Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Pearl In The Oyster...

There was quite a lot of hullabaloo on the news about the demonstrations and riots in Athens while we were there.  There was a twenty percent reduction in minimum wage, hopeless statements made about the Euro and the Greek economy, several rocks thrown through windows, and one car set on fire.  This is a sad, sad time for Greece.  
On our walks around Athens, we saw quite a lot of this forlorn state reflected in the buildings, neighborhoods and shops of the city.  Thousands of people slowly marched the main street, their dolorous chanting heard as far away as the Parthenon as they marched in the direction of the Acropolis.  It was the only sound breaking the suspended quiet and stillness of the rest of the city. 
Yet, for all the grey and grittiness of the main streets and neighborhoods, there were pockets of Athens that seemed to shine in spite of the country's tone.  Hidden a half hours walk north east of the base of the Acropolis lies the Gazi neighborhood of Athens.  Behind several industrial towers, old gas tanks, and a wall of striking street murals is a row of restaurants that look like they were pulled right of off NE Alberta Street.  

With cheery lights, beautifully designed storefronts and interiors, and the few people who were there looking quite happy, it was as if this little neighborhood was had chosen to forget there was a crisis, and just kept trucking along.  I hope this is just a peek of what Athens can someday be.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

View From The Top...

Gentle Reader, I am a very serious person.  
I have no sense of humor, generally refrain from all silliness, walk with perfect posture, have deeply profound thoughts, and hold highly intelligible and intellectual conversation edged with a raw whit and criticism, all of which leaves people quite in awe of my obvious genius and voyeurism.  (And here I hope that the lack of linguistic inflection does not diminish the sarcasm of the former sentences.)  
In all seriousness though, I must beg you to believe that I am not quite so dopey and irrelevant as the last months have made me out to be.  Poor Ryan, who has been stuck with me every waking hour, has witnessed my rapid decent into this inane mien and it's a daily, vicious, cycle.  
Each morning, as we map out our day's route, I am as stoic of character as ever I was, but, as soon as we step out into the cold, my brain seems to shut down, leaving room but for a single though: I'm cold, I'm cold, I'm cold.  In an effort to distract myself, I attempt idle conversation, but my tongue becomes so heavy in my mouth that it cannot form proper sounds, and my brain can only produce a series of tones that could only be compared to a dying pigeon.  
Ryan, ever the gentleman, nods politely, and lends me his mittens.

All of this happens on a good day.

After leaving Paris mid-January, the plan was to head south until the weather improved and we could visit Eastern and Northern Europe more comfortably.  We had a false-spring in Barcelona, and the sun taunted us for several days in Madrid.  Rome was chilly too, but nothing, nothing compared to the cloudy morning we spend climbing the Acropolis in Athens.
Greece was the furthest South we'd been in ages, and I naively assumed we'd finally find the sun.

So, good days are mindless babbling.  But bad days are no talking at all.

I honestly can't remember what exactly happened this morning in Athens.  Photographic evidence suggests I made it to the top of the Parthenon, and even had the wherewithal to use the fake "lens tilt" setting I'd accidentally discovered on my camera when we stopped to watch the sunset from the Spanish Steps in Rome. But no memory of the place exists until I found myself staring into a mirror in the bathroom of a restaurant, hands crumpled under the faucet of hot water.
This, I can only assume, was a result of hypothermia, and marks my first out-of-water case of this affliction.  Naturally, when I warmed back up to "babbling cold", I felt the need to yabber on at length about this to my nurse (aka my mom) via skype.

This is the worst winter Europe has seen since last year, and when I can manage such an altruistic thought, my heart goes out to all the homeless people dying out in the cold. 
But this doesn't happen very often as I am usually to wrapped up in my own well being to take notice of the plight of others and I'm cold, I'm cold, I'm cold.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Athens At Night...

The Acropolis lit up above the city, the Parthenon glowing like a flame in the dark.
Athens at night...better than fireworks.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


After a veritable feeding frenzy in Barcelona, our wallets were significantly thinner.  
These last few weeks, we've been trying extra hard to tighten our proverbial belts, and we haven't found anything quite as cheap and satisfying as The Hamburger.  (What this has done for our actual belt-lines however, remains to be seen...)

(My favorite are from here.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rome In A Day...

 The last time I was here, I swore I'd never come back.  Little did I know however, how powerful the magic of the Trevi fountain can be.  Legend has it, throw a coin over your shoulder into this enchanted fountain, and some day you will return to Rome.  So here I am, fulfilling prophecies and all that jazz.  (Really, I'm just on a one day layover en route to Greece.)
We spent the day walking around the city, fending off rose-brandishing gypsies, vendors hawking blessed pictures of ye old pope, and over-eager "tour guides".  And though certainly a nuisance, fighting our way through the hawkers and hucksters was nothing compared to the dehabilitating embarrassment I felt at not being able to communicate in Italian.  I've never really been anywhere before where I don't speak the language and I was not quite prepared for the feelings of helplessness and humiliation that being a foreigner would entail.  
No one noticed or cared aside from me, of course, but still!

 The light of God?
Does anyone happen to know what sorts of auspicious omens arise from fondling this bronze foot in St. Peters Basilica?

 In the interest of not being too negative in my outlook, I must admit that Rome does have some redeeming qualities.  I enjoyed strolling through crooked little alleys and backstreets, shaded by slumped over buildings.  I admired the local dogs and Ryan found a cool hat shop.  And we ate...food.  Pretty unremarkable food, as a matter of fact.  And terrible gelato.  
Oops. So much for positivity.  Oh well.

So yes.  Rome is beautiful.  But, needless to say, I did not throw a coin into the fountain today.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Boots Of Spanish Leather...

Before leaving Madrid, there was one last thing to check off my list.
No trip to Spain would be complete without finding a pair of Boots of Spanish Leather.  In the spirit of ol' Bob Dylan, I searched high and low for the perfect pair.   These are the beauties that I finally settled on.  Pretty snazzy, huh?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Good News...

We've been wondering for a while now where our adventures would take us next.  While I long to go north and visit the art galleries of Berlin, ramble the Irish countryside, or see Sweden's Northern Lights, it's just too cold in Europe this winter to really enjoy being a traveler.  The dark skies were sort of putting a crimp in our initial plans and I had briefly entertained thoughts of perhaps just giving up and going home...
But, today we received some wonderful news that has really put a different twist on our itinerary.  While working at Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, a friend had mentioned a bookshop of similar proclivity on an island in the Greek Cyclades.  After exchanging a few brief emails with one of the owners, we're headed south to look after Atlantis Books in Santorini!
I'm really excited about the idea of being back amongst some bookshelves.  I really hadn't really wanted to leave Paris and S&Co.  (suprise, suprise.) Besides, this cold weather necessitates some books and nesting. I think a little bookshop in the Greek isles will be the perfect place to settle for a bit, get cozy with a cup of tea, and let winter pass me by.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Golden Triangle...

Spending so much time in Madrid really allowed us to sink into the city.  We had time enough to become "regulars", revisiting our favorite spots, making friends with our waiters, discovering secret shows, and partaking regularly in the legendary Spanish siesta.  One of the highlights that this pace afforded us was our daily visits to the museums that make up Madrid's Golden Triangle.  Each morning we chose one single level to explore, saving me from "museum legs", and giving us plenty of time to admire our favorites: the surreal landscapes of Bosch and Bruegel, Goya's black paintings, and endless galleries of Picasso.
And although nothing will ever compare to sheer scale and inspiration of Guernica, the art of Madrid didn't stop at the museum doors.  Here, the colorful streets are covered in more informal art.  Hidden in corners, back alleys and inset doorways, the graffiti art of Madrid extends the famed Golden Triangle throughout the city.

Friday, February 10, 2012

El Mercado...

On our first night in Madrid, we found El Mercado de San Miguel, and we couldn't get enough.

From the most delicious hamburgers to salty fresh oysters, fluffy clouds of burrata on toast, copious amounts of beer, and pintxos and tapas at every counter, the Mercado is what [my] dreams are made of. 
We've been back every single day.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Olé, Olé, Olé...

Early in the week we had met an entrepreneurial young British ex-pat who set up nightly events for tourists and travelers ranging from tapas tours to pub crawls.  In addition to his breadth of knowledge concerning quintessential backpacker activities, John was also a wealth of information concerning the local pulse of music, flamenco and secret spaces.  
Following his directions through twisted streets and down a rabbit hole, we ended up in El Local, an underground bar where every Tuesday night, jazz musicians flock to play music, rotating seats, and improvising as they go.  

It's far easier to blend in with the crowd in Spain than it ever was in France, and without the inhibitions of being an outsider, we spent a pretty fantastic evening of toe-tapping and swaying beneath the streets of old Madrid.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Churros y Chocolate...

Hot Chocolate is serious business here in Spain.  Up the street from our hostel, a café advertises specials on liters of chocolate caliente and one famous restaurant serves up steaming mugs twenty-four hours a day.  As a seasoned veteran of hot chocolate in all its varieties (Abuelita, Swiss Miss, Aztec Chili, you name it), this national frenzy was right up my alley.

Walking the streets in below zero conditions, the windows of these chocolaterias are beacons of warmth, with foggy windows and masses of bodies crammed together at the counter.  There is no excuse not to be eating churros and drinking hot chocolate right now.
But! have you ever tried this stuff??  
I don't want to discredit myself as a professional eater, nor as a connoisseur of all things sweet, but I just can't drink this Spanish chocolate!  It is richer, darker and thicker than any chocolate pudding- stick in a perfunctory churro and it will stand straight up, or float atop the surface.   Much to my shame, I have had to begin ordering suizo, a much lighter version of hot chocolate, more akin to Swiss cocoa.  I hide away in the corners of the cafés with my incriminating beverage, certain I will be pinned as a weakling, or worse, a tourist.
Anthony Bourdain Kendra Baker would not be impressed.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

First Night In Madrid...

Though colorful by day, Madrid really seems to light up at night, and after sunset is when this city really shines. 

On another bright note, this is my 100th post, which, I think, is quite a nice little feat.  To celebrate this event, hopefully I'll manage at least one late night in this sleepless city and stay awake past eleven to revel like a real Madrileño. 
Fingers crossed!