Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Final posting?

It left this morning, opting to search out and ride the subway to the airport. He's got a fairly straight shot home (Athens to IAH). I, on the other hand, because I tried to accommodate the professor's schedule (for no good reason, I see now), have to fly at 7 a.m. from Athens tomorrow to Rome. Wait 4 hours, then fly 11 hours to Atlanta. Then sit on my haunches in A-town for another 3-4 hours before flying home to, hopefully, foggy and chilly San Francisco. I arrive at something like 10:45 tomorrow night and I should be a mess.

Today was some sort of Greek holiday, so near everything was closed, except of course for the Plaka. I managed to grab a cappucino freddo before heading to the Grand Bretagne for my "full body" massage. Fancy place. And the lady masseuse was professional and didn't balk at my awful feet (at least to my face). She even accommodated what she diagnosed as a torn rotator cuff (as I suspected), and didn't jerk on my pitiful left arm. It was a memorable massage, in any event; she really found some knots, especially in my calves (that now look a lot like Popeye's biceps).

We covered a lot of territory in a little under three weeks, saw lots of old stuff, ate some interesting things, and, despite a lot of provocation, didn't kill each other. I suppose that constitutes a successful journey.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

An abrupt ending...

We left Nafplios this morning by bus, having had to forego a visit to the castle hanging above town since none of the taxi drivers would take us last night. Our language skills failed us, and the drivers were apparently in no mood to drive anyone anywhere, opting instead to loaf on their wide asses and chat the evening out with their compatriots.

Arrived in Athens this morning, found our wonderful (cheap) Economy Hotel, at which time Leslie retrieved his bag and, for the FIRST TIME apparently, read his airplane ticket and determined that he did not depart Athens on Thursday as we believed (and as we had planned)...but tomorrow...i.e., Wednesday, a day earlier. That meant our trip to Delphi tomorrow is off, and I'm stuck in Athens one more night (hotel costs included!) without cause (as I recall, we specifically agreed on the dates of departure and chose to stay as long as we could...). His Idiocy says that he relied on "the lady at UH," and, he guesses, he "just never read the ticket." If I had not already seen Delphi once, I'd be really mad. Now I am, once again, disappointed and gritting my teeth. There is Marenchin precedent for this kind of thing, and I should have been prepared (i.e., I should have read his airplane ticket). But you tend to trust a 53 year old man when he tells you he's made the arrangements. As they say in the motherland, Oy fucking vay.

Anyway, we had final drinks at the ouzo bar, and dinner at the best Greek restaurant in town (lamb chops again). To make things better, once jackass leaves town, I'm headed to the spa at the Grand Bretagne Hotel for a full body massage (they're going to freak when they see my gnarly feet).

And so it ends.

Monday, August 13, 2007

To Agamemnon's palace (we think)

This place, Nafplios, is like some kind of European resort, the sidewalks facing the harbor covered for miles in every direction, it seems by rows and rows of cafe tables and umbrellas. We feel fancy and significant just sitting there.

After breakfast (on our pension's spectacular terrace overlooking the city and harbor, the experience tainted only slightly by two tables of Americans arguing politics), we caught the local bus to Mycenae, only an hour or so away (and that's counting the incredible gridlock in the tiny town of Argos). Here, in Mycenae, it is said, is where Agamemnon (I've given up on trying to keep the spelling correct and's just too tough in these internet cafes to worry about the particulars) lived, on top of a great hill, surrounded by mountains, and overlooking an incredible valley, covered in a patchwork of olive trees, grapevines, etc. We entered through the Lion's Gate, a famous entry way characterized by, well, a lion on top of a stone gate. But it's more monumental than my catty comment suggests, and opens onto the citadel where you find the remains of numerous tombs, and on top of the hill, of course, because that's where the king always lives, the remains of the palace. And let me emphasize, "remains." You get some rocks in a row, a low wall or two, and the very bottom stone of a few columns. Other than that, you've got your imagination and the guidebook to rely on.

It is here where the archaeologist Schliemann discovered the very cool mask of Agamemnon (which we saw back in the Archeological Museum in Athens), along with tons of other goodies. At the bottom of the big hill, and sort of away from the citadel was the beehive tomb of Clytemnestra...which consists of a stone, domed tomb beneath the hillside. Despite Leslie's highpitched warning, I made him walk across the top of the dome on the way out (he feared my gelato-weighted ass would cause the fragile ruin to give way). These were also long-time goals of Dr. M's (i.e., the seeing of the Lion's Gate and Clytemnestra's tomb), so there was a lot of sighing. (For those not up on their Greek history/myth, Clytemnestra was Agamemnon's wife who, pissed off because he had to sacrifice (that's one way of looking at it) their daugther Iphigenia at the beginning of the Trojan War, offed him in the bathtub when he returned. Supposedly, they still have the bathtub (understand, if you will, that this is all more than likely myth)...but we never found it. The sun and the swarms of tourists beat us back to the bus, which whisked us back to lovely Nafplios.

Upon closer inspection, we have decided not to rent scooters. Dr. M left his driver's license in Athens in his big suitcase (that driver's license has come to carry a lot of psychological weight for him...lots to talk about with his therapist), which means we would have to ride on the same scooter (i.e., he would have to touch me)...and the scooters, up close, appear to be held together with plastic ties, glue, and good luck. So we will catch a cab instead to the top of the mountain to see the castle that looms over our pension.

Leslie continues to cry out, regularly, that this is the cutest town he's ever seen. And last night, when we took the road behind the pension, through a tunnel and out onto another stone path nearby, we found ourselves perched over a cliff beneath which was a lovely little beach, full of frolicking folks. He was really beside himself then, crying, "I didn't know such places existed!" Routinely after one of these comments, he adds that he wishes he had a girlfriend and that she were here with him rather than me. Understandable if irritating.

Foods been ok. I risked the moussaka at lunch and it was transcendent.

Onto Athens tomorrow, Delphi the day after (we've hired our own cab driver instead of taking a giant, nasty tour bus).

Oh, and Eric, in regard to your comment, Leslie says he is DYS-FUNCTIONALLY ILLITERATE, OK?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

By bus to Nafplios

We caught the bus this morning to Nafplios, an easy trip of 2-1/2 hours into the Peloponnese (sp?)...exciting stuff. The town, which is beyond cute and, Leslie says, may out-cutify Taormina, sits below a castle perched on the edge of a mountain. We are told the town sits on the sea, too, but we have yet to find it. We plan to rent scooters tomorrow and do just that (while avoiding head injuries).

Tomorrow we catch the bus for a day trip to Mycenae and Agammenon's palace, or so they say.

Tonight we will probably do what we've been doing since arriving in Nafplios, sit in a cafe, sweat, and drink iced coffees and beer and wine and ogle the fabulous people (gotta say it's a pretty homely lot here now). Oh, and eat a big slab of Greek seafood. It is hotter here than anywhere we've been and until 5 minutes ago was windless. Now the winds are beginning to blow and my blouse is finally not sticking to my back. Onward.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Off to nearby Piraeus

After yet another late start--we're old and tired--we headed to Piraeus today, the nearby port town where Plato set the Republic, and where Socrates et al. used to hang. Today it is nothing more than an embarking point for all of the island cruises. It is said to have a great, often overlooked archaeological museum, so we ventured forth by subway (modern and very nice), and then hiked the 20 blocks in the windy, dusty, and mostly empty streets to the museum only to find it, yet again, closed. No reason. Just shut up tight on a Saturday. We retreated to a Greek tourist lunch of dried pork, pita bread, that great white gooey stuff, onions, etc., and hauled ass back to Athens to see the Cycladic Museum before it, too, closed. Housed in a magnificent old house in the embassy quarter, this museum features a great collection of cycladic art...that is, art from the Cyclades island chain dating to something like 2600 BC. Small and pleasant museum...made smaller because the floor with the Greek antiquities was closed (a theme?). We didn't spend a lot of time in the other wing which featured a very contemporary performance art exhibit (Leslie wouldn't let me).

We set off in the morning by bus to Nafplios on the coast, and hopefully a day trip to Mycenae (to Agammemnon's palace) and Epidaurus. We're still giving it hell, but we're seriously beginning to drag. We're debating making the 923 step flight of stairs up to the castle above Nafplios...

More later.

Oh, and in response to Jane: Yes, it is hot, very hot. And yes, it is crowded...everyone is in my way, as usual.


We enjoyed one of the best meals of the trip tonight, at a restaurant recommended by our ouzo bar owner. A little more upscale than my little taverna, this place, consisting of 2 or 3 separate buildings surrounding a piazza, served the best lamb chops I've ever put in my piehole...Leslie kept grunting while eating his "lamb baked in ceramic pot" much grunting while eating his, presumably in enjoyment, in fact that it made the English broad at the table next to us uncomfortable. Speaking of which, Leslie chatted it up with this English couple, both with big hair and lots of crazy ideas (they stank of Republicanism). OK, they hated lawyers, but they didn't offer anything I hadn't heard...he was some kind of construction worker, and didn't see any good point in the law. I suggested that, in lieu of judges and juries, he let the Queen decide disputes, the "old fashioned way," but he ignored me. Then Mr. Man started lecturing the professor on the problem of all those English kids going to college to study psychology...Leslie interrupted, "No, I teach philosophy." The wise Brit answered, "Same thing," and launched into a dissertation on the waste that is higher education. The Misses chimed in then to offer her appraisal that kids are running things in England now, and teachers are paid no respect. She proposed that the schools return to beating's the only way, she said, the "old fashioned way." They were off to a cruise the next morning...maybe it'll sink.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Day 2 in Greece...too much

After a late start, we head to the Archeological Museum where we find a stunning but exhausting collection of art and stuff from prehistory through the classical Greece ages. Around nearly every turn, Dr. M would gasp..."my god, I've seen a picture of that statue all of my it is!" We dug the Cycladic statues, with their stylized portraits of folks, but got really blown away by the mask of Agammemnon, and assorted shiny stuff. Unlike Cairo and Naples, the museum here is organized and everything is presented beautifully (lit very well for the photos!) It is all too much to catalog here, but take my word for it, it was worth the 7 Euros and bucket of sweat it took to get us in.

A mediocre lunch (in a hip spot that attracted us because it was equipped with electric fans that spewed mist...but it featured a post-modern "Greek salad," served without Kalamata olives or cucumbers...thus it was not a Greek salad) was followed by a trip to the Agora, where we once again walked in the footsteps of Socrates, et al., climbed up to the Temple of Hephaistos (where Leslie confessed a very personal secret and cried), and onward through the complex of ruins spread out beneath the Acropolis. (For those not in the know, the Agora was where the Greek folks conducted their business--shopping, paying taxes, eating--and where Socrates, Leslie's hero, pissed people off by arguing with them. Not unlike Leslie. Then, if they wanted to pray, they headed up the hill to the Acropolis to the temple of Athena Nike (they could also catch the latest show at the Theater of Dionysus up on the hill). And justice was rendered over on a neighborhing hill above the Agora, the Aereopagus, where the first murder trials were held. Great stuff.

Leslie hauled my sagging ass all around the Plaka, the old district, for some authentic tourist souvenir shopping. Some real crap, some of which he bought (a white Socrates head and a nasty calendar).

We headed back to our ouzo bar once night fell...Leslie ever hopeful that the most beautiful woman in the world would return...with or without her new husband. Of course, she didn't show, so we drowned his sorrow in Greek beer and Greek wine and, dare I say, absinthe (licorice to the hilt), and argued with some American college boys about some unmentionable American vernacular.

Because he was lit with absinthe, Leslie consented to return to my favorite little Greek taverna. Tonight was a much greater success...he had pork chops, and was elated; I, I am embarrassed to say, ordered the same meal I had last night, the pasta and lamb...which is perfect. Ask Ricky W. We also had our wine out of the red tin cup. And the singing guitar duo played a special romantic song just for us. (OK, maybe not). Leslie was bummed that he did not encounter his "Helen" again...I was bummed because he called me, without provocation, fat. So we ended the night on a tainted, if buzzed, note.

We have screwed up, and cannot go to Delphi tomorrow (the tour buses don't run on Saturdays). So we will go to the nearby port town of Piraeus. We leave for Napflios the following date, spend 2 days there, and return to our beloved Athens for a night or two before returning to what's left of America.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

We arrive in Greece...

Arose like good soldiers at 4:30 a.m., our taxi whisked us to the airport, and we boarded the Alitalia flight for Rome, then Greece (Alitalia not a glamour airline...sitting down to dirty seats, one wondered if they didn't have the time to vacuum, did they have time to check the oil). (Note: had one of the best cafe lattes in the Rome airport of all places). Our taxi driver, speaking occasional German and playing loudly with some kind of worry beads, whisked us to the Economy Hotel in Athens. We are ecstatic because, while it is not glamorous, it is cheap (60 Euros a night). And most importantly it is clean...spotless in fact.

We set out for the Acropolis, after a tourist trap was great but we paid way too much and are embarrassed (lamb, chicken, eggplant, yogurty stuff, and of course, the ubiquitous french fries.

Athens is much more crowded than when Ricky W. and I visited a couple of years ago (I think we were here in much cooler and less peopled).

The Acropolis was great. It sits on top of a rocky mountain in the center of Athens, complete with the temple to Athena Nike, the magnificent Parthenon (not the Pantheon...that's the round building in Rome with the hole in the roof), and assorted other temples. It was political, religious, and in some ways military center of ancient Athens. Unfortunately, or ultimately fortunately I guess, there was much reconstruction work going, and scaffolding aplenty. But still, it's impressive stuff, especially to Professor M. who said that he fulfilled a lifelong dream with this visit. With glee, he said, "Socrates walked here!" (Although we think he may have busted his ass a few times as the marble on top of the Acropolis is very slippery).

We also learned, to our chagrin, that we have the Italians, the Venetians to be exact, to thank for destroying the Parthenon. Seems the Venetians were battling with the Turks, who had control of and stored ammunition in the Parthenon somewhere back in the 1800s. The Venetians bombed the hell out of the Acropolis, including one doozy that gave us the decrepit Parthenon we find today. Still, it is something. And to stand there (in the blistering sun even) and to gaze off into the surrounding city of Athens and to imagine what it was's better than t.v.

Down into the Plaka, the old section of Athens at the foot of the Acropolis to find the bar Ricky W. and I frequented...a famous ouzo bar (and distillery) named Bretto's. It's been open for a hundred years, and has had only three owners. When we visited last, the owner was a guy who was the spitting image of Pope John Paul. He's sold out, and the new chatty owner has yuppified the place. He's selling t-shirts, even fixed the shelving. But he's amiable, and informed us that, in addition to us, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have visited, as have countless other celebrities. So there.

We also chatted up a couple from Tasmania (?) on their honeymoon. Lawyers, both, they were quite civilized nonetheless...Leslie confessed that she was the most perfect woman he has ever met (that was several glasses of wine down).

On, finally, to Ricky W. and my favorite Athens restaurant, Tavernos Xino. It's down a side alley, and is worth the hunt. Simple, rustic food (order whatever Big Daddy tells you to order), served this time out in the patio because of the heat, with the Acropolis looming and countless cats roaming nearby. My food was perfect...a Greek salad (here served with no lettuce, only tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamta olives, and lots of orzo pasta with lamb). Leslie fared less well. He ordered the lamb something or other and it turned out to be a gooey mess, and he was frustrated by the fact that the lamb was served on the bone and he had to struggle to figure out what he was eating. Oh, well...mine was magnificent, and it cost about half what our lunch did so at least that was a relief.

Tomorrow we conquer the rest of the Acropolis complex, and maybe even get to the port nearby, Piraeus. We also hope to schedule a tour of Delphi the day after...the bellybutton of the universe where the oracle used to sit. For a classics professor (and his weasel of a friend who studies the classics between lawsuits), it's grand stuff.

We do not miss the driving in Italy. Nor do we miss that mid-day break that everybody takes that ruins your schedule. Alas, we have returned it seems to civilization.