Friday, June 6, 2008
Yes, that's right. I'm going to Ottawa for the weekend. The nations capital. A large metropolitan city but much less crowded than Toronto. That's a GOOD thing!!
My husband is already there visiting with a friend and I will be joining him on Saturday. I'm taking the VIA Rail train. There is no way that I would agree to take a Greyhound bus to Ottawa. That would be torture especially with the impending heat wave we are expecting this weekend: 33 degrees Celsius!
If anyone has any suggestions as to what kinds of things to do in Ottawa, please let me know. I have visited Ottawa twice before so I have been to the popular tourist attractions like Parliament Hill, the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the National Gallery. The question is, "what do I do this time around?"
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
I'm back from my 2 week trip to Athens. I must say I had a fantastic yet busy time. I helped my mother with the task of cleaning out all the closets in the house and bagging and disposing of 8 bags of my clothes and shoes/purses from the 1990s and around 30 or so English ESL books from my teaching days in Athens as well as my collection of University political science text books from Toronto that I had shipped to Greece when I moved there in 1993. Just to make note - there is nowhere (the equivalent of Goodwill or Salvation Army) to take used clothing to in Greece except distant monasteries or orphanages who expect you to shell out 40 Euros for a taxi to send the goods to them. We also asked some of our acquaintances if they knew of anyone who would like the clothing. We were repeatedly coming up against a brick wall. My mother and I put the bags of clothes and shoes next to the garbage bin and at some point during the night someone from the neighbourhood helped themselves to the many bags of clothes. Ditto with the books. Thank god for that, as I felt extremely guilty and angry with myself for "throwing" out perfectly good clothing and books into the trash. Greeks have "issues" with wearing second hand clothes or revealing to people that they want second hand...tsk tsk!
The weather in Athens was quite hot and very sunny. The average temperature during my stay was hovering around 32 degrees Celsius. I also managed to make it to the beach one day and got a very bad sunburn on my shoulders. I did not wear sunblock. I became burned while plucking oysters and mussels out of the ocean by hand. My mother and I went to an island off the coast of Athens called Salamina. We spent the day with a childhood friend of my mother's who owned a beach house there. By the time I realized how badly I was burned, it was too late. My arms and shoulders were bright red and there was nothing I could about it but soothe the burn with standard after sun cream.
oyster picking in Salamina
fresh oysters picked by me and my mother
The highlight of my trip was eating fish and seafood practically everyday. Deep fried skate and squid, pickled octopus, steamed shrimp, grouper, sea bass, grilled fresh tuna, you name it. It was all very tasty and fresh from the local farmer's market. Then there was the delicious ice cream. Oh my god. I tried not to overdo it but I did consume 2 ice cream bars and 1 ice cream cone and more ice cream out of the carton at a friend's house. I also had my share of baklava, kadaifi, galaktoboureko, all syrupy and flaky and so buttery good. The tomatoes and watermelon in Greece are incredibly sweet and I had my fill of both. I also was offered some fresh farm eggs from a neighbour. The yolks were so vivid orange and I was tempted to have an omelette practically every second day. Which reminds me, I should have my cholesterol level checked.
Then there is the shopping addiction I develop every time I go to Greece. Athens is indeed the place to shop especially during end of season sales - which - unfortunately for me - occurs in February and September. Nevertheless, I bought some clothes from an outlet mall/stock store for myself (yes, they exist even in Greece), I purchased quite a few items for my husband (at his request, of course), and some clothing items for each of my three nieces as they all have upcoming B-days.
I also overdid it on the shoe purchases. I bought 3 pairs for myself and one pair for my niece/goddaughter.
purses and handbags!
Then there were the fragrant soaps and bath products with olive oil in them. I purchased some olive oil bath products for my S-I-L. What I had been ogling at for some time was the mastic infused skin care products. Apparently, mastic (fragrant tree resin used in Greek baking) added into skin care products is all the rage at the cosmetic counters and pharmacies. A bit too priceyfor me to indulge in purchasing this time around. Maybe next time.
The jewellery - as to be expected - was incredible and I purchased 2 inexpensive but interesting faux bijoux pieces for myself. I also became inspired to create some new jewellery pieces for my own projects.
At Monastiraki, I also picked up some kitcsh Greek souvenirs for friends. I love visiting the Monastiraki for it's quaint shops and winding pathways. It can be a tourist trap so I often practice caution (although bargaining is highly encouraged) but I always make sure that I talk Greek to the shop keepers so they don't try to pull a fast one on me. Tourists are easy targets in Athens for being swindled, especially by taxi drivers.
And finally, I packed my suitcase with oodles of 70% dark Pavlidis (health) chocolate for me and hubbie. Yeah, that is what the bars of dark chocolate state: "health chocolate." Don't you just love that?
I enjoyed traveling around the downtown of Athens by Metro. Their new, shiny and modern Metro system makes Toronto's subway system seem somewhat 3rd world. Of course the Athens Metro was built in 1999 whereas the Toronto Transit System has been around since the 1960s.
I watched quite a bit of television in the evenings including the Eurovision music competition (Greece came in 3rd). Some very cheesy Greek celebrity talk shows, some B-rated American movies from the 80s and 90s, and the most annoying news / political discussions including arguments and insult-throwing by "experts." These debates are usually displayed on some 4 or 5 separate view panels on the tv screen, just like the opening scene to the Brady bunch show.
Hot debates included, the rising gas prices, the Eurovision competition and why Russia came in first, the rising prices of fresh produce, shootings during the elections in Yugoslavia (FYROM), debates around making Greece smoke free by 2010 (Greeks love their cigarettes), the first gay Greek marriage, going Green (FYI - I stumbled upon a recycling depot outside a major supermarket chain store, where you can dispose of glass bottles, metal cans and plastics. It was a 20 minute walk from the house. I only made it there on one occasion and disposed of about 15 bottles and cans. Other than that there is NO organized weekly recycling pick up (yet!) from residential areas. All the food scraps went into the garbage. Sad. So very sad.
The recycling depot outside AB Basilopoulos supermarket - you can chose to either redeem the bottle & cans for a coupon to use at the supermarket or donate the monetary credits to a children's charity. Interesting concept.
There is a wide range of non-Greek people now living permanently in Athens. For instance, there are people from Russia and many other Eastern European countries that have settled into the country, as well as Albanians, Romanians, Poles, Filipinos, Pakistanis and Indians, Chinese and Japanese. Greece has indeed become a country of foreign ethnicities and it is not unusual to find Japanese or Chinese restaurants in tourist destinations of the city.
As for cultural events, I attended none. I did not go to the Acropolis although I admired it from afar. I did not visit any museums but I saw plenty of archaeological sites on my daily trips to Athens. The downtown core of Athens was not yet teaming with throngs of tourists as it was still early in the season for that. In my opinion, the best time to go to Athens is May and late September to avoid tourist season.
All in all, I'm glad to be back home to the loving embrace of my husband. I'm also glad get out of the hot sun for a bit, although I do think a slight tan is actually quite becoming on me. And it's also nice to finally be back on-line as I was without my laptop and internet for the duration of my trip.