I have a confession: I watch a cooking show, and that is unusual, since I’m a channel flipper, and cooking shows normally don’t even get the two second look. However, I do have a soft spot for Greece, so on one of my channel flipping’s I gave My Greek Table a second look, and I ended up watching the entire program. The show features, Diane Kochilas, who is Greek. She’s a middle-age average size woman, attractive, with an infectious personality, who uses a lot of extra virgin Greek Olive Oil in everything she cooks, sips a little of the wine she frequently adds, and always takes a big bite of whatever she prepares. For a non-cook to watch her show does say something about her overall personality and how and what she prepares.
But I’m a lover of almost all things Greek, and that infatuation with Greece has built up from several journeys through almost every part of the country. Vertis and I spent our fifth wedding anniversary in Athens, and since that trip, we have been to every section of the country. One of the more interesting things about our Greece journeys are the surprises we encountered.
When we were in our twenties and really green behind the ears, I was working for Esso Libya, and we took a long weekend trip to Athens. We had seen the movie Never on Sunday, and that dose of Greek music made us want to hear more.
After settling into our tiny hotel room, we decided to spend one night listening to authentic “Never on Sunday” music, and since we were in the Plaka, the old section of Athens, we figured Greek music was just around the corner. We asked our desk clerk, who started to direct us to Constitution Square, where the big hotels are, but we told him, “We want to go where you would go.” Well, it took a few minutes to convince him, but then he took a city map and marked an X.
“This is a local bar and restaurant and only Greeks will be there, but the bouzouki music is the best in the city. Is that okay?”
“Sure,” I replied. “About what time should we go?”
“Not before ten.”
“Uh, well, okay.”
Well, later, around nine thirty, we headed deep into the Plaka, and after wandering around for about 45 minutes, down at the end of a dead-end street, we came to a big whitewashed building.
“This is it, Vertis,” I said, pointed to a bouzouki hanging from the doorway.
We walked through the door and into a big room with maybe 30 tables, and just stood there. It was full of Greeks of all shapes and ages, but they had one thing in common. Every person in the place was dress in black. I glanced at Vertis, who was dressed totally in white. I had on black pants and white shirt. Yes, I took a deep breath as the man who seemed to be in charge rushed up to us, and just from his expression, it said, “How on earth did you get here?”
Well, he was extremely gracious, and of course, I was eying a table against the back wall, but he beckoned for us to follow him, and as we winded through the tables; talk about turning heads. As you might guess, he took us to a table right down front. Yes, the music was great, but amplified bouzouki music from not more than ten feet away might be why today, I have a hearing loss. The Greeks made over us like we were royalty, and that experience solidified our love of the Greek people.
We were much older when we took another Greek vacation, and as all the other times would be, we rented a car and drove. Leaving Athens we headed for the Peloponnesian Peninsular with our good friends Steve and Clara Jones. Our first stop was at the ancient ruins of Mycenae, which dates back hundreds of years before the classical Greek civilization. Of course, the Lion Gate, the entrance to the city, is a sight any visitor will remember. It’s a stone carving of two lions rearing up on each side of the fortified city’s gate.
Our next stop was Corinth, which is situated on a narrow strip of land that connects mainland Greece to the Peloponnesian Peninsular. It’s only 15 miles or so across from the Aegean Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and during the time when Paul preached to the church there, slaves pulled ships across the narrow strip. During Roman times, one of the Caesars proposed cutting a canal, but Egyptian Engineers told him, if the Aegean Sea was connected to the Mediterranean, it would flood Rome. The canal that cuts through was built centuries later. It saves a long journey around the Peloponnesian Peninsular.
Our journey took us down almost to the tip of the peninsular to the town of Monemvasia. It’s a no car town. We parked, walked in pulling our bags, and settled into a small hotel. That night we dined a few blocks away at an excellent restaurant, and just as we finished paying our bill, the lights went out all over town. It was a moonless night, and when we stepped out into those dark streets, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Finally, someone in our group produced a package of tissues and after some looking, we found matches. Then it was light a tissue, throw it out in front of us and walk about thirty feet. We used our last tissue as we came to the steps leading up to our hotel, and we felt our way along until we came to our room and bed.
Another journey by car took us to northern Greece to the Meteora area. As a geologist I really appreciated this part of the trip. The Meteora are vertical weathered spikes of sandstone several hundred feet high. The sides are vertical and the tops are the size of several football fields. During Medieval Times, monks built monasteries on the top of a number of them. The one we decided to visit the only way to the top was a basket hanging on ropes. We looked, and I asked a simple question, “Do you replace the ropes often?”
“Yes, we do… When one of them breaks.”
We decided not to take the basket trip.
Next trip took our group as far north in Greece as you can go, and after getting lost, and finally getting directions from a car load of Bulgarian Tourists, I stopped at an old monastery.
“Richard, why are you turning around?”
“Ahaa, Bulgarian tourists! We’re not staying at a Monastery!”
Well, finally we pulled up into the little town of Lofoi. There was a small billboard with several place to stay and our more or less bed and breakfast was listed, but everything was in Greek. As I stood there a young lady walked by and I asked, “Do you speak English?”
“Yes, I’m an exchange student from USC.”
Of course, that was just another little incident in a country that never seems to disappoint me.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.