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story.lead_photo.caption Richard Mason

January 16th, 1964

We’ve been in Libya for a year, and I have some Libyan holiday time. We’ll fly to Athens Friday morning—at 4 a m. It’s Jan. 17, our fifth wedding anniversary, and British East African Airways stops in Benghazi on its way from South Africa to Europe. They will take passengers, if you want to get up a 3 a.m.

Heck, getting up at 3 a.m. seems like nothing, and 30 minutes later, we’re standing in the old Quonset Hut, waiting for the plane, and as the plane pulls up to refuel, we board. This is our first trip to Europe, and we’re excited.

The short flight to Athens is behind us now, and we just had lunch-breakfast in Athens deep in the old Plaka district. The further away you are from Constitution Square the cheaper the price.

The airport bus dropped us off a couple of blocks away from our hotel, and since we packed light, it’s an easy walk. The clerk at the front desk seems delighted to have some American tourists, and although it’s just 6 A. M, he lets us take the room, and after some hand waving, and a bit of English, I figured out we were being upgraded to a suite. Well, it’s not the height of the tourist season, so I figure he’s just glad to see live bodies.

• • •

It’s the next day and we’re out on the street trying to see some sights. I’m freezing to death, crosses my mind. A winter storm has sent Athens into a deep freeze. I glance at Vertis, and she is trying to wrap a pink raincoat around her to keep warm. Then, I remember one of the guys I work with telling me Athens is a great place to buy furs.

“Vertis, let’s go back to the hotel to warm up before dinner.”

“That sound great to me. I’m freezing.”

We are in the hotel lobby and I nod, “Go on up to the room. I’m going to run down to buy an International Herald Tribune.” Vertis is heading to the room, and I’m going back out. I spotted a store with windows full of furs on our way back to the hotel, and I’m heading there.

Since my bankroll won’t buy anything fancy, I buy a brown, sheared lamb jacket for $180. It looks very stylish and warm.

“Happy Anniversary!” I yell. Well, when I pulled that sheared lamb jacket out of a grocery sack, you should have seen her face.

She can’t believe it. I don’t think she’ll ever appreciate any gift I ever give her as much.

“Okay, I’m ready to take that bus up into the mountains to Delphi,” she announces, as she struts around the room showing off her new jacket.

As we leave for dinner, I stop to talk with hotel clerk.

“Where is a good restaurant, one you would go to?” He’s surprised, and I have to explain that we’re on a budget, which is hard to get across, you know—all Americans are rich—but now he understands and nods.

“Go out the front door, turn left and go three blocks. Then look for a sign with a fish on it.”

We find it easily. It’s a small place with a Greek menu. When the waiter walks up to the table, he motions for us to follow him, and we walk over to a big, open display case where the fresh fish are kept.

It’s a pick-and-point menu. We pick scampi, which is a cross between a shrimp and a lobster, a flounder, and calamari. I’m thinking we may have over-ordered, and I know we did, when our first course, the calamari, is placed on the table. It is a pile of flash-fried, tiny tentacles piled up about 10 inches high.

I whisper to Vertis, “Can you believe that calamari cost us only 25 cents?”

“No, I can’t, but what are we going to do with all that other food we ordered? If we eat this whole platter, we’ll be stuffed.”

“Hey, it’s our fifth wedding anniversary; just dig in and let’s see how much damage we can do.”

An hour later, after a great meal and a complimentary shot of ouzo, we waddle back to our hotel.

• • •

It’s the next day and the Archeological Museum and the Parthenon are on our to-do list. It is a heady experience for us as we climb the steps of the Parthenon and walk where Homer walked and stand where Paul preached. We have the Parthenon to ourselves because of the weather. We spent the day taking in the archeological sites, and the next day we’re going for a more adventurous experience.

• • •

The next morning at 8 we’re boarding a Greek bus heading north into the snow-covered mountains to see the Oracle of Delphi where Alexander the Great came to listen to the Oracle. Our first stop is an Orthodox Greek church, and we look in amazement at the gold-filed glass squares that make up a magnificent mural. After a two-hour ride, the bus lets us off at snowy Delphi, where we stumble around in the snow looking at the ancient site of the Oracle. We’re the only folks who will wade through about six inches of new snow.

There’s a café, and we rush to get inside, warm up, and have something to eat. It’s another pick and choose menu and the special is a tray of rolled up grape leaves stuffed with rice. They are tasty, but the special is only three, and after a hard roll for breakfast, I’m still hungry.

“We have another two hours before the bus picks us up. Let’s hike to those ruins on the next hill.”

By the time we reach the top of the hill, where there were just a few columns of an old temple, we are nearly frozen, and on top of that, we’re starving.

“Richard; this was stupid to walk through the snow to get up here,” Vertis says. She’s wrapped up in her sheared lamb jacket, but with no gloves or caps, we’re nearly frozen. We trudge back to the bus stop. As we board the bus that will take us back to Athens, I look over at Vertis and I know she’s as cold and hungry as I am.

“At the next stop, I’m going to see if I can buy us a snack.”

“Great; I’m not picky, anything will do, and I’m serious. Anything.”

After an hour of driving, the bus stops at a village, and a vendor waves a lamb kabob in front of my open window. They smell wonderful. They are 25 cents each, and we buy four. They taste as great as they smell, and after having a hard roll for breakfast and a plate of grape leaves and rice for lunch, we think the kabobs are one of the best meals ever.

The bus heater is now putting out some warm air, and as we devour the lamb kabobs, we settle back and enjoy what has been a wonderful experience for first-time travelers to Europe.

Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email richard@ gibraltarenergy.com.

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