Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ni Hao!


I believe that we are quite an oddity in Greece, especially to the hoards of Greek schoolchildren who we have seen at various tourist places this week. “Ni hao”, they say, “Welcome to Greece!” “Are Greek children learning to speak Chinese?” we wondered. Early in the morning, we left the Holiday Inn Attica by shuttle bus back to the airport for our rental car. Economy Car Rental-their shuttle should have been at the parking lot, but was not. 2 phone calls and 30 min later, we were chastised by the owner for coming in earlier than our reservation time and expecting the shuttle to be there to pick us up. He turned out to be a friendly guy, and gave us advice on which highways to take as we headed north. In our little Fiat, we ventured onto the highway toward Delphi. We quickly learned that the roads in Greece are not well marked, and often do not appear as on the map. You have to match the city names with the highway signs to determine which direction to go, and this is sometimes challenging as the city names are long and not always Roman alphabetic. We made it to Delphi, but learned that the guidebooks often do not correctly reflect the closing times of museums. The Delphi museum was to close at 2:45, for what reason, we were not able to determine. Fortnately, the museum was not as big as we had expected it to be and we had adequate time to explore and see the displays. The bronze statue of the charioteer and chariot are beautiful. According to legend, Zeus released 2 eagles and the spot where their paths crossed, at Delphi, was determined to be the center of the earth. The dwelling spot for Apollo was the site where ancient Greeks traveled to in order to determine the course of their public and private lives. The Sanctuary of Apollo with its temple, and the Tholos were incredibly elaborate structures, as depicted in the museum. It was hard to believe that the ancient Greeks traveled so far to this area for direction regarding their destiny; it is not an easy place to reach running through mountain passes and valleys.

While in Santorini, we had cancelled our hotel reservations for 3 nights in the Delphi area, in order to give ourselves the flexibility to explore the mountains. It was fortunate we had done that because we found that Delphi is a very small town with not much to hold our interest for more than a day. However, we were hotel-less and somewhat anxious about finding something. The last time we went reservation-less was 30 years ago in DC, where we ended up driving 30 miles outside of the city before we could find a room. Leaving Delphi, we drove north and by evening had reached Trikala, a moderately large city in central Greece. To our surprise and dismay, the city center was packed with cars and people, and several hotels were full—who stays in Trikala, we wonder?
Apparently, it was the week before the Greek Orthodox Easter, schools were out, and many local tourists were in the area. We finally found a simple hotel, reeking of stale cigarette smoke, but were so thankful to find a room that it didn’t matter.

We went out for a late dinner and decided to go where business was brisk; there were not a lot of options in the area. It was a fast food place filled with young people enjoying gyros. A young man who spoke some English offered to place our order for us; we decided to have gyros with “everything on it” and oh it was so delicious! We watched with great interest as they used a slicer and a dustpan, shaving mounds of lamb off the tall roasting leg. This was stuffed inside a fluffy pita bread and smothered with sour cream, onions, and French fries. Again, we were a curiosity among the young people, but smiled at each of them and got lots of smiles and nods in return. The manager or owner seemed pleased that foreigners had come to eat at his shop.

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