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.


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.

Marathonas to Isthmia – easy!

14 September

If you read my blog of 13 September, “Don’t flip the bird at a Greek driver”, you’ll know that I intended to go back to Vravronas to try to see through the Museum properly before heading off to my next stop.

Well, I decided against it. One day I’ll go back, when the site opens again and I can see the lovely temple of Artemis as well as the Museum. To tell the truth, I hadn’t been looking forward to trying to find it again.

I had decided to go to Isthmia, which isn’t well known on the tourist trail, at least among Australians it seems. I had booked into King Saron Hotel. I was a bit worried that I’d somehow get on the wrong road and end up having to find my way through Athens traffic, which I’ve done the last two times I’ve tried to bypass Athens. Luckily for me it all went according to plan, and it was incredibly easy to find the hotel when I arrived in Isthmia too.

The hotel was a lovely surprise. I’d booked a sea view room, which was only a few euros more than the other option. The room was nice and the view from my room and balcony was brilliant.

I like to eat at local tavernas rather than at hotels so asked what tavernas were in walking distance. The receptionist told me there were two, and recommended I go to the second one. When I arrived at 7:30 there were people eating, but the waiter told me they were closed from 6pm to 9pm, so I headed back to the other one. They had skordalia on the menu, which I love and you don’t always find, so I ordered that and a Greek salad. I chose a table overlooking the beach and was enjoying my meal when the breeze came up … and up … and UP! It wasn’t long before it was blowing so hard that I had to give up. However, I wasn’t giving up the skordalia, so I grabbed the last couple of pieces of bread and spread, no, lathered skordalia between them, paid, and left. Incredibly, as soon as I was away from the water the breeze was non-existent.

Skordalia, by the way, is a potato and garlic dip. This one didn’t seem to have much potato, but it certainly had a lot of garlic. Yum! “Good thing I’m travelling alone,” I thought.