Wednesday, November 25, 2009

To each his own...meat

Our friends went out of town and gave us all the leftover food from their fridge. The usual stuff- lettuce, eggs, cheese and some meat products. Normal German breakfast food strikes us as a bit funny; it's what we would eat for lunch- deli meats, cheese and bread. But there are also some more interesting meat-based foods and we have now had the chance to try some of them.

Fleischsalat is one of those (and yes, that does translate as meat salad). It looks like small strips of bologna in a mayonnaise and herb bath and it pretty much tastes like that too. It wasn't as terrible as I imagined but I couldn't help thinking about how much fat and cholesterol I was ingesting and not enjoying it. It was just too thick and the rest of that container went in the trash. Leberwurst (liver sausage) was also in our basket, a "treat" that I first experienced with Aaron's grandma years ago. He grew up eating it so a little bit was tasty for him but I can't quite reconcile myself to organ meats. We didn't finish that one either.

There is a kind of meat gelatin that is common around here. They take pieces of meat, veggies, herbs and make a vinegary jello with it. It looks quite strange and I'm not sure that there is anything in typical American cuisine to which I can compare it. Maybe back in the 70s when there was a Jell-O craze people made this kind of thing?? Anyway, this was the last leftover food we tried. Again, it wasn't disgusting but the rubbery texture was a bit disconcerting when trying to make a sandwich with it. It's quite low-calorie though since most of the volume is made up of gelatin. Maybe a good diet food?

All of this stuff is available at the same little markets where I shop but I never paid attention to it. So next time you go to the grocery store, look around at all the things you don't buy- you might find some interesting things. I dare you to try some of them!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A thousand steps up!

This is Palamidi Fortress, supposedly the best-preserved Venetian castle in Greece. It was built in just three years in the early 1700s, then captured by the Ottomans less than a year later. I guess looks aren't everything. Nafplio was a battleground for centuries and there are three different fortresses in this little town dating all the way back to 300 B.C. This is also where the hero of Greek independence defeated the Ottomans for good in 1822.

This massive structure sits atop the mountain just behind town and gives a rather striking impression. Even more impressive and literally breath-taking are the steps leading up to the fortress. There are somewhere around a thousand of them- no one seems to know for sure. Aaron wanted to run up them for exercise one morning and I (reluctantly) agreed to go. We found that just walking 1,000 stairs was quite an aerobic workout! The next day we climbed them again but spent some time exploring the vast ruins and taking in the fabulous views. There are 650-foot cliffs facing the sea and you can see mountains and islands in the distance. The climb was definitely worth the views!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Have we learned anything new in the last 2,500 years?

I know the answer is a resounding, "Yes," but last week, standing among the ruins and shards of civilizations that existed at least two millenia ago, I marveled at the knowledge that these ancient people already possessed. Mathematics, architecture, metal-working, physics, medicine, etc. All of this would have been important for the survival and comfort of the people but what really struck me was the value and appreciation of artistry. They weren't just surviving, they were thriving and enjoying the "finer things."

Sure, they needed bowls and pots for cooking and carrying water, but they were not only aesthetically pleasing in form; they were decorated with elaborate designs and depictions of gods, humans and animals. And how do you explain jewelry? It serves no functional purpose- it is simply for adornment. They had gold, silver and bronze, amber, amethyst, ivory and glass.

There was theater and music. They were playwrights and actors. They built stadiums with such amazing acoustics that 17,000 spectators could hear the actors' voices without microphones. They knew comedy and tragedy, sarcasm, irony and parody.

And for me maybe the most amazing of all were the sculptures. They were perfectly proportioned and lifelike. Some even seemed to be in motion. The faces were expressive, showing joy, fear, annoyance. The sculptors must have had tremendous knowledge of the human form. Imagine the skill it took to carve stone to look like flowing fabric and to see the subtle outline of a leg beneath the gown.

It was truly remarkable and I am so grateful for the experience of seeing it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fish- it's what's for dinner!

Since Nafplio is a coastal town seafood was the specialty. There were lots of little fishing boats in the harbor so you could believe that it would all be fresh. The local dishes include octopus (see far left corner of display case and fish roe (that is, eggs) salad, but since we knew it would be a splurge we wanted to make sure we got something we liked. So we asked for fish, and this is what we saw!
The owner of the place greeted us at the door and took us to the kitchen, where another man started opening drawers filled with the above delicacies! Now that's fresh! He asked us if we wanted something fried or grilled, whether we wanted the same thing or two separate dishes. Based on our answer he slapped a nice big red snapper on the scale (you pay by the kilogram)and said, "Okay. Go sit down and I'll come take your drink order in a moment."
We sipped our white wine, ate a yummy Greek salad and bread and before long our fishy was served up on a platter. We paid for the whole thing so of course we were served the whole thing. I have a little bit of an issue with meat that is still attached to the animal it comes from but Mr. Snapper was so tasty that I was able to ignore his little tail that was just hours earlier still happily swimming in the sea.
After our meal the waiter brought us dessert "on the house"- fresh pears and candied fruit drizzled with honey. Light and delicious! It was a very nice gesture but totally made us think we must have bought the most expensive fish in the drawer! Ha!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Moped adventures in Greece

We packed so much into our week that it is hard to know how to hit the highlights. Leaving Athens, we took a bus to Nafplio, a little town on the Aegean Sea. We stayed there partly because it was relatively close to two ancient sites we wanted to see- the best-preserved ancient theater at Epidavros and the ruins of Mycenae, a citadel dating from 15th century B.C.

Somehow I got the idea in my head that it would be fun to rent a moped to do our sight-seeing. I’d never even ridden a moped. The only places renting them gave us a moment’s pause; they didn’t exactly look like places where honest and forthright business took place. But we paid 25 Euros, left Aaron’s passport as collateral (yikes!) and got a bright yellow Navigator Tiger, along with two stylish helmets and the all-important map. Off we went!

Aaron quickly saw that for our bargain price we had gotten a vehicle without working gauges- no speedometer, no gas gauge. Super! We had no idea how far we could go on one little tank so we started checking it every time we stopped.

I didn’t realize just how windy it would seem going 40 or 50 miles an hour without a windshield. As we got up to cruising speed, I was nearly strangled by my helmet as it lifted up and blew back. It was too big for my little pin head. As much as we tightened the strap, it didn’t seem to make much difference. I momentarily considered stuffing my bikini into the helmet to fill up the extra space- just momentarily though.

The first leg of our trip went great. The theater at Epidavros was completely worth the 18 mile trip there. Unfortunately, the other site was 20 miles in the opposite direction from Nafplio. We got a bit turned around but ate a picnic lunch and eventually got headed toward Mycenae. By then the road seemed rather long. The seats were clearly not designed for long-distance comfort for two riders. The sky started to look a bit ominous and I began to worry that if it rained the site might close early. Since we'd taken a wrong turn, we were a bit behind schedule.

Just as we made our final turn and began the final stretch the moped engine died. Yup, you guessed it- we ran out of gas. It turns out that in a 5-liter tank, even when it looks like there is “plenty” of gas left it can go pretty quick. There we were in rural Greece, where all you see for miles on end are olive groves and orange groves. We had come through a town but couldn’t really remember how far back that had been. Aaron pushed the Tiger to the side of the road and we rode on fumes down a hill for maybe 500 yards. Then we walked. Luckily, it was less than two miles to the nearest station and it didn’t rain. The whole thing was extra funny because Aaron and I barely said a thing. The engine died; I asked, “Are we out of gas?” Aaron answered, “I think so,”and we turned around and started walking. Neither of us got mad; I think we both expected it to happen.

All’s well that ends well. Mycenae was still open, we had plenty of time to look around and nearly had the place to ourselves. After another twenty miles back to Nafplio it was nearly dark and we were cold and saddle sore. We traded the moped for Aaron's passport and when the owner asked if we’d had any problems, we said, “None at all!”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hello from Athens!

It’s midweek and we are having a great time! We arrived on Saturday evening and came out of the metro station into rain. Luckily, our hotel was nearby and we easily got settled. We sought out a typical taverna for our first meal. The waiter brought us right up to the kitchen window to show us what was available at that moment. People who came in as we finished our meal had a different selection. A bit intimidating at first but much easier than trying to read a Greek menu!
On our first day we climbed the Acropolis Hill and saw the Parthenon. It really is amazing! Sad to think of how much has been destroyed or damaged through war and looting. Even so, it is magnificent. We could not believe how it was crawling with tourists, and this is the off-season! The line to get into the brand-new Acropolis Museum was so long that we abandoned that plan. Instead, we walked all over, exploring other hilltops, ancient ruins and quiet neighborhoods. We had a delicious lunch at the “oldest taverna in Athens.” The saganaki, dolomati, bread and zucchini balls were the best we’ve tasted- or at least it seemed that way!
Monday we set out in a different direction, first checking out the Central Market, where you can buy a dizzying array of fresh-picked fruits and veggies, a dozen or more types of olives, a whole goat or octopus, or a huge bag of pitas for $1.00. We climbed to the tallest point in Athens, where there is a cafĂ©, a small Greek Orthodox church and spectacular city views with the Aegean Sea beyond. Our walk took us through many neighborhoods, some quite urban and gritty, others near the embassies quite lovely. This city definitely has a unique feel. We toured two museums and took in more ancient artifacts than we’ll probably ever see again. Pottery, sculptures, tools, jewelry- all from 2000-4000 years ago. Wow.
On Tuesday we got to the Acropolis Museum and it was definitely worth the wait. Most of the remaining sculptures, statues and architectural pieces from the Acropolis have been removed due to ongoing pollution damage and are now housed here. The museum itself sits above an archeological site and the floors are glass so you can see the excavation. Our last ancient site to see was the Agora. We got there in a drizzle so decided to check out the small museum first. By the time we finished, it was a total downpour- unusual for Athens! So, we didn’t get to fully appreciate the ancient marketplace but got soaked anyway just getting back to the hotel.
We’ve eaten gyros, kebaps, sesame bread rings, spinach pies in phyllo dough, Greek salad, baklava and so much feta cheese! The people have been very nice and it seems like there is an “anything goes“ attitude here. We feel very lucky that so many people speak English but I have learned to say “Thank you” in Greek and that always makes people smile. A little effort goes a long way. Next we are off to Nafplio, along the Aegean coast. We’ll send another update from there.