The last three days have been a whirlwind tour through the Peloponnese and southern/central Mainland Greece. Dad apparently signed us up for an ancient sites tour that hits all of the highlights -- the Acropolis at Mycenae, the theater at Eusomethingides, ancient Olympos, Delphi (home of the Oracle of old), and, as an extra little bonus, we get to go to Meteora and visit one or two of these little monasteries perched hundreds of feet up on these hideously high rocks that just stick up from the land like ... giant slabs of rock stuck end-in to the earth. roaminrob would love them. Except then he'd have to change his user name to greekrob, and that would throw everyone off.
Tonight, we are at a small town at the base of these rocks. It is refreshingly non-touristy, by which I mean to say that only every other shop is full of tchotchkes rather than every single shop; I have been inside a restaurant where absolutely nobody speaks any more English than I do Greek (and still managed to order two gyros, go me); and prices are merely inflated rather than stratospheric. Heartened by this lack of inflation -- I think I'm allergic to tourist traps -- I actually managed to do some tchotchke shopping in order to get some souvenirs for kadyg. Oh, and I'm sitting in the cheapest of three Internet cafes within the span of a block. For being stuck in a small farming community, downtown Kalamedes (I think that's the name -- otherwise I'll have to fix this in post-production) is quite the little high-tech haven.
I've found, actually, that this describes Greece in a nutshell. Old and new in equal parts, quilted together haphazardly, a patchwork that most first- or third-world residents would find bizarre but which is just accepted by Grecians as a fact of life. Cell phone use has caught on like wildfire, but you can still drive down a major highway (two lanes! Occasionally three!) and pass tractors and shepherds leading flocks of sheep across the road. Head into a city, and you're equally likely to find rows of Spanish-tiled roofs over pristine whitewashed walls, or a jigsaw of buildings wedged together in a way that makes sense as long as you don't look at it too closely because your eyes will start to hurt.
Either way, you will see abandoned buildings casually strewn about, and the concrete skeletons of new construction sitting by idly, unattended. Nobody pays either any mind.
In fact, Greeks are remarkably laid-back about everything. We -- my sister and I -- went to buy ice cream tonight right before heading to the Internet cafe. We walked into the shop; a single person was there, sitting at a table and eating ice cream. We went up to the counter. He asked us if we wanted to get ice cream; we answered in the affirmative ... and so he ran out to fetch the owner, leaving the shop totally unattended. The owner rushed in, got Sarah's scoop, and rushed out again, telling us to leave a euro on the counter.
Even this wasn't quite as impressive as the liquor store we entered, which was empty when we arrived. A liquor store. If there were any thieves at all, that would probably be target No. 1. Especially since the door was wide open, there were all sorts of bottles (even by the door) simply laying loose and easily accessible, and, well, booze.
Road signs are in both Ellinika [Greek] and Anglika [English] lettering. Billboards are about 50-50. Shops' street signs are a complete toss-up, depending on where you are. Virtually everything geared toward tourists is in English, and even some others besides. Even some of the graffiti.
My brain's sort of scattered at the moment, and I'm talking to Kady in the background thanks to the wonders of AIM Express, so instead of trying to segue this line of thought into all of the other places I wanted to go, I'll just turn it into a FAQ. Well, an AQ, since I've only got one person to ask me questions. But feel free to pose other questions in comments, although I won't get to answer them until I get to another Internet cafe and have more free time.
What kind of music are you hearing?
Music is a mixed bag. The Internet cafes play mostly English-language pop. Tourist traps play traditional Greek folky stuff, but almost noplace else I've been to. Actually I haven't gotten to hear much music at all -- the trip since we left Athens has been a whirlwind of museums and antiquity sites.
Have you been to a grocery store yet?
No grocery stores, but there are little outdoor market kiosks everywhere that are like little mini outdoor 7-11s. Complete with a freezer and refrigerator case and lights for night operation, they must have some sort of contract for power. (When I said "No grocery stores" I mean I haven't visited one; there seem to be plenty around although they are smaller than the huge American ones.)
What have you seen that you didn't expect?
The lack of dragons. Gryphons are well represented in the historical record, they were a big symbol in Mycene times. Dragons not so much.
Is your keyboard like a regular one or does it have greek characters too?
Keyboard is mostly English. Many letters have the Greek characters with no English equivalent labeled on the bottom corner. There is, or is supposed to be, an "Alt.Gr" key that switches you over to typing them.
What's the oddest thing you've eaten?
Actually, I think the winner is a small fruit plucked fresh off of a tree. I believe the guide called it a koumera. It's small, a little bigger than cherry size. Starts green, turns yellow, ripens to red. Looks sort of like a sea urchin (the dead kind, with nubblies instead of big spines). It was pleasant enough but apparently not really exceptional enough that people do anything with it besides make jams and maybe eat a few off of trees. Not a cultivated crop. I can't even find the word in my Greek/English dictionary.
Is it warm there?
Well, for October, it's pretty nice. About the same, maybe 10 degrees cooler than our part of California. I've been comfortable with T-shirt, vest borrowed from Mom, and generally a sweatshirt (although running around the ruins trying to get all my photos on the tight time schedule of the tour is helping me work up a sweat).
Also, the Mediterranean is awesomely warm. I'm really aching for a swim. With the caveat that we've stayed at a few hotels with pools, and none of those have been anything but glacial.
Are the cats friendly?
The cats are very friendly. There are strays everywhere. Well, really, "strays". Because many pets are taken care of by everyone. Street cats (and dogs -- in equal measure) are often spayed/neutered, and kept fed and groomed by a large succession of different people.
How's the dessert?
The desserts are wonderful. Actually the most memorable sweet thing for me has been breakfast = yogurt with honey. Except it's Greek yogurt, which is thicker than sour cream and laden with flavor. And local honey. Very very good. But today we had some tasty galaktoboudiko (filo dough with sweet farina and honey).
Have you been to any fast food places?
Yes, pretty much. There -are- some American inroads -- I saw some golden arches in the tourist district of Athens from the bus as we left -- but by and large, "fast food" seems to consist of places that serve gyros, and/or pizza, and/or dinner crepes, and/or maybe a few things that are hamburgers in name.
Mostly when I want cheap food I go slumming and get a gyro for about 1.50 euros at some hole in the wall catering to students or locals.
If you have some time, try to find the paper with the topless chick on page 3. I think it's London Daily Mail, but I could be remembering that wrong.
I'll look. Actually, there is a surprising amount of merchandised sex in the tourist shops. A lot of them sell (the same deck of) "Greek Sex" playing cards with images from ancient vases. Also a calendar with the same stuff. And the statuary in the tchotchke shops includes many naked chick statues. Also a minotaur with a huge erection who is eating a human leg, and some sort of demon thing with a penis up to nearly its neck.
Anyway, y'all take care. Tomorrow, up to the Meteora monasteries, then back to Athens. Sunday, I start heading back to the U.S. Trip's over halfway done. Very glad for the experience so far.