Filoxenia and filoto

After my great day at Vergina I left my hotel outside Halkidona, heading southish toward Dion, my next ancient site. For a change of scene, I’d decided to stay at the seaside town of Olympiaki Akti, which is a little way from Dion. I made good time and was there mid-afternoon. I had to stop a couple of times to take photos as I came in sight of Mount Olympos.

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It’s no wonder the ancient Greeks thought it was the home of the gods. The surrounding land is pretty flat and the mountain seems to rise up from nowhere. It looks more a mountain range than a mountain. There are 52 peaks, up to 2,917 metres high. That’s Mitikas, called Pantheon in the old days, because it was the meeting place of all the gods. Their palaces were in the ravines, or as Homer called them, the creases of Olympos.

Dion is at the foot of Olympos and was a site sacred to Zeus, for whom the town is named. Dion means “of Zeus” which is Dias in ancient Greek. The “d” in Dion and the “Z” in Zeus both pronounced,  “th” as in “they”. This was told to me by my landlord. He couldn’t quite get my name, so I said, “Diane, you know, like Artemis.” So he called me Artemis from then on. We talked about mythology, and ancient history, especially in regard to where I’d been so far and where I was going, and about politics. I asked who he thought would win the Greek election. He wasn’t sure, which was probably a good call. When I asked him what he thought of Alexis Tsipras, he said, “First, he was good, but then …” and with a wry expression, he picked up his key ring and turned it over, and then back again, an eloquent illustration of a back-flip.

Poor Tsipras. He’s been in office for seven months, and people expect him to have already fixed the problems that have accumulated under a government that’s been in power for forty years. The problem that my landlord saw however, and that most people see, is that Tsipras was elected on the platform of “no austerity measures”, which makes sense, because the austerity measures are crippling the economy, not to mention the people. Unfortunately, I think Tsipras wasn’t tough enough to stand alone against the “Troika” – the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). I think Yannis Varoufakis was, but the Troika refused to negotiate with Greece while he was the Finance Minister, so he resigned his post.

How is that democratic? How can a union of other countries and banks have the power to decide what Greek finance minister they’ll work with? It flabbergasts me. They couldn’t win an argument with him so they told him to take his bat and ball and go home, and send someone nicer.

Unfortunately that was the beginning of a rift between Varoufakis and Tsipras, so they’re no longer working together. Unfortunate because I think they had the beginnings of a good team. I asked my landlord what he thought of Varoufakis. He replied, “He rock star. He want everybody look at him.” So, not everyone is as impressed with him as I am. Fair enough too as I don’t live in Greece, I’m not Greek (even though I’d like to be) and I don’t live with the politics daily. In my defence, at least I’m interested.

The landlord told me that they will have an election on 20 September.  I told him that I knew, and that I will be in Athens on that day. I’m looking forward to it. We chatted for about forty minutes then he said he was going to make some food for himself, and would I like some. I agreed because hospitality is important to Greek people and I felt honoured. He made filoto, which he explained was a traditional dish, very simple, made with whatever you had to hand. It often has spinach but he was just using feta.

He browned a thin circle of flaky bread, like cooked filo pastry, called perek, in a wad of butter, then crumbled a thick slice of feta onto it, turned it onto a plate, browned another perek in another wad of butter, and turned it onto the previous one covering the cheese, then browned both sides a bit more in more butter. My arteries were trying to crawl into a hole, but I had to be polite, didn’t I?

A couple of wedges of lemon squeezed over and we were set. It was delicious. We chatted more as we ate, about our children, and then of course it came round to our partners, or in my case, that I don’t have one. He, it turned out, was divorced. By the time we finished eating it was beginning to feel like foreplay, so I thanked him profusely for the meal, excused myself as graciously and speedily as possible, and retreated to my room. I didn’t emerge till 8pm. Still full from the filoto I sneaked out and bought some grapes for supper, found a cafe that made me a cup of tea to take away, and returned to my room. Great wifi in that room.

Don’t flip the bird at a Greek driver!

I’m sitting in a cafe at Vravronas, on the east coast of Attica, looking out at the pretty bay, and listening to the waves. It’s very soothing. I can still hear the waves despite the Greek disco/hip-hop/doof-doof music that seems to play in all cafes. It’s a small price to pay for free wifi. I’ve had an interesting day. Slept too late, and chatted for too long to the nice New Zealand lady I met on my first day at the Golden Coast resort at Marathon, so it was already 12:30 when I set out for Vravronas to see the lovely Temple of Artemis and visit the Archaeological Museum of Vravronas. I really should have known better. Many ancient sites outside of Athens close at 3pm. Even in Athens many do if you’re not there in the summer.

I should have realised things may not go according to plan when I found myself driving on the left side of the driveway out of the resort. The resort person driving head on toward me in his little electric trolley was all the clue I needed though, and I managed to get to the right side in time for the nice gateman to raise the boom for me to leave. Lucky it hadn’t been on the road!

Made it onto Marathonas Avenue without further mishap, and headed South toward Rafina. I noticed I was down to about half a tank of petrol, so pulled into a service station. All the service stations in Greece that I’ve been to have had driveway service; good thing too, because I hadn’t checked first which side the tank was on, and how to open it! Luckily the nice man helped me, and I was soon on my way. Got to Rafina with no trouble, congratulating myself on having read the Greek road sign, then headed south when I came to the beach. All ok so far.

The road to Artemisia was two lane, but not all that wide, and I was driving a little slowly as I looked for a sign to direct me. Suddenly the driver behind me sounded his horn and raced around me. I know it was wrong of me. I can only say in my defence that he had startled me, and I was already a bit nervous finding my way, but I gave him the finger. Well, he slammed the brakes on, leapt out of the car and strode toward me, yelling and gesticulating. I was so surprised that I didn’t even think to lock the car, but he made no move to touch it, and just kept yelling and gesticulating, pointing skywards first with his index finger then the middle one. It seemed to me that he was saying that if I’d used my index finger it would have been ok, but definitely not the middle one. (I’ll have to ask someone about that.) He seemed more hurt and insulted than angry. I put down my window, because I was confident he wasn’t going to be violent, and said, “Suggnomi.” (Sorry). His mate got out of the car, and laughing, pulled him back to the car and they left. I was a bit shaken, but I felt quite ashamed of myself, because I remembered too late that Greek drivers tend to sound their horn to let you know they’re overtaking.

I took off again, and managed to miss an all-important sign, and eventually got to the temple about 2:15pm to find it closed for restoration works. Judgement! When my sister and I tried to see it in 2008 we arrived on a Monday, when a lot of monuments and museums are closed. I thought it would be ok this time. I’m glad that they’re doing work on it though. The nice man I spoke to though the fence pointed me in the direction of the museum, and I arrived at 2:30, with only half an hour to look through but better than nothing. That is until I got inside and they told me they were closing in 10 minutes! Anyway, I said I would return tomorrow, now that I know the way, and they let me have a quick look round for free.

When I walked into the first room, I don’t know why, but emotion overwhelmed me and I burst into tears! It was so beautiful, with so many busts of children and so many beautiful things that had been either grave goods or offerings to the Goddess. I snivelled my way quickly through the five rooms, thanked them profusely through tears, and left, determining to make sure I remember how to get here tomorrow!

So here I am, a few minutes away at the beach at Vravronas, having a much needed coffee, looking at the aquamarine water and purging my soul.