I live in DC, which is a great place to live and visit. I try to make the most of it. However, I also love to leave my home and see what the world has to offer. Come and join me!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Friday, September 7, 2007 The Gorge at Livadia and the Best Restaurant in Athens

At breakfast the OJ seems a little more real. We have bread, grapes, donut, and boiled egg again. I am feeling chipper because I have finally had some cold medicine. I didn't want to take it the night before when I bought it because I feared it would keep me awake. Psuedoephedrine is 12 hours of wide awake for me and since I couldn't read the ingredients on the Comtrex I figured I'd play it safe. The only downer was that I woke up with a giant mosquito bite on my forehead, the third eye emerging kind. It lasted for the entire day!

As we eat our hotel host asks us if we enjoy ouzo. We say we haven't had any yet. He left the room and came back with a little bottle for us! That was very sweet. He also called our Athens hotel for us to let them know when we'd be arriving. When I had booked they were very insistent they know exactly when we were arriving. Of course there was no real reason for this and they couldn't have cared less that we alerted them or that we showed up an hour after we had estimated.

When planning the trip we thought we'd relax on the beach in the morning in Galaxidi and then have our drive to Athens in the afternoon. The night before it had been cold and windy. When we woke up the wind had subsided but it was still much too chilly to sit at the beach. Oh well. In the end this was probably for the best. We hit the road about 10:30, stopped only once, and didn't arrive to our hotel until around 5:30; the drive took us longer than we thought. There were lots of coaches on the road to Delphi. It hadn't seemed so busy with the buses the day before, so we must have gotten lucky.

Our stop was at Livadia, which our guidebooks boasted had a Frankish castle and some springs. Really there wasn't much to look at. The town is medium sized and the sights tucked away in it, but as long as you follow the signs and DON'T TURN ANYWHERE you'll get there. There's a little parking area at the springs, and a nice path to walk along to the castle (closed and overgrown) and a little outdoor theater, from which you can see that Livadia has its own monastery in the rock.

The town is built in a gorge, and the stream runs through the middle. We went to a cafe and had a cappuccino (2.5E) for K and cold chocolate (2.7E) for me. This was the first time there was no place to escape the cigarette smoke, no matter where we sat. I think that's because it's not a major tourist area and the cafe was locals only. The Greeks smoke the most of all Europeans. We enjoyed the sound of the water as we had our beverages.

We finished the drive to Athens. It was only minorly harrowing. We had heard about the traffic in Athens and wanted no part of it, so our plan was to go directly to the airport and park the rent car there, and K would pick it up to drive it back to Macedonia. Since she had to do the whole drive back herself I did the driving to Athens.

The traffic on the highway wasn't bad at all, but the speed variances among the vehicles is crazy! There is a speed limit, and I went approximately the limit. The trucks were crawling, and some cars were inexplicably slow as well. Then there were the speed demons. I was constantly changing langes. At home I usually drive in the middle lane, which avoids the dangerously slow drivers and lets the Speedy Gonazalezes pass me if they must. However, in Greece it is polite to pull over to let someone pass, even on a multi-lane road and even when you are not in the leftmost lane. It also appeared that the left lane was unofficially for passing only. There is a 2.70E toll on the airport road.

We parked in P3 beyond the actual parking lot, behind a barbed wire fence. Hmm. We used the nice restroom in the vestibule that connects the parking with the airport, bought our metro tickets (10E for two people; 6E each if purchased separately), validated them with no problem--the machines are right at the entrance and impossible to miss, and then juuuuust missed the train. There are 30 minutes between trains and we were quite hungry by now, with our small breakfast and no lunch. We had some snacks with us and passed the time by reading the guidebooks and foraging what we could. I had taken some more cold meds in the bathroom and on an empty stomach they were making me feel quite loopy.

The metro ride was long and uneventful. We changed at Syntagma to the red line in the direction of Agios Dimitriou and got off at Sygrou-Fix. The Art Gallery Hotel directions told us to exit the station in the direction of Drakou and go 3 blocks up. We went three blocks and I was about to pull out the map to figure out which way to go when K spotted the sign. Yay! I had reserved the Art Gallery in advance; the rate was 100E/night, breakfast not included, and they accept only cash payment. We checked in with no problem, and took turns using the tiny lift barely big enough for one person to get our suitcases upstairs.

We were in room 15 with a window that opened onto an alley, so no air circulation, and it was quite hot in the room. The key had one of those circuit-completing cards that you have to put in a slot by the door to get electricity to the room, and we eventually figured out that the little air conditioner was on the room's circuit so we always came back to a hot room but it cooled down soon enough.

It was too late to really have lunch so we had some chocolates K had purchased at the bakery in Galaxidi; they were like really high class kit kats. Yum.

We walked up to the Acropolis, an easy three block walk from the hotel. For the price it is a real find. We weren't on the fashionable (Plaka) side of the Acropolis, but 100E/night! That's good enough for me. It was chilly and gray, but the clouds opened up over the Acropolis for a cool shot.

We climbed Areopagus rock and got a view of Athens. It is a huge city! And it is wall-to-wall with houses and apartments. There is no green space as far as the eye can see. The rock is fun to climb. There are steps cut into the rock that are narrow and slippery, and a metal grate staircase with a good handrail. I went up the rock steps and down the metal stairs; I find up always easier than down.

We wanted to find Plaka so we consulted the map. For some reason I had it in my head it was a specific square, so we're wandering among the restaurants and tourist shops going "Where's Plaka? Where's Plaka?" and of course we were in it. Finally, tourist shops! We spot some gorgeous glassware, which is the one thing I collect. I decide I will get myself something on my way home. I got a huge bag of thyme in a tourist shop for 1.50E. The same amount at home would have been $5 or $6! K got some saffron for a great orange cake she makes with yogurt and olive oil. Sounds weird but it is really good. We found an internet cafe--the only one we saw in Athens--which was 2E for up to an hour and checked our email and looked at the weather for our islands. Oh noz! Naxos was predicted to be high 70s and cloudy the whole time I was there! What about my beach vacation????

We stumbled onto Hadrian's Library, which has some impressive pillars still standing. There were allegedly notches cut into the back wall for storing manuscripts, but we couldn't really figure out which were notches and which were just age pits. We entered the site thinking it was like Thessalonika--amazing ruins for free everywhere. Underneath the entrance arcade where you can't see is a booth. They sell the combined ticket for entrance to the Acropolis and the other sites for 12E, so we took care of it there very easily.

We decided to head back to the hotel to shower before dinner as we were quite hungry. We got lost, of course. In our wanderings we ran across a restaurant called Ksenios Zeus (ΞENIOΣ ZEYΣ). The owner was standing outside and told us we should have dinner there. He was friendly and not too pushy so we chatted for a while. He said that his restaurant was about to appear in USA Today. The menu looks good and not expensive so we say we'll return for dinner later that evening. The guidebook recommendations haven't been that great and he was friendly so what the hey.

We showered and changed and headed back out. To get to the restaurant from Art Gallery Hotel, walk up Erechthiou toward to the Acropolis, and make a left at Areopagitou, the pedestrian path. Pass Areopagus rock and keep going along the pedestrian path (which is completely unlighted at a stretch; we were glad we'd brought our flashlights). The pedestrian path ends at a steep, slick, horizontally scored driveway that goes down and a little to the right. Ksenios Zeus is almost at the bottom of the driveway. To reach it from Plaka, walk uphill on Tripodon. When you reach a set of stairs off the left with a church at the top (where To Geranos restaurant is), take the stairs and go right (continue the same direction you were going on Tripodon). Ksenios Zeus is the equivalent of a couple blocks up from the church on the left.

There is a lovely large outdoor dining area that technically has a view of the Acropolis, if you can squint through the trees. It's a silly detail, but the napkins are just exquisite. They are like 500 thread count sheets that have been washed into perfect softness that you rub against your cheek to help you fall asleep. I seriously wanted to steal mine, and I am so not that kind of person! (For the record, I didn't, on that or any of our three visits.) I swear one of the nights we were there I did see one guy surreptitiously put his napkin into the breast pocket of his blazer as he walked away.

We were starving. I started drinking water and my nose promptly began to run. I had thought the cold medicine was so effective but actually I was dehydrated. We had a greek salad, grilled mushrooms, zucchini patties, spanakopita, oven potatoes, 2 bottles of water, and 1/2 liter of white wine. It was way too much food. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. Three dishes would have been enough. We don't care; we didn't eat lunch so we just spent lunch money at dinner and all the food was so good we would have hated to have chosen to leave something out.

We got the oven potatoes sort of on a whim because they were only 2E and we said, hey, they're only 2E. What a lucky whim! These were the best potatoes I had ever eaten. They're tossed in olive oil and some kind of herbs or spices and baked to absolute perfection. I really couldn't tell what the seasoning was. It was very subtle and to me tasted a little bit like mustard but K didn't taste that. The bread was good as well. Mostly the Greek bread is terrible, approximately the taste and texture of Wonder bread. This was a good hearty bread with lots of texture, rubbed with a garlic clove, drizzled with olive oil, grilled, and then topped with coarse salt. Divine. We absolutely stuffed ourselves. There was no dessert at the home but we couldn't have eaten another bite anyway. It was 32E very well spent. We waddled/sloshed (with all our water)/rolled home and vowed to return for lunch the next day.

You can see all my photos of Livadia and this trip to Greece if you'd like.

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