I’m feeling smarter today. Well, because I’ve been to the crux.
Yesterday I arrived back in Rome from 6 days in Greece. Rome is old, but Greece is OLD. Therefore, when I say I’ve been to the crux, I’m saying that when I stood atop of the Acropolis in Athens it really did feel like civilization started there. We’ll talk more about that. For the sake of clarity (which is going to be difficult because I’m in awe of just about everything in the past week) I’ll try to keep chronological. And, maybe to be manageable I’ll do this in parts, like a serialized novel – what happened to those?
Friday a group of us departed for Athens. A quick two hour flight can take you from one old-turned-new-world metropolis to another: Rome to Athens. We hit the ground running in Athens, as some in our group would have only the afternoon to spend there. We found our hostel, and more importantly our first gyro. Pronounced “euro” – this leads to a question of currency. With the “crisis” as the Greeks call it, would Greece be better using gyros for euros? Maybe so, I’d vote yes. This aside, I’m certain that the gyro tastes better than a euro, so you get your money’s worth. Let it be written: the first of many gyros.
Then we walked around the acropolis, the huge, impending hill above central athens with rock walls and green trees and a flattened top that begs you to squint up at the Parthenon. The Parthenon. As it was afternoon, and the off-season, we were too late to enter the Acropolis or the ancient Agora. So we circumnavigated it and hit the Acropolis museum instead, in the shadow of the hill. Here, Athens has preserved sculpture and friezes from the Acropolis and Parthenon in a world-class new museum. This is all in hopes that England will return their swindled Elgin Marbles – the friezes that Lord Elgin took off the Parthenon illegally, now housed in the British Museum. That’s a tall order.
We met the rest of our group already in Athens and all 14 of us noshed at “God’s Restaurant.” Really. Or at least that’s what it supposedly translates to. A few notes: Greek wine is sad compared to Italian. The Greeks love to stuff anything with anything else. Just trust this and eat it. It’s delicious. Also, they love giving free dessert. Again, just say thank you.
The next morning the quick stint in Athens ended, and we arose at 6am to board our 6 hour ferry to the island of Mykonos.
Mykonos. Just picture your idea of the stereotypical, idealized Greek Island with white houses and blue shutters. Buildings layered on top of each other. The sea. Crystal blue. The Island, green. Everything pristinely white, everything fresh and crisp and sunny. This is Mykonos.
Apparently Mykonos is know as an island of hedonism. It is the party island of the Greek isles, known for its bars, beaches, clubs, and thriving gay/lesbian scene. This is during the high season. As our lovely hostel owner Maria explained, Mykonos’s population swells from around 8000 to 1 million during the summer. I believe it, as we saw a deserted Mykonos.
Late March is still the off-season, so our Mykonos was sleepy and quiet and deserted. Few restaurants were open, few bars. NO ONE was on the beaches – still a bit chilly. Also, there are no women on Mykonos. I’ll swear by it. Only men in the town, working on fixing up shops during the day and retreating to who knows where at night. Really, we were the only tourists staying on the island, I think. Mykonos was ours all ours.
So, the means of transport for non-locals in Mykonos is ATV. You can rent a four-wheeler for the day for a cool 15 euro (the money, not the sandwich). No, you don’t need to watch an instructional video, or sign a waiver, or have an international driver’s license, or get insurance, have previous experience, or wear a helmet. The man said, “Do you know how to use one?” I said, “Yeah.” and that was it. Ta Da. Hedonism? Becoming more clear with the “no rules” idea.
So, Katie and I embarked to find our new hostel, “Mama’s Pension,” on the other side of the island with no direction except a literal point in the right direction. I really don’t know how we found it as directly as we did. Mykonian miracle. Did I mention there are no house numbers or street signs on Mykonos? No matter. No rules.
We did some driving around the island and then had dinner down by the waterfront. I should say that I’m checking things off my Greek to-do list this whole time: gyro, AMAZING GREEK YOGURT AND FRESH FRUIT, tzatziki, hummus, spanakopita (spinach pie), pita, saganaki (cooked cheese), and souvlaki (meat on a skewer) – obviously it’s all food.
After dinner, Katie and I boarded our trusty atv and made our way back to the hostel in the dark. Sorry, Mom. Since it didn’t have headlights – and since driving in the dark on the road without helmets late at night already is so safe – we drove with the hazards on the whole 15 minutes. Comedy hour.
The next morning meant a Mykonian sausage omelet and a 6 hour ferry back to Athens. Here, Katie and I split from the rest of the group who went on to continue island hopping. Although Mykonos is exceptionally beautiful (something so elegant about the white and blue), I needed more time in Athens to sufficiently geek out with the Greeks. Had to go back, an afternoon wasn’t enough for me.
The ferry was rocky as the sea was choppy, so we spent it horizontal on the couches surrounded by a large family of slightly seasick Greeks who kept talking about us in Greek. Katie whispered conspiracy theories of them being gypsies. I was suspicious, but clutched my purse nonetheless. (We’ll return to this clan later).
We went to late dinner in the Plaka neighborhood near the Acropolis. This is a nice area of Athens, popular with the tourists, filled with shops and restaurants, and scattered really old things. We ate stuffed grape leaves and moussaka (a Greek eggplant and béchamel casserole) and were given a history lesson by our waiter. I guess this is what happens when you are the last patrons at the restaurant on Greece’s independence day – all accidently, of course.
Here, I’ll pause and give you pictures, and assure you that there is much much more. As with Greece, the story began, but each day makes layers, like blocks of stone on the Acropolis, or layers of moussaka. Maybe that’s why they are so into stuffed foods and phyllo dough – there’s an inside story to be revealed in Athens. The layers of flaky dough become innumerable, you can’t really separate them. They’re flimsy when singular, so rich when stacked.