Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Eating Out in Greece

One of my old Army buddies returned from a trip to Europe last week. During the past three years he has made several 6 to 8 week trips to Asia. This is the first time that I can recall him going to Europe.

In his email he said that the trip was OK but not a great trip. He writes “Europe is kind of expensive to start with, but with the dollar down so much against the euro it gets almost ridiculous at times. There's like a 60% tax on everything just because you're American. Greece was particularly bad. Now this morning I see U.S. prices are up by the largest amount in 26 years.”

I have been to Greece twice. One time for 1 day and the second time for two days. Both were layovers on my flights to and from Kagnew Station, Asmara, Eritrea, Ethiopia.
On my first trip I did all of the normal tourist things that you could do in one day. I visited the Acropolis, bought souvenirs for my family, took two rolls of slides and ate in a restaurant across from Constitution Square (The food that I had eaten at the Greek Islands Restaurant on Halsted St. in Chicago was better and a lot less expensive).

On my return trip I had the good fortune to be seated next to a gentleman who was attached to the Diplomatic Corps at the US Embassy in Athens. He had just spent three weeks at the American Consulate in Asmara. He spoke several languages including Greek. Being that I was in the Army Intelligence Service (AIS not MI), I knew better than to ask him what he was doing in Asmara.

He asked where I would be staying and I told him the Niki Hotel on Nikis Street in Athens. He told me that he knew where it was and that it was a nice small hotel. He asked me if I wanted to partake in some Athens nightlife and I said sure. He said he would meet me in the Hotel Lobby at 1930 hours.

The Hotel Niki was just a few blocks away from Constitution Square and not far from the Acropolis. They had put me in the penthouse. The bathroom was larger than the entire room that I had been in the last time that I was in Athens. Plus I had a private stairwell leading to a rooftop patio.

When my new friend arrived, I told him that I needed to eat and suggested that we walk to one of the nearby restaurants across from the Square. He asked me if I was crazy. First, he said, those restaurants carry menus in several different languages with varying prices according to language. The French was the most expensive, followed by the English and the least expensive was the Greek. But better yet, he would take me to a local Taverna.

The Taverna was less than a mile away, so we walked. He told me several interesting facts about Athens and Greece. When we arrived at the Taverna it was virtually deserted, we seated ourselves and were given small cardboard menus (in Greek). My friend asked me what kind of food was I interested in eating. I said anything local. He suggested the mixed grill. I said OK.

The mixed grill was a combination of raw organ meats and lamb chunks. It was served with a fondue pot full of hot olive oil and several skewers. It was very tasty. It came with broasted seasoned potatoes and a bowl of lemon chicken soup.

By the time we were finished eating, the Taverna started to fill up with locals. We decided to move on to a bar which we had passed along the way to the Taverna. The entire bill for two dinners was just slightly more than what I paid for my dinner on my previous trip to Athens.

The bar we went to had an outdoor patio. Inside there was a three piece string band playing Greek music, we sat outside. We both ordered Fix Beer and a small bottle (I think 300ml) of Ouzo. By midnight we had had about 5 beers each and were sharing a second bottle of Ouzo. Men were outside, on the patio, dancing to the music, in a circle with arms on one another’s shoulders. One of the men spoke English and asked me if I would care to try to dance. Egged on by my friend, I reluctantly joined in. It was a lot of fun.

Since my friend had paid for dinner, I insisted on paying the Bar Bill. It was less than US$12 (in 1968). The next day I paid dearly with one of the worse hangovers that I had ever encountered.

Several years later I ran into my friend again, this time in the Executive Dining Room at No Such Agency. He was a Major in the Air Force. I thanked him again for showing me such a great time in Athens.

The Beach Bum

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