Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Oh yeah...the Pirates

Now that the Greek flag is not flying prominently over the blog anymore, it's probably a good idea to get back to the topic of baseball.

A lot has changed in one month. Back on July 31st, the Pirates were still above .500, but at the start of their death spiral by preparing to get swept by the Phillies. That lead into the season-killing 0-7 homestand about the bottom feeding Cubs and Padres.

The month of August has not been kind to the Pirates, as they are 7-18 and any dreams of slaying the .500 Monster have evaporated. What happened?

Is it the injuries, especially to the starting pitching? The season long anemic offense finally rearing its ugly head? Regression to the mean?

Yes, yes, and yes.

The Pirates gave us long-suffering fans a lot to be proud of and cheer for through the end of July, which is much longer than we usually get. It's like people in Wisconsin getting one less month of brutal winter.

I don't regret advocating picking up players at the July 31st trade deadline, even though Lee and Ludwick were uninspiring to me at the time, and not "trading high" on Maholm and Hanrahan. Contending teams don't do that and at the time the Pirates were contenders, at least on paper.

Last season, I wrote about how the 2010 offseason would be "an inflection point" on the course of the Pirates. Maybe I was just a year ahead of myself, because I think the expectations have been raised now and the front office needs to capitalize on the goodwill garnered this season. I still don't think free agents are the answer, but in the offseason I will once again advocate for making trades for players with multiple years of control.

At least it beats 105 losses.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Going Greek - Petros Tavern

Things got all out of whack chronologically with the Oia posts, so let's go back to our first lunch in Oia at Petros Tavern.

Petros Tavern, like most things on Santorini, doesn't have a true address. It's just "over there" or "up on the main shopping street". What is does have is good seafood with a fantastic view of the caldera. With our first meal, we wanted to be awed by the view and weren't super concerned about the food. We ended up having a great meal, too.

We started off by ordering, perhaps, my most-remembered dish in Greece. It was an appetizer called Rusk with Anthotiro cheese. We had to ask our pleasant Euro waiter what "Rusk" was, and he explained in semi-broken English that rusk was a hearty peasant bread (maybe it is short for "rustic").

The appetizer came out with a circular portion of the rusk with tomato slices and olive oil on top of it. The tomato juices and olive oil soaked into the bread giving it a fantastic flavor. On top of the tomatoes/olive oil was a thick layer of the anthotiro cheese, capers, and oregano. Anthotiro is a must find for me back home here in Pittsburgh; I hope Penn Mac carries it. It is a milder and more malleable version of feta -- feta either crumbles into dust or big chunks (I still love it, though).

The rusk set the stage for both of us ordering shrimp dishes for lunch. DB~ went with a standard Grilled Shrimp, while I went with the Shrimp Saganaki.

Shrimp doesn't really do the term justice...these things were borderline prawns in terms of size. In Greece (at least), they are very big on giving you the shrimp with not only the tails (a personal peeve of mine) but also the heads. With the heads included, these shrimp were easily 6 inches in length from aft to stern.

Much like the infamous soft-shell crab incident, DB~ doesn't like to engage in hand-to-hand with her food. She likes to put it on a fork and into her mouth and chew it a few times. I could tell she was a little creeped out by the shrimp heads, as she had to take the shells off of them too, so I twisted a few off for her.

The saganaki dish was a mix of tomatoes and feta cheese with the shrimp mixed in. The tomatoes in Greece were a deep red and have an excellent flavor to them, almost borderline sweet. I enjoyed the sauce, but it may have been a bit too much tomato sauce for this dish -- maybe a little overwhelming.

As I mentioned above, they give you them shrimp heads, tails, and shells...even in a red sauce. So, I "ugly Americaned" it and reached into to twist off heads, take off the shells and strip the tail out. By the time I was done, our table cloth looked like it came from the Tate-Bianca house. Our server quietly set down a pile of wet naps for me to use.

Yes. I'm American. Aside from my a stray thought or two, this is probably the last Greek post in the series. PS - All the pictures were done under the artful eye of my new wife, DB~. She really got into the food ones, I think.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Going Greek - Port of Ammoudi

As I've mentioned before in the Oia posts, the villages on Santorini all are perched on cliffs with the sea in the caldera directly below you. Below each main village is a corresponding port. The one below Oia is called Ammoudi.

We stared down at it for a couple of days until we decided it was time to go explore down there. Theoretically you could drive down, but we didn't have a car and that seems weak. So the two choices are to walk down 300+ cobblestone steps in a switchback pattern or take a donkey.

We decided to walk down and re-evaluate our mode of transportation once we were ready to come back up. We walked down with the intent to have lunch at the port, as there are at least 5 portside tavernas down there. As such, when we went down it was blazing hot and there is no where to hide in the shade during your 15 minute walk, so we were drenched with sweat.

Once there, we checked out each fish taverna and eventually settled on Dmitri's, mostly because DB~ liked its bright colors of the building. Our table was directly adjacent to the water. Like, if a fork fell off it was in the water, kind of adjacent. This led to DB~ and the girl at the table next to us both chumming the water with chunks of bread to get the little fish to all swim to it as a school.

Back home in the States, I'm not a huge fish guy. I like shrimp and will have some tilapia and swordfish, but overall I like my food to run away from me not swim away. But when in Rome...(or Athens...or Oia, I guess).

Side note - We were very surprised that fish was kind of expensive in Greece. You would think that having a whole sea surrounding the mainline and being on an island it would be plentiful and cheap, but it wasn't. Another odd thing is that all the fish are shown on the menu priced by the kilo. It's shocking to see $60/kilo for a fish, until you realize that you're only going to get a 1/4 kilo worth of fish.

DB~ ordered a seafood pasta dish that was linguini with mussels, scallops and shrimp. She sort of chickened out on ordering a fish that was caught fresh that morning. I went for it, though. Our waitress led me inside and showed me the case of fish and told me all their names. I went with a red mullet and got 300 grams worth (they weigh it in front of you on a scale).

The grill was right behind us and we watched a man toss it on a wood fired grill and cook it right up, after some rudimentary scaling of it, and then toss it on a plate with a hunk of lemon and a couple of vegetables.

As you can see, that's head and tail and all, including a whole mess of bones. Different than back home where you get a prepared fillet. I kind of felt a little ripped off paying for a whole bunch of "weight" that I wasn't going to eat, but oh well. It was worth it for the experience to try it.

So after lunch we stared back up the huge set of steps and decided there was no way in heck we were walking back up. A Greek man that only knew a couple of words of English asked if we wanted a donkey ride for 5 euros per person. We each got our own donkey (DB~ had this pretty white one, of course).

Let me tell haven't lived until you've held on to a bridle of a donkey for dear life while you and your new wife take turns getting run into cobblestone walls by donkeys engaging in a blood feud up 300+ steps, all while a Greek man yells at them in Greek and beats them with a whip. Good times.

The password is "harrowing". That's...."harrowing".

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Going Greek - The 1800

I'm jumping around here a little bit in chronology, but this post is sort of gnawing at my brain and I wanted to put it out there on the blog. Plus the legions of people (read: 7) who read this blog were asking about it.

Saturday the 30th of July was our last night to hit up a nice restaurant in Oia. The next day we were going on a dinner/swim sunset cruise in the caldera of the volcano and Monday we were going to rent a car and drive the island before our flight that night at 11:30 pm.

I was reminded of a comedy bit by Dave Attell while in Greece. He once said, "You know what Vegas doesn't have? A zoo. And you know what? After 4 days of drinking, doing drugs, and seeing kinda wanna see a panda." To modify that quote, after 5 days of eating nothing but authentic Greek food, I kinda wanted to eat something different.

We found it at The 1800 in the center of Oia's main shopping street. The 1800 is an old sea captain's house that overlooks the caldera. It's filled with all kinds of interesting artifacts which we never saw. The reason is because as soon as we got there at 7 pm (first and only ones there again!) we were ushered up to the rooftop seating area to enjoy the view, while all the stuff is inside the restaurant.

The funny part is that when we got up there, they asked "Do you have a reservation?" We said no and the host said, "You can have one of these 2 tables," and gestured with his hand. Keep in mind...there is no one here at all. It kind of reminded me of the scene in Meet the Fockers when Greg couldn't board his flight even though no one was at the gate. To put a bow on that story, by the time we left around 9 pm, only 4 other tables were seated out of the 12 up on the rooftop deck, so I'm not sure why they made a big deal about the reservations.

But this post isn't about semi-snobby Euro maitre'd's. It's about Iron Chef-level food porn at its finest. The interesting thing that caught our eye immediately about The 1800 is that every one of their menu items is "The ____". For instance, DB~ tried to re-create the magic of Kandouni's by getting "The Risotto" which was a very good tomato-infused risotto. But it wasn't the same for her. She enjoyed it, but it wasn't a life-altering experience like with the Butter Risotto.

For an appetizer, we had The Rabbit. I'm a fan of eating rabbit. DB~ is a fan of looking at furry rabbits and petting them. And never the twain shall meet. Until now.

One of my favorite dishes of all time was a rabbit loin that I had at Mesa Grill in Caesar's Palace in Vegas. It was expertly prepared and seasoned with a light cream sauce and dill. My mouth just watered.

The Rabbit at The 1800 may have just entered my personal top 10, even as an appetizer. This dish had everything going for it -- presentation was off the charts and the taste was outstanding.

The rabbit was shredded and served on a rectangular piece of warm brioche bread. Surrounding the rabbit were little dots that looked like those yellow-red pills in a drugstore. Except the red part here was rhubarb extract and the yellow was an orange cream sauce. The gray circles you see are eggplant panacotta. You were encouraged, borderline ordered, to utilize the various sauces to accent the rabbit.

DB~ actually enjoyed the rabbit, against all internal restrictions she may have had. Periodically, I encourage her to let me make it for her at home and she gets a look of sad regret on her face like I'm going to run over Thumper from Bambi with my car, wipe his still fresh blood under my eyes like war paint, and use his pelt as a hat...all after I flop it down on a plate for her to eat. (Maybe I'll sneak it in on her one night and tell her it's chicken...).

For my dinner, I went bold. I'm a big proponent of ordering something on a menu that you can't make yourself or that you don't see commonly. I went with The Rooster. Recently on Chopped, one of the ingredients was Coxcomb which is the rooster's fleshy red plumage on top of his head. This was just the rooster meat itself.

When it came out, I was again moved by its presentation. The perimeter was lined with Greek grapes and tiny pillows of ricotta gnocchi that were melt-in-your-mouth/can-I-sneak-into-the-kitchen-and-steal-more great. Connecting the two sides of the plate was an asparagus extrusion cream for dipping.

The rooster (or The Rooster) itself was odd. It came out looking like a water bottle turned on its side. It was topped with a nice garnish of shredded asparagus, which was a creative way to serve it. The only problem I had with the rooster was its texture. It was dense. This sounds weird, but chicken and pork have some "air" between the meat strands when you chew it. The rooster just hung around your mouth until you had the audacity to swallow it. I liked it, but would probably not order it again.

Subsequent posts will get the Greek back in this joint, but I'm glad to get that one off my brain.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Going Greek - Kandouni's in Oia

Our hotel in Oia was the Aethrio Hotel, but "hotel" in Santorini means it had 18 rooms. The Aethrio was a little like being in a version of the board game Clue. There were 3 entrances/exits, two of which felt like secret passages right up to the main shopping street.

The main entrance was into a "main" back alley of Oia. This alley was a secondary street of the main street and had some shops along it. It also had 2 great restaurants that were less than 100 feet from the main gate. One was Roka's, where we went for mezes (appetizers) and drinks one night. The other was Kandouni's.

DB~ scoped this place out as we were checking in. It had an outdoor, enclosed courtyard with soot marks indicating where the candles were inset to the walls. We passed by it a couple of times at night and it was a really cool scene with the candles lit up.

We made our reservations for 7 pm one of the nights we were there. Here's a little interlude about dining in Europe. You can sort of tell the nationality of people by what time they show up for dinner. The Americans are used to eating at 6 or 7, plus are usually goofed up by jet lag, and are waiting for the places to open at 7 (this was usually us). The Australians are totally goofed up time wise, so they roll in at 7:30 pm. The Spanish are refreshed after their afternoons siestas, so they cruise in at 8 pm. The Germans arrive precisely at 8:30 pm, because everything they do is precise. And finally, when we were leaving our dinner at 9 pm (dinner is 2 hours minimum rush), the French take over the restaurants. Which is ironic since the French are usually the ones being taken over.

After some small talk with our server who was a music student at some school outside of Chicago (not sure if he was an active student or not), we ordered an appetizer of pureed fava beans. Side note 2 - hummus, although associated as Greek, is actually more Middle Eastern but we still thought we would see it. It was rare to see on menus. Saw some pureed eggplant, but it was mostly fava beans. The meze at Kandouni's was excellent.

The piece de resistance, especially for DB~, were our main courses. DB~ has always dined well, even before me, but we jointly "stepped our games" up while together. When we go to these restaurants in Pittsburgh, she enjoys them all and gives good feedback, but for this meal she RAVED about it.

The dish was called Butter Risotto. A healthy portion came out on the plate and was cooked perfectly. If you don't mind the store on risotto it can go sideways on you, but this one was spot on. The flavors associated with it are what won her over. It had some local mushrooms, capers, and peppers that were woven into the risotto. The two things that made it stand out were a mellowed out balsamic drizzle over top of it, plus some grated hard Greek cheese. It wasn't myzathira and I don't have a recollection of what is was. There is chance, because Kandouni prides itself on being a fusion style, is that it was an Asiago grated cheese.

DB~ called it the best meal of her life. Even now, 3 weeks removed from it, she still goes into a trance like state when she recalls it.

As for me, I went with a pork steak wrapped in bacon. I also had a balsamic blended glaze on the steak which accented the perfect temperature and composition of the meat. It was a tenderloin, which is my kryptonite when I see it on a menu, but rather a "steak" cut. It was paired with a whipped potato mix, sprinkled with some peppercorns, plus a wilted greens mix.

Since we were 1 of 3 tables occupied at our dining slot (see above), we were able to talk with the owner quite a bit. He was a younger man, possibly late 30's, named Panos. It was great to get some insight from him about life on Oia. He really had no use for going to the mainland of Greece, especially the "smog filled and polluted" town of Athens. He had some friends that moved to the "big" city of Fira, which is the capital of the island and not that much bigger ultimately, but he was very content with his life in the village of Oia. He had everything he needs there.

DB~ and I were wondering about that part. There isn't a super market on Santorini, as you will later see we drove the whole island on our last day, but there also aren't a lot of markets per se. They have a lot of little corner pharmacies here and there, but we didn't see a ton of markets where locals would shop for rice, fish, and meat. We were a little stumped on how people get things on this island.

There are so many food type posts I want to post, so I think the next post will be about our "food porn" night out in Oia.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Going Greek - The Island of Santorini

We left Athens at 8:30 in the morning and touched down on the island of Santorini at 9:15 am. It was an easy flight over the Aegean Sea. We got to see a lot of the islands below us (DB~ always gets the window seat as she's a nervous flyer) and the crystal blue waters.

Santorini's airport is officially the smallest airport I have touched down in. It had 3 gates, but you all entered in and out of the same door. There was 1 baggage carousel.

After collecting our bags, we found the "transport" (their word for shuttle/taxi) that our hotel, the Aethrio, sent for us after we requested it. It was kind of funny to see a Mercedes being used as a taxi. We shared the transport with an Australian couple on honeymoon going to a different hotel, the Laokisti Village. They must have had some serious $$$ as they were on a 1 month honeymoon to Greece, Italy, Spain, and the Czech Republic (his heritage).

You quickly find out that the roadway system on Santorini is not like in Pittsburgh. First, they have no names or numbers on the roads. Second, they are windy as all get out. Third, they are super narrow. At times, going through the little villages during our 30 minute drive to our village of Oia, there was barely enough space for one car to pass another car in the opposite direction.

When we arrived in Oia, we dropped the Aussies off at their place and then were at our dropoff 3 minutes later. We got dropped off in this little parking lot and were met by the porter for the Aethrio. He grabbed our rolling suitcases and then led us through a narrow, cobblestone alleyway to our hotel. Our alleyway had a name, but in Santorini they aren't real big on addresses or names. The alley was just wide enough for 2, maybe 3, people to fit through at a time. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for an invading force to fight their way through these types of streets during less peaceful times of Greece's history.

Our "hotel" had 18 rooms and we were fortunate to request ahead of time their largest suite. It had a little sitting area, the bedroom, a nice shower, and our own private terrace. There were also stairs leading up to the jointly shared Sunset Terrace. From there you could turn one way to see the caldera, the other way out to the sea for the sunset.

Santorini is actually made up of 5 islands. It used to be 1 island until it's volcano (still active today) exploded in 1000 B.C. and ripped a hole in the side, letting the Aegean Sea in to it. Now the main island looks like a backwards C, there are two volcanic islands named New and Old Burnt Island, Therissia, and some other tiny uninhabited island I can't remember.

Oia is perched about 400 feet directly above the sea. They built homes right into the cliffside in a cascading pattern. The main shopping street in Oia, on the ridge top, is made of stone and marble. When you actually come out of the alley and on to the main shopping street, it is very crowded when the cruise ships are in from the island's capital of Fira. But when you make your way to the wall or the top of some series of steps, the view of the caldera takes your breath away the first time you see it.

The white-washed walls of most of the buildings are common to this series of islands in Greece known as the Cyclades. The blue roofs on churches of the Greek Orthodox nature are a landmark, too. There were many windmills at one time on the island, but very few (and none that we saw) are active anymore. But they do help set the mood for a great picture.

For a sleepy little village such as Oia, there were no shortage of great restaurants for us to sample. Some were only steps away from the gate of our hotel.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Going Greek - Dining in and around the Plaka

Before I start this post, I'd like to apologize for the recent pace of the posts. DB~ and I moved on Monday into our new home, so naturally we were busy in the runup to that plus the actual move day. However, we thought that on Tuesday we would be fine once Verizon hooked up our FIOS. And then the whole company decided to strike....

So I'm coming into work early to do this post before my day starts.

Back to your originally scheduled post:

While in Athens, the hotel that we stayed at was on the edge of a neighborhood called the Plaka. The Plaka is an interesting mix of jewelery shops, shoe stores, souvenir places, bars, and restaurants. It essentially runs between two subway stops, Monastariki and Syntagma. Syntagma (Constitution in Greek) Square is where all the rioting happened in early July. It's disturbing to read about the first leg of your honeymoon on with the phrase "tear gas still hangs in the air over Athens".

But they got that all out of their system by the time we got there, although there were still some protestors camping out in the Square. Plus while going to breakfast one morning, a whole Greek SWAT van rolled up and the guys got out with the riot shields and gear. It seems like that is normal procedure though for the Square.

Anyway, back to the Plaka. Like most of Athens that we visited, the side streets in the Plaka were narrow and only fit for pedestrians or scooters. A few of the streets were made entirely of cobblestone. There was always action in the Plaka district; it's pretty much a self-contained little neighborhood.

A common practice, which we did not anticipate, are the waiters standing outside the restaurants gesturing and leading you into their places. You have approximately 8.6 seconds to look at the menu before one of them descends upon you. You can politely wave them off, but then it's on to the next one and the cycle repeats. It reminded me a lot of Jamaica and how every shop owner would try and get you to come in off the street.

Our first night, we selected a random taverna to eat dinner. For an appetizer, we got a plate of hot, softened feta with olive oil and both black and red pepper flakes mixed in. The red pepper flakes gave it the heat and the black got your attention. It was quite tasty.

DB~ had Moussaka, as she went for the kill shot right off the bat. It smelled fantastic when it was brought out and she felt it was one of the best she's ever had.

I had a Pork Souvlaki dinner platter. The souvlaki is the Greek kebab, although kebabs (more Middle Eastern) are uber-prevalant in Greece as well. Typically, a souvlaki is skewered meat that is taken off the skewer and put into a pita with lettuce, tomato, and tzatziki sauce (cucumber with yogurt). Mine was on a plate with little wedges of pita on the side. I wasn't sure how to construct it with the tiny wedges, so I sort of ate everything individually. I'm sure the waiters just rolled their eyes at me.

For lunch on Wednesday, we got gyros (pronounced "heros") from a corner stand that was reputed by a Greek person we know back in Pittsburgh to be the best ever. The great thing is that if you get them to go, they are 2 euros rather than 4 if you sit down. Same gyro, just that they don't have to serve you, I guess. So we ate our gyros, lamb for me and chicken for the Squiggle, in the Monastariki Square and observed Athens life.

Here's a few observations from our short time in Athens:
1. Pakistanis/Indians are 2nd class citizens in Athens. The street vendors and beggars were primarily from these countries (maybe a Sri Lankan tossed in there too). When you would eat outside, the little kids would try and pull on your heart strings by playing instruments or selling you flowers, even at 11 pm.

2. Europe has not gotten the memo that smoking will kill you. Coming from a city and country that is trying to make it as difficult as possible to smoke, it was jarring to see all these Euros (young and old) firing up a heater before dinner, waiting for dinner, after dinner, after visiting the Acropolis, waiting for a subway, etc.

3. Euro dudes wear capri pants. American guys wear them here too, but it is a rare occasion and they are usually on their way to buy tickets to see Celene Dion or Cher.

4. Surprisingly, Euro women did get the memo to shave their armpits. This was welcome, as I didn't want to constantly see a woman and it look like she had Buckwheat in a headlock.

5. Scooters are the primary and accepted method of transportation for guys in Greece. Again, something a little effeminate about them here is OK over there. It's almost a necessity with the narrow streets and lack of good parking areas. Smart cars were very popular, too.

6. Lot of graffiti. Lots. And not just because of the recent riots against the austerity plan.

Our last night in Athens, we wandered through the Plaka looking for a nice romantic off-the-beaten-path place. We found it at a place on Adrianou that I do not remember right now and do not have access to DB~'s camera to find the picture. It had the interesting feature of having tables up the inclined alleyway next to it. Some of the tables were at the angle of the alleyway and some, like ours, were on platforms to keep it level.

That night we had some fantastic dolamathedes, which are grape leaves stuffed with rice and drenched in olive oil until they are soft to the touch and can cut with a fork. Another nice touch in Greece is that feta cheese is, literally, everywhere. They can't give you enough of it. When you ordered a salad, they gave you a block of it doused with oregano. Here's a picture of the grape leaves and the typical Greek salad.

For dinner that night, DB~ had a deconstructed chicken kebab dish and I had lamb kleftiko. This is definitely something I'll be reverse-engineering back here, as it was chunks of lamb slow roasted in foil with some tomato sauce, potatoes, and other vegetables and seasoning. It was a very simple dish, but had a lot of flavor.

Our time in Athens drew to a close on a Wednesday night. It would take just a short 45 minute flight for us to go to perhaps the most picture-esque place that either of us have been to...the island of Santorini.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Going Greek - Ancient Athens via Modern Athens

There are certain places you go and admire them for their beauty or skill or craftsmanship. An impressive skyscraper perhaps, or a beautiful sports venue, or a work of art. There are places you go that you are struck by their awesome scope and power, like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. And then there are places that humble you.

For DB~ and I, the Acropolis in Athens (and the Parthenon in particular) was one of those places. The Acropolis (High City) is perched on a hill high above Athens. We were able to look out of our balcony at the Magna Grecia and see the Acropolis looming over us, keeping watch while we slept at night.

The Acropolis is the conglomeration of different buildings that made up Ancient Athens. It was built in 430 B.C. and for being 2400+ years old is looking remarkably well. The centerpiece and most well-known piece is the Parthenon, which was the meeting center of the times. Surrounding it, at least what remains today, were a few temples (the Erecthion was to Athena and a few others), the Theatre of Dionysus (the God of Wine...kind of the party god), and an amphitheatre that has been preserved and restored to the point that it still serves as a space for live theatre and crappy new-age music like Yanni.

While looking at the Parthenon, I was struck by thinking of all the world events this structure has lived through. It was around 430 years BEFORE Jesus, lived through the Bubonic Plague in Europe, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Crusades, Roman occupation of Greece, Turkish occupation of Greece, the birth of America, Industrial Revolutions, multiple World Wars, and our current entertaining state of world affairs. And yet, in some fashion, it still stands.

As an engineer, the structures that most of us build are expected to have 50 to 100 year design cycles. This one is going on its 25th design cycle. Here is Pittsburgh, there is ample debate over demolishing the Civic Arena that is all of 45+ years old. That is an eyeblink in the Parthenon's life.

To get to the Parthenon, we walked 3 blocks from our hotel to the Syntagma subway stop, which is a main hub on the recently completed Athens subway system. The system was done in the runup to the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics and is a pristine system. It is clean and bright and has shiny marble-esque floors in the station.

It is extremely handy to get to many key points of the city all for a very reasonable fee for a 24-hour pass. We also took it to get to and from the airport, especially handy because all taxi drivers were on strike while were there, for only 7 euros ($10) per person for the 42 minute ride.

It was an interesting juxtaposition for me to be enjoying modern transportation while hiking up hand carved rock steps all the way to the top of a hill to see a 2400+ year old structure. I probably didn't fully grasp it while in the moment because it felt like we were on the surface of the sun (not much shade in Greece) and surrounding by pushy, sweaty citizens of Earth.

The Parthenon is one of those places that I wish everyone could see once.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Going Greek - Meeting the Poet Sandal Maker

DB~ and I were married a couple of weeks ago and were fortunate to save our Canadian Pesos up for a 9 day honeymoon to Greece. There will be a whole series of blog posts about our adventures, people we met, and food we ate over the course of the next month.

Our first two days of the trip were spent in Athens, the cradle of democracy. We are both researchers, so we did a lot of Googling for places to check out. One that caught my eye was The Poet Sandal Maker in Athens.

Pantellis Melissinos is a 3rd generation sandal maker in the heart of downtown Athens. His grandfather started the business in the 1920's and passed it on to Pantellis's father in the 50's. Pantellis's father caught a break one day when Sophia Loren wandered in to the little shop one day and was enamored by the sandals. She bought some and put the store on the map.

After that celebrities made his store a regular stop, such as Barbara Streisand, Lily Tomlin, Jackie Onassis, and John Lennon. When the store was officially passed to Pantellis in 2004, stars like Jeremy Irons and Kate Moss still show up among many others. He is known as the Poet because in addition to making hand-crafted mid-priced footwear, he is actually a poet and renowned playwright. He had a very highly reviewed play a few years back in Athens that was a modern re-invention of the Greek Gods known as Bacchus.

Let me interject for a second here and mention about my footwear. These toes have not seen the light of day for many years, pools not withstanding. They are regularly encased in Nikes or Steve Maddens or Timberline hiking boots. I have ugly feet, in my opinion. But I was so taken with all of the sandal stores over there and the idea of having sandals hand made by the Poet, that I decided to get a pair.

The Poet's store is a neighborhood called Psiri. It started a few blocks from our hotel, but at night the Psiri gets a little edgy. It's darker than the more touristy Plaka district, with more locals inhabiting the area. During the day, the Psiri is artisan shops like leather makers, tinsmiths, and markets. At night it turns into bars and restaurants.

After dinner on Tuesday night, we were trying to find a good entry point into the Psiri, but every street was dark and narrow and edgy. We said "let's try one more" and wandered onto this street where we were greeted by the Poet's shop. Dumbfounded by our good luck and surprised it was still open, we wandered in. It was a tiny, crowded store with sandals strewn in no apparent pattern all over the walls. Very dimly lit, it reminded us of the Asian food markets back in the Strip District.

Sprawled on a bench, taking a nap, was the Poet. A young man was hammering away at sandals in the backroom. After he awoke, he handed us the color list of his 30+ styles of sandals he makes and asked me to pick what I like. I asked which were the men's sandals and he said all of them were unisex. We both giggled at the idea of a man wearing the laceup gladiator sandals popular with women, as shown on the sheet.

I picked the Diogenes model that the Poet himself was actually wearing. He asked my size and got a template down from the shelf. Once it fit, he hammered the sandal onto the sole and added extra nails for support and strength. He did this right in front of us, which reminded DB~ and I of our friend Tony from Jamaica who made our fish right in front of us. Both the Poet and Tony had hands that told a story of their hardworking lives.

So now I have sandals from a famous cobbler. I wore them all around Greece for the rest of the trip. My big toes, unaccustomed to such things, got huge blisters on them, but it was worth it.