A Few Spots In Greece

Getting on the El Al flight to Athens was a little disorienting: we were in row 22, which turned out to be the second row of the plane. We arrived late at night for our 23-hour layover; there was no wait at the passport line and the Alamo/National guy got us on the way to our car with the least fuss and delay that I can remember. We drove to our little hotel. The next morning, we were directed to The Mall for breakfast, and the guard motioned us towards the food court. The first thing we saw was a Starbucks; thankfully, there were several other places, including one with great orange juice, pastries, and coffee. The mall itself was empty as it was Sunday morning, but had all the usual mall stores, with virtually no Greek script: most of the names were the typical worldwide mall franchises. We then took off on a drive about 90 minutes north of Athens, starting at Chaeronea, which has a massive statue of a lion. It is the place where Philip of Macedonia and Alexander the Great defeated Thebes (which is nearby) and Athens. There was a small archaeological museum nearby with several artifacts from the area. Then we went to the Byzantine monastery of Hosios Loukos, which was amazingly decorated with frescoes and icons. There was just enough time to get back to the airport, get in an argument with Alamo/National about gas, and catch our flight to Mykonos, where we stayed for the next three nights.

We stayed at Hotel Jason, a pleasant place atop the road between the main town and the Plati Giallo beach; a bus takes you to either place for €1.60. Monday we walked down into town, and bought stamps and had breakfast, noticing that the streets were pretty empty at 10 in the morning. We spent the day at the hotel writing postcards and doing laundry. That evening we went back into town, where a cruise ship had arrived. We inspected the town’s signature windmills (without sails attached, so they no longer turn) and at ate “m-eating”, easily the most sophisticated and delicious place we’ve eaten at Greece on this trip. After dinner, as we walked back to the bus, we noticed that the town was totally hopping: all the shops were open and the streets were packed. If we’d stayed up even later there would have been loathsome dance parties. One of the interesting statistics we learned about Mykonos is that it has 10,000 inhabitants, but often has 150,000 visitors.

Tuesday we got to town early, and got on the 9am boat out to Delos, the adjacent island whose ruins are a World Heritage site. A guide offered her services for ten euros per person, and told us much about the history of the place, and all its conquests. Delos was once a flourishing city-state, with massive temples and sculptures, largely celebrating Apollo. We toured the ruins of where the 1% lived, and the area with the temples. After the tour, we walked through the museum, and up the hill to the ruins of the Temple of Zeus, where there was a good view of the entire island. Due to the economic problems in Greece, the 3pm boat had been cancelled that day, and the last one back was an hour earlier than we expected. We took the bus back up to the hotel, relaxed for awhile, then walked down to the beach and ate at the nicest of the beach resort restaurants, Avli Tou Thodori. It seemed like a more earthy restaurant than m-eating, but we had kind of an exotic order: their watermelon & feta salad, fried anchovies (enormous for anchovies), mussels steamed with fennel (all mussels should be), and a dish of sea urchin (much tinier than most uni you see), ending with some tomatoes and a pepper stuffed with rice. We were full, and mentioned that we’d seen their plate of donut holes and couldn’t possibly eat it. So they brought us one on the house as a challenge.

Until we’d walked to the beach, we’d only seen the places in town and on the way there. We’d priced fresh-squeezed orange juice, as we often do, noting it was €3 or €3.50 on the road and the edge of town, rising up to €5 and €6 in the middle of the town. As we walked to the beach Tuesday night, we saw a place close to the hotel advertising it for €2.50, so we went there Wednesday morning for breakfast. As you find out every time you fly, sometimes the cheapest orange juice may be behind you. We returned to the hotel, checked out, and flew back to Athens and then immediately to Samos. All of these inter-island flights we have taken are on little 80-passenger two-propeller Bombardier Q400 planes, which have exciting landings as they try to stay on the runway immediately after touching down. (A free snack and soft drinks were served on each flight during the five minutes between ascent and descent.) We hadn’t arranged a pickup from the airport, so we took a taxi, and found out that the place we were staying was 2.5km up the hill from Pythagorion in a newish hotel with nothing around anywhere. The owner somehow didn’t realize that we had a reservation, and made us wait in the lobby for 90 minutes or so while he did other stuff before he came back and gave us our room. But hey, he owns four properties and is a busy guy. He gave us a ride into town for dinner — to his taverna, which was simple and had good food. We walked around town afterwards, stopping in at the many rental car places which were open, which all said they had no cars available for the next five days. So our transport was long walks and €6 taxi rides.

Thursday we walked down the hill into town, had our standard fresh orange juice, pastries, and cappuccino, and then walked to four of the major attractions: an archaeological museum, an ancient theater (which is just ruins under a modern wooden structure that is actively used), a monastery with a shrine located deep inside a cave, and, the reason we came to Samos in the first place, the Tunnel of Eupalinos. This guy, in the 6th century BC, performed the amazing engineering feat of building a 1km tunnel under a mountain from both ends simultaneously, with the two bores successfully meeting in the middle. The tunnel carried a water pipe from a spring to provide water for the city of Pythagorion which in those times had 80,000 inhabitants. (It appears that Megiddo, which we’d seen in Israel, was also dug from both ends three centuries earlier, but it was only 70m long.)

We took a taxi to the Temple of Hera just outside the nearby town of Heraion, an archeological site which like many we’ve seen was a mishmash of several successive constructions. It can get pretty difficult to figure out which wall you see corresponds to which diagram on the map. Besides the temples themselves, built starting in the 9th century BC, with the great temple built in the 6th century BC in the glory days of Samos, there were ruins of a small Roman basilica, with the 16th century AD ruins on top of the 6th century AD ruins. We caught a ride back to Pythagorion with a Swiss tourist who told us about a contemporary art exhibit he was there to review. We walked around town, had a nice dinner at Aphrodite featuring a grilled octopus leg and a chunk of goat kid neck or back, and then went to see the exhibit. The artists call themselves Slavs and Tatars, and the exhibition was called “Long-Legged Linguistics”. We got a guided tour around the exhibits, including “Tongue Twist Her”, a resin tongue slithering down a pole-dancing pole mounted on a carpeted base; two artworks in the form of large black-on-white carpets; “Kitab Kebab”, several books speared on a skewer; and “River Beds”, a reference to public structures in Iran where men and women could talk in public. These beds had the artists’ books mounted so you could browse them. It was refreshing to see some new stuff after the weeks of antiquities.

Friday was another day of vacation from the trip: we stayed at the hotel and did laundry and wrote postcards and blogged. We walked down the hill, and found some shortcuts which made it seem like a much shorter trip, saving maybe 25% of the distance. And we found Thanasis’ Sister, an “ouzeri” (restaurant specializing in ouzo) serving pretty much only “tapas”; their chick pea balls aren’t falafel, they are pakoras with chunks of onion and chick peas. They also had delicious homemade sausage.

We woke our host at 5:45am Saturday for a trip to the airport, and forgot to give him back the key. I hope he has gotten it back from the airport security office by now.