Sunday, December 27, 2015

Just like that, a weird family tradition was born

You know how sometimes people look at the families of their origin and think, "There's no way I belong here"? 

I do not have that dilemma. You see, I come from a family that, when I say, "We should do Chopped for Christmas!" the response is, "Yeah, OK." And there is zero sarcasm.

Here's what we did: each of us filled a box with four ingredients, for an appetizer, side, main dish and dessert. This was over Thanksgiving. This morning, after we opened the expected packages, we opened up the exciting boxes: Chopped! We drew dishes to make sure we each got boxes that were not our own. Mom and I wanted dessert. Josh did not. Guess what he drew?

Appetizer (box put together by Josh, cooked by Heidi)

Ingredients: Chipotle Cheddar Gardetto's snack mix, chorizo, Funkmeister (pronounced with a throaty German deep U sound like "foonk") and jalapenos

After much back and forth, which included stuffed jalapenos, twice baked potatoes, some sort of tower that included a hash brown base and fried cheese balls (I should add that this cheese was very strong. I love a good, sharp cheese, but this was foonky.), I settled on a variation of sausage balls. the balls were made of grated sweet potatoes (partly because sweet potatoes have a mild, sweet flavor that will go nicely with spicy sausage, hot peppers and foonky cheese, mostly because sweet potatoes are delicious and I eat them whenever I can), chorizo, a little bit of jalapeno and some cheese, then rolled in crushed Gardettos. My initial plan was to bake them, and I did, then was seized with the horrifying remembrance that these bake for 45 minutes and we were eating appetizers in less than 30.

Plan B: Fry them, partly because frying is quicker and will give them a nice crunch and mostly because frying is delicious and I do it whenever I can). So while half the balls baked, the other half became nice little sweet potato sausage patties that Mom insisted in calling croquettes. The hard part was knowing if the chorizo was actually cooked, since it blended into the sweet potatoes. The good news is we all ate them and it's two days later and no one's thrown up yet, so it was cooked!

The other good news is sausage balls actually take 20 minutes to cook, not 45, so everyone got two baked balls and one fried patty and a Funkmeister-jalapeno cheese dipping sauce that definitely made my mouth burn.

It was seriously good. I don't want to brag, but Josh did drink the cheese sauce when he was done with the yam-sausage bites.

Main dish (box by Mom, cooked by Rachel)
Ingredients: pork tenderloin, chestnuts, forbidden rice and red wine (I feel like Mom would want me to mention that Josh brought the wine at Thanksgiving and left it here; she did not buy it or otherwise do anything with it but enjoy it when she ate Rachel's dish.)

We all agreed on the pork tenderloin beforehand so everyone could do a little mental preparation beforehand, since wrongly cooked pork is a little more problematic than wrongly cooked brownies or vegetables. (This was Rachel's first time cooking pork tenderloin, or any pork that's not bacon or sausage.) We also all looked up instructions for a red wine reduction sauce, except for Mom, who kept talking about how she really wanted to do her own box and kept being told no.

After roasting chestnuts in a closed oven, she made forbidden rice pilaf with roasted chestnuts and walnuts and dried cherries, beat the pork, stuffed it and roasted it, basting with red wine reduction. (Fact: When a bunch of Mormons cook with alcohol, you hear lots of comments about how strongly said alcohol smells. Really strongly, in case you were wondering.) The dish, like the photo I took, came out dark but tasted quite good.

Side dish (box together by Heidi, cooked by Josh)

Ingredients: Nori seaweed crunchy peanuts, Vermont cheddar chesse, stir fry noodles and grapefruit

Our one rule in putting together these boxes was, "Don't be a jerk." Obviously we want it to be a little challenging and we wanted some unique dishes, but this is Christmas dinner and we are all eating it, so chicken-in-a-can is a no-no. I couldn't decide if sticking cheddar cheese into this box was a jerk move. The other three have kind of an Asian persuasion; you can definitely make a sauce out of grapefruit juice and toss some peanuts in there with the noodles. But the cheese? When I thought of what I would do with my box I came up with a stir fry served atop a cheddar cheese biscuit of some kind.

Josh went another direction. He made salad with lettuce, cabbage, avocado and cheese with a grapefruit-peanut vinaigrette and paired it with peanut stir fry noodles topped with lamb meatballs. If all ramen noodles tasted like these ramen noodles, more people would eat ramen noodles. (I even ate a bite of salad with avocado to get the full experience. Then I eschewed the rest of the avocado. I do not do avocado.)

Dessert (box by Rachel, cooked by Mom)

Ingredients: brown rice, blue cornmeal, cream, crystallized ginger, chocolate graham crackers

Mom opened her box last. When Rachel saw what the rest of us had done, she said she thought she was the nicest in putting her box together. We did not agree. Pre-cooked, vacuum-packed brown rice? Cornmeal? 

Fortunately, since we had all day and were all eating together there was a fair amount of picking of other people's brains going on. Mom initially thought of a pie. Rachel's plans for it included ginger ice cream with everything being built around that. Somehow we landed on the idea of brittle or toffee made with brown rice and a parfait. After a somewhat failed attempt at cornmeal shortbread (cornmeal is delicious, but it does not soak up/adhere to liquid quite the same way flour does), another attempt at cornmeal cookies and very long brittle-making process, Mom put together a parfait with ginger custard, with chunks of graham cracker/brown rice brittle in it, topped with a cornmeal cookies, whipped cream, crystallized ginger and cocoa nibs. She definitely won on presentation, and the weird flavors and kind of funky parts actually came together in a way that worked. 

And that was Chopped Christmas 2015! I'm responsible for acquiring an apron and writing the year and my name on it. (I won.) The next time we do it I'll pass it on to the next winner. 

Now if you'll excuse, I only have 364 days to figure out ingredients for my box next year. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Crazy | Beautiful

Two weeks ago my alarm was going off to wake me up to get the airport in Athens. It's about time I downloaded pictures and wrote a post that's not on my phone.

The problem is, I sat down at my computer with no idea of what angle to take. Should I just write a blog post about each place? Except Thessaloniki; all that needs to be said has been said and nothing else needs to be said. Should I go thematic: ruins, beaches, sunsets? That could work, except we're talking about Greece here, which is pretty much entirely ruins, so that would be super long, and I love sunset pictures, as you've all seen, but how many do you really want to look at it in a row? Stymied, I scrolled through my pictures. One theme jumped out.

That theme was: holy cow, Greece is so freaking beautiful I can't even handle it. Allow me to give you a tour of just a few of the postcard-worthy views in this beautiful country.

The Parthenon

 I debated which photo of this beautiful temple to post, because none did it justice. This shows only one side of it, and it's a short side. But it hides a lot of the construction and restoration equipment on the other side and gets a little closer to the pillars and the engravings at the top. The Parthenon is a shell of what it used to be. A fire, Christians and Lord Elgin each did a number on the temple of Athena in her holy city. What's left remains inspiring, however.

This was a surprisingly spiritual experience for me. I do not now nor have I ever worshipped the Greek gods, but looking at this magnificent structure, pondering on what the early Greeks sacrificed to build it, made me think about what I sacrifice for my God today, and if it will withstand the wars, disasters and potentially destructive effects of time.

The Acropolis

I climbed to the top of the Panathenaic Stadium for this view. In it the cranes and scaffolding disappear, as do the tourists that I know thronging the Parthenon. All you see is the hill rising out of the city below.

The beach around Athens

I'm sure there are ugly beaches somewhere, but they just seem built for being picturesque. The sun behind the clouds, the light reflecting off the water, the water making the sand look dark in contrast. At one point the airplanes all flew in formation in front of the sun and I wished I had a camera ready, but I also realized I don't want to experience my vacation through a camera lens. If I wanted to just see pictures of Greece, there are much better photographers taking much better pictures. I want my pictures to remind me of what I saw in Greece.

 The Temple of Apollo in Delphi on the side of the mountain

A surprising amount of the oracle's compound is still standing. There's a marble stadium, a treasury and a theater that are largely intact. This was where the ancient Greeks went for wisdom. I think maybe that was because it was so quiet. It is almost on the top of a mountain, far away from Athens, difficult to get to when you're not on a bus that seems wider than the streets of this tiny town and the others we passed through to get there. This vista is when I realized I missed the mountains -- not enough to move back to mountains, but enough to wish Lubbock were a little less flat.

Getting closer to heaven

Can you make out the monasteries, perched on the edge of cliffs? There's one on the left and one or two on the far right. Can you imagine getting out of bed, looking out the window and seeing this view every day? 

Yup, another sunset. Meteora is pretty much beautiful in any light. If you go to Greece, this is worth the trip to the innards of the country. Athens is cultural and exciting and the islands are absolutely beautiful, but Meteora is its own kind of breathtaking. 

Island living

A small art gallery that used to be a mosque, sitting along the old harbor in Chania, Greece. (I just wrote harbour. Apparently, since I don't know Greek, I just write in British when I'm writing about countries that are not America.)

The sea and sky were a little angry as I walked along the seawall to the lighthouse. It made it a different kind of beautiful. (It also is the reason I saw nude swimmers instead of mountain goats.) 

The Aegean Sea

That's a volcano that, several hundred years ago, created the Santorini we know and love today. (Well, the island part. The Greeks whitewashed their buildings and built swimming pools on the side of the cliff.) 

The cliffside dwellings of the modern Greeks

And you know I'm going to end with a sunset picture, right? It's yet another one from Oia, just before the sun finally dips into the sea. But trust me when I tell you, as beautiful as it is, says the humble photographer, it is nothing compared to actually watching it.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Saying goodbye to the sea

For the first time ever, a reporter wanted to talk to me on election night. It was an interesting change being on the receiving end.

Of course, being as it's Greece's election, I was useless. I had to ask the camerawoman what was happening, though I had guessed the numbers on the big screen in Syntagma Square, across the street from Parliament, were election results. They look the same in every country. 

Syriza won, by the way. The anti-austerity party of Alexis Tsipras kept the power, even after he resigned in a furor after the last bailout. I'll be curious to see how this plays out. Part of Greece's problems come because of their membership in the Eurozone, so there are only so many fixes the country can make. 

I overheard the camerawoman tell her reporter that there were more journalists than actual people there tonight. Maybe they knew what was coming. 

I only had a couple hours in Athens (after a 6-hour ferry ride, which included sitting across a table from two strangers and being jolted awake by the ferry horn) and most of that time was spent looking for a spice store. I bought salt and pepper grinders made of olive wood and wanted salt and pepper to go in them. The store was closed, however, so I'll have to get less exciting seasonings for my table. I also had one last gyro (pork is the traditional Greek way, not lamb) and one last piece of baklava (actually Turkish). 

Then I watched the changing of the guards at Parliament. This is a very solemn occasion in London. In Athens, it's more like a slow, regimental tap dance with pom-poms. I assume the soldiers train how to keep their faces straight while doing this, because I'm not sure I could not giggle. 
Google it. I'm sure the ceremony is on YouTube.

Tomorrow I leave. I have about 13 hours of actual flying, plus another seven in layovers. My taxi driver from the port tonight asked if it was worth it. I said yes. I did not tell him I'm counting the hours until I see my dog again. (42)

He wants to go to the U.S. and visit Alaska. It kinda makes me think I should see more of the sights in my backyard. This is of course assuming the entire country is my backyard. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Flying a leetle too close to the sun

You know that old-fashioned phrase "pink and white skin?" I'm not entirely sure about its specific meaning, but it was a compliment of the highest order.

I have pink and white skin today, though not in the way Anne of Green Gables would describe it. Mine is the result of bad math: too much sun, too little sunscreen. 

I spent pretty much all day at the beach near Perissa today. It's the one place in Greece with perfect beaches, sandy instead of rocky. The beach is made of black sand. 

I tried to be so careful. I take after the Northern Europeans in my ancestry when it comes to my relationship with the sun, so I stayed under an umbrella most of the time, even shifting around to keep as much person as possible in the shade. The result is a toasty right thigh, two burned shins/knees and a wee bit of redneckedness happening. It hurts, but could be much worse. 

I debated this morning going on a boat tour to the volcano. I love boats, and it sounded reasonably interesting, but I just wasn't that excited about it. So I roasted on the spit instead, occasionally marinating myself in the sea. It was actually kind of chilly for much of the day; a stiff breeze accompanied the waves. This is partly why I was surprised to discover I was sunburned. Yes, I know that's stupid. 

I successfully navigated my way back to Karterados, where my hotel is, thanks to a guy on bus yelling, "Karterados! Karterados!" and thinking in my sun-drenched haze that those buildings look familiar. Public transit is a source of great angst for me when I travel. I'm so unaccustomed to it, living in the smaller, personal vehicle-oriented cities I always have. I've never actually taken a subway in the U.S.

My leg is on fire! Drat my ancestors and their pallor. 

I went down to the old port tonight. It's something like 700 steps. These guys seem fit. 

The sun setting over Thirasia and the volcano. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Santorini is one of the circles of heaven

My left arm is sunburned. The other is not. Further proof that lefties can never catch a break?

Well, no, but excellent proof that if you hike for three hours with the sun always on your left, your left half gets a little more some. 

I finally got to hike! There's a path that leads from Fira to Oia, distance about 10 kilometers, that I wanted to do. (I'm in Santorini, by the way.) However, I was never able to track down good directions, primarily dealing with where it starts. I did know it was along the caldera the whole way, so I went to the old town and started in the general direction of Oia, sticking to the rim. 

This actually worked, though I didn't know that for sure until I was a couple miles in. So I walked to Oia. This was my view to the left:
That's the volcano. 

And this was a pretty standard view to the front:

And this was the view I went there for:
It was really beautiful. The water around Santorini is this deep blue, and then the sun sinking into it almost imperceptibly made it a special sight for me and a couple thousand of my closest friends.

Tourists annoy me so much. I realize that's wildly hypocritical, because I'm doing the exact same thing the rest are, but it's how I feel. And I think I'm way less annoying of a tourist. I don't have a selfie stick. I don't walk at the pace of a turtle, randomly stopping in front of people or taking up the whole sidewalk. I don't talk loudly or haul a suitcase up and down cobblestone sidewalks. 

No, you know what I do? I make everyone talk to me in English. I ask really stupid questions of bus drivers and people working at information booths. I walk around with a map stuck to my face. I go to the same on-the-beaten-path attractions. Yes, I am every bit as annoying as all the tourists who annoy me. I guess I'll just have to deal. 

Tomorrow I'm going to the black sand beaches on Perissa, the other side of the island, and maybe taking a boat out to the volcano. 

Another sunset picture for the road. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Going cruising--of a sort

Remember the story of the Minotaur?

Remember the story that's not in Percy Jackson?

The Minotaur is a half man, half bull that is the offspring of a beautiful white bull and a cursed queen who got the raw end of her husband's bad behavior. The fearsome beast lived in a labyrinth on Crete, and every year 14 young Athenians were sent into the labyrinth as tribute. 

One year Theseus, the son of the king, volunteered. His superhuman fighting skills felled the beast; a golden thread from Ariadne, King Minos' daughter, helped the Athenians escape. 

King Minos, the king of Crete, if he lived would have lived at Knossos, the king's palace outside of Heraklion. 

This is Knossos. 

The palace was quite large at one point, though very little of the original is actually there; more than a century ago some guy who I'm assuming is an archaeologist named Arthur Evans discovered the ruins and did a lot of reconstruction, which my guidebook tells me isn't really accepted by other archaeologists. That's also clear in many of the available informational signs; there was a lot of "Evans thought," "Evans guessed," and "according to Evans," and we all know if you cite that frequently (more than once a sentence sometimes) it's because you want the reader to know loud and clear, "This is not my idea! I don't want it." It's like the anti-plagiarism. 

This may as well read, "we're too proper to say outright we think it's a bit idiotic."

Heraklion (also called Iraklio, no one can decide what the locals call it) also has a nice wall around its much larger harbor. I walked to the end, frequently turning around to watch the sun go down over the mountains. 

Oh, I forgot my Knossos story! As I'm standing there looking at something a worker blows her whistle and yells at someone to get down. After glancing around, I saw a teenage girl standing on the rock wall, which is behind a barrier. She does not respond to the whistling and yelling, so the worker heads down there. 

The girl is off by the time the worker arrives at the girl and her mother. (I'm watching this now, because obviously drama unfolding now is more interesting than Greek stories of long ago.) The worker tells the mother to delete the photo. The mother protests; it was of the sun! Delete it, the worker says, and take one of the girl standing on the path. The mother does not delete it and starts walking away, possibly thinking this will get the worker off her back. 

Fine, the worker says, going in the same direction. Come with me and we'll talk to the police. 

The woman does not go to talk to the police. She argues some more. (Why? This isn't a standing up to the man situation.) She goes the other direction. The worker goes with her, radioing authorities ahead, insisting the woman delete the photo. 

I never saw the woman again. 

Tomorrow I have a ride on a big ship that I feel will probably not be as comfortable as the last big ship I was on. Ferries don't have the same aura as cruise ships, y'know?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Revenge of the fish: When they eat us

Let's play Jeopardy!

Answer: a place American tourists never plan to visit but somehow always find on European vacations. Rhymes with dude reach. 

Doo-doo-doo-doo-do. Do! D-do-do-do-doo-doo. 

Yup, I went to a nude beach today. Except really it was less of a nude beach and more of a beach that had a bunch of people on it, some of whom were enjoying the water without the impediment of a swimsuit. 

Did I join the natural party, you ask? I don't know, you'll have to keep reading!

(I did not. Even consider it.)

But first we'll get to the more important question: how did I have so much time for clothing optional recreation with the crazy long hike I did?

I did not hike.

I woke up at 5 a.m. with a sore throat and still coughing. It wasn't severe; I knew that. But I've had a new challenge to deal with on this trip: how to be on vacation when you are sick. Since I've left Athens I've been under the weather, with a fever, stuffy head, aching muscles and exhaustion, and just as I was coming out of that fog, the smokers cough and its respiratory fun hit. And here was another issue. 

If it was a marathon, I would do it. And hiking this gorge is probably a once in a lifetime chance. But I also don't want to be sick anymore, and I definitely don't want to be fatigued, feverish or dizzy on a strenuous hike. In the end, I asked myself this question: "If I were a responsible adult, what would I do?"

Well, I would not risk my health, of course. I slept for three more hours and woke up with no sore throat. Still working on the cough. It was the smart choice. I was proud of myself. That's why I'm writing it down. 

So now I had the day. Hania is super pretty but very small, tourism-wise. I walked to the beach (distance from hotel: 100 meters). I walked past four boats in 50 meters and realized I could replace hiking with boating. It's not quite as much fun, but I get to do it about as infrequently these days. After choosing my boat (not the one with the pushy guy who talked to me like I was stupid and tried to get me to commit right then) I went to the lighthouse. 

It's small and guards a small harbor, but they're pretty serious about their maritime activities. For the Athens Olympics in 2004 a group built a boat in the ancient Minoan style and rowed to Athens. 

I found shopping (I like shopping in foreign countries, because there's always a chance someone will comment on the item and I can say, "Thanks, I bought it in insert-interesting-place-here.") and I found grilled octopus, which, I'll be honest, I was scared to eat. The flavor wasn't bad; nothing that's grilled should be unless it's burned. But the amount of chewing. And the tentacles. Octopus violates my No. 1 rule of meat consumption: meat should not resemble the animal from whence it came. 

Then I went boating. Armed with sunscreen -- my body covers several shades on the spectrum from light ivory all the way to ghostly pallor and albino -- and gum that, based on the tingling sensation in my tongue, was either Dramamine or crack, I joined a couple dozen other intrepid travelers on our journey to an island with mountain goats and a German shipwreck above which we could snorkel. 

Except the seas were too rough. We instead went to a beautiful turquoise beach, where we stayed for two hours. There were still interesting things to look at, though. 

Oh my gosh, you guys! I meant sea urchins and this sideways fish I saw that camouflages itself in the sand. But yeah, if you glanced around on shore you got an eyeful of naked every time. There were only four or five, but it was a really small beach. 

Back on shore I consider getting a bubble massage, partly to find out what it is, and I do get a fish pedicure, which feels extremely weird. 
They rushed over to start feasting on my nasty feet. Very odd sensation. Thus is I think Thai; it's definitely not Greek, and I'm sure it's about as touristy as buying an "I ❤️ Greece" T-shirt, and I'm fine with that. And my feet feel less gross, so wins all around. 

I can recommend Hania with much the same vigor as I could not Thessaloniki: if you come to Greece, come to Crete. It's judgment-free here. 😜

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Crete is going to be a good time

Today I got off the airplane, walked straight into the terminal and had to jog a bit to grab my bag before it went around the baggage carousel. The plane had been on the ground for 10 minutes. Ryanair, folks. 

I'm now on Crete, the largest of the Greek islands. I'm in Hania, in a guesthouse in which I arranged a room in two languages, neither of which was Greek. I emailed in English and she replied in German. (My name threw her off.) Fortunately I know enough words to know she had an open room. Then, and I am not kidding here, we recognized each other on the street when I was walking past lost for the second or third time. I recognized her from her website; she recognized me from my lost puppy face. I'm now staying in the room under the stairs, and I think I saw a spider earlier. I'm hoping to wake up in Hogwarts tomorrow. 

Today was not so bad of a day, Thessaloniki-wise. Given how low my expectations were, they were actually met and even exceeded - no, just met. I went to a couple of sights, tried to make them as interesting as possible then bought lunch, went to a park and read my book for a couple hours. The bay was nice to look at. Some dogs said hello. I got on the bus to the airport, arriving three and a half hours early, which I thought showed great restraint, and read my book. The airport is small enough that instead of jetways, the airplanes are parked several hundred meters away from the airport, and passengers show their tickets, go outside, get on a bus and are bused to the airplane. Even though mine was the only flight leaving at that time and I followed the people who were in front of me and there was no other bus to get on, I was immediately seized with the fear that I was on the wrong bus. And would end up on the wrong plane. I did not, for the aforementioned reasons and because a flight attendant checked all of our tickets as we got on. 

Also, Ryanair loads from the front and back doors simultaneously. Any chance we can look into that, every other airline?

Tomorrow I hike!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Opportunity costs are higher in euros

In an episode of the sometimes sweet but ultimately ill-advised final season of "How I Met Your Mother," Barney and Robin point out several attractive, available friends and family members to Ted and suggest their favorite. He opts for someone else. 

At this point a guest star appears - not the beautiful woman he should have waited for, not The Rock. (Not sure what his role would be, but I feel he could work in anything.) No, remember in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," when the German guy is picking the Holy Grail? The white knight simply tells him to choose, then watches impassively as the dude drinks, smiles - and starts melting from every orifice in his body. 

"You chose," the knight intones, in a performance that deserves an Oscar, "poorly."

The knight shows up at the wedding. It's not good news for Ted. 

Guess who else chose poorly?

I debated not coming to Thessaloniki at all and spending more time among the ruins in southern Greece. But I liked that it was less touristy and I could look for a little more off the wall things to do. 

I should have just gone to the walls. Thessaloniki is boring and ugly. If you ever consider a vacation to Greece, I want you to think of me yelling, in a hoarse chain-smoking voice because that's how I sound after two days breathing this soup, "Do not go to Thessaloniki!"

We're done here. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Needing to vent

OK, I'm going to say something controversial and then move onto pretty pictures and the new thing I learned about theater today. The entire developed, and much of the developing world, basically beats America on health. Their diets are better, they exercise more, they work fewer hours a week and get more paid time off. So how have they not gotten the memo about lung cancer? Almost everybody smokes here! That includes Europe generally and Greece specifically. I can't get away from it. The only way my room doesn't reek of smoke is when the balcony door to the very loud street is open. Inside the bus station. Who allows smoking inside public buildings? Or near them? Or in areas with lots of kids? Or in restaurants, even the outdoor variety? Do they know what cigarette smoke does to food and how you taste it?

I do! Because I have a smoker's cough now. It's horrible. And it's near impossible to escape from. If this were the U.S., I would be vigorously arguing that other people's right to smoke is directly in conflict with my right to breathe. 

My rant is over. I'm now in Thessaloniki, the "second capital" of Greece. I wavered on coming here; it's well-known for its shopping and partying, both of which I love if it's Opposite Day. But it also has a much different history than Greece; while the Greek traditions are there, for centuries it's been a hub between different regions and religions, so it kind of grew up differently. 

Also, whoever put together the two museums I've been to had a fantastic sense of humor. While listening to an audio guide about Macedonian history I heard a hurried "change the paper!" as the recorder went down the script. A lot more than food was at stake when people went hunting:

I've always said if I had to kill my own meat I'd go veg in a second, but if I couldn't eat on my couch -- I might kill a boar for that. 

The audio guide also used the phrase "diochronic stratigraphy" as if it's common knowledge. This is a diochronic stratigraphy:

Use this phrase in a sentence today and I bet you feel super smart. 

And my favorite bit of trivia was from a section on theatre, in which the reader learns that although actors did not wear masks, but that yes, ugly people could still act. They had evidence. This needs to be mentioned in an internationally known museum?!

Oh, and I forgot a couple of Heidi's a winner moments. I got to my hotel, got into the tiniest elevator I've ever seen--I barely fit sideways with my backpack; two adults might have fit if they were normal size and liked each other some. I get to my floor and I cannot get the door open. I couldn't remember how I'd walked in 10 seconds prior. I'm trying to slide it open, but it stays stubbornly shut. I go down to the second floor then back to the third. I don't want to go down to the ground floor and wave for help, but at any point someone could call for the elevator. Finally, in frustration, I pushed. The door swung open. 

Getting to my hotel, though, was a thing of beauty, brought to you by luck, poor planning and Google Maps. I looked up the location before leaving Kastraki, arrived in Thessaloniki and pulled it up. It provided the hotel's location but not mine. I decided to take a cab, pulled out my confirmation email and found one address: mine. I don't need that! So I have no address and a large street. I went out to the local buses, found three lines that ran down that street, bought a ticket and got on the first of the three to leave, praying it went the right way and my hotel had a large sign. 

The bus turned right just about when Google Maps woke up, and I stepped off the bus 10 feet from my hotel. Anyone watching would have thought I knew what I was doing. 

Please remember that and not that I got stuck on an elevator. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Suspended in the air

In the 14th century, monks came to mountainous central Greece, looked at the towering cliffs and said, "That looks like a good place to build a monastery."

And they did -- 24 of them, most on top of or built into the mountain. 

Did I mention this was in the 1300s? They had to climb up, build pulleys and then haul the materials up. One monastery needed 70 years just to get the stone up. 

Meteora, which means "suspended in the air," now has only six monasteries; the rest were all abandoned a century or many centuries ago. Four of those actually were abandoned as well, but the locals climbed up and maintained a few of the bigger ones, and the monks returned in the 20th century. Or in two cases, nuns came. When the monasteries opened women were not allowed in them for any reason, and then there was a fire and women from the village were the first responders. The monks let the women in, which allowed nuns, centuries later, to move in. 

I only went into one; I took a sunset tour instead of my planned hike. The guide pointed out a brightly colored cave, which was decorated with scarves. It dates back centuries to a young Muslim couple who moved to Kastraki. A tree fell on the man, badly injuring him, and his wife ran to village to get help. The villagers came back with her but said he was hurt too badly and would die. In desperation, she pulled off her head scarf and offered it to St. George if her husband would survive. He did. Now new scarves go up annually to remember the miracle. 

Scheduled tours really are not my favorite thing, but I love hearing stories like that.

We also saw hermit caves, in which people, usually monks, would climb to a cave, build a scaffolding of some sort and live there, depending on locals to bring them food, water and other needs. Yes, if you're wondering, it gets cold here. I assume they just dealt it. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Journey to the center of the world

Thank goodness for Google Maps. 

The app allows me to search for a route, pick the public transit option with very specific detail and then track the bus so I know when to push the button to get off. 

Actual Google Maps has been doing this for ages, but I just discovered the app yesterday. I'm a fan. I spent way less time lost today than anticipated. Of course, only part of that is the app. The other part is the town for which I left Athens has about 1,200 people and only a few streets, so my hotel was roughly 200 meters from the bus station. And the bus station was a cafe. 

Delphi is the center of the world for Greeks; it has something to do with a rock Zeus threw down that landed on the side of Mount Parnassus, high above the Gulf of Corinth. 

It's a beautiful little town, home to the temple of Apollo and a temple to Athena. The museum recreates as much of the temple artwork as possible. Plus, a worker told someone taking a picture not to pose in front of the objects. I don't know what the pose was, but I support the action. 

I also realized how much I miss the mountains. I didn't particularly enjoy them when I lived around them, but walking among these mountains reminded me they can be beautiful. 

I also remembered how much I like having my own room. I tell myself hostels are fun and it's good for me to be around people, but I have private rooms for the rest of the trip, and I'm very glad. 

Especially to have my own bathroom. Can you find the flusher? It took me a minute. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I must be pretty in Greece

Today was a great day. 

It began before people started leaving for work or their sightseeing with a run through the National Gardens. 

It moved into a food tour, which included such treats as feta, honey, feta with honey, this donut-like thing with honey, spanakopita, custard-filled pastry, fresh grapes, pastrami (the Greek version) and more. It also included trying camel meat and walking through the meat market, which had skinned but otherwise whole animal heads. I wasn't repulsed at all. 

( I was.)

Then, after a long morning of walking slowly, eating and making new friends, I went to the beach. I've decided this will be my backup plan for any and all free time a reasonable distance from a beach. I alternated between lying on the beach and lying in the water. The temperature even dropped enough that I didn't get sunburnt... much. 

Shortly after I woke up from a nap in a panic ("Someones going to steal my stuff if I fall asleep in the water! Wait, I'm on the beach using my stuff as a pillow. And I have much bigger problems if I fall asleep in the Aegean Sea.") I'm debating whether to go in one way more time. It's pleasant in the water, but it's nice on the beach too. Vacation decisions, man! They are the worst. 

Then some guy a few feet away asks if I'll take his picture. I said yes, took one, went for another while he tried to strike a sexy pose (this is true, I made a mental note to make fun of him.), then he motioned at my towel and his, as if to move them together. Note: he spoke French, but his phone was on an Arabic-looking language. We did not communicate well. Which is fine, he just needed me to take a couple more pictures. Fine. More chest out sexy shots. And we're done!

Is what I would say if he'd just sat back on his towel and left me alone. Instead, he moved his stuff over to me, spread it out, asked if I wanted something to drink and began systematically removing the physical objects between us and brushing sand off my back. 

Where is my go-to-hell look when I need it?!? I am not friendly. I have no come-hither look. I did not look hot in any way, shape or form. We couldn't even talk to each other, for crying out loud. I didn't know his name. 

That did not stop him from, in less than 10 minutes, putting his arm around me and going in for a kiss. Dude, no. 

This, by the by, should not stop you from solo traveling if you're so inclined, but you should be aware that people approach single women more and more aggressively. Fortunately, no is universally understood, though you may have to say it several times while you're getting up and leaving. 

Fun fact: I was wondering how long I had to stay to be polite, and then I remembered a line from "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt" when one of the hostages told Matt Lauer she went with the kidnapper to be polite and he said, "I'm amazed at what women will do to be polite." 

So I was rude! Except I think my rudeness was quite swallowed up in his invasion of my personal space because he wanted to. Anyway, the no word. Say it loud and say it often (unless you are one of my friends' toddlers). 

I did not leave the beach, however. I went somewhere else and stayed a few more minutes, long enough to catch an air show from Greece's fighter pilots. It was fun -- probably even worth the raging headache I now have because of the stress of lying around doing nothing. Pity me. 
Hot dogs or my legs?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Of death masks and produce sluts

I've never traveled anywhere as tumultuous as Greece is right now, so I thought it would be an interesting project to talk to Greeks and share their stories here.

That is not why I stopped to talk to Bill, who owns a vegetable stand at the fruit and vegetable market. I stopped because he gave me an olive. 

If this story ended differently, it would make a great movie trailer. 

This is Bill. He moved from Saudi Arabia when he was 16. That is what passes for a smile from Bill. 

We started chatting because he gave me olives and got super excited when I told him I'm from Texas, as people do. He gave me grapes while we talked about other things in Greece I should do. He handed me a peach as we discussed politics (he thinks Greece's government is bad, likes President Obama, doesn't like President Bush), and he threw the pit away when I'd eaten the entire sweet, juicy orb. He gave me a funky tomato to try as we discussed his life. 

He asked what I did for work. I showed him pictures of my dog. He told me the best places to drink and was shocked that I don't drink. He doesn't either; he's Muslim. He's never met anyone else who abstains. He talked about maybe moving to Canada because there were better job opportunities there, and I told him if he ever went to the western United States he should go hiking in southern Utah. 

The chat turned into an actual conversation. The other vendors were packing up for the night. He gave me more tomatoes and a cucumber and wouldn't let me pay. And then he asked if I like Indian food, and we had a date. 

Yup. Two days in Greece and I have as many dates as I've had in 19 months in Texas, and I had to work way less hard to get it. 

Anyway, we had Indian food and talked about marriage (seriously-he brought it up. He's 26 and Muslim. His mother thinks it's time.) and yadda-yadda-yadda we're walking back. I then had to explain what else Mormons famously abstain from. He was horrified. And then he asked I liked him and made me promise to see him tomorrow night. 

Well, tried to get a promise, I should say. We had a super awkward define-the-relationship conversation (just kill me now) in which I refused to commit because I'm not spending my last night in Athens with him if there's no future (hello, long distance relationship, I don't think so) and there is a possibility that he doesn't think I'm really that serious about absolutely no sex. Which I thought Muslims believed in too, which is why I didn't consider the produce to be flirting.
Also because I am super dense in the man/relationship department. Somebody help me. And there was the small fact that I didn't want to see him again. 

Anyway, while most of the night was fun (he walked away in a huff), I may rethink my "talk to normal Greeks" experiment. 

Also today: I climbed a steep hill with a tiny church on top, passed a dog climbing up on my way down, got very lost looking for the National Archaeological Museum, got in trouble for touching a thousand-year-old throne, are a pig-shaped chocolate mousse thing, are a gyro, cursed myself for avoiding them when I saw them in Europe, wondered just what part of the animal made up that cone, found a skirt for 1 euro (it'll breathe better in the heat) and went to a war museum that, just like all the rest, have been disappointing compared to the Imperial War Museum, on which all museums should be based. I also saw a lot of police officers -- like more than 50 throughout the day. Several were collected around what appeared to be a SWAT van. One was guarding something with a gun. Several were watching a group of men standing outside a building. I don't know what it was and how much danger they presented, but just to be safe I stopped and watched for a little while. I didn't want to miss something exciting.