Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Road Less Traveled: the ride from Magganitis to Evdilos

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost

You know how that Robert Frost poems goes, “Two roads diverged in a wood..”
The road less taken is forever in the American mind as a romantic, rugged, individualist journey. We all strive to be unique, to live our own original adventures.

Well, let me tell you a story about a time when I literally took the “road less traveled” and what happened and where it took me.

the car that took us through it all....

my uncle, driving with courage

After five days in the capital of my family’s tiny island, I longed to see the other side. The “other side” means the north side, which is isolated from the south side my a tall mountain. There are only two ways to the other side: around the mountain or over the mountain. When the roads on the island were finally paved, it was decided that the road over the mountain was the more suitable choice for travel. Sure, it’s a narrow windy journey that would make anyone carsick, but it gets you to Evdilos in 45 minutes surely and safely. The same cannot be said for the road around the mountain.

I should mention here that I was not the driver and not in charge of the choice or timing in how to get from one side to the other. My dad’s wild youngest brother had the car and the free time and for some reason, that day, the desire to see the road around the mountain. No one had ever seen that road, despite living on the island for fifty years he had never once taken the road around the mountain.
This would be an adventure for him too. So we all piled up in the car, me, my uncle, my dad, my partner, and my uncle's 9-year-old daughter.

the journey was only just beginning

We first drove an hour to a town on the south side called Magginitis. This was a reasonable drive through normal village roads, but it took forever because we kept getting lost. Each time my uncle would pull over and ask how to find the entrance to the road to Evdilos, and the conversation would go something like this:

Uncle: “Excuse me, where is the road to Evdilos?”
Villager: “Oh, by the church. Go straight up the hill and turn right, then you’ll see it.”

Moments later….

Uncle: “Excuse me, where is the road to Evdilos?”
Villager: “Oh, by the church. Turn left and go down the hill, then you’ll see it.”

After fifteen of such exchanges with conflicting information, we finally got on the right course, but then things turned foreboding….

The villagers instructions were often followed by indirect warnings. When my uncle would ask, “how’s the road?” they would sign and look out into the distance.

“Take it slowly.”
Siga Siga.

I never knew the Greek word sigasiga meant until that day. I was worry I asked.

view from the passenger's seat

At the entrance to the road there were two large dogs each tied up to posts on both side of the street. They barked ferociously as our car passed them by. They were the sphinx guardians of the passage, I imagined.

Almost immediately the dirt road turned into a rocky road and the car jumped up with every ditch and boulder we mounted. We flew out of our seats as the bottom of the car scraped over the rocks. We drove about 3 miles an hour. The road was windy and it was impossible to see around the blind curves. With every curve, I prayed that the awful scary road would end and deliver us into a paved road but each turned brought us only more of the rocky terrain.

view from the other side

when the road started to improve...

The west side of the island is practically uninhabited, and there was no sign of anybody, even another car on the road with us. The feeling of being both trapped and isolated overwhelmed me and I felt a sense of panic as we crept along the lonely side of that dry mountain.

After an hour of torture we came to a road that had been leveled and sanded – the first step to full blown paving. We drove over the sandy roads workers on the side laid out more sand. Apparently on the island, roads don’t close so that construction crews can build them; you can drive on a road at any stage of its development. This was an interesting experience in and of itself.

in the middle of construction

work trucks didn't seem to mind us driving by

nor did this tractor 

some equipment looked like it hadn't been used in a while

or totally abandoned 

After another hour drive slowly through the construction site, we passed a car with a young couple heading the opposite direction – towards that rocky nightmare road. My dad shook his head and said some like, “Suckers…”
and we all howled with laughter.   Those poor people had no idea what they were in for…

Finally we arrived in Armenistis, just beside Evdilos. We had reached the north side and what would have been a 45-minute drive over the mountain became a 4-hour drive around the mountain.

finally made it to Evdilos

Now when I think of that Robert Frost poem, I don’t think of that romantic other journey.
Sometimes the path less taken is a scary cliff with no railing.
Sometimes it’s four hours in a sweaty car with my family.
Sometimes the path less taken is less taken because it hasn't been paved yet. 

At least in this instance, an sweet and memorable as that experience was, I'm going over the mountain next time.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Photo Diary: Best of Athens

I knew I would love Athens before I went. 

I knew in some ways it had changed a lot since I was a kid and in some ways it hadn't changed at all and I would love both its changes and its familiarity. 

In Athens I dreamed of being an adult. 
I dreamed of my adult life in Athens more than I did in America, yet I never knew Athens as an adult, and now that I have reached this age and returned, I find both the same and different city. 

The subway in a new and much-needed addition. 
The damn acropolis is still under construction and covered by scaffolding and will probably be forever. 
The nightclubs rage until 4:00am. 
The protests sometimes turn violent. 
Tensions are high with unemployment increasing and pensions being cut. 

But what do I know? Could I see myself living in Athens? 

Would I recommend it to anyone? 
Probably not. 

It takes a special kind of soul to see the beauty in that fading graffiti.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Greek café etiquette

the counter at Mikal Coffee

In my brief time in Greece, I was able to notice some differences in the café culture there. I have noted a few tips and observations here for reference:

  • Grab a seat wherever you like 
  • Wait for the waiter to come to you (it might take a while) 
  • Smoking is legal at all cafes and Greek people smoke like the 90s never happened
  • There may be a menu on the table. If there isn’t one, don’t expect to be given one. The waiter assumes you know what you want. If you don’t, you have to ask for the menu. 
  • It’s not rude to flag the waiter down if you need to order. Don’t expect them to keep checking up on you. They will assume you want to be left alone to talk with your friends.
  • There is so much more than just coffee; Greek cafes have cocktails, snacks, food, beer, wine.
  • After you order, it will take damn long for you to get your drinks 
  • You can stay as long as you want, hours, even all day and you will never be kicked out.
the ubiquitous ashtray - a staple of any Greek cafe
  • All cafes have wifi, but it’s not a laptop culture. People are there to socialize, which brings me to my next point: 
  • It’s really loud. No on seems to go to cafes alone unless they are waiting for someone, and there are always large groups of people chatting. 
  • It’s also normal to see families or small children at cafes, even in the middle of the night. 
  • Many cafes are open early but not all. Some don’t open until 11:00 or 12:00. Depending on the type of café, they can be open as late as a bar. 

Touchdown Tokyo

Every time I fly to Japan, I have this routine of changing clothes in one of the large, accessible stalls in the arrivals lobby. I would do ...