Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thanksgiving I spent in Meteora, which is one of the most beautiful and holy places in the world. Perched high up on several cliffs are something like 10 monasteries... And I cant even begin to describe what it was like. I took pictures with my manual, so as soon as I can bum pictures that Liz and Jennie took, I will put them up for you. Dinner, in case you were wondering, was quite an experience. The inn we stayed at had a taverna attached, and the woman who owned it cooked chicken for me, lamb for the others in the fireplace... It was sooooooooo good! Didn't miss turkey one bit (though some pumpkin pie would have been nice....) anyway, that was wonderful, pictures to come.

Ioannina (small city northern Greece near Albania)

Saturday Jennie and rode a bus from Kalambaka to Ioannina, which was very beautiful... Driving through the mountains, the sun gradually following us, curious as to what possiblely could call us away from spectacular Meteora, we drove in and out of clouds and around bends that did not agree with Jennie's stomach, which unfortunately rejected her yogurt and honey breakfast in protest. I was alright, though. Everyone on the bus agreed that it was the quietest and most polite "sick" that they had ever witnessed. Coming down the mountain into Ioninna, the city was completely blanketed by cloud. Above it was a beautiful sunny morning, beneath it was almost depressingly gloomy, and sort of reminded us of certain parts of Michigan along the highways in rainy/snowy November (minus the snow) But within a few hours it cleared and was very nice. We walked around near the Kastro, which is a little residential area with a think stone wall near a lake-- quintessential Greek setting, I loved every minute of it and went back early the next morning to take pictures. We stopped by a tavernaki (cute little taverna) for lunch, and meet a jovial old Greek man. His name was Christos, short, little red motor bike riding, bourree wearing magician. He spoke several languages because he used to be a tight rope walker in a traveling circus, but now, he does magic shows-- but not like David Copperfield, he clarified, which was all high tech smoke and mirrors, not anything that real magicians would dapple with. Latter Jennie and I walked around Ali Pasha's mosque, did a few prostrations, etc. Ali Pasha-- not a nice man; According to my guide book, he was a "ignomious, swashbuckling tyrant" who "used the city as a base for his fiefdom which extended across much of Western Greece into modern-day Albania." All I can Say is that the mosque was beautiful. On out way out of the kastro we saw some men our age breaking into some cars... Don't worry, I suppressed that which is my mother inside of me and pretended not to notice them instead of going over there are telling them just what's what :-) At sunset, we walked along the lake and watched the snowy mountain peaks turn pink. Its fall in Greece, though in Athens you wouldn't know it. In Ioannina, the leaves have turned yellow and have begun to fall off the trees that line the lake and cobblestone streets. It was very comforting to brush through them as we walked along. That evening we heard music coming from inside a cafe, and, as we have been meaning to see some live music together, wne t in to listen. They were just rehearsing, and so I still have the few bars stuck in my head-- catchy. Jennie slaughtered me at checkers (next time we go Chinese and she wont stand a chance!) and we left for dinner at "1900 Cafe restaurant"- a very nice place housed in an old Jewish Mansion. We had mushroom rissoto, nice chicken, and the very friendly chef just kept pouring glasses of syllogi Kondi- my new favorite wine. After, we stumbled back to the taverna to meet Christos the magician, who poured us more wine, entertaining us with circus tales before Jennie had to catch her bus back to Athens.
The next day I woke early for a walk and some coffee. In the cafe, it is typical for street sellers to come up to your table and ask you to buy whatever random thing they are selling, and you brush them off. Something was different about this particular CD seller. He gave every man a pounder, every child a hug and a twirl, every woman a kiss on the check. He sat and chatted... over all a very peasant friendly character. So I decided to buy some CD's. He helped me pick out a few, absolutely delighted that I was an "Americana," his sister is in Texas. His name was Chuka, from Ethiopia, and we will meet again in Athens, I hope. For lunch Christos took me for some sipro and mezes- giant beans, psariki (ting fish you eat whole, looks disgusting, very delicious) and macaroni's. The Ouzery was as predicted filled with old Greek men, looking at football scores, appearing tired but content. Ioannina is full of young couples and old farts- my favorite mix. One step off the bus and the only faces I saw were Albanian- I was so happy. Athens, as big as it is, one would think it would be less homogeneously Greek. Ioannina- Beautiful, Cultural, Lively, but Quaint- go there next time you are in Greece.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Got hit by a car this past Thursday. You know that seen in "Train Spotting" where he gets hit by the car? Well it was really nothing like that... But I would like to say it was. No, just a bruise and a very angry Greek man who promptly yelled MELAKA as he sped away.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

During fall break, my friend Nikos took me on a road trip to see a few small Greek towns and villages along the sea and in the mountains of lower-northern Greece. I told him that I wanted to see real Greece, not Big cities or touristy islands, and it was fabulous. Above is picture of the view of the village he grew up in, Analipsi, from his Uncle's house. (More on that later).

We first drove about 3 hours out of Athens to the seaside down of Nafpoktos, which if you look on a map is directly across the water from the Pelloponese port town Patras. It was very nice, though I could see how in the summer it would be crawling with beach tourists. We stayed at a nice hotel that had a balcony that looked out onto the water, and the weather was beautiful. Nikos sometimes worked there during the summer months, and so I met lots of people. It was nice to just sit on our balcony or at a cafe in the sun and breeze, take a siesta, go for a walk along the water, eat a nice dinner, etc.

<-- does anyone know what kind of bird this is? very strange. It was hanging out with a...flock(?) of ducks.

The next day we got up early and drove to a small village called Monistraki. The place was almost dead quiet, and I was taken to a little taverna/cafe to have some cafe ellinika (Greek coffee, thicker like Turkish, sort of). I felt like I was in a movie or something... and this feeling stayed with me for the rest of my trip. It was so beautiful and so peaceful. (replace the empty coffee cups above with Corona bottles and you got yourself a commercial)

So when I was told that I was for sure going to Greece back in August, I decided that I needed to find out a bit about the country before hand. I went to the Leelanau Township Library, and checked out some language audio cassettes (sorry for the late fee, mom) and a movie on Greece that I'm pretty sure was made in the 1980's. In the video, they made some (what I thought were) ridiculous and outdated assurstions about Greece. One of them was that only Greek men hang out at cafes; women meet at church. Well let me tell you, this is still the case. I think it is fair to say that all over Greece, the most popular pass time is sitting at a cafe and drinking coffee all day long. In Athens, everyone does this. In all the rural towns I visited on this trip, the cafes were solely populated with men, primarily elderly men. They sit, drink, sometimes in silence, sometimes they move to talk with some other man or watch football on television, but no women frequent these cafes. I can only assume they were in church. it was exactly like the movie I saw, except I was there, hanging out with old Greek men, talking about election results and football scores. I was giddy the entire time, needless to say.

After Monistraki, we drove up through the mountains on roads with hairpin bends, all the while listening to Greek pop and Bazokia music (more on Bazokias later...) on the radio. Greek pop is pretty popular (haha..Sorry) but there really aren't that many different songs that came on the radio, so by day two I was singing along. I'll have to bring bask so Hip Hop cd's and give you all a performance. So mountains: beautiful. I'm just glad that it didn't rain on the trip, because I'm sure we would have died on those corners.


(side note for my mother: you see these talk skinny trees, the ones that look like they were waxed like candles? well, I'm pretty sure we have one in our yard, and i'm pretty sure I have always hated it. But now that I see these kind of trees everywhere in Greece, I think they are gorgeous, so, good choice).

We arrived in Analipsi, and we went to Nikos aunt and Uncle's house where I met some of his cousins and his aunt Maria was preparing food. No one spoke English, of course, apart from one man whom every called "the American." It was a bit frustrating for me because I would catch about every fifth word they were saying, and then when I was spoken to, I would respond in English and then five seconds later remember how to say whatever it was in Greek. My vocab is good, but sentence formation... etsi ki etsi. Most of the time I just smiled and shrugged like a idiot, spitting out "yes, no, very good, and thank you". We decided to come back later when the food was ready, and he took me to a river that he used to play in as a kid. Here is a picture of Niko being a mountain man, spearing a fish for me, how nice.

we stopped by a near by village called Poros (not the island) for a snack before lunch, and Niko ordered us submarines, a popular sweet treat for kids. This is what came out to us: A spoon, with taffy on the end-- in a glass of water. Bizarre. The idea is that you eat the taffy, and when it gets too sweet for you, you take a sip of water. "very efficient" was the only thing I could come up with to say about it. And it was very sweet, I couldn't finish mine. They come in all colors and flavors, so you know.

In the cafe with the submarines, I went in to your the W.C and when I came out I saw this woman:

She was preparing olives for jarring, which apparently involves beating them with a rock. I was so excited when I saw her; couldn't wipe the smile off my face. After, we went to the village monastery. It was little and quiet, and quite beautiful. There, we met a nun, who gave us a piture of water and some candies, which I found out is the common thing to do when visitors come to monasteries. I was eating my candy while they talked, and she asked me if I like Greece. I responded that the candy was very good. Nikos and I lit candles, and he described all the paintings and mosaics to me. It was perfect.

We went back to the house and had some amazing tiropita (cheese pie), stuffed peppers, tomatosalada, and other traditional Greek food. Siesta, and out for another meal and another sit at his Uncle's coffee shop. By this time, I actually had a few conversations with some of the men, which was a bit redeeming. That night we had homemade apple pie. You can imagine how excited I was-- apple pie in October? how perfect!! I played with Georgia, Niko's 4 year old cousin, sooooo cute. Basically, I asked her what all of her stuffed animals were (Ti einai afto? Ti einai?) and she answered, so amused that I didn't know what they were. As I was going to bed, she kissed me and whispered in my ear "S'agapaw" ("I love you"). I about died she was so cute! We got up early the next morning to drive back to Athens, all too soon. I hope to fit in another trip like this before I leave Greece. Athens is great, but it really isn't... Greece. On this trip I saw Greece, back to Athens I was returning to "Europe" as Athens is now.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I am waiting to receive pictures from various people I have traveled with before writing posts about the trips, in the mean time, I realize that I should probably say... Something. So I am picking one really cool thing that happened to be a few weeks ago, to make people like my mom happy.

Changing of the guards

So, I believe I mentioned my guard friend Nick. We have actually become relatively good friends, considering that all efforts to hang out somewhere other than the side of the road when he is on duty have been foiled. I also have met many of the guards, and am beginning to understand some of the inside- Greek army jokes (the secondary meanings of the words they have me say are amusing for the 12 year old boys among us). Helpful hint: if you want to see the real person within the uniform, go to the national gardens at 2 in the morning. At this time, everyone is chillin. The guards, unless they are newbees, are not forced to stand at attention for hours on end, they kick back, relax, and joke with the officials, policemen, pet the dogs. During these "down times" Nick and the other characters teach me how to walk like a guard, hold a gun, and tell me stories about army life, and constantly remind me of how long they have left to serve before Mykonos(!). Most of the time the Greek mentality of "hey Whatever, Thavma (fantastic/amazing)" comes out, but at other times they try to make me understand what it is like to be proud to be a guard, be the best of the soldiers and truly want to do what they are doing... Which is still some thing I dont quite understand. ok, so my story.
One night I was walking home from school around 10pm, passing the guards as always and I saw Nick. We talked for a while; the street was fairly quite. Then he says, "so, you've seen the changing of the guards a lot now?" and I said, well yes, of course, several times a day. And he said to me, "ok then, do you think you can do it?" And I jokingly, I said of course I could. But then he took off his hat, put it on my head, and pointed to his watch. "Well, its time, Liz, change them." Yes, I got to change the guards in front of the President's house in Athens. Me! It was so cool. Basically, you stand across from the two central guards with your feet together, lift your right foot up and stand shoulder width apart, hands held behind your back. Then you puff up your chest, salute, and when you put your hand down they all start moving. I was pretty stoked, and Nick said I did a great job, he was going to go on a coffee break because I had it all under control. "Just kidding."
Another note about the guards.... During they day, when they have to be... More professional... I have a special system, where when a guard recognizes me, two blinks mean hello, and then I wave and say kalimera, Yorvo! Eisai kala? Anyway, its fun. All for now, hopeful Halloween pics next post.