Wandering and Reflecting in Greece

This trip is drawing, at last, to its close, and we are due for a day of leisure. We started the morning with some basic preparations for the voyage ahead. Our experience with British Airways was disappointing, to say the least, so we aren’t particularly enthusiastic about the flights home. 

When we booked this trip, it was as part of a vacation package, and we thought we chose a hotel in Athens. In truth we had chosen a hotel in Piraeus, the port city of Athens (the hotels shared the same name). Fortunately, the distance from the city center really has presented only a minor annoyance, and the hotel itself is very clean and private, with a lovely balcony.

 

We haven’t much explored the area before today, other than finding dinner in the neighborhood, so today we headed down to the nearby harbor and enjoyed the sights, smells, and sounds of the Aegean. The lack of a subway probably encouraged us to stay local, although neither the inconvenience nor the cost was great, and if we really wanted to take a cab downtown we would have.

Some of the boats here look like they are right out of a Greek movie. Very stereotypical.

We grabbed a quick gyro for lunch. One interesting observation: at home the typical gyro is made from lamb and beef, although we can also get chicken gyros. I have generally felt that latter is a bastardization of the original, for weak American food sensibilities. In Greece, however, wherever I have looked, I have never seen lamb or beef in a gyro. They are all made with pork or chicken, the former being the more traditional. It is certainly delicious.

Because I hadn’t had beer in Greece, I had an Alfa (Alpha?) with lunch today. It was good, and certainly a fitting mate to the gyro.

I stopped at a bakery down the street and bought some Greek Easter bread (tsoureki) to take home. I usually make it myself, but this year events conspired against me making it, so this will have to suffice.

I love visiting grocery stores when I travel, and seeing unique things that we don’t have at home, like these Brazilian, Australian, and American barbecue sauces.

Or this NYC shirt.

We continued around the harbor gazing at the boats. They range from small skiffs that barely seem ocean worthy to these very large yachts.

And this superyacht, the Al Mirqab. It’s not so much a yacht, as it is a ship. And it is impressive. It’s 436 feet long, and it has its own Wikipedia entry.

We also see this little shrine on the shore. We saw these all over the roadway in Crete. In the US, we often see memorials to demarcate the location of a fatal accident, but my understanding is that these are somewhat different. They are often erected by survivors to mark the scene of an accident. They are dedicated to a saint, and are tended lovingly,  with oil lamps kept lit inside. We saw some stores in Crete that seem to specialize in these types of shrines, with hundreds waiting for placement.

We continue our walk, discussing what a wonderful week this has been. The Greek people have been universally warm and welcoming, both in the city and in the countryside. Without realizing it, Crete has been on my list of places to visit. Somehow I always thought it was an esoteric place to visit, but it isn’t. It is a place that I could linger for months or years.

We pause briefly watch swim practice in a pool far below.

Athens, we decide, is different than Crete, and not just in a city vs country manner. The economic crisis wasn’t so apparent in Crete, whereas here it is at times palpable. It feels as though there are massive disparities between the wealthy and poor, and neighborhoods fluctuate quickly from degrading and vandalized to affluent and clean. I don’t know if this place has hit bottom yet. This worries me but I am encouraged by the kindness we have seen. 

The neighborhood that we are walking through sits between two small bays and is mostly very well maintained, with only this abandoned house standing out. It has an expansive view of the Aegean and probably would be very costly to restore. 

We wind our way down narrow byways to the next bay, where the streets are crowded with locals. Very little English is spoken here. The entire seafront is lined with restaurants, some of which are very busy whereas others have no customers at all. There is no middle ground. 

We sit in a cafe just enjoying the sun and the salt air. We are never served, and in due time choose a restaurant for dinner. The view was lovely and the meal was good. It was our most expensive meal during this trip, but it was not the best (there has been much great food). Meals, in general, were inexpensive. The food in Crete was definitely more rustic than in Athens, but nothing was overdone. The food in Athens seemed to show more influence from the years of Ottoman rule.

As dinner concludes we head back to our hotel. The one significant regret I bear about having this hotel, rather than one in Athens proper, is that we didn’t get to see the Acropolis at night. But it afforded us other opportunities, I think.

 We see this boat sailing out in the pale light of late evening, and know that our time, too, has come to head home. 

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