Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Big Fat Greek Vacation

How can this be? Five days have arisen, melted into one another, and vanished. We've seemed to have done so little— no island hopping, only a few visits to other villages, and yet, the time, she passes. 

We've fallen into the Island Rhythm: wake up late (late-ish, about 8:30), swim, visit one of the knock-out beautiful sights, long lunch at 2, swim, get ready for the evening, eat dinenr at 8. Rinse, lather, repeat. 

Doug likes the coffee just fine.

Sifnos is the ideal island for doing very little. The villages are all picturesque, but other than a beautiful church here or a pottery shop there, and always a breathtaking vista, there’s not much else to see. Only two villages, Appollonia and the port Kamares, have any kind of tourist shopping at all. This would not be an ideal place for my mother.

Our room is right there! Ground floor, far right.

Our hotel, the Platys Gialos, is perfect for families. The bay here, and most of the bays around the island, are as calm as a lake, with only the barest whisper of waves lapping at the shore. We had a sand beach at our disposal, one with many tavernas set up along the shoreline so we could eat and have the kids looking for stones on the beach. 

Our hosts, the lovely Vigea and jovial Dikeos, go out of their way to help us— booking cabs, driving us into  town, telling us how much to pay a taxi. The hotel is more like an inn, with minimal staff and the owners manning the phones.

The Aegean waters are not warm. Warmer than California, doubtless. Even, perhaps, warmer than Hawaii. But it isn’t the bath water I had promised Benjamin (he of little body fat) time and time again. It’s bracing. We dove in happily twice a day. A waiter here put it perfectly: “The water is not warm, but it makes one feel more alive. It’s true. The shimmering azure blue of its surface belies the absolute crystalline lucidity of the water. It’s like swimming in a diamond. Sea urchins dot the dock. There was a complimentary kayak at our disposal, as well as a windsurfing board for Benj to “surf” on. Everything steps away from our room.        

The food in Sifnos is very much like the architecture: simple and unvaried. At every taverna we dine at the food is sometimes delicious, often uninspired but always the same. Grilled meats and fish. Cheese pies, cheese plates. Lamb or goat Mastelo, cooked in a clay pot with potatoes. Squid and octopus. Stuffed tomatoes and peppers. Greek salad. Tzatziki. Moussaka, layered meat with pasta and eggplant. Half-hearted attempts at pasta. That was pretty much it, lunch and dinner. Veggie-wise, other than some of the mezethas (small dishes) and salads, there’s not a lot of choice, at least not while we were there. Our kids had cucumbers as their vegetable every night. Sifnos has a lot of chickpeas, and accordingly they are famous for two dishes: a chickpea soup (which actually had very little liquid but was delicious) and chickpea croquettes (likewise delicious, and nothing as heavy-handed as falafel). Oddly enough, no hummus to be found. (Interesting—although I wish for something new each time I open a menu, as I type this I’m getting hungry for a stuffed pepper and a chickpea croquette.) 

One notable exception to the conformity of menu was at a restaurant in Appollonia, the relatively more cosmopolitan area of the island, where Doug and I had our 20th anniversary dinner. I swoon, thinking of the meal. Pea puree with capers and spring onion. Veal meatballs with a spicy tomato sauce. Rocket (arugula) salad with strawberries! and a hard Sifnos cheese. Dessert was a farina-crusted tarte with a goat & cottage cheese base and sour cherry topping. Best of all, a slab of Cretan cheese, Graviera, lightly dusted with flour and quickly fried, on a sauce of honey, balsamic vinegar and sesame seeds. That cheese is the last dish I want to eat before I die. And with the fat content of that cheese, it probably would be.

Me drink Ouzo, Me get very very red...
Did it right, plunking cubes of ice into the glass 
to turn the clear liquid milky white.
You stay drunker that way!

This is the cheese. The cheese of life. The cheese of death. Bow to the cheese

A strawberry and meringue, plus the cheese and sour cherry piece of heaven. 
The restaurant is Odos Oneiron. Go there.

What else, what else… here’s some miscellany:

Pimsleur saves the day. English was not a given among the locals, and it was good to be able to ask questions in Greek, as rudimentary as my Greek was. It was lovely to have two complete sentences roll off my tongue, or at least have a phrase or two to offer before sliding into English. I’ll miss the language. I can’t imagine much of it will remain in my long-term memory once I return to the States. Already I feel it leaking out of my ears. I’m getting lazy, saying “OK” instead of “endoxi” and offering a “thanks” instead of “efcharisto.” Maybe I’ll start frequenting Greek diners.

There are pussies galore. 

As much as Athens had stray dogs, Sifnos has cats prowling around. Every outdoor taverna has at least three kitties underfoot. Benjamin became the Lord of the Cats, though we tried to discourage him from touching them. Some of them looked pretty mangy.

Ask to see the fish. You’re allowed to go into the kitchen and check out the catch of the day. Benj and I have gone back to choose between scorpionfish, white bream, and dogfish (shark). Grilled heads on. Poor Doug had to endure Benj merrily plucking out the eyes and eating them.
Are you sure this is local? Looks like a British fish to me...

Thank you for smoking in my baklava. Everyone smokes. In restaurants. Pushing strollers. In the ocean. That must be why most of the woman in Greece had voices lower than either Doug or me. Melina Mecouri was no aberration.

Not once did I hear the word “OPA!!”

Don’t get freaked out when you see the expiration 1/8/2010 on the milk carton during breakfast. The month and the day are reversed in Europe, remember? Oh yeah. Sorry.

The ants are fierce. In Greece, ants are the Spartan invaders. They were slightly bigger than what we’re used to, and they carried away anything they happened upon, whole. Benj and I once watched for ten minutes while a group of them hauled an entire spider up and over a wall. I kept thinking of Ursula in One Hundred Days of Solitude, forever sweeping the red ants from her home. Don’t mess with them.

Did we really need all those electronics? Yes.

Did I mention the beaches were beautiful? Traveling from the church at Chrissopigi through Faro and Stavros, we passed by four beaches, all beautiful, each with their own restaurants. Benjamin and I dove into a bay for ten minutes while everyone else walked by to the next town, and it was magical. We saw a couple of topless women at these beaches (oh… that’s what an unenhanced breast looks like!). Benj thought it was “impolite.”He also said "That's gross!" I also learned to swim in the ocean, long stretches along the bay, slow and easy. Every once in a while I would imagine a shark rushing at my blind spot and broadsiding me, and I’d have to stand and look around for a moment, but for the most part, it was serene.

It wasn’t the money belt. It was the cheese.

Benj loves his cousin. He’d have been a lot lonelier without his partner-in-tickling/
bubblegumming crime, Shaela.
Or he’d have a LOT more screen time. It all worked out perfectly.

I think that’s about it. We leave tomorrow, on our trip west in unending daylight. I can’t quite believe that we’ve done it.

Sigh... Back to walking the dog.

υγεία σας! (cheers!)

Update: We’ve checked into the Hotel Sofitel by the Athens airport to stay the night before our flight. We missed the transportation strike and the riots of the day before. More importantly, there is no toilet paper signage in the bathroom. All is right with the world.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Greek Island Adventures, with no Meryl Streep

Last I posted, we were leaving Athens for the Cyclades island of Sifnos. Thus ends the reverential, historical meditation on Greece. Welcome to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Doug, Benjamin and I barely make it back to the hotel from a barely-eaten meal at a touristy taverna and we meet up with my sister and her family. We jump in cabs already waiting, our bags in the trunk. Hope we got them all! My cab gets to the port of Piraeus first but we don't have the dock number we're going to be boarding on... whoops. Luckily Debbie & Justin's cab pulls up and so we follow thems with the tickets. Very exciting, getting on the giant hydrofoil, stowing our own bags (all accounted for) in the hold and finding our seats. We get a table! And, after all the rushing, we wait... an hour until we leave port. The tourists have all gotten there dutifully at the recommended time. The locals stroll in en masse twenty minutes before departure. Ah. 

Interesting, how we pass the two hours and forty-five minutes of ferry sailing. The Greeks are talking, eating and laughing all around us. Meanwhile, our kids are watching a DVD on the portable player. Justin is reading his Kindle. I'm on my ipod playing bridge, and Doug's working on his laptop. Hmmm.. What's wrong with this picture? Not a damn thing! We need decompression time!

After a very smooth trip, we climb down to the hold to grab our bags and stand amongst the crowd waiting to disembark. Ahead of us, the island bobs in view— green lush mountains, white square buildings, blue shutters… we’re here. Where is the chorus singing ABBA songs? We shuffle out slowly, motorbikes behind and alongside nudging us along like sheep dogs, we hit the dock, where an official is ordering the pedestrians: “Thexia! Thexia!” I’m excited because I know what he’s saying: “To the right! To the right!” Pimsleur Greek 1 is coming in handy already.

We’re at the port of Kamares, which is on the west side of the island. Our hotel is in Platys Gialos, which is on the southern end. We assume we’ll just hop into taxis and be on our way. Only… this is a small island, not a metropolitan city.  Five taxis are waiting at the dock, and five groups, who have called ahead, get into them. Uh…Debbie and I wander along the small dock area, hoping to see more cabs. Nothing. All the cars have disgorged from the ferries. Everyone is off. Will more taxis be coming? I ask the woman heading a snack shop and she says, in very halting Aglica, that you must call taxi. 
The problem is, of course, that we a) have no taxi phone numbers; and b) we have no phone. We find taxi numbers on a wall, and fortune smiles when we find a phone card already in a cartetelifono. Only… there are no taxis available, or at least as far as I can tell because no one speaks Aglica. I get the idea to call the hotel and ask them to call a cab for us, which is brilliant except… there are still no taxis available.  When the ferry comes, the woman at the hotel explains, all the taxis are busy. She can get one in an hour. By now it’s about 7:30. I ask if we should have dinner first and then get a taxi and she says, yes, yes, better you have dinner, then call us, we get taxi. I leave the phone card in the phone to continue the karma, buy my own, and we set off, towing bags and small children, to find the main square of town.

Ah, there it is. The main square in most towns in Sifnos is approximately two blocks long. We find succor in the form of a rare non-Greek restaurant, an Italian estiatoria  with a very funny proprietress. Doug can use his Italian. We sit at a table alongside the road, suitcases forming a bulwark, and enjoy a delicious and leisurely meal. Sated, we ask the hostess to call a cab. No problem, except… another ferry has arrived. It will be about an hour.

Mamma Mia, here I go again…

We make a lamb Athena during dinner... 
We are getting a little anxious. If this were “The Amazing Race” there’d put our panicked faces into slo-mo, then cut to commercial. Our kids have been relatively good but we’re reaching the end of all reasonable expectations. I call the hotel again, to see if they can do anything. Debbie wanders the street. We think of renting a car, but, of course, there are no more cars available. Finally, the man at the rental car place tells us he will get us a cab. 20 minutes. Will there be two cabs, for the six of us and our luggage? No problem, they will “make it work.”

20 minutes later a battered Mercedes sedan, circa 1980, wheezes along the cobbled streets.  Our driver miraculously packs all six pieces of luggage, plus assorted carry-ons, into the trunk, holding it all together with a bungee cord. We manage to cram the six of us into the car. It wasn’t, perhaps, the safest way to travel, but at that point if our driver had shown up in a tricycle we’d have made it work.

Can one be in such beauty and still stressed? We test the possibilities.

Off we go into the night, up and down hills, through narrow streets and around hairpin turns. The moon is huge and full. Finally, we pull into the driveway of the rustic, serene Hotel Platys Gialos. All worries fall away; it seems that we’ve arrived at Paradise. It’s right by the water, which glitters in the moonlight. Our rooms are each about fifteen steps away from the bay. Bougainvillea trees and pink oleander rustle in the breeze near the pineapple palms. We each have a small courtyard of our own. Our lovely hostess Vigea greets us and hands us our keys. We’ve made it.

Of course, there are some minor troubles in Paradise, most of them focused on the bathroom. For some reason, there is a small clear window that opens in our bathroom into some kind of dusty back hallway. What’s it there for? It reminds me of the ancient Greek innkeeper that Theseus killed, the one who would creep out of a hidden door near the guest’s bed and bludgeon him as he slept. I cover the window with a hand towel and hope for the best. 

There’s also a somewhat more earthy concern. Like most toilets on the island, there is a “no tissue paper in the toilet” edict. You’re supposed to dispose of your used paper in the small covered bin next to the toilet. Now, this is perhaps not so big a deal to women, who (do I have this right?) have to do something of this sort already. For me? I’m horrified. Doug almost jumped back into the  Mercedes.  “Did someone okay this?” he demands. He gives serious consideration to not going potty for the five days we are here. 

But our surroundings are too beautiful, it’s too magical a place for such scatological worries. Go with the flow, the waves lapping at our doorstep gently suggests. Relax, encourages the susurrus of insects. Settle into the Island Pace. Benj falls asleep almost immediately, and we follow suit. Periodically, the toilets let forth a grinding, creaking noise that sounds like Medusa’s scaly slithering in “Clash of the Titans.” 

It's a lullaby.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's All Greek to Me!

For about two months before my trip, I had been assiduously studying Greek. There’s an excellent audio language learning company called Pimsleur which my sister Sue has been using for years, and they’re great for L.A. folk who are constantly in their cars. It works almost exclusively aurally, which means that I don’t have to read anything, just listen. So whenever I was on the road, I was listening to a lesson. Great for dialect and flow of conversation. They don’t give you any grammar lessons or lists of vocabulary, so if you’re a visual learner maybe Rosetta would be a better fit. I loved Pimsleur.

In Athens, though, whatever Greek I have been able to muster has been largely ceremonial. You know, to tell the natives that “Yes, I respect your culture and am not trying to demand that everyone know my language, as is the custom with arrogant superpower nations such as my own, but I can’t actually have any meaningful kind of conversation with you.” Yes, I could ask “Where is the—“ or “I would like to buy a—“ or “How are you?” but when it came to the actual answer, I had no idea what they were saying. Everyone in Athens spoke Greek, so they would smile indulgently and patiently wait for me to stutter out my rehearsed phrase before continuing on in English. There were those whose eyes lit up at the novelty of seeing a Chinese-looking American say “Good evening, how are you, sir, where is the bathroom please?” in the Hellenic manner. One of the gentlemen at the reception desk, in particular, was quite pleased with my endeavors and took great pains to speak back to me in Greek and fill me in on what he was saying. I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of him, but he did look almost exactly like that character actor in “Bringing up Baby,” Fritz Feld:

Mostly, though, I’ve realized that the learning of the new language is for my own benefit. It’s my way to engage with a new culture, to feel more at ease in a foreign land. I like the challenge of “solving” a  country through language, even though I only begin to scratch the surface. I think it also comes from my inherent need to please, to want people to like me. I guess dysfunction does have its educational purposes…

Our last day in Athens we spent visiting the Temple of Zeus and the new Acropolis Archeological Museum.
We're there for a little perspective...

The Temple of Zeus had some of the tallest columns we’d seen thus far. It’s in the middle of a park surrounded by sleeping stray dogs and South Asian immigrants sitting and smacking these gel-like balls that looked like tomatoes, melons and pigs against cardboard on the sidewalk, where they would splatter and then, à la Terminator 2, regenerate themselves into balls again. (Yes, Benjamin had to have one. Only 1 Euro!)

The adults spent a half hour marveling at the ruin and taking pictures from many angles. Benjamin took photos of bugs. He’s found the insects of Greece more fascinating than the giant edifices around him. Macro to micro. The children did what they have been doing the whole trip, trying to pet the dogs and running around chasing each other.
 (An interesting note about the stray dogs: In Athens, they round up strays, but they don’t put them in shelters to be adopted or euthanized; instead, the dogs are neutered, given shots, and then released again, where they live on the good will of the human citizenry. More humane or folly? Discuss.) 

Full disclosure: this photo actually taken at Delfi.

It’s here where I realize, finally, how ingenious those pillars are. I mean, they’re made from giant discs, one stacked on another perfectly, with rods in the center to connect one to another. They’re like Tinker Toys, wrought huge. How did they think of those things, much less get them executed properly? I can’t even get the guest room window in my house to latch properly.

Our last site is at the Museum. It stores all the original art (which hadn’t been pilfered by other countries) from the Parthenon. It’s a pretty amazing museum, for two main reasons. One, the whole top floor is surrounded by window, so you can see the Acropolis across the way. The display of the friezes on that floor mirrors the layout of the Parthenon, with chrome columns in the exact layout of the pillars of the Parthenon.  You can really get a sense of how it would be to walk the entire length of the building.

The other great aspect, design-wise, is that they’ve built the museum on top of an archeological dig of a more ancient site, and they've made the ground floor and the courtyard of the building out of plexiglass, so you can see straight through to the remains below. It’s like a shark tank, but of ruins. You’re literally walking on history. This museum is a great example of the museum conforming to the artifacts, rather than the artifacts conforming to the museum.

Only drawback is the gift shop, which shows an appalling amount of good taste. Not enough tchochkes! I mean, they could wrack up some serious extra cash if they’d just sell some more Athena floatie pens and snow globe Parthenons. Damn their restraint! The kids are seriously bored through the entire museum (Benj is bitterly disappointed because I had promised him a weapons display and there are none to be found) so we get them some Greek yogurt with honey (piled like a mass of whipped cream on your plate) and skeddadle. We have only two hours left before departing on the ferry, so the families split up. Our last moments of Athens are spent in a relentless hunt for souvenirs and Doug’s sandals, with low blood sugar. Not a good combo. We eat at a very bad taverna surrounded by tourists and barely make it back to the hotel to grab a cab. And so Yassas to Athens. I loved the city. Everyone said to get out of their quickly, but I would have gladly tooled around its streets for a couple days more.
Us waving from the Underworld.

Next up: Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, or, Our Wacky Adventures Getting to the Islands!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Oracle at Work

My sister Debbie is making candy dish fortune tellers out of paper placemats, a fitting endeavor on the way to Delfi, site of oracular prophecy. We’ve stopped at what is possibly the cleanest and most stylish way station we have ever seen, drinking limonadas and stretching our legs three quarters of the way to our destination. Our knowledgeable, gravel-voiced driver Marcos (AKA the Greek Ernest Borgnine) stays to himself, drinking coffee and answering his cellphone, which, to the delight of my twitching fingers, plays the theme to the video game “Galaga” whenever he gets a call. Benjamin forces me to play the prophet, asking the candy dish “Will Baba let me get a bouncing ball out of the bubblegum machine?” He tremulously picks “Orange” and then “Tiger,” and I dutifully move my fingers the requisite number of movements. He picks “One,” and holds his breath, even though he himself as written out all the possible answers underneath not ten minutes before. “Absolutely,” is revealed under flap One. Benj merrily makes his way to the round glass dispensing machine, clutching his 1-Euro coin, and not only gets a Tinker Bell ball for his cousin Shaela on the 1st try, but a BEN 10! ball with his second! This prophecy has been particularly propitious. The magic of Delfi is at work.

We were warned by several people not to go to Delfi, that it was too far away, too rermote to be worth it, but I am so very glad that we went. There’s something about chartering a van to go two hours into the Greek countryside for a spot of culture and back again that feels straight out of an E.M Forster novel (one that includes a portable DVD player for the kids, thank the gods). We’re in foreign climes, taking a leisurely jaunt in our carriage during our indolent summer abroad. There’s nothing one can do to pass the time but converse on light subjects and doze pleasantly, looking out at the landscape and twirling one’s parasol. Here’s where one would contemplate the green rolling hills, blanketed in olive trees. One’s blood would begin to stir, recalling an exchange of looks with a sooty-eyed, full-lipped youth. Alas, nothing of that sort has happened yet, though I swear the man behind the counter at the way station gave me a special look when I ordered “tha thelumei tha pitei tria limonata, parakalo.  Then again, maybe not. I was still wearing the damned money belt (and, yes, wearing it backwards still makes you look thick in the middle. Thicker.).

Delfi is even more profound an experience than the Acropolis, if that’s possible. Maybe it’s the setting, high up in the mountains, rocky peaks encroaching on all sides and towering firs everywhere. The site feels more ancient. The structures are cruder than at the Acropolis, but all the more impressive for it. The giant slabs of rocks and marble feel more like a primeval force of nature than man-made. In photos, they may look like a bunch of rocks, but staring up at them in person, one imagines titans at work.

One travels in a winding path, constantly up, up, passing the sacred waters where supplicants would purify themselves, pass the treasuries of various city-states, the theatre, arriving at the Rock of the Sibyl, where one can imagine the priestess, fueled by chewed laurel leaves and mania, making her cryptic predictions. Onward to the massive Temple of Apollo (another snake protector, Python, slain here by Apollo) and then still further up to reach the stadium. All of this lays in its natural state; there are very few markers and many times not even a rope separating you from the ruins.

In my book, Liberace Under Venetian Skies, I have two Greek characters who practice an ancient pagan religion from the mountainside, and I’m happy that my description of their practice would not be out of place in this environment. I imagine them posing on these rocks, immobile, for hours, guardians of the sacred cave. I've also put them on Vespas, which is perfect considering all the motorbikes barreling down Athenian sidewalks. It’s a relief. 

The last stop is at the museum, which houses many of the artifacts found at the site. Amazing to stare up at a huge sphinx, which seems poised to ask you questions, and wander through within touching distance of pieces more than three thousand years old.

Interesting, how these fragments of friezes and sculpture force the viewer to engage their imagination. These remnants require an act of synecdoche; we see a part and imagine the whole. A single foot, a piece of shoulder and a paw transforms into Heracles wrestling the Nimean Lion; the bottom of a skirt conjures up an entire Kore; we observe a sculpture of an intensely-gazing youth holding untethered straps in his hand and instantly his chariot and horse springs up around him. The past comes alive only when we will it so.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Does this Money Belt Make me Look Fat?

Why am I up at 5:45 in the morning? It's not the jet lag, I don't think. Last night was perfectly fine. Perhaps because the air conditioning was turned off... Dear Lord, I look at the tangle of cords and adaptors surrounding me and plugged in— computer, Flip Video camera, Canon Cybershot, Ipod, IPAD, PSP— and I think... what would I give up? So I'm not the most rustic of travelers. What else would I be doing at 5:45 in the morning? Yes, I could read that Henry Miller book I brought along... or As I Lay Dying... but how nice to arrange my photos bit by bit, instead of never doing it when I come crashing back at home.

A most edifying day, marred only slightly by children. Our tour guide Marguerita picked us up at the hotel at 8:30, and we proceeded to wend our way to the Acropolis. It can only be described in a word that we don't allow Benjamin to overuse in his essays but is entirely appropriate in this case: awesome. To look up at the fortified walls and imagine spears and arrows hurtling down; to climb up the path that Pheidippides, the heroic but expiring messenger might have taken (if only they'd known about electrolytes back then!); to marvel at the sheer longevity of it all. 

At the base of the Acropolis is the Theater of Dionysus, where, amazingly, they let you sit in. It used to be round but the Romans cut it in half for their games. There was a channel at the bottom where water could exit after they filled up the amphitheater for staged water battles. Take THAT, Cameron Macintosh! 

I sit amongst the ruins and imagine my friend and former Greek Theatre teacher, Linda Jenkins, conjuring up Sophocles and Euripides. I imagine my friend Denis O'Hare reciting his adaptation of "An Iliad" here. I think of the dramas I have seen, and how they all have their provenance here...

Oh dear. Some things never change, like me falling asleep during Act I...

Up to the walls and the gateway at the top, where visitors would be readied for the site of the sacred courtyard where the Parthenon stands. We walk on the weathered patches of pink and brown marble, still beautiful but sporadic, all of it worn into slipperiness from the millions of sandals, boots and sneakers that have trod onto it as we tourists swarm  like ants over the ruins. 

You pass by these enormous columns and then— there it is. The Parthenon. As grand as inspiring as you'd think it'd be. Even with the legions of tour groups battering at its steps, the monument refuses to be daunted, or sullied. After all it's been through— the conversions to church, and mosque, and artillery depot; the constant defilement from fires, explosives and Catholic zealots— a few thousand tacky T-shirts and crappy baseball caps aren't going to do it any harm. 

We walk around it, jaws forever lowering into idiotic gapes, and we also take in it's smaller but still impressive sister the Erechtheion, the temple and tomb where Poseidon & Athena were supposed to have vied for bragging rights over Athens, in whose foundation a snake protector was supposed to have been coiled. We want to linger and soak in the godly glow, but it's hard to be properly reverential when your son is running into Italian tour groups while swinging an imaginary light saber, and your niece is entirely over the whole event and demanding to be taken home.  Nothing like children to swing you back to the present.

Later, while Doug is resting and Benj is allowed his his own sacred time in front of his holy gaming device (believe me, he had to write an essay about what he saw first; screen time is no "gimme") I wonder through the streets of the Plaka region, getting happily lost. A rotund Greek man befriends me and accompanies me three blocks to the main square, also to his dark bistro where he invites me in to sit with his three special lady friends. Ah, what's Greek for "You're barking up the wrong tree"? I decline ("Ohi torra, efkharisto") and wend my way back to Xenodoheo Electra and a lovely meal of lamb with lemon sauce and fried potatoes. Everything is gloriously drenched in that miraculous olive oil. Tomorrow—Delphi!

Update: Dear God, it wasn't 5:45 when I woke up— I read the watch wrong. It was 3:45. Benj woke up too and later I roused Doug to eat breakfast at 7 only to find that I was 2 hours too early. Oops. Can one get late onset jet lag?