oh!  The coffee itself is divine.  Not to mention the heavenly aroma they are serving up along with the cuppa'.

I feel that I must order “Greek coffee” (while in Rome, you know), even though I’m not certain what that means, exactly.  Turns out it’s very finely ground beans, almost a powder, which is then boiled with water in a copper pot – and served without filtering.  

This explains the inquiry, when ordering coffee for the rest our month’s stay “Filtered or no?”.  It’s thick and delicious and very sustaining.  I’m happy!

Now we must still find breakfast, however; we go back to the sidewalk café’s bordering the Acropolis and the Acropolis museum, and settle on the “Regal Café” – as it serves some American style eggs & such.  (I’ve found that I do better with jet lag if I can stick to my morning routine for the first few days, at least until my body adjusts to eating meals at hours of the day it’s meant to be sleeping.)

Mr. C’s Regal "Hotel" Breakfast comes with the usual bacon & eggs, albeit on the toast instead of beside it; but Frankfurters instead of sausages, and adds some local cheese and fresh tomatoes. 

My "Breakfast at Tiffany's” is a real treat – a base of brioche bread with a drizzle of syrup, then a layer of cheese, thin-sliced smoked turkey, and a poached egg on top.  It’s a cross between an eggs Benedict and French toast, to my taste buds at least.  I like it well enough that it is on the list for another Athens day breakfast.  My “side” of bacon is added to the layers – and serves as a delicious error in translation.  

They offer a wide variety of freshly made crepes, also -- but that will have to wait for another day.  I am curious about adding mayo or potato chips to my Frankfurt sausage crepe!

Here's a travel tip:  Always ask them to leave the menu with you after you order.  It's an educational tool (and sometimes a source of great entertainment) to browse this while you wait for your food to arrive.  If your wait person speaks English well, it also gives you a chance to ask questions about the menu or the food customs -- either for a repeat visit to this particular establishment, or another somewhere down the road.

Another cuppa’ (this time filtered) and fresh squeezed orange juice, along with the admonishment to "Have a Coke!" and some people watching gets us into gear for the day.  

We are so pleased to be on-our-own, as we watch groups schlepping by with their bags and tour guides.  I am happy not to have someone rushing my coffee and people-watching time!

It is our custom to wander on the first day in any city.  We have the luxury of a day to spend “adjusting”, and while we may cover a lot of ground (it’s a 10 mile trek by day’s end!), it’s at our own pace and it’s about what catches our fancy instead of a hard agenda.

And so we wander.  We are on foot as we explore the little streets and alleyways close to our hotel; 

We see that natural sponges and spices are in ready supply at the little shops we pass, as are packaged olives.

Their “Mini Mart” is not so similar to ours. 

I notice that this sign is in English – meaning it’s meant as a message to the tourists who visit, it's not directed to the locals.  Shame on us.

Here, people sit, as they do in most of Europe; people-watching, lingering in the shade, lingering over a coffee.  

They are less in a hurry than we are used to.  I like it.

They linger over newspapers and magazines, too, rather than computer screens and IPhones.  I like that, too.

We pass some little churches -- but alas, the Greek Orthodox religion (mostly) prohibits visitors or photos, so we must be content with the outside view.


Maybe another day.

Looks like it's lamb for lunch here.  Or more lamb.  I had to look up  "Giouvetsi" of veal -- it would seem to be a Greek dish of meat (veal, chicken, shrimp -- or goat!) with orzo and tomato sauce -- and Feta cheese, of course!  I will tell you that I didn't see this on any subsequent menus -- and we ate exclusively Greek the entire time -- so I'm not sure if that means it's a tourist-type dish?

We're not sure what to make of this -- we assess that it's a district that's trying to raise funds for restoration of these old buildings.  Evidently there is some opposition, stating that Tom's "Irish", not "European".  


But his donation box still stands, if you want to contribute.  And we got a kick out of the "Land of Opportunity".


Mr. Google, when consulted, let’s us know that we are close to the famous “Plaka” or shopping district, and we decide that suites our mood. 

This turns out to be an interesting mix of old-world artisan’s shops and the usual tourist-y crap.  We find hand-painted vases and hand carved chess sets, as well as leather goods (both of fine and unimpressive quality).   There are clothing shops, and lots of trinkets.  

I must admit these bottle openers were something new for me; and later we see more of the same, only more fancy.

Whether in humor or otherwise?  I’m still not sure…..

We pause to admire some high-quality rugs & carpets at a store called "The Loom"; and are instantly engaged in conversation with the shop owner, whom, upon learning of our extensive itinerary, invites us in so that he can write down the name & address of his Aunt who is the proprietor of a small Bed & Breakfast Inn close to the Castle town of Monemvasia ,where we will be in a couple of weeks.

 Theo is of the most engaging personality, and offers us a bit of wine while he “chats us up” --- and starts to showcase his wares.  We are genuinely interested, as we’ve recently purchased a substantially sized new home, and still have need of rugs in several different locations.

Here's a travel tip:  Steve is looking up "The Loom" on his Trip Advisor ap, even while we're in the store.  The reviews are fantastic, and this adds to our trust level.  Do the same thing for a restaurant that you are strolling by, or an attraction that you "happen upon".  It can help you decide "on-the-spot" whether it's something that you want to participate in, or no.

At the end of the hour we have a new friend, and a new rug for our living room – at a very reasonable price, and with free shipping home.  It’s already been a great trip to Athens!

A quick toast of ouzo (the Greek version of Italy’s Grappa) sets us on our way.  

Next we stroll the square, which offers a farmer’s market of sorts;

The grapes are enormous!

Then into the famous flea market, which houses everything from junk to fine jewelry.  The entire Monastiraki District is full of bazaar and market stalls, one can spend as much or as little time as you wish.  We’re not big shoppers, it’s just not why we travel, so we stroll through rather quickly.

Got your local "bongs", in addition to the standard stuff.

And yes. 
 We are seeing these displays everywhere we go.  
And I still don't know exactly why......

Athens reminds me a bit of Rome, in that you can hardly walk a few blocks without tripping over something absolutely fascinatingly ancient. 

This happens to be Ancient Agora, on our list of “must-see’s” for Athens, so we are pleased to discover it along today’s path. 

Agora formed the heart of the city at one point in it’s history (around 600 BC).  The council and law courts were housed here, as well as the city mint; social and religious events took place here as well.

Some of the buildings have undergone restoration, like this, the Library of Hadrian.   Alas, the Agora Museum, where we would have learned much more of it’s history and enjoyed the statues and other artifacts that remain, is closed today for “Protomagia”, or May Day.

Now it’s time to make our way back to our hotel in anticipation of our first Greek dinner.  We’ve decided to attend the restaurant of our new acquaintance from last evening (see "Arriving in Athens" post) who promised to show us our way around a Greek menu – which is an invitation I never turn down.

Liondie did not disappoint, nor did the proprietor of the establishment.  Plates to share are common here, and so we ordered a “Mix Greek plate for 2 people”.   It was, honestly, some of the best Greek food we had the entire month we were in Greece – eating exclusively Greek food, as is our custom.

After appetizers of Zukkini balls (their spelling) and pita bread with traditional tzatziki as well as a spicy humus; 

Then the main dish of traditional Mousakka, stuffed peppers, and roasted lamb with potatoes arrived.  All perfectly delicious -- comfort food, if you will.   We are ravenous, (you'll remember that we had breakfast, but you heard no mention of lunch.....) and so we devour it all. 

Too stuffed for desert, we try to defer.  But that’s not how it works here in Greece.

We are served a small coconut cake called “Ravini”, and a small clear desert liquid -- Ouzo again, as a “gift” for coming here for dinner.  We find this to be the custom throughout mainland Greece, with few exceptions, throughout our trip.  Desert and a desert drink are "on the house".  It would be rude to refuse.

So we toast the evening and our host, and we make our short way “home” to the Hotel Ava, just around the corner.

It’s been a most excellent 1st Day in Greece.

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