April 1, 2010 — Getting to Greece

The Parthenon from the Keraimekos Cemetery in Athens.
Getting there is half the fun
                                April 1, 2010, midday

We have gotten as far as the Milan airport – it’s a gray day – doesn’t look a lot different from Newark on the outside. One the inside? Not an American airport – the halls are narrower, the ceilings lower, the lights much brighter. The traffic pattern in the airport routes you through the middle of shopping areas. Many of the shops have no walls – they’re larger than kiosks, but small enough to keep track of all of the goods easily. And they’re not American shops – no “buy the goods made in this state here” stores. No stores devoted entirely to souvenirs and T-shirts and stuffed animals. No Burger Kings.  No, in Milan we have glove stores, a mozzarella bar, Mont Blanc pens, Swatch watches, lots of designer name stores, and perfume. Lots of perfume. The airport smells like the Nordstrom cosmetics section, dense with fragrance in the shopping areas, with an undercurrent of scent everywhere else.

April 1, 2010, Midnight

About midnight in Athens.

Our cab driver from the airport knew a little more English than I did Greek (which is to say, very little). We passed by the “First Cemetery” which is the recent (last couple of hundred years) one. People there are “in the ground three years” – she gestured – “and then out. They pull them out. Me – I am [buried] in my village. That’s good. I stay there. People with lot of money – 50,000 euros – they can stay in that cemetery all the time. Most people, three years.” We agreed that being buried in the village was probably a lot nicer than in the graveyard where they dig you up after three years. She drove us a different route, she said (as if we would know,– but she quoted a flat rate, same as the one in the guidebooks, so we didn’t care) because everyone is leaving town to go to their villages for Easter – everyone, yesterday (Wednesday), Thursday; “tomorrow more will go. Then Athens is very quiet.”

She drove us past the local Catholic Church so that we could go there on Easter Sunday, pointed out Syntagma Square (the preferred location for demonstrators because the Parliament Building is there; it also was the location of a Christmas bomb that failed to deliver), Hadrian’s Arch, and more. Then she left us a couple of blocks away from what we thought was our checkin location, and betook her dyed hair, black-fingernailed, big-sunglassesed, tight purple dress off for her next fare. We tipped her well and liked her a great deal better than the New York cabbies.

Athens street.

It wasn’t our checkin location, however. We had to walk another couple of blocks. My small roller bag which needed a tape job on the corner at the beginning of the trip now developed a broken wheel, which made even louder clattering on the cobblestones. We got our studio, retrieved the password for the free wifi, connected with Anthea,  and set our clocks forward another hour. At about 7:30, she arrived at our doorstep, fresh from class, and we set off on a twenty-minute walk to dinner at a taverna near her school.

Jim was vowing to lose weight on this trip – if that happens, it will be because of the miles of walking, not because of the food which is excellent and served in generous amounts. We hoped that the wait staff found our attempts to decipher the menu and speak a little Greek entertaining.  For dessert, they brought us complimentary halvah and mastic wine in one-ounce glass mugs (a side note – mastic is the gummy sap of a tree grown on Chios. The ancients considered it a great prize for medicine, cooking and wine; pirates and others raided the island on a regular schedule to steal it. The wine tasted a bit like vodka with a pleasantly sweet exotic flavor, and eminently desirable).

taverna-in-the-square.jpg (550×368)

A typical taverna.

We walked Anthea to her apartment in the Pangrati neighborhood above a cookie store and bakery (half an hour), and then back to our apartment (another hour). By that time, the bars and restaurants were winding down a bit – Athens stays awake late. Only a few pedestrians were out as we made our way back past Hadrian’s Arch again, the Olympic Stadium, a view or two of the Acropolis, and many Athens streets. Two scents predominate in the city night – orange blossoms and cigarette smoke, often mixed. The orange trees grow along the streets, like mountain ash in Anchorage, or small fruit trees in the Midwest – except that they have oranges on them that fall to the ground, and no-one bothers to pick them up and eat them. [Update – one of Anthea’s classmates had the same thought – he did pick one up and found it to be extra-bitter and unpleasant. So that’s why they lie where they fall. But they make good marmalade. A later note, from Rome, 2013 — those same trees were planted in Rome because people wouldn’t strip the trees of their fruit.].

What about knees? you ask, because Jim and I, especially Jim, left home with some major questions. For Jim the answer is, “Doing great so far, thanks to the wonders of drugs (anti-inflammatories).” For Teri, the answer also is, just fine. I’m very cautious about steps and steep slopes – the mostly-healed broken and wired-together kneecap still doesn’t work perfectly. We racked up four or five hours of walking during out first day in Athens, so we’ve passed the first test. Tomorrow we’ll see more.

Lycabettus Hill and the Acropolis from near the top of Filloppapos Hill.

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