With all of my travelling, I’ve had little time to write about some of the local things I’ve been doing with my time. Between my trips to Venice and Germany, I popped over to the Athens Flea Market to pick up some fun souvenirs for my friends in Gottingen, and I finally got a chance to try this funny little tea and cake shop I’ve been dying to try since before Christmas. We had arranged an embassy meetup back in December, but they were unexpectedly closed so they could decorate for Christmas. Fast forward four months and I was finally coming back!
Little Kook lives up to its name: the décor is definitely kooky! The waitresses are dressed up in elaborate costumes, and there isn’t an inch of wall or ceiling space that isn’t covered with some interesting decoration. There was an entire room just devoted to Christmas.
Looking over the menu, I decided I was more in the mood for savory than sweet, but they had several cakes, crepes and ice creams that I would love to come back and try. I got a savory tuna crepe and a glass of their homemade lemonade. Food and drink were outstanding!
Liam and Violet would totally love this place, and I’m sure many of my friends and their kids would enjoy it, as well. Though with all of the stairs, it is not a good place for strollers and young wandering toddlers. But we will definitely be coming back here after school is out!
It’s amazing how much Greek I’m starting to pick up with minimal effort on my part. I have my Pilates instructor to thank. It turns out Greek Pilates is a perfect immersion learning class. I know the words for up and down, I know that “Daxi” means ok (as in, do you understand what I just told you to do?), and I can count to about seven before I run into problems. Oh, and I know the word for butt. Ha! My wonderfully agreeable and chatty teacher tells stories in class, and I can follow them about 0% of the time. But I was delighted that I understood “big ball” and “all fours” all on my own.
After every class I have a little chat with her, asking her how to say certain words, or asking what certain words that I heard her say in class mean. I know most of the pleasantries– please, thank you — but what should I say if I accidentally bump into a stranger?
Sygnomi. That means “sorry.” SIG-NO-MEE. Got it.
On Thursday, I asked her again because I didn’t quite have it right. My teacher smiled. “Amanda, what do you need to say ‘sorry’ for?”
“TRUMP!” I replied. Everyone in the room laughed.
Thursday was November 17, a day in which protesters march from Polytechnic University to the American Embassy every year to commemorate a violent uprising against the oppressive Junta regime in 1973. Many protesters were injured and killed that day, and while American involvement is a bit sketchy, anti-American sentiment runs high on this day every year. Liam’s school closed early, and the US Embassy closed and sent everyone home by 2 PM. Streets around the embassy were barricaded off, and police stood by to intervene if things got out of hand, which has happened in the past. As an added twist, this year Obama’s visit just days before the event apparently kicked off the riots early. We were advised by the Embassy to stay home for the rest of the afternoon on the 17th.
I guess I’ll have to add this to my list of signomis.
I asked my Pilates instructor if she thought all this political business with Trump would exacerbate the riots this year. She said from her perspective, the real issue for Greeks is their dissatisfaction with their own prime minister, and the embarrassment he’s brought with his handling of the economy. This article seemed to support her view. Here I am, lamenting the whole Trump phenomenon on Facebook, but here it’s barely a blip on the radar. And for good reason. The Greeks have enough of their own problems to worry about.
I found myself at the Embassy that day at two o’clock, and as we departed, I could see the police setting up their barricades. Motorcyclists argued with police at one intersection, choosing to drive on the sidewalk to get around. Business as usual! James received updates on the riot via text message. Nothing out of the ordinary, apparently. Another day, another protest in Athens.
Liam and I spied a graffiti artist on our way home from the park today. He had a bag full of spray paint and a huge swath of wall on a pedestrian bridge as his canvas. He didn’t seem particularly nervous about being caught — pretty brazen painting in broad daylight — though I still thought better of whipping out my phone to take a photo. We watched for awhile as his vision took shape — a seemingly random smattering of colorful boxes. He chatted on the phone. He smoked. He didn’t notice us at all.
Graffiti is one of the first things you’ll see as you enter this city. It is EVERYWHERE. I just kind of figured, like with the traffic laws, the authorities adopted a laissez-faire style of policing, but it seems there is some historical significance to the graffiti here. This New York Times article shed some light on the subject.
It’s interesting to see this from my seven-year-old’s perspective. He doesn’t see defacement of public property. He just sees cool artwork. The green line train is his favorite partly because it is covered in street art. And I’m starting to see the beauty in it, as well. Most of the graffiti I’ve seen is your run-of-the-mill bubble written words scrawled in neon colors. But some of them are quite beautiful. In fact, there are some pretty famous ones around the city (see 15 of them here), but I haven’t ever come across these.
Now that the weather is getting cooler, I’m spending more evenings with the windows open. We hear traffic, church bells, random loud conversations in Greek…and cats. Cats screeching, cats fighting, cats in heat. The other day Liam called me over to our back window. He and his sister were enthralled by a mother and her kitten just hanging around in our backyard. (Back garden, I should say.) Great. Another cat to add to the cacophony.
We’ve had a week of rain in this ordinarily sunny locale — I believe they call this the rainy season — so I did a little research and found a cute little museum all about the history of schools in Greece, called the School Life and Education Museum. Liam has little patience for museums, but this one is small, cheap, and caters to both kids and adults with hands-on artifacts from school classrooms.
But first we had to get there. Liam has practically memorized the Metro map, so he knew precisely the bus and train to take, and which stop to disembark on. He’s a little chatterbox on the train (actually, he’s a chatterbox anywhere), constantly talking about the look of the different stations we pass, how many more stations we have until we get off, and where the connections to other lines are. And we always go over the subway rules, which I lifted from this episode of Louie. (Watching this still gives me a heart attack, and if one of my kids ever did this, I would probably react the same or much worse. Ack!) Thankfully Liam is my little rule follower, and he delights in going over precisely what he should do if we get separated. In fact, he’s usually the one who asks me to go over the subway rules with him every time now. He’s turning into quite the little city kid.
The museum is located in the heart of the Plaka, a squirrely neighborhood of restaurants and shops at the foot of the Acropolis. Thanks to AT&T finally unlocking my phone, I could handily use my map app to navigate my way through the maze. Feeling a bit peckish, we stopped at Lulu’s Bakery for some treats. Little miss grabby hands had to eat on the floor lest she knock everything off our table…and she nearly upended the table from the floor. Something tells me this is the kid who’s going to need the toddler leash.
Bellies full, we took a few detours before arriving at the museum. Apparently even Google has trouble navigating the Plaka. It was a cute little place, 3 Euros to enter, and the kids were free. Each room had school books and artifacts dating back to the 1800s, and in the basement was a replica of an old school classroom. My favorite, though, was Liam’s reaction to the typewriter.
“Is it a computer?”
“Is it a printing press?”
So I had to explain to him what this mysterious object was, and he took a turn jamming on the keys. I remember my parents having an old electric typewriter, and my sister and I just LOVED playing with it. These days kids can easily type something up on the computer and print it out, but there’s something kind of fabulous about the noise the key makes as it pounds the paper. I’m sure the concept of White Out will also be a complete mystery to my children.
Most of the signs were written in Greek, but it was just as well — my child has no patience for anyone who wants to bother reading the signs. We were in and out in about 15 minutes. Then it was back to the train, which was the real highlight of his day. He requested we take the red line to the green line connection, then take the green line to the blue line, which is the subway we take home. He just wanted a chance to get to ride all three lines in one day, I think. I swear, we could make a day of riding the subway to the end of the line and back and he’d be over the moon about it.
Back at home I prepared dinner from IKEA the proper way…with mashed potatoes. It still floors me that they don’t serve these at the IKEA in Greece, yet they sell them frozen to take home. I guess I’ll just have to take what I can get. Interesting fact: you won’t find English instructions on any of the packaging. Just Greek, Italian, and other southern European languages. Thankfully I’ve got an app for that!
Here’s something I didn’t expect. Thunder sounds different here. I don’t know if it’s the way it bounces off the mountains, or maybe it’s a result of living in the city, but the rumbling is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. I’m used to the sudden clap and then long, slow, rambling rumble you hear on the plains. This thunder goes CLAP, rumble…pause…rumble…pause…rumble. I suspect it’s bouncing off the mountains to the east, west and north of us.
Liam asked his teacher if they have tornadoes here. I’m not surprised — in Kansas he was obsessed with finding the safest spot in the basement to take cover. But she said they typically don’t get large storms here, and certainly they don’t get tornadoes. Instead they have earthquakes. We have yet to experience one of those. But I have a feeling once we do, my little boy scout will obsess over the safest doorway to stand in.
Athens is starting to feel a little more like home. We’re expecting our last shipment of things later this week or the next, and with any luck our car will be here soon as well. We were told it can take upwards of a month for it to get tagged and licensed…in the meantime it languishes in the Embassy parking lot, just begging to be driven. I’m doing alright getting around by mass transit, though I’ve been proactive about making friends, and perhaps I can prevail upon one of them to drive me to the IKEA for some additional provisions. Cooking and shopping continue to be a challenge, though I’m preparing a few simple meals this week, and once my box of spices get here, I might be able to cobble together a few meals I’m familiar with. Spices are not only hard to find (there are only about five at the store by our house), but when I can find them, they’re usually written in Greek.
As the weather warms and the flowers bloom–spring is already sprung here– I’m noticing so many differences in our culture, some strange, some downright hilarious. Here are a few I’ve been compiling:
On our first trip the Jumbo, I noticed there was a sizeable costume section. Like full on Halloween, but in the middle of January. Since then I’ve noticed several costume shops with elaborate displays in the shop windows. In America you would only see that sort of thing in October, but here it seems to be a year-round thing. We even saw some kids in costume when we went to the Kerameikos. Maybe there is a costume holiday around this time of year here? Or maybe the Greeks just love dressing up in costume all year round?
Similar to Paris, drugs are only sold in the pharmacies. I’ve been to a few larger supermarkets, and the Jumbo, and I’ve never seen a pharmacy in them. The pharmacies here are all marked with a green plus sign, and they’re all pretty small, at least in my neighborhood. Inside, most of the drugs are behind the counter, and you’ve got to ask the pharmacist for things. I attempted to get prenatal vitamins at one pharmacy, but the guy only spoke about three words in English, and when he finally lit up, “Oh, Vit-a-meens!” he tried to sell me a powder. I ended up getting it on Amazon.
Amazon and Walmart.com have been a god-send. Most everything American we can get shipped here, and it seems to come in 2-3 weeks. We can also shop for American goods at the Embassy. Lord knows Liam couldn’t live long without his Goldfish crackers!
Screen time concerns are a thing of the past. No TV in the morning anymore, and no TV when he comes home from school. We only turn it on at dinner, and that’s more at James’ behest than Liam’s. Occasionally he’ll want to play his iPad, but for the most part he spends his time playing in his room, doing his homework, or going on outings with the family.
And I have more access to my favorite TV shows than I thought I would. Bless the Internet! It truly is possible to go without cable these days. It’s a little more work than just flipping on the DVR, but if you know where to go, you can watch about anything you want online.
The air smells of oranges. On the sidewalks you’ll find oranges fallen from the trees. No one appears to eat them. I was told they were planted because when they fall and their juices run, they help clean the streets.
I took Violet to the bakery today in her stroller, and we spent most of our time riding in the street. I complained about the state of the sidewalks, lamenting that it was impossible to use a stroller here. But I noticed a ton of family with these huge prams (as they call them here in Europe), and they just roll them in the street. So I decided to do the same, jutting off to the sidewalk when I heard approaching traffic. When in Rome, as they say…
I did a little research on Trip Advisor to find a historic sight suitable for an energetic first-grader. Kerameikos fit the bill. It’s the site of the ancient Athenian cemetery, and the grounds are completely open to run around and climb on. There were beautiful views of the Acropolis and surrounding areas, a lovely orthodox church, lots of ornate headstones and interesting nooks and crannies to explore.
Violet even got in on some of the action, touching some ancient columns with those grubby little baby fingers.
We had to cross this old stone “bridge” to get a good view from the top of a hill. Typical Liam said, “Are you sure this is safe?” We had to assure him that it had stood there for almost 3000 years. It wasn’t going anywhere.
This kid still doesn’t like riding in elevators or going down on escalators, fearing heights apparently. But he had no trouble scaling the hill and taking a photo. Check out the Acropolis in the background.
Inside the museum were many headstones, sculptures and pottery dating back to 900 B.C. Astounding how old some of this stuff is. I pointed out a children’s toy to Liam. See, even kids in ancient times needed something to play with! This bull statue was the most impressive, which came from the tomb of Dionysios.
It was a little strange to be ambling around this old cemetery — are there still bodies under these tombstones?
On our way back we stopped in at Black & Burger next to the Technopolis (Athens Technical School). Yummy and cheap, my two favorite things! Too bad there’s not one of these by our house. Plenty of other burger joints, though — I’m telling ya, the second most popular food here is hamburgers.
On the train ride back Violet was a regular city kid, holding the handrail just like daddy. We’re going to have ourselves a couple of regular city kids before our time here is over. Thankfully, at least Liam seems to have embraced all of the hustle and bustle.