Greece, Travel and Adventure

You Know You Work at A Golf Course When…

1) You tell everyone you meet to “Have a nice round” instead of “Have a nice day”

2) You don’t find change in the bottom of the washing machine– you find golf tees

3) The only white part left on your shoes is where you accidentally sprayed them with white paint while marking circles around pins on the chipping green for a golf clinic (true story)

4) You start driving your car like a golf cart, complete with reverse spins into tiny parking spaces

5) You have unbelievably distinct sock tanlines

6) You know that it’s best to play in the morning, not because of the heat of the afternoon, but because the wind picks up around 12 o’clock and makes the course 10x more difficult

7) You connect guests’ names to the type of golf clubs they use, rather than their faces

8 ) You fold all your towels at home into perfect, cupholder-sized spirals

9) You start to repair divots in your neighbor’s front lawn

10) You turn up your nose at grocery store produce, preferring to pick your own apricots and oranges off the trees by the driving range

11) When you have a day off, you realize that the only place you really want to be is back at the course (tomorrow is my first day off– and I will be back here in the afternoon teaching one of my coworkers a thing or two on the range!)

The joys of the golf world 🙂

Greece, Travel and Adventure

We Don’t Have Snakes

During my long day of shuttling the players down to the driving range, I had a number of interesting experiences. On one trip back from the range, I was driving a full load of players, pros, and one staff member (who had joined us for the week to help with the tournament). I was chatting with the player next to me when all of a sudden a snake slithered its way across the road right in front of my cart. I didn’t exactly slam the breaks, but I did squeal “Snake!” rather loudly. It was a small garden snake, nothing to be frightened of, and the guests hardly bothered to look. The first reaction I heard, however, was the staff guy saying in heavily accented English, “It was not a snake”.

“It was! It just slithered into the bushes!” I pointed.

“It was not a snake,” he said, completely serious.

“What?” I could not believe what I was hearing, but I decided maybe he just didn’t understand. I let it drop.

When we arrived back at the Clubhouse, the players unloaded their bags and headed off to the first tee. Before I could set off for the range again, though, the staff member grabbed me and pulled me back by the club storage room.

“It was not a snake,” he repeated again, as adamantly as ever.

“It was! I saw it! They saw it! I don’t understand.”

He looked me straight in the eye and said, “This is a 5-star resort. We do not have snakes here.”

End of conversation.

I felt awful for about 30 min, as if I had let the entire resort down with my outburst. Then I started to laugh at the absurdity. Since then I have seen about a dozen snakes (none poisonous or dangerous in the least), and every time I just can’t help but smile. No, we don’t have snakes here.

*Note: Featured photo courtesy of Costa Navarino.

Greece, Travel and Adventure

Introducing: Rima

My poor apartment has had an empty bed in it for over a week now. The rest of the house filled up quickly with summer staffers from all over Europe: Romania, Hungary, Sweden, Estonia… it’s like an international hostel! Yet apparently no one wanted to live with the American at the end of the hall.

Then, one night, a mysterious suitcase (covered in blue polka dots) appeared in my little living room. I checked the airport bag-tag to try and learn something about this strange new twist. The only hint I received were the bold letters: RIX. Google told me that this referred to Riga International Airport in Latvia. My curiousity was killing me, but I restrained myself from probing further into the suitcase and instead changed into some less-golfy clothes and went downstairs.

When you pack 40 twenty-year-olds into a house, there is bound to be a party. Of course, we all work long shifts so nobody is going crazy. But every night there is always a gathering on the front porch. Guys bring down cases of beer (Mythos and Amstel are popular Greek brands), girls share laptops and look at pictures online. One person has a car and cranks up the speakers to provide a very eclectic soundtrack of EuroPop, American rock, and traditional Greek songs.

I can’t say I’ve spent too much time hanging with the crowd outside; I usually say a quick hi before running upstairs for a shower before I crash for the night. But this particular night, I needed information. And I knew somebody downstairs would have the lowdown on my new roomie.

I stepped out onto the porch and was greeted with a round of “Hello”s. One guy offered me his chair (such gentlemen around here!) and I jumped into the conversation. Everyone has heavy accents, but they all speak English fairly well. Viktor (from Romania) was outgoing and started asking me about my job at the golf course. I was soon laughing at his stories from work and nearly forgot my purpose for coming down.

“Oh hey… does anybody know whose suitcase is in my room?” I asked amidst the numerous voices that were talking and shouting.

A girl who I had met the day before, Elysse, said, “Have you met your new roommate yet? I bet she’ll come down in a minute. She’s with Erica.”

“Oh okay? Is she nice? What’s her name? Where is she from?”

Elysse frowned slightly, “I think she is from Lithuania. She is very nice. You will like her.” I didn’t press her again for a name.

It was only a few minutes later that I got to ask her myself. She popped downstairs, with a big smile and a long braid winding around the back of her head and down her back. Elysse waved her over and introduced her as my new roommate.

“Hi! I’m Rima,” she said in perfect English with only a hint of accent. “It’s so nice to meet you.”

“Hey, I’m Debby! I had no idea I was going to get a roommate… I’m so glad to have you move in!”

The awkward “wow we don’t know each other at all but we’re going to live together all summer” moment occurred, but we both just smiled… She went to go talk to some friends and I assessed the situation. Well, there wasn’t much real analysis to do. Rima was great. Super cute, with long dark hair, chocolate brown eyes and a smooth tan from working outside the last few weeks (she’d been working at the resort, but had originally been set up with some terrible housing). Later, when we went up to the room to split the closet space and pull out fresh towels, we realized just how much we had in common. She is 21 years old (only 2 weeks younger than me), loves to dance, is really trying to learn Greek (we have decided to memorize at least 5 words every night), and can match me for talking! Rima attends Lithuania Christian College, which, when she described it, sounds like a Lithuanian version of Wheaton. Talk about amazing.

We’ve stayed up much too late the past few nights, getting to know each other and making plans for the rest of the summer. She knows of a tucked-away beach that is the home of an old, naked hermit; I told Rima about my interest in archaeology and all the ruins I want to go visit. She brings home apples from the main staff cafeteria; I collect bags of oranges from the fruit trees on the golf course. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…

Greece, Travel and Adventure

My Life in Ruins

… and I’m not referring to that horrid film that played off every awful Greek stereotype. No, I’m referring to the fact that even at a 5-Star resort, I encounter archaeology every single day.

On the drive from my apartment to the resort, I pass five brown “Archaeological Site –>” signs. FIVE. One in particular has piqued my curiosity. It reads: “Mycanean tholos tombs -> This way”. A visit to the tombs is at the top of my priority list.

But I don’t have to travel off the road at all to see some of the excavations— there are several on the golf course! My favorite part of the back nine is turning the corner to the 15th teebox and seeing the massive, 1,000-yr old olive trees providing shade to ancient Bronze Age ruins. The excavations are very current; I keep hoping to see some archaeologists, with trowels in hand, walking along the cart path.

There are 5 areas that are covered with blue-green tarps (to protect the mud-brick houses from stray golf shots). I “happened” to hook my tee shot near one of them on my first day here, and managed to get a quick peek underneath the cover. The area is very well-swept (I have a great appreciation for a clean site after my season in Ashkelon) and notes are tacked to specific layers. I would love to get a better look, but I think I”ll wait until I get permission to do so.

Why are there excavations on the golf course? Well, you can hardly dig a grave without hitting something of historical significance. The resort owns thousands of acres, most of it along the coast here in Messinia. The ancient site of Pylos was a port city, so much of the town was built close to the sea.

All this information I knew upon my arrival. Everything I’ve learned since, I’ve heard from resort guests! I gave my first tour yesterday. Often, visitors (who have no golf experience) will want to see the beautiful course. My job is to take them on a grand tour, explaining the layout, the design, the water system… or just stopping every time they want to take a picture. I was thrilled to learn that my first two guests, Frank and David, were from London and had regularly vacationed in Messinia. They had watched the course being built and, as avid golfers in the UK, they were excited to see the completed design. I was able to give them a general overview of the course, but they gave me something even more valuable: the history of the area.

We drove over a creek and David said, “Do you know what this river is?” I responded in the negative; I had assumed it was part of the golf course construction, although looking at the extensive foliage I now realized it had a bit more maturity than that.

“It was once part of King Nestor’s port,” he told me, excited to share his archaeological knowledge. “They’ve actually excavated the port, but they let the cattails grow over it to protect it during the building of the golf course. Its right over there, actually,” he said, pointing just a short distance from the cart path.

“That’s incredible!” I said, genuinely impressed. “How do you know all this?”

“I’ve read extensively about the history of this area. Carl Blegen was the first to excavate here, and Davis is in charge now. I wonder how he feels about the golf course…”

It was hard to tell whether he was upset about the new construction or if the beauty of it had won him over.

We stopped near the green on 12 and stood on the hills behind the green, looking at the spectacular view before us. Frank took a number of pictures.

“You can actually see Nestor’s Palace from here,” David told me pointing east into the mountains. “See that long rectangle? That’s the roof that covers the excavation.”

Absolutely unbelievable. To the east is Nestor’s Palace, slightly to the north is Pylos (both the modern and ancient city), to the west are the tholos tombs. Sparta is 100 km away. Olympia is 150 km. Hello, history, its a pleasure to spend every day with you.

Greece, Travel and Adventure

Fish and Sticks

Tournament: Round 1

The day started off with some gut-wrenching drama. I arrived at the course at 7am to warm up and found SavaƟ (the pro for my team) out on the driving range. I was completely on edge and just couldn’t make good contact with the ball. He told me to relax, that everything would be fine, and then gave me a small tip on my swing to focus on. The range loosened me up and I started channeling my nerves into pure excitement to play. I was hitting a few putts around the practice green when suddenly a woman showed up, decked out in a leopard-print golf glove and spotless white shoes. She walked right up to SavaƟ and told him, “Okay, I’m all checked in and ready to play.” SavaƟ looked at her, then at me. My heart dropped. Apparently, the people running the tournament had been informed that his team needed a sub so they had provided one as well. When we told the lady that I was prepared to play, too, she looked me up and down and dismissed me, saying, “Well, I’m ready to play. I would be perfectly fine letting you play tomorrow, but I don’t think the rules committee would allow that.”

SavaƟ gave me a sympathetic look and said that we needed to go talk to the officials about it.

The woman was appalled. “I’m already checked in! They wrote my name in upstairs.”

SavaƟ insisted, so we all marched up to the offices and talked to several people. Essentially, it was left up to SavaƟ to decide who would play. My stomach was so twisted up from my desire to play and the realization that I was probably not going to. He looked incredibly uncomfortable. But the truth was, she was a paying guest of the hotel. And I was a brand new employee.

I decided to speak up and be done with it: “Look, I’ll make the decision easy for you. She can play. It’s fine.”

The lady smiled smugly and said, “There. That was easy.”

I walked away quickly before my emotions got the best of me.

My clubs were already on the cart, so I went to take them off. Thomas was nearby and saw my face. I bit my lip and shook my head. As I turned to take my bag off, I noticed SavaƟ talking to the lady on the steps I had just come down. He gestured in my direction and she gave him a look of utter disbelief. He left her standing on the stairs and walked up to me with a grin.

[On a side note: the lady did end up getting to play with another team that needed a fourth. So all’s well that ends well.]

We started on hole 10 and I met Mustafa and Gurol, the other two Turkish members of our team. Gurol was Turkish-Australian and therefore had an amazingly cool accent. I started off strong, parring the first few holes before fumbling up my game in the bunkers. The tournament format was to count 2 scores per hole (with handicaps figured in; I played off a 10). While my overall score was nothing to speak of, I definitely felt like an asset to the team. My best hole of the day was number eight: par 3, uphill, into really strong wind. I stuck a five iron about 8-inches from the pin.

I was rather frustrated with my game, though, so I spent the entire rest of the day at the range. I beat balls for several hours, then putted for another 2. I had numerous pros giving me tips… one challenged me to a 9-hole competition and I lost rather soundly, but it was great fun!

That night, my teammates invited me to join them at a seafood restaurant on the beach. I ate dinner with them and a few of the other Turkish players. The spread was incredibly good, but I was not a big fan of the octopus and I had no CLUE what to do when the waiter put two fried fish on my plate: heads and all. SavaƟ showed me how to correctly fillet it, although I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to working so hard for just a few bites of fish!

We went back to the resort afterward (Thomas was there with his family and he was my ride home) and decided to check out the Irish Pub on the grounds. Apparently, no one in Greece has been to Ireland before (the guys were especially upset to find out that they didn’t sell Guinness). But it was a rather fun environment with big booths and a snooker table. I spent most of the time talking and with some of the younger pros who I had met when I was the range shuttle-driver. Such an interesting group of people!

Tournament: Round 2

I had another early tee time off the 10th hole, which was nice since it was still a little bit cool out. I started off playing really solid golf. Par, par, birdie, par… I ended the 9 at -1 par. I definitely felt like a solid contributor to my team. My score had me hyped up at the turn, though, which led to me choking on the next nine. I tripled the first hole, had a couple bogeys and a double. I made a long putt on the 9th (our 18th) to save par and shoot a 79. It was really satisfying to see my hours on the range pay off a bit. Our team finished at -17 and we celebrated our round together at the Clubhouse with gellatos.

That night there was a barbecue at the resort by the poolside. I was invited to join, so I went over with Thomas and we enjoyed the beautiful atmosphere along with the interesting company. I spent most of the evening talking to two pros from the UK, Martin and Robin. They were great fun and gave some hilarious commentaries as the big television screens showed clips from the two days of tournament play.

Tournament: Round 3

I was not sure if I was going to play in the final round of the tournament. The format was switched on Saturday to individual play; the pros all played together and the amateurs had their own tournament. But, when the tee times were printed, there was my name! I was in a group with other 10/11 handicappers, including one woman from the UK. I was impressed with her abilities and she liked how I hit my driver. We had a really enjoyable round together. Our other companions were an Italian (who didn’t speak Greek or English) and a Greek (who swore in about 12 languages). I did not play my absolute best, but I had a decent performance, finishing with an 85.

The final event of the Pro-Am was a big Gala. The seating was outdoors in a beautiful courtyard under a canopy of stars. I wore the nicest dress that I had brought, with a cute pair of heels. At the last minute I tucked a delicious-smelling gardenia behind my ear. My name was on the guest list alongside Thomas, so we sat together with part of the team from Cyprus. It was a wonderful setting, but the food was even more appealing! Every type of meat and fish, vegetables, fruits, breads, dips, salads, cakes… It was unbelievable. At every seat was a gift bag containing a beautiful set of worry beads, which I am now rather fond of. The awards program began after dinner and I cheered loudly as many of the friends I had made this week received their prizes. After dinner, the party moved to one of the lounge/bars on the premises. Everyone settled onto couches and sipped fruity drinks til late into the night.

It was an incredible experience. I already miss the buzz and the excitement. Many of my new friends gave me their cards and told me to come visit them at their respective golf courses in Dubai, Istanbul, Vienna, South Africa… It’s great to realize how much my golf world has expanded this week.

I need to get to work, but here are some much-awaited pictures. I just snapped these right now in PhotoBooth so they’re not great, but they give you a sense of the landscape. I’m currently sitting on my porch, just after sunrise, looking out over the gray-blue ocean. The mountains are behind me, along with the cow who seems to have taken his chill pill.

Greece, Travel and Adventure

They Call It a Buggy

Talk about diving in headfirst. I have so much to tell and so little time. Essentially, I went in to work on Tuesday at 7am and worked until 5:30pm, when I got to jump on the course for 18 holes with Thomas. The course is absolutely gorgeous, with huge greens, thousands of olive trees, and spectacular sea views. Work was not quite so glamorous. I felt like a lost puppy much of the time, trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing and trying to catch onto the Greek words that were flying about. I did discover a previously-unknown talent for rolling hand towels into perfect spirals for the golf carts.

The guys invited me to join them for dinner and we went to a local taverna— which opens right onto the beach. There are about a billion stars here and very few lights. The setting was simply amazing. We relaxed and talked until long after midnight, when somebody realized we had another early morning ahead.

Today, I was at work by 6am. There is a big Pro-Am tournament this week, sponsored by Aegean Airlines. It is the biggest tournament in Greece. And had no clue what to expect. The practice round was today, and it felt something like a ‘practice round’ for our staff as well. We shuffled golf carts and ran around doing little tasks. Thankfully, I was assigned one particular job for the day: shuttle the players from the Clubhouse to the driving range. It’s about a 3-minute drive so it gave me a little time to chat with the players. I had an absolute ball! Teams from all over the world had come to play in the event, so I heard dozens of different accents and was invited to come play numerous golf courses around the world. I made the loop enough times to create something like wagon ruts in the road.

It was a very long day, and I was completely exhausted by the end of it. However, I got some news from my boss that cheered me right up! Apparently, a player’s golf cart (they call carts “buggys” here… funny, right?) had run over his own foot! He was not going to be able to play in the tournament, and my boss asked if I would mind subbing in.

Seriously? Seriously!

I am thrilled, but also rather nervous. I played a fun round yesterday, but haven’t seriously practiced since leaving Indiana. I am feeling a bit of the pressure. My new teammates are quite wonderful, though. They are from Istanbul and I met most of them early today. Our pro is named SavaƟ and he was on the range for hours today, so I talked to him several times– great guy.

I need to get some rest… Wish me luck this week!

Greece, Travel and Adventure

Doing Things the Greek Way

[Alternative titles: “I Think I Overpacked”, “Hi, I’m Debby and I Do Not Speak Greek” and “Finally, the Cow Stopped Mooing”]

I hate to skip over days (especially ones that included tours of Mycenae), but I made it to Costa Navarino and am just bubbling with excitement and want to tell you all about it.

Walking through Plaka one last time this morning, I realized just how much I had come to think of this city as a new “home”. I waved good-morning to the taverna owners I knew by name, took a shortcut past a busy street, and made one last loop around the agora. I knew the route. Things were beginning to feel normal. Faces were starting to look familiar. And then– whooosh– I was off to the opposite side of the country.

Sakis, the wonderful taxi driver, picked me up in the early afternoon just as it started to rain. We had a nice conversation, but I can’t remember two words. My stomach was twisting itself into knots; my body registered my anxiety, even if my mood didn’t. I still knew very little about what I was getting into. No news had come my way about pick-up from the airport, housing, etc. I had simply convinced myself that I could be chill about it and do it “the Greek way”.

I had gained a measured amount of assurance via another means, though. Another intern on the Costa Navarino staff, Thomas, contacted me, welcoming me to Greece and letting me know he was a college student at the University of Portland! He arrived a week ago and had to deal with a lot of messy details. He gave me a better scope of what the job was going to entail. We emailed several times these last few days and I was looking forward to meeting him.

I checked in at the airport, passing off my 10-ton golf case a the baggage drop, then set off to my terminal. Within minutes of sitting down at the gate, I overheard some men talking about golf! I turned to look and they caught my glance.

“Do you like golf?” they asked.

“Yes, very much! Are you all going to Costa Navarino?”

“Yes, yes. We are going to play in a golf tournament there, you know?”

I grinned, “The big Pro-Am? Yes, I’ll be working at the golf course this summer. I start tomorrow!”

They were thrilled to learn that I played golf. They were from Cyprus and spoke highly of their courses back home, even showing me pictures online. The flight began to board, so we parted, but not before they invited me to dinner with them that night. I laughed and told them that I would probably be busy, but I would see them at the course in the morning.

Now, I was supposed to call someone when I was leaving Athens to get information about travel arrangements to the resort. I tried dialing– and the number was disconnected. Instead of getting panicky, I said a quick prayer and left it in the Lord’s hands. The flight was short, but left me enough time to start formulating worst-case-scenario plans. Immediately upon arriving at the airport in Kalamata, the group of golfers engaged me again and asked if I would be joining them on the resort’s shuttle bus.

“Well, absolutely!” I replied, thankful for God’s providence.

The bus ride was nearly an hour, winding through the hills (they looked more like mountains to me) and olive groves. We passed a few small towns and raggedy gas stations before coming over one last peak… and there it was. Costa Navarino. The resort sprawled out all along the coastline. Tan buildings accented with stone and marble, all with marvelous views of the sea. We passed a bit of the golf course and it looked like it was in great shape.

Once again, I got nervous, wondering how exactly I was going to figure out where to go. I stepped off the bus and there, pulling out the luggage from underneath, was Thomas! He spoke with one of the other staff-members in Greek before sending me a smile and coming over to say a quick hello (without a trace of an accent). He asked me to wait while he finished up with the baggage, with the assurance that he would get me taken care of.

We started with the paperwork in the Human Resources office. Then met some of the staff, followed by a brief drive around the course. One teebox is practically on the beach! Thomas has played the course numerous times, so he knew all its ins and outs. At last, we went back to the Clubhouse and I got set up with my uniform and a schedule for the week (7 am tomorrow– yahoo!). It was all a bit of a whirlwind. Thomas was exhausted after working several 10+ hour days and I still had to find my housing, so we parted ways.

Paris, from the HR department, had my room all taken care of. We drove about 10 minutes back down the road to Gialova, where an old hotel had been purchased by the resort and renovated into apartments for the “trainees”. It was not much to look at, but Paris assured me that the inside was much nicer. I still don’t know about that. There were plenty of rooms available so he asked what I wanted.

“Anything with a view!” I answered.

He smiled and carried my bags upstairs. We looked at a room facing the ocean and the view was lovely. The walls were blank and the rooms were cramped, but there was a tiny kitchen and a 10-inch television. At that moment, one of the housekeepers happened to walk by and Paris conversed with her a moment.

“Come here,” he said, motioning me back into the hallway. We walked all the way to the end. The room was covered in paintings (I later realized it was just thick, painted styrofoam, but it was a lot more colorful!) and had a much better layout. The kitchen had windows that opened up over a small porch, which was accessed through one of the two bedrooms. I followed Paris to the porch rather skeptically, wondering how this view could compete with the other. I stepped outside and my heart leapt! It was on the very corner of the house, so there was a much wider view: the ocean, the hills, the farms and groves. It was stunning! So now I have my view AND a porch AND colorful walls. I’m not certain when I will get roommates, but I’m awful content for now.

On a random note, there are cows in a few of the fields behind my apartment. And there’s one cow that is so loud! He just keeps on moo-ing! Haha. I don’t think I’m in the States anymore.

The Lord is SO GOOD. It’s days like these where it is easy to feel His love. Things could have been stressful or testy, but instead everything worked out without a hitch. Life’s not always like that, but it sure made this transition easy. I feel quite blessed!

Food, Greece, Travel and Adventure

Food Makes Friends

I’m fairly sure I’ve lived a week inside of the last two days. Purely considering the thought of cramming it all into one entry is humorous, so I will slim my narrative down to a few key events, then touch on other memorable moments later down the road.

Renee and Peter flew to Rhodes for a business trip on Friday, so I was left to my own devices. I leisurely went about my morning… eating yogurt, opening the windows to feel the cool morning air, examining the handful of people who were hustling about the street below. Rather inevitably, I heard the siren call of the ruins that lay just across the road. I walked to the entrance of the ancient agora under a cloudy sky, camera in hand. It was a perfect day for taking photographs, and I must have logged hundreds amidst the crumbling temples, altars, stoas, and statues (Unfortunately, I’m having techincal difficulties uploading pictures right now. I promise I’ll get some up soon!).

The more I travel, the more I realize the extent to which the human race is intertwined. My ‘small world’ story for the day: My mom’s good friend Mary, who I have enjoyed getting to know, has a daughter in NYC (who I met on my little adventure to the Big Apple over Christmas break) and a sister, Anna, in Athens– who I made plans to have coffee with in the afternoon. I navigated the Metro (pronounced me-TRO, unlike the Chicago MET-ra) and Anna picked me up at the station in her dark blue convertible. Anna immediately reminded me of Mary, with all the Greek passion and excitement. We went to a fancy little coffee shop and ordered freddo cappucinos (absolutely the best coffee I have ever had). We talked for hours, but eventually she had an appointment that she needed to get to, so I made my way back to Plaka.

I had received word from Renee that she would be back around midnight. That meant I had to make my own dinner plans. After days of eating delicious food and interacting with some incredibly intellectual people, I found my own company (let alone cooking) somewhat lacking. So, I put on black heels, donned a smug “I can totally go out to eat by myself” look, and waltzed right up to the nearest taverna, Carte Postale.

Tavernas in Greece are simple affairs: small wooden tables with matching chairs set several rows deep along the street. I recently learned that at night, the restaurant owners remove the woven seats from the chairs to discourage people from running off with them! Along Renee’s street, the Andrianou, there are probably 30 tavernas crammed along the road. The menus, to a casual observer like myself, all appear similar. To locals, however, the fare is markedly different in both type and quality.

It was about 10 o’clock, which I thought was an appropriate dinner time. Carte Postale, however, was completely empty. None of the tavernas were particularly full, but the total lack of people was unnerving. However, one of the waiters smiled and pointed me to a table near the edge of the street, saying it had the best view of all the people walking by. I agreed and took the proffered menu. I actively engrossed myself in it, hoping to avoid thinking about the long, awkward dinner I was about to have, sitting here by myself.

“Debby!” a voice said in only moderately accented English. I looked up from the menu to see Stravos, the manager of Carte Postale who I had met when I arrived. All the taverna owners know and love Renee, and she had been quick to introduce me. I was impressed that he remembered my name, though.

“Kalinikhta” I said, happy to have someone to talk to.

“Where is Renee?” he asked, genuinely curious.

“Oh, she’s off in Rhodes. I’m on my own for dinner tonight,” I replied, shrugging. “Any recommendations? I don’t want anything too heavy, just some good Greek food.”

“Do you like swordfish? It is very nice here,” he said convincingly.

I shrugged again, smiling, “Sounds great!”

He shouted my order in rapid Greek to one of the waiters and then proceeded to pull a chair up next to me. I was thrilled.

I asked Stavros about his life and found he had graduated from college before setting off to Scandinavia to open his first few restaurants. He had traveled all through Europe, but never to the United States. He spoke very candidly of the problems in his country, saying, “Everybody cheats and thinks they are smart. They are ‘clever’ if they beat the system.” I was starting to hear this quite a lot.

My food came then, a round piece of perfectly cooked fish surrounded by cut tomatoes and cucumbers. The juicy tomatoes were a perfect accent to the salty, tangy fish. Stavros ordered me a glass of white wine, informing me that they only served local vintages. Suddenly, loud cheers rang out from a street nearby, reminding me that everyone was probably off watching the Champions League.

“Did you ever play football, Stavros?” I asked, privately congratulating myself for not calling it “soccer”.

“Oh yes, I played as… how do you say it?… as a semi-professional?” He nodded, satisfied with the term.

“Really? Holy cow… that’s really impressive. Why didn’t you continue?”

Now it was his turn to shrug. “I needed to make money, so I went into the restaurant business. The economy just made things too difficult.”

We continued talking. And talking. The waiters began removing the paper tablecloths and candles from the other tables. More people filled the street, heading to their preferred nighttime entertainment. I kept insisting that Stavros could go take care of other things if he needed to, but he just shook his and said “No, no! They can take care of it.”

Midnight finally rolled around and I felt sleepy after the lovely meal. I waved for the check, but Stavros barked something to the waiter in Greek.

“Stavros…”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said with a wave of his hand.

“Stavros! I have been your only customer tonight! I need to pay!” I insisted mightily, pulling out my stash of euros and counting out the amount. He quite literally took my money and stuffed it back in my purse.

“No.”

I glared at him. “Now I know why all Greeks are broke! They won’t let anybody pay for anything!”

He gave me a huge smile, causing me to break a small grin. “You’re just too nice, Stavros.” I sighed, realizing I wasn’t going to get anywhere by arguing further. “Thank you for the great dinner and the wonderful company.”

At that moment, Renee’s cab pulled up and she struggled out of the car, completely exhausted. She laughed when she saw that I was still downstairs. I opened the front door for us and said good-night to Stavros with one last smile and wave.

Greece, Travel and Adventure

Rain is a Good Thing

I love being mistaken for a Greek.

My goal in any city, at home or abroad, is to carefully cultivate an “of course I’ve lived here my entire life!” aura. In Athens, I have completely avoided the obvious tourist tags: gym shoes, visors, and (of course) fanny packs. Setting a determined look on my face and walking at a brisk pace keeps the street vendors from accosting me with their wares. I refrain from whipping out my camera in the middle of the road (although I have discreetly stepped to the side to snap a photo a time or two). I regularly use my extensive Greek vocabulary (yes, no, hello, goodbye, thank you!). I managed the Metro today without asking for directions once.

So far? I think I have successfully blended in!

A lady, in very broken English, asked if I knew how to get to the Plaka and I gave her detailed directions. I had a ten-minute conversation with a local who spoke the same five words in English that I knew in Greek. We waved our hands and laughed; I found out that he is working on the restoration of the Parthenon! And then, just minutes ago as I walked down the Andrianou, the owner of a taverna rapidly spoke to me in Greek, inviting me to sit at one of his tables. Now, it is very common to see the owners outside attracting customers. But the Plaka is the heart of tourism here in Athens; they know how to spot a foreigner from a mile away. And he had pegged me completely wrong! I gave my game away when I smiled and said, “I don’t speak Greek!” His eyes widened and he laughed in return, turning with a shake of his head to some other amused customers who’d overheard his original pitch. It was very satisfying.

The rain continues outside, but being cooped up indoors is not so bad, really. It means I have plenty of time to write! So here’s some more Athens adventures for you…

Our dinner on Wednesday lasted til after midnight, as meals typically do here. I slept in a bit, trying to get rid of my jet lag. I finally rolled off the couch and went to look for some of that delicious Greek yogurt in Renee’s kitchen. I couldn’t help but laugh when I realized that her fridge was stocked with the exact same brand I ate back in the States. But, I did make an important discovery: it wasn’t the yogurt that was so much better, it was the honey! So sweet and fresh– it was unbelievable!

I put on my least-touristy outfit and headed off to the most touristed spot in Athens: the Acropolis. Unfortunately, I arrived right around 10 o’clock, which apparently coincided with everyone’s itinerary in the city. The line for tickets was unbelievably long, so I went in search of the brand new Acropolis Museum.

Right at the foot of the Acropolis, the museum’s gleaming steel and glass exterior stands out amidst the more antiquated homes and businesses. What truly thrilled me, though, was that it was built on top of an archaeological site– that was still being excavated! Glass covered the ground outside the museum’s entrance. Looking down, you could watch as men in boots and overalls used delicate tools to unearth a large, intact mosaic floor. Many of the structures that they had discovered down there were from the late-Roman period. It took me back to my time in Ashkelon… Part of me wanted to climb right down there with them and grab a trowel! But I also felt pulled by the treasures the museum held. I reluctantly waved goodbye to one of the workers who’d looked up and caught me staring.

The museum was beautiful. It was very contemporary and posh, with excellent lighting and wonderful views of the nearby Acropolis. I most appreciated the fact that it was not overcrowded with pieces. American museums stuff hundreds of incredible statues, pots, and coins into a few small displays, as if to say “Look here; it’s all the same, really”. In this place, though, white pillars hoisted all the lovely Kore and Kouroi with proper reverence. The highlight was seeing the Caryatids, the six stone ladies who stand in place of pillars along the porch of the Erechthion (replicas now hold their place on the Acropolis).

Leaving the cool of the museum, I began the hot trek up the hillside to the Parthenon. This was my second visit to the Acropolis, but this time I had a much better understanding of the buildings and their multiple constructions/destructions. The Propylaea is the gateway to the Acropolis, with two branches on either end like outstretched arms welcoming her many visitors. One of those two wings is actually a small temple to Athena Nike, while the other once housed paintings. While the Proylaea is impressive with its giant marble columns, the Parthenon steals all the thunder on the mountaintop. It is a massive structure, with giant doric columns and intricately carved friezes. Unfortunately, extensive restoration work is underway and a large crane blocked much of the view of the front side of the temple. The Erechtheion, the only other temple still in existence on the Acropolis, is significantly smaller and more delicate in appearance. The design is unique, and the Caryatids (albeit replicas) are worth a good deal of consideration.

Zeus, apparently, resented my presence on the mountaintop. The sky began to boil with gray-black storm clouds. Thankfully, Renee’s apartment is only a 7 minute walk from the base of the Acropolis. I dashed home, beating the rain by just minutes. A nice afternoon nap prepared me for another wonderful, late-night meal.

Another interesting group assembled for dinner: Peter joined us again, along with Nikos and his wife, Katia. Katia and Nikos were old friends of Renee’s and we all dined together at a lovely taverna (although, we were forced to forgo dinner on the rooftop due to the wet weather). Katia only recently retired from her career in journalism. I should have guessed from the moment she entered the restaurant in a killer pair of stiletto ankle boots that she was in the fashion world. Turns out she has worked as the Editor & Chief for the Greek versions of both Harper’s Bazaar and Vanity Fair. And she started as a stylist. I was suddenly relieved to remember that I was wearing a pair of cute heels and a Ralph Lauren dress (even if it was a few seasons old).

Nikos was a golfer, so we laughed over the struggles we had with the sport. He is playing in a tournament at Costa Navarino next week, and his wife will be joining him. It will be my first week on the job, and I’ll already have friends visiting!

Peter entertained us by drumming on the tabletop with his silverware and ringing a glass or two. Renee’s eyes grew wide as she waited for him to shatter a wine glass. He threw on his charming smile and assured her that he had never broken a glass in his life.

The night ended with a round of “If you could have dinner with one person, who would it be?” Katia and I both named authors, Nikos a politician, Renee said Katherine Hepburn, then changed her mind to Sir Richard Burton (the explorer, not the actor). I can’t recall if Peter decided on one of a number of composers or musical artists. It was a remarkable evening. I cannot help but be impressed by the company here.

As this blog entry is getting rather long, I will leave off and go spend a little more time in the Agora. Cheers!