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/
chasing/
pottytalking/
underarmfarting/
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.





2 comments:

  1. James, how beautifully you have described your environs
    and your activities. What a gift being able to read these
    accounts and dream of one day going to Greece. Benjamin
    sounds like a great traveler and very adventurous. Imagineeating those fish eyes...he's been brought up well.
    What fantastic way to celebrate twenty years together. It's so difficult to realize it has been that many years.
    My final thought is "Safe home", in spite of your already
    being there.
    Love to all, Mary

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