Friday, May 29, 2009
Even though I did not do a great deal of shopping while we were here I did pretty much re-fill the "kitchen" bag that came with me. The oats, chocolate chips, other goodies and kitchen-wares that I brought to Switzerland have been replaced with salts, spices, caramels, vinegars and other goodies for my own kitchen and to share with my Mom and friends.
I am sad about leaving my sister's house. I love my sister and Nico and it has been great spending as much time with them as we have. Of course, I could have used more time with my sister but, that is always the case. I love Switzerland and I love their house. I hope that Steve does end up with a postition in Europe that we will be able to live close to Jenny and Nico.
We have had wonderful travelling experiences since we've been here. I still have posts to write about my trip to Gruyere with our friends, my trip to my favorite sculpture garden at the museum in Martigny and about our travels to Prague and Germany. Those posts will come once we get home and have a few days to settle in. I don't expect that I will post again before we leave here.
It will be good to get home and at the same time I am sad to leave.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I've been struggling with my thoughts about Athens and whether or not to post them. I really don't want to disparage a whole city and generally I prefer to follow the creed if you can't say anything nice...however, this is a blog to record my experiences and thoughts about travelling so it doesn't seem right not to post my honest feelings about our time in Athens.
I know that I am incredibly fortunate to have lived in all the places where I've lived, traveled to all the places to which I've traveled and for the opportunities of all the traveling that is surely yet to come.
I also know that I am fortunate to have been raised in a way that makes me curious about the world and gives me appreciation for all the people that I meet and all the places I go.
Both those things being said, it is impossible for me not to quantify places I've been in terms of favorites and lesser favorites. I say lesser favorites because there is no place I've lived in or traveled to for which I'm not happy to have experienced whether or not it was one of my favorite places.
So, um, yeah, you've already guessed where I'm going with this haven't you?
Athens is not a city I have fallen in love with.
Athens is dirty, hot and very loud and it is all of those things day and night. It is also overpopulated like many big cities. Most of Athens seems haphazard as if there are no zoning laws or guidelines for how or where to build or how property should be maintained. The city is a jumble of business mixed with light industry and housing all next store to one another with seemingly no rhyme or reason. There is much blight throughout Athens and this city is plagued with riff-raff who are intent on covering every surface in graffiti, even the historical sites and natural wonders. It is heart breaking.
There are beggars everywhere in Athens and the city is home to a large Romini gypsy population. The Romini children walk from table to table in the tourist areas and up and down the streets throughout the city begging for money or offering things like packs of kleenex for sale. It is very interesting to watch the Romini children. They will approach a person to beg from them with the most sad and distraught look on their faces and then a moment later several of the kids will meet up with each other around a corner and you can see them laughing and playing together. I am fascinated by the Romini gypsies (there is also a large Romini population in France) but that is a whole other subject.
Here is a Ramini boy who I came across several times during our stay. He nestled himself into my heart the first time I saw him and he seemed to know it. He gave me a mischevious smile with a sparkle in his eye and a wink each time I saw him.
Athens is also home to large illegal African and Sri lankin populations many of whom sell junk goods on the street from cheap plastic toys to fake designer handbags. These peddlers are everywhere and mixed with the hawkers who stand outside most restaurants and shops trying to get you to enter their establishment they make for a raucous and unpleasant environment.
There is a constant police presence all about the city but there is no way that the illegal hawking of pirated goods could continue the way it does both with the itinerant street vendors and in the fixed stores and market places if the government had any care about what was going on.
Yes we have the same hawkers in New York and Chicago and other large American cities and yes I have seen it in Paris and surely will see it in Prague but I have never seen it in another city to anywhere near the extent of what I saw in Athens.
My Dad and Step-mom recently spent time in several large cities in India. When they came home my Dad spoke of how overwhelming the constant "chaos" was and that by the end of the trip he just wanted everything to stop for 5 minutes so he could catch his breath. That's how I felt in Athens which is making me wonder if I will be O.K. going to India but, that is yet another post.
Also, one of my brothers visited my sister in Athens and then spent a few days in Paris shortly before Steve and I left for this trip. He told me that he couldn't understand how I am so in love with Paris. He thought Paris was a filthy, loud city and he didn't think the Parisiennes were particularly friendly. He LOVED Athens. The whole time I was in Athens I kept laughing at how different my brother and I are in how we perceive the two cities.
There is a nice café right across the road from my sister’s flat. I went there every morning for our coffees. The woman who works the espresso machine at the café and I got to be friendly and on our last day she asked me how I liked Athens. I told her that I liked it. She asked “Do you like it a little or do you like it a lot?” I smiled as I lied and said, “Oh, I like it a lot”. To which she said, “I hate it!” Oh, my goodness did I get a laugh from that. I asked her why she disliked her home city and her reasons were exactly the same as mine. The constant noise and how dirty the city is and the illegal population of vendors that one just cannot get away from and how packed everyone is living in the city bother her. She told me that she would like to leave the city and live on one of the islands. Amen, sister friend, amen.
The most important thing about Athens is how incredibly kind, sincere, generous, gracious and thoughtful the people are. We experienced that everywhere we went in Athens and outside of the city as well. The French have a saying that “Paris is not France and France is not Paris”. I think the same thing can be said about Athens and one can go even further to say that the people are not Athens and Athens is not the people for the people are so much more than Athens, history and all.
Of course it was amazing to be in the cradle of civilization as we know it. To be in the place where the rights and value of the individual were first recognized and brought to bear on a new way of governing and seeing the world and our place in it, well, that was awe inspiring.
I see the irony in my appreciation that it was ancient Greek culture that brought to the world a way of life where the individual matters but at the same time being dismayed by the chaos of Athens and wanting the city government to clean up the town and do something about the illegal vendors and riff-raff that plagues the city. But, remember, the ancient Greeks also recognized the need for order so that the whims of each and every individual would not create chaos and make life unbearable for all. Balance, that's what they were attempting to create through the development of democracy and I don't see balance in Athens.
I would like to go back to Greece to see the islands and more of the country outside of Athens and I would love to return to our idyllic little spot we found on the beach of Iria. I will also forever hold in my heart a love and fondness for the Greek people, their immense kindheartedness and goodwill is something rare to experience.
Monday, May 25, 2009
I'm not much of a beer drinker. I may drink beer 4 or 5 times a year and when I do it is usually a Pilsner Urquell that I prefer. This German Pils-style beer is my new favorite! It is lighter than Pilsner Urquell, crisp and very dry with a flinty flavor.
This Pils would be perfect on a hot summer day when a light and crisp beer is in order. I would love to try this beer with fried perch and coleslaw.
We broke the drive to Prague into two parts. After dinner in Bregenz we drove for another hour and a half or so then pulled over for the night. Sunday morning we woke and drove to Plzen (Pilsen) for a tour of the Pilsner Urquell brewery.
We got to finish the tour with a taste of beer from the oak barrels. Steve and I both thought it had a slightly different flavor. It was a touch richer, rounder in the mouth and more caramely tasting.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
We were supposed to leave Friday to drive to Prague for 5 days. We were both feeling worn out from Greece and decided that we would like to leave Saturday instead of Friday so we could have another day to chill here at my sister's. In addition to that we discovered that our rental car agency did not allow us to take our car to the Czech Republic (common restriction of rental car agencies). This meant that we would have to return our car and rent from another agency that allows their cars in the CZ and there was not a car available with one of those agencies until Saturday.
When I emailed the hotel/apartment company and told them that we would like to check-in a day late they said that they were still going to charge us for the first night because we were changing the reservation under 7 days advance notice. Um, yeah, I JUST BOOKED THE PLACE 5 days ago! So, Steve and I decided that we were just going to stay in Switzerland for the rest of the trip and skip Prague. He really wants to show me Prague but given the car situation and the inflexibility of the rental people we were just as keen on hanging here and not packing up and leaving again.
Okay, no problem I said to the rental company, just cancel the whole reservation.
Side bar- When I was a hotel manager I would never have penalized a guest who was staying for more than three nights for shortening their stay. It's just bad business.
So, a few hours later the rental agency emailed me to say that they had been able to rent the flat for Friday night and if we still wanted to come they wouldn't charge us for that night after all. Um, yeah, whatever, now they realize that loosing one night of a 5 night reservation isn't as bad as loosing the whole thing?
This was enough for Steve to decide that since we could now have the extra day without a penalty he would like to still go to Prague. We are off for the Czech Republic this afternoon!
Yesterday, Steve went into the office in Lausanne to tie up some loose ends from his work on the project. I set out for a hike in the gorge. Instead of taking our usual path which involves walking down hill a ways on a paved road that leads to an entry area of the gorge (a little path that you have to know is there), I decided to walk uphill to the next small town on the road from here. That took me to the spot where we usually exit the gorge and I start my hike from there. This meant that I would be hiking higher than our normal trip and would get to see new parts of the gorge.
It was an AMAZING hike. I only passed two other people on my whole 2 hours in the forest. I saw several waterfalls and discovered a few areas where I could have managed my way down the bank to sit at the river. I was tempted to do so but not knowing how far I had to go to get out of the forest I thought I better conserve my time. But boy, on a hot day I would have been down in that river!
I usually hike the gorge without my usual work-out music as I enjoy hearing the rush of the river water and all the other forest sounds but yesterday I grabbed the Ipod, hit shuffle and was treated to a fab mix of Gabriel, Dire Straits, Ani DiFranco, David Byrne and more. I couldn't have picked a better mix if I'd tried. The tempos of each song that came on set my pace perfectly. The high tempo songs kept me going and the slower ones came just when I needed them. I kept laughing to myself at how cool the random selection of tunes was for this hike, it was one of those serendipitous things.
I knew that I wanted to hike up to the town of Les Avants. Jenny and Nico's house is about 1,900 ft. elevation and Les Avants is about 4,000. I knew the general direction I needed to go but not the exact way so I was winging it. About an hour into my hike things started looking familiar and at first I thought my mind was playing tricks on me but then I realized that I was hiking the area where my sister took Steve and me for our first gorge hike some 5 years ago! On that trip Jenny drove us up to Les Avants and we hiked down into the gorge to one of the water falls then hiked back up and out. Even coming at the area from a different direction I recognized it, five years later! That is so cool to me.
Once I got above the waterfall and had hiked about another half hour I started wondering how much longer until I found my way out. I think I missed the way my sister took us into the forest on that first hike as I was climbing way longer than what I remember we had hiked to get to the falls back then. I was about an hour and a half into an almost completely uphill hike and by this point I was pretty worn out. After another 15 minutes of going uphill I was very tired and was starting to wonder if I should turn around and try to figure out another way out as I had no idea how much longer I would have to keep hiking up to get out. I hated the idea of turning around and not finding out where the end would be. I was standing at a break in the rise trying to decide what I should do and at that moment, as I was standing there, one of my favorite Dire Straits songs "Brothers in Arms" came on. The first words in the song?
are a home now for me".
I finally hit a road about 15 minutes later, after about 2 hours of hiking. But now, I had another problem. I had no idea which way I should go on the road. I decided to go left which would continue to take me uphill hopefully to Les Avants. After about 10 minutes I didn't seem to be getting anywhere close to a town and not a single car had driven by so I decided that maybe I had hiked up higher than Les Avants and if I turned around and hiked down the road hopefully I would hit the town. About fifteen minutes after that (I had passed the point where I'd exited the forest) I saw a young guy on a moped. I flagged him down and asked him which way to Chernex (where my sister lives) he told me to keep heading the way I was going and that I would hit Glion and that I should take the train from there. Ha, ha, ha. I told him I was walking down not taking the train and that I wanted to hit Les Avants not Glion. He told me that Les Avants was behind me. Grrrrrr, the direction I had started in. So...I turned around again...walking, walking, walking....why didn't I ask that fellow for a ride to Les Avants? I had no idea how long it would take for me to get there. It took about 20 minutes but it seemed like forever.
From Les Avants it was all downhill! It took about 45 minutes to get home from there.
My whole trip was a little over three hours. From what I can tell I hiked about 6 or 7 miles and I went from 1,900 feet elevation to 4,000. Not bad for this girl.
It was an amazing hike. I am going to take Steve on the same route when we get back from Prague. Oh yeah, Prague, I need to go pack.
Friday, May 22, 2009
The Kandinsky exhibit was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a large body of Kandinsky's work in chronological order. We were given a look into how Kandinsky's life influenced his work as the exhibit was broken into sections according to the period of his life and where he was living at the time and notations were made as to what was going on both in the world politically and in his life personally.
The gentle movement of both the hanging sculptures and the shadows they cast fills me with wonder, literally takes my breath away. I could stare at the hanging pieces for hours.
Thank you to The Calder Foundation for making those and other pictures of Calder's works available to share on their website.
This exhibit also has a large display of Calder's "Circus" as well as a continually running video of Calder performing the Circus.
If you have 20 minutes to spare watch the following two videos of Calder with his Circus-
Or, you can watch this 5 minute piece-
5 Minute Circus
Calder's Circus and wire sculptures have a way of making me forget time and place. They make me feel like a child for the wonder that they fill me with. If I lived in Paris I would visit this exhibit at least several times a week while it is there.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Athens has a large market along the lines of Cleveland’s West Side Market but probably 4 or 5 times the size. The market vendors sell all types of meat, fish and seafood and across the street from the main market are stalls of produce vendors. All of the produce sold at the market is of the commercial variety as is the meat though the raising and processing of meat in Greece is much better than the commercial process in the U.S.
The meat aisles of the market were enough to make me lose my appetite for meat for most of our stay in Athens. I do not mind the smell of meat or the site of carcasses and pieces parts but I cannot handle the smell of meat rotting in the heat. The cases that house the meat were refrigerated but a lot of good that does when the doors to the cases are wide open all day. Also, most of the pieces parts we saw were hanging outside of the refrigerated cases. I had to run out of one of the meat halls about a quarter of the way through because the stench overwhelmed me.
Open meat case and a hot light bulb giving more heat to the meat, yum yum!
Entrails, lungs and livers with a hot light bulb and no meat case!
Meat, it's what's not for dinner?
And...how's about some pigs' feet hanging 2 inches (not exaggerating) off the filthy floor?
This is the butcher block after it has been cleaned for the day.
I know I'm being harsh but this is what I found. Now you see why I had no appetite for meat? I'm not usually as squeamish as I was and probably wouldn't have felt my senses so offended at the lack of cleanliness were it not for the lack of adequate refrigeration and the putrescent smell.
You can guess what these are can't you?
These gorgeous yellow birds would have made an amazing pot of stock but it was too warm to think about simmering a pot of stock. These chickens (pullets?) were imported from Italy.
The fish aisles of the market were far easier to stomach than the meat sections. Despite the heat (it was only mid-80's) the fish was all well iced and while there was a mild smell of fish as you would expect it was not a rotting smell.
This shark looked amazing and had I had access to a grill I would have taken some.
The one meal I made at home while we were in Athens and I still couldn't take the thought of meat even a few days after our market visit so we had a plate of sliced tomatoes, avocados and Greek cucumbers along with this cold pasta dish. I gently warmed some very fine Greek olive oil and added some chopped garlic and just let the garlic slowly warm in the oil then I threw in a few handfuls of pistachios that I had shelled and chopped and some cauliflower that I had blanched then iced. I tossed that all around then added some quinoa, parsley and garlic spaghetti that my sister had found at the bio (organic) store.
Monday, May 18, 2009
On the way to Nafplio we stopped in the town of Kineta for lunch. Jenny came upon this little village when she was looking for places to rent for her six months working in Athens.
Back on the road to Nafplio and we drove by miles and miles of small orange groves. The drive from the highway to Nafplio was 30 or 40 minutes and the road was lined with orange trees on either side the whole way to town. We were overwhelmed by the sweet aroma of orange blossoms. The perfume of the blossoms was almost intoxicating. Can you imagine a 30 minute drive with the smell of blossoms the whole way? It was heavenly.
Also, check out his pictures of the area especially the one of the orange blossoms-
I am trying to talk Steve into staying another day in Greece so we can go back to our little eden in Iria for another afternoon of sun and sea.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
That's it for now. I've got to get packed.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Steve and I decided to rough it and take the bus into town from the airport instead of a cab. My sister told us it was very doable and that the walk from the bus station to her flat was reasonable. That was an experience! We were packed into the bus like sardines and it was standing room only for at least half of the riders and every inch of floor space not stood on was piled with luggage. I was looking forward to the bus ride because I thought it would be a good chance to see different parts of the city as we headed in from the airport but the bus was so packed that we really weren't able to see much. The ride in was over an hour but the walk to Jenny's flat was only about 10 minutes. Considering that the bus fare was 7 Euros for both of us as opposed to the 40 or 45 Euros the cab would have cost, I would say it was worthwhile.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Friday Steve and I left The Cazaudehore and Saint Germain en Laye for the last time (at least for this trip) and we stopped to see Versailles before heading to his cousin's for a long weekend.
Versailles could be called the castle of marble. The marble throughout is exquisite as are all of the crystal chandeliers.
Of all of the artwork on display in the castle, the piece I most enjoyed was David's
"Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on 2 December 1804." The original is on display in The Louvre and the painting in Versailles is a second painting done by David at the request of Napoleon.
The ethereal beauty and grace of Josephine as captured by David literallybrought tears to my eyes. The splendor, the pageantry, the artistry and artisanship of Napoleon's coronation, the likes of which we would never see today, are astonishing. It is fortunate that it was all captured in David's paintings since little, if any, of the vestments remain today.