Beauty and the Greek

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Over the weekend I got together with a group from the embassy for dinner and margaritas at El Taco Bueno (not to be confused with Taco Bueno in The States), then we took in the new Disney offering, a live-action remake of Beauty and The Beast. Typically children’s movies are only dubbed in Greek, but in some cases they’ll offer it in both Greek and English. I thought it wise to order the tickets ahead of time — it was opening weekend for our movie– but we were foiled at every turn. Even if you can decipher the website, apparently if your credit card doesn’t have a Greek billing address, they won’t accept the payment. Because we’re all Americans working for the embassy, we are required to use the American DPO address for our bills. We even tried calling the theater to reserve the tickets, but they had the same issue about the credit card. And they wouldn’t just hold the seats for us to pay for when we arrived. Out of bright ideas, we ended up going to the ticket counter 45 minutes before the show. Thankfully the theater was huge, and our assigned seats were far enough back to be comfortable. Perhaps because we were seeing the English version at 9PM. Now I’m wondering, do they dub the songs in Greek, too?

I love these little group outings, not only for the food and entertainment, but for the swapping of useful and/or amusing information. For instance, did you know that there’s a law in Greece that your license plate number dictates when you can drive into the Athens city center? Apparently, even numbers are allowed on even days, and odd numbers on odd days. Someone in our group actually witnessed the police pulling people over and ticketing them for it. I had no idea! I mentioned it to James when I got home, and he assured me we’d be exempt — though we don’t have diplomatic plates, we have an official letter from the embassy we carry in the glove box that we are supposed to hand to the police if we ever get pulled over. Let’s hope that does the trick!

I also learned that at most overseas posts, embassy employees use diplomatic plates, but since 9-11, in some countries, including Greece, they decided it best not to draw undue attention to our Americanness. While I’m behind the wheel, anyway — my secret is out the moment I open my mouth. Or at least for people with a good ear for English. I still get asked if I’m British sometimes.

And that anything-goes parking attitude I’ve observed in Athens? It seems that if you pick the wrong spot at the wrong time of day, the cops will not only give you a ticket…they will physically remove your plates! The fine isn’t much…20 Euros, I believe. But it’s a real hassle to get those plates back. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if my car got towed. From now on, no more parking downtown!

I heard about an amusing story that was reported on the local TV news here in Athens. Apparently there’s a resort that just opened on the island of Rhodes, and they’re looking to hire a staff. Their one stipulation? Prospective employees must PROMISE not to sleep with the guests! This was on the news, people! Ah, Greece!

And finally, though I have yet to witness it myself, topless sunbathing is quite common here, especially on the islands. When I mentioned that I wanted to get myself in shape to have a decent “swimsuit body”, the girls laughed and said every body type is considered “bikini appropriate” or “bikini-top optional” in Greece. I haven’t worn a bikini in at least a decade. I’m not sure I’ve crossed over the Greek threshold enough to start. But we are here for three more summers…

 

 

Around the World in 80 minutes

On Saturday we got a sitter for Violet and took Liam to see Around the World in Eighty Days at the Megaron Music Hall. I was told it was an entertaining, visually-stunning extravaganza, and while all the dialogue and singing would be in Greek, we would still be able to follow along.

We gave it our best shot.

Honestly, if it hadn’t been so loooong, we probably could have made it through. We had good seats, Liam in the front and James and I on bleachers right behind him. We already knew the gist of the story, and with video screens to add atmosphere, it was mostly apparent where in the world the characters were traveling to. Liam got a kick out of the set — there were doors on either side of the stage with large pieces on wheels that the actors would ride on to enter and exit stage left and right. The songs were catchy, and you could tell the actors were having a lot of fun with it. But, there was an awful lot of dialogue and less singing than I expected, and while everyone else was laughing every five minutes or so, we couldn’t get any of the jokes. There were a few physical jokes we could enjoy, but the rest went right over our heads. At one point the video screens started showing scenes from the Serengeti, and I thought they’d made a long, out-of-the-way detour to Africa. But, no, they just stayed in India for a very. long. time.

Eighty or so minutes later we hit intermission, and our intrepid travelers were just starting to move on from India. Facing a long line for snacks and another hour and a half of the show, we decided it best to leave early. Liam probably could have made it through another act, but I’m sure his attention would have waned after another 30 minutes, and our backs were not too happy about us sitting on those bleachers for so long.

Luckily, tickets were relatively cheap, and we parked at the embassy next door for free. We spent the rest of our afternoon at Golden Hall, one of the more upscale shopping malls in Athens. Ah, commerce…so refreshingly American! And then, as if to negate all of the foreign-ness we had experienced that day, we had dinner at McDonalds. Liam loved eating at a restaurant without his little sister…I think we all did! Not a bad little Saturday outing after all.

Monday morning, I decided I’d let the grass (ahem…weeds) in the back garden grow long enough. First mow of the year!

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Last year I would have waited until naptime, but with one nap a day that happens during quiet hours, this was my best shot. Violet did a fantastic job of steering clear of the weed whacker. In fact, she mostly stayed inside as I made my way closer to the house. She may be a little more devil-may-care than her brother, but it’s nice to see she exercises a bit of caution.

Last August most of the grass died, and in October I tried spraying it with weed killer. It seems to have just killed the grass and fertilized the weeds. Whatever. We hardly use the back yard anyway — it’s muddy in the spring, mosquito-infested in the summer and fall, and too cold in the winter. My kids would much rather just go to the playground down the street anyway.

No romance at the Laiki

It’s Valentine’s Day here in Greece! For me that means decorating a shoebox with my son and cutting out 18 colored squares for him to decorate. Back in the States I would have picked up a box of Valentines at the Dollar Store with his favorite Marvel character on them, but I’m not entirely sure where one gets Valentine’s Day cards here. I get the impression it’s not really a “thing” here. But it is at the American School! Liam scrawled “You are a good friend” and “You are a nice person” in different colored markers while I stapled KitKats to the corners. Not the prettiest valentines, but serviceable. And, hey, KitKats!

Tuesdays are my Laiki day, or at least they were until it got so damn cold here. I haven’t been back since December. But after getting such shoddy produce at the store last week, I decided to brave the cold, grab my hobo cart and all the change in my purse, and head on over.

It’s not even that cold…Greece has made me soft. It was in the upper 30s this morning and I’m dressing like a Sherpa. But it was worth it to get fresh oranges with the leaves still attached, and fresh dates that weren’t vacuum sealed. And the sights and sounds of the Laiki always put a smile on my face. Here, I made a video. Listen to the vendors shouting in Greek.

My children and husband are such picky eaters, oftentimes I’m just purchasing one small bunch of grapes, or one lone pepper. Many times the vendor will give me a sideways look, then insist I take it for free. And whenever I bring Liam, he always gets free samples…that he usually bites and then spits out. But still.

One thing I buy a ton of at the Laiki is eggs. I’ve gone full-native about eggs here. I used to dutifully wash them off and stick them in a container in the fridge. But I read that they actually keep longer if you leave them untouched and unrefrigerated. Plus, it’s so much easier to grab an egg from the counter than to fish one out of the fridge every morning. If one is particularly…um…chicken poopy…I’ll give it a quick rinse. Plus, I find that room temperature, older eggs hard boil best.

After dropping off the hobo cart with Evelyn, I drove up to the AB (pronounced Alpha Vita in Greece) for the rest of my groceries. I couldn’t resist documenting some interesting finds. For instance:

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Ok, this cracks me up. In high school we always called something…else…banana juice. If you get my drift.

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I spied this next to the milk. I guess people eat it? Apparently it has some health benefits, if you believe this product’s website. I’m sure the hippies have been eating it for years. What do I know?

Oh, and remember that time I saw the ad for these chips?

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I couldn’t resist picking some up. I tried them at lunch. Not bad, actually. Mayo flavor, for sure, but not overpowering. Course the bag is so small, I practically ate the whole thing in one sitting. Maybe I shouldn’t make a habit of buying these.

I bought pants at the Laiki!

Ever since we got our car back in March, I’ve been mostly navigating the city from the driver’s seat. With much infuriation and aggravation. Today’s unseasonably warm weather inspired me to ditch the car and walk over to my Pilates class, which according to Google Maps, would only take me about 35 minutes.

How refreshing to explore new neighborhoods again! My path took me through Filiothei, then trailed north to the OAKA (Olympic Stadium). I passed some amusing graffiti in Halandri.

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Eventually I found myself on a wooded path between two streets. As I walked along, I came to some random train tracks.

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Inspecting the ground at my feet, I could see two rails overgrown by grass and debris. Interesting. Athens is home to ancient and not-so-ancient ruins.

Further along, I spied a Laiki. I hadn’t planned to buy anything, but as I passed the clothing market, a pair of yoga pants caught my eye. My work-out wardrobe is almost embarrassingly shabby, and with my renewed interest in exercising (I’ve been looking at resorts in Belize all week for my girlfriends summer getaway this summer), I decided to give them a try. I usually like to try clothes on before I buy them. Of course you can’t do that at the Laiki. But for 10 Euros, I figured it was worth the gamble. Turns out they fit perfectly! Not too shabby, either!

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I may just have to pass by there again next week to pick up another pair.

After class I decided to stop in my favorite second-hand shop, The Mix and Match, which probably has a proper Greek name, but I haven’t figured it out. Anyhow, I got a fantastic deal: four tops and 2 hoodies for 15 Euros. Sweet. Now time to get in shape!

The good, the (not really) bad, and the smelly

It’s been hard not to get sucked down the rabbit hole of political news from the US this week. To keep my spirits up, I’m attempting to live in my little overseas bubble. So, here are some silly little things that happened to me in Athens this week.

First, the good. Remember how I have to stand in line at the post office every month to pay my housekeeper’s health insurance? I usually have to take a number, then wait around 45 minutes until they call my number, much like the DMV. Well, last week I found another post office at Avenue, a sleepy shopping mall only a 5-minute drive from my house. And there is never a line. Plus, there’s a huge Carrefour grocery store in the mall, so I can get all my household shopping done while I’m at it. And the mall has free parking. Fabulous! I tried it out on Tuesday, and I was in and out of the post office in less than 10 minutes. The Carrefour had a huge selection of booze…my kinda place…and on a whim I picked up this beer.

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I love how the label says ALEXANDER the GREAT beer. Like you have to believe that this beer is GREAT. All caps. Mmmm…what do you know? It is indeed GREAT.

Now for the bad, which turned out okay in the end. I had a play date at the IKEA on Wednesday morning with my Greek-Irish friend Katy. As I sat in the café, she texted me to tell me she had arrived. But I couldn’t find her anywhere. Finally I called her…and she was at the other IKEA! Yes, Athens has two IKEAs! Such a foreign concept to me. Back in Wichita I had to drive 3 hours to the nearest IKEA, and the next nearest location was several hundred miles in another direction. At any rate, I drove about 30 minutes to the other IKEA, and it turns out I should have been going to this one all along. First of all, the cafeteria actually served mashed potatoes! Swoon! They also had a better play area for the kids, and it wasn’t nearly so crowded. After lunch and some shopping, Katy took me next door to another huge shopping center, where I had THE BEST hot chocolate at Coffeeway. They had a handful of options, and I picked white chocolate. There’s a Coffeeway in Halandri…this might just replace Chai Latte from Starbucks as my favorite wintertime drink. (On a side note, it’s interesting to me to see so many huge shopping centers here. I figured the US had pretty much cornered the market on these types of gigantic malls, but I guess Athens has recently jumped on the box store phenomenon, as well. It’s a welcome respite from the hectic traffic and medieval layout of my neighborhood.)

Finally, the smelly. Earlier in the week, after running errands, Violet and I returned home to a house that absolutely reeked of cat piss. I almost thought a cat got trapped in our house until I was able to narrow down the offending odor to our foyer. More specifically, our front door, which sported a HEE-UGE urine-stain at about medium-dog height. It must have seeped under the door or something. I scrubbed the heck out of the floor, but it still smelled the next day. Thankfully, our super hero housekeeper saved the day with some baking soda, vinegar, and a mop. One of the many nuisances of having a front door that just opens to a busy sidewalk. I sure hope it doesn’t happen again!

Mastering two wheels in Athens

We bought my son Liam a bike for his 8th birthday recently, and it’s been a challenge finding a good place for him to learn to ride it. The rooftop is nice and flat, and safe from the crazy traffic, but it’s not big enough to get enough momentum for balance. Plus it’s pretty boring. We tried taking it to the park down the street, but he had to walk it most of the way, and getting it up and down the square curbs tested his endurance…and my patience. A friend recommended a park where she learned to ride a bike when she was a kid here in Athens. There’s a great little track set up like a road, and it has a tunnel. But it tends to get crowded, and the path leading from the parking lot is made of un-biker-friendly cobblestones. Other parks I’ve visited have way too many hills for a beginning rider, and the paths are full of gravel and cracks. (And stray dogs. Liam still hasn’t recovered from his altercation last summer.) I was really beginning to miss our old Kansas neighborhood with gleaming white sidewalks and nearby High Park with it’s black-top paved trails.

Then another friend suggested this place.

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Of course! In 2004, Athens hosted the summer Olympics, and they built this enormous complex. It really is a sight to behold. I go here every week for my Greek pilates class. And it’s a perfect place to learn to ride a bike. There’s a proper parking lot with ramps leading up to the stadiums. There’s plenty of space to explore. It’s only a 10-minute drive from our house. And Liam was particularly enamored of this feature…

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The Green Line train has a stop here. He’d been riding around in circles, then holler, “Look, I see the train!”

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This was only his third outing on the new bike, and while he’d pretty much mastered the balance bike, we had to go back to training wheels so he could get the hang of pedaling. This was the first time he really got up some speed. I may have to bring my bike next time so I can keep up! We took the training wheels off for a bit and I helped him balance in the grass. Along with his bike he received knee and elbow pads, which I think helped him feel a TINY bit less scared of falling. He’s a very cautious fellow. If wrapping him in Charmin were an option, I’m sure he’d go for it.

He did well, and if the weather holds out, we plan to make as many return trips on the weekends as we can. I suspect as we head into summer, the lack of shade will present a problem. I remember the first time I came here, I thought I was gonna die from the heat. And as I learned in Malta, my son does not handle heat well. But for now, this will do nicely.

I have a toaster again!

Who knew toast would be such a sore point for me in Greece? You’ll remember I had a bit of a problem with my toaster. It quit working, then Vicko held it hostage for awhile. Finally…finally…they agreed to give me a new toaster. I walked up to the store, ready to take home my toaster, and the store clerk asked for the original receipt.

Dammit. I was hoping she’d overlook that.

See, because I have a child in diapers, I have about three or four different bags I use depending on who I have with me and where I’m going. And somewhere amid the transfer, I managed to lose the receipt. I looked everywhere. I suspect it got thrown away during the last Purge.

At any rate, the store clerk was very nice about it, but because Greece has this nutty receipt law, she was reluctant to give me a toaster without it. (On a side note, try refusing a receipt at the toll booth. They will insist you take one. Seriously.) Still, she was a very nice lady, and agreed to call the head office and see if we could work something out. So back home I went. Without a toaster.

The next day she called to say they would indeed issue me a new toaster, but I would not be able to have a new receipt, and would have to waive the option for a one-year guarantee, which is standard for Vicko products. Fine. It’s a 15 Euro toaster. If this one by some miracle also stops working, I’ll just buy a new one.

So this morning, imagine my (admittedly lame) excitement about getting to finally make toast again. And then imagine my exasperation when this happens:

Seriously?!

This wasn’t a fluke. My toast goes into orbit EACH AND EVERY TIME. I would cry if I weren’t laughing so hard. But, hey, at least it works!