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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Confessions of a Europhile in Thirteen Volumes: VOLUME I

Long after returning from my eight-month séjour in France, I posted an absurdly brief account of my experiences living and traveling in Europe. A typical guilt-ridden Catholic, I am still feeling remorseful that I did not properly document my time as a teaching assistant in France. So, in the spirit of Lent, which officially began on Wednesday of this week, I have made it my mission to write in more detail about my life during this time (September 2006 to May 2007). I will not proceed, however, without first providing a litany of excuses for my sins.

Top 5 excuses – legitimate or otherwise – for not having kept up with my blog:

1) It was too cold to think.
2) I had to undergo a root canal.
3) French wine numbed my senses.
4) I was busy traveling.
5) I adopted the French laissez-faire attitude.

Having atoned, I trust all will be forgiven. *Drumroll* Here goes!

Greece, George, and Gyros

I had met Stephanie on a Facebook group for teaching assistants in France. The first time we met in person, she introduced me to Becca, another assistant who was living 40 minutes away in Nantes. That afternoon we casually decided we should book a flight to Greece. Little did we know we had just constituted a relentless travel triumvirate that would one day set foot in Bratislava. (Further details to come in Volume IV.)

I got to play tour guide in Paris for two days.

Then it was off to Athens where we spent the first week of November seeing the sites, getting to know the city, purchasing legit Greek jewelry and contraband wallets with misspelled designer names, and eating gyros.

Our hotel, situated 45 minutes from the city center by bus, was perfect. For a mere 14 euros a night we had a charming, spacious room with balcony and all. But much more notable a commendation was its proximity to Pita Time, George’s extraordinary gyro stand.

Words cannot express the magic of his pork gyros. (Stephanie would argue in favor of the chicken, but Becca and I outvoted her, which makes Stephanie wrong. That’s how democracy works.) Night after night we were drawn to Pita Time as if by some preternatural force. Acknowledging our loyalty, George began to offer us free gyros by day 3. Never again did we pay for dinner. In fact, we didn’t pay for pretty much anything around George. He took us out Friday night and insisted on buying all our drinks. We were treated to a live performance by Nikos Vertis, a very popular Greek singer, at a traditional Greek bouzoukia in the Posidonio. Here’s a clip of him performing at that very spot, perhaps that very night! (Long Live Youtube.) Then we headed to a club where we danced to some Greek music and then got down to Ricky Martin (who lives la vida loca) and Celia Cruz (who has tumbao). When I say “we” I mean the girls, for George, ever the gentleman, stood by the bar and let us have our fun before escorting us back to our hotel.

Sugardaddy? Perhaps. But let me say in our defense that we always tried to pay. One time we left a tip that amounted to a greater sum than the actual cost of his ridiculously affordable gyros. And besides, George had no ulterior motives. As a cynic in such cases myself, I was rather surprised that he genuinely just wanted us to have a good time in Greece and appreciate the culture; he would have personally shown us around Athens had we befriended him sooner. We left him our email addresses but later decided to call Pita Time from France to say hello because he seemed a little puzzled by the concept of emailing.

Here we are getting ready for our night out on the town with Gyro Man:

It’s too bad we didn’t know at first that George could have given us a tour of the Greek islands because it would have spared us 93 euros and the cheesiest cruise in the history of tourist traps. If the Greek drag queen singing ABBA and impersonating Elvis was any indication, this was going to be a memorable experience indeed. Much as I tried to channel Odysseus while gazing at the rocks that protruded out of the Aegean Sea, wind blowing in my hair, I must say that knowing Japanese tour groups were probably doing the Macarena downstairs diluted the experience. We tried to make the best of our paltry hour or two on each of the three islands, veering away from the touristy port areas and heading uphill along little winding streets, and we succeeded to some degree, particularly in the lovely and cat-filled island of Hydra. But 93 euros! Even mighty travel triumvirates make mistakes, no? In any case, we did make a vital purchase of wine and Nutella at one of our stops, and the saxophone player saluting us goodbye from the ship deck upon our decent was worth its weight in gold in my opinion.

We fared better in Athens, though, where the still-standing temples interspersed throughout the city evoked every feeling of history and myth I hoped they would. (Make fun if you will.)

By the end of our trip my fellow travelers and I were complaining that we had to return to France before we realized what complete snobs we are.

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