Greece, the Early Days

Escape from Silicon Valley: Greece, the Early Days
SUNDAY, March 19, 1995.

I'm sitting now, perched high above Athens in the Acropolis, gazing out over the incredible sprawl of the city, the Parthenon to my back. The sun is hot, sunburn sun. I need to buy some sun block before I'm sorry. Yesterday was a big waste. Feeling unmotivated, I dragged slowly around Rome, had lunch on via Tiburtina near the University zone, and then went to the airport three painful hours early. I looked around in every shop in the airport - and bought nothing. I sailed through Greek customs - although they did stamp my passport. The Athens airport felt like a second rate train station. I got the sense that I could've gotten through customs even if my pack were full of plutonium and cocaine. (I wouldn't advise testing this theory). A long bus ride from the airport (I was the only passenger - I wondered what I didn't know) through the city revealed the locals strutting their stuff on Saturday night. From the bus stop, I walked to the youth hostel through Omonia square, which was absolutely lined with porno mags and condoms for sale. A strange first impression of Greece. Scary to think that someone's first impression of the United States might be Times Square.

The Athens hostel was OK, I guess - but I hated it. The bathroom floor was muddy so I could only go in with shoes on, and I was perpetually annoyed by the low head room in my bottom bunk. Of my three roommates, two didn't speak English. The third was a guy from India who now lives in some small Arab country managing restaurants. He moved there for the business opportunity. It's a liberal Arab country he says; women don't have to cover their faces in public. Wow, now that's pretty liberal. Next thing you know, women will be baring their ankles in public. I was thrown for a loop by the one hour time difference between Rome and Athens. I wonder how I missed this. Everyone seemed to go to sleep awfully early and get up awfully early and then I finally caught on when I missed my chance to hop a ferry to Mykonos because my watch was an hour behind. Instead, I'll fly this afternoon.

I descended from the Acropolis into a huge street market raging at full steam. The streets were packed - it was only really being set up when I passed through on my way up four hours earlier. It had great energy - I loved the bustling. Back in Omonia Square, I bought a giant O-shaped sesame pretzel-like-thing which was absolutely delicious - visually it reminded me of the extremely stale pretzel I bought in Krakow, Poland, but it was fresh and tasty and I had to stop myself from buying another one before hopping the bus to the airport. While waiting for my plane, I tried to book a room at a cheap hotel on the island, but none of the hotels listed by Let's Go are open yet for the season - oh, boy! well, I guess the island won't be overrun by tourists.

Photos of Athens

Photos of Athens

Not to worry, there was a hotel placement desk at the airport. I ended up with a great room right on the beach - which is beautiful, but it's not quite beach weather - a bit on the cold side. The island is definitely in the off season. The hotel proprietor claims things are just starting to open up. I took a nice hot shower before heading into town to watch a beautiful sunset over the water, the sun slipping behind the mountains in the distance. Then I wandered through town - almost everything was closed (so much for the wild partying Greece is famous for) and found a restaurant with a table right next to the water. Delicious Moussaka followed by Baklava and a sub-Italian standard cup of cappuccino. Back at the hotel standing on my balcony, I could hear the water lapping against the shore and could see stars. Lots of stars. I can't remember the last time I got a good look at them. So nice with the crisp, cool air and the sound of the waves.

MONDAY, March 20, 1995.

Today I spent a full day on Mykonos, an island with a tourist economy, but the tourists aren't here yet. Almost everything is closed. However, Spring has come and the town is gearing up for the season. Workmen are out with jackhammers and cement repairing the street along the waterfront. Shop-owners are out painting everything white again, repairing doors, making window displays. I wanted to take the boat to Delos to see the ruins, but there's no boat until tomorrow. So with nothing to do, I went walking.

I walked up and over the hill, leaving the town behind me, then strolled north-east across the island toward Panomoros beach. En route, I saw very, very few people. I did meet an old Greek woman with ankles even thicker than Signora Provvedi's. She tried to tell me something in Greek, gave up, and then picked a flower for me. What I did see was lots of mules, goats, sheep, birds, cats, dogs - all quite surprised to see me. I inadvertently snuck up on all of them since I was traveling on foot. With several buttons open and my shirt flapping in the breeze, I enjoyed the landscape, the cute little Greek churches, and watched the sea slowly peek out from behind a rocky mountain-side as I moved on down the road. On the way back, I sang, sang, sang. Dead songs, blues songs, fifties tunes, everything I could remember that felt fun and free enough for the moment.

Back in town, I found a bit of heaven on earth, a Greek bakery. These guys know how to make tasty breads and cookies. A great lunch washed down with some much needed water. Still not much to do in town, so I headed off again - this time to Paradise beach. Another long walk past more surprised goats. I startled the hell out of a cat in a road-side dumpster (he also startled the hell out of me). When I finally reached the beach, I was the only one there (no surprise really). So much for the wild partying, the meat market, and the nakedness I'd read about. Walking away from Paradise, I took my shirt off altogether and it felt great to walk shirtless in the breeze. I was passed by a guy going hardly faster than me in his three wheeled motorized wagon. All the walking around and fresh air made me feel free. Nice to close my eyes and breathe deeply and take it in, then open my eyes and see the land and the sea. I walked out to the tip of a "lands-end" formation. I stood out there watching the sun shimmer on the water before finding my way back to my hotel along the coast.

Photos of Mykonos

Photos of Mykonos

A rejuvenating day, good for the spirit. All together, I did about five hours of walking in the sun and the wind - all without the sun block that I should have bought by now. My face is bright red. I better buy some first thing tomorrow. I took a nap and then went back to town for more Moussaka. Great to really be away from it all.

TUESDAY, March 21, 1995.

In the hotel van on the way to the dock for the boat to Delos, I met a couple from Miami. She grew up in Philadelphia. He's an English white boy from Jamaica! They met visiting a mutual friend in the hospital. He doesn't remember much about it because he was a drunken football fan fresh from the stadium, but he did recount for me the game's final seconds. I think every tourist on the island (all 10 or so of us) was on that boat to Delos, an island of Greek ruins for day trips only. Once at sea, I met Kirstin and Susan, a couple of Dartmouth sophomores who have come to Europe a couple of weeks early for their semesters abroad. The three of us explored Delos together. The ruins were great, but even greater was being on a beautiful island with no cars, no stores, no power lines, no roads and with two cute, smart, young, personable women to keep me company. We ate our picnic lunches perched atop the little mountain in the middle of the island with an amazing view of the ruins and the sea. Magical and timeless.

Kirstin spent a summer in Poland when she was 16 and loved it. She stayed mostly in the south and said the countryside was beautiful. We're in agreement that Krakow is great, but she also liked Warsaw, especially the old city. Perhaps the bitter-cold weather put a damper on the party when I was there. It was certainly interesting to get another perspective. Naturally I had a crush on her.

When we got back to Mykonos, we found that yummy bakery again and filled ourselves up with more tasty bread and cookies. Then, it was time for me to say goodbye and catch my ferry. Supplied with difficult to find information from "Sea & Sky" travel, I planned to take the 2:45 ferry to Syros, spend the night there, and then take the noon ferry tomorrow to Santorini. When I got to Syros, I went straight to a travel agency to double check the boat to Santorini. They told me the boat wasn't until noon the day after tomorrow (argh!) and Syros didn't look that nice. So I asked, "how about to Crete?" They said there was nothing from Syros, but I could get to Crete from Piraeus tomorrow. "How to I get to Piraeus?" They told me to get back on the ferry I'd just gotten off. Running, I squeaked back on board between two large trucks. When I went to buy my ticket I was informed that the boat (now already at sea) was a direct to Athens! What! Argh! A few minutes later I found out that Piraeus is the name of the port of Athens. OK. OK. For a second there it seemed like no one had told me anything accurate. In fact, the guy at "Sea & Sky" was off by one day and I'm ignorant. Grrr. This sparse transit in the off-season is a drag.

Photos of Delos

So it's back to Athens. I'll figure out what to do next from there. Didn't get a chance (really I didn't have time) to buy sunblock in the morning - so I used some of Kirstin's #4 - but Delos turned me even redder. I can really feel it on my face, neck, and ears. I'll buy some sunblock in Athens. Really.

WEDNESDAY, March 22, 1995.

Surely in a hedonistic world, life involves much nudity and at least three souvlakias a day (complete with raw onions) - a combination which must go hand in hand with plenty of breath mints and exercise - preferably basketball and cycling. Further, we must be allowed - if not everyday - at least every Friday (Saturday too - if we're good) to succumb to the natural, human urge to devour cappuccino followed by chocolate, Diet Coke, and pound cake, because although this promotes the need for five quarter games of basketball, it is certainly hedonistic and satisfying - perhaps even for Mick Jagger.

Today I succumbed to some of these urges, including two souvlakias which fulfilled my wildest souvlaki dreams. I found a small store front, really just a counter, mobbed by local Greeks waiting for their souvlakias - the only thing on the menu. It was a two person operation: a man working the oven, roasting the meat, taking the money, heating the bread - well everything but adding the tomatoes and shaking on the final secret spices. This was handled by his wife. (Or was it his mother? Let's ask George Bush). Anyway they were both old and weathered and surely had been doing it since years before I was born - and perhaps will still be doing it after I die - even if this would place them in their mid 130's. I didn't get the chance to see their ankles.

The day in Athens wasn't as hellish as I psyched myself up for (This proved to be a winning technique. What's next? Self-hypnosis?) Last night, I went to sleep still confused about what to do next. I avoided the youth hostel; instead I slept in a nasty, dirty, smelly hotel room on a stomach filled with a Big Mac. I'm not sure this was an improvement. Being in McDonald's last night was a much needed blast of delightfully disgusting American cuisine for a frazzled traveler who'd taken a surprise ferry ride back to Athens - really, a cure for homesickness. This morning, I went to AMEX to explore my travel options. I should have called Olympus Airlines last night, if I'd been able to get my head together. I missed the morning flights, so I decided on an afternoon ticket to Santorini. It's too bad that I won't be able to see Crete, but there's no way I can go there and be back in Athens in time to use my return ticket to Rome - a lesson to be learned about locking myself down in advance. With a good six hours before I needed to head to the airport, I went to the museum of Cycladic Art where I saw some beautiful old statues and pottery - really old - from 3-4,000 BC, but I wasn't really into it. Then, killing time reading in McDonald's over a soda, I was hit (like by a truck) with the idea to do laundry. The laundromat turned out to be a drop-off service - so I left my pack and my laundry and wandered the touristy, restaurant, shopping area nearby. It was fun. Then with a pack full of clean clothes (yeah!), I headed to the airport.

Copyright 1997 by Bradley Edelman
All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

E-mail: Brad Edelman