Of course, ordering food in a place where people barely speak English and the menu is all in a foreign script is nearly impossible. I tried to explain no meat (though to be honest i am more comfortable eating meat than dairy, but that's even harder to explain than veganism). Then i just said to give me what the most popular dish on the menu is. Want to take a guess? Spanakopita? Moussaka? Souvlaki?
Nope. It was a club sandwich exactly like the kind you find at kosher Jewish delis in Canada. Cream cheese, tomato, salmon, capers, salt, pepper. A small salad with rucola and tomatoes and balsamic. Not vegan, but that's besides the point. Without even trying, i walked into a café that serves exactly that kind of global cuisine i was lamenting the lack of in Italy a few entries ago. Aside from Italy, pretty much every other country i have visited in the world has restaurants that serve universally loved dishes. Things like burgers, fries, hotdogs, samosas, kebabs, burritos and so on. Although i do love discovering unique local culinary traditions, i think there's something really wonderful about these dishes that have transcended borders and appeal to billions of people all over the world.
But here's one thing that should never have been globalized - serving food on a fucking plank of wood. Here they have mixed it up a bit and done it on a piece of slate that looks like a roofing tile. Thousands of years of civilization and we have reverted to eating off of an unfinished flat surface. For fuck's sake.
Normally when i pull out a notebook at the bar, people look at me a little strangely. Here i am in the majority. After hearing of my travel plans, the bartender said "so i guess you will write all this up in your notebook and publish a book". I hadn't pulled my notebook out yet. But several people at the bar were busy scribbling away. I am not sure if this is a student hangout, or if a bunch of the people here fancy themselves writers, or maybe they are published writers. It is a cool place to write. Good music. Classic rock - only the obscure, crate-digging stuff - some groovy hip-hop and deep house. One of the people at the bar has his laptop open and is DJing.
There are flyers for gigs pasted up all over town. I didn't see that anywhere else, though surely at least Florence must have had a rave scene? Anyway, here there definitely is one. And there appears to be a very active anarchist community, judging from the calls to action, banners and graffiti. If i recall correctly, Greece might be one of the few countries that actually has an anarchist movement that is taken seriously. Interesting. Like i said, Patra just feels like an honest town. A place where real people live.
It is poor, though. The waitress just got her pay. 20€. I hope that is for an after-school/half shift and not a full shift, because - like Italy - tips aren't a thing here. Thinking back to my conversation with J the truck driver, he said that most of the servers in Athens were looking at 12€ a day.
I am not sure if it is better for the economy to pay less people more money or more people less money. Something that struck me in Namibia was how many people there were doing "useless" jobs that in developed nations either don't exist or would be cut for redundancy. Here there is a similar feeling. There were two waitresses servicing a largely empty joint. The bars up the street are far busier, but i like it quiet.
One of the saddest things i saw here so far was the trio of girls forming a phalanx on the main walking street and trying to spray every passerby with perfume to entice them into the shop. They were gaunt and looked desperate. You don't see that look in Europe very often, i associate it more with poor Americans. Broken. Shameless. I guess they worked on commission.
I get the sense Greeks know how to live, despite the poverty. The bars are open all day. They serve food all day. Much like in Berlin, they make the most of not very much. Smoke hand-rolled cigarettes instead of tailor made. Turn cheap clothes into an individualist fashion statement. Drink shots of cheap liquor for efficiency, but spread the love around. The new bartender tells me about the festival they had last week. Local bands. He's proud of his city, and his country. He won't accept a tip. I tried to give him the opportunity to save face by saying it was for the shift before. Then he accepted the couple of euros and promptly put another beer in front of me "on the house". I took part in at least two more rounds of shots from the locals before heading back to my hotel.
The grass here is a different color to Italy. Browner. Like southern California. The hills rising from the sea are covered in scrub. I think the wildflowers are the same, but they look washed out here. All the flora does.
But the houses and cars and people do not. There is far less evidence of total economic collapse here than there was in Sicily or along the Calabrese coast. Perhaps organized crime destroys a place worse than a corrupt government. Or maybe i just haven't seen enough yet.
I would have liked to have traveled around the Peloponnese peninsular, but getting around by bus is too difficult with a time limit. Since the economic crisis, all train service to the region has been canceled, and the buses that remain do not run regularly enough to visit a few towns and still make it to Piraeus with some breathing room. Instead i have gone north - across the Rio/Antirrio bridge - into Central Greece. My next stop is a town with an even cooler name than Metaponto - Galaxidi.
Car culture here is fascinating. Greek roads are just as tight and winding as Italian roads, but instead of sensibly driving very small vehicles like the Italians, they drive the biggest cars on the market in Europe. Hulking SUVs and German sedans and goddamn Greyhound buses pick their way through gaps i would be hard-pressed to get a Smart car through. People just pull over wherever, turn on their hazards, wander into a store. Traffic in the towns is crazy, but somehow it still works. There is a patience, a resignation to it all just being the way it is. Never mind the fact smaller cars and/or not using cars at all would solve the problem. I received an offer to pick me up from the bus stop less than 1km from my B&B! [Later, when i left the B&B i accepted that ride. It took longer to manuever the SUV out of the driveway than to drive to the bus stop.]
But what a beautiful place to drive.
Holy hell it is beautiful. Winding down the coastal road on the Gulf of Corinth the water is clear, blue and almost completely still. Epic mountains pop up on either side, covered in scrub and eventually becoming snow-capped in the hazy distance. Little islands are dotted about. The bus just stopped in front of one of them at a ferry stop. The ferry was a tiny blue fishing boat fit to carry perhaps three or four people and their groceries. Old men sit at coffee shops and watch the world go by, fingering their worry beads, click, clack.
I am glad i took two days in Galaxidi. It has made today much less stressful. I jumped on the bus this morning to Delphi because, well, why not do the tourist thing? Buying the ticket was entertainment in itself. I walked into the coffee shop and asked for one. Clerk says "yeah, in a minute". I order a coffee. Bit later another guy who had previously been sitting out the front wanders in and sits down at a table inside. I keep sipping my coffee. He says, "bus"? Ah. He is the ticket seller. He wrote out my ticket in triplicate, tore off my copy and then went back to sit out front of the store again. When is the bus coming? Sometime after 9.30. Sometime before 10.30.
The other guy out the front ushered me over and said to sit with him. His beads went click, clack.
Hello, it is 24 eventful hours later. What i was about to write yesterday - before getting distracted talking to an Italian lady sitting next to me - was that Itea was a fucking shit-show.
Itea was where we changed buses for Delphi. There was half a cruise ship of French tourists milling about. They were everything you expect from cruise ship passengers - loud, impatient, entitled and generally awful. Apparently their cruise was too cheap to charter a bus for them, so they all unloaded into the town and piled onto the local/Greyhound bus service that previously had only had a few locals and independent tourists onboard. On the bus they yelled and stomped their feet and harangued the driver for not leaving the instant they had all boarded. In town they blagged their way into discount entrance to the archaeological site, implying that as passengers on the massive floating salmonella factory shitting up the view of the bay for miles around they should get a special deal. And then when that was refused, a lady brandished her 100€ designer trekking poles and said, "look - we are disabled, we should get reduced entrance!" Of course she couldn't show a disability card. Nice job helping along the Greek economy, assholes.
The Italian and i shook our heads and resigned ourselves to spending 8 hours in Delphi - by the time the 8pm bus would roll through, the cruise ship would be gone. Turns out we spent the time very differently. She spent the day wandering around the village and having a few drinks at a tavern before heading into the museum and archaeological site at 6pm. I foolishly went to the site immediately, then skipped the museum and climbed a mountain instead. She is an independent tourist like me, but she recoiled at most of the places i had visited. "Ugh, Crotone! Very strong town. They have lots of problems." I am not sure if she meant organized crime or poverty or something different. But she had traveled the world, using her 6 weeks of annual leave each year to bus her way around Europe and South America. She wanted to go to South-East Asia next. Tough old lady. She reminded me of my mom.
Anyways, the Sanctuary of Apollo was stunning, though completely overrun. I can't decide if i enjoy seeing such amazing places while spending most of my time dodging other tourists and trying to block out their noise. It destroys so much of the peace and the pleasure for me.
Fortunately there was a mountain behind town, with a path linking to the next village over. I wouldn't be able to walk the whole 18km, but i figured i could at least make it to the peak, which i did. I must have been a bit delirious already because i started climbing the mountain with just my half-liter flask and two bananas. It was hideously hot and there was no shelter. At some point i realized my stupidity and flicked into fremen mode. Put on my bandana, slowed down my pace and rationed myself to one mouthful of water every half hour.
Almost-dying was totally worth it. What a view. What serenity. I didn't see another soul, though i could see mountain villages all around me, and the whole ~2000m drop down to olive groves that continued right to the coast where i could see the cruise ship anchored off-shore. Amazing. What a place to build a temple.
So, now, 24 hours later i am back at the Itea bus stop and it's almost empty. An old British couple in straw hats are clutching their backpacks, thoroughly pleased they can still travel like this in retirement. A few kids have suitcases packed to head into the city for the weekend. Or perhaps they are going elsewhere in the country - all the local buses and ferries pass through Athens before branching out to other regions. Mostly it is locals with some groceries. And a pile of odd-shaped packages, tied up with string. Much like Greyhound in America, the bus service here also acts as a courier or rapid postal service between small towns. Everyone is just chilling. The bus is "late". Well, it's just coming whenever it comes. It's cool.
I hope Athens is as laid-back.