Saturday, February 06, 2010

Greece - Chapter One

I landed at the Athens airport on January 24 along with five of my colleagues and some of their family members, and proceeded to drive our convoy of three rented Ford Focus cars westward for two and half hours to the seaside village of Longos (sometimes spelled Logos or Loggos). Thankfully, National rent-a-car upgraded us all to a larger class of car, or the eleven of us and our luggage wouldn't have fit. In Greece, a Ford Focus is pretty spacious.

Longos is a sleepy village, especially in winter. It consists of an orthodox church, two tavernas, a few mini markets, and a bar, plus a smattering of nearby vacation homes (all vacant this time of year) and mostly shuttered hotels. We're staying at the Harmony Hotel Apartments, a nice place - recently constructed - about 150 meters from the beach. They filled the pool for us, but water temperature is still shockingly cold.
Brad with Kieran (my colleague's son)

The village looks a bit run down, with many half-built and shabby buildings, plenty of graffiti and litter - I would say it's nice from far, but far from nice. The place does manage to retain a bit of charm, though. Kari Sarni and Dawn Lawrence, who are wives of my colleagues, have made friends with the local baker and butcher (but no candlestick maker that we've found yet), demostrating the Greek's well-founded reputation for hospitality.
An odd fisherman's cottage with a tree growing through the roof

Greece is suprisingly mountainous, and the mountain ranges rise up straight from the Mediterranean coast, so their elevation is quite impressive. Mt. Hermos, about 30 km away and home of Kalavrita ski area, rises to 2340 meters (7800 feet). Yes, there is snow in Greece. A fair amount of it recently. We've had rain on the coast all but two of the twelve days I've been here so far, which translates to snow above about 1000 meters. At our apartment on the coast, I've had to scrape ice off the windshield twice this week.

Our first night our hotel host introduced us all to the best of the villages' two tavernas, a tongue-twisting place called Metexetasteoi (using the closest Latin equivalent of the Greek letters). The taverna's chef (and I presume owner) is a flamboyant fellow named Evangelis. We asked him to bring us an assortment of appetizers and main courses. We quickly learned that Greek tavernas are very generous with their servings, and we stuffed ourselves silly with food and wine, but not before starting the evening with a round of honey-sweetened warm Ouzo, which is surprisingly tasty.

The Metexetasteoi taverna in Longos

Driving in Greece is a contact sport, and the pesky traffic laws are merely mild suggestions. The shoulder on the main highway - two lanes only - has been adapted to serve as an extra lane in each direction. Passing on blind curves is expected. If you're driving any less than double the speed limit you'll likely find someone riding your bumper - until they pass you on a blind curve and play chicken with oncoming traffic.

This week a bunch of Greek farmers decided to protest government plans to reduce or eliminate farm subsidies by blocking the main freeway out of Patras, where we work, which bumped our evening commute from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. It seems the Greek police couldn't control the situation so it went on for three days. Thankfully all is back to normal now. It seems the Greeks may have fudged the numbers a bit to join the EU and it turns out their public debt exceeds EU limits so now the government is proposing a variety of austerity measures. The silver lining for American visitors is that the turmoil is strengthening the dollar against the Euro - even if only slightly.

I have just six weeks to go in my temporary Greek home. I'll try to make the most of it.

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