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Day 18 - All roads lead to Athens


Location: Athens

David awoke with a bit of a sore throat and a cough, but he proved himself a real driving hero this day.

We had another breakfast on the hotel deck, then packed and went to pay the bill. Not only had the host reduced the overall room charge by 20 euro, but there was no charge on our bill for the dinner the night before (which the cook had said would be 40 euro before the wine). We questioned this missing charge and were told dinner had been on the house, like the 4 or 5 big bottles of water, the plate of bread and olives they brought with the ice we asked for, the kids’ afternoon juices, and the beer they brought David because the pool was closed when he wanted to go in it. It all helped make up for the earlier fuss, but we couldn’t help wonder: Is this generosity why Greece is broke?

We didn’t have to drive very far before we reached Nemea, home of the famous lion wrestled by Heracles and site of the Neman Games. Because of the latter, there are some neat ruins just outside the tiny, tiny town, and, given their remote location, we were alone as we walked in the nicely partially/reconstructed Temple to Zeus, the huge excavated bathhouse, the footprint of an ancient hotel, and the small, tidy museum. There must have been 8 or 10 people working at the empty site, and it would be a lovely job. It is well-landscaped with shade trees, flowers, and picnic tables to chat all day.

We have been drinking mostly white wine while we have been here, mostly because experience has taught us that, ironically, the home of Dionysus doesn’t produce very good red wine. But there are exceptions, and we have found that the exception almost always involves red from Nemea. So we decided that, before we left town, we would pop by one of the four wineries listed on the road signs and buy a bottle of two. So, we followed the “wine road” sign. Big mistake. It lead nowhere. We followed other signs to specific wineries. We found buildings with stainless steel vats, but none had a parking spot or anything like storefront. We tried three different places. Then we decided to just stop at the “snak bar shop souvenirs” with the sign that also said “neman wines.” What we found was a sad little taverna where neither Mom nor Pop would give us anything more intelligible than a head shake and a finger point to back where we’d failed.

We gave up and headed for the highway, but just before we hit the main highway, we saw a roadside stand that sold nothing but wine … Only it was odd. There were almost no glass bottles, just four different colors of wine in water bottles. Inside were four vats with spigots and signs with prices in euros per litre. The man (no English) let us sample two, and we bought one (paying extra to get a litre in a bottle with a cork).

We stopped in Ancient Corinth for lunch overlooking Temple to Apollo. We thought about visiting the Temple to Aphrodite since this was her Sin City for soldiers, complete with 1000 sacred prostitutes (at least until Paul tried to shut that stuff down), but it was up a big hill, and we had at least another hour to go before hitting Athenian gridlock.

We got into Athens but we turned too soon (never trust a sign with an arrow here), got quite turned around, turned too soon again (we should not have trusted that other sign!) and ended up jumping marble curbs across pedestrian streets until we got ourselves wedged in an alley with no way out other than a 180 degree turn. It required nerves of steel, an external navigator, and a 20 point turn in the execution. Then only one more wrong turn (damn you, signs!), and we found our home.

And it did feel like home. We were back on familiar territory, in the same nifty house as before. Our host, Dionysia was not there to greet us this time, but she left a surrogate with no English who dialed Dionysia’s work number for us. (Our host is a lawyer who works for the government. She implied that she “could not possibly leave work today,” and we were not surprised.)

We all agree: old town Athens feels great! We like the air, the energy, the charm. We like having options in every direction, and getting everywhere on foot.

And speaking of options, only Athens can offer us an entirely vegetarian restaurant, so that is where we headed (thanks again for the suggestion, Debbie). Triumph felt a little guilty when I suggested not eating traditional Greek, but we have exhausted every combination of shared appetizers, and all the tomatoes and feta and fried food was getting monotonous. “Avocado” is like a little piece of the west coast in downtown Athens, with a juice bar, a yoga schedule on the chalkboard, and a health food store next door.

But a lot is different when you eat Barbarian. This was the first time, for instance, that we had to wait for a table. While we waited, we wandered (a bit trepidatiously) to Syntagma Square and found no evidence of the previous night’s craziness. Then, when we were seated, we were

1- not given bread

2- not charged for water

3- served by a woman

4- given the bill before the food arrived

5 - rushed a bit to leave

6 - inside to eat

None of this is very Greek. But it was so, so so refreshing to order unusual items off a completely accessible menu.

Ironically, Athena started to not feel well right after the meal she adored eating; it sounded a lot like how I had felt the day before. This made getting lost in the Plaka for 20 minutes rather uncomfortable for her. Thank heavens for helpful English speaking ex-pats.