Sunday, April 17, 2016

My Big, Fake, Greek Wedding

I've never taken a ferry in Greece before.  I've been to Santorini, but it always seemed to me like a waste of time to spend all that time on a boat when I could be there in less than an hour on a plane.  Well, I've learned my lesson.  Leaving Santorini we took Ryanair which is supposed to be a budget airline but they tack on all these fees for luggage and not doing online check-in and shit.  Ryanair sucks big donkey balls...which brings me back to Santorini.
Well, this time we took a ferry, to get from Crete to Santorini.  Bronte couldn't meet us at the port, but her friend Flora, proprietor of the Flower Pension - where we were staying - sent a driver to pick us up.  Bronte has a thing about signs and me, and wanted him to bear one inscribed similar to the one she and my Dark Lord made nine years ago.  Flora talked her down to one that read, "Slutty M_(my last name)_."

(If you are a newer reader, please understand that I am not slutty, nor is Bronte "Yellow trash," as I sometimes address her.  These are the kinds of jokes that sprout in the sweatshop environment known as hagwon teaching in Korea).
We dropped our stuff at the Pension and headed along the caldera to Bronte's apartment (which I can admit now to being very slightly worried I wouldn't be able to find.  I found it without a problem, but hey, it was 2011 the last time I was there).  Bronte and Vasilis are - let's call a spade a spade - way too cool to be my friends, and yet, they are.  They are also night owls (like I used to be before 11 years of teaching made me otherwise) which meant they'd just gotten up by the time we got over there, and we headed down to Katharos for a big, Greek feast.  It was kind of an overcast, cruddy sort of day, and Bronte was worried that it wasn't nice enough to sit outside, but the three of us have lived in Mongolia long enough that a little wind and rain ain't no thing.
After stuffing ourselves and a quick donkey drive-by (we wanted to be sure Five got that checked off her list), B and V drove us down to Ammoudi Bay.  We'd already told them how much they were looking forward to taking the hike from Oia to Fira that starts steps away from the Flower Pension, so they decided they should hike up the cliffs behind me to the windmills.  Five and Engrish were all for it (I, on the other hand, had eaten about two dozen dolmades within the hour previous and had a food baby to think of...I rode to the top with Bronte and Vasilis.  But the next time I'm in Santorini...)

I also sat out of the next day's aforementioned hike.  I've been to Fira before and Bronte and me had some catchin' up to do, sitting by the pool and eating yet more amazing Greek food.  That night, though, Flora had arranged for us all to go to The White Door, a dinner theater centered around a traditional Santorini wedding set in the 1940s.  Flora had been several times already that year, and had a blast every time.  This was a new experience for me, and even being foreigners and not that familiar with the culture we enjoyed the show.  Especially the part where we got to smash the plates.  Honestly though, the food was not as satisfying as I've come to expect from Greece, so I was happy to know that we were heading out to dinner (at the altogether reasonable hour of 9) later.

Where we met up again with B and V's friend, Kostas.  Let me be honest with you.  Kostas came to Katharos that blustery afternoon for lunch, and we all fell a little in love with him - cute, smoldering brown eyes, "the body of a Greek god!" as the mother in the White Door performance kept proclaiming.  I'm not going to try to justify the fact that all three of us were infatuated with the poor guy - I'll just say we live in Asia and leave it at that. 

I'm telling you all that as a preface to what happened next.  Five, who is the most reserved, most modest, least attention-seeking person I've ever met (I didn't nickname her "Mother Teresa" for nothing), agreed to go out dancing.  None of are exactly the busting-a-move type (although I do like a good hafla), but it was our last night in Greece and we were accompanied by the descendant of Adonis, so damned if we didn't go get our groove on, at least for a little while.  Finally Bronte and Vasilis drove us back to the Flower Pension, where we said some teary farewells (me because I love that yellow trash like my own sister, them because after weeks of me promising them how hot Greek men were, they'd finally met one and were feeling jilted that we were leaving) and extracted promises that they would come visit us in Mongolia.  Then we sat up for a while, packing and reminiscing and eating the baklava Bronte bought for me that afternoon on our joyride.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

When in Crete...

One day is really not enough in Athens, if you ask me.  In one day, you don't get to experience the laid-back-ishness that is fundamentally Greek, just wandering down streets and seeing where you end up.  But that was what we had, if we wanted to see some of Crete and Santorini, too, in less than a week.
After a taxi ride from a driver with a sense of humor...actually, let me stop there for a moment.  That sounds like a good thing, but it rarely is.  I don't want my driver to make jokes like, "No, you're right, this isn't the way we should be going...I'm taking you to the mafia," or, "OH!  You wanted to go to Eleftherios airport?!?"  That is some stressful shit first thing in the morning.  I know the way to and from Athens' airport relatively well, and I wasn't sure where he was going, so I didn't appreciate it particularly much.  We should have called the driver that took us into the city - he gave me his card, but it was too much hassle to think about.  Lesson learned.  Anyways, we made our morning flight into Heraklion and stepped out into bright sun reflecting off the ocean.  Engrish booked our hotel, which was near the waterfront, and after getting settled in, we went around exploring.  We were very close to the main pedestrian area, so we wandered around and found the old lion fountain, which was conveniently located next to a Ben and Jerry's.
"It's only a model."
After a decent amount of walking we found our way to the museum, which had a lot of really cool stuff.  Crete was the center of the ancient Minoan culture, and the palace of Knossos is only 5km outside of Heraklion.  It was cool to see some of the octopus vases I studied in art history classes, and I enjoyed seeing the reconstructions of what the palace looked like (supposedly) in its glory days.
The actual site was pretty cool, and Five, Engrish, and I had fun guessing at what functions different areas had originally (none of us are nerdy audioguide people, so who knows whether or not any of us were correct).  Heinrich Schliemann, the guy who dug up Troy, originally had plans to, excavate, Knossos as well, but he died and the privilege went to a British dude, who seems to have been somewhat less of an amateur...meaning I had to use my imagination a lot less in order to get an idea of the grandeur of the place.

Also, I had to buy a hat.  It was sunny, and I have no idea why I wasn't using the olive oil sunscreen I bought from the guy who kept telling Engrish and Five what the fragrances they were considering would do to their boyfriends...
There were other cool things to see and do on Crete.  Unfortunately we weren't there long enough to see most of them, because Crete is a bigass island.  But we did get to see the Venetian fortress...from the outside, at least.  The inside was under restoration or something.  Seeing San Marco's winged lion took me back to the summer.  Later that evening we went to the best restaurant we ate at the entire trip (I'm not counting Katharos, but I'll talk about that in my next post) - Peskesi.  If I'd had my way we would have gone back the next night as well.  They didn't have any of my favorites (tzatziki, dolmades, and Greek salad) because it was authentically Cretan, but it was so delicious that I DIDN'T EVEN CARE.  If you go there, get one of everything.  You won't be disappointed.
We also enjoyed Starbucks on more than one occasion.  You can not underestimate the excitement you feel after months (okay, so it was October and it had only been two months...DETAILS, DETAILS!!!) without it.  Mongolia's improved since I first came in terms of coffeeshops (Tom n Tom's cinnamon hot chocolate actually slays), but there's nowhere that does good frappuccinos.

Oh yeah, and we went to the beach.

Forget about frappuccinos - there is no beach in Mongolia.  Or, well, there might be a good one somewhere around Khuvsgul, but I have almost never been hot enough here to think that getting into a body of water seemed like a good idea.  Not so in Greece.  Even in October it seemed pretty damn hot to me, and even if I weren't in a beachy mood, Engrish and Five were determined that they were going to get some sun (I was not - I hid under my umbrella, determined not to blind anyone with my scary whiteness as demonstrated by the glare coming off my leg).  It was actually lovely - not crowded at all (apparently late October seems like a terrible time to go to the beach for the Greeks), hot, and yet, a nice breeze was blowing off the ocean.  We had drinks from the restaurant just inland and I had my hundredth serving of tzatziki, and it was a nice, chilled way to spend our second afternoon in Crete.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Walk in Athens

It's Thursday and my spring break is mostly over.  I'm a little bitter about it - for the first time in a very long time I haven't gone anywhere, and instead, am supervising my students in a service project.  I was going to take them to Greece this year, but it didn't pan out, and I have no money to go elsewhere because I spent it all going to the NAEA conference in Chicago last month.  So here I am.
My darling brats were asking about the blog today (they found out about it because of last year's trip), and in an attempt to feel slightly less bitter about my lack of vacation, I decided to relive last fall's trip while pretending I'm there now.  Basically it's impossible to get too much Greece.  You might gain 10 pounds and come back with olive oil spots on your clothes, but you will always come back for more.  Or maybe that's just me?  At any rate, I convinced Engrish and Five that gallivanting amongst ancient ruins was a great thing to do in October, and away we went.
I've been to Greece many times since the first, in 2007, but this was only my second trip up the Acropolis.  Unfortunately the main facade of the Parthenon had scaffolding on it for some maintenance, but the porch of the Caryatids has always been my favorite, anyways.  It was super hot, even early on an October morning, and sweat was dripping off my hair by the time we were on top, so after a good look around we headed back down into Monastiraki where we got coffee, coke, or ice cream (depending on which of us we're talking about).
Monastiraki is great for shopping and food, and we did a little of both - including taking Engrish to buy sandals from Melissinos, the poet sandal maker of Athens (yes, that's a thing, and his sandals are the best) before heading back to my favorite hotel.  The Evripides Hotel seems like it's in sketchy neighborhood but trust me, it's actually fine.  I've stayed there several times on my own.  Along the way we got to see one of my favorite things about Athens - its awesome street art.
I actually made Engrish and Five go down this alley with me later when it was dark; I was hoping all those lamps would be lit up.  Sadly, they were not, and they really figured out what I meant when I said that our neighborhood felt sketchy when it was dark and no one was around.  After a little rest at the Evripides, we went back for more.
I led them past Plaka and over to visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus before it closed for the night.  I love the openness of the area and that you can see the hills all around (including Lykkabetos Hill, the Hill of the Wolves, which I thought would have been a good place to visit since that's our school mascot, but we just didn't have time.  There aren't any wolves actually there, but the view is killer, especially at sunset).  We walked through the national gardens and then headed into Plaka, for yet more shopping and wandering before ending up at Stamatopolous, another fave of bygone days.
It took me some work to dredge up that name.  The first time I can to Athens, Mariette and I went looking for music and food and found this taverna, which was at the foot of the Acropolis and served us a free shot of ouzo.  The three of us were offered that and other treats throughout the trip at the restaurants we ate at - we were also given a complimentary platter of fresh fruits, which - being expensive and of a limited selection here in Mongolia - we devoured with more enthusiasm even than the baklava, let alone the ouzo.