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dfr4848 Dec 16th, 2008 09:32 AM

Greece: Athens, Santorini, Nafplio, Mycenae, etc. ............... Where DO they get those tomatoes?, what do you mean the green walk light doesn't mean to walk, queues don't mean queues, how do they make that chocolate cake, the Greek riots
First, thanks to everyone who responded to my pre-travel posts and to those who have posted detailed trip reports - they were all very helpful in planning our trip.

As some of you may recall, our daughter is studying in Athens this fall (double major in Biology and Greek). Her only break was Nov 26 - Dec 1, so that's when we scheduled our trip. We left on Nov 23 and returned Dec 9.

Will have to do this in segments - still trying to catch up with work. I took 680+ photos and DW took over 900, so hopefully I'll get those organized and post some (you couldn't stand to look at all of them) later.

Going in the offseason, our expectations were tempered. Spent much more time in Athens than might be the usual case, but obviously wanted to visit daughter and see Athens from a different perspective. Being accused of having OCD, I had made the usual list of "must sees" with an appropriate schedule, but ended up being much more flexible depending on whims, weather, etc.

Expected less than ideal weather - even inclement. But guess we really lucked out. We thought the weather was wonderful. Out of the 15 days in Greece, we had sunny or partly cloudy skies and temps in the mid to high 60sF for 13.5 days. We had several days when no jackets needed. Only had 1.5 days of cloudy weather with some rain, and still had moderate temps. We really had no complaints.

Also, we were asked to bring 2 extra bags to help bring some things home for daughter (her semester ends on Dec 19). So we didn't travel as light as normal. [More on how much of Greece we brought back later].

Nov 23:

OK, we leave IAH on time at 16:30 on LH 440 to FRA on a B747-400. First class upstairs (just as well - we didn't have to see it). Main deck divided into 2 Business cabins forward; 2 economy cabins mid and aft, where DW and I settle. Economy about 90% full, but 2nd Business cabin totally empty (wondered if it reflected current economic situation).

Shortly after takeoff, served drinks - all free - along with snack. Then, hot toilettes (albeit heavy paper ones, but still nice touch) before dinner. Dinner choice of chicken or pasta. Chicken actually quite good with potatoes, steamed veggies, roll and German chocolate cake. Beverage of choice (wine quite decent).

After dinner drinks served - choice of brandy or Baileys.

Decided to read and try to sleep - movies not very interesting. Music good with 29 channels.

Mid-flight got some oranges and German chocolate bars, plenty of water and juice.

Kept juice, water, soda (and even wine) for self-help in galley through the flight.

Nov 24:

About 1.5 hrs before landing, another round of hot toilettes then breakfast. Omlette with spinach (interesting combination), sausage, roll, juice and coffee.

No complaints about LH - we've flown them 3 of the last 4 yrs and have always found very attentive and friendly crew, decent and plentiful food, and good service.

Very smooth flight, except for some turbulence over Ireland. Land at FRA on time at 9:05.

Then our usual LONG walk, and wait, to connecting flight to ATH, leaving at 13:05. While FRA isn't out favorite airport, it's not the worst and signage good so no problems.

Leave on time on LH 3382 on A321. Configuration on this flight was extremely cramped. I'm only 5'10" and knees hit the seatback in front of me. Haven't experienced this before or since. Served hot, decent meal and arrived ATH on time at 17:05.

We had arranged to meet daughter at airport. She and a roomate had spent the weekend in Warsaw visiting a friend who is now teaching English there (to kindergartners!) and they had arrived a hour earlier.

After 3 months it's great to see her. She looks wonderful and Greece clearly agrees with her. We collect the bags and put her in charge of the 2 extra we brought for her. Get a book of tickets for the metro at .80E each and are reminded to validate tickets. [One of her classmates learned the hard way that not doing so is a fine of 60 times the fare - pretty hard lesson for college students on a budget, but that's the consequences] Take metro into Central Athens. 30+ min. ride.

Athens metro is amazing. Built for the 2004 Olympics, it's quiet, fast and extremely clean. We change at Syntagma for short ride to Akropoli stop for our hotel. Those 2 metro stations are beautiful - don't know how else to describe them. Spotless and loaded with displays behind glass of various antiquities, murals, frescos, etc (were told they're reproductions; makes sense, but very well done and displayed).

Exit Akropoli station and hotel is less than 5 min walk [even with 6 bags it's easy!]. Stayed at the Athens Gate Hotel, which is across the street from Temple of Olpmpic Zeus. Hotel was totally renovated in 07. It's rated 4* and probably deserves it. Very modern, but not too much so. Rooms on the small side, but very nice. Well appointed bathroom. We were on the front overlooking the Temple with a small balcony. Stunning view, but word of warning: if you're a light sleeper, rooms on the back side would be better. Despite their efforts at soundproofing, street side is very busy and we definitely heard the noise. DW had gotten a rate of E125 per night including full buffet breakfast (which costs E15 separately). We thought that was a good deal. The staff was top notch; couldn't have been more helpful or responsive. We'd certainly recommend the hotel.

After a long day, we decide to eat at hotel's 8th floor rooftop garden bar/restaurant. Menu looks pretty reasonable so the four of us go up. As we walk into the restaurant (which is on the back side) we're absolutely blown away by the view of the Parthenon. It's a clear, cool night. We have a south view, which has no scafolding or cranes. It's lit in all its glory and we're so close you feel you can almost touch. I'm mesmerized the rest of the meal.

Many of you, and daughter, had warned us about the size of the Greek salads. All true, they're easily enough for 2 people. And where DO they get those tomatoes??? They were absolutely delicious and proved to be the case everywhere we went. Hadn't had any that good since last summer.

We have 2 Greek salads, 2 pastas - Greek syle (some tomatoes, olives, peppers and olive oil), I have giant prawns with risotto cooked in lobster bisque (excellent), and chocolate souffle for desert. [No, this isn't the chocolate I was referring to in my title]. Daughter orders the wine. Local and very good. (This is just the first instance we encounter over the next couple of weeks in which it's clear daughter knows a WHOLE lot more about Greek wine than we thought). Everything was very good. Total for the four of us - E72.

Daughter and roommate head back to apartment in Pangrati, and we crash.

Tomorrow we tackle Athens.

ParisAmsterdam Dec 16th, 2008 09:46 AM

Looking forward to part 2!

dfr4848 Dec 16th, 2008 10:12 AM

Nov 25

Dangit. Just like home, I wake up before dawn. DW still sleeping. Restaurant doesn't open for breakfast until 6:45 so I read, look over things to possibly do today. Finally head up to breakfast. Relieved to see the Parthenon still there - was afraid I had been dreaming. It's stunning in the mornign light.

Buffet is expansive and consists of breads, tomatoes, cumcumbers, fruits, Greek yogurt and that wonderful thick honey, juice, 3 kinds of cereal, bacon, sausage, potatoes and scrambled and soft fried eggs.

DW joins me shortly, then we head off until mid afternoon when we're to meet daughter after classes.

Explore Temple of Zeus and Handrian's Arch. Did not know that the Temple is considerably larger than the Parthenon. It's a beautiful sunny day so we take our time and visit all the ruins on site.

We then walk over to the National Gardens. What a wonderful setting in the middle of Athens. Pass a group of elderly men on benches and tables obviously engaged in a lively discussion of some kind. We also start to encounter the dogs - dozens. Many have collars, so I'm thinking why they're allowed to roam free by their owners (I learn otherwise later).

Then we wander over to Plaka and take in the sites and sounds of an interesting area, touristy though it is. Made a mental note of some places to return (which we ended up doing several times; I always get nervous when shop owners begin to recognize you) Can't help but notice the smooth marble streets. It's easy to understand why daughter told us bring not just comfortable shoes, but shoes that had some traction. We were struck by the fact that the stores in Plaka seemed to be at extremes: very nice and expensive, or typical tourist things. Didn't seem to be a lot in the middle.

Late afternoon we meet daughter near her school. Had drinks and snack then DW and I wander the area until she gets out of class at 20:30. Head to Mikri Vouli ("Little Parliament") for dinner in a square across from the school. Had several appetizers including fried cheese, ntezpos (sp?)which are chopped tomatoes and feta with herbs and olive oil on toasted wheat bread - delicious! Main courses of grilled and fried prawns with "french fries". And yep, daughter ordered the wine again! Total was E30.

Daughter clearly loves Athens (and Greece). We talk about her and our impressions, her classes on ancient and contemporary Greek culture and history, archaeology, modern Greek versus ancient Greek, etc. [We conclude she's actually been going to classes!]

We go our separate ways as tomorrow we're scheduled to fly to Santorini.
At 10 pm daughter calls us to tell us Aegean Airlines called to say our 13:30 flight has been postponed to 15:00 due to potential strike at airport. Great. At least they called.

dfr4848 Dec 16th, 2008 11:13 AM

Nov 26

Today starts daughter's winter break so we met her after breakfast. Beautiful sunny day. With our flight to Santorini now delayed, daughter decides to show us around. So we head off to -
Tower of the Winds
Roman Agora
Presidential Palace
Hadrian's Library
Syntagma & Parliament
Fethiye Mosque

Daughter's "Archeological Sites of Athens" class didn't meet at the school. They met each day at the site itself with a different one each day. Apparently her professor was amazing - talked for hours without any notes. She took volumes of notes and brought them with her this day. So it was like having a personal guide. It was fascinating. I took 2 yrs of Latin in high school and 2 yrs of Italian in college and have been to Italy several times, so this was particularly interesting to me and daughter had lots of answers to questions.

Before our arrival, daughter had been to several other sites and cities in Greece, so she knew her way to/from and around the airport well. So we figure if we leave for airport about 12:30 we should be OK. We're about to find out that some things just aren't predicable in Greece.

We get to Syntagma and discover that, at least today, the line to the airport isn't running every 10 min - it's every 30. Should be fine. We get to the airport at 14:00 and the checkin line for Aegean looks someone has ordered an evacuation of Athens. It moves exceedingly slow.

We start looking at the clock and daughter is beside herself since she's never encountered such crowds before. We finally get to the counter. We have to check 2 bags (don't ask why, we just do). Get passes and it's 14:35. Agent tells us we need to get to the gate. Uh, we figured that one out.

Run to security and the rest of the Greek population is there as well. Daughter can't believe it - it's never been this way. They make an announcement, in Greek of course. Daughter says start cutting and move to the front of the line. It's now 14:45. She recognizes the look on my face and explains: they announced if you're on the flight to Rome, you are to proceed to the front of the line. She says to pretend we're going to Rome or we'll never make our flight (and Aegean has only 1 flight a day during winter to Santorini). I start speaking phrases in Italian (have no idea why I thought that was necessary, but did it anyway) and we make the very last bus carrying passengers to the plane on the tarmac.

Not the excitement we were expected but we're on the plane. Flight was all of 30 min, but really nice. FAs still managed to hand out drinks, snacks (including chocolate filled croissants), candy and toilettes.

We had arranged with hotel for cab pick up to hotel in Oia. 30 min later we pull up to Alexander's Boutique Hotel. WOW - what a view of the town and caldera. Manager (Alisi) greets us and leads us to room. Daughter had arranged the hotel and had negotiated the Imperial Suite - 2 BDs, 1 BA, living area, dining area, full kitchen and large terrace with hot tub, lounge chairs and table with 4 chairs. Cost, including breakfast, was E140/night. Obviously we got a deal because it was off season.
We walked onto the terrace and Alisi had left a bottle of local white wine and glasses on the table (daughter had been to the vineyard). We sat down, poured the wine, took in the view and decided we just found heaven.

It was getting near sunset so we stayed, had the wine and decided that some of the sunset views of Oia you see on posters must have been taken from that terrace. It was a gorgeous evening (cool but not uncomfortable) and we've never seen a sight quite like it.

We came back to reality and decided it was time for dinner. [Am beginning to realize my body clock for meals is going to have a real adjustment in Greece] Found a little taverna down the street named Alkina. Had grilled chicken, souflaki, mousaka, Greek salad, and wine. Total was E40.

Tomorrow - boat trip to the caldera.

dfr4848 Dec 16th, 2008 12:24 PM

Nov 27

Thanksgiving Day in US but no turkey in Santorini.

Got up early - again. Sunrise beautiful with clear skies. Turns out to be a short-sleeve day. Fortunately, we had thought of getting some good coffee at a bakery in Athens before we left, so I made that and sat on the terrace and read before everyone else got up.

Alisi and assistance brought breakfast which every day consisted of fresh fruit, Greek yogurt with that wonderful honey, coffee/tea, breads, some meats and cheese and eggs. Served on white tablecloth on the terrace. Very good.

We have attracted two new friends - a dog and cat, who soon become Oscar and Ouzo. Very friendly. Daughter explains the homeless population of dogs in Greece is huge. The tags aren't put on by owners, but by the government. The government won't neuter them for religious reasons (apparently pro-life extends to animals the same as humans). But they do vaccinate them and put the tags and collars on. Interesting.

Alisi calls to tell us the boat trip has been cancelled. My guess - not enough people. She also says Alex the owner will take us to dinner that evening.

We spend the morning walking the pedestrian path around Oia. As expected, very few people and few shops open. I have a fascination with taking photos of interesting doors and windows - no lack of subjects here. Seems like the beautiful views just don't stop.

Run into a train of donkeys carrying building supplies to a house being remodeled. Some roads too narrow for even the small trucks.

For lunch, found a bakery near the bus station and get sausage, cheese and ham pies in filo dough + drinks and eat on the terrace. E11 total.

Really surprised to learn that one of daughter's roommates and BF have come to Santorini and are staying literally in the room below ours.

Dinner time and at 20:00 Alex picks all 5 of us up. Head into Firostefani to eat at Taverna Simos. Alex orders the appetizers and we each pick main course. He orders local red and white wine.
Plates brought out with white fava bean spread, fried tomatoe balls, grilled eggplant, spicy peppers, spicy feta dip, hummus with garlic and excellent fresh bread. Main courses of whole squid (daughter's choice!!!), roast pork in white wine sauce (amazing), mixed grill with carrots, brussel sprouts and potatoes, beef steak, and what was called pork steak (which I called a pork chop). Very, very good. Came to E23/person (which we each paid for).

Interesting conversation with Alex. He added immeasurably to the experience. A few of the things we learned:
- not surprisingly, most of the water comes from desalinazation plant
- very very strict building codes in Oia: color and materials strictly regulated. No metal on exterior doors, railings, trim etc. Has to be wood.
- on the cliffside, can't build on a "new" empty plot; have to "restore" existing structure
- his family are jewelers first [second occupation OK, but have to be master jeweler first]. His mother is Greek and father is American. He has 15 jewelry stores in the US and spends the winters at his store in Aspen, CO known as Rose Impressions. The other stores are known as ORO.
- he keeps 6 of the 17 rooms at the hotel open in winter.

Wonderful dinner and company.

Tomorrow - rent car and explore Santorini.

TDudette Dec 16th, 2008 12:30 PM

Can't wait to read more and see photos.

hetismij Dec 16th, 2008 12:42 PM

This has to win the post with the longest title award :).
I'll keep reading though.

hazel1 Dec 16th, 2008 01:15 PM

The length of this post's title is absolutely ridiculous. What in the world were you thinking? And what the heck are "crazzies'?

Nikki Dec 16th, 2008 02:37 PM

Enjoying the trip report, loved the title.

I really liked Athens and would like to get back there.

Rhea58 Dec 17th, 2008 01:13 AM

I'm totally agreeing w/Nikki's comment. Have only been twice.

Isn't it grand your daughter, the budding oenophile, is showing you the sights???

dfr4848 Dec 17th, 2008 05:04 AM

hazel - sorry if the title offends you. I meant no offense. You don't have to read the report. "Crazzies" refers to the fact we have sometimes visited places around the world in the offseason. Sometimes we've been told we're "crazy" for doing so. But we have our reasons and have enjoyed every trip - and especially this trip to Greece.

Thanks to TDudette, hetismij, Nikki, and Rhea58.

Hope it's helpful.

Nov 28

The morning dawns bright and clear. The early sun on the stark whitewashed houses and blue-tiled roofs is soft and almost sensual. Truly a sight to enjoy.

Breakfast is served on the terrace. Good as usual.

Alisi tells us the bus service in offseason is very erratic so we decide to rent a car. She and her staff are extremely helpful. We can't say enough good things about them - unusually accommodating.

Car is delivered outside. Agent points out it's on empty and says to stop at nearest station and put "10 units in" [assume he means litres]. He says that will be enough to explore island all day - which it does.

We drove to Akrotiri. It was closed and from the appearance of the signs and condition of the gates, it's been closed for some time. Same was true with Ancient Thira.

We head into Fira. Most shops are open, so we explore and find some beautiful Greek glassware. They use an infusion method which produces stricking colors and patterns.

Eat lunch at El Greco Taverna. Have Greek Salad (what else with those wonderful tomatoes?), chicken souvlaki with rice and veggies, gyros with fries and veggies (great fries) and Mythos beer and cokes. Total is E29.

We follow signs back to Oia, but end up on the coast road rather than the main highway past Cape Kouloumbo. Turns out to be a nice relaxing drive. We pass a shipwright hand building a wooden boat plank by plank that appears to be about 40 ft long. Hull was about 2/3 finished. We stop and watch him - fascinating.

We arrive back at the hotel late afternoon and are told Alex will take us to dinner again at 20:00.

What happens next is the most disconcerting cultural clash we've encountered in a very long time. Alex picks us up and is obviously very upset. He says that a couple from S. Korea that have been staying at the hotel have complained about the Greek food (can't imagine, but we all have our preferences). They've told the staff they had a great meal last night in the apt and that they had cat!. The staff later that day confirmed it (the details of which I won't give) but it was one of the staff's favorite pets. We've always been very receptive to cultural differences which is why we like to travel so much, but this was a little much.

We end up going to Finika, which is a town next to Oia. Alex explains that decades ago, Finika was established by people who couldn't afford to live in Oia so it's much more low key than Oia.

Ate at Kriona Taverna. It was excellent. Assortment of mezedes: steamed field greens with lemon juice, fried cheese, beef sausage, Greek village sausage, Greek salad, mixed green salad and fava bean spread. Main dishes included pork steak, beef steak, lamb slow-cooked in ceramic pot with wine, beef tips braised in wine (to die for), local red and white wine and finally shots of ouzo. Very, very good. Came to E25/person.

Nov 29

Sunny but windy this am so we have breakfast inside. Get ready for flight back to Athens. Driver picks us up and we left on time on Aegean at 14:50. Got some pretty decent pictures of Santorini as we fly over. Bumpy flight due to front approaching Athens, but landed on time at 15:35. Clearly had been raining, but has stopped.

Check back into the Athens Gate. Tried to give bellhop E5 note for helping with bags but he said it was too much and before I could get out some coins, he had left. Dropped off bags and went to daughter's apt.

Decided to stop at market near her apt and picked up roasted chicken, eggplant, stuff for Greek salad. Prices were very reasonable and good local wines could be bought for around E5-6. We then stopped by bakery she frequents next door. This is where she leads us the the best chocolate cake we have EVER had - EVER. Simply amazing! It look like a plain chocolate pan cake - but the taste is anyting but. Everything in the shop looks wonderful. The staff recognize her the minute she walks in (and they give all a free cookie when we leave).

Talking on the way to the apt it's clear daughter and her roommates love this bakery. (We later conclude she's apparently been living on Greek Salads and the chocolate cake for the past 3 months)

[Over the next several days, we're struck by the number and quality of bakeries in Athens. We've been to some really fine shops in Paris, Vienna and Rome, but Greek bakeries don't take second place to those IMO].

Tomorrow - the sights of Athens on Sun.

kellyee21 Dec 17th, 2008 05:18 AM

Thanks for your report, I haven't been to Greece in almost 10 years, but I would love to go back. Is your daughter fluent in Greek ?

I was really getting into your descriptions about the food, until I read about the poor cat. That is horrible.

isabel Dec 17th, 2008 05:29 AM

Thanks for posting this report. Very informative. I'm planning a trip to the same places for next summer. One question - you mentioned your view of the parthenon from dinner that first night had no scaffolding or cranes. How much of it does have scaffolding? How much in general did you encounter. Not that there's anything I can do about it, but for some reason I prefer to be prepared - I hate getting to somewhere expecting a fabulous site and finding it covered in scaffolding, I'd rather know in advance.

dfr4848 Dec 17th, 2008 05:53 AM

Nov 30

Bright sunny day with promises of a little warmer temps.

Meet daughter and head for the flea market. What wonderful chaos. Classic tourist wares, but some interesting things like old Greek coins and stamps. Some stalls look as if someone decided to clean out their closets, but it's all very interesting.

Head over to Central Market, but it's pretty dead except for a few fruit and vegetable stands. Then head over to Omonioa Sq, which is definitely the melting pot for Athens. Great people watching.

Then over to the Nat Bank of Greece headquaters - very modern building but built on foundation of a 2,500 yr wall. Daughter then shows us a dig nearby in which old tombs have been unearther. She points out that you can tell these were Roman because of all the brick that's used in the vaults - Greeks didn't use brick; only the Romans.

Back through Plaka again and to the Panacia Gorgeopikoos, a 12th Century church known as the Little Cathedral. Very intricate carvings. It's next to Mitropoli Cathedral.

We notice an amazing feature of Athens - the preservation of old churches and chapels of different faiths to the point where you'll be in a modern square or street and smack dab in the middle is an ancient religious structure.

We have lunch at the Center for Hellenic Tradition: ham/cheese/tomato toasted sandwiches, Greek salad, and tzatziki (Greek yogurt with cumcumbers) - all quite good. Total with drinks is E11.50. The Center has some very fine examples of Greek arts and crafts, most of which are for sale. But we didn't see much that was under E100.

We then visit Agios Nikolaos Ragavos, an 11th Century Byzantine chapel and Lysikratous, a circular monument built in 334 BC and anmed after a winning team of actors.

We then head over to Stavros Melissinos' shop who's known as The Poet. He makes leather goods, including custom fitted sandals. (The owner strikes more as resembling Beethoven than a Greek poet). He's become well known for making sandals for the rich and famous (John Lennon, Jackie Onassis) as well as the sandals worn at the opening ceremony of the 04 Olympics (I'm seeing visions of euros floating in my head). This is the one thing daughter says she wants. So she get fitted and I ask the price - E25! Can't believe it. They're very simple but beautifully made.

We then head back past the Roman Agora and Tower of the Winds to daughter's apt. Dinner is left overs, some pasta - and that to-die-for chocolate cake.

After today, we confirm a few observations we made on our very first day in Athens:
- stop lights are for cars and buses; they're only suggestions for motorcycles
- that green walk light doesn't mean to walk: wait until the traffic clears, then run, avoid the motorcycles if you can and pray you get to the other side before the light changes. Otherwise you're likely to be Athens version of road kill.
- pedestrians NEVER have the right of way
- with all of the above, I've been trying to figure out how those dogs get across the street. Daughter explains that they've learned to wait on the corner and then go when the people do. Sure enough, that's what they do. Pretty amazing.

Tomorrow - finally, the Acropolis.

dfr4848 Dec 17th, 2008 06:00 AM

Kelley21 - thanks. Daughter is taking modern Greek but she's not fluent yet, but can carry on a basic conversation. However she can interpret all those incriptions on the monuments!

isabel - at least on our visit, the south side (which was the view from our hotel) had no cranes or scaffolding. The north side had quite a bit. Don't know how often this changes. We did notice that on Sun (at least the 2 that we were there) they lowered the cranes - so the pictures on those days from our hotel are really nice.

MarthaT Dec 17th, 2008 06:07 AM

Thanks for the report, brings back memories of my 2007 trip.
I was happily reading along until I got to the cat!! Oh My! I got upset just reading that.

dfr4848 Dec 17th, 2008 06:37 AM

I really debated about whether to mention the cat incident. But it was part of our experience and pointed out how different our cultural perpectives can be. So I decided to include, but apologize if it was too much.

Dec 1

Another sunny pleasant day and we ditch the jackets in the afternoon.

Daughter doesn't have classes on Mon so today is the Acropolis. As I mentioned earlier, our hotel is less than a 5 min walk to one of the entrances (very short distance from the Akropoli metro stop).

This is the 8th time she's been to the Acropolis so once again she's a great guide. Not crowded at all - maybe 100 people at the top. She gives us the details on
Temple of Athena Nike
Stoa of Eumanes
Theatre of Dionysos
Theatre of Herones Atticus

Words really don't justify the experience. Pretty overwhelming. The marble walkways shine in the sun with so much wear and it's really hard to grasp over 2,000 years of human activity on this very place. Wow is all I can say.

DW a little under the weather today so we don't push it.

We exit from the North Entrance and pass the Institute of Greek Language. Daughter's been here several times and says this is the center and repository for all Greek language and official interpretations. The brass plague on the front is well worn with people rubbing it for luck and knowledge.

We took a break from usual fare and went to daughter's favorite Thai restaurant in Plaka for lunch - the Noodle Bar. Had 3 huge plates of noodles with chicken, shrimp, scallions, ginger, peppers and cashews in Thai pepper sauce. Excellent. With drinks, total was E26.

We then walk to Parliament and wait for changing of the guard ceremony. DW particularly likes to see these whereever we are.

Walk past the numerous embassies and parks near Parliament.

For dinner, we treat daughter and 2 of her roommates to pizza and wine at Ciao's near their school. Total for 5 is E40.

Tomorrow - more of Athens and our personal disaster.

dfr4848 Dec 17th, 2008 07:24 AM

Dec 2

Wake up to mostly cloudy skies, but clears up in pm. Temps pleasant at high 60s. No jackets needed.

After breakfast at hotel, head off to Ancient Agora and Museum at Stoa at Attatus. The Museum is well worth it. Its exhibits are set in chronological order, so the various transition stages are unusually interesting. The Agora backs up to the metro (which is above ground at this location) and across from it are shops and stores which host the Flea Market. Can't help but notice the juxtaposition of 2,500 of Athens history within a span of 100 yards.

Walk by the Presidential Palace, around which there are lots of military today.

Walk through Pangrati on way to daughter's school on Varnava Sq. Got lunch from local bakery - freddo cappucino, mocha chino, cokes, spinach and cheese pastry, salami/cheese/tomato sandwich on sesame bread and a turkey sandwich. Total was E8.8.

Shopping was on the list today but first we take metro and stop at the site of 2004 Olympics. Disaster! As I'm getting off the metro, I realize wallet is gone. Double check and it's not there. When I'm on vacation I only take a very small wallet with drivers license and the credit cards I'm using. It was in front pocket with my camera bag over it. He/she still managed to get it, but all the money in same pocket is there. Use daughter's cell phone and have cards put on 24 hr freeze/alert in case it may have just fallen out in her apt. Good move. Find out the next day that someone tried to take E400 out of an account but didn't work due to the freeze. Cancelled cards, but daughter and DW still have theirs. Could've been worse, but lesson learned. Still can't figure how someone got into front pocket and took wallet but left money.

Anyway, the Olympic site is very impressive. The main stadium is a beautiful structure. It was a little eerie. We're about the only ones there and it's clearly being underutilized. Saw some swimmers practicing and soccer teams playing but that's it.

As we were leaving, had a gorgeous sunset.

Daughter had some homework so DW and I returned and had dinner at the hotel with its awesome view of the Acropolis. Shared Greek salad, she had grilled chicken fillets with wine and mustard sauce with basmati rice, I had grilled veal with fries and grilled tomatoes, and white wine from Crete. Very, very good. Total was E73.

Tomorrow - the Keromikos, Central Market and Nat. Arch. Museum

cristine27 Dec 17th, 2008 07:42 AM

dear dfr4848,
i'm from Greece and really enjoying reading your trip report and glad that your daughter is enjoying Athens as well :-)

I wanted to ask you something though that i didn't understand about the cat.. Are you saying that the koreans ate cat???? That they've ordered cat? i'M SO SHOCKED but maybe i didn't understand correctly. WE DON'T EAT CATS NEVER NEVER EVER!!!!!! Sometimes we make a joke that a meat (lamb or chicken or whatever is from a cat as there are so many on the streets. But ONLY as a joke!!

I'm mortified to hear that they actually meant it! Please clarify it for me because i'm truly shocked with that :-)

elburr Dec 17th, 2008 08:08 AM

What a wonderful trip report. It's making me think I should move Athens up on my list of places to visit.

dfr4848 Dec 17th, 2008 08:24 AM

Christine - I certainly hope I didn't mislead. It had nothing to do with Greek cuisine, Greek culture, or Greek anything except we were in Greece. The couple didn't order cat. And in no way did I intend to even suggest that Greeks eat cats - sorry if I did. The suites in this hotel have full kitchens. There is no restaurant on site. According to Alex and his staff, this couple rather matter of factly said one morning they took one of the cats that were on site and fixed it in their kitchen in the suite for dinner the previous evening. The staff found this hard to believe, but the cleaning staff the next day found evidence that confirmed the couple's statements - as well as the fact that the cat was nowhere to be seen. (I won't repeat what the "evidence" was). This couple did this entirely on their own, independent of any outside influences, etc and without anyone's knowledge until they made their comments to the staff the next day. Alex and his staff (which are all Greek of course) were horrified and understandly upset. It just seemed bizarre to us, but we're not familiar with Korean customs either. I hope this clarifies things.

Yes, our daughter has fallen in love with Greece as did we. She returns to the States in a few days and would clearly liked to have stayed if it were an option.

dfr4848 Dec 17th, 2008 08:41 AM

elburr - thanks. It is a wonderful country and we thoroughly enjoyed Athens.

cristine27 Dec 17th, 2008 09:11 AM

dfr4848 thanks for the clarification! I didn't understand the story correctly before.

But Oh my god!! I find it absolutely horrible and can't justify it in any way whatever the culture!

I'm looking forward to the rest of your trip report though!

dfr4848 Dec 17th, 2008 09:25 AM

Dec 3

Clouds this am, but some sun in pm. Very pleasant. I get out the 1 short-sleeved knit shirt I brought.

We finalize plans for weekend trip to Nafplio, Mycenae etc. Make reservations at Hotel Byron. We end up with a single (E50/night) and a double (E70/night). Check bus schedules and decide on the 10:00 bus.

After breakfast, we take metro and visit Keromikos (Old Cemetary) and the onsite museum. Very interesting place. Some really impressive and decorative memorials. Legislation in about 300BC (I think - notes are sketchy on this) limited the more elaborate memorials as being too ostentacious, so you can see the differences after that.

The museum should not be missed. It's well organized and in chronological order from 1,500 - 300 BC. There was only one other small group there besides us, so we talked with the docents in each room and essentially got a private tour. Some of the jewelry, pottery and artifacts displayed are incredible examples of workmanship.

Have lunch at Greek "fast food" place off Omonia SQ. 2 sandwiches, fries (served in a bowl with a fork) and drinks for E12.10 total.

We then walk up to Central Market since it was essentially shut down the first time we were here. The activity is intense. Very organized with separate areas for meat (with whole carcasses), fish of every description, housewares, veggies and fruits (and yes, I'm staring at the tomatoes). The people watching is also worth the trip.

We had decided to meet daughter after her class at 15:00 in front of Nat. Arch. Musuem. We have coffee at outdoor cafe in front and then proceed only to find out 2 of our guide books are wrong on closing time. Ticket agent confirms it closes at 15:00, so we plan to be there tomorrow at 9:00 when it opens. Everyone says to double check, so we should have called the Museum directly.

Walk back to Syntagma then to Pangrati where we stop and market to pick up things for dinner at daughter's apt. Got pasta, ingredients for a sauce, fruit, salad with peppers and purple onions, brocolli and large red wine from Crete. Total came to E22. And then had to stop by that bakery for the chocolate cake!! I'm really getting addicted to that stuff and I don't have a sweet tooth.

Tomorrow - the 2 crown jewels: Nat. Arch. Museum and the Benaki.

travelerjan Dec 17th, 2008 10:34 AM

dfr, what a delightful trip report! It's so nice that you take the time to fill in detail -- for other newcomers it makes it clear how nice it is to take one's time and discover how much Athens has to offer ... instead of rushing into town, sightseeing non- stop for 48 hours then leaving.

Two observations on your first-day comments about the Metro: No, the system was not built for the 2004 Olympics it's been around for ages -- the gorgeous new station in Syntagma Square was finished in time for 2004.

Also, those artifacts displayed in glass cases in the Metro Station -- they are by way of explaining why the station took so long to build and YES, they all are GENUINE. After 4000+ years of occupancy, Athens has more ancient artifacts than many other entire countries! In another land, we' hustle the stuff over to the museum -- but in Athens the museum is already full to bursting. Even Athenians just trying to plant petunias in their back gardens may unearth pottery and ancient coins!

I remember walking thru the National Garden and suddenly there is a fab! mosaic floor, just closed off by a low linked chain. I guess the city authorities were just paving a path when whoops! an ancient treasure! Oh no, not another! Well put up a chain Petros, and lets get on with paving.

cathies Dec 17th, 2008 11:02 AM

What a lovely report! I think you are very lucky to have your daughter to share her knowledge with you. I'm sure you had quite a different experience from lots of us.

Hazel1 - Why be so mean? I loved the title, it certainly caught my attention and now I'm enjoying a great report - keep it coming!!

dfr4848 Dec 17th, 2008 11:07 AM

jan - thanks, and thanks for the clarifications. Daughter didn't know about authenticity of artifacts when I asked about Syntagma and Ackropoli stations. I truly find that amazing but your explanation makes sense. Hopefully they've survived the protests/riots; I simply haven't seen anything one way or the other.

We really liked the metro. Very efficient, reasonable, easy to use and unbelievably clean. I didn't mention that it's particularly nice that your ticket is good for transfers for up to 1.5 hrs, so we used it often to take metro to one stop, then take bus to final destination.

baladeuse Dec 17th, 2008 11:24 AM

I too am loving this trip report (including the title)! Brings back memories of our trip to Athens, Santorini and Naxos a few years ago. I wish we had had as knowledgeable a guide as your daughter though. What a great bonus.

Don't you just love children who go study in interesting places then invite you to visit!

ms_go Dec 17th, 2008 11:32 AM

I'm enjoying your report and glad you had a great time. What a great experience for your daughter. I'm looking forward to the time when ours does a study abroad, wherever that may be (probably somewhere French speaking, but who knows). Unfortunately that's a few years away; she's only a sophomore in high school now. Looking forward to hearing about your time in the Peloponnese--we loved it there!

dfr4848 Dec 17th, 2008 11:57 AM

cathies - thanks very much. Yes, we're glad to have found out daughter really did go to classes!

Dec 4

Partly cloudy, low 60s.

After breakfast we take metro to Omonia Sq and walk up to Nat. Arch. Museum then to the Benaki.

Gee, what can I say about these two places that hasn't been said. We've been to some well-known museums around the world, and these 2 are definitely world class. Definitely not to be missed. I won't "bore" you with the details of the displays, exhibits, etc (too much to mention and many guide books cover them well).

Nat. Arch. Museum - got there right at 9:00. It's well laid out and organized. Each exhibit, artifact etc has an explanation in Greek and English, so its very easy to thoroughly enjoy this place. We were continually entralled with the scope of the exhibits and the sheer size of some of the pieces and the museum.

After about 2.5 hrs I hate to admit that we were becoming overwhelmed. As DW said, there's not a sponge big enough to adsorb all of this. So we took a break and went downstairs to the courtyard restaurant for a break. Had some coffee. The courtyard was beautiful and the orange trees were loaded with fruit.

Went back through and finished the Museum - that's a loose term. One could spend days here. Visited the museum shop. Had some excellent reproductions for sale, but not cheap. Wanted to buy a book on the museum but was disappointed to find out they only had them in Greek and German.

Took metro to Syntagma and walked short distance to the Benaki. If you are severely limited in your time in Athens, I'd suggest you at least visit the Benaki. It's in the family's old mansion and spread over 4 very large but manageable floors. And it's arranged chronologically begining with 9,000 BC on the first floor and ends with Greek independence in the 1820s on the 4th. A tremendously well organized time capsule.

We took a bread mid afternoon and ate at the museum cage. Very nice place: beer, coke, tuna salad and a chicken salad sandwich on whole wheat rolls (both of which were excellent). Total cost was E15.10.

The museum shop also had some very good reproductions, but unfortunately, most were over E100.

Upon exiting the Benaki (which is almost across the street from Parliament) we notice police blocking off streets, buses lining up by Parliament, major traffic jams, protestors with signs - have no clue what's going on [but this is long before the protests which started on the 6th after the student was killed]. None of this stops the motorcycles though, so they just use the sidewalks almost making yours truly the latest traffic victim.

We walk back to the hotel, which has streets around it close off as well - and we're probably about a mile from Parliament. Traffic is almost at a stand still in the area. According to the hotel staff, there's some VIP in town so everything has to be blocked off. We can tell with the horns and shouting that this is not leaving Athenians in a very good mood.

We walk to Plaka later for dinner and eat at Hermion Tavera. We start with fried zuccini patties in cheese, then both order tsirapirous (fish) served with potatoes and steamed veggies. Local red wine and finish with custard with lemon wrapped in filo dough and coffee. Quite good. Total was E68.

Tomorrow - leave Athens and head for Nafplio, etc

travelerjan Dec 17th, 2008 01:38 PM

that custard in filo dough may have been an irresistable dessert called Galactaboureko ... as sinfully divine as well-made English trifle.

irishface Dec 17th, 2008 01:46 PM

DFR, thanks so much for a wonderful report. Looking forward to the end of it.

I was appalled at the thought of the cat being eaten. I know that there are vegetarians who are appalled at any creture being eaten. But to find out that it was a beloved pet, makes it very sad. I can't imagine, even as a meat eater, just casually going out and taking an unkown animal to butcher. Enough said.

Your report is so full of useful info! I think that Greece has moved further up my list of places tht I want to go.


annhig Dec 17th, 2008 01:49 PM

ttt to read later

Maudie Dec 17th, 2008 02:04 PM

Book marking to read later when I have time to sit and enjoy your great report fully.

dfr4848 Dec 18th, 2008 04:25 AM

Thanks everyone.

Off to the Peloponnese:

Being a train buff, we ride trains in Europe whenever possible (and sometimes even when it's not!). So I suggested train to Nafplio. Daughter quickly gave me that "no way" look. She has taken several trips to central and northern Greece on the train and she wasn't trilled with the experience. So it's the bus.

After breakfast (and that last glorious look at the Parthenon), daughter meets us at the hotel. We check out and meet the cab that we requested the night before from Athens One (great service BTW and costs very little more than regular taxi).

I really need to add here how great the staff was at the Athens Gate. Truly accommodating and helpful. They consistently went out of their way to address any questions or requests we had.

Get to the bus station in about 30 min. [there are several bus stations in Athens so you really have to know which one to take]. Buy our roundtrip tickets for E18 each and it leaves right on time at 10:00. The trip is scheduled for 2.5 hrs.

Really impressed with the bus system. Busses are like those used on tours - very comfortable and immaculate. Daughter reminds us to sit in assigned seats - the Greeks are very particular about this (which we find out they are, but certainly not in a rude way). Bus never more than half full so it's a very comfortable trip.

We head out along the coast and the morning is beautiful. Bright sunny day and the sun glistens on the water with the purple hills in the background. I bring a book to read but am content looking out the window. We start to pass groves of olive trees, and more groves.

Pass over the Corinth Canal - looks like a masterpiece even with just the glimpse we got. Then we leave the freeway (I'll use the US term here) and head down the mountains along winding road.

When we get to the coastal plain, we encounter groves, and groves of orange and lemon trees laden with ripened fruit. Some are in the fields starting to pick them. And still more miles of them. Beautiful with the hills behind them.

We pass through Argos, several other small villages and get to Nafplio right on schedule. (I'll tie this in later, but we should have noticed that the bus driver did not call out the names of the towns at the stops)

This is daughter's third trip to Nafplio and is one of her favorites in the Pelopponese. [Her first was an all day sailing trip on a 42' sloop in the Gulf of Argolis when she arrived last Sept; I'm the sailor in the family so when I see the town and harbor, my envy level really goes up].

We hike up the hill to check in to the Hotel Byron. Our rooms are small but adequate, and have a nice view over the town. (Hair dryers are on the wall in the closet - never seen that before). The hotel has been described in one book as an "elegantly restored mansion". Probably wouldn't agree with that, but it's fine. We opt for the continental breakfast at E6 each. Staff is very helpful.

We immediately head out to explore the town, the main square, and harbor - and fall in love with the place. Very nice shops, relaxed atmosphere, clean, and lots of pedestrian streets. [Certainly don't have to worry about green walk signs here]

We stop at Kath Odon Geusi for lunch and ask to sit outside. Much too nice of a day to be inside. We have Greek salad, roasted red peppers stuffed with cheese, couple of chicken souvlaki, Mythos beer and cokes. The stuffed peppers are really good. Total E23.50.

We continue to explore the town and are pleasantly surprised by the reasonableness of the prices in most stores. The area if known for its amber and some of the jewelery is striking. I love wood carvings, so I'm particularly taken with the things I see carved out of olive wood (which as you probably know is so hard, it can not be nailed - only carved). I can already tell we'll prlbably complete our holiday shopping before we leave this place.

We have dinner at La Fanaria (which was suggested by several people on this board and guide books). We start with garlic spread, a carafe of retsin (that flavored wine we've only found in Greece - it's excellent), then veal stew with rice, chicken baked in a tomato sauce (which is excellent), baked eggplant with cheese and herbs. The quantities are large. Total comes to E29. Highly recommend this place.

Walk back to the hotel and agree we'll decide in the morning about plans to visit Mycenae and Epidauros.

dfr4848 Dec 18th, 2008 05:58 AM

Dec 6

Our plans were to stay in Nafplio through Mon and return to Athens in pm. We would go back to daughter's apt and help her pack the 2 extra bags we brought over then head out to the Soffitel Airport hotel since we had a 6:00 flight Tues morning. [That was DW's idea and turns out to be very smart move]. That left Sat or Sun to see Mycenae and Epidauros and whatever else we decided.

Today broke sunny but clouds soon came in with a definite threat of rain. This turns out to be the only day of our whole trip that the weather is "bad" all day. No complaints though. We decide to postpone Mycenae etc to tomorrow.

DW starts making comments about hiking to the top of the Palamidi castle overlooking the town. I look at that near vertical stairway (which has over 900+ steps) and promptly say no way. I'll read about it in the guide book. Daughter has same reaction. We do consider taking a boat out to the Bourtzi fortress in the harbor.

We head to the harbor where daughter says we can get headsets and do a walking tour of Nafplio. It's free; you just have to leave a form of id. We'd highly recommend this. There are 41 sites on the tour and it's very easy to start, stop, or pause the dialogue. The discussions are very thorough and well worth the time.

Nafplio has a much more varied and interesting history than we imagined. The influence of the Romans, Turks/Ottomans and Venetians is very evident and well preserved.

We have lunch at one of the covered outdoor cafes facing the harbor and order 3 crepes with man, cheese and peppers, cokes and a beer. The crepes are huge and delicious. Bill comes to E21.40 total.

We end up doing the shopping thing (as I predicted). There are a couple of museums in town which have extremely nice shops with very reasonable prices. We take a break in pm and have wine and cappucino (where they bring a small plate of snacks - very common).

We visit Karonis wine shop which is reported to have wine tastings, but they don't - at least not today and the owner makes hint of offering it.

Dinner is at Taverna Byzantium, which we had read offers a variety of international dishes. We start with fried cheese and a green salad with cabbage, carrots and parsley. Main couses of pasta Bolognaise, beefsteak with fries and veggies, and schnitzel. 1L of local red wine. All very, very good, especially the schnitzel. For dessert, the waiter brings (gratis) sliced green apples with honey and cinnamin. Total was E38.

We head back to the hotel and absentmindedly turn on BBC. It's our first knowledge about the shooting of the teenager in Athens. Reports show protestors in central Athens. It's a pretty brief report.

Tomorrow - Mycenae, and Epidauros (?)

travelerjan Dec 18th, 2008 06:07 AM

Another of my favorite places! Nice description ... and when someone asks you about the Palamidi, here's the veteran's tip -- don't climb UP the 999 steps ... take a 5€ taxi ride up the back way== wonderful views from up top, and then walk DOWN the steps! Easy-peasy, and there's a lovely little taverna under the trees right at the bottom, where u can reward yourself with a Frappe.

ms_go Dec 18th, 2008 06:44 AM

Your dinner at Ta Fanaria is making me hungry! We came home from our trip and tried to recreate that veal stew.

dfr4848 Dec 18th, 2008 07:59 AM

jan - will make a note of that! Another excuse to return.

Dec 7

Great decision to postpone Mycenae, plus some luck. Cloudless, sunny day with temps in high 60s. Also read that the sites are free on Sun.

Listen to CNN and BBC before breakfast. Protests escalating in Athens and spreading to Thessaloniki and other Greek cities. Reports of looting and burning stores in Plaka area. Doesn't sound good.

After breakfast, walk to bus station and get tickets to Mycenae at E2.40 each.

Bus leaves right at 10:00. (Driver had Greek Orthodox services on the PA system.). Beautiful morning for a ride and views.

What comes next is our version of the Keystone Kops.

We stop at a couple of villages, then Argos. We start to climb some hills and I start thinking we should've come to Mycenae by now (according to our map). Soon we get on the freeway and I know we've come too far. I look over at DW and daughter - and they have the same look on their face as I must have. What next? I suggest we get off at Corinth and see if we can get a bus back. Sounds good. [This is what happens when you spend too much time looking at the beautiful countryside and/or talk - and the fact that we had forgotten the driver doesn't announce towns]. We conclude we should've gotten off at the stop where the nun did who was sitting behind me.

Miles down the highway, I see first sign for Corinth. Good. Nope. We go right past. Then a second sign for Corinth. This one? Nope. Pass it too. Now, I remember there were no stops between Corinth and Athens. So I'm beginning to think we're going to go all the way back to Athens. So much for Mycenae etc. And I'm starting to have visions of spending Christmas in a jail in some remote Greek village for buying a cheap ticket to Mycenae and staying on til Athens.

Well, Zeus was with us. All of a sudden the bus pulls off the hightway and pulls into a place I immediately recognize as the stop we made on the way down. We hop off and go into the station where daughter asks the agent when's the next bus to Mycenae. She tells the bus outside is going to Nafplio, but will stop in Mycenae. Great. 3 tickets: E6. We get on and head back.

2 American students studying abroad are sitting behind us and say they're going to Mycenae. OK, so now there are 5 of us making sure we make the right stop. We do.

We get off. A guy in the station points and says it's several hundred meters down this road. We see no taxis and it's a gorgeous day so off we go. (Scenes from Wizard of Oz start dancing in my head). We walk quite a distance andd by now it's after 12:00. The ruins close at 3. We come upon a sign that says Mycenae, 4 km. OK, 2.4 mi. Certainly not a few hundred meters, but not bad.

Finally get to the town, and of course there's another sign that says the ancient ruins are 4 km pointing in a direction that's uphill. I'm increasingly finding this less humorous. [I might have found this more adventuresome had I not had major back surgery last year on 4 vertebrae].

We finally get to the top. And the first thing I notice is a line of taxis. Guys, what in the heck are you doing up here? How about at the bottom of this mountain?

We venture up to the tomb, then over to the palace complex (with more of those steps). We get to the top and it takes little time for us (me?) to realize this effort was well worth it. To me seeing the Lions Gate was a little like seeing the Parthenon - as many times as you've seen pictures, to see the real thing for the first time is an experience. To think that this was the seat of power from about 1,500 - 1,000 BC is hard to grasp. Building this complex is just as unimanageable.

We spend a considerable amount of time walking around in solitude. The quiet is uncanny. Very few tourist today. We notice the amazing views across the plains to the coast - this is one thing we hadn't read about. It's an incredibly beautiful sight.

Then I see this little thread of a road off in the distance. Is this what we just walked? The Death March? DW assures me it is!

It's getting close to 15:00. Epidauros will just have to wait until the next trip. We get down to the parking lot. No taxis (of course) but there's a sign with a number to call. [These guys aren't dumb]. Daughter gets on the cellphone and calls. He shows up (an E series Mercedes no less) and ask how much to take us back to the bus station. [I'm not walking back even if it is downhill]. He looks at the five of us and asks us where we're going. Nafplio. He says he'll take us there for E25. I do a quick calculation: taxi to station, E2 each for bus, time waiting for bus, then the trip. I said done.

We get in and in 30 min we're back in Nafplio. We all pay our share and say goodbye to our new friends.

We head straight for Kath Odon Geusi for something to eat. By now, I'm feeling like we've been on a hunger strike for days. Another great meal: mixed salad, mousaka, tavlaki, pasta with ham and mushrooms, cokes and a Mythos, all for E33.

DW decides to walk up the hill near the Nafplio Palace Hotel to take sunset pictures. I pass.

Walk around town the rest of afternoon just enjoying it.

Dinner was at Omorfo Tavernaki: schnitzel (wonderful), souvlaki, large fava beans cooked in tomatoes, mixed salad (lettuce, cabbage, parsley and carrots with lemon juice), cokes and 2L of local white wine. Excellent. E28 total.

Back at the hotel. BBC reported increasing violence, some stores and building burned, in Plaka and Syntagma/Parliament; new violence in Thessaloniki. Streets being blocked, massive traffic.

Guess we'll see when we return to Athens tomorrow.

Vicky Dec 18th, 2008 08:44 AM

Greece sounds fascinating and I had reservations for Santorini for May 2009 until my cousin told me about his trip in Sept and i asked if there were lots of stray cats and he said yes. I know I would spend the whole time being sad and would not be able to enjoy the beauty.

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