The strains of getting up at 3:45AM for 4:15 departure from the Herodion Hotel in Athens for an airplane ride that leaves at 6:00AM is hard on tourists tolerance for irregular hours! After we arrive at 6:45 at the Santorini, a driver understands where the Atlantis Hotel is located, of we go along the narrow roads across the countryside that is most famous for the best Greek wines. In comparison to California or French vineyards that the vines are trained on guide wires, but these vine hug close to the ground to absorb more moisture.
The hotel is situated at the end of the long promenade that follows the caldera rim, and from our window we can see three huge cruise ships in the harbor. The “tenders’ boats ferry passengers back and forth from the ships to old port just below the main town of Fira where sleepy donkeys wait to mount the 587 steep steps, with lots of switchbacks, that lead to the main tourist street?
The second option is to buy a ticket on the cable car that whisks you up or down in three minutes the slope.
The promenade is lined with art galleries, jewelry shops, trinket markets, cocktail bars, and cafe restaurants. On our June 2014 visit, the famous Sirocco Winds have just swept across the Sahara that deposit a thin film, like talcum powder, of red dusty of sand over Hydra, Athens, and Santorini. We wonder a the intensity of thewind as we watch the Greek flag snap in the breeze, and we go in search of a cafe with a windbreak.
Did you know that Santorini accepted foreign rule, but in defiance they painted the domes of their churches in the patriotic colors of the royal blue of their flag to be true to their devotion?
Spotting a set of the roll down side curtains up on the second floor eatery, the ones often seen on picnic day boats back in Marco, Island, Florida, we knew Ampelos Restaurant was our best dinner destination on this windy night. Host Jordan and Antonis were very warm and welcoming, and seated us in a sheltered alcove near the windbreak. While we previewed the menu, we enjoyed the panoramic views and the famous setting sun.
Since many of the cafe restaurants have small kitchens, your best bet was sticking with local Greek items like stuffed eggplant, or their signature dish which was a delightful chicken and rice soup with a lemon tang! In most restaurants, chocolate souffles require ordering in advance, but here a mouth watering dessert with ice cream was beyond our expectations.
After a lovely meal, most other establishments offered local Ouzo flavored liquor as an after dinner drink with a heavy anise flavor, but here is the local treat for the island speciality that is Vin Santo that is like a fortified wine, like Port, but with a kick of fruit and spices. Mmmm…a flavor souvenir!
Oia on Santorini
After consulting the guide books, we walk down to the taxi stand in the block below and offer him the suggested price in the guide book. In and out of his cab, he hails another drive to take us up the narrow road to Oia that is perched high over the Aegean sea. The landscape suggest further struggling vineyards and a few new villas that overlook the endless sea.
After arriving in the taxi square, we took a solitary lane where the morning herds of “cruise ship people” had yet to arrive. Pretty magenta bougainvillea arched over the secret gardens. Soon we reached the crossroad where the tourist shops and trinket venders crowded the plaza.
Our real quest was to see the famous blue dome churches that we had seen in all the picturesque travel photos. On this off day, we see a girl in a white wedding gown posing for pictures. At the next stop near an old fort, the couple are posing again for another set of photos with a camera man. No family or friends join the photos, and I suspect the scene is fake!
Trying to be discreet, we refrain from taking our own shots of strangers, but this pretty blond, in her big hoop skirt gown is trailing behind the dashing groom all dressed in a black tuxedo. I can’t help notice the fragile lace on her hem has turned the hue of the dusty sirocco winds, and my curiosity overwhelms me to seek the truth if this is a “destination wedding,” or “photo shoot?”
Other early morning tourist wonder too, but I approach to the bride if there is a real wedding band. Well, she has a plain band ring on her right finger, and I pantomime real wedding bands are on the left hand. She wiggles off the ring from her left hand and places on her right after my question. Were they really married?
After our tour, we begin to think where we should have lunch while the Sirocco winds still make eating in a cafe a problem. In the distance, we spot a upstairs terrace with glass panel windbreaks. Up a tiny twisty set of stairs, we arrive at the Pelekonos restaurant and seated by a friendly hostess who helps us with our order.
Despite the annoying wind, there is a wonderful view of the harbor with the cruise ships bringing in the next wave of shoppers to fill the streets and pack the shops.
Of all the boats in the harbor, the one that captured my imagination was the large two masted square rigged sailing ship that hung on the horizon gliding into port under full sail. The marine mist created an other worldly aura, and for a moment I let my mind drift to join the mythical ships of Jason and the Argonauts in search of the treasure of the Golden Fleece.
Most American are aware of the strides made in animal welfare, and our house pets
are humanely treated if not doted upon. After getting off the ferry in Hydra, I caught a glimpse of the island’s quaint icons, the donkeys. They have pretty bells on their bridles and ribbons on their manes, and they often have a colorful crosses on their headbands.
But lurking in shadows of the side streets, there is a large population of free ranging mixed breed dogs. One husky look well fed, but seemingly many others have never seen a groomer, or had a bath because most of the mixed breeds the look unbrushed and to dirty too pet. Supposedly they do belong to somebody, and do go home at night?
Mexico City to Morelia Memory:
On a car trip from Mexico City to western colonial town of Morelia, we saw at least 200 dogs wandering the streets, and most of them only had three legs because they were accident victims with encounters with speeding cars and trucks. Even more disconcerning were the numbers of roadkill over a two day period totaled 200 dead dogs along side the roads in Mexico.
The Hydra cats are everywhere. They watch you eat in the quayside cafes, and hope that you will feed them so they don’t starve. This problem is more acute when tourist seasons ends. The surviving cats know the routine of garbage pick up days, and launch a group of six to pick over the left overs at dawn. They must know because the resident rooster called from one of the nearby chicken yards and woke me up as well? Natural scavengers, they can rip open the heap of plastic bags and ferret out dregs from the kitchen.
Almost like clockwork, they know when the fishermen return to their dock to sell their catch to the local buyers. They form a semicircle at the stern of the boat waiting to be tossed a fish head morsel.
After their morning siesta, they prey on the tourists enjoying a coffee break. As the heat on the day approaches, they retire to a spot in the shade to sleep off their mid-morning snack.
Tourists start to straggle back at happy hour to the quay, and the whole gang is back on the prowl. While fearless little brown birds table hop for crumbs, the cats sneak between tables pedestals and chairs legs to beg for more substantial offerings. The waiters shoo away the unwelcome guests, but they have a whole harbor to work before sunset.
Along with the feline beggars, appears a cute pure breed black Pekinese with two russet color questioning eyebrows that also begged and receive a few cubes on my rosemary chicken. He must have forgotten his manners, and never gave a second glance as he waddled down the harbor for dessert. I caved to him because I once had a Peke, and this dog might have been the ghost of my Bandit?
After three days on Hydra, we walk down the cobble path for one last time early in the morning, and there on, the same door step, for three days there is one of the most unkept cats on the island. There is a scrawny tuft on hair that sits on his back bone, and I have given her a name of “Scruffy.” As I consider the fatal trap of giving names to strays, I had to pass this one by. Although I hope she is a “watch cat,” I recall the lament from the musical, “Cats (1982 Broadway debut),” when another “new day has begun.” and I hope it will be for her?
Make a difference: Animal assistance for Hydra: http://www.hydraark.org/
Twas a time where couples met at church groups, country fairs, or connected at school or college. Their romance matured under the watchful eyes of parents, family, and classmates until the formal engagement was announced. While the couple prepared for marriage, mothers warned the bride to exercise caution before the ceremony to limit intimate contact until after vows were exchanged.
After the feminist spoke up, and the birth control pill was introduced the problems of pre-marital sex was changed forever. One night stands once bragged about in the boy’s locker room switched to girl’s chat parties. By the third date, the ultimatum of yes or no to the question of to have or not to have sex was the deal breaker.
These women raised their daughters to compete with their potential partners as hard in the classroom, playing fields, the office, the boardroom, and bed. Armed with all the independent wisdom and survival skills for romantic conquests, they spread their casting net beyond their neighborhood and entered cyber-dating.
Cyber-matches range from little white lies to out of bounds cheaters looking for naive newcomers to gobble up and spit out in a few strokes of a keypad.
Airport lounges, airplanes, and tourist restaurants are prime locations to observe couples interacting in cyber-life.
Cyber-date night in Santorini:
With smart phones glued to one ear, and another in her palm, the two fisted cyber girl is preoccupied typing text, exchanging photos, swapping videos, scrolling for restaurant reviews, and no longer feel the need to hold a verbal conversation face to face with her date?
Cyber-husband in Santorini:
Observing husbands withdraw from breakfast conversation with his wife on vacation, to contact the office back home, this to has become wide spread practice. She sits looking forlorned and forgotten looking out at her vacant cyberpartner.
Cyber-ear pollution Mykonos to Athens Airport:
As soon as planes lands, anxious passengers unpack their phones to announce their gates arrivals to relatives, what they had for breakfast, and reams of other dull trivia. Yak-yak-yak about nothing is grating and annoying to overhear the monotonous diatribe, and it is source of irritation for others.
Cyber-rude Athens to JFK:
Some passengers have no clue about their surroundings and how their behavior is difficult to tolerate. These “me-first-you second” personalities on their phones have totally missed the point that they are blocking up the exit aisle, and their rude manners make travel for everyone else a real burden and test of patience.
Cyber-babysitter: JFK to Athens:
Youngsters are glued to cyber-games and wiggle, squirm, and jostle adult seat mates in front and in back of them as they conquer ninja enemies or zap aliens from outer space. The dull flickering flashing of fireballs smashing the dorks is more enticing than human conversation.
The cyber offenders know who they are, but a few of us recall the best times of great conversations and not phone tag. It is war out there?
SOS Athens. June 24, 2014
Road warriors and tourists both know even a minor ailment can upset a long dreamed for vacation. As a precaution, we carry a small first aid kit to cover headaches, tummy upset, bandaids, and sunblock.
Line of First Defense: After you have tried standard at home remedies, and the old stand by of hot tea, lemon, and honey don’t work either, where do you turn?
Scenario: Spouse returned from a tourist attraction with a stomach ache after breakfast. Still no better at lunch, so the first time in 23 years, the wife embarks on a solo self-escorted museum tour in the afternoon by herself. Upon returning, patient is still sick, but willing to eat a dish of ice cream and go back to sleep after dinner.
Prognosis: Things look bad after dinner, and as the next morning we are due to take ferry to Hydra, I become very concerned!
Action taken: The front desk night manger at Hera Hotel was well prepared to find a 24/7 medical service that would come to our room in less than a half an hour. SOS send us an English speaking doctor acquainted with dealing with tourist emergencies with a full bag of injections to cure the average Montezuma Revenge or Tourista Itis for 100 euros.
Help is on the Way: Emergencies – AngloINFO Athens
athens.angloinfo.com/information/healthcare/emergencies/SOS Doctors (SOS ΙΑΤΡΟΙ), Tel: 10 16. International: International SOS https://www.internationalsos.com/
Recovery Timetable: Triple cocktail of shots should revived the patient in about three hours, and the next day he felt well enough to travel.
Reprieve: Although short lived, the patience relapsed to former state with knots in the stomach.
Plan of Action: I take off for the red cross sign on the door down the street, but the office is closed after 5:00PM, but I am saved by the Front desk/owner of the Angelica Hotel who is like the Mayor of Hydra. Since his grandparents and parents all lived here, he knows everyone. A new resident in town is an English speaking doctor from Athens who will be here in 20 minutes to review previous treatment, and provide necessary care for the ailment. Dr. Odysseus carried more tourist potions in his medical bag, and the patient fully recovered. Like his namesake, Odysseus, in the Illiad (Roman Ulyssus) he captured the one-eyed monster “Virus Cyclops,” and we were germ free to roam the other Greek Isles another day.
Since we had eaten all the same food, there was no clear explanation where he picked up the “bug,” we feel grateful to have found the necessary medical resources when we needed the most.
I post this a helpful phone contact with global locations in 70 countries with 76,000 healthcare providers. In the hopes that all travels are healthy and happy ones!
My Big Fat Greek Feast
Athens: Cafe sitting. June 23, 2014
1. Novice Level: Consult your guide book suggestions where to eat and head to that area. In the Plaka area in Athens, the cafes have “front men” that stand near the menu stands to entice your business. They like to point to the reviews in Rick Steves’ or Tripadvisor to vouch for their credibility.
How to?: Use your eyes, and are the tables full or does it look like “Tourist Siberia?”
2. Intermediate Level: Your guide books have several suggestions, but rather than waste your euros, preview the restaurant to see the action. Is it filled with lost tourists or are the locals eating there?
How to?: Is the atmosphere conducive to enhance your dining experience? Do they nice table cloths and shade to add to your comfort?
3. Advanced level: Some of the hidden benefits may elude your first impression. Do they serve regional dishes or have a roof top view?
How to?: Talk to other tourist where they have had a memorable dining experience, cruise by and look at the food on the plate. Is it well presented and look interesting? How about squash blossoms stuffed with rice looked good? Does stuffed eggplant with tomato looked delicious? What about giant prawns (langoustine) looked tempting?
What is your caveat emptor?
4. Expert Level: Some dishes exceed the level of the kitchen and you might end up with fish tartare with capers that had the potential to be brilliant, but looked like cat food and tasted like stale tuna. Accept that all your adventures will catapult to gastronomic nirvana.
Insider tip: Greece produces many local wines. While some are cafe quality, there are other more worthy of your sommelier attention. In that exalted echelon of wine connoisseurs, the Santorini Barrel is in competition with the aged oak essence that tourist can savor at the wine bar, Brettos. (http://www.brettosplaka.com/ . Cudos: “Tripadvisor”: It is always between the 7th and 12th most important touristic attraction in Athens.
5. Gold Gourmet:
Relish Dish:The green are olives immature olives that range in small, medium, and large grades. The big black olives are tree ripened mature fruit cured in vinegar. The wrinkle black olives age on the tree and are salt-cured. The Greeks puree the olives into a paste, like a tapanade, and serve with bread instead of butter, or serve as an
hor d’oeuvres with wine.
Bread tray: Standard to every meal is a cream version of hummus served with warm pita bread. The toasted warm bread makes a good marriage with the chilled hummus.
Appetizer Gold: Squash blossoms stuffed with rice make a nice sharing dish like tapas, but they are different that the Italian version with the addition of chopped mint and parsley.
Salad: Slice feta cheese and layer with tomatoes and drizzle it with pesto olive oil.
6. Go for the Gold Moussaka!
While American palates are familiar with the layers of ground meet mixed with sliced eggplant, one authentic Greek recipe had a polenta base layer, ground lamb mixture layer, sliced roasted eggplant layer that was topped with mashed potatoes smothered in bechamel. The creamier Greek version of bechamel added yogurt to the sauce that enriched the consistency.
Vegetable Side Dish: What looks like cooked spinach, taste like collard greens, and grows the the roadside? “Hortas” is a wild weed that is like a dandelion green
7. Double Black Diamond Olympic Run:
What is your tolerance for Bahlava?
Each cook has their favorite the way mother-used-to-make recipe, so no two restaurant make it the same. The classic Greek dessert can range from flaky crust that looked like hard wood chips dusted with roasted nuts that looked more like dog kibble than pie. It can be gooey honey soaked nut cake that drools down your chin, and it escapes down your fingers. Breaking with tradition, a restaurant in Mykonos added shredded coconut!
8. Drink like a Greek: The table wines from Santorini are touted as one of the best of the Greek Isles, but after dinner the Vinsanto (vin Santorini) is sweet fortified dessert wine with a smoothness of a sherry. Rose in color, there is a hint of lemons, raisins, and aromatic spices is perfect to close out your Greek dinner party. Opa!
The New Acropolis Museum June 21, 2014
If you are feeling the jet lag and wake up early, you will want to head the Acropolis Museum because the museum has early bird hours. It is open from 8:00AM until 8:00PM. Go in the morning before the crowds, and return at “happy hour” to take a second look while everyone else is walking on the late afternoon paseo. Your ticket is good for one day.
As you near the Acropolis Museum, you try to put into words the architectural style of something that resemble a stone fort on the first floor with a soaring portico that reaches toward the sky? The upper two floors are like a giant ice cube with floor to ceiling glass walls. In walking across the entry plaza, you gaze down to excavations of ancient dwellings that once was a village of the past. Am I having a vertigo moment as my feet glide across the glass sidewalk? Once inside, the vast lobby leads to the up sloping ramp that contains pots, marble fragments, and other interesting relics.
A few steps in, I feel a gentle breeze coming from the floor mounted forced air conditioning vents. Am I about to have a Marilyn Monroe subway moment where my skirts fly over my head? At the end of the ramp, you gaze up to the Pediment of the Hekatompedon that was built on the same site as the Parthenon. Mounted shoulder high, there are giant sea creatures with twisted tails with human heads explaining the struggles of the pagan myths of Hercules and Triton that still have traces of 570 BCE paint.
The guide noted that it was good that I came early because by noon the place would be packed.
On your left, you have a leisurely tour through the chronology of the Roman Gallery to the post Parthenon where ancient statues stare back at you in absolute silence. Soon you arrive at the center hall gallery that has the Caryatids from the Erchtheion. These ladies are dressed in “wet drapery” robes and elaborate braided coiffeurs that have enchanted visitors for 2000 years. As part of the display, they have a workshop booth explaining how the curators use a laser to clean the stones on the video monitor. Modern science come to the rescue of ancient antiquities!
I used the “maidens” for a college thesis paper on the ideals of feminism. I used the metaphor if you supposed women were built like hard as stone, and could withstand the heat of sunbaked summers and the cold snow covered winters, one day she might be President of the United States? Though conditioning, she could stand the heat of the debate, and all party bickering, and it would run off her shoulders like a spring shower! The “girls” and I have a long history of devotion.
Fumbling with my camera, I seem to be having problems remembering how to de-activate my flash. I only use it on vacation every year, and I have to turn for help from another early bird tourist that saved me the embarrassment of having the guide run after me a second time!
Take the escalator to the third floor to watch the large screen video, pause at the rooftop coffee shop with expansive views of the Acropolis, or browse in the museum shop. Upon exiting, you enter a magical museum moment where the remaining Pediment group is arrange. The interior of the Acropolis had carved in relief panels, called “metopes” that were installed up near the roof line. Crane your neck, and try to imagine all the old glories of Greece?
Masses of Greek school children all seated quietly learn about their 2500 year old heritage. While the paddle guides, with their day trippers from the cruise ships, weave in and out of sea of culture. Their dull stares of silent absorption form a long line that they resemble the trail of leaf cutters ants from Costa Rica. Both sexes wear ugly floppy hats and miss-matched plaid shorts. The shirts are creased and wrinkled from being pressed for days in the carry on luggage.
A bright English lady expat has her their own audience trying to cash in on the made easy study of the marvels of Greece, while the French tour guide tries to enliven a senior citizen group to wake up and follow her years of scholarship.
Still waiting, wanting, and wondering about outcome of the Parthenon Frieze, the gallery awaits the return of the Elgin Marbles from London. The gaps look like a smile with missing teeth. The museum have left spaces to reunite the pediment when it was pirated in 1801. A young student that I met wants me join a paper blitz to plea their repatriation. The mute question remains, but hopefully the diplomatic pressure and social conscious will prevail?
Returning to level 1, there is a massive double story gallery on the right side, and the curators culled the finest relics from distant regions to expose art history fans the Best of the Best. Worthy of a detour, this a place of pure contemplation to inhale the magic of archaic stone carving.
While your brain processes the art and the experience, hold the moment close to your heart as an exceptional visit as your return to your home town where even our banks chose this solid image of the Parthenon as eternal.
After leaving the museum, I round the corner to return to the hotel, I notice they have planted a symbolic olive grove on the western edge of the site. The architects and museum planners could have chosen hundreds of design solutions, but they selected this little island of soft green as a place where visitors might try to digest and comprehend all they had just seen at this world class museum.
What’s for Dinner?
Restaurant Sisters visits A Delight of France, Escondido, Ca.
Long for a taste of France right in your backyard? Plan you next visit to experience their tempting charcuterie plate of hand crafted pate and select cheeses! Top your off your meal with a selection of pastries like the strawberry tart finished with a dolop of fresh whipped cream