Europe 2008, with the nieces

Athens | Mykonos | Austria | Prague | London

More paradise than we expected

Hillary seems to sleep on transport (You can click on each photo to see more thumbnails, and to enlarge the images.)

Although we had to get up at ungodly o'clock, we took the train to Piraeus with no difficulty. It took a bit more work to find out dock; the ferry port is big, and the sign near the train station has little to do with reality. We had planned for confusion (ref. ungodly o'clock above), and eventually found it and settled in to our airline-style seats on our fast ferry for the ride to Mykonos. We had hoped to pick up some food on the way, but found none, so we were a captive audience to ferry food. There was no outside deck, and the windows were grungy, so there was not much to watch except for some over-played videotape in Greek.

Towards the end of the ride, the young Greek man sitting next to Hillary started shyly chatting her up. He asked if she was travelling with her mother and grandfather. Ouch.

Hotel Philippi

Once we arrived on Mykonos, there was no information about how to get into town. We tried to find a taxi, but they were not allowed to take us there, for some odd reason. A taxi driver finally told us to take the bus (which was still there, thankfully) to the old port. From the old port, we schlepped to town and tried to find our hotel. We discovered that the cobbled streets are more of a maze than our guidebooks had warned, and the map sent by the hotel bore no resemblance whatsoever to the actual streets. We asked several people, and eventually bought a good map. The shop owner gave us good directions, and we soon arrived at Hotel Philippi.

After tossing our bags into our long, narrow (but comfortable) room, we decided to head out for lunch, and to explore. It was easy enough to head downhill, so we found our way back to the harbor, and a restaurant we'd seen on our circuitous wanderings.

A pet pelican

As we ate a savory crepe, moussaka, horiatiki, a huge white bird waddled over to a nearby table. It was one of Mykonos Town's beloved pet pelicans. The wings had clearly been clipped, so it was reduced to begging for its lunch and doing song requests. The bird clearly recognized a patron in the restaurant, and waddled over to get a french fry and a noogie. We eventually went back to our baklava, frappe, and espresso.

We strolled around town, checking out various tiny churches, the famous windmills, and discovered lots of shops and restaurants; we had found the tourist track! (We later discovered that we had not found all of it; there was plenty more where that came from.) Although we got rather lost in the maze of streets, the layout started to make sense. (To me, at least.)

Mykonos Windmills

Prosciutto& melon, tomatoes, mozzarella, and no basil

Sunset seemed to be the time to have a drink in Little Venice, along with the rest of the throng. Hillary had noted an Italian restaurant that had cute pepper centerpieces (always the hallmark of a good restaurant), so that became dinner's target...if we could find it. Their version of chips and salsa was cheese and local honey, a great accompaniment to drinks and menu perusal. The Caprese had no basil, but the mozzarella was excellent. For mains we ordered risotto (with lousy truffle & corn cob chunks), spaghetti with pesto,and duck ravioli. Except for the yucky risotto, everything was OK. Shots of mastiha were on the house.

Alcohol!

Hillary, denying her party girl rep, provoked us to go drinking and dancing, although we had no idea where to go. But first, she wanted to call her father back in El Paso to wish him a happy birthday. Scandinavian Bar had a big reputation as one of the places to go, so we wandered down there. After a few drinks in one of the crowded bars that make up the sprawling place, we decided to try to head upstairs to dance. There was a long line snaking down the stairs in front of the entrance, but the bouncer saw us, and for some reason (maybe he mistook me for Stephen Spielberg, or maybe because of the two hot babes I was with) pushed us past everyone and into the crowded dance hall. We finally made it back to our room around 2:30, but not before a clown incident.


Bakery breakfast

We managed to sleep in, and were woken up at noon by housekeeping. Breakfast found us at a little bakery just up the street; they had good turnovers and tarts, plus excellent frappe coffee. Tables were crammed into the narrow street, which let us watch tourists and locals wander by.

Paradise Beach

Uphill, at a place called Fabrika, was one of the town's two bus terminals. (We had arrived at the other one the previous day.) It took a while to figure out which one was needed to go to where, but this was the place to find the bus to Paradise. Beach, that is. Mykonos has many beach resorts which are open to day visitors. Lots of tourists actually never spend any time in town, but instead spend their holidays out a a particular resort. Many of these have reputations for wild debauchery, but that was not what we went for. I wanted to check out the dive operations. One looked questionable, but the other actually looked very good. Prices were high (hey, Mykonos in high season) at 60€ for 1 dive and 100€ for 2). We considered going, with Hillary doing an intro course, but in the end we did not. Instead, we opted to just hang out, get some sun, and, of course, eat lunch. There was no debauchery to be seen, just a little theft.

Beach lunch

A cafeteria-style lunch of gyros in pita, horiatiki, tzatziki, and yogurt with fruit out of the way, we were able to decamp to the beach, claiming a trio of chaise longues. Sunny and not too hot, the day was perfect for sun, reading, and a swim. One of our umbrella neighbors came back from somewhere (having been off for some time), and discovered that her camera had been stolen. This American asked if we'd seen anyone—we had not—and then randomly accused some guy laying nearby of taking it. He had just arrived, but she could not be dissuaded. As we were leaving to head home (without knowing what awaited us in our attempt), Hillary found a wallet buried in the sand. According to the ID it belonged to a Kuwaiti woman—not our neighbor—we took it to the resort's reception desk.

All (pieces) aboard!

We arrived at the bus stop and deli, and it was not very crowded. A bus was scheduled every 20 minutes, although the departures turned out to be more random. More people started to arrive for the next one. As soon as one was spotted, people began to throng (no queue was in evidence) in the street, and then turned into a mob once the doors opened. It turned into a melee as people tried to get onto the bus, and we were quickly squeezed out in surprise. Quick as a wink, the bus was packed full and speeding off, leaving angry people in its wake. We strategized on how to get onto the next one, since it was our only way back.

As the next one arrived, we fought to stay at the front of the crowd, trying to judge where the door would land. Roswitha managed to be the first person on, and the bus driver, inciting riot—gleefully—told her she could choose the next person to come on. She had tried to hang onto Hillary's hand (with Hillary), and managed to pull her onto the bus. She chose me (thankfully) out of the crowd, and I worked to fight my way on. The bus filled up as the driver laughed and picked out cute girls to board. Whew.

Hillary probably still can't look at it

Ended up, after almost going into several places, in the Sunset restaurant in Little Venice. We shared a Caprese, again with wonderful cheese, and a mezes plate (baba ganoush, tzatziki, taramasalata, dolmades, octopus salad). Hillary and Roswitha shared a red snapper, cleaned and beheaded at another table so Hillary would not see it. I had a steak au poivre. While the restaurant wait staff was great, they gently nudged us along because after dinner service the place turned into a bar.

We challenged Hillary to lead us home. Along the way we saw almost every street in southern Hora, some twice.


Things that somewhat resembled "bagels"

We woke up a bit later than expected, and went off to find the place we'd seen that had bagels on the menu. (I nailed it on the first try—I'm starting to figure the place out). We had a “bagel” with cream cheese, yogurt crepe with honey, and a Nutella and banana crepe. The shop owner though that we were making fun of her inefficient running back and forth, and got miffed. I apologized and said that we were not; we understood how busy it can get – we’d been there ourselves. (In fact, we were making fun of the “bagel.”)

Panormos Beach

We picked up a car at Fabrika (the southern bus stop) and promptly drove the wrong way, and had to circle back through the windy narrow streets of Hora. We finally got out OK, and then went to Panormos Beach to shoot a panorama. Roswitha and Hillary took a short dip at the pretty and sedate beach while I annoyed other people by spinning with a camera.

 

Panormos Beach panorama

Monastery at Ano Mera

We then drove through the hilltop town of Ano Mera, which seems to be the high point near the center of the island. We stopped to shoot a few photos of the monastery and some basil plants before heading on to Kalafatis Beach. The restaurant attached to the hotel at the north end of the beach is posh and comfortable, and served an excellent lunch, with creativity with subtle spicing. We ordered too much, and then ate it all. We had horiatiki (how many does that make so far?), tzatziki, moussaka, and spicy cheese.

Windsurfing lessons

The girls decided to take windsurfing lessons. It turned out that the surfing school was owned and operated by Austrians, but there was no discount for fellow Austrians. (This is due, no doubt, to the great sailing and seafaring traditions of Austria.) Hillary and Roswitha did very well, and I shadebathed.

Kalafatis Beach

After a relaxing rest, we iterated our way to Super Paradise Beach to look at it and have a snack of sardine salad, tzatziki (the chips & salsa of Greece), and some ice cream. The place seems to have a captive audience; the prices were rather outrageous. Since the sun was off the beach, the party had moved to the DJ stage; we sat on the beach for our snack. The road to and from the place is really steep, and people were driving the scooters and ATVs as though they were drunk, which they probably were. We made it back without incident, in spite of the foreshadowing.

The grill

Dinner was back in Hora at the Caprese Silk Market Restaurant, which sites out on the water, directly below the row of windmills. We walked past the seafood grill on the way in. The setting is gorgeous, and it was very windy, but refreshing. It was hard to get service’s attention, but we finally got the Spicy Mykonian Cheese (“No, we don’t have that.” / “What’s this?” / “That is spicy local cheese.” / “We’ll have that.”), Mussels, Fried Anchovies (Hillary did not especially like them), and, eventually…a pork steak. The food was just OK.

Sleeping pelican

We strolled back through town, and discovered where the pelican mascots slept for the night. There were food dishes, poop piles, and two pelicans with their heads buried under their wings, looking like odd ottomans. Oddly, it was right next to a loud, busy restaurant, but the birds did not seem to care.


Cheesy breakfast

We ate breakfast at a café by the cinema at a place that was all about the cheese. A cheese pie (not to be confused with a cheesecake), a 4 cheese crepe, and a ham & cheese crepe, plus a double round of coffee seemed to hit the spot. We were up rather early since we wanted to take a boat over to Delos, a "holy" archeological island 45 minutes away from Mykonos. We were clearly operating outside the tourist norm; the locals (the most colorful of which we had started to call cast members) gave us a bit of the evil eye as they set about getting things ready backstage—sweeping, delivering bread (in cute little 3-wheel vehicles), whitewashing walls, and repairing damage.

Ferry to Delos

Ferries to Delos (birthplace of Artemis and Apollo) leave frequently from the Hora harbor, so we got tickets, but decided to not get a guide. Lonely Planet would be our guide. The day was bright and clear, and we hoped that it would not be too hot.

Our "tour guide"

While we waited in the long, jostling line, a guy came by, with authority, saying that groups of at least 10 could go in with a guide. The family in front of us (Dad—Mike—spoke Greek as well as English) talked about it, and we said that we’d be interested, mostly as a way to get through the ticket gate. The guide would be 10 euros, and we were able to find one more to complete the group. We paid the 10 euros, then discovered we needed another 5 for the actual gate fee. He collected our money and left us while he went to get the tickets.

This tour guide turned out to be unintelligible, and a crook

On the other side, the group had suddenly blossomed to many more people, mostly Greek speakers. The authoritative speaker was our guide. While he seemed to speak English well, he asked Mike to translate for him. Mike seemed amused at first. We started walking, and he got pretty rude to some people who tried to tag along. He spoke mostly in Greek, Mike tried to keep up, and it was mostly junk info. We got upset that we were not hearing anything, and that Mike was a visitor, not a guide. The Greek visitors started to get upset as well. We tried to split off and get our money back, so he started to speak more English. One of the Greek visitors got mad, demanded, and got his money back. In the House of Dionysus, our guide stood on a low marble wall which was roped off. One of the monitors yelled at him, blew her whistle, and finally gave up since she really had no power. She seemed to say that he was the friend of some politico, so nothing could be done. He ran off up the path, the group stringing out behind. I demanded my money back, telling him that he was the worst guide I’d ever seen, and wondered if he had any self-respect. Mike took a vote, and all but 4 people wanted money back. The guide said, “You’re not getting anything. Call the police!” and stormed off.

Ancient toilets

Ah, well, just another stupidity tax. We should have taken the official guides offered when we bought the boat tickets.

 

Atop Mr. Kynthos

This is not what you think—even Wikipedia is wrong—it's the bottom of a bird

The site itself is impressive and huge, with many quality details remaining or reconstructed. Using the map, we still cobbled together a good visit, although without rich story. The amphitheater and its nearby cistern were interesting. Many of the buildings, such as the House of Cleopatra, the House of Masks, and the House of Dolphins are named after artifacts or mosaics found within them. The topmost peak, Mt. Kynthos, gave a great view of the surrounding Aegean and Mykonos. The top of the mountain was quite windy; Roswitha got the idea to use her wrap for some statuesque posing, and Hillary did it as well. Two other tourists saw it, and then had to do the same thing. There were lots of good mosaics and architectural detail, and the site's sleepy museum, does house many of the artifacts, but a few key ones are elsewhere, such as Athena, Pan, and Eros, which are in the National Museum in Athens. The Naxian Lions are also there (replicas outside). Also near the museum is the only food served on the island, in a tiny snack bar attached to the museum. The only interesting item was fresh-squeezed orange juice.

The Theater

Horiatiki, gyros at Jimmy's

The boat ride back was on rough seas, and a few people filled the distributed bags. When we got in (16:00), we had late lunch at Jimmy’s (pork gyros in pita, horiatiki) since we'd not eaten on Delos. (If we had, someone might have also gotten a chance to use the bag.)

Windmills at sunset

We did a bit of shopping, took a power nap, had another clown incident, and then went to watch the sunset in Little Venice, where we talked with a German investment banker and his auditor wife; they own a house on the island. Dinner was at Kathryn’s, on a balcony perched barely above the busy waves. The food (tzatziki, avocado salad with rocket & parmesan, stuffed pepper and tomato, lamb stew) was hearty and very good. We packed in the room for an early morning departure (cleverly packing for the one night in Athens—the airline had changed our flight from Mykonos to a day earlier, but left us on the original one out of Athens), until I discovered that the flight had been changed to early afternoon. We get to sleep in!


Mmmm, chocissaint

For our final Mykonos breakfast, we went back to the cafe right by the hotel for pastries & coffee; Hillary finally got her chocolate croissant. We strolled around the (display) market along the waterfront, and scoped out the taxis. We finished packing, and rolled down to Taxi Square, where there was no taxi in sight. Every once in a while, a taxi would roll in and disgorge passenger, and immediately be swamped by the people who were waiting. Usually, they'd say that they had a call and speed off. (It seems that there is a strong taxi union on the island, and they will not allow expansion beyond the existing 30 taxis, or for alternate travel means to be put in place.) I tried calling for a taxi, but the dispatcher said that taxis would just be coming by. I told her that none did, so would she please send one, but she never really agreed. Roswitha finally was successful in keeping a late-coming Greek from usurping an arriving and willing taxi, and we made the 10-minute drive to the airport for a non-usurious fee.

Bye, Delos and Mykonos

Of course, the Mykonos airport was a raucous free-for-all (but not as bad as the bus), so we positioned ourselves into the two apparent lines, while enjoying the putrid odor blowing in from the gate area. We actually got onto the plane without incident, and had not managed to score window seats, so the flight was boring, but reassuringly short.

"Kostas" Salad, lemony braised lamb, "shoe"

We left most of our bags at the airport's left luggage.We took the train in, stopping for lunch one stop before Syntagma square, at Kolonaki, the embassy and expat district. The place we'd targetted was closed, but Hillary spotted some tables on a side street, To Kafineo. (26, Loukianou Str. - Kolonaki) Some English-speaking folks were there, and we asked them if the food was good. "Yes, it is, and try the 'Kostas Salad.'" Kostas himself came out and suggested that he bring 3 plates of stuff, including the salad, which was not called Kostas', but the prior group had unofficially named it after him. He brought us the "Kostas" chopped salad, which was excellent (green beans, artichokes, mushroom, dill, white wine, olive oil), lemony braised lamb with even more lemony potatoes, and the "shoe," a moussaka reinterpretation of ground meat and potato puree heaped onto a large, fat eggplant. The food was excellent—a wondrous find. From there we hiked to Syntagma, rode one stop to Akropoli, and checked into the hostel, while verifying that our bag was still locked to the balcony railing. Somewhere in there, Roswitha dashed off to shoot pictures of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Kind of doughnut

We strolled into the tourist district, picked up a few tiles, and got sucked into dinner at a place which had "kind of doughnuts." Since lunch had been so late, we only wanted a light dinner, but ended up getting a large horiatiki, tzatziki, and then a plate of fried dough balls (kind of doughnut holes) doused in honey.

Gazi, the hip nightlife area

A quick subway ride took us to Gazi/Technopolis, the hopping food and entertainment district around an old factory. The place was very busy, and we again successfully evaded the advertisement givers who clearly wanted better dressed and better-looking people to go to their clubs. We stopped into one loud bar, where we had a huge glass of tequila on the rocks, mastiha on the rocks, and a peach juice.


The next morning, we headed on to Vienna

 


Athens | Mykonos | Austria | Prague | London
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