Athens to Venice

Star Clipper

July 7th to 10th, 2010  (Time with friends in Greece)

(7/7) We left Orlando via Lufthansa at 8:15 PM for our 8-hour flight to Frankfurt. We upgraded to business class, which meant excellent comfort and service and easier sleep with the later departure.  Service on this flight was exceptional... erased bad memories from a few years ago.

(7/8) Arrived in Frankfurt at 11:15 am, then had to walk what seemed like miles to get to the A-Terminal before we could relax in the Lufthansa Lounge until our 2:00 flight to Athens. Unfortunately our departure was delayed another 45 minutes due to a back-up from a Greek labor strike earlier in the day! We arrived in Athens at 6:15 and were met by our friends Ilias and Rania, who we hadn’t seen since our last visit nine years ago and they hadn’t changed a bit. They graciously took us to their beautiful apartment in an Athens suburb, where we enjoyed a snack of wonderful fruits and cheeses, toasted our reunion with ouzo (of course!), then headed to their former hometown of Elefsina – only a 20 minute ride on the new expressway. There we enjoyed a delicious seafood feast outdoors at their friend Alex’s restaurant “Trata” – our favorite from our trip here in 2001. We shared countless dishes of crab, mussels (crispy breaded and also tender sautéed), grilled calamari, octopus, a local fish, salad, and then the sweetest honeydew melon I’ve ever tasted. The highlight of the dinner was the arrival of their son George who we hadn’t seen since they visited us for 10 days to ring in the Millennium. He now is a strapping, handsome young man of 28, completing his compulsory year in the service. We ended a wonderful evening at the beautiful bar-café “Cyceon” co-owned by Ilias and his brother. (More about that tomorrow, as we’ll spend time there in the afternoon…) We got back to Athens at 1:00 AM! Sleep was restless, but the balmy, breezy weather is outstanding.

(7/9) We awoke to another gorgeous day, and since Ilias had to work, we opted to take it easy and rest up for a busy evening ahead. After coffee and a light breakfast on the balcony, Paul took advantage of computer access to catch up on emails. Rania and I went to a nearby shopping mall to buy a coffeemaker for George’s new office, where he and his partner are going into the solar energy business. The massive 5-story mall had surprisingly few shoppers, a sign of the economic troubles here. Rania told me that those who have worked hard and given money to the government are “not happy, because now the government has no money and everyone must work 40 years or until age 65.” We had coffee overlooking the 2004 Olympic complex – now empty and rarely used – sad…

Back at the apartment Rania fixed a delicious late lunch salad of warm potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions and feta, accompanied by wonderful bread, thick Greek yogurt and honey. She’s teaching me some basic Greek phrases so that we can navigate easier when we visit some of the islands during our upcoming cruise. Experience has shown that the locals really appreciate it when you try to speak a little of their language. After a relaxing afternoon we headed back to Elefsena at 6:30 and enjoyed many delicious Greek delicacies at Cyceon, including Crete salad, smoked chicken – and , of course, more ouzo.

Next we walked to the other side of town to an abandoned old mill that was turned into a courtyard theater venue for a unique, unusual and special performance of Prometheus Bound. The program was a bit bizarre – a collaboration between three theater companies – one each from Greece, Germany and Turkey – the European “Capitals of Culture for 2010.” The actors did their performance in an ultra-modern dramatic fashion of strenuous poses and loud voices in all three languages, making it challenging to follow – but it was an interesting experience. We appreciate our hosts’ generosity in buying tickets for this special show, since there were only two performances in all of Greece – and they happened to be in Elefsina.

After the show ended around 10:30 we walked back to Cyceon for yet more food and drink. Greeks LOVE to party! The bar-café is an absolute delight, and it’s no surprise that Ilias and his brother Andreas are so proud. They found an old house in ruins with a beautiful view of the famous (and night-lit) architectural ruins of Eleusis and have turned it into an inviting place to relax with friends. The menu contains countless beverage options from coffees and teas to every kind of alcoholic treat. The food choices are wonderful – simple, but high quality plates for any time of day or night. Some specialties we enjoyed were crabmeat, smoked chicken from Sparta, tomato salad with skim milk cheese from Chania (Crete), Sfakiani pie, and much much more. The word “Cyceon” refers to an Ancient Greek drink made mainly of water, barley, herbs, and possibly wine. It was used at the climax of the Eleusinian Mysteries to break a sacred fast, but also was a favorite drink of the Greek people. In an attempt to solve the mystery of how so many people over the span of two millennia could have consistently experienced revelatory states, it’s suspected that the barley used in the Eleusinian cyceon was parasitized by ergot, a fungus with psychoactive properties. Another late night after a wonderful day!

(7/10) We had a relaxing morning to allow exhausted Ilias to sleep late, then headed to the port of Piraeus, stowed our luggage in a locker at the ship passenger terminal. Next we boarded a passenger ferry to the nearby island of Aegina for the afternoon. We took ilias’ powerboat from the main marina to the town of Perdika (means “grouse”) where they are building a retirement home. It’s a charming place and we enjoyed yet another delicious meal of small crispy fish (gavros), tomato and feta salad, stuffed grape leaves, sautéed greens, & creamy roasted potatoes. We took a walk up the hillside to see the foundation of their retirement dream home, which will be beautiful when finished. He decided to leave his powerboat in the small Perdika harbor until next week, so we returned to Aegina by taxi, then enjoyed some dessert at the marina before heading back to Pireaus by the “fast ferry” (30 min. vs. 75), arriving at 6 PM.

Continued on Star Clipper