Memorial Day Weekend and Athens were on the menu. Before our plane took off direct to Athens, Pat asked me to search for a hotel room. I fumbled.
Uhhh, I don’t know how to research quickly. I didn’t know a thing about Athens’ neighborhoods or the proximity of major sites. Pat looked at me and then booked the King George with his hotel points. Thank goodness for hard work and work travel because we were taken aback by the awesome luxury that is the King George. The staff are ridiculously accommodating. The building and suite, newly renovated and high-end. The treat in Greece is most definitely King George.
We spent the long weekend sightseeing, eating, taking in the gorgeous May weather, and feeling in awe of our good fortune. The food we ate was fresh and probably dare I say healthy?!? Now, the desserts were ooey gooey, but the meals were very straightforward. No fatty sauces, not very salty, steamed veggies, grilled meats. The Greeks give a healthy plate of food, but each bite is pretty calorie conscious – at least what we ate. We ate veggies first of all instead of simply a protein and rice/potato combo, which is normal for our travels. At Taverna Tou Psara in Plaka or Anafiotika (quite frankly I don’t know where Plaka starts and Anafiotika begins), the Greek salad was so fresh and delicious, I nearly cried. AND there was no added dressing. Nothing but the perfect blend of tomato, feta, cucumbers, capers, and black olives. I could have been happy with that salad alone. The next evening, our hotel concierge, Iosif followed up his tavern pick with another Anafiotika hot spot, this time nestled into the steps on the hillside itself. Of all the places we’ve been, we can easily rate Athens, “Best Outdoor Dining in May.” The temperature cools off from the 80s to the low 70s requiring a light sweater. The places we ate were not IN the street unlike Lisbon (no offense Lisbon. We love you.). In Lisbon in Bairro Alto, a car with its fumes will wiz by your table, as you sit IN the street.
The second night’s meal was especially hilarious because we were served by the cutest little Greek grandpa. In broken English, he stood over our table and told us that he suggested we get a Greek salad plus a plate of sea bass, shrimp, and calamari for two. He did more than suggest actually. He basically stated with hand gestures and head nodding that we were going to have this meal. The only control we had was to order bread and butter. I’m not sure we needed it quite frankly. The seafood was grilled, and lemon wedges provided. This meal was meant to honor the fishy simple ingredients. Once again, I did not detect butter and/or any fat at all. The calamari was a tad rubbery, and Pat was not a fan. I ate as much as possible so as to avoid the little Grandpa yelling at me. I asked Pat if we could ask Gramps for a selfie, and he said no. Oh well. We loved the stairwell eating. Did we already say this?? The weather on a May night is low 70s with a whisper of a breeze. Not a trace of sweat on your skin. But not chilly. Some parts of Athens do not smell so sweet, but alas there is a charm. The stairs on the sides of the hill in Anafiotika lead up to the Parthenon. There is something almost historically mesmerizing about thinking about the people in 5000B.C. walking up the same steps. The restaurants are able to take advantage of the steps to create new seating. I love that Europe can be so cool without trying. We can all sit over each other smoking cigarettes and eating olives with no care in the world.
Earlier on Day 2, we visited the Acropolis, and we learned that the site is a compound. We looked at a map and then arrived at the site. What are all of these other buildings? Maybe I forget my 6th grade World History lesson which should have told me that there was the Parthenon plus the temple for the virgins plus the theater plus the auditorium plus the place where Athena once stood. The Parthenon faces east toward the rising sun. It was just really cool. We joined a tour of international students and paid 15€ each. I think we had room to negotiate even though the guide came down from 100€ to 85€. She was very good. I highly recommend tours. In the past, I would research a place in advance of a visit and have all of my notes with me. We have done a lot of self-guided tours. Nowadays, we work a little more from 9 to 5, and we do less vacation prep. Guides are well worth it.
The one thing we learned which I found rather poignant is “Don’t be arrogant. Sand your white Pentelic marble down.” Take a look.
According to our guide, the marble was transported and moved into place by tying rope around “knobs” chiseled at the sides of the marble block. As the blocks were positioned, the masons would sand the marble face to give it a smooth finish. There are still examples of stones that were left without smoothing. It showed the Greeks’ arrogance and relative comfort. Judging by how much of Greece’s history was ruled by non-Greeks, we would say that they got too comfortable too fast. Yikes.
The Parthenon was breathtaking.
Our last full day in Greece, we ate. Our very cool Concierge, Iosif, recommended Mama Roux for brunch. We didn’t know what to expect, but we were happy.
And after we’d eaten all of that food, paid our check and left our tip, our waiter returns with cheesecake. On the house. Mascarpone and cream cheese and orange zest. It was more than lovely. Not just the flavor of the cake, the outpouring of warmth we received from the Greeks. We’re not sure we’ve ever been so well-received by a culture.
I couldn’t finish that cheesecake alone, and Pat was not helping me. We ushered our new friend over and asked him for a to-go box. He said “sure” and disappeared. He returned with a box that looked too large. And the kindness continues.
From Mama Roux, we walked to Stelios where we found such delightful dessert, we oohed and ahhhed. Sat in front of someone’s closed shop and scarfed down our sweets. Pat enjoyed a banana custard and I enjoyed profiteroles. Sigh …
We missed the last open air tour bus to the waterfront so we decided to go up to Mount Lycabettus, the highest point in Athens. We took the funicular which was a weird little contraption climbing northward. We were too many tourists in a little sweaty box that has no view. You basically travel within a tunnel that has projected advertisements flashing over the walls. Bizarre and not worth the 7€. A cab would have gotten us to a pretty high point from which we would have avoided riding the claustrophobic closet that was that funicular. The view from the top was gorgeous if not hazy. Athens does not have clear skies. Pat laughed that he’d seen ne’er a star in that big sky all his days in Athens.
Later, Pat fell in love with the orange marmalade crumble pie from Stelios. It was Sooo adult. Mmmm … I would have never selected it. Glad he did. A perfect end to our new favorite place – Athens in May.
PS We also fell in love with outdoor movies in Athens. Such a perfect idea.