Friday, February 24, 2017

February, So Far

We're nearly done with February. A lot has happened. My sister and her husband came to see us. The Kid sprouted five teeth in two weeks. The thermostat in the water heater failed, and the toilet boiled. We toured a cave. 

Some things have been fantastic, some ordinary, and some were downright scary (boiling toilet).

I've compiled a few photos from the month and stuck them below, in no particular order, and with minimal(ish) commentary. Enjoy. 

This is Koutouki cave. It's the only cave near Athens that has been set up for visitors. I'm trying to think of a less clumsy way to write that, but it's just not coming to me. 

The cave is a couple million years old, but was only discovered in the early 1900s, when a goat slipped through a teeny crack that looks like a blue smear in the photograph. The goat survived the fall, bouncing off roots, rocks, and whatever else was clinging to the cave walls. It landed in the cavern, and started yelling for its minders. They grabbed some ropes, lowered themselves into the cave, and now it's open for tourists!

The cave is on Mount Hymettus (or Ymittos or Hymettos or Imittos). It's a bit of a drive outside the city, but it's only 1 euro to tour. Children are free, and I almost was, too, because the guy thought I was a kid. Nice. It's open year-round for a few hours every day, except for Christmas, Easter, and maybe a few other major holidays. 

Here's the view from outside the cave. 

My sister, Anne, her husband, Brandon, and I went to the Peloponnese on a day trip. Of course we went to Nafplio, because of gelato. We stopped by the 1,000 stairs to Palamidi fortress. Anne and Brandon climbed part of the way up, and would have climbed the whole thing, but I was crotchety, and said we had to leave. If you look really closely at this blurry, blurry photo, you might be able to see Anne and brandon on the stairs. 

The air was terrible. This is my ritualistic Nafplio photo. Every time we go to Nafplio, I like to take a photo from this perspective. The air has never been this bad. It's been a cold winter, and people are burning things like crazy. 

The bad air made for blurry photos. That's right, I'm blaming the air, and not my poor phone camera, or my abilities as a photographer. In spite of the blur, this is a cute picture of Anne and Brandon. I miss them. Come back. 

Palamidi on the hill. 

I finally made it to Agia Filothei's church in Filothei. This was, possibly, connected by tunnel to the monastery I always photograph. I don't know for sure if that's true, but I'm running with it.

The old (I assume) church was carved into the hill. It had stone walls, and a tiny entrance. Anne called it a "grotto."

The entrance to the grotto is behind the gate, through the arched, brick doorway. 

This is the new (again, I have no idea and am making wild assumptions) church on the site. Look at the pretty Filothei icon underneath the bell. 

I purchased these gnarly carrots at laiki. They're one of the coolest things I've ever seen. Well, top 50, for sure. 

It's strawberry time. 

Bella and I went for an evening stroll. The moonlight through the olive trees stained the sidewalk in intricate, lacy patterns. It was after I took the photo that I saw the streetlight. Ding dong. 

Somebody slammed into a recycling bin with their car, and left the shattered remnants behind. We stumbled upon the garbage carnage, and I found this. I'd recognize that face anywhere. I hope that someday, I'll be able to feel what it's like to be so happy that my joy is palpable even through a photograph in a foreign newspaper that's been violently displaced from the bin where it was trashed. 

We went to Sounio during Anne and Brandon's visit. It was even windier than usual. The wind ripped all the tears out of my eyes, aggressively. 

Temple of Poseidon on an impressive, windy day. 

We also went to our favorite beach in Sounio. It's much more pleasant when it's warm, but that view...

Anne and Brandon helped me make bagels from a New York Times recipe. They were fabulous. 

Anne also helped me make Valentine's cookies, a few days after Valentine's Day. The frosting is hers. To answer your question, yes. They were as good as they look. 

A touch of realism. I am not superwoman. I have a messy house. I watch a lot of Netflix. 

Bella was thrilled to have Anne and Brandon in the house. She was really bummed when they left. She keeps running into their room to see if they'd reappeared. They haven't. 

Speaking of tourism, Anne and Brandon, The Kid, Phil, and I went to Crete last weekend. It is, without a doubt, my favorite place in Greece. I took a lot of photos, and will share them with you soon.

On that tantalizing note, have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What's in My Jug?

Last week, my sister purchased a beautiful bouquet of poppies from our laiki. We were in a hurry, and I had to quickly find a thing of water for them. I was using my only vase as a candy jar, so I grabbed the Apfelwein Bembel our friend gave us at Thanksgiving. It looked so good, I decided to fill it with a new bouquet every week.

Ladies and gentlemen, a new, recurring post was born. I humbly present: What's in My Jug?

This week, my Apfelwein jug is filled with (what I think are) narcissus. They are teeny and fragrant. Deathly fragrant. In fact, it turns out that I am pretty allergic to narcissus. I took this photo, then relocated the flowers to a crappy, plastic baby food container, and set the whole thing outside.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Grandma Allie

Phil's grandma passed away on Valentine's Day. She was a big part of his life, and a source of unfaltering support. She was proud of everything he did, even when he chose a career that meant he'd be living on the other side of the world. She was a strong, protective matriarch. She spoke her mind, and stuck to her guns. She wrote lovely cards in pretty cursive script. She crocheted drawers full of beautiful baby blankets, and regularly reminded us about them. She cried from excitement when she saw the photo of her great-grandchild with Obama. She worked hard to keep her family together. They were truly her pride and joy. 

We're thankful for everything Grandma Allie did for us. 

Αἰωνία ἡ μνήμη.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Santorini, or Thera, or Thira

This post is dedicated to my former boss. Don't worry, she's not dead. She's just been waiting for two years to see Santorini photos.

It has taken us a long time to visit Santorini. If we're being totally honest, part of the reason we didn't go earlier is that so many people think Santorini is "the thing" to see in Greece. Phil and I are both reactive when someone tells us what to do. We finally flew down there a few weeks ago for a quick day trip. We left in the morning, landed by 10am, and were home in Athens by 9pm. It was great. The flights were cheap (off season), and short (35 minutes each way). We rented a car on the island, and saw everything we wanted to see. It really is lovely. I took a bunch of photos for you, but I want to give you a boring history of the island first, so you know what you're seeing. There's a lot of history. Let's get started.

The first thing you should know about Santorini is that in Greek, it's called Thira. If you call it Santorini, everyone will know what you're talking about, and even the Greeks I talked to about Santorini called it Santorini. If, however, you want to sound cool and worldly, call it Thira. Santorini/Thira was part of the Minoan empire before it was blown sky-high in one of the largest volcanic eruptions of all time. The eruption punched a hole in the island, leaving behind a water-filled caldera. The eruption also caused a massive tsunami that drowned Crete, and is thought to have caused the collapse of the Minoan civilization on that island. 

There are some pretty cool theories, and legends surrounding Santorini. Some people believe it's the basis for the story of Atlantis. Other people think it might have been the source of the biblical Exodus. Regardless of what's true, the island has been shaped (literally) by the eruption. The volcano is currently dormant, but it's not extinct. Seismic activity is common, and the island was devastated by an earthquake in 1956. It's been rebuilt to support its primary industry--tourism. 

The best way to think of Santorini is like Greece's version of Jackson Hole. It's a really nice, lovely place, but if you hit it in high tourist season, you might not love it. We were glad to be there in the winter, because the roads were easy to traverse, the airport was sleepy, and we didn't run into many other tourists. The downside of going in the off-season is that most of the restaurants and stores are closed, and the beaches are cold. 

The main archaeological site on the island is the ancient Minoan city of Akroti. The whole site is covered by a canopy, which I had imagined to be a tarp on poles. It is not a tarp on poles. It is like a beautiful exhibition hall, with paved, accessible pathways, and nice benches. 

Phil under the canopy at Akroti.

The city was buried like Pompeii, (but a thousand years earlier!!!), and is remarkably well-preserved. 

Phil, The Kid, and I had the whole place to ourselves. The building was locked when we arrived. A woman working at the site let us in, and patiently sat at the front desk while we walked around. It was really something. The site itself is cool, but not as cool as the internet would have you believe. Many of the items they've found here have been removed to museums, including the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. We weren't able to get close to any of the buildings, though there were pathways leading to, and through, some of them. Probably they rope stuff off in the winter. We spent about forty-five minutes in the site, and that was enough to see it thoroughly.

Here's a plaster cast of furniture that was buried under volcanic ash. People used to be tiny.

Akroti is next door to the red beach. There is also a white beach, and a black beach. This is the only one we saw, because, again, no one wants to sit on a cold beach.

A white church by the red beach. 

The red beach, from a distance. 
We drove to the tip of the island, and looked back at the villages. It was an impressive sight. There's an old lighthouse out there, and a great view of the other, nearby islands.

Fira is on the hill in the background. Those cliffs are steep, and fall right down into the caldera.

The lighthouse on the end of the island. 

There's Oia, the really famous Santorini town, in the background.

From the lighthouse, we drove all the way up the mountain to the highest point on the island. There's a really nice monastery up there. I considered becoming a monk for the view.

On the mountain, looking down at the villages, and the caldera. 
We drove down the mountain into Fira. This is the main city on the island. Like everywhere else, the views are spectacular. Some are more famous than others.

This is the famous view. 

It's a super famous view. 

This view is so famous, I'm showing it to you three times. 

Fira also has a McDonald's. We ate there, and it was delicious.

After lunch, we wandered into the next town. I don't remember what it's called, but it was pretty, too. We hiked down the cliffs to a rocky outcrop. With the baby hanging off my chest, it was strenuous.

Tell me this doesn't look like the steps to Mordor. 
Out on the rock, there was another little, white church. I was sweating aggressively, and don't remember much about it.

I eventually caved, and let Phil carry the baby. He'd offered to do it at the beginning, but I insisted on being macho because, you know, I'm reactive to authority.

Here's a dog sitting on a roof. We saw him on our way to Mordor.

On our way back from the beautiful "Fat Baby Hell Hike," we ran into two Americans who had gotten lost on their way to Oia. There's a walking trail along the edge of the caldera that you can use to get from town to town. The trail passes through all of those incredible whitewashed buildings, and puts you right at the edge of the island. I love the idea of doing that, and I'm sure it's a great experience. On the other hand, it's easy to get lost, it's steep, it's probably boiling hot in the summer, and the sidewalks suck. There's a reason the locals use donkeys to haul stuff around. We squeezed them into our rental car, and drove to Oia as a group.

If Santorini is Jackson Hole, Oia is its main street. This is where Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was based (the book, and the movie), and it's the place you see most in photographs. The town was 85% tourists, and 15% locals, which is probably similar to what it's like in the summer. It was very quiet while we were there, which was nice. It was also very, very beautiful. There is a reason everyone comes here. It was absolutely thrilling.

I'm embarrassed to tell you how long it took us to find the "three blue domes" view. It's right off the main path, but we were wandering around those stupid, steep walkways with a fat baby, and a stroller for half an hour before we got there. Finding it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Oia is famous for its sunsets. At dusk, everyone ran down to that outlook in the middle-left of the photo below, trying to catch a good shot for instagram.

We stayed behind, and captured this, instead. 

Our last stop, before it got too dark to see, was the fishing village of Ammoudi. Based on looks, it's probably more touristy than fishy.

It's so pretty, though. Look at those stairs up to Oia!

Okay, so, fine. You were right. You were all right. Santorini is something you shouldn't miss when you're in Greece. It is beautiful. The architecture is gorgeous, and the views are absolutely stunning. The beaches seem to be really nice, and we've heard there are great vineyards. You could happily spend a busy day and a night here, but I wouldn't spend much more time than that. Santorini is what you see most on souvenirs, but it is not the most traditionally Greek. Especially if you go in the high season, you're going to experience a place that's as touristy as the Acropolis in Athens.

Greece is a wonderful, big, beautiful place. There are so many things to see and experience. Take in the sights of Santorini, then go somewhere else and get to know the country better. Talk to the locals. Venture to some of the villages on the mainland. Try visiting a less-trafficked island.

One of the coolest things we experienced on Santorini happened before we'd even left the airport. As Phil and I were picking up our keys from Sixt, one of the competing car rental guys, came out from behind his booth. He crouched down next to our stroller, and started playing with The Kid. He kept walking back and forth between the stroller and his booth to bring more toys to entertain our baby. This went on for about five minutes. As we were about to walk out to the lot, he ran out from his booth one final time, and handed me a small Orthodox charm. He told me to keep it somewhere close to the baby, and patted my arm in a friendly, familiar way. It was such a kind, quintessentially Greek gesture, and it was something that could easily be missed in the rush of suitcases, scooters, and postcard stalls.