Archive | February, 2010

Prada, Louis, and Gucci…Oh My!

19 Feb

Toto (or for these purposes, Totomopoulous), I don’t think we’re in Greece anymore.  Or, should I say, Non credo che siamo in Grecia più?  (To all you naysayers who wondered why I would bother to waste my years in college learning a language as useless as Italian, I have just proved how handy it is.  And next time I dine at an Italian restaurant with you, I’m telling you the monkey testicles are a delicious pasta and pizza sampler.  Useless my ass.)

Italy is the Oz to my Greece.  While I have slowly come to call Athens my new home, Italy has always had a soft spot in my heart, and while I only spent 4 months there previously, going back is like an odd homecoming.  After struggling for so long to read this foreign alphabet known as Greek and learn the most basic of greetings, one cannot begin to imagine the comfort of understanding a people and their language, knowing the customs and the cuisine, and having the opportunity to converse with the locals, the waiters, and the museum staff in a language I actually recognize.  So, in a sense, I guess when you think about it, Greece is actually the Oz to my Italy (Italy being my Kansas).  I don’t want to pretend that I spoke with the greatest of ease to everyone I encountered throughout the short weekend I spent in Milan.  In reality, I probably spoke all of two sentences in Italian, and instead spent most of the time shy and embarrassed and unenthusiastically resorting to English despite my best intentions.  Nonetheless, I could understand what people were saying, read the street signs and menus, and get an overall sense of what was going on around me without having to ask, “Parli Inglese?”

Flower threaded into doors of the Duomo

After a delightful 5 hours roving the Athens airport, we finally arrived in Milan 5 hours late and ready to call it a night.  We managed to decipher the public transportation system and get ourselves to the hotel without any mishaps, but unfortunately by the time we settled in at the early hour of 11:15pm, all the restaurants and cafes in our neck of the woods were already closed, and we were forced to stifle our roaring stomachs not with gnocchi and pizza margherita, but instead with smashed muffins from the Athens College canteen.  We cut our losses, took showers, and tucked ourselves into bed to prepare for the next day.  Why cry over flight delays?

One of the highlights of the trip was just a mere 10-second elevator ride away: hotel breakfast.  I had read the reviews online about this breakfast, but could not have been fully prepared for what I saw (and ate).  A bread station, a cereal station, a yogurt and toppings station, a pastry/muffin/cake station, a juice station, a coffee station, a tea station equipped with dozens upon dozens of flavors, a meat and cheese station (prosciutto anyone?  No?  Lox perhaps?), a gluten-free station (no, I am not joking), and the hot breakfast area, complete with pancakes, croissants, bacon, sausage, potatoes, eggs, veggies, and anything else your tired little tummy could dream of.  It was unbelievable.  I don’t want to spend this entire blog raving about a hotel breakfast, but suffice it to say, if breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day, then this hotel knows what’s up.

Leonardo da Vinci himself

As we only had one full day to explore Milan, we made sure to fill it to the brim.  Beginning at 9:30am, we booked an English tour for the Cenacolo Vinciano, better known as The Last Supper.  Seeing this da Vinci work is an absolute must, and I can attest that it is absolutely worth it and deserving of the hype.  Allowed in for only 15 minutes, and accompanied by only 15-20 other patrons at a time, The Last Supper is the ultimate in exclusive dining.  When Jesus is on the guest list, you better book your table well in advance.  Having a reserved tour is best in order to get the most out of your visit, however even if you zone out from time to time, just marveling at the great work is a fantastic way to spend the allotted time.  Though I will say, half the fun is just watching the tour guide try to fit a hefty analysis of such a weighted work into 15 short minutes, before the announcer demands that everyone evacuate the room.  The tour guide then quickly wraps up whatever important biblical fact she was mentioning and shoos everyone out of the room like we were trespassing and in danger of being caught.  One unfortunate characteristic of the Cenacolo Vinciano?  There is a stunning fresco on the wall opposite The Last Supper, yet for the past who knows how many years, nobody ever seems to notice its existence.  My condolences go out to that poor artist who happened to choose that particular wall to display his masterpiece.

Duomo in Milan

After breaking bread with Jesus and the gang, we made our way over to the Duomo. The church was massive and beautiful on the inside, with different stained glass, sculptures, paintings, and alters at every turn.  Unfortunately for us, the cold weather forced the Duomo to close off all routes for climbing to the top due to ice, and so the grand view, which supposedly extends to Switzerland on a clear day, was left unseen by our eyes.

We then wandered over to the Teatro della Scala, the famous opera house, and then over to the Castello Sforzesco, stopping for lunch along the way.  Dating back to the 14th century, this castle was turned into a residence in 1450 by Francesco Sforza, and is now home to a great many collections that collectively make up one hell of a museum.  The grounds themselves are worth a visit, but the museum only adds to the grandeur of such a place.  We then returned to the opera house to peruse the opera museum and then head around the corner in time to receive vouchers for the symphony that night.  A confusing process to say the least, the opera house gives out vouchers 3 hours prior to every performance, and then 2 hours prior you must return to the box office, wait for your number to be called, and then collect your 5 euro tickets.  For such a noteworthy discount, I’ll take the confusion, but if I had my way, I would eagerly organize that system in a much more efficient manner.  But too worn out to single-handedly overturn opera house politics, we took the hour break to rest our feet and enjoy a hot chocolate (which more accurately resembled hot thick pudding…de-lish) at a nearby café.

Castello Sforzesco

We were lucky the performance was a symphony and not an opera or ballet, because our seats were absolutely terrible.  While we could not see the stage in the slightest bit, we did get a spectacular view of the opera house itself, which made the experience satisfying.  After such a long and exhausting day, Claire dosed off, I struggled not to as I attempted and failed to maintain control over my tiny seat that was slowly being usurped by the fat Italian woman next to me (the teatro should implement those new airline rules), and we both took in a bit of high brow culture before heading out to dinner in Navigli, a trendy little part of town stretching along the canal.

Our 3 or 4 hour-long dinner was the perfect way to end the day.  We shared a delicious four-course meal, great conversation, and a wonderful bottle of red wine, laughing and recalling the day until the lights went out on us and we officially closed down the restaurant.  Taking that as a sign it was time to go home, we found our way back to the metro and said buona notte to Milan.

Teatro della Scala, interior

One last thing I hope I never forget about Milan?  We shopped around Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton as if we actually belonged, mingling with the salespeople and acting interested in the useless, overpriced goods they tried to sell us (honestly, who needs a 200 euro key holder?).  While Milan is, in my opinion, no Florence or Rome, it does have one thing that can’t be rivaled by any other city in Italy.  Upon walking down to the bottom floor of the flagship Prada store, there is a large painting spanning the walkway.  To your right is a group of well-dressed, fashionable members of the upper class, dressed to impress and saying their farewells as they prepare to board a magnificent ocean liner.  It’s a wonderful scene, really.  And then you turn to your left.  You see the beautiful ship in all its glory, the passengers ready to board, and then all of their luggage…being carried and pushed and lugged (for lack of a better word) by an all-black staff of servants.  Really?  Really?  I have no comment other than: yes, this is 2010.  Please discuss as you wish.


Meatheads: Not Only at the Jersey Shore

5 Feb

Athens is covered in smoke. No, fires aren’t raging in the forests like they did this summer. After all, when I arrived in Greece at the end of August, I couldn’t see smoke while wandering the streets or relaxing on campus. But this smoke, the smoke that’s blanketing this city in gray, is everywhere. And it smells. Not cigarette smoke. Not car exhaust smoke. Not oh-shit-I-left-my-straightener-on-all-afternoon smoke. Instead, it’s a delectable aroma of smoke you can taste with every whiff. Meat smoke. Yep, that’s right. Meat. Look’s like it’s Smoky Thursday here in Greece!

Smoky Thursday, or Tsiknopempti in Greek, marks the final day before Lent and the time of fasting. During this period in Greece, those who observe Lent can eat no meat, and according to what I’ve been told, the more strict observers fast for the duration of the time. I’ve heard that this more commonly translates into something resembling Vegan-ism, but don’t quote me on that. However people choose to respect this holy period, Smoky Thursday is an evening of costumes, partying, and meat. Lots of meat. Every taverna and restaurant smokes meat all day, and families not dining out smoke meat in their own houses (basically what we’d call a BBQ). The air is physically filled with this smoke, and no matter where you are, I promise you cannot escape the haze or the smell. I unintentionally left my window open in my bedroom today, and looks like I’ll now be sleeping in a makeshift BBQ shack tonight.

A colleague of ours informed us about Smoky Thursday earlier today, and advised us to eat in town and soak in this meaty tradition. Never ones to turn down an insider’s tip, we headed down to Monistiraki this evening in search of the perfect taverna for our carnivorous feast. And boy did we find it. We took advantage of the beautiful chilled night to wander the dizzying streets and breathe in the breathtaking views of the lit-up Ancient Agora and Acropolis, and happened to come upon a cozy little outdoor restaurant, enclosed by a tent and warmed with heat lamps, in the heart of Monastiraki. Not only was the place cute and quaint with a large menu, but it had live music, complete with patrons clapping to the beat. Doesn’t get more Greek than that, eh? From the stuffed tomatoes and peppers to the saganaki (fried cheese) to the tzatziki to the potatoes to the complimentary halva to the featured guest of the evening, Chicken Souvlaki, we left more than satisfied and a little intoxicated on smoke.

As we made our way back to the metro station, we spotted locals decked in costume ready to embark on tonight’s festivities. After a 3-course meal and bloated bellies, we were ready to call it a night, but for the Greeks, the night is just beginning. I would have liked to partake in the night’s fun, but school tomorrow and a flight to Milan in the afternoon equate to an earlier bedtime for this blogger. While the rest of the city is running amok and chowing down on heathenish amounts of flesh, I’ll be nestled in my bed tucked in by the aroma of meat. Looks like I’ll be dreaming of ribs tonight.

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