October 10th to 15th, 2001

            The dream from last year has come true!  In spite of the unsettling terrorist attacks on Sept. 11th, and the war starting October 7th in Afghanistan – we decided to do it!  We left Dulles Oct. 8th to Frankfurt – then to Athens, arriving ~ 1:00 PM local time on the 9th.  Ilias met us at the airport, then took us to his office through some amazing traffic before heading to his home in Elefsina about 4:30.  Rania prepared a huge feast (meant to be lunch – turned out to be dinner!) of wonderful local cheeses, roasted peppers, salmon canapés with caviar, Greek salad, roasted beef and potatoes, roasted goat, a zucchini-like vegetable, etc.!  Whew!  After a much-needed shower and nap, we headed to a local nightspot (called a “café” – “tavernas” serve meals) for MORE drinks and snacks, and met some of their friends – nice!  We stayed up talking and eating MORE food (including a wonderful cheese dessert in homemade phyllo) until 1:30 AM!

            Today Rania took a day off to give us a wonderful tour in the Peloponnese region, lasting 7 hours!  We scrambled over some immense ancient rocks in the Mycenae ruins – the capitol of the Mycenaens, who won the Trojan War and dominated Greece 1000 years before Socrates!  The fortifications and tombs date back from the 14th to the 12th centuries B.C. – incredible!  Then, after a winding drive through olive groves and little towns, we arrived in lovely Nafplion on the coast for lunch:  cheese (batter-fried), bread, shrimp, octopus, and tasty little red mullet – fried whole, plus Greek salad, of course.  After a walk and a coffee, we headed home, passing the impressive ruins of Argos, where the initial construction was thought to begin ~ 680 B.C.

            The trip back on the larger autoroute took us through some impressive countryside – large mountains – some barren, some with trees – olive groves and farmland, but no towns.  A wild land – strong – impressive.  I’m already overwhelmed, but excited, about the history of this region – factual and mythical – but all quite ancient.  Much more study is needed to better appreciate what we’ve experienced and what lies ahead.  Tonight  Paul heads to his first big soccer game:  The Olympiacos vs. Manchester United – and I’ll have dinner with Rania and her friends.   More tomorrow!…

           (10-11) Last night Paul enjoyed the 'Champions League' soccer game – but the Greeks lost 0-2.  Sadly, Ilias had his wallet stolen, so they had an adventure in the police station making the report – finally arriving home at 2:00 AM!  I had a delightful seafood and pasta feast with Rania and four of her friends (2 spoke perfect English), with the highlight a fantastic appetizer of eggplant, melted cheese and mussels --- Yum!

Now we’re just winding down from an exhausting, but exhilarating day.  Although it was hot and dusty, our bright and lovely tour guide “Laura” (grew up in Corfu – British mother, Greek father – speaks Greek, English, German and Italian – and “loves” Americans!) made our tour of the Athens Acropolis (“top of the city”) and the surrounding historic area really delightful and incredibly interesting.  We walked and climbed for hours and will need to purchase a book to record everything accurately – but it was definitely time well spent.  Just considering the level of civilization, engineering and culture taking place so long ago makes one pause to appreciate how much we owe the ancient great ones…..  (I will definitely be purchasing some books on mythology and ancient Greek history to enhance what we’ve seen.) 

            Athens is a busy, crowded city with CRAZY traffic and wild, aggressive drivers – so pedestrians beware!  We’re both relieved that we didn’t need to rent a car – I would have had a nervous breakdown!

            (10-12)Last night we had a wonderful feast at a restaurant in Elifsina:  TRATA, owned by Ilias’ friend Alex, where they serve ONLY fresh seafood.  It was a lively family affair with George home from the University in Lesvos (now a sophomore majoring in Marine Science – looks great – with longer hair and a goatee!), Ilias’ parents who live upstairs (George, 87 and Emily, 70 – both very sweet), Ilias’ brother Andreas, his wife Rita, and their 7-year-old daughter Emily – adorable!  When Greeks sit down to eat, there are no “courses” – the plates just keep on coming!  We arrived at 9:00 PM and finished at ~11:30!  Drinks were ouzo (of course!), a local light red wine, and a white retsina – surprisingly good!  Starters were cheeses, wonderful local vegetables, bread, Greek salad, clams on the half-shell, steamed clams, grilled octopus, wonderful  stuffed calamari (fresh, tender, and huge – stuffed with cheese, chopped green pepper, tomatoes, & herbs)– then more vegetables (red beets, sautéed beet leaves & squash), red mullet (lightly coated with flour and gently fried – better than Wednesday’s batter-dipped), a rare local fish (? Name) that was scrumptious, and another plate of larger fish – rich and wonderful – looked like it was from the grouper family.  Dessert was perfect:  huge platters of tart green apple slices and sweet local grapes.   A WONDERFUL evening!  We also met many of Ilias and Rania’s friends at this popular taverna – all sitting outdoors in this glorious weather – many not arriving until 10:30 – 11:00.  They included the mayor of Elefsina, a judge, a TV director, a publisher, etc. – all very warm and friendly to the only “foreigners” in the place.

            A little more about Elefsina – our “home” these past 4 days.  It is a working-class town near a working shipyard where Ilias has lived since he was 3.  It’s ~ 30 km from Athens on the way to the Peloponnese.  Their house is lovely – gated entrance with many plants, tiled floors, an open living-dining-kitchen area that is bright and welcoming, and a delightful back area paved with different stones set in cement and covered by OLD olive trees, jasmine, bouganvillia and surrounded by countless plants – tended to by “grandpapa”. Ilias’ father is absolutely adorable  -- speaks no English (but does know  some French) – smiles all the time, and really seems to enjoy being with us.  His mother is quiet and sweet – always trying to please.  We’ve been very spoiled!

            Today we traveled to Aegina by car ferry to explore one of the lovely islands closer to Athens.  The ride took ~ 1 ½ hours and was very comfortable.  We toured the area along the marina with countless wooden fishing boats and some beautiful sailboats, then enjoyed the fish market and sampled the local wares at an outdoor spot 3 feet from the stalls – Ilias’ favorite – and NO tourists!  Again – with ouzo – we chomped down more octopus, vegetables (cauliflower & kale), a garlic dish made with soaked bread and olive oil (yum!), and an assortment of little pan-fried fish that you just pop in your mouth – one bite each!   After a brief car tour – beautiful homes and sights – we returned to the ferry and home.  Tonight – after 10 PM – we go out for live Greek music until the wee hours!    More tomorrow……

(10-14) Last evening – our last night in Athens – we had quite a celebration with our friends.  At ~ 9 PM we went for dinner in the center of Athens to “Alexandras” – a wonderful Greek restaurant (unknown to tourists, of course!), where Ilias, Rania, Andreas, Rita, Paul and I feasted at a beautiful outdoor table on a “sampler” of non-fish Greek specialties, including wonderful salads of chopped fresh vegetables, bread, spiced meat patties, sausages, stuffed grape leaves, cheeses, etc. etc.! – too many dishes to remember!  With several carafes of red and white wine, coffees and a not very tasty (complimentary) Turkish dessert, the bill for six was only ~ $75 – a real bargain!  After this “snack”, we headed through narrow roads to find a rare parking place near their popular club, which featured live Greek traditional music starting at 11:30 PM!  It was a blast!  The music was really wonderful – sad, sexy and stimulating – with ongoing impromptu dancing by aWll – especially the traditional dances for men and women (Video of Greek nite club).  We left “early” at 4:30 AM after enjoying the added company of George and his beautiful girlfriend “Penny” and Alex (owner of Strata restaurant).  Arrived “home” at 5:00 AM, “crashed” until 10:00, then had to pack for the upcoming cruise… with some regret… time with our friends went too fast!

Ilias’ mother Emily prepared a fantastic farewell lunch for us:  mousakka, tztzini, Greek salad, and the cheese and pepperocini dip for the wonderful thick slices of Greek bread, accompanied by delicious Greek white wine.  After the farewells, Ilias drove us to the port of Pireas to join the cruise ship.

(Continues on Athens to Istanbul)