Sunday, December 13, 2015

Swanky title about Greece

I decided to write about my trip to Greece first because frankly it was so much more fun/interesting/I think you’ll enjoy it more. It’s also going to take forever to write so I might as well get started. Also also, on my trip to Granada I thought of an idea for the book I want to write so I thought I might try that form out today. It’s pretty similar to what I’ve been doing but with a few changes, I’m thinking along the lines of a collection of short stories starting with a recommendation on what they should be enjoyed with. Let me know what y’all think! I’m always open to comments / criticism / suggestions.

 Note: “tomar un café” means to have a coffee, usually at a café. “Tomar algo” means to have something, in the same way. Also, please accept this as a draft, I’m all out of creative titles.

Tomar algo: Cappuccino with brown sugar and a bite sized chocolate chip cookie or two

My birthday trip got off to a somewhat rough start, about an hour before we got to Madrid, the lady I was sitting next to on the autobus got sick and threw up everywhere, I’m pretty sure she even passed out for a second. Luckily, my counselor/college student skills jumped into action to prevent her from 1. throwing up on me and 2. choking. It was a great way to wake up and get my blood pumping for the day. The bus got to the airport hours before my flight so I spent quite a while getting familiar with the floor in Terminal 2 before I could check in. A budget traveler’s life is rarely glamorous, so my breakfast matched my look.

Two vending machine cafes con leche (extra sugar) and a grocery store baguette with mermelada de frambuesa y mantequilla (raspberry jam and butter)

I spent my early morning hours contemplating the complexity of Don Quijote, a topic brought upon either by my deliriousness (I probably slept for a maximum of 15 minutes on the bus) or my impending final on the book and its author. For those who haven’t read at least part of the book (I certainly haven’t read it in its entirety yet), Quijote is surprisingly relevant today, especially to twentysomethings who aren’t content with the ideals of our demanding society and sitting still.

After several hours of both reveling in one of the greatest novels ever written and cursing the sloppiness and inconsistency of Cervantes it was finally time to board the plane. The flight was mostly uneventful due to the wonderful service (and food…a whole actual meal…for free!) of Aegean Airlines. But life wouldn’t be interesting if it was uneventful. While I have thus far been lucky with seating on planes, I got to spend three and a half hours listening to a Chinese/Spanish family yelling in both Chinese and Spanish AND I got to listen to three and a half hours of an Asian soap opera because apparently headphones are now optional. Maybe I should have played my country playlist out loud as well?

We flew into Greece as the sun was setting and it was magical. I didn’t realize how mountainous the country was and flying into the sunset over snowcapped mountains was amazing. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more beautiful, Athens appeared from under the wing of the plane. The entire city was lit up against a purple sky and the deep blue sea. Simply breathtaking. I didn’t (couldn’t) even attempt to capture it in a picture. I think that’s when I fell in love with Greece.

I was staying with a friend, Matt, and he met me at the airport which was ideal because, as you may know, they speak Greek in Greece and I’m not sure that my exhausted, romance language filled mind could have navigated the (Greek) public transportation system. On our journey into Athens proper I got my first glimpse of Greek life: worry beads, Greek singing and dancing, riot police, and Christmas lights. After putting my stuff away in the apartment I was staying in, we set out for a mini night time tour of Athens. Since Matt is a classics major, I got the Spark Notes version of the several thousand year history of Greece as we walked by monuments like the Temple of Zeus. While it was all interesting, my favorite part was climbing up the huge hill that the Acropolis is on (not easy in a skirt) and having a panoramic view of Athens at night. It was amazing seeing the dark, imposing mountains turn into the sprawling, brightly lit city, turn into the equally dark sea. I’ve often been asked “mountains or sea?” and if I could give you an answer before, I certainly can’t now. Both are far too inspiring.

We met up with a friend of Matt’s for dinner at a taberna called “The Black Cat”. It was traditionally Greek, or so I was told, though it had a somewhat American feel to it but that might have just been the red and white checked table cloths and Christmas decorations. In enrich my first experience of Greek food we ordered a variety of appetizers to go with our meals.

A traditional Greek salad with possibly the best feta cheese I have ever had, saganaki (a fried cheese square), tzatziki (a spread), fresh bread, and a jar of Rosé complemented by my main dish-a piece of flaky, melt-in-your-mouth spinach pie

I think you could call dinner a success. As you might imagine, it was so nice to spend time with someone I knew. While one of my favorite parts of traveling is meeting new people, it can be exhausting. It’s nice to just slip into conversation without having to explain things or people or ways of thinking. After dinner we went out to a terrace bar for drinks. We ordered Rakomelo which is a traditional drink made from raki, a grape based bourbon, mixed with honey and spices, served warm. I was absolutely in heaven because it can only be explained in American terms as warm Jack Honey which is my favorite drink in the whole world. I’m a bit disappointed in myself because I never thought of trying it warm before. While we were out, sipping on our drinks, overlooking Poco Poco (a 24 hour eatery), midnight struck and it was my birthday. It was understandably uneventful, but then again was it? How many people get to celebrate their birthday in Athens?

Greece Part Two

A cappuccino, because café con leche isn’t a thing in Greece; toast with cheese, aka a grilled cheese; potato chips; free cookies

After breakfast we hit the ground running “seeing the sights”/“doing the sites” (I’m still not positive which one it was). We saw pretty much every historical site in the center of the city including the theater of Dionysus, the Parthenon, various temples and monuments, several parks and the Agora. My history lesson continued and I was impressed with how much I remembered from my Dance History class (note: Mark isn’t entirely crazy!). Photographing the monuments was equally fun and frustrating, as there’s always something that doesn’t belong. Maybe I’ll write a book on that, History or His-story? Failed attempts a photographing monuments and landmarks due to man’s need to be in the way. We did a lot of walking. I always forget how much of traveling is just being on your feet. After strolling through an outdoor market, Matt and I got lunch. The atmosphere was cool, the host was hilarious and the food was good, what else could you ask for?

Pasta with olive oil, tomato sauce, eggplant and a variety of other veggies that tasted like magic and summer and some of the most dense, flavorful bread that I’ve ever had

We stopped at Di Vinci’s for gelato after and I went out of my mint chocolate/ stracciatella comfort zone for caramel and chocolate strawberry, it was divine. After a bit of shopping (Greece is so cheap!) we went out to the sketchy/hipster part of town where we saw the remains of a protest and a really beat up university building. I think that it’s really important to see the “other side” of town when you are traveling. I had also wanted to see the refugees, but it was getting dark and Matt suggested that we not, I was a bit disappointed but completely agreed.  As magical as almost all of my travel experiences are, you can’t look at the world through rose-colored lenses, you have to take in everything. You have to be swept away by the beauty of the land, sea, and sky, you have to be amazed by ancient buildings and temples, and you have to be disturbed by human crisis. You should take inspiration, hope, and motivation, respectively, from your travels.

My afternoon concluded with a glorious pre-dinner nap. We were meeting up with a few of Matt’s other friends for dinner. Occasionally I have moments when I realize just how European I’m becoming, and my rejoicing at the message I got saying that we were not going to meet for dinner until nine was one of them. I loved meeting Matt’s friends, one, Rocío, was studying with him in Greece and the other was her friend, Jackie, who is spending the year in Copenhagen, which is exciting because now I have someone else to visit this spring! She also goes to Smith College, small world isn’t it? We had a great conversation about K-Pop and weird Korean movies. Dinner was good, though there was a bit of a mix up, as they brought my dinner out before the appetizer so we all ate that before realizing that it was my meal, but it was good nonetheless.

A salad with feta, balsamic vinaigrette, greens, and sundried tomatoes on crispy thin pita, grilled veggies topped with fried cheese, and a cool, refreshing white wine to wash it down

After we ate, we took a night paseo around the center of Athens and saw what can only be described as “Greek”; Christmas decorations lighting the riot police, the absolutely ridiculous presidential guards marching against a backdrop of orange trees and twinkling lights, stray but well fed and vaccinated cats and dogs being loved on by citizens, old men with their worry beads and crowds of young, H&M clad students bounding around the city center. We ended up at this hole in the wall bar that Matt had been to with a professor and it was great. I’m not one for clubs or crazy nights out so this was perfect. It was an old Turkish villa that had been transformed into a bar/art gallery. I’m not exactly sure what I got to drink because they kind of mixed up our order, but it was lemon-lime tasting and very good. The atmosphere was both hipster and upscale academic but then again, is there really a difference? With new friends and a drink in my hand, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my birthday.    

Greece part three

It was a good thing we didn’t stay out too late the night before because Sunday was just as long as Saturday. Our game plan for the day was Aegina, an island about an hour ferry ride away from Athens Port. We met Rocío and Jackie at a corner café.

Another cappuccino and Praise God Halleluiah a BAGEL AND PEANUT BUTTER, also a free cookie which appears to be customary in Greece

The lady working at the café was the sweetest and she only charged be half price for the peanut butter because she “didn’t have much”…there was plenty on my bagel. We got down to the dock and had to wait for about an hour for the next ferry, which was fine because sometimes you just have to sit and think about the world. It’s so easy to forget the magnitude of where you are what you are doing. Spending my birthday weekend in Greece? What? And just when you feel on top of the world you are hit with how small you are. How many people in the thousands of years of Greek history have sat here, looking out over the sea? Surely countless soldiers and immigrants, emigrants and historians, prisoners and lovers, have looked wistfully to the sea and the mountains and back again and here I am, just one girl in 2015 waiting for a ferry. ¿Impresionante, no?

Back to the boat. The ferry ride was a lot of fun. I had a nice conversation with a man out on the upper level. He showed me some of the pictures he’s taken of birds on the ferry, he’s a regular. The first thing we did when we got off the boat was go to the pistachio vendors because that’s all Matt had been talking about all weekend. I’ve never had pistachios; they’re one of the few foods that I still haven’t tried because of some arbitrary prejudice. I think it’s because I see pistachio ice cream as a mint chocolate chip imposter. Luckily I was able to put this aside, and after a ridiculous amount of free samples of pistachios, candied pistachios, pistachio butter, and pistachio ice cream I can say that I really like them.

We spent the morning strolling around the island. We went into a Greek Orthodox Church which was cool, but jarring as usual because where are all the Marys? I’ve never been in an orthodox church though so it was really interesting to see all the Byzantine inspired art. Aside from the port, it’s a relatively residential place with lots of old, beaten up, beautiful little houses. We walked down little streets, past pistachio fields and olive groves. I only wish that they spoke Spanish and not Greek so I would have a reason to spend my summer working there.

We did not dress correctly for the weather so by midday we were sweating, though in our defense it was only forty degrees at night. From the minute we got back to the edge of the island I couldn’t stop thinking about jumping in the crystal clear water. I’ve never seen water so blue and beautiful. We played around a bit in an inlet and joked about stealing a boat that was docked there. We kept walking. We came to another inlet. I looked longingly at the sea and luckily I wasn’t the only one. We started to walk away and Jackie said it, “I want to go swimming”. After some discussion, justifying it by “we’re in Greece” and by the old man who was swimming and didn’t look very cold at all, we were stripping off our winter layers and making our way into the Aegean sea. It was cold, but not as cold as Maine and it was salty, but not quite as salty as two girls wearing the same dress at a party. Us girls hung out for a bit, forced Matt to do the necessary photoshoot (“pics or it didn’t happen”), and then got out. It was good. It was necessary. After drying off a bit we headed back towards civilization for a 4pm lunch. It was a grab-and-go bocadilla, nothing special.

We ended our island adventure at an archeological site. We whined about going, but it was free and Matt wanted to so we did. It’s probably my favorite ancient ruins that I’ve been to because we got to climb on it (Were we actually allowed to? I don’t know). We watched what was easily the most magical sunset of my entire life. I had a field day both photographing it and simply enjoying it. I am a strong believer in the power of language, but as a writer of English and Spanish I can confidently say that I don’t have the vocabulary to describe that sunset to you. I’m not going to say anything other than that “I am an entirely different person having seen the sun set on the other side of the world”.

Back in Athens we went searching for a protest before dinner, but were unsuccessful…apparently it wasn’t happening until later. In going against everything I’ve been told in Spain I tried one of the oranges off the orange trees that line the streets, both in Sevilla and Athens. I will say that the orange itself wasn’t bad, it was a bit bitter which I was expecting because they are used to make bitter marmalade, which I have tried. The juice, however, was so acidic that it made my sun burned lips feel like they were bubbling and made me hyper aware of the hundreds of teeny-tiny cuts that I apparently have all over my fingers. Good experience though, cross that one off the bucket list.
We all went back to our respective apartments and I met Megan, whose room I had been staying in, and one of her friends. They had been in Berlin for the weekend and I loved hearing about the Christmas markets they went to, the mulled wine sounded delightful and I tried some of the candied nuts that they brought back. A big group of people from Matt’s program got together and we all went out to Mystic Pizza for dinner. 

Thick crust, wood fired pizza with mozzarella, feta, peppers, olives, mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions, too many glasses of red vine, and free dark chocolate, nut filled desserts

It was a lot of fun hearing about everyone’s experience. It was interesting too because their program is so different from JYS, they don’t live with host families and their classes are taken at the program center as opposed to at an actual Greek University. After finished, I think it was close to or after midnight, a few of us bought some wine at a street kiosk and went back to Megan’s room. We sat up and chatted about everything under the sun. Eventually, around 2 or 3am responsible Holly came out and decided it was time to go to bed. I took a shower and died a bit as I set my alarm for 5:40am.

Greece part four

Trying not to think too much about the time, I rolled out of bed, followed Megan’s directions to Poco Poco (conveniently stored in the notes section of my phone) and met Matt at 6…well closer to 6:10.

Half of a double cappuccino and maybe a third of a deliciously beautiful chocolate crepe that did not sit well with my still wine-y stomach

I was disappointed that I didn’t get to enjoy my breakfast but I had to be on the metro by 6:30, so I should have gotten up earlier. After 45 minutes on the train, airport security, a marathon of postcard writing, and a 10 minute bus ride from the gate to the plane, I was comfortably strapped in to an Aegean jet once again. My onboard breakfast was delightful as was the rest of my journey. I elected to take the AVE home instead of the bus, mostly because I didn’t want to wait twelve hours for the next bus to leave.

I came home to the Christmas lights in Sevilla all turned on for the first time and the traditional post-adventure tortilla and soup for dinner.  [Note: not happy with this ending yet]

It’s still amazing to me how much Sevilla has become home and how familiar Spanish is after hearing a different language all weekend. With that, my final trip of the semester is on the books and I’ll be enjoying la vida sevillana until after Christmas.  

1 comment:

  1. Had to laugh a little this time, glad you had a great trip and a very happy Birthday.
    Love You