Monday, October 28, 2013

MARTI'S BIRTHDAY FESTIVAL
OCTOBER 2013
SPETSES GREEK ISLAND VACATION II


By Friday October 11 it was hard to believe we’d already been on the island for a week. For a laid-back vacation, things were moving right along. This evening Marti and I were heading out for another night on the town.


Our friends in the band Taxideftes at La Luz, Old Harbor.


After the gig. With our musician pals Perikles Palmos and Giorgos Tompaziadis.



Saturday morning. This was the weekend of the annual Spetses Mini-Marathon. Swimming, running competitions. Uh huh. We nighthawks missed most of it.


That afternoon Margarita and Giorgos invited us to lunch at their home.


Giorgos and I near our rental at Agios Mamas beach. He had come to fetch us.


It was a lovely afternoon to dine on their veranda.


Margarita prepared an amazing array of delectable offerings for our two-hour lunch. Salad, cheeses, olives, chicken, beef, makaronia, papoutsákia melitzánas (meat & cheese-stuffed little eggplant slippers).


Everything was delicious. I said (in Greek), "You could feed a family for a week with all this!"


The view from the veranda. As Marti and I always say when we cross the Seine bridges and take in the fabulous Parisian cityscape, "Ya gotta live somewhere." These dear people have certainly found their corner of Paradise.


Spetses limousine. (Very few private cars are allowed on the island. It’s all motorbikes and ATVs.) Later that evening we flagged down a horse-and-buggy to take us to the Palio Limani (Old Harbor). The paradoxically hip thing is to play with your smartphone as the horse clop-clops along to your destination.


Because it was the big Marathon weekend, Giannis Vardis and Giorgos Lianos -- two big Greek pop stars -- were performing a club date at La Luz.


Giorgos the younger had reserved VIP seats at the bar for his folks and us. The two singer-songwriters and their band were killer. They began a three-hour, no-setbreak show at 1 a.m. Very loose, lots of humor, with the crowd – including our friends Margarita and Giorgos – singing along to the hits. We loved it!


Our adopted Spetses family.



As we were walking home after the show at five or so in the morning, I jokingly asked Marti, “Now where do we find an all-night diner to get breakfast?” Suddenly, we smelled that unmistakable aroma . . . a bakery! We poked our heads in the door and the baker greeted us. He walked us through the goodies he had available; I chose a cheesy flaky thing. Then I noticed fresh eggs in a cooler. I asked for a dozen and he amiably and gingerly placed twelve eggs in a paper bag for us. Cartons? We don’t need no steenkin’ egg cartons ‘round here!


Miraculously, Marti and I made it to church a few hours later. Agios Nicolaos was only a ten-minute walk from the house.


After the service I bought a small icon of the namesake Saint.


Marti made a friend on the way back down the hill from church.


We ate brunch on our balcony and watched the Marathoners stagger by. I was getting tired just looking at them. I’d need a nap soon.


The finish line. But we weren't finished. One more week to go here in Paradise!



Another view from our balcony. Breakfasts each morning with the pine-covered hills on the horizon.


Because there was no Internet in the house, I’d typically stroll over to the Delfinia Café each morning for coffee and WiFi. On this particular Monday, Marti took her camera for a long walk around the area. She believes that this house was painted in an ancient color scheme, like the ones we’d seen of historic Mycenean palaces.


Sea urchins.


Despite being surrounded by the sea, Spetses has to import its water supply for domestic use. A great tanker arrives at the main port daily, then potable water is delivered throughout the island.


At the Delfinia. Vagelis’ little daughter Anna Maria hones her homemaking skills.


I should have asked Anna Maria to touch up my cool new boxeraki. With the fashionable analog cassettes motif. When we first met Margarita — in her old shop in 2011 — I spied these boys but she didn’t have my size. On this trip I finally scored!



On Tuesday October 15 Marti and I donned our tourist caps and visited the remarkable Spetses museum. It’s housed in the 18th century mansion of sea captain Hadziyannis Mexis.


My favorite exhibit. A poignant early 19th century wooden epitafio, the symbolic replica of Christ’s tomb used in the Greek Orthodox Good Friday service.


19th century Spetsiote costumes.


Icons.


Following our tour of the museum, my bride and I walked to Agios Nicolaos. I was looking for a gift for a friend.


Icon depicting the three “new” martyrs of Spetses.


Saint Nicholas, for whom the church is named. As we were admiring these beautiful religious artifacts, I found an old woman working in the kitchen of the parish hall. I rolled out my yiayia’s (grandmother’s) Greek and was able to conduct a credible conversation with her. She helped us select the gift for our friend, chatted with me about our backgrounds. It took me back fifty years, to the times when I’d hang out with Efthalia, my mother’s mother, the only grandparent I ever knew. Very moving moment for me.


From the sacred to the carnal. Our next stop was the butcher shop. He ground a few hundred grams of beef for us to make burgers for lunch, then chopped a small leg of lamb that I used to cook a stew for dinner. I cobbled it together with extra virgin olive oil, onions, garlic, fresh tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes, aubergine, red bell pepper, a bit of red wine, oregano, fresh spearmint from our garden, cumin and cinnamon. A winner!


Our next-door neighbor Coulis – co-owner of the house where we were staying – had brought us the spearmint earlier, along with regular mint, pomegranate seeds and slices of pear-apple.


The afternoon temperature was reaching the high 80s, so off to the beach we went.



The next morning we awakened to the sounds of slamming window shutters and roaring Meltemi winds.


The island lost power for several hours that morning and early afternoon. We, of course, found it marvelously romantic. Straight out of a 1940s Humphrey Bogart tropical extravaganza.


When power was restored, Marti and I ventured out. At least for the five-minute walk to the Delfinia.



Vestiges of Wednesday’s winds remained the next day.


By Thursday I was beginning to exhibit symptoms of elevated salt intake. I cook with a salt substitute at home, but restaurant meals on the island were taking their toll. Fortunately, I found a savior. At Bouboulina’s, Dennis the chef – a late-night denizen of the Delfinia – came to my rescue. He happily whipped up salt-free meals especially for me. He is an accomplished wizard of the kitchen, served in the galleys of the Athens Hilton for many years before returning to Spetses to be closer to his family. Yet another islander with the warmest of hearts.


Salt-free grilled pork chop à la Dennis.


And then there was the sweet shop.


One afternoon Marti and I caved and entered The Forbidden Confectionery. I winkingly made the woman behind the counter swear that this transaction would remain a secret to my yiatro (doctor). She smiled and raised a finger to her lips. I won’t tell. This burger-looking cream puff is called a kok. I only hope that’s pronounced “coke.” It’s as addictive, I’ll give you that.


The mainland. As seen from a park bench while eating a cream puff. Marti and I were going deeper into the vortex of decadence.



Our final Friday before heading home. We invited Margarita and Giorgos to join us for dinner at our favorite harborside taverna, Tarsanas.


On the culinary dance card this evening: Αστακομακαρονάδα (pronounced Astakomakaronada). Lobster spaghetti. Don’t go home without one. (Or two.)


We’re well into it and the four of us have eaten all the easy shelled chunks and it’s time to attack the carapaces. This is Giorgos’ and my mission. The ladies are having no part of it. The waiter brings us an array of crackers and picks and I politely offer them to Giorgos. He waves them away, exclaiming “those are for babies!” Okay Zorba, I think, so this is how we’re gonna play it. Hey, I’m a Massachusetts boy. I’ve demolished hundreds of lobsters over the years! These spiny Mediterranean crustaceans, however, present a special challenge. How to successfully hand-crack and extract the meat without emulating a kill-room scene from Dexter. I’m proud to say I managed. Well. With only a few pin pricks on my fingers to show for it the next morning.


Gal pals. I love seeing Marti this happy.


October moon. The following morning Marti and I would be boarding “toh Fly,” as the locals call the Flying Dolphin, heading back to Athens. But not before our hosts – Christopher, Nikki and Coulis – saw us off in style, with kisses and gifts of sweets, cookies, even a talisman to ward off the Evil Eye! We truly felt as if we’d been their guests, not holiday renters.



Back in Athens, we settled into our hotel room, then made our way to Kolonaki Square for lunch at To Kioupi, our favorite little downstairs taverna.


After a long hotel room chill, we met our friends Alexandra and George for a relaxing dinner hang at Makalo. They are such sweet people. They brought Marti a beautiful hand-crafted picture frame as a birthday gift. Perfect for exhibiting one of her favorite photos from this vacation.


When we mentioned that we’d never mounted Lycabettus Hill, with its spectacular vistas of the city, Alex and George offered to take us. Right then and there. Gotta love that Greek hospitality!




Sunday afternoon in Athens. We had engaged a car to take us to the airport at four for our flight home. Now we had time for a stroll in Plaka, a café hang and what turned into a whirlwind sightseeing tour.


Chillaxin’ at the Café Plaka.


I hailed a taxi to take us to a Parthenon photo-op. I held the driver, then had him deliver us to the beautiful National Archeological Museum.


Mosaic and me.


One of Marti’s longtime favorites: Agamemnon’s mask, discovered at Mycenae in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann.


Sunday lunch. Two blocks from our hotel. A no-frills food-to-die-for little place I’d discovered on the Interwebs called Paradosiako. Which translates to “traditional.”


Just two tables in this room by the kitchen. A few more next door, and several on the terrasse. Marti pours the ouzo.


House specialty. Garlicky, cumin-laced soutzoukakia. A spicy treat brought to Greece in the 1920s by refugees from Asia Minor. My choice.

Kouneli. Bunny for my honey! Marti spied this on the board with the daily specials almost immediately. Very simply seasoned. Falling off the bone. Delicious.


Finally it was time to depart for the airport and Paris.

Our ears still rang with the sounds of waves lapping the beach at Agios Mamas. We’d be back sooner than later.
#ThePartyNeverEnds