Friday, October 30, 2009

In Case You're Ever at an Italian-Themed Trivia Night...

When we go to the olive groves, it takes up to just over an hour one way when we hit traffic -- and especially when Gijo is driving.

That leaves a lot of time to learn some good Italian fun facts from my fellow passengers. Here are a few from yesterday:

1. Did you know that Vespa means wasp? Makes sense, right?

2. Balsamic vinegar is just vinegar until its twelfth birthday. Plus, it must be made in Modena to really count.

3. Blackboard in Italian is "lavagna," which coincidentally is one of the towns we drive through all the time and is known for the tons of slate found naturally there and used for chalkboards. I'm not sure which came first.

4. It takes about 100 kilos of olives to make 20 of oil.

So Full on the Farm

After all these days on the farm(feels like an eternity already!), I am surprised I haven't devoted more energy to recording the food here.

The cook Alessia is a sweet young woman in her early twenties. She'd rather be caring for the donkey, chickens and dogs on the land but somehow got stuck with the role of head chef. The food is at times mediocre at best but sometimes spectacular.

I certainly have not gone hungry though! Mom would be relieved.

We eat all our meals together in the dining hall or at an outdoor picnic table overlooking the sea when we're at the groves.

A basic list of the meals here thus far:

1. Breakfast

Self service and the same every morning

Giant helping of yogurt
Corn flakes
Classic American white bread toast (that's what it says on the package)
Variety of homemade preserves (apple, pear, citrus, chestnut, tomato, plum, etc)
Honey (made on the premises and put on EVERYTHING)
Cafe and tea

2. Lunch

Best meal of the day usually (olive oil drizzled and parmesan sprinkled on EVERYTHING)

French bread and focaccia
Pasta with pancetta tomato sauce
Sandwiches of salami, ham, mortadella, mozzarella, goat cheese, pecorino
Tuna onion salad
Tuna, egg rice
Pork with potatoes
Dinner leftovers
Bitter greens
Red wine
Sparkling water
Apples and grapefruit (picked near the olive groves)

3. Dinner

More bread...more olive oil...more parmesan

Lentil soup
Chickpea soup
Minestrone soup
Meatloaf with hardboiled eggs cooked in
Bitter greens
Bitter greens
More bitter greens
Sausage (thanks to me!!!)
Cheese salad with fresh thyme(what an awesome idea...I could eat cheese salad every day. It's basically mozzarella and parmesan with tons of olive oil and herbs)
Red wine (lots of it)
Sparkling water
Sparkling white wine during celebratory moments (which happens surprisingly often)
Tiramisu every now and then

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lessons From the Farm

1. Sunset Time

On my first day at the harvest Tobias, one of the farmer men who lives here, suddenly stopped mid olive raking:

"Wait! We must stop now and watch the sunset!"

And that is exactly what we all did...and what we've done every day we've been at the olive groves. Can you imagine if every day your boss told you to stop mid email and look outside to stare at the sunset?

Please do this at least once this week for me. I know I sound like a hippie farmer, but whatever you're doing can wait.

I've watched more sunsets and stared at more stars these past three weeks than I have in the last three years. I think I've been sitting inside a windowless cube staring at a computer screen for the majority of those sunsets.

How could I have turned down such a beautiful form of free entertainment all this time? I love free shit.

2. Go with the High Hanging Fruit

So I've discovered that it's not always the best strategy to go after the low hanging fruit first...especially when you step back and look at the tree as a whole.

If you have to rake away the top leaves anyway, you can usually catch a few of the low hangers on the way down. I believe this concept will have multiple applications for future me.

3. Don't Always Take the Stairs

One of the farmers, Giovanni, has been teasing me here about my bizarre little person strength after my climb up the pole the other day. He doesn't understand how I did it or where the strength came from. Neither did I.

I've noticed here that I prefer to go after the highest olives...even though I'm the shortest person.

I nominated myself to carry all the biggest rocks and buckets of dirt down a hill when we were renovating some drainage channels...even though I have the smallest arms.

And yesterday I climbed up a hill out of the olive grove...even though there were stairs just steps away.

Giovanni asked why I didn't just take the stairs, and I replied:

"Because this is how I get strong!"

I thought that was very clever of me. I felt like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde when she tells her law professor, "Because I'm not afraid of a challenge."

But I do think it's true. I like to take the harder way out sometimes or put myself in challenging situations for the sake of making it through the confirm with myself that I'm strong enough to take it.

I think that's what this whole trip is about.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Victory Sausage

Yesterday we went into Bargonasca because the cultural association had a tai chi, yoga and Japanese sword fighting demonstration at a town street fair.

There were crafts like basket weaving and chair making, chestnut roasting, some local art and a few other random things for sale. We also had a table to sell olive oil, jams and olive wood cutting boards.

The most popular stand was hosted by a group that holds training and adventure activities in the forests near here.

They had a wooden pole set up (maybe 20 feet?), and people could get strapped up in a harness and try to climb up it to grab one of the many prizes at the top, which included bags of apples, bottles of water, candy, stuffed animals and coffee grinds.

We probably saw over a dozen people (all shapes, sizes, genders, ages) have a go at it, but only a young man made it. We were amazed because we all figured it looked extremely easy, but then we watched person after person try and fail less than halfway up.

I decided to try my best shot because I was craving a nice, refreshing bite of an apple. By some miracle I can't explain, I made it to the top. If it weren't for the enthusiastic crowd clapping and cheering me on in Italian, I don't know if I could have made it.

It's nice to have that positive reinforcement to keep going in life...even if you don't totally understand it.

I can say without any exaggeration that that was the hardest every muscle in my body has ever worked simultaneously. When I reached the top, I couldn't imagine picking up that heavy bag of apples, so I swatted at a bag of candy I knew my friend wanted. But somehow I missed.

After I made my triumphant ride down the pole, I looked at my prize and there lie...a bag of sausages.

My farmer family was quite proud and nicknamed me for the evening "gato piccolo" or the little cat.

And this little cat will be feasting on the most delicioso dinner of Italian sausage this evening. It will be the hardest I've ever worked for a meal.

Low Hanging Fruit

There was a moment during my first day of harvesting when one of the farmers explained to me to pick the low hanging olives by hand first and then move on to the higher branches with the rake.

I laughed to myself.

"Low hanging fruit" was a metaphor my old supervisors in PR threw around a lot with me. I remember the days when it meant the supermarket reporter at the Wall Street Journal or business reporter at the Boston Herald. And now I literally go after low hanging fruit.

How strange is that?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Harvest

We drive half an hour away to Cavi, where their olive groves are.

I think they said they have about 500 trees. It feels so satisfying to have purpose again.

How to harvest the olives:

1. Lay nets on the ground all along the trees you'll pick that day. This sounds easy, but there's definitely an art to it. One of the women who is a regular here complimented me on my creativity in arranging the nets so that none of the olives roll down the hill and said I was a natural. Very exciting.
2. We pick the olives by hand (it feels like stripping thyme leaves off their stems) or use a rake to get the higher branches cleared. It's a killer on the neck.

3. The nets catch all the olives on the ground. We roll up the nets and gather all the olives into a central point. Pour them into a crate. Pour those into a burlap sack.

4. And that's it! They send the olives off to be pressed. We've been eating their olive oil with every meal (seriously, we drizzle it on everything at the table), and it's awesome.

Friday, October 23, 2009

You Could Be a Farmer in Those Clothes...or a Member of a Free Love Cult

Yesterday was my first night on the farm. I love it so far.

There are two other Americans (guy from the Cape and girl from St. Louis), an Australian lassie and an Italian woman WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming) with me.

They're a lot of fun. They've all done this before at other farms now and have been here for about a week.

It turns out that the farm is part of a "cultural society" of some sort. Not entirely sure what that means yet. Last night the others were being alarmingly vague about what they had discovered about this place as they wanted me to "decide for myself" what I thought of it here.

They do a lot of Asian martial arts and yoga as a part of the society. They also have a leader named Paulo...but maybe now I've said too much.

The word "free love" was used by one of my WWOOF colleagues to describe the situation here.

Yes, NOW I've said too much.

Don't worry though. I'm not going to get sucked into some kind of cult. I can't even understand what anyone is saying.
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Train Coma

I'm sitting in my little cabin. Five empty seats. Just me.

Listening to This American Life to pass the quiet. Ira Glass' voice is so familiar and comforting.

I stare outside, and it looks like New Jersey. For a minute I slip into a train coma and forget where I am.

I put the show on pause when I realize the conductor is standing right beside me saying something loudly.

I don't know what he's saying. Then it hits me that I'm in Italy. This is my life. This is the only time I've ever existed in a country where I don't know a soul.

This is so cool.

I give the man my ticket, and he seems to be satisfied. Every now and then he walks by and says something. I smile and nod.

The scenery changes from asphalt buildings to farm land to beautiful hillsides spattered with pink and pale orange homes. The coastline is outstretched on my right.

I've arrived here via the flight from Iraklion to Athens to Malpensa airport. Then a shuttle to Milan to the Stazione Centrale.

Next I get off the train at Chiavari. Catch a bus to Casali. Meet farmer Giovanni to get a ride to the farm, my home for the next two weeks.

I've made it. All that transportation, and I actually made it.

An Apu Moment

Oh no.

While sitting here on the plane writing that last post on plane food, I just experienced a serious Apu moment. I was just tempted to steal the leftover little packet of strawberry jam from the rich older Italian lady sitting next to me. She has Louis Vuitton luggage and that perfectly coiffed news anchor kind of hair (Lauren, like our 5th grade homeroom teacher. Mrs. Holden?).

Anyway, they served us breakfast, which, of course, came with the roll. Pris and I have been spending .10-.30 euro on those little jam packets all throughout Greece (we spent a lot of time at supermarkets). And that woman was just going to let it go to waste! The butter too!

It would have gone really well with the loaf of bread I have hiding in my backpack.

I'm not kidding. My bad habit of food scavenging has gone to a new extreme. I wish Pris were here to be my partner in crime; she could be Aladdin!

Strike that. It WILL go really well with my bread...I totally just swiped it. Please don't judge me.

A Note on Plane Food from the Flight to Milan

Over the years I have developed a rather self-inflicted food snob reputation. Food is very important to me. High quality food is essential.

All the books I read are about food. Most of the paychecks I used to receive went to luxurious meals at NYC and Boston's finest restaurants. My Twitter handle is "ashlovesfood." I based my short-lived PR career around food.

So this next confession may come as a blasphemous surprise, against all values of the food snobbery establishment: I adore plane food. I know I'm supposed to think it's gross, but I secretly look forward to international travel just for those fabulously fake trays of airplane eats.

1. Maybe it's because I grew up eating a lot of TV dinners.

2. Maybe it's how wonderfully organized everything is with all the single serving portions. Boxes of fruit with clear plastic lids. Individually wrapped brownies with walnuts or pineapple chunks.

3. The reliability of those small round rolls that go stale and cold if you don't eat them fast enough. No matter what the meal or airline, they seem to always be there for you.

4. The anticipation of what's under that standard rectangular aluminum lid. I love surprises!

5. Maybe because it feels like free food.

I don't know.

You do start to feel like one of the fat people from Wall-E on the longer flights though. On the way to Europe from NYC, it felt like every time I opened my eyes a pretty flight attendant was standing there and shoving trays of food in front of me.

A Moment of Reflection at the Church of Ayios Titos

I don't know anything about this church except that Pris and I kept finding ourselves in front of it.

It was on the map, so I took photos (still trying to figure out how to upload photos without a desktop).

I'm not a religious person, but I've always enjoyed being inside sacred places and had a fascination with other people's faiths. When I was younger, I pretended I was Christian and attended services at other people's churches (the Greenawalt's throughout much of childhood) or would show up randomly for Christmas or Easter traditions (often the Kothe's). I played games and tried to fit in at the weekly JAM (Jesus and Me) sessions at the cool kid church in elementary school, and I sang along to the hymns in chapel every morning during high school.

I pretended to be Jewish in my last relationship, perfecting my rugelach recipe and helping host seders for Passover. I've learned to love Jewish baked goods. Sometimes I find myself craving hamantaschen.

When I go inside beautiful places of worship, I actually don't think about God that much. After all these years of trying on other people's religions, He's still kind of a foreign concept to me. Instead I think about the people who have filled these places in the past, and what it means for them. I really admire their devotion and am just grateful that such beauty can come from that. It's such a shame that it doesn't always end up that way though.

Anyway, that day I thought of a fine lady who I think was responsible for one of my last visits to church -- my dearest friend Julia. The BU Gospel Choir can put on a mean show. So I lit a candle in her honor and said my thanks for all the beauty her faith can bring her and for all the joy and laughter she brings to me.


Anarchy in Greece, One of the Founders of Democracy

By the end of my first full day in Crete, I was a big fan of Iraklio. Even the graffiti grew on me.

**photos of my favorite Cretan public wall art to come**

Cretan Fashion

**Photos of my favorite Cretan fashion statements to come***

Travel Notes: Crete

I was only here for two nights and one full day. Here's a summary:

1. Arrive in Iraklio (or Heraklion) at night. Get ripped off by cab driver. There goes dinner money. Hostel looks like a dump. Graffiti everywhere. Dark alleys. Sounds like someone is staging a dog fight outside our window. Made me think of the scene from Big when Tom Hanks spends his first night alone in the city.

2. Try to wander around the streets to see the city, but I get scared and want to go home (these days home is wherever my backpack happens to be parked). Pris thinks I'm being a little paranoid.

"There are a lot of women walking around alone. I think it's OK."

"I bet they're hookers."

3. We go home. Handsome receptionist man teaches us to play "portes," one of the three games traditionally played as matches in "tavli," which means in the backgammon board. I win! But just barely.

4. In the morning, we walk about two blocks from Hostel Rea:

"This place is the best! I could totally live here!"

The daylight is like an aphrodisiac, and I quickly fall in love with this city. The bustle of locals reminds me how much I belong living in a city, but there are still quaint streets decorated with welcoming cafes and the beautiful architecture you expect from Greece.

5. Take bus to Palace of Knossos (built between 1700-1400 BC), a true testament to the sophistication and ingenuity of Minoan society. Then hit the Archaeological Museum in Iraklio, where a lot of the artifacts from the Palace and other Cretan goods are stored.

This was one of my favorite cultures I studied in high school art history. I love the contrast of the relaxed fluidity of their more organic forms in comparison to the rigidity of other ancient Greek styles.

The columns are tapered at the ends instead of like the fluted perfection of the Parthenon. The ruins were littered with precious fertility figures with voluptuous women atop "stout buttocks" (quoted from Archaeological Museum label) that would make J. Lo envious, and the frescoes depict slim, limber men partaking in everyday activities like catching fish, wrestling and leaping over bulls.

Wow. That was a lot of arty rambling. Mr. Goodwin would be proud.

Pris and I also spent a lot of time taking silly photos in the Palace's sewer system. They had indoor plumbing! Can you believe it?

Some of the earliest evidence of toilets, much like our modern day johns. Not even the Versaille had working toilets and a drainage system inside the palace, according to the guide of the tour I hijacked.

6. Rest of the afternoon spent shopping. Pris bought a jacket. I bought a sweater for the upcoming cold nights in Italy. The fashion in Iraklio is crazy. I'll post photos soon.

7. Lots of walking. Liberty Square. Fountain of the Four Lions. Church of Ayios Tito. Venetian waterfront port. Trendy bars and quiet cafes.

8. Our last supper together was something very special. Photos to come soon, but here's the menu: boiled greens, fried aubergines, grilled octopus (grilled right outside by the waterfront!), moussaka.

There was this adorable moment when a kitten curled up in the chair next to Pris, and then a dog curled up on the floor beside me to keep us company.

Then the very sweet waitress brought out (on the house, mind you) four shots of Raki, the unofficial official liquor of Crete (I really hope one of my OS buddies reads this to get that joke), which is made from must residue when distilling wine.

PLUS, she brought us a giant plate of hot fried dough WITH vanilla AND chocolate ice cream AND two pieces of halva -- all drenched in chocolate syrup, honey and sesame seeds.

Food coma heaven.

Travel Notes: Sitting in Santorini

After such an active first full day in Santorini, we spent the next two days pretty inactive by the pool at our hostel.

There was a lot of eating of supermarket food and leftovers out of cans, plastic bags, takeout boxes and aluminum foil, which explains why I didn't feel too motivated to post much this week.

I do have corresponding photos for EVERYTHING I eat, so I'll put those up later. That way you can see just how low Pris and I sunk in the name of frugality.

"We reach new levels of poverty everyday." - Pris, scraping the remnants of stored honey from her ziploc baggie for her yogurt one morning.

The only times we strayed from our beloved home at Stelio's:

1. To restock at one of the several markets just down the street.

There was one night of takeout too, which included some amazing grilled calamari that we split (only 3.5 euro!)

2. To check if any of the travel agencies were open yet to book our ferry to Crete. We ended up not being able to leave until 5:45 p.m. Tuesday.

3. To purchase a loaf of whole wheat bread from an old Greek woman at the 24-hour bakery.

4. To go for a solo super long walk on the beach and through the town at Perissa Beach to see the famous church and get a closer look at the cliff walls.

5. To head to the port our last day to catch the "flying cat" to Crete. Lunch/dinner was a pasticio (Like lasagna. Minced beef. Tomato sauce. LOTS of cheese.) at a seaside cafe. Nothing to write home about...although I guess I just did.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I'm a Blogger...Weird.

I awoke this morning to my phone gchat buzzing by my head at 4:30 a.m.

"Herrroooooo? U haven't updated your blog since Monday!"

Oh, Jay. I think that just means he's super bored at work this week, but it's still nice to hear that you guys are keeping tabs on me...especially since I haven't followed through with my promised daily "I'm still alive" emails to my sister.

Christina, if you're reading this, tell mom I'm alive and that I saw a bunch of monkey frescoes at the Palace of Knossos and thought of her. More on that later.

Thanks also for all the comments! The anonymity makes me uncomfortable, so can you sign your name if you leave some love? I don't like all the mystery.

I'm at the airport in Iraklio with a two hour layover in Athens before Milan. Lots of time = lots of travel notes to log in!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Travel Notes: Big Day In Santorini

We took a tour around Santorini. Lots to see! This was probably the most amount of exercise for us out of the whole trip combined.

1. The tour boat. I felt like a pirate. It was wonderful. For the Boston girls who understand this: no eye patches included.

2. Another goal! We hiked to the top of the volcano island Nea Kameni, and I got to take a peak inside one of the craters. The tour guide told us that this isn't one of the oozing lava type of eruptions but the explosive kind! Scary.

If you dig a few inches into the soil, the volcanic ash is so hot that you can boil eggs! I wish someone had told me in advanced, so I would have come prepared with an egg.

3. We took the boat to just off the coast of the hot springs (Iamatika Nepa) at Palia Kameni. The water gets too shallow for the boat to dock, so we hopped in and swam about 100 meters to where the sulfur from the volcano-made island just barely started to heat up the waters. We found out from a local we met on the beach today that there is another hot springs area that actually gets a lot warmer, but they don't bring the tourists there. Oh well. I'm just happy I didn't drown.

4. We docked at Thirasia for lunch (which we both packed in advanced as hyper cheap travelers). Most of the other tourists lunched by the shore, so we ventured to the top of the cliff to check out the view. Anyone without the ridiculously frugal sensibilities we've developed over the last weeks would have paid the 5 euro for a "taxi" aka donkey ride up the steep cliff, but, of course, we opted to climb through the sea of donkey poo instead.

5. Another goal! Befriend a donkey=success. While dodging through their shit along the winding stone pathways, I got to say hi to some passing donkeys and even pet one! They were very friendly. Nobody kicked me.

6. More friends! What a sweet pup. She would have gotten along well with Eleanor Roooosevelt and Xiao Bai back at home.

7. More cliffs. More uphill walking. Exhaustion. View of Oia from the pirate ship..

8. We watched the famous Oia sunset from a ledge on the western edge of the island. I bought a box of cookies and little bottle of red to enjoy the show. Classy, I know.

9. One more goal: Cheers to the girls of 468! Wish you were here with us.


Lounge chair. Breeze draped in a Greek flag. Big pineapple looking palm trees. Sunshine peeking out behind clouds. Hot pink and white flowers hanging from balconies. Sounds of trickling pool water. Good book. Perfect Pandora station. Surrounded by happy strangers.

I hope I can always come back to this feeling. And I wish I could box it up and mail it to everyone in my life who needs it more than I do right now.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Travel Notes: Fira and a Plate of Tomatokeftedes

After about an hour and a half of waiting for the bus, we went into downtown Fira last night and had a fantastic dinner at this place called Ouzeri. Highly recommended to me by strangers on the Internet, and I appreciate their good advice.

Details on the eats:

1. I accomplished one of my goals already! We had "tomato balls," which were more elegantly/authentically titled on the menu "tomatokeftedes" Considering fried pickles (from Freda's Seafood Grill in Austin) and green tomatoes are my favorite fried foods, I was quite excited about these guys.

Did not disappoint as this has been my fave dish in Greece thus far.

Strips of tomatoes balled up with a little bit of mashed potatoes mixed with onions, scallions, dill, mint. Fried with a super light, flaky batter. Some of the cookbooks I've seen here blanch the tomatoes before frying and others just peel and toss in the oil fresh. Ouzeri roasted them first, which added a nice, rich flavor from the caramelized skins.

2. Pris had a standard "village" (Greek to us) salad.

3. We split a huge plate of pasta in a tomato porcini sauce with fresh grilled prawns on top.

4. Pot of chamomile tea with milk and sugar (I slept 12 hours that night and totally thank the chamomile for that).

After a delightful meal, we stopped by the market for some cheap canned foods, which we'll be enjoying for the next few days. Ahh, the life of a cheap traveler.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Goals: Santorini

We just arrived in Santorini. The dusty brown cliffs of the caldera look very drab against this cloudy sky. Still an awe-inspiring scene taking the s-curves up the steep cliffs from the port to our hostel Stelio's Place at the black-sanded Perissa beach. There's a really classy pool here. It feels like South Beach for only 13 euro a night.

Some goals I was contemplating on the ferry ride over:

1. Befriend a donkey.

2. Find and eat tomato balls (I read in a Greek cookbook the other day that the island is known for them).

3. Stare into the face of an active volcano.

4. Find a Starbucks for Pris (this girl can't handle another cup of instant NesCafe, which seems to be the drink of choice for locals).

5. Watch a sunset at Oia and drink a toast to our gal pals Jenny and Liz (and of course the rest of the girls of 468).

We have three nights here. I think these should be doable.

Off to downtown Fira for dinner...if only we can figure out when the bus comes.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Three Hour Scenic Rollercoaster Ride AKA We Missed Our Stop Three Hours Ago

My dear friend Jenny has a philosophy about "losing" things that I really appreciate and think applies well to many of the predicaments we've encountered in Greece.

She "lost" her camera a while back, but insists that it's not actually "lost" because she just refuses to look for it. I love this idea.

Pris and I are not "lost" right now...approaching our fourth hour on a bus through the mountains of Naxos. We're just not actively trying to make our way back to the village we missed several stops back and are instead just enjoying the ride.

A few lovely sites we would have missed today had we gotten off at the right stop:
1. Many adorable baby sheep, goats and donkeys. We just drove by a little cow peeing.

2. The high school aged boy who called Pris "very beautiful!!!" as he exited the bus.

3. The friendly bus assistant man who informed me that the cute goats I was photographing would be "tomorrow...kill! Kill!" (As he made a thrashing motion across his throat and then mimed the universal sign for eating as he joyfully brought an invisible spoon to his lips several times).

4. What must be the scariest, steepest, windiest roads in Greece.

5. Impressive bus driving skills. How have we not crashed into the side of a mountain yet?

6. Little beach cafe at Appolonos where the bus took a 20 min break before circling back to our original destination. Had Greek coffee, fried eggplant, and Kalitsounia (flaky turnovers filled with salty, tangy mezithra cheese).

7. A lot of awesome Greek pop music.

This trip is slowly teaching me to detach from plans and expectations. It's hard to get upset about the potential for getting "lost" when you're surrounded by so much beauty and such intriguing new experiences, people and sights. There really are no wrong turns.

Travel Notes: Mykonos (the good part)/Delos/Naxos

Highlights from the trip post scary Mykonos hostel experience:

1. Have Lamb Ampelourgo (wrapped in grape leaves and stuffed with carrots, cheese and onions) for dinner. Make friends with the owner, "Uncle Nikolai."

2. We spend the evening wandering around the quaint, winding streets of the town. The buildings are bright white and accented by cheerful colored doors and window panes.

3. Go to Delos in the morning. An amazing island where Leto gave birth to Apollo and Artemis. I love this place. So much history crammed into such a very tiny space. No permanent population. The Delian League created a law back in the day that no one could be born or die here! We climb Mt. Kythnos. More of a big hill, but the views of the Cyclades islands and Delos ruins are still awesome.

4. Watch the sunset under the famous windmills back at Mykonos. Enjoy a picnic of leftovers (lamb sandwich) and red wine.

5. Two bottles of wine later...we decide to hit the town. Despite it being the off-season now, Mykonos still lived up to its reputation as a massive party island.

6. We spend the next day recovering from our dance party the night before. Catch a ferry to Naxos in the afternoon.

7. First day in Naxos consists of sleeping and watching Greek television in our hostel (meaing random American TV shows with Greek subtitles and lots of BBC).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Horror Hostel at Paradise Beach

According to my travel book, Mykonos "glimmers happily under the a fabulous destination." Other words used to describe it include: glamorous, celebrity-filled, style and panache. I wish our expectations for what we would actually find at the end of our five-hour ferry ride would have been managed more realistically -- an important lesson I learned during my few years in PR.

Imagine a mix of what would be National Lampoon's Greek Getaway, except with Pris leading the way (I'm not allowed to lead anything now that she's discovered my hopeless sense of direction) instead of Chevy Chase, and Simple Life, except with two frugal Chinese girls instead of Paris and Nicole.

Throw in the following, and you'll have a good sense of what it was like to spend a night at the 11-Euro a night Paradise Beach Resort (ironic, right? I know, we should have guessed from the cheap price tag on an island known for overpriced luxury).

1. Arrive at around 22:00 and informed that there are no restaurants, bars or groceries open anywhere near the place. The actual town of Mykonos or "Hora" is a 30 min cab ride away, and even then, places might not be open because it's the off season (later found out that that's not true at all).

2. There are no towels. Luckily, I brought a Sham-Wow gifted to me by my dear friend Liz. Not so lucky for Pris.

3. Escorted past Pigeon House (a house full of birds at night can be very creepy) and through dark sandy pathway to rows of white wooden tents.

4. Side note: Pris' one condition on this trip was that she would help me save money by staying in cheap hostels, but she refused to go camping. While we had bathrooms within walking distance, the little tents with plants growing through the floors were still too much.

5. Haunted by ghosts of mosquitoes past through blood spattered, dead bug covered walls. Not exaggerating on this one.

6. Startled by what sounds like a cat being murdered outside.

7. Debate a while over what to do to kill time, since we both just took a five-hour ferry nap.

8. Went to bed hungry.

9. Woke up (faces covered in mosquito bites). Place looks way less scary in the daylight, except that we realize our tent is basically inside a giant litter box. Cat poo everywhere.

In the end, it really wasn't tooo bad, and we're both happy we went. Pris is even happier that we've upgraded to a 17-Euro a night place in downtown Mykonos with real walls, our own bathroom, mini fridge and clean towels.

Travel Notes: Leaving Athens for Mykonos

This one was a big travel day...not much else:

1. Made a solo trip across the street from the hostel (managed not to get lost) to get a quick glimpse of Temple of Zeus and Arch of Hadrian.

2. Took train to Piraeus port. Successful trip with no navigational complications. Discover the only ferries leaving for Mykonos are from Rafina on opposite end of town. Scenic route!

3. About two and a half hours later, find a nice spot in Rafina for boiled octopus in vinegar, fried cod with garlic mash and a typical Greek salad with delicious block of feta (36 euro with drinks). Served halva with candied grapes (we weren't big fans of this homemade dessert, but at least it was free).

4. Five-hour ferry ride. Mostly napping. Thank God (actually Joey) for 31 episodes of This American Life.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Travel notes: Athens

We arrived yesterday afternoon, and have had an amazing time with good food and tons of wandering around this city mildly lost:

1. Took us about an hour to locate each other at the airport. It was like going back in time before cell phones.

2. Staying at Dioskouros hostel right outside of the Temple of Zeus and arch of Hadrian (which Pris originally thought was a billboard...crazy how you just stumble upon ancient artifacts EVERYWHERE in this town though).

3. Explored the Plaka and split a tasty pork souvlaki and carafe of red for dinner.

4.Spent the entire first morning at the acropolis. Mistook every building with columns for the Parthenon on the way much for years of art history education. Caryatid porch on the Erechtheion was our fave. Damn Elgin and his marbles though.

5. Got Pris extremely lost trying to find the flea market and found ancient agora, church of apostles, museum of atalos, palace of giants and temple of hephaestos instead. Upon later inspection, discovered that we walked right by the market. Oops.

6. Lunch was at this sweet outdoor cafe on a hill (all the tables were on steps) and consisted of a sample mezze plate: meatballs, sausage in a red pepper/onion sauce, dill potato salad, fried cheese, super fresh tomato/cuc salad. 5 euro.

7. Snack time at a pastry shop on the way home: super sweet little baklava type treats.

8. Had what we imagine is equivalent to Greek Burger King for dinner: spinach pie and ham/cheese pastry (4.35 euro total) plus bottle of 3.5 euro red local wine. Enjoyed the view of Hadrian's arch from sketchy bench.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bon Voyage Mon Petit Choux

People who know me well..or more likely have even met me at least once...know that I don't much care for children. Sometimes I wonder if it's because I still feel quite child-like inside and am very often mistaken for a small child on the outside as well.

I will, however, make an exception for French speaking children until about the age of six. I'm stopping over the airport in Geneva on the way to Athens, and there are chatty French speaking kids everywhere! I love it! I think the fascination stems with the worldly sophistication I associate with all things French. It's like, look at that very small person talking like a grown up! How funny!

I wonder if people look at me and have the same thought.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Goodbye, America.

It's the eve of my big departure from the US. I can't believe it's finally here. Today was a big day:

1. Finally know where I'll be sleeping in Athens this Saturday.

2. Finally started the application process to my Taiwan visitor visa (which I will be receiving tomorrow shortly before I board my flight at JFK).

3. Finally booked my flight from Italy to Spain.

4. Finally got back in touch with the lovely farm I'll be staying with in Italy! Apparently, they are "just starting with the olive harvest now!" and "the boys will be going to lay the nets from tomorrow, so the picking will start as of next week."

5. Finally got email set up on my new blackberry (which I received in the mail 30 minutes after being dropped off at the airport in Austin).

6. Just realized that I've already changed dramatically from this trip, and it hasn't even begun yet. What happened to the perfectionist planner of a few months ago? If this were a client event, I would have had multiple drafts of itineraries, briefing documents and key messages already prepared.