Experiencing Local Culture: a lazy day in Athens
“Careful, careful!” a vendor said to Nate as he ducked below the overhanging tent roof of the fruit stand. Nate had our one year old, Felix in a backpack carrier. Nate is already 6’4”, and Felix stuck up a few inches above his head. The street market was full of locals out buying big bags of fresh produce. There was a large variety of fruits and vegetables, but what stood out most to me were the booths were loaded with fresh oranges, tomatoes, olives, and bananas. We walked from one end of the market to the other, surveying the selection and discussing our lunch and dinner plans.
“Hey look look!” One man called to Felix. He had a stuffed monkey hanging above his booth. When he took the magnetic banana away from the monkey the monkey swung and yelled something in Greek, until he gave the banana back! A little while later, a woman who was shopping at the market handed Felix an orange. A short while later he was given a slice of apple from a vendor. We could really feel that the locals had a love for children.
“Do you speak English?” Nate asked a young man who was manning a stand full of spreads and bottles.
“Yes or course,” the young man answered.
“What is this?” Nate pointed to a big 1.5 L plastic bottle that had a 4 euro price tag on it.
“It is wine.”
“Is it local?”
“Is it for drinking or cooking?” I asked.
The young man raised his shoulders and smiled, “A little for cooking, a little for drinking.”
“Some for me, some for cooking!” Nate smiled.
“What are you cooking?” the man wanted to know.
“Oh, we’re drinking!”
“Oh!” He smiled, his eyes twinkling, “Ok, this one is for the man! Very dry,” He pointed to the white wine, “and this one is for the woman, a little sweet,” He pointed to the red wine. Nate, who prefers red wine, was very indignant about being told that the white wine was for him! We bought the red wine.
We were all very tired, as we were adjusting to the time change. Felix in particular had a hard time sleeping, which meant Nate and I had a hard time sleeping as well. We had agreed to start the day off slowly. We had not gotten out of bed super early, and when we did we followed the instructions of the locals from dinner the night before, heading towards a street that was supposed to be a good location for cafes. By the time we’d finished breakfast and shopped at the market, Felix was ready for a nap, and Nate and I were ready for a break. We took our siesta, and by the time we woke up it was too late to do the acropolis, so we did not do as much sight seeing as we had planned. It had been worth it though, our breakfast was lovely!
The street that had been recommended to us was crammed with cafes. Most of which had overhanging roofs with plastic walls enclosing what must be an outside patio in the summer. It wasn’t hot out, but the sun was strong and the weather was spring like and comfortable. Some of the cafes had trees growing through the patio roofs. The cafes and patios were all nicely decorated and each one looked like it would be a good choice for breakfast. One café had a large well decorated patio, enclosed from the elements. It looked beautiful, but someone inside was smoking. I had read a bit about the rules around smoking in Greece. It seems the government made it illegal to smoke indoors, but it is such a common practice, shop and restaurant owners generally allow it, as they are afraid to lose customers.
“Why don’t we just sit outside?” Nate suggested, as there were a few tables outside of the patio roof.
“Is there anything with shade?” I was worried about Felix’s pale skin in the strong Greek sunlight.
We kept walking, and just a few stores down there was a café that was much busier than the rest, and had tables in the shade, “What about this place? Looks busy, that means it must be good,” I suggested.
One of the menu items was a breakfast deal that included yogurt and fruit, an omelet, brochette, coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice. We ordered one of those plus an extra mushroom and cheese dish, and I ordered a Greek coffee.
First came the coffees with some biscuits and preserved strawberries to put on top. I split my biscuit and strawberry with Felix. The coffee was smooth and flavorful with an enticing aroma. Next came the yogurt. It was drizzled with honey with apples and bananas on top and some granola chunks inside. It was delicious, and Felix’s favorite.
The rest of the food came out together. Each dish tasted perfect. The brochette had flakes of hard cheese on top that had a sharp flavor mixed with the taste of fresh olive oil and freshly sliced tomatoes. The omelet was thin, with chunks of mushrooms. The other dish had a layer of stringy cheese, covering the tomatoes and mushrooms. The orange juice was thick with pulp.
Felix sat with Nate, squirming and reaching across the table. He knocked a glass of water over just after we sat down, spilling it all over Nate’s lap. “I look like I peed myself,” Nate complained. Moments later, I spilled my coffee, which ran onto Nate’s lap as well, “Well I know where he gets it from.”
“AHHHH!” Felix’s excited squeal made us both turn to see the pigeon that had landed next to use. Felix was not content to sit still long. Nate and I took turns eating while alternating following Felix after the pigeons. We had to be careful, as motorbikes used the walking path as a through-way!
There was a woman eating at a table near by who had a little white dog. She gave Felix a treat to give the dog, and Felix nearly ate it! When Nate showed him to feed the dog and not himself he dropped the food on the ground in front of the dog instead of holding it out!
Later that night, after a good nap and a relaxing morning, we found ourselves at the ancient market, which is just a current busy modern market now in all appearances, with lots of booths selling cheep souvenirs. There was a band busking in the square, so I gave Felix a coin and walked him over to put it in the collection pot. I was a little afraid he would in turn bend to grab fistfuls of coins from inside! Fortunately he didn’t , and the drummer waved at Felix and handed Felix a drum stick to use!
We didn’t do much in way of touring that first day, but we got a good taste of the culture, and the hospitality of the locals. At the end of the day we went to the bar beside our Airbnb, thinking we’d have a quick drink before bed. We both ordered the house wine, which was listed as 3 euros. Two half liter decanters were placed in front of us! We had thought that we were each ordering a glass, but in fact we each ordered half a liter! It was not the quick drink we thought we were stopping in for. We ordered some dessert to go with the wine and made a night of it.
Felix made friends with everyone around him with his wide smile and peekaboo games, and halfway through our drinks he fell asleep. We pulled two chairs together and lay him across them, not sure if we were great parents or terrible ones! We were glad to be only one door away from the bar when we swayed back to our Airbnb.