The manager of the beach cafe was kind enough to call a taxi for us that took us directly to the port.  No busses run from Perissa to the port – they all go to Fira and require transferring so this courtesy saved us over two hours.  We made the ferry with no trouble and had an uneventful ride back Pireaus.  Since we arrived at 10pm, I booked a hotel room near the port.  On the map it looked close but it turned out to be in a seedy part of town where the street signs only used the Greek alphabet.  We did our best to get there on foot – and got pretty close – but after walking past a prostitute standing in a doorway we hailed a cab. 

A hat display in Piraeus that I found hilarious.

A hat display in Piraeus that I found hilarious.

We woke early today and grabbed some pastries and coffee at the local shop before heading to the metro.  We took the metro to the airport where we expected to pick up a rental car we’d booked from Thrifty online.  We knew it was off site but, unlike the airports at home, there was no obvious place to call the shuttle.  We asked at the airport information desk and they shrugged.  We wound up renting from Europcar instead – a little Hyundai that we suspect was powered by gerbils.

On the road by eleven, Athens was soon but a blur in our rearview mirror.  We drove through some beautiful scenery – rolling desert hills changing into pines and olive trees, then through a mountainous region.  The area with lots of olive trees did not feel foreign to me – it felt like the lots on Heather road I roamed free in as a child. 

N and I in front of a really old olive tree.

N and I in front of a really old olive tree.

After a couple of hours on the road, we stopped at a restaurant in a small town.  This was really the first place we encountered where none of the staff (all two of them) spoke English. As soon as we arrived, N left the table to use the facilities and while he was there the waiter beckoned me to follow him into the kitchen.  I did and once there, he lifted the lid on each pot and told me the name of the contents.  I pointed to two – a macaroni casserole dish and some type of slow cooked stuffed pepper.  Unfortunately, he grabbed N while I used the facilities and we wound up with much more food than we needed.  It was delicious, though.  N ordered a Greek salad that had crisp cucumbers that tasted almost like melons.  I could have eaten just those cucumbers for lunch.

It took another hour to arrive in Delphi.  On the way, we passed through a small town built into the cliffs – Arahova.  We did not stop but it looked very cool – a must for our next trip to Greece.

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September 23, 2009 Part II

October 10, 2009

We enjoyed a last breakfast overlooking the caldera view, then checked out of our little apartment.  We returned our rental car but just missed the bus to Fira.  Rather than wait another thirty minutes, we hoofed it.  Once there, I bought some stamps and mailed the postcards we’d accumulated up to this point.  I’m sure they’ll arrive a month after we return home, but at least they’ll have a Greek postmark.

We caught a bus out to Perissa, a village on the eastern coast of Santorini.  It is primarily a beach town, catering to sun worshippers.  Determined to do our part to support the local economy, we rented an umbrella and two lounge chairs and sunned ourselves for a couple of hours.  We attempted swimming but the water was COLD so we spent most of our time on dry land.

Perissa beach

Perissa beach

After we reached our fill of sun and sand, we retreated to a beachside cafe to linger and drink beer until the time arrived to go to the port and catch our ferry.  The beach affords some great people watching.  We, as Americans, are in the minority here.  We’ve seen lots of old dudes in speedos and I’m pleased to report that America does not have the monopoly on fat.  The dudes in Speedos are not Greek but that reminds me of another thing I’ve observed.  I have not really seen any obese Greeks – no super fit ones, either.  They all seem to exist in a soft but not fat middle ground.

Ancient Thira is at the top of the rock on the left.

Ancient Thira is at the top of the rock on the left.

After finishing lunch yesterday, we went to the Boutari winery.  It’s the largest exporter of wine in all of Greece, although I don’t think they have much competition for the distinction.  Lots of grapes are grown on the island but most of them get used for homemade wine.  The vines grow low to the ground, twisting in a circle with the grapes all inside the circle.  This protects them from the wind and lets them use up every it of moisture available, including the morning dew.

Grapevine wreath  - the vines are trained to grow this way.

Grapevine wreath - the vines are trained to grow this way.

Outside the winery, a half grown puppy greeted us.  He had black fur and crystal blue eyes.  We fell into love at first sight and joked about taking him home and naming him Papus Dave – Papus being Greek for “grandpa.”  N got his super blue eyes from his grandfather who was also blessed with black hair.

Papus Dave

Papus Dave

Inside the winery, we opted for the tour with tastings of eight wines.  The guide was very enthusiastic but his accent made it hard for me to understand some of what he said.  As we stood by the casks, the bartender came down to tell the guide to “hurry up and let us taste the wine – that was why we’d come!” 

We went back upstairs and tasted four whites, two reds, a port and a dessert wine.  We also received a grading sheet so we could rate each and then compare our results to the findings of the experts.  N quickly ditched the official rating system in favor of “Dig it,” “Mostly dig it” and “Super dig it.”

Around five, we left the winery and returned to the room for a shower and rest before dinner.  Dinner took us to Ammoudi, a village beneath Oia on the northern tip of the island’s crescent.  We went to a restaurant called Pandora’s, also through the recommendation of the rental car agent.  It was dusk when we arrived, just past sunset.  The restaurant only had outdoor seating so we looked out on the fishing boats in port.

Long exposure shot taken from Pandora's patio at Amoudi Bay.

Long exposure shot taken from Pandora's patio at Amoudi Bay.

One fellow, about our age, ran the whole operation.  I’m sure during the high season he had help but that night he took our order, cooked the food and then delivered it.  N had “perfect fish soup,” so described by the chef.  I ordered fresh spaghetti with shrimp.  After we ate, the proprietor surprised us with small glasses of honey mead and then a flaky dessert.  To round out a perfect vacation day, I saw a shooting star streak across the sky as we lingered over the remains of dinner.

After a light breakfast, we headed to Oia via the footpath that runs between Fira and Oia.  It’s about six miles total, so I’d guess it’s about four miles from Imerovigli to Oia.   The walk took us two hours at a leisurely pace and afforded us many spectacular views.

Monastery we passed on hike from Imerovigli to Oia.

Monastery we passed on hike from Imerovigli to Oia.

Oia is beautiful, with scenery to make postcards seem a dull comparison.   We found a cafe with a balcony overlooking water. Our snack coincided with the arrival of the cruise ship day trippers.  We talked to one couple about our morning walk – we could point to our starting place.  They seemed rather amazed that we would actually walk that far.

N and I at the cafe in Oia.

N and I at the cafe in Oia.

N ordered an appetizer that was a block of feta wrapped in phylo dough, fried, then drizzled with honey and sesame seeds.  Amazing!

After eating, we walked around, popping into shops and buying a couple of books at Atlantis Books.  After we grew tired of breathtaking beauty, we hopped on the bus back to Imerovigli.  We rested for a few hours, sitting on the terrace.

Around 5:30, we dressed in our fanciest clothes (not that fancy) and walked to Fira in search of a restaurant called Selene, which our guide book highly recommended.  We found it, but after looking at the menu we realized it was not what we really wanted.  They specialized in haute cuisine, with items such as “lemon foam.”  We wanted simple, fresh, good food – probably what is considered “peasant food.”

We tried a few more places but nobody’s menu matched what we craved.  We wound up grabbing some gyros and catching the bus back to our room – in time to watch a spectacular sunset.  Post-sunset, we read for a bit and went to bed early.

View of the sunset from our terrace.

View of the sunset from our terrace.

This morning we awoke around 7 after a fitful night’s sleep.  Actually, N got up earlier and watched the sun rise.  We ate a light breakfast, then enjoyed a second cup of coffee on the terrace.  We left the room with the intent of seeing the island via bus but wound up renting a car instead.  The woman who filled out the paperwork gave us a map and highlighted the most popular sites.  She also suggested places for lunch and dinner.  The lunch place, Giordorno’s, she described as “fresh fish – they are fishermen.”  “Bingo!” we thought, “just the food we want.”

First, we drove to Ancient Thira.  We thought cars were not allowed all the way up so we parked at the base of the hill and started walking.  After about ten minutes, a car passed and we realized our mistake but by that time we felt committed.  It was a long walk but we enjoyed it because we had begun feeling the lack of exercise.

Ancient Thira excited my imagination.  It was a place people actually lived and you could see the remains of their sewage system and living spaces.  I found this much more interesting than the Acropolis which was mainly a place of worship. After an hour, we started the long hike down.  Oddly enough, it felt much shorter headed downhill. 

We set out to find the restaurant suggested by the car rental agent.  We knew it was on the southern-most tip of the island but we only had a very basic map.  We took a few wrong turns but finally made it – the discovery made sweeter by the delay.  We ordered grilled squid, fresh small shrimp, greek salad, olives and fried zucchini.  The shrimp arrived fried, which surprised us.  It was also whole, complete with eyes and legs.  We felt uncertain about which parts to eat and which to discard.  When the waitress arrived to pick up the dish of shrimp heads, tails and legs, N asked if we were supposed to eat the heads.  We’d imagined the kitchen staff shaking their heads and saying, “Crazy Americans, wasting perfectly good food.”  The waitress looked at N like he was crazy and shook her head.

We enjoyed the ferry ride yesterday.  We treated ourselves and paid an extra 10 euro for seats in business class.  That section of the ferry had very few people in it – less that 1/10th full.  It also had seats that faced the forward window so passengers could watch the ferry’s progress like looking through the windshield of a car.

We arrived at Santorini on time and found the local bus headed to Fira.  Large bus + narrow, steep, sharply curving roads = an exciting ride!  I did not worry, though, since I know the bus driver had done the drive hundreds of times.  Plus, I think there’s a special angel who watches over passengers in taxi cabs and other perilous modes of travel.

We exited the bus in Fira, grabbed some money at the ATM and hopped another bus to Imerovigli.  I was concerned about how we would find the apartments since the guide book and website did not give an actual street address, but we soon found signs guiding our way.

The Annio Flats are built into the cliff and have a spectacular view of the caldera.  The room itself is fairly spartan, but the exterior fulfilled every expectation I had of the Greek Islands – white buildings with bright blue accents highlighted by fuschia bougainvillea. The room has its own terrace for lounging and taking in the view.

The exterior or our room at the Annio Flats, Santorini.

The exterior or our room at the Annio Flats, Santorini.

One view from our terrace.

One view from our terrace.

When we checked in, an older Greek man with iron gray hair, blue eyes and a deeply lined tan face greeted us.  He looked as though he stepped off a postcard.  He did not speak very much English, though.  He wound up calling his daughter, who sounded as though we had waken her from a nap, and we made the necessary communications.

After settling in, we headed to the market and bought a bottle of ouzo, coffee supplies and some snacks.  We spent the rest of the day sitting on our terrace reading, drinking ouzo and watching the sun set.  After our sleepless night, it took all of our power to stay awake until the last rays faded but we made it – and fell soundly asleep at 8pm.

N enjoying a glass of ouzo on our terrace.

N enjoying a glass of ouzo on our terrace.

Fate is having a good laugh at my expense right now.  Note to self: never say you are over jet lag, at least not without knocking on wood.  Last night, I fell asleep around 9pm, woke up at 11pm and could not fall back to sleep.  N had the same problem.  We forced ourselves to lie quietly with our eyes closed so at least our bodies would rest but our minds stayed awake.  At 4:30am we gave in and started the day.  The hotel had coffee prepared so we drank some and hung out in the lobby while we waited for the rest of the world to waken.

I write from the ferry en route to Santorini.  Actually, we are still in the harbor at Piraeus but will shortly depart.  The ferry leaves at 7:30am so we had to be on the metro by 6am.  Perversely, that was right about the time we felt like we could fall back to sleep.  Figures.

The ferries at Piraeus.  The red one on the left took us to Santorini

The ferries at Piraeus. The red one on the left took us to Santorini

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N and I on the ferry.

Yesterday, after writing in my journal but before being hit with insomnia, we went to the Benaki Museum.  It began as someone’s private collection and has grown as others add to it.  The portion of it we saw is housed in a stately old mansion turned museum.  The collection covered a huge time expanse – from 5000 BC (pots and tools) to nearly modern day.  What they accomplished with gold so long ago amazed me.  The jewelry had intricate detail that had to be done entirely by hand. 

Other notable exhibits included a large collection of icons, traditional Greek costumes and some great water colors of Athens painted in the 19th century.  I really liked those – most of them showed the Acropolis, which looked very similar to how it does now but without the urban sprawl surrounding it.  Plus, the pictures usually showed a group of Greek men dressed in traditional costumes sitting around on rocks.  This tickled my funny bone for some reason.

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Traditional Greek costumes at the Benaki Museum.

It’s 12:15 and we just got going.  I think we have hit the reset button, jetlag-wise.  Yesterday, we went to the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum.  The museum is beautiful – it just opened in June and still has lots of empty space for displaying future finds.  Until December 2009, it only costs 1 euro to enter.  This lessened the sting of paying 12 euros to enter the archaeological site a bit.

The museum shows a video that walks the viewer through some of the damage sustained by the Acropolis through the years.  When they get to the removal of the marble frieze now known as the Elgin marbles, they use language like “looted” and “violently removed.” I have to wonder what language the British Museum uses.  It’s all about perspective. (For the record, I think England should return the Elgin marbles to Greece.)

Another great feature of the museum is the floor.  The creators planned sections of clear plexiglass so the visitor can look down on actual archaeological sites.  It really emphasizes the fact that all this history happened right there. 

I am embarrassed to admit that the Acropolis itself made me more cranky than anything.  It was very crowded and hot and they had roped off most of the things I would have liked to see more closely.  Still, one cannot go to Athens and not see the Acropolis. (Editor’s Note: in retrospect, I am very glad we went as it gave me added perspective when we saw temples in other locations.  I chalk the crankiness up to jet lag.)

N and I in front of the Parthenon.

N and I in front of the Parthenon.

 

The women of Erechthion, aka Caryatid's Balcony, at the Acropolis.

The women of Erechthion, aka Caryatid's Balcony, at the Acropolis.

After the Acropolis, we wandered around looking for the Center of Hellenic Arts and wound up back at the museum to use the facilities and have a beer.  Did I mention that I really like this museum?

We found the center but were not too impressed. We headed back to the hotel, tired, cranky and hungry after the morning’s adventures.  We had trouble deciding where to eat but luckily stumbled upon a gyro joint near out hotel – just the thing!  The menu was only in Greek and the counter staff had limited English but with the help of our phrase book we managed to feed ourselves.

While we ate lunch, another huge thunderstorm hit.  I had carried an umbrella all morning but, of course, left it at the hotel when we went out for lunch.  Luckily, N had his so we huddled under it and made our way back to the hotel.  We managed only to get soaked from the waist down.  We took a nap that only lasted four hours, so I guess we are adjusting.

Post-nap, we forced ourselves up and out so we would not wake up in the middle of the night (I could have easily kept sleeping.)  We took the metro out to Piraeus to see how long it took and to pick up our ferry tickets.  I had imagined a quiet port town with quaint seafood restaurants but the reality was noisy and dirty.  Drat.  So, we returned to the Plaka to find some dinner. 

First, we tried a rooftop restaurant.  It had a great view of the illuminated Acropolis but its charms ended there.  A live musician played in the corner but his music clashed against he musician playing on the next roof top restaurant.  It was also packed with tourists – two American women in their very early twenties sat behind me talking about someone’s upcoming wedding.  It made me feel very old.  The last straw came when N requested carbonated water.  The water boy disappeared and never came back.  After twenty minutes without the waiter showing up, we left.

Picture of Acropolis taken at first restaurant.

Picture of Acropolis taken at first restaurant.

What a great decision!  We wound up in a little cafe on a side street that I believe was named after the late Greek actress Melina Merkouri.  Three little Greek kids that belonged to a local restaurant owner kept tearing through the street.  They were loud but very charming. Local proprietors kept scolding them but they continued undaunted. It did not help that the scolders could not get through the scold without smiling.  After an hour or so these same proprietors pulled up chairs at the table behind us and relaxed as the evening wound down.

Rambunctious Greek kids.

Rambunctious Greek kids.

We sat there, people watching and listening to the music, the conversation and the clack of an old man’s worry beads running through his fingers.  It felt like the authentic experience we sought.  We also tried our first ouzo.  As we left, the bartender gifted us with two small glasses of sweet, almost minty liquor.  We asked him what it was and thought we understood the answer, but when we tried to order it somewhere else, we wound up with a different drink.

Once we got back to the hotel, we headed up to the rooftop bar. We stayed there until it closed.  There was a fellow there from Germany, two Americans and a couple from London.  By the time the bar closed, we all felt like great friends. 

This morning, we slept in but I think now we have adjusted to Greek time (Editor’s note: famous last words.) My feet hurt and I have a headache but it’s a price I gladly pay for the great evening we had last night.