Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Greece with Kids: The Gulf of Corinth, Spoon Sweets, and We Gave the Children Wine

Day 01 is here and here.
Day 02 is here.
Day 03 part one is here.

Welcome to the rest of Day 03!

Who's got two thumbs and also her computer back?!?!?!?

Thank goodness for warranties, computer shops who charge way less than a hundred bucks to clone my hard drive before it's sent for repair since you KNOW they're going to wipe it, and my husband who dealt with it all so that I didn't have to freak out about losing all of my photographs and writing.

And now that I have back all of my photographs and writing, I can continue for you the riveting tale of our family trip through Greece!

When you last saw us, we were just leaving Ancient Olympia. Our tale continues in this random tourist shop, where we were treated to an olive oil and wine tasting. Friends, there are SO many olive oils in Greece, and they all taste completely different and also delicious:

Many people in Greece don't actually buy commercial olive oil like this, even though it's all local. People have their own olive trees, and so they have their own olives pressed to make their own olive oil, and that's all they use. They even get picky at the press because they want to make sure that they're only getting THEIR olives, not a neighbor's olives mixed in.
Alas, we're too stingy to 1) pay for checked luggage on our domestic flight or 2) pay for shipping, so there was no question of bringing any of this delicious olive oil home with us. Might as well gorge on it while we're in Greece, then!

Same with the wine, which is also made from local grapes, and which we also tasted all of.

Our tour guide didn't want the children left out, so she shuffled around the wine bottles for a bit, then proudly presented them with... WINE! At first, I thought that she was telling me that this was "children's" wine, something of low alcohol, perhaps, that was suitable for children? But what she actually meant was that it was Μαυροδάφνη, a kind of wine that all children in Greece commonly taste, because it's the most common wine used in the Greek Orthodox churches there.

So not a children's wine, but a wine that Greek children are familiar with. And as everyone knows, when in Greece, you do what the Greeks do! Therefore, I present to you my children's first wine tasting:

Unfazed by her first taste of wine.
How about this one? Also unfazed?
Negative. The subject is highly fazed.

Of course, just because we're not shoppers doesn't mean that we can't appreciate all of that tourist crap. Case in point:

I did, as a matter of fact, want every single small figure of mythological beings cast in bronze (and later I did treat myself to a teeny bronze Spartan helmet). But as I often tell myself, we can afford to travel OR we can afford to buy a bunch of stuff. We choose travel.

One set of photos that I am NOT showing you are the NSFW pics that I took of penises everywhere in all of the tourist shops. Matt and I were kind of baffled by this the first time we saw it, but I did some research, and y'all, the penises are a legitimate thing! Ancient Greece was ALL ABOUT the penises! Not only did they have endless phallus processions and herms on practically every street corner, but I read a lot of Aristophanes in AP English in high school, and one very important thing that my teacher seems to have forgotten to tell us is that Ancient Greek comedies were deeply wrapped up in the penis. Costumes, by rule, consisted of short togas that allowed gigantic red leather penises to be seen hanging beneath them, and some sources say they could even be raised and lowered for comic effect. I don't know how I missed the veiled references and double entendre in these plays, other than that I was more focused on what I thought would actually appear on the test.

So yes, expect to see lots of penis statuary and pottery... and, um, bottle openers and key chains and coffee mugs and whatever in Greek tourist shops. You have been warned.

Usually, lunch was on our own at one of the day's stops, but on this day we had something special planned for us: a meal at a private residence in a small Greek village near Patras. The bus wound up a series of small roads, giving us better and better views of the miles of olive groves on all sides of us. Matt and I were sitting in the very front of the bus on this day, with an unobstructed view out the picture window (our tour guide switched up our seats every day, so we could all have a turn in the seats with the best views), and we helplessly clutched each other in horror at every corner turned with centimeters to spare, every fence post just missed on every narrow road, every moped driver zipping through every small gap that happened to turn out to be exactly big enough to fit a moped driver.

You're probably somewhat familiar with Greece's economic downturn, and I doubt you'll be surprised when I tell you that the austerity measures that the government continues to put in place to help it recover primarily affect, and are devastating to, lower-wage earners. Measures such as pension reductions and increases in health care costs are far more debilitating to those who have less money to spare--this seems obvious, yes? I mean, remember the garbage worker strike that we saw evidence of in Athens? It was because the government was keeping the workers on short-term, low-wage contracts instead of allowing them full-time employment. They can't live on that salary, but if they quit, then someone else desperate for any kind of money would be happy to take the trash out instead of them. But of course, they wouldn't be paid a living wage, either, so the cycle will simply continue.

Life can also be economically hard even in these small villages far away from the strikes and protests of Athens. Young adults often move to the cities to find employment, which means that village life is slowly dissolving, and especially means that fewer children are being born into village life. It's hard to keep the local schools going without enough children, and that means the schools close and the kids are bussed hours away every single day. And when that happens, that's one more disincentive for families to stay in their villages, and so that cycle continues, too.

You might think that it's not safe to travel to a country that's experiencing unrest, but tourism is great for local economies--we bring money into the country, and we leave it there. Our tour company's relationship with this small village, then, is the small-scale version of a really cool concept: they support the village, and then a couple of times a week a tour bus rolls in, tourists tumble out, and villagers escort them through the village and feed them lunch:

bread, cheese, rice, fava beans stewed with tomatoes, watermelon and cucumber salad, spanakopita, meatballs, wine, and bottled water (it isn't safe to drink local water outside of major cities) 
Oh, and Greek coffee!

We were also introduced here to what is now my favorite food. This, my friends, is a spoon sweet:

Spoon sweets are local fruits, boiled gently down with honey or sugar--our tour guide said honey, as Greeks use honey for all of their sweetening, but all of the recipes that I've been able to find, because I deeply want to recreate this delicacy, call for sugar, not honey, and our tour guide *did* also say that she can't cook and so her husband does all the cooking in their house, so maybe she doesn't really know how they're made...

If you or someone you love is Greek, please tell me how to make spoon sweets!

Per usual, a feral cat came meowing up as we were hanging out on our hostess' front porch. Syd immediately went over to it and crouched down, trying to make friends, but this village kitty was skittish, and didn't want her to touch it. Our hostess, who didn't speak English, slipped inside her house and brought out a napkin filled with meatballs, which she gave to Syd, gesturing that she should use them to feed the kitty. Syd happily fed the kitty meatball after meatball while the hostess' son videotaped her on his smartphone, apparently tickled to death at yet one more crazy thing these tourists were doing.

On the first day of our land trip, we crossed the Gulf of Corinth over the Corinth Canal; on this day, we recrossed the Gulf of Corinth, this time over the cable-stayed bridge the Γέφυρα Ρίου-Αντιρρίου--
I have a bad habit of muttering to myself, so that on this trip Matt was constantly asking me, "Sorry, what?" and listening to me tell him that oh, I wasn't talking to him, I was just trying to pronounce the name of that restaurant, or remember Herakles' twelfth labor, etc. I muttered to myself about this bridge for several minutes--"Is it a type of suspension bridge? No, not with cables like that. A cable-stayed bridge? Do they use a series of cable-stays for that or is it called something else?"--until our tour guide happened to mention the answer in her spiel. 
--and into Nafpaktos (Ναύπακτος). We stopped at a bar to drink shots of mastika--our tour guide was not going to consider her job done until we'd tasted all of the indigenous alcohol of Greece!--and then we hit the beach!
The way to the beach led through this arch under a medieval fort and castle, because of course it did. The history here stuns me with how easily it's integrated into the everyday tapestry of the cities.

Here we are, then, happily paddling our feet and finding interesting rocks on the edge of the Gulf of Corinth:

Another view of the bridge!

Because life is the same everywhere, there was a group of teen/tween boys taking turns jumping off the pier into the harbor, aiming for a gap about two feet wide between two fishing boats, teasing the one boy who was too timid to turn a couple of somersaults on the way down. I reviewed my CPR and first aid training as I watched and held my own two kids back from leaping off the pier along with them.

From the Gulf of Corinth, we drove northeast up the mainland to Delphi, and to our hotel at the top of... a cliff? Seriously, the entire village that we stayed in looked like it was hanging onto the side of a mountain. And there were higher mountains beyond:

All of our dinners were included in the price of the tour, and hosted in the hotels that we stayed in. These dinners are certainly more inauthentic than wandering the town and finding a little restaurant, but they sure are convenient, especially when all the kids really want to do is swim, eat, and go to bed. On several nights, the dinners also included wine for the adults and sodas for the kids, and on this night dinner included two different types of fancy cakes, to celebrate the birthday and the anniversary of some of the other people in our group.

On the whole, then, I was a fan:

And so were they!

See those tired and happy faces? They were sound asleep within the hour, and we weren't far behind them. There was going to be more mountain climbing in the morning, when we were going to Delphi!

P.S. I post on my Craft Knife Facebook page all. The. Time, sometimes even while I'm in Greece! Come see!

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