Greetings from Greece, gorgeous gods and goddesses. After surviving the easiest 11-hour flight of my life, departing from Atlanta at 4:30pm on Monday (thanks in no small part to Dramamine, my iPhone and a stash of trashy tabloids — why can’t those Kardashian sisters just get along?), we landed in Athens at 10:30am on Tuesday with a bang. Quite literally. I suppose the captain felt like waking up the passengers was in order.
Bruises and whiplash aside, we leisurely gathered our four carry-on bags, mine consisting 90% of black clothing, and cleared passport control and customs without exchanging more than a ‘thank you’ with the locals. Gotta love that.
We then scored some local currency from the ATM and headed to pick up our rental car. Car, it turns out, may have been an overstatement, as the Nissan Micra we were given is pretty much a Smart with a J.Lo booty. Little did we know then what a blessing in disguise little Micra (Lil M for short) would turn out to be.
We debated whether or not to rent a GPS, but after asking the local gentleman working at the car rental counter if he thought we would need one, and him replying ‘Nooo, you-a don’t need-a a-GPS. Easy. Just a-follow the a-road. Only one a-road’ we opted to go it alone with a good old-fashioned paper map. It would be more of an adventure that way. Right? Rick Steves, are you with me?
We made our acquaintance with Lil M and a map (a map, oddly, with barely any markings) and then proceeded to drive north a scant 250 miles to the city of Volos, where we would attempt to adjust to the time change and leave on a 3.5-hour ferry ride to the island of Skopelos the next day. I don’t remember much of the drive, as falling asleep every three seconds was my M.O. Luckily, my darling hubby, who was driving, said he only slept for about 20 minutes. Since I’m not typing this from a jail cell or a hospital bed or from six feet under, I can only assume he was kidding.
From the every other three seconds I was awake on the trek, I noted many winding, narrow roads up a hill, roads no car larger than Lil M would have been able to make it through, although several local buses miraculously did. Curious. Despite our ‘map,’ my wonderful navigator of a husband seemingly magically found our way to the hotel he had reserved online, the Xenia Palace Hotel.
Not only was it the perfect place to catch some zzzzs, it was the perfect place to gain five pounds…in feta. We had a fabulous first meal — my first meal ever in Greece, consisting of feta pane (which I naively and mistakenly assumed meant feta with bread and really meant fried feta the size of a brick with honey and sesame oil), Mediterranean salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, capers and feta), cheese-and-tomato-stuffed chicken and ricotta-and-herb-stuffed zucchini. Thank you, Cheesus.
Now, one might assume that after a meal like that, you’d want to go light on breakfast the next day. And if breakfast hadn’t been included in the price of the hotel, one might be right. But breakfast was included, which is to say free, and it was big, so one would be very, very wrong. Just ask my new waistline. Or lack thereof. Hey, I’m trying to be a local, and the locals don’t seem to care about silly things like calories or body shape. Which does make me wonder how these people, my people, were the first Olympians. The only champions they are of now? Breakfast. As in we had the breakfast of champions.
Let’s just say there was a Croque Madame on crack involved (why not deep-fry a ham, egg and cheese sandwich already drenched in butter?), which we predictably renamed a Crack Madame. And some version of apple pie. And fried eggs. And yogurt with fresh fruit (you know, to be healthy). And cereal. And cheese. And oh, did I mention the cheese? And, well, you get the indigestion.
After fighting off heart attacks, we made our way to the ferry. How, I have no idea. We asked two separate hotel employees for directions, each responding identically ‘Just a-one a-road. Just a-follow the a-road.’
We followed the a-road and made it onto the a-ferry. Perhaps the prettiest ferry ride I’ve ever been on — and I even managed to stay awake for the whole thing. No drugs needed, other than a few miniature Snickers, natch.
We were greeted at the ferry port by a woman who showed us to our villa. Let’s just say we were both thankful and terrified for Lil M, as roads in Skopelos are a make ’em up as go type of entity, and we quickly discovered why someone would need to escort us to it, as roads aren’t exactly marked. Or paved.
Our little villa is a charming place named Villa Zeus, from which we’re still sizing up Skopelos.
Until the sizing up is complete, here are 20 things we’ve learned so far:
1. Just because you order a fried feta cheese appetizer the size of a brick, doesn’t mean you have to eat all of it.
2. If it looks like a driveway, it’s a road. If it looks too steep to drive down, you can drive down it. If it doesn’t look like it can fit a car, it can. If it meets all these criteria, look out for the bus.
3. If you feed the impossibly cute kitten that roams around your villa a bowl of milk, it will tell all its kitty friends. Note to self: Buy more milk.
4. Cookie Crisp in Greece tastes different than Cookie Crisp in the States. Blasphemy, I know. But Cheerios, thankfully, remain the same.
5. If it’s food in Greece, it’s got cheese it in. Lactose intolerance be damned.
6. American pop culture — and waistlines — have spread far and wide (our Greek friends are just as, um, girthy, as we are). Skopleos, once an obscure island in the Aegean, found fame in the Merly Streep film Mama Mia. Mama Mia happens to be the number-one selling DVD in Great Britain. Therefore, we’ve now encountered more Brits on this tiny island than natives. Also, Wedding Crashers was on TV last night. When Owen Wilson makes it to Skopelos, well, let’s just say it makes a tiny Greek Island feel very familiar, for better or worse.
7. When you hear charming church bells going off to mark the hour and think it’s your iPhone ringing, you’ve got a problem.
8. The Law of Nude Beaches: The more unattractive and um, rounder, a person is, the less he/she wears. The only people with swimsuits on? The young hotties with rockin’ bodies. Go figure. Speaking of figures, or lack thereof, we spotted quite a few beached whales, some older varieties mating in the water, as well as naked men canoodling on the sand, which naturally made us homesick for San Francisco.
9. Every lane is a passing lane in Greece.
10. Rule of the Road: Go. He who looks last wins (think playing Chicken in Footloose).
11. You might laugh when you’re given your rental car and it’s an impossibly petite Nissan Micra (think a Smart with a J.Lo bum), but anything bigger wouldn’t fit on the road, so thank your lucky stars, er, cars.
12. If you desire to write The Great American Novella-lala from your Greek villa-lala, don’t have any Nutella-lala in the house. Writer’s Block’s BFF? Nutella. Scotch is so last century.
13. Expectations. Don’t expect anything or anywhere or anyone for that matter to look or be like what you see in a movie, in a picture or on TV. Appreciate things for what they really are. Case in point? The adorable church in Mama Mia is 1/8 the size in real life. We heard so many disappointed mutterings about this, but no one appreciated seeing what is probably the tiniest church in the world (fits maybe 6 people max). Perspective, peee-uugh-pole.
14. If you accidentally drop an entire bottle of wine in the local tiny grocery store, expect the shopkeeper to utter ‘Bastard Americans.’ Instead of reacting with the ol’ eff-a-you, be impossibly nice. It’s more fun. Vinegar. Honey. Flies. What? Where am I? I’ve had too much Retsina wine…
15. Americans aren’t the only ones who dress like American tourists. Germans do it too and use way more obnoxious colors. And local Greek boys love their gold chains. And Brits look like Rick Steves. Style is a fascinating thing.
16. Sometimes having apple pie for breakfast is a good thing. Sometimes, chasing that apple pie with a fried egg, chocolate croissant and Crack Madame, is completely and utterly worth it. You can always swim/run/drink it off later.
17. Size doesn’t matter. Not just in waistlines, but in beaches too. Beaches in Greece are very different than beaches in the U.S. Don’t expect white sand, or any sand for that matter. Here, it’s all about the rocks. Rock on. Which, on the other hand, serves up really calm, still water (a plus in my doggy-paddle book). And miles of sand? More like inches of rock. It’s a different animal altogether. Appreciate it for what it is.
18. No Internet is a wonderful thing. Once you get through the withdrawals, that is. Middle school health class videos on heroin addiction be damned. Heroin has nothing on a CrackBerry or iPhone addiction. But once you get through the withdrawals, you discover that life without constant information overload and stimulation is very calming and lovely. It’s like 1985 all over again. And who doesn’t love the ’80s?
19. Black is beautiful. And easy. If you need to pack carry-on luggage only, there’s really no better option. It hides urban grime, sand, wine spills, fila dough flakage and makes getting dressed every day a breeze. Too boring? Change it up with accessories. And shop as you go. You can’t beat the excuse to have to shop because you packed so light.
20. Bigger isn’t always better, ladies. A small villa is more charming than a huge one any day, and demands that you keep things simple. And that’s a gift worth getting any day.
Until we meet again, remember, just a-follow the a-road.