Unlike Keats I cannot write a real ode, nor could I get away with saying things like “Thou foster-child of silence and slow time”, so I am going to be far more prosaic, and just write some brief notes of our travels to Athens, Mykonos and Santorini earlier this year.
If you want to read a real ode check it out here 🙂https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44477/ode-on-a-grecian-urn
Our history, mathematics and philosophy books are peppered with famous Greeks like Alexander, Homer, Socrates, Pythagoras, Euclid, Plato, Aristotle, Archimedes (and more recently Papanicolau of the Pap smear and Aristotle Onassis of the Jackie Kennedy). http://www.greeka.com/greece-history/famous-people/ but we should also add to the list Yanis Varoufakis, their finance minister during the recent financial crisis.
Varoufakis’s father, George Varoufakis, emigrated from Cairo in the 1940s, arriving in the midst of the Greek Civil War. One day, he was “roughed up” by the police and asked to sign a denunciation of communism. In response, he said: “Look I am not a Buddhist, but I would never sign a denunciation of Buddhism”. He therefore ended up spending several years imprisoned. Imagine that ! His mother, Eleni Varoufaki became an activist for the Women’s Union of Greece, which promoted gender equality.
So it is not surprising that Varoufakis’ political views were more left and centre. He argued that taking on the “bailout” loans in 2010 and 2012, before restructuring the debt properly and putting in place a proper developmental program would lead to deeper bankruptcy, a great depression and a harder default in the future. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/28/german-finance-minister-admitted-would-not-sign-greek-austerity/
On 25 June 2015, Varoufakis was presented with an ultimatum in the Eurogroup. It comprised a fiscal proposal that Varoufakis, his government and, indeed, several other ministers of finance sitting in the Eurogroup, considered to be non-viable. He campaigned for a No vote and received a resounding 61.5% vote in favour. However, the PM instead of being energized by the “No” vote, declared to Varoufakis his decision to acquiesce to the terms. Unwilling to sign such a “surrender” document, Varoufakis chose to resign.
Difficult politics and economy aside, we found everyone in Greece to be extremely friendly.The most so in Mykonos, Athens a bit less and Santorini even less so. Not that anyone was unfriendly and I think if we had travelled to Santorini first and then to Mykonos we would not even have noticed the changing degrees of friendliness.
Before going there we made long and enthusiastic lists of ‘things to do’ and ‘top things to do’ and ‘offbeat things to do’ and ‘must do’ but eventually reality sets in and you can really only do 2 big ‘things’ in a day.
We spent 3 days altogether in Athens, which was great. We managed to stay very close to the Plaka which is the main market square. It is a complete tourist trap but you can hardly become a semi anthropological native in a 3 day trip, so keep it real and enjoy being the tourist. Buy the Donkey Milk Gold Soap. Come on !
We also went to the Monastiraki Flea Market which was fun and had some lovely little cafes (tavernas). ( This photo is one from Mykonos but they are all similar)
We stayed at Hotel Amalia which has a lovely terrace with a straight view of the Acropolis. http://amaliahotelathens.gr/
Despite being surrounded by the historical remains of the cradle of the Western civilization, what my daughter liked the most in Athens was the Locked Room Mystery game we played twice. Once it was a regular murder mystery and once it was the Pope who had been murdered! Three of us were locked in the room and given a set of clues which would eventually solve the mystery and allow us to be released from the room. We had one hour to solve it, the clues were clever and the thrill of solving was real ! If you want do it here is a link http://athensclue.gr/
We took the ferry from Athens to Mykonos, which is a simply gorgeous place. The downtown was so lovely and clean and beautiful. It was even more charming because there are people who actually live in that area with the cobblestone streets and whitewashed walls and so many small churches and cafes and shops. And the cats! There are cats everywhere you go and they all look well fed and healthy.
Some mandatory photos we took there were of the windmills and the sunset.
It is impossible to take any bad photos in Greece! Everything looks intense under the Mediterranean sky and the white washed walls and bright flowers just make everything look luscious. I remembered the delicious descriptions of the Greek island that Gerald Durrell writes about in My Family and Other Animals, when his mother takes him and his siblings from England to go and live there.
We stayed at the Hotel Aeolos https://aeolos-hotel.com/en/ and ate at Jimmy’s Gyros which was truly delicious, inexpensive and so friendly! The beaches are clean and the water is simply the bluest of blue. But I prefer reading in the shade or even indoors rather than getting a migraine and sunburn on the beach, so here I am with a book about my favourite Detective Fiona Griffiths ( written by Harry Bingham) and a delicious repast of fresh fish and vegetables in a tangy lemony sauce.
After 3 days there we travelled to Santorini which was also nice but not quite as charming as Mykonos. We stayed at http://www.alesahne.gr/
The famous black beach was just pebbles and no sand and then the famous white beach was just a regular beach with sand….but the food was delicious as ever and we saw a surreal movie *ing Scarlett Johanssen as a Japanese woman (and that was not even the most surreal part…there were robots and body snatching with a very convoluted but ultimately clichéd plot line). However we saw it in a delightful open air theatre which made up for everything. The weather was perfect, the air was cool and the stars were out, the popcorn was yummy and they also gave us blankets to cover our legs. Apparently it is one of the last functioning open air theatres in Europe. ( I don’t know about you but information like this always makes me feel almost obliged to give them my custom to prevent them from shutting down 🙂 ) http://www.cinekamari.gr/
On Santorini island you should visit Fia and Oia where the three blue domes are to be found that have become a hallmark of every tourist and their ‘wish you were here’ postcards and photos. Of course we also had to get one of those photos –and there was a looong queue to sit at the perfect spot, including an entire class of college students from Vietnam and many pre wedding photo shoot couples from Japan.
But the best part for me was finding this adorable little bookshop down a flight of crooked stairs which has its own philosophy tower!
I could have happily lived there for weeks….but I had to leave with only 2 books. Both awesome books which I am enjoying reading and re-reading. (Why I am not a Feminist by Jessa Crispin, and The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry.)
I saw many interesting elements of art and design in posters and even the in -flight magazine.
A note on the food. The best thing you can eat there is of course the souvlaki and gyros. Nothing can beat a freshly wrapped one, with fries and tzatziki. The taste is very similar to Indian food –like a kebab being wrapped in a fluffy- as- a- cloud naan and some cucumber raita added in. http://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/how-greek-food-is-similar-to-indian-cuisine-704136
But honestly, souvlaki at every single meal can get a bit tedious……though we did have a lot of fish too. I have no idea what vegetarians would manage to live on though there seemed to be many options involving eggplant and such.
We also ate LOTS of Greek salad which tastes fantastic in Greece, and a lot more Baclava than can possibly be healthy. We found out that they make coffee by putting the small pot in hot sand, much like our moongfalliwala in Mumbai.
Confession–Despite the delicious local food, we were thrilled to find a Thai restaurant on the 5th day and ate Pad Thai and Green Curry like there was no tomorrow!
I am going to end this post with a short clip of a surreal and insanely funny scene about a classical Greek Dinner from Birdcage. If you haven’t seen the movie, please do! It has nothing to do with Greece actually (besides Agador Spartacus 🙂 but it is brilliant.