Monday, May 30, 2011

I'll Never Let Go, Jack

(Written on 4/14/2011 from Crete, Greece)

“Trust me.  I want to cut it shorter” is not the most comforting sentence coming out of a Greek man’s mouth while you’re held captive in his salon chair.  I went in to Domenico’s salon looking like a Raggedy Ann (haha…) and left with bangs.  Thankfully, these were not the same kind of bangs my mom used to cut for me when I was 8 years old.  I’m pretty sure back then more than half my hair was bangs and I clearly remember holding the trash can in front of my face as she snipped it in a solid row across my forehead.  Eek.  (No offense, Mom…but you and I both know that was a tragic look for me.  Don’t even get me started on the perm.)
My new do!
After my new (I admit I like the bangs) haircut, I caught the night ferry to Crete.  Let’s just start by saying that I’m glad I arrived alive.  I was certain (multiple times during the night) that we had hit a glacier (yes, I know we were in the Mediterranean) and that I was going to die on the Greek version of the Titanic.  But unlike Kate Winslet, I had no “Jack” to give me a board to float on. 
My cabin for the boat ride - all to myself because it was empty!
At least when I got to Crete things seemed to turn around.  I got back on the “food” train with a nice dinner in the city and just as Chef Tony had warned me…I was offered a shot of Tsikoudia (a clear liquor) after dinner.  He said that Cretans take great offense if you turn down their liquor.  However, if you drink it then they keep bringing you more and more and more.  And when you inevitably end up on the floor from drinking too much and turn them down, they will still be offended.  So I heeded Tony’s advice and told them I didn’t drink (bold faced lie) and so I would only have one with them and that I needed to head back to the hotel.
The most amusing part of the experience is that they charge you for the bread they bring out at the beginning of the meal.  But the exquisite doughnut like dessert (Loukoumades) with ice cream afterwards and as much of the Tsikoudia as I would have wanted (and more) was completely free.

Greek Loukoumades (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

After returning to my hotel because I didn’t want to have a “Party for One” at the restaurant, I caught a cooking show on T.V.  Even though it was in Greek and I couldn’t understand the words, the food still looked delicious.  I don’t think this qualifies as a “recipe” since I didn’t actually make it or taste it but I think it’s still worth mentioning for experimentation sake.  The chef was making a “burger.”  He mixed together in a bowl – chopped shrimp, ginger, green onions, garlic, and soy sauce.  Then he fried them as individual patties and topped it with a dressing made from blending together mayonnaise with baked tomatoes.

If you try it at home – let me know.  It looked scrumptious and my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Thought for the day…just because it's free doesn't mean it's worth it.  :)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I'm Proud to be an American

(Written on 4/11/2011 en route to Athens, Greece...again)

Standing at the airport is always amusing to me – watching planes come in from all over the world.  And watching the departure board flicker through a myriad of different destinations.  Today I’m in Zurich, waiting to get back to Athens – and I am enthralled by the Swiss Alps in the distance with all the greenery and cute houses in the foreground.  How I’d love to go and discover Switzerland!!!  But I’m trying to “stay” on my path…kind of.
As I wait and watch planes from Thai Airways, Lufthansa, GermanWings and countless others I’ve never even heard of, I can't help but wonder where everybody around me is going and what they’re going for.  If I could read minds I could sit in the airport for hours as kids bounce around excited for their vacations, business “suits” stare plain faced at their cell phones, and hippy 20-somethings trapse around slowly with giant backpacks slung over their shoulders. 
My friend Steph made fun of me once for saying, “Isn’t it crazy how everybody can be standing here and in just a few hours they will all be all over the world in different places??”  She replied, “Yes, Annie….that’s how airplanes work.”  As if I was never properly taught from the book of “How Things Work.”  (pssssshhhhhh….)
I’d love to strike up a conversation with most people in this airport and ask them where they’re going and what they’re going for.  Why there? Why now?  Unfortunately, most travellers (especially those on business) are usually in a hurry and don’t want to be bothered.  So all I can do is make up stories in my own mind about their paths and plans…which might be far more entertaining than what they’re actually doing.
As I watch the giant United and U.S. Airways planes standing by ready for takeoff, I can’t help but feel a little pang of homesickness.  It’s been 2 and a half months now since I’ve left the U.S.  And I feel this instant pride and patriotism.  When travelling abroad it’s easy to often criticize my own country.  Mostly because I believe (but it's not always true) that a lot of foreigners have preconceived notions about what Americans will be like.  And how can I blame them when the majority of things they’re exposed to from the U.S. are our media and our politics and our wars.  Thank you to “Jersey Shore”, “16 and Pregnant”, “The Real Housewives of Orange County”, George Bush, Barack Obama, and the War on Terror, many people that I meet outside of the U.S. perceive that we as a people must be in some way similar to one of those things.
Believe me…if I had to “slot” myself into one of those categories I would run screaming in the other direction.  And therefore, not everybody is enamored with our country, our actions, and the effects we have on others.  But nonetheless, I still am proud.  The U.S. is the country where I was born, the country where I was raised, and the country that I call home (at least for now.)  We may not be perfect, but we’re trying to be…just like everybody else. 
In Tunisia, Sarra joked that the U.S. must have sent me on behalf of foreign relations to help teach people that not all Americans are like what they see on T.V. (which I took as a compliment).  It made me laugh but it’s kind of true…being different from what people expect me to be is a way for me to carry my country with me.  It’s a way for me to show others that we as a people can be kind, compassionate, understanding, curious, adventurous, and humble.  And it’s a good reminder for me too - that no matter where I am or where I live, I will always be American.
I ask you today to think about what it is that you appreciate about where you’re from.  Your culture is your own – unique to where you were born, raised, and the people that shaped who you are.  What is it that you appreciate about your city or your country?  What makes you proud to be where you are from?
And a funny side note since I think you deserve something light hearted.  I found these snacks in a grocery store in Spain.  Seriously, somebody had to have been able to speak English to translate this...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Love at First Sight

(Written on 4/10/2011 from Barcelona, Spain)
I failed to mention that upon my crazy Friday night “I’m going to buy a ticket to Barcelona for Monday” epiphany, I got in touch with my friend Cristian who is living there now.  We met in Chile when I lived there in 2006 and became fast friends.  We travelled to Buenos Aires together, went Salsa dancing together, and had too many nights of good food and fabulous wine.
So when I broke the news that I was headed his way, Cristian invited me to stay with him, reassuring me that there would be plenty to do in Barcelona even though he would be busy during the day with work and school. 
Once again, I was met at the airport by yet another welcoming, hospitable friend.  (Side note: I really need to reconsider my pace of life at home and “pull up to the curb” mentality.  My friends that come to visit probably deserve a parked car and warm welcoming at baggage claim.  Oh, remember the good ole days when you could stand outside the gate and wave signs and run and give hugs to people getting off the plane?!  Wow….side tracked.)
My week in Barcelona was like a Queen’s vacation – I was treated like royalty and not allowed to lift a finger.  On my second day Cristian found out he had “worked enough” for the week and could take off time to hang out with me.  Score!  Vacation for me, and vacation for him too.

Cristian whipping up some food in the kitchen

A feast on my first night!
We headed out to the famous Barcelona market, La Boqueria, and I fell in love.  I’ve always believed in love at first sight…and it’s fitting that of course my first “love at first sight” moment was with a market.  After drooling over chocolates, cured meats (my fave), cheeses (another fave), olives, herbs, seafood, candies, fruits, and everything else…I finally settled on a fresh squeezed mango and kiwi juice. 
It.  Changed.  My.  Life.  
Ooooooh the sweet combination of two delightful fruits.  My destiny had been sealed….I returned to the market everyday while in Barcelona just for the sweet taste of Mango-Kiwi.  And on my last day I literally ran to the market for fear that they might close early and I would miss my last opportunity for my Mango-Kiwi fling.  Fear not, friends….I made it just in time.







Love...
My week in Barcelona was filled with highs – tapas at Cristian’s apartment, copious amounts of Spanish wine, trips to the beach, restaurant upon restaurant upon restaurant with flavors from all over the world, being introduced to “The Big Bang Theory” series, stumbling upon impromptu jam sessions from bands and opera singers on the streets, laughing over episodes of “Friends”, getting lost and walking all over Barcelona, and melting over the ever so delicious and beautiful pintxos.




Doing what I do best...at the Areperia

Pintxos!  Pick a toothpick....any toothpick!

Pintxos are a snack that is typical in the Basque Country.  They are mostly served in bars and taverns and come in a variety of flavors usually atop a nice slice of baguette bread.  And then they put a cute little toothpick in it.  So you can take a plate and walk up and down the bar selecting your “prey”, if you will, and then once you are done they count up your toothpicks and pay by the number of pintxos you have “mauled” (or at least in my case).  I was definitely a sucker for the combinations of cheese, tuna, lemon, peppers, salmon, etc.  Most of them are gastronomical delights and have been created ever so creatively to excite the taste buds.

On my last night in Barcelona (after a week full of wining and dining me), Cristian topped it off with the famous Tortilla de Papas – a famous Spanish egg dish with potatoes.  Thanks to him you can recreate on your own!

Tortilla de Papas

The majority of my trip revolved around inside jokes, reliving laughable memories from 2006, and just having a great time with a great friend...oh yeah, and obviously the Mango-Kiwi (notice the capitalization).  Although Cristian and I haven’t stayed in touch consistently…our friendship picked up right where it left off.  I’m so thankful for him, and my trip, and my opportunity to “meet” Barcelona.  He gave me a warm welcome and phenomenal introduction to a city in which I'm certain I will return.
Today my request is that you think of a friend from your past that you have lost contact with.  Often times we lose touch with people because it’s no longer convenient…we move away, we start new jobs, we meet new people, we get into relationships, we start families, and some friendships fade away and get lost in the blur of everything new that occupies our time.  Just because that happens doesn’t mean that you’re not meant to be friends…
I urge you to reach out and say “hello” or at least leave them a Facebook message (because I know you’re probably on FB right now and that isn’t too much to ask!) to say that they’re on your mind and you hope they’re well.  Spread the love.  J

Tortilla de Papas (from Spain)



Ingredients:
4 to 5 big size potatoes
4 eggs
Salt, pepper and smoked paprika (optional)
3 garlic cloves
Olive Oil
Directions:
Start by peeling the potatoes and cutting them into thin, circular slices. Heat up the oil in a medium-big pan with medium temperature and put the garlic cloves in (without peeling the garlic) and then add your potato slices.
Stir potatoes frequently so they are cooked evenly. Meanwhile, take your eggs and beat them vigorously in a big bowl till you get a homogeneous mix and add some pepper and salt (optional smoked paprika). 
Continue cooking the potatoes to the point they start to become mushy.  Then take out the garlic cloves, add some salt, and pour the potatoes into the bowl with the eggs and mix.
Clean up your pan, add some oil and put the whole mix in with a medium-low temperature and shake it strongly in order to avoid sticking to the pan. When the mix becomes bonded use a flat plate the size of the pan and flip the mix quickly onto the plate, add some more oil if necessary into the pan and put your tortilla back in again.  Continue to shake the pan and wait a few minutes.
You’ll see that it is ready when the tortilla easily moves if you shake the pan…and then….ENJOY!!!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Oh, The Places You'll Go!

(Written on 4/4/2011 en route to Barcelona, Spain)

There is a team of near giants on my flight from Athens to Barcelona – at least 5 of them are pushing 7 feet tall, and they're probably a combined age of 30 (okay, that might be an exaggeration).  As one of the guys I met in Athens said, “They breed the tall ones in the mountains and then bring them down to the city.”  I’m not exactly sure what that means – but it made me laugh.
So I know that Barcelona seems like it was randomly thrown into the mix...but I have a good (kind of) explanation.  In addition to showing me Athens, helping me with my travel plans, and exposing me to amazing food…Alex has also been a great friend and inspiration for me.  If it weren’t for her and her dad there is no way I would have bought this ticket to Barcelona on a whim.

One night while we were talking about how equally jealous we were of each other’s experiences (hers – living abroad, mine – traveling extensively), it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I needed to go to Barcelona.  It’s a place I’ve dreamed about and longed to know for many years now.  And if there’s any chance of me moving abroad in the future I had to meet Barcelona to at least give it the chance to run in that competition of great cities and countries.
A little over a year ago I considered moving abroad – but put it off because I was happy with my life and my status quo.  I had a boyfriend I really liked, a good job, and I just couldn’t bring myself to pull away from my family and friends in Seattle.  I’ve been constantly torn between my dream of living in a foreign country again, perfecting my Spanish, and calling a new land ‘home’ and my relationships that I hold so near and dear.  I'm so heartbroken when I miss the important things at home - like weddings, holidays, birthdays, and celebrations.
But sitting with Alex and talking to her about the transition to Greece and how happy she is in this city she loves makes me second guess that maybe there really is a way to balance it all.  She’s been here for 2 years now and has gone back to the U.S. multiple times, has had many visitors, and has also created a world of her own here.
In Chile I met a German girl whose Dad lived in Chile and mom was in Germany.  She split her time in both countries and said the most difficult part was also the best – that she had two homes.  That she felt this comfort and love and security and support in two totally different places in the world.  But at the same time – she was always missing one of them.
In my travels I’ve experienced something similar.  Every time I experience a new place there is some part of me deep inside that is awakened.  Something that I never knew existed or was for so long suppressed that I'd forgotten about it.  Something that I don’t get from my native culture.  And therefore I feel a little ‘at home’ in every place I go.  And when I leave I definitely miss it...
I once explained my love for travel as a journey that helps me define a little bit more about what is incongruent between who I truly am and how I live my life because of the pressures around me.  It awakens pieces of me that I suppress because I ‘feel’ like I should suppress them.  These small pieces of me that 'come alive' in each new place I visit give me a little more perspective about the true me in my heart - and less of the me that has been "shaped" by my culture, my family, my friends, and society that tells me how I 'should be.'  I don't mean that those influences are bad - but sometimes they make me lose sight of being true to myself. 
But as time progresses on my journey I feel less and less ‘societal pressure’ to settle down, find a mate, decide on my career path, and do that whole procreating thing.  The further I get from fearing I don't have those things, the more I realize I’m happier when I accept I can’t always control my life.

So when I land in a place that makes me feel so ‘congruent’ it’s hard for me to pull away without giving that place a chance to get everything out of me that it can.
And thus…my issues on the debate of ‘move abroad or don’t move abroad.’ Although, as my mom once reassured me when I called her crying from Chile – home sick and sad as I was studying abroad, “Home is always just a flight away.”  (An expensive flight, but albeit a flight).
Today I leave you with this thought...what is it that you love about travel?  Or what is it that you love about being at home?  I challenge you to leave a comment....inquiring minds would like to know (or at least one inquiring mind.)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

It Takes a Village

(Written on 4/3/2011 from Athens, Greece)
Dear Facebook,
You are crazy.  Besides giving me the ability to stalk everybody I know (and some I don’t), you actually knew I was in Athens before I even told you…who’s the stalker now?!  And then you told me “Alex Kavalieros lives in Greece.  Message her?”  Uhhhh…heck yes, message her! 
Even though you’re creepy, thank you for knowing these connections before I do.
Love,
Annie

And thus, on my second night in Athens I met up with Alex – a long lost friend from high school.  To add to how excited I was to have a friend, who would have known that Alex’s dad is a famous Greek chef (Chef in Love – Tony Kavalieros)…how perfect is that for my adventure?! She even sent me to his cooking class to learn about Greek cuisine and it opened my eyes to some divine tastes.


Chef at work - giving instructions in the school
We started the evening with a discussion about Moussaka – which I quickly learned from Tony is not really Greek because none of the ingredients are Greek.  So instead we cooked up Kagiana and Potato Soup with Minced Meat.  Both are pretty easy to make and a great way to try your hand at true Greek cuisine!
Meat? Tomatoes? Eggs?  Yes, please.

Chef and me!  Admittedly I did more watching than doing...but still took credit!

Kagiana

Potato Soup with Minced Meat

After a night full of food, fun, and friends I headed back to my last night in my hotel (oh yeah, did I mention that Alex also invited me to stay with her family?!).  So the next morning I got up and (after a pit stop for gyros) rolled my suitcase to the metro station.  Now let me say this….there is nothing more annoying or more recognizable than the distinct sound of a rolling suitcase on a sidewalk hitting the grooves…thadunk…thadunk…thadunk.  Seriously…is there anything that screams “Look at me, I'm a tourist!!!!” louder than that?!

As soon as I settled in to my new abode Alex and I headed out to the private English school where she teaches.  Her rowdy bunches of teenagers were not nearly as shy as she had expected with me there.  And I can't blame them for being a little talkative after their long days...
Alex explained to me that most of her students attend normal public school during the day, and then after school many of them attend private lessons until 8 or 9 PM every night.  This is to "fill in" (so to speak) where the public schools lack.  So by 8 PM these poor kids had already been sitting in classes for about 12 hours.  I would be antsy and hungry if I were them too....oh wait....I was antsy and hungry, and I hadn't been in school since 8 AM.
To fill my own void (hunger), we met up with Alex's dad and adorable younger sister, Denae for more delicious Greek food.  At Tony's friend's new taverna we were treated like royalty with caeser salad, new dishes the chef wanted Tony to try, tiramisu, and saganaki (my favorite...fried CHEESE).  Really?  Fried cheese....pinch me.

Saganaki

Tony & Denae at dinner



As my carbs, fats and proteins settled in I passed out for a good, restful night and woke up just in time to grab lunch at Fasoli's (again), pedicures with Alex (okay...I swear I really deserved this one), and a bit of shopping before we headed out to experience real Greek nightlife.  Can I just mention that Greek men are really attractive?  There...I said it.  I'll leave it at that.


We strolled into the house at 5 AM and crept up the apartment building stairs since Alex's grandmother lives next door and always does her "Greek grandmother" thing and makes sure to mention to Alex she knows all. 
Matter of fact, Alex couldn't get away with much even if she wanted to because on the second floor of the building there are 4 apartments, all of which are owned by Alex's family - her grandmother, aunt, father, and one that they rent out.
It got me thinking about how convenient it must be to send the kids to grandma's house, or to eat grandma's leftover soup (yes...we had some of that at 5 AM), or just to have some family support.  And it got me thinking about just how blessed my own childhood was.  
I may not have lived next door to my blood relatives, but my neighbors were still my family.  The boy next door was (and still is) my best friend, the neighborhood kids frequented each other's houses for afternoon snacks, and our moms even had a "babysitting coop" with these cute green coupons with teddy bears stamped on them.  We had annual neighborhood picnics, and spent every 4th of July together.  We sang Christmas carols every winter and all the kids took turn ringing the bells.
Okay...so it might sound a little too much like Pleasantville, but I am thankful for it.  I can only hope that someday when I raise a family I'll have a similarly tight knit community.  Because it really does take a village...
Today my question for you is...how do you create community?  Where do you want to live?  Where do you want to raise a family?  Do you know your neighbors?  If you don't...reach out.  Make a simple gesture to introduce yourself.  You never know what type of a village you might build and create for yourself and for others.

Potato Soup with Minced Meat (from Greece)

Compliments of Chef in Love



Ingredients
2.5 liters water
1 lb. of minced lamb
1 chili - chopped
2 lbs. of potatoes
1 big white onion - chopped
2 cloves of garlic - finely chopped
25 ml of white vinegar
2 lemons

Directions
Add the water and minced lamb together in a large pot and let it boil.  To crumble the meat, smash it with a whisk.  Add chili to the soup.  Remove the meat from the soup by straining.  Add potatoes to the water and let boil.

Cook potatoes thoroughly and then add onion, garlic and vinegar.  Use a blender to mash the potatoes together with those ingredients.  Return the meat to the soup.

Add salt and pepper and the juice of the lemons.

Serve in small bowls and drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the top of each bowl.  Enjoy!

Kagiana (from Greece)

Compliments of Chef in Love



Ingredients
Garlic - finely chopped
Onion - finely chopped
Fresh rosemary - chopped
Olive oil
Confit (smoked, cured pork) - cubed
Tomatoes - cubed
Eggs
Sat & pepper
Feta cheese
Fresh parsley

Directons
In a large pan, sautee onions, garlic, and rosemary in olive oil.  Add confit to warm it and then add tomatoes.  Add eggs (not beaten) and mix them with a ladle until they are cooked softly.

Serve Kagiana on a platter.  Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt & pepper.  Garnish with feta cheese and fresh parsley.  This is a very traditional Greek dish - so serve up warm and enjoy!

Saganaki (from Greece)



Okay so this isn't from the same recipe because I don't have a picture but it IS fried cheese. :)

Directions - so simple!

Wrap feta cheese in filo dough and fry.  Then drizzle with honey, and sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top.

...told you it was easy.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lost in Translation

(Written on 3/30/2011 from Athens, Greece)

I stared at the massive demonstration on the street wondering what the occasion was in Athens for the police forces walking around with their shield thingies up.  I asked one of the tour guides for the Red Bus (yes, I go on those tours sometimes.  And yes, I like them most of the time) what the hubbub was all about.

Red Bus Tour!  I was the only one on top...

He explained to me that in Athens there are usually one or two demonstrations per week.  And sometimes one riot per month.  So there are always police walking around the streets…but usually, he says, they’re just going to get coffee.  And if they’re walking really fast or running….then they’re just going to get very good coffee.  J


As I watched from a distance I noticed a street vendor with some sesame seed bread/doughnut thing and stroll over.  Clearly he didn’t speak English (or chose not to speak English with me) and just shoved the roll at me when I paid.  I put my doughnut back on the pile to take a picture and he picked it back up and shoved it towards me as if he had no time to wait.  We played a childish game like “this is my side vs. your side.”  And to my disappointment (after ceding my position), when I bit into the doughnut it was as hard as a rock from sitting out all day.

One thing I’ve noticed about Greece so far is it seems like if you’re nice…you’re nice.  And if you’re mean…you’re mean.  If you want to be rude…you be rude.  And that’s just the way it is.  You don’t try and fake how you’re feeling or put on a show just for social norms.
So after facing somebody stubborn and (by American standards) rude, I trotted off to find a restaurant.  As I wound down streets getting lost between jewelry shops and scooters whizzing by, a little cafĂ© caught my eye and I waltzed over to the patio to check out the menu.  No English on the menu...only Greek.  Menu at Fasoli 1, Annie 0.
I grabbed a seat and asked the waiter for the best thing on the menu.  Although he tried to convince me it would be enough food, I also order a Greek salad to be certain.  Apparently that was my idea of a ‘light’ lunch.  Well at least I had a light Coke, right?  When my salad came out and then the baby pork chops milfeig I glanced over at two women across from me splitting a salad between them.  That must be a normal human portion in Greece.  If so, I prefer my mounds of food be characterized as a “super human portion.”


Everything with "chips"

It seems like when dining Americans seek quantity.  Foreigners seek quality.  So clearly it would make sense that me, as an American travelling, would seek both quantity and quality.  After I plowed through lunch, the waiter came over and set down a small (a few ounces) carafe looking glass bottle and a shot glass.  He said, “Now that you’ve eaten Greek food, you will drink like a Greek too.”
The drink was mastic – made from the sap of a tree.  And I sipped on the sweet, strong liquor for a bit before continuing to lose myself in the streets of Athens.

Sometimes my favorite thing to do is roam without a plan.  You can discover things that are totally unexpected.  One time my cousin told me that she and her friends used to right out a plan on paper like...

"Take the first right, take a left at the next stop light, take a left after the 3rd gas station, etc. ....and then STOP.  Go into the first store, restaurant, movie theater, whatever it is that you see."

I loved that idea!  So my suggestion for you today is to make a plan to get lost and see what you find!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I'm All Alone

(Written on 3/29/2011 from Athens, Greece)
Today was the first day I’ve ever been met with disdain because of my nationality.  In all the places in the world I’ve been with different races, ethnicities, religions and beliefs, the first place somebody validated my feelings of “I should be ashamed because I’m American” was on my flight to Athens. 
After trying to make friends with an older Greek lady sitting next to me on the plane, she jumped at the opportunity to scold me for America's interference in Libya.  Although I know a bit about what's going on, it's been difficult to keep up...especially since I don't understand the news in Arabic. :)  Since I had little room to neither defend the U.S. position nor agree with her position, I let the comments pass.  In the end she came around and made sure to point out which items on my meal plate were worth eating (honey & yogurt were her recommendations).
It was an educational experience for me though...to meet somebody who would openly admit that they're not a fan of America.  I felt like her perception of America was much like the "annoying little sibling"... a country that doesn't understand the impact and importance of its actions.  At the same time, it made me think a lot about how much media influences our perceptions of other countries and cultures.  There's much more below the surface but I will revisit at a later date because I'm just too excited about the rest of my first day in Greece...

As I sat overlooking the Acropolis at a table adorned with a white table cloth and more silverware than I knew what to do with, I couldn’t help but chuckle as the waiter brought me a glass of ‘special’ wine, not on the menu.  I must have looked like a food critic since I was alone and writing feverishly in a notebook.  I can't think of any other reason for the "above and beyond" treatment I received at a posh restaurant, especially since most people in the restaurant looked like they came from a wedding (or a funeral) and I was dressed as if I showered and threw on the first thing I could find.  This is, however, true.  And I’m quite proud that I even managed the shower part.
Eating alone is a magical thing – and one that I’m still getting used to.  As a “relationship mammal” who is constantly craving conversation, attention, connection, confirmation (and many other –tion ending words) sitting alone over a meal doesn’t come naturally to me.  Thankfully, my internal dialogue keeps me pretty entertained and I don't dwell on the empty chair opposite me.  Side note: there isn’t actually a chair across from me.  Apparently this was the table “made for one.”
Although I feed off of other people and interaction, it’s sometimes nice to have a moment to myself.  To watch others converse, smile, love, eat.  I can’t understand a lick of Greek – but I can understand the expressions on every face in this packed, fancy, stylish restaurant.  Playing witness to the 20 conversations going on around me I have this feeling of warmth and connection even without anybody to speak to (and let’s face it…we all know I can taaaaalk.)
My starter was a Greek caviar dish with lemon...tasty but a little too rich for me.  It was followed by a Greek traditional Moussaka - it's like a casserole with eggplant, meat and cheese on top that is thrown in the oven for just enough time to make it a nice golden brown crispy delight!

Greek caviar - why two piles?  Not sure.

Moussaka

I feel like eating carbs should be a way of life…like a religion.  I mean, Dr. Atkins had it all wrong when he tried to strike carbs from the diet.  What a woeful way to go!  Don’t get me wrong...I’ve been experiencing my own weight gain but in a lack of concern for impressing others, I’m blissfully taking on the extra pounds.  As Sarra from Tunisia said, it’s a sign of being well taken care of. 
I look around and think that if I were young, rich and Greek this would be the kind of place I would come for celebrations – birthdays (on Dad’s dime), anniversaries, graduations, etc.  And yet here I am...young (at least I would say so), not rich (we always want more, right?), and not Greek (obviously) but enjoying a night alone with some great Greek food and conversation (eavesdropping) on my first night in Athens.
Thought for you today...I encourage you to go out for a meal by yourself, especially if you've never done it before.  Instead of being uncomfortable because of what others might think, just ask yourself if you really care when others are eating by themselves?  No.  You're occupied with your food, the person you're talking to, or the conversations around you.  Take a book, a notebook or nothing at all (and especially not your cell phone)...have a moment alone with your thoughts, or write and reflect about your day, or just revel in the joy of others around you.  Let me know how it goes. ;)
And after 3 breadsticks, 3 dinner rolls, my starter, entree, a glass of Greek wine, and a cappuccino later (darn you, Katie) I’m happy as a bee in a honey pot.
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