Amsterdam Day/Night 5 – Downshifting

One of things I learned a long time ago while traveling solo for an extended trip (but also have to constantly remind myself) is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Fortunately, as I’ve gotten older, my body also knows this edict and tends to let me know. After averaging about 5-6 miles of walking a day, I was starting to get a tad bit stiff. So, in order, to give myself a bit of a break along with truly lousy weather, I decided to take it relatively easy. But first, as always, I needed food.

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Since the weather had turned pretty nasty, I chose a place basically right around the corner from my hotel where I had walked by an enticing sign of an aged beef burger and Heineken multiple times. Plus, the name was pretty cool – The Uptown Meat Company. The burger was very tasty, with the aged beef matching well with the crunchy bib lettuce and a nice chipotle mayo. I was curious if like Guinness in Ireland, Heineken would taste better in Holland but nope, pretty much bland as always Heineken. Oh well.

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My main destination was the Van Gogh Museum, which was very close by much to the delight of my aching body. Although Van Gogh is obviously the main attraction, I was mostly excited about the Millet temporary exhibit. Millet was a huge influence on Van Gogh and Impressionist movement in general by focusing on every day farmers and workers toiling away in stunning paintings. I have a policy of never taking pictures of the works of art so you’ll just have to take my word for it that it was a very impressive exhibition.

The rest of the museum was divided into floors focusing on various chapters of Van Gogh’s life. Unfortunately, the collection itself was mostly minor works since his masterpieces are scattered in the world’s most famous museums. One exception was the famous self-portrait he did shortly after cutting off his ear. That was a treat to see in person along with his most well-known stiff life – Sunflowers. With that they also had a very cool 3D printout of the work that you could touch to feel the raised paint on the canvass.

After a couple of hours of getting my culture on, my back was once again begging for some rest so I headed back to the hotel in the cold rainy weather.

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After a brief respite, I took off for the Jordaan area to meet up with my old friend, Uwe. We had originally planned to meet at a place known for its apple pie but had to reschedule for drinks later instead. I decided though I needed to go have a slice of that anyway so took the tram and then made the trek in the sudden downpour to Winkel 43, snagging the last table in the bustling cafe.

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The pie lived up to the hype. Huge chunks of apples with an almost cake-like crust that was a struggle to break through with the ludicrously small fork that came with it. The cream was a perfect complement. Absolutely delicious.

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I met with Uwe at the nearby Cafe Tjyssen, which was a classic European bar, including the truly terrible mixed drinks. As Uwe pointed out and I later realized, Euros in bars like that really have no idea what they are doing when it comes to cocktails. Stick to beer, so I picked a local Extra Stout, which was a lot better. After catching up with Uwe for a couple of hours, we said our goodbyes, and I set off to my next item on the Dutch food checkist, a doner kebab.

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Some locals had suggested checking out a place in De Pijp called Kebab House and since that was relatively close to my hotel, that seemed like a good option. The doner kebab is the Turkish version of the classic Middle Eastern dish, which is very popular in Amsterdam. Usually served with fries, the doner kebab is a great late night option, or in my case, simple comfort food on a cold, rainy night.

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While I’ve had better versions, this was a very solid doner kebab and the fries were nice and crunchy. I had made tentative plan to meet up for a drink with this very nice Aussie CEO I had met the other night so I finished up and took a final tram back to the hotel, where I witnessed this showdown at the OK Corral.

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As it turned out, my new Aussie mate was similarly exhausted so I just went back to my room to get some rest. Tomorrow would be Phase II of this adventure with my long awaited return to San Sebastian so it was for the best my night came to a relatively early ending.

Amsterdam Day/Night 4 – Road Trip… for More Beer!

I woke up to seeing this strange bright orb in the sky which I was later told was in fact the sun. Since the weather was a bit nicer, I decided to take up the suggestion of my buddy Erik to go check out Haarlem, which was less than an hour away via bus.

The tram to bus transfer was pretty painless and soon arrived at the pretty town of Haarlem. My first destination was a craft brewery that had helped establish the Haarlem beer scene, Jopen which had taken over a former church.

I read it gets busy quickly so had times to get there right when it opened and I was one of the first patrons there. A flight of course was in order but also needed some food so I decided to get the fried eggs with ham and cheese on toast – basically a large open faced Egg McMuffin – proper beer food.

The standard tasting flight consisted of a light wheat beer, their IPA and a Belgian style quad. All were very drinkable if not memorable. However, I got to try some other specialized beers that were more in my wheelhouse including a smoked white ale, barrel aged stout and an IPA infused with gin.

I had tried another Haarlem craft beer called Ultije, which happened to have a tasting room just a couple of blocks away so that was my next stop.

I sidled up to the bar and asked if I could do a flight. The bartender said I could pick any 4 beers from the 30 on tap. I saw several barrel aged stouts so made a flight of darkness.

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Utije Baltic Porter

De Moersleutel Imperial Russian Stout

De Moersleutel Wanna Taste My Candy Cane? Imperial Stout with Orange, Cinnamon, Clove, Star Anise

De Moersleutel Imperial Stout aged in Japanese whiskey barrels (!)

I chatted awhile with the bartender Nicholas about the local beer scene and particularly about the brewery that was 3 of my 4 beers. He said they were former homebrewers who like the dark and heavy stuff. Their site said once you have their beers all others will be ruined for life. They may have had a point.

After an unwise mad dash for the bus with a belly full of heavy beer that ended in failure, I had 20 or so minutes to walk around the town a bit before getting on the next bus back to Amsterdam.

Still enjoying a nice beer buzz, I thought now would be the perfect time to visit the glorious Amsterdam staple FEBO.

FEBO is both an automated food dispensary as well as some limited items that are requested at the counter. I had been told that one of the things from that option was the roasted chicken thighs. So I first used the machine to get some fries and a veal croquette along with the chicken.

All 3 were hot salty goodness but the chicken thigh was by far the highlight. My feet and back were starting to ache and since this is a marathon, not a spirit I took the usual tram and walked back to my hotel.

Amsterdam Day/Night 3 – Recovery Mode

Given my late night, I knew that today wouldn’t exactly be jam packed. Still, I was getting hungry and was craving brunch. I decided to go towards the trendy Jordaan area to a spot that had been recommended to me. The streets were lined with high-end stores, which were starting to get into the holiday spirit.

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The Velarius Cafe was nestled on a side street and since it was almost 2PM (don’t judge) I was pretty much the only patron there. Starving, I immediately seized on the very appealing sounding house cured smoked salmon on poached farm eggs with Hollandaise (natch) and rocket on a choice of bread, including corn bread. I asked the server about the corn bread and after being assured it wasn’t too sweet, went with that option. It was basically heaven on a plate.

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The smoked salmon basically melted in my mouth. The eggs had that glorious dark orange color that only comes from farms and the rocket added a nice bit of texture along with the crunch corn bread. Delicious and exactly what I needed.

On my walk to the cafe, I had spotted what appeared to be some sort of farmer’s market so after my meal, I made the short loop to go check it out.

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Although I was of course incredibly satisfied with my brunch, once I started looking around this glorious little market, I kind of wished I hadn’t eaten yet.

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I also encountered a fantastic foraged mushroom stand which made me also regret I didn’t have an Airbnb where I could go back and cook up some of the mushroom goodness.

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One thing though I couldn’t pass up was another cup of Mexican hot chocolate, which was becoming my go-to in this weather. The cumulative effect of my burning the candles at both ends was catching up with me so I walked back to the hotel to get some rest before dinner. A couple of hours later, I headed back towards the Center City to an Indonesian place that I spotted during a previous walk and had great reviews, taking of course a few pics along the way with everything now bathed in lights.

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The restaurant, Kantjil & de Tijger, was part of the strong tradition of Indonesian food in Amsterdam dating back centuries. I was very excited to try a Rijsttafel (rice table) in its birthplace. However, usually that’s not possible for a solo diner as its designed to be shared amongst a large group. Thankfully, the restaurant had a modified version which could be ordered per person that featured 10 different items of delicious Indonesian staples, from pork satay to beef rendang to the ubiquitous shrimp chips. Behold its glory!

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Each component both worked separately and even better combined, especially the powered toasted coconut with the spicy nasi goreng. However, the real standout was the tender beef rendang which was packed with flavor. Not bad for $20 too. I made as much as a dent as I could on the massive plate before throwing in the proverbial white towel.

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A couple of blocks down the street from the restaurant, I saw what must obviously be the beginning of the infamous Red Light District. However, it was wall to wall people and while I was curious, I decided it was best left to explore another time. Tune in dear readers to see if that time happens!

Amsterdam Day/Night 2 – From Dusk Til Dawn

Thanks to the combination of the sun not rising until 8:30AM and some heavy curtains, I got a much-needed 10 hours of sleep before heading out into the cold once again. Since I knew I was in for a very long night (more on that later), I decided to take it easy with a walk to the center of the city and some famous Dutch pancakes.

Proudly declaring itself the smallest restaurant in Europe, Upstairs Pancakehouse had a whopping total of 6 tables, which meant a solo traveler like myself had to share a table. In a city that mostly embraces tall people with open arms, this restaurant was a bit of a struggle, starting with one of the steepest staircases I had ever encountered. The building itself was from the 1600s but had been a restaurant since the 1950s.

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I really didn’t know that much about Dutch pancakes so the vast selection was a bit daunting. However, after seeing my fellow patrons’ dishes, I realized basically they were essentially the Dutch version of a crepe, which explained why there were both sweet and savory options. I was feeling something in the more traditional mode so I opted for a sweet version – poached pear with egg nog and cream. It was also supposed to have chocolate sauce but I asked to have that on the side in case it was a bit too sweet. That turned out to be the right call because it was plenty sweet (and delicious) without it.

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After a brief detour to track down an ATM (and get screwed with the rate) due to the restaurant’s cash only policy, I continued my walk into the Center of town.

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As I made my way essentially around the horn of the Center, it became a lot more touristy and I quickened my pace to basically get out there. However, I had to admit I was curious about one of the most touristy options possible – the Sex Museum. When in Amsterdam…

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That’s about all that would be fit to print (post?) from there. Google if you want to see more, pervs.

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After several miles of walking, I was beat and headed back to the hotel to rest up for the big night ahead. The plan was to meet my old friend Chris, who has lived in Amsterdam for 10 years now, at his place in the hip area De Pijp and then head to the club after that. Fortunately, De Pijp was very close to my hotel, just past the main museum area, including the Van Gogh and Modern Art MOCO museums I planned to visit later in the week.

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As I was searching for a potential spot for dinner in De Pijp, I came across a roasted chicken and beer pub that sounded great on a cold damp night. It turned out I wasn’t the only one thinking of such things as the place with rammed and had a 90 minute wait for a table. Fortunately, I could eat at the bar and lucked out snagging the last seat. I didn’t really want a beer so my server suggested this cider made with lime and kiwi. I recalled fondly my roasted chicken and cider meals at Casa Mingo in Madrid so that sounded great. The chicken didn’t quite meet the Casa Mingo’s standards (but then again what does?) but it was still very tasty.

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I made the short walk to Chris’ place and after an hour or so catching up with him and his wife, we hailed an Uber and headed out to the club, which was in the far north part of the city, by the docks in essentially the middle of nowhere. The event featured one of my all time favorite DJs, Sasha, so I was really looking forward to a great night. It also allowed me to play around the new night mode in my Phone 11 Pro camera.

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The show was great and just after 5AM, Sasha brought it home with the Hacienda era inspired Franky Wah – Get Me High.

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We made our way through the gurning masses and took another Uber back to De Pijp. It was now about 6AM and my feet were killing me so the short walk home took a bit longer. It was slightly surreal that not only was it still dark but the moon held high in the sky. Although it was absurdly late, I was able to keep my streak of no clubbing after sunrise intact and crashed into bed still in the cover of darkness.

 

Amsterdam Day/Night One – Beer in the Land of the Giants

I arrived in Amsterdam just after noon, which meant I needed to force myself to stay up for at least a few hours. After a very pleasant Tesla taxi ride with a gregarious driver, I got to my hotel which was just on the edge of the Vondelpark and central to just about everywhere.

Amazingly my hotel room was actually ready but I knew not to fall into the trap of resting. Nope, it was time to explore my temporary new ‘hood. The weather was less than ideal but the brisk breeze actually helping keeping me awake so I didn’t mind. Plus, I mean look at this beautiful city.

My friend Erik, a fellow beer nerd, insisted I check out a great Dutch beer bar but first I needed food. Luckily, there was a place next door to it that looked inviting.

Turned out this was actually a chain that is based out of Venice, CA but at least this one had a decidedly Dutch centric menu. I chose the Hot Oct which was basically a grilled octopus version of a lobster roll. Delicious as was the badly needed hot chocolate, but with real cacao and Mexican spices.

I was starting to fade but figured perhaps Dutch beer could help conquer the jetlag. The beer bar featured an impressive lineup of Dutch beers, most of which were unknown to me so I let the bartender pick a flight for me. He turned out to have nailed my tastes although I ended up subbing the selected lambeek for a pumpkin ale. I made the right choice.

Clearly a global beer nerd station of the cross, the crowd was a lively mix of locals and fellow travelers. I chatted up with a twenty something from Santa Barbara and a Muscovite escaping the thrall of Putin to have some good beer.

The bartender recommended checking out their sister spot Beer Loves Food for dinner but first I needed to head back to the hotel for a bit respite.

An hour later I was back on the road and made my way over the restaurant while dodging the packs of bicyclists that were seemingly everywhere. I could tell I was definitely walking into a pretty touristy area of the city based on the familiar brands that now dotted my field of view. Thankfully, the brewpub was on the outer edge and seemed to be once again a mix of locals and traveling beer nerds.

Unlike the last place, Beer Loves Food featured both local as well as international options. I wanted to stay local so I selected a couple of local brews tasters. I had been told the thing to get here was the Dutch croquettes so I choose the shrimp, wild geese and beer braised beef assortment. Deep fried goodness, especially the wild geese ones.

My belly now full of various Dutch delicacies, I finally succumbed to the wailing sirens of sleep and crashed as soon as head hit the pillow on my pleasantly long bed.

Athens Day/Night 4 – Top of the Hill

My go-go-go pace over the last couple of weeks had begun to take a toll on my 44 year old frame – blisters on my toes, sore knees and back and other assorted ailments. With that in mind, I decided before I tried to tackle the climb to the Acropolis, I needed some time off. Alex had told me the beach was fairly accessible via Syngmata Square so I hopped on the quick metro ride over there and made my way to the tram line.

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The tram went directly to a seaside restaurant called Edem, which shared the name with the tram stop for it – easy enough. Thanks to the way that Athens allows 90 minutes on any of the public transportation options, I was able to use the same ticket with the tram. It was a relatively new system, built for the 2004 Olympics and the ride was pleasant although I can imagine not so much in a few weeks. One interesting aspect is that since it’s essentially a straight line to the beach, with a few curves, the tram line hits all kinds of neighborhoods, including one where a lot of the Syrian refugees have landed.

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As the tram pulled up to the Edem stop, I could see the Edem Restaurant sign across from it. The wind had really picked up, and I could hear various flags loudly flapping. Still, it was a nice natural A/C so I didn’t mind it so much. I picked the last available table that directly faced the Mediterranean, which made for a very nice view.

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Given the location, it only seemed natural to order seafood so I decided to see how the Greek version of grilled octopus stacked up against the Croatian (or Montenegran for that matter) The octopus was nicely cooked and seasoned but I wasn’t crazy about the pickled vegetables that accompanied it. So, probably my least favorite meal thus far but with that view, I let it slide.

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After lunch, I walked a bit on the beach, admiring the greenish blue water and some of the would-be Adonises sunning themselves. It was now a bit before 4PM so I made my way back to the tram and once again to Syngmata Square, this time taking the metro over to the Acropolis station, only one stop away. I had read that approaching the Acropolis would save me about 80 steps, which sounded very appealing.

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I walked past the New Acropolis Museum and headed up a nice wooded path to the entrance of the Acropolis. Alex had told me a good time to go up is right after the 5PM tour groups. I actually made it up to the entrance faster than anticipated so I picked a spot in the shade and watched various groups show up with guides speaking multiple languages – everything from what seemed to be a high school field trip to some kind of team building exercise for a company based on their matching shirts.

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I waited until I could no longer see them in my immediate view and headed up to the entrance, handing over the last of my rapid deteriorating multi pass. The first part was fairly easy, a series of newer concrete steps that switchbacked up to a pretty nice view along with the Theatre of Dioynsus below, which was in the process of being set up for its summer series there. After that more steps, this time a bit steeper that once again ended in a nice view – this time a higher perspective of the theatre and the surrounding area.

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The final set of stairs were actually the ancient steps leading up to the top of the Acropolis. These were a bit challenging but made easier due to a sidewinder style of entrance, required given all of the people trying to go up at once. My knees were killing me by now but I had made it… almost. About 2 steps from the first flat surface, I all of the sudden went completely sideways up in the air. The 2000 year old marble had been refined to a very smooth surface and as I lost my grip, I let out a strange guttural noise while I heard gasps from the tourists around me. I called this a tie with The Fates as they clearly caused me to slip but also decided to give me only a minor injury. The litre bottle of water I had with me acted as a crutch to soften the blow so while I landed on my right knee and wrist, I somehow only had a minor bruise/scrape. I also served as a live visual aid for watching for the slick marble stone as various guides pointed over to me and cautioned their respective groups.

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Once the shock wore off, I hobbled my way over to the real vista from the top of the rock. It was clear why this spot was so coveted and holy to various entities that occupied it. Even this cat knew that this was the place to be.

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Typical of national monuments there was scaffolding covering large sections of it but as I made my way around to the side, I could see at least some of what it used to look like in its glory days.

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A fort had also been established on the site, which jutted out over one of the sides of the hill with the Greek flag waving.

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The tip turned out to be a good one because while there were a lot of tour groups, there were very few individual explorers like myself so I was able to get away from the throngs and get some relatively clean shots. There was no shade at all but thankfully the weather had cooled a bit. I can’t imagine being up there when it’s super hot in the middle of the day with what I’m sure is also wall to wall people based on the various rope lines I noticed – nooo thanks.

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As cliched as it sounds, it’s really something better seen in person than in any photos like these. It truly is a Wonder of the World. Built in only 9 years, it’s still considered to be an architectural marvel with its interlocking marble frame.

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After about an hour, I made the climb down, making damn sure to avoid the slick marble this time! I made it to the bottom of the hill and by this time, my knee was starting to really hurt so I decided to take a taxi. There was a stand nearby but when I told them where I was going, the cabbie said it would be 18 Euros, which was absurd. So as I matter of principle, I continued walking down the hill until I arrived at the metro station, where I found a very friendly cabbie who told me about how the economy had been rough on him, especially with the “you know, the black, these Syrians” coming there every day. Oh and it was 5 Euros.

After assessing the damage on my knee, which again was nominal, I had to make a decision how far I could go for dinner. I really wanted to get that amazing chicken dish again at Melilotos but that was only accessible via the pedestrian walkway. However, I did also need to get some Euros for my taxi to the airport tomorrow so I figured I would walk until I found an ATM and then stop for dinner somewhere around there.

I walked past the beer place I had been to and asked where the closest ATM was, apparently close to the metro station. As I got to the station, I realized that Melilotos wasn’t that much farther, from what I recalled. The catch was I didn’t have Internet access so I couldn’t look it up in Google Maps. Still, I was pretty sure I remembered where it was – or so I thought. Not entirely sure where I was, I stopped someone walking with what seemed to locals heading home except it was actually a group of tourists from Buenos Aires. So much for that idea. I hobbled up another street that looked familiar but I was starting to doubt I was in the right area.

The last thing I needed was to waste a lot of time walking down the wrong streets so I called uncle and walked over to a nearby hotel to ask. It turned out my initial instinct was correct, and I was only 2 blocks away. Huzzah!

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The difference between Sunday night and now Wednesday was palpable as the adjoining bars were now packed with people enjoying the nice night. My server recognized me and gave me the last table outside, which faced out right onto the action of the square. I told her my final meal had to be the chicken leg and she promised to take care of me. Shortly after the chef came out to say hello and I said how excited I was to have the dish again. They were still out of the beer I wanted to try so this time I opted for their house red, which wasn’t bad at all.

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Finally, the dish arrived, with a bit more flair than last time and the different marmalade, pumpkin. It was still fantastic although I slightly preferred the tomato marmalade. Sated and very happy, I said my goodbyes and hobbled down the street. I wanted something sweet and found it with a delicious pistachio ice cream. My taxi would arrive at 7:30 AM so as much as I wanted to join in the reveries all around me, I knew that I had to be practical about it.

As I made one final walk through Psrri, I reflected on what an amazing trip this had been. I had dubbed it my ancient Europe trip, and that’s really what it was. I had seen so many incredible monuments of fascinating historical value and just sheer awesome in scope/size. The people had been amazing, the food outstanding and the sights breathtaking. Pretty much can’t get better than that.

Athens Day/Night 3 – Back to Ancient Times

Today would be my main exploration of the various ruins except for the Acropolis, which I was saving for its own day. First though I needed some fuel so I walked up my street and onto a large avenue that also acted as a flea market.

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I wasn’t there though to shop but rather to have one of my favorite Greek foods, the gyro. I had asked Alex for his favorite spot and he said Savvas was the way to go. When I arrived I was taken aback a bit how it clearly seemed aimed at tourists but Alex hadn’t steered me wrong yet so I ordered a classic lambo gyro sandwich.

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It was a good thing I trusted my instincts as the gyro was simply the best I’ve ever had. Stuffed with fries, fresh tomatoes and onions along with juicy, tender shaved lamb and wrapped in a superb pita, it was perfect.

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Now energized, I continued my walk up the hill and over to the massive Ancient Agora where several of the more famous ruins and buildings resided. I first ascended a small hilltop to the Temple of Haphaestus, basically the little cousin of the Parthenon, which also had great views of the entire site.

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I then walked down the stone path to the center of the Agora, where remnants of statutes, homes and even a prison had been uncovered.

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Finally I walked over to the main attraction of the Agora, the Library of Hadrian, which now served as a museum for the artifacts unearthed from the site.  I usually don’t pictures of exhibits but this shield and this great Pan statue were too good to pass up.

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After a bit more cruising around the Agora, I walked over to the nearby Roman Agora, which was about to close so I quickly ran in to get some snaps, which was fine as there wasn’t a ton to the site anyway.

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I continued up the hill until I reached the very touristy Plaka area, which was filled with chintzy souvenir stores and aggressive cafe owners trying to corral people into their place.  I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

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On the other end of Plaka led the path up to the Acropolis.  However, my destination was a bit more earth bound, the New Acropolis Museum.  Opening in 2009, the museum was the new home to all of the Acropolis artifacts as well as sitting on top of a current excavation site, which could be viewed below via a transparent floor.

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The museum wasn’t covered by my combo ticket but at only 5 Euros, I still wanted to check it out.  The first floor was filled with pottery and smaller items.  The second floor was home to some magnificent Greek and Roman statues, none of which will appear here as no photographing was allowed.  I did get a quick picture though to show how large a gallery it was.

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At the top floor, there was a very well done video presentation of the history of the Acropolis, including animated sequences of how it ended up in its current state, from the original Persian invasion to Napoleonic thieves to more modern adjustments.  I was glad I took the time to watch it.  This floor also housed what was left of the friezes that used to decorate the top of the Parthenon as well as some nice views of it out in the distance.

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Having gotten my fill of culture for the day, I headed back to the apartment, taking the Metro for the first time, which was cheap, fast and convenient.  On the way back, I stopped off a cool beer bar for a much deserved cold glass of Greek microbrew along with a free appetizer of spicy Greek cheese and shrimps.

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A couple of hours later I made the very short walk to a restaurant that multiple people had recommended to me.  The Seychelles Restaurant was on the edge of the rougher part of town but looked like something one would find in the Greek Isles.  Clearly a place for locals, it was filling up quickly so I was lucky to snag a table.  As I had become accustomed to, service was almost comically slow, although I got the impression as an outsider, I wasn’t exactly top priority.  That was fine though as I was enjoying the atmosphere.

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I decided to get 2 of the starters as my meal.  First up was potato salad with smoked trout.  It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting as there was no binding agent for the salad but it was fantastic.  The smoked trout was nicely balanced with the vinegary sauce on the potatoes.  The only problem was that there wasn’t quite enough smoked trout but I was able to convince my server to give me a bit more to even things out.

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Next up was the grilled mushrooms with baked Greek cheese and smoked pork.  This was another winner.  The huge, meaty mushrooms worked great with the smoked pork and the salty baked cheese.  Man, Athenians sure as Hell know how to eat right.  I also decided to try the oddly named “vanilla dessert in cold water”, which turned out to be a vanilla taffy-like glob wrapped around a spoon.  It was definitely different but probably won’t be ordering that one again.

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Since it was going to be my last big night in Athens, I walked over to a nearby bar called Boo! and asked the bartender to make me something Greek.  This 10 ingredient cocktail was the result – very tasty and as promised, not too sweet thanks to the Aperol.

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I sat and enjoyed my cocktail as well the very cool interior of the bar.  I heard faint Greek music in the background and from time to time the ceiling seemed to be shaking.  The bartender explained there was a ballroom dance class going on upstairs.  I finished the rest of my cocktail and wandered back to my place.  Tomorrow would be the big day of finally scaling the Acropolis as well as perhaps a walk on the beach.

Athens Day/Night 2 – A Stroll Through the Center

As I’ve taken longer trips like this one, I’ve learned that it’s a marathon not a sprint and built in rest days are crucial to being able to get the most out of it.  Today was going to be one of those days, or so I had planned.  After doing some work in the morning, I ventured forth through Psrri to head to a place that Alex had said was like his Greek grandmother cooking for him.  First up though was some more exploring, which became easy as the path to the restaurant was full of sights like these.

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The restaurant turned out to be a bit tougher to find than I thought and by the time I finally found it, I was very hungry.  Tzitzikas and Mermigkas (Cicada and Ant) was named after the Aesop fable of the cicada, who sang throughout the summer and the ant, who concentrated on building things to prepare for the winter.  The restaurant was a mix of the two – artistic yet industrious.  They are most known for their tasting menus for 2 but despite my best attempts, I couldn’t get them to budge on making it just for one – oh well.  The restaurant was full of homey touches like the fact that my table had a drawer for the silverware.

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I was first given a welcome shot of tsipouro aka raki, which is a Greek version of grappa.  It packed a serious punch but helped temporarily stave off my hunger pangs.  Like most Mediterranean cities, service was like another one of the Aesop fables, the tortoise, definitely not the hare.  Eventually, I flagged down my waiter and ordered the baby goat which had been braised in the same tsipouro and rosemary, along with some roasted potatoes and zucchini.

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The baby goat was fall off the bone tender and rich with flavor from the broth.  The potatoes and zucchini were perfectly seasoned.  Just a great hardy plate of food and another great recommendation from Alex.

My initial plan was to walk over to the massive Syngtama Square but I noticed I was fairly close to the Temple of Zeus so I figured I would check that out.  It was noticeably hotter than earlier and not that much shade so I picked up my pace a bit to get down to the ruins where there appeared to be some shelter.  This was one of the ruins that were part of the Acropolis combination ticket, which I needed to buy anyway so might as well do it now.

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As I started to walk the grounds, it became apparent just how massive this temple was.

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Also around the outer rim of the grounds were some other excavated sites.

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After awhile, I left the Temple and walked over to the adjoining Hadrian’s Arch, which had a cool view of the looking Acropolis in the background.

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Next I walked up the hill to finally check out the Syngtama Square, which is a massive public square that also houses the Greek Parliament.

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As luck would have it, I happened to be there right during the changing of the guards, which was quite the show.

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After the ceremony was done, I started to head to the nearby metro station as I needed to give my feet a rest.  As I went to look for some money for a ticket, I realized in horror that my 30 Euro Acropolis ticket had fallen out of my pocket.  I had a vague idea where it might have happened and raced out of the station to retrace myself.  Knowing this was probably a lost cause, I wondered if perhaps I could go back to the Temple of Zeus and see if I could get a replacement since I was just there. As Fates must have been smiling down upon as I was about half way there when I looked down and in stunned disbelief lay my ticket.  Whew!  Not wanting to tempt the Fates any more, I hailed a cab and headed back to my place.

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Alex had suggested a favorite local spot for Greek wine and good food called By the Glass, which I had stumbled upon earlier in the day and had made a reservation.  That turned out to be a good move as the outside courtyard was already full with well-heeled Athenians.

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After conferring with the very knowledgeable and friendly sommelier, I decided to try a tasting of 2 different Greek varietal white wines.  I ended up much preferring the Assyrtiko from Santorini, which was crisp and refreshing.  I next switched to 2 Greek red varietals, which I told him to surprise me.  The younger of the two, Avgoustiatis from the island of Zakinthos, was much preferable to the other one selected, so much so I ended up asking to have it swapped out for another, which was much better.

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To eat, I had these fantastic jumbo prawns which had been wrapped in angel hair pasta and then quickly fried.  The first bite was a bit messy with the friend shoestring pasta going everywhere but the plump crispy shrimp were elevated by a truly outstanding sweet and sour dipping sauce.  I continued to be blown away by the level of cooking in Athens.

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I continued to sample more Greek wine, this times some blends and by the end had a pretty impressive lineup.  I thanked the sommelier for his great Greek wine lesson and made my way back toward Psrri. Along the way, oh hey, more ruins.

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As I walked back to my place, I passed a bar where a guy with long hair motioned me over. Curious to find out what he wanted, he insisted that I join him and the rest of his group in a shot of tsipouro – when in Athens I guess.  Since I was there, I figured I might as well also order a cocktail favored by Athenians.  This turned out to be tsipouro and vodka, with lemon and peppers floating on top – a pretty interesting and quite tasty concoction.  Eventually I said my goodbyes and completed my journey home.  On the docket tomorrow were a whole bunch of ruins and museums so it was time to get some sleep.

Dubrovnik/Athens – Getaway Day

My flight to Athens was 2:30 and given the travel time to get to the Dubrovnik airport, I knew I had to get out of the Old City by noon at the latest.  I grabbed a quick lunch at Barba – this time a shrimp burger, which was excellent, and then headed out of the Plie Gate and into an awaiting taxi.  My taxi driver turned out to be a real Croatian history buff and excitedly told me various tales as we zoomed along the coast.  It turned out he was one of the soldiers who help protect Fort Srdj and proudly said his picture was in the museum there.

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The airport was surprisingly modern and the check-in process was smooth except for the fact that I had to pay for my luggage, which turned out to be about $40 USD – ouch.  On the plus side, they were able to give me the exit row, which was huge as the plane wasn’t exactly big – oh and it was also a prop plane, something I hadn’t been on in a long, long time.
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One of the advantages of being a prop plane is that for a large chunk of the flight we were a lot lower than if it had been a jet airliner so that meant I was able to get some great views of the Adriatic Coast.

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Upon descent I was also able to get some great views of Greece, including the insane number of boats cruising around the area.

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My initial plan of taking the metro to where I was staying was thwarted due to a strike so I had no choice but to take a taxi to the apartment.  My cabbie spoke no English and kept tossing his rosary beads whenever he was stuck in traffic or when we had to go around a different way due to a protest going on at the Parliament.  After about an hour, we arrived (sort of) at the destination, which he couldn’t find so he told me to walk from here.  Fortunately, it turned out not to be too much farther.

My Airbnb host, Alex, was there to greet me and show me around the apartment, which was a lot more traditional than I typically have but had a great balcony looking up at the Acropolis.  He had given me detailed maps and instructions on both the place and the surrounding area – including sights, restaurants and bars.  He said his favorite place was Meliltoso, which wasn’t too far from the place.  That sounded good enough for me so after orientating myself a bit, I headed up a graffiti filled alley to the neighborhood Psrri.

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Psrri was a former ghetto that was now a hub for the hip and cool.  It reminded me a lot of Palermo Hollywood in Buenos Aires in terms of the mix of the old crumbling buildings and the new modern ones taking their places.  As I continued up the road, it suddenly opened up into a long pedestrian walkway lined with shops, bars and restaurants.

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After about 15 minutes through this path, I arrived at the restaurant, which had a nice outdoor patio that was quickly filling up but I was lucky enough to secure a table.  It was a bit cooler than I thought it would be but still very pleasant to sit outside, albeit having to deal with near-by smokers.  There was a bar across the street playing some great soul and funk tunes, which added to the low key vibe of the place.  I decided instead of wine to do beer for a change and after being denied yet again for my first choice, I settled on a simple local pilsner that was quite refreshing.

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I’m a huge fan of Greek food and was very excited to try some from the source, and the menu had all kinds of enticing options.  I wanted to give my mercury levels a break, so I narrowed in on a couple of meat dishes.  I asked the server which she preferred and without skipping a beat suggested the chicken leg stuffed with cave aged Gruyere cheese from Crete and basil, tomato marmalade along with an “aromatic basmatti rice.”  Sold.

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Now I’ve been all around the world and had many, many, many chicken dishes.  This was easily a top 5 of all time.  The leg had been deboned and the chicken was incredibly moist.  The basil and the cave aged Gruyere were perfect complements to each other, and the tomato marmalade, though sweet, worked wonderfully with it all.  And the crispy skin, oh the skin!  It was perfectly seasoned with The rice had leeks and green onions and tasted almost like fried rice even though it wasn’t.  Just amazing.

I walked back through the brisk night air and collapsed as it had been a very long day.  Tomorrow I would begin exploring the center of the city and perhaps see a ruin or three.

Dubrovnik Day/Night 6 – Fantasy Island

Today would be my final full day in Dubrovnik but with the crowds continuing to swell, I decided or retreat to the nearby island of Lokrum. I walked to the marina, hopped on the ferry and made the quick 15 cruise over to the island.

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It was a bit hotter than I had anticipated and was beginning to regret my choice of wearing jeans. Still, there was a fairly consistent sea breeze as we pulled into the port so I was hopeful I would be cool enough.
Just past the port was a large map that highlighted the various sites on the island. I decided to go to the monastery first and began my trek up the trail. Lokrum’s first inhabitants were the Benedictine Monks who lived there from the 11 -18th century unperturbed. Their monastery dated back to the 16th century.

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For some reason I had assumed the island’s pathways were relatively flat but that was decidedly not the case. The rocky road got steeper and steeper as I went along, along with a lot of loose rocks. My lack of hiking boots was a bit of an issue too. Still, there was plenty of shade and the sea breeze helped push me forward.
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One of the first landmarks I passed was Charlotte’s Well, which was built as a tribute to his wife by the Austrian ruler Maximilian II when he purchased the island in the mid 1800s and was subsequently killed.  This was part of the dreaded Lokrum curse in which various owners of the island had met with death shortly after taking control. Eventually this led to the state taking over ownership in the early 20th century.
Maximilian also brought with him from the Canary Islands the most famous of Lokrum’s residents – the peacocks. I could hear the calls echoing around the island and even saw something new for me – baby peacocks who hopped along next to their mom as she walked the grounds.

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Inside the monastery was a small museum that covered both the history of the island and a Game of Thrones section that showed the various Dubrovnik sites, including several on the island. Outside of the grounds was a nice park with olive trees and bunnies hopping around everywhere.

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I moved past that section to the ruins of the original monastery and walls that were used as a sanctuary from the Black Plague. Beyond that was the Path to Paradise, a gorgeous wooded path that led back toward the coastline. By this point, I noticed the few people I had encountered had been turning around but thanks to my trusty Google Maps app, I decided to make the entire loop around the island.

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This turned out to be a great idea as not only did it feature spectacular views of the coast and the Old City but I was also completely alone. I made my way to the end of the island where a cross dedicated to some lost seamen overlooked the bluff.

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The terrain kept going up and down as I traversed the rest of the path before finally going on a gradual downward slope towards the port where I had arrived. Tired after my journey and not wanting to miss the next ferry, I joined the swelling queue and hopped on for the quick trip home.
I had an 8:30 dinner reservation but since the weather was still warm, headed over to D’Vino first for a nice cold glass of Posip. I hung out a bit chatting with Vanessa until just before my reservation, saying my goodbyes but promising to return after dinner.

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The restaurant Dubruvaka was over 150 years old and offered stunning views of the lit up Old City Walls and the fortress on the other side of the bay. I had made reservations so I was able to secure a coveted spot outside.
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Not wanting anything too heavy, I opted for the spaghetti with Adriatic prawns. It was a simple but very tasty dish. A piano/cello duo was playing a mix of classics and new pop music as well as at one point the theme song to Game of Thrones. I was surprised it had taken that long to hear.

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Although I wasn’t planning on a dessert given it was my last dinner in Dubrovnik plus the intriguing sounding Ferrer Rocher cake, I changed my mind. And damned if the cake didn’t taste pretty much that famous candy in cake form.

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Full I walked back into the Old City and popped in to D’Vino once again. This time I had Anita’s suggestion of a Postup Gingac blend she had just added to the wine list. I also put in an order for a bottle of the first (and best) Posip I had in Croatia, knowing it would be impossible to find in the States unlike Bibich.
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Although I was supposed to meet up with Danny and Violetta for a drink, I was fading fast. However, I did still have a final stop to make back at the Matusko tasting room, where I purchased a bottle of their great Gingac to also travel home with me. Tomorrow was getaway day and decided that having a hangover on a small prop plane to Athens was probably not a good idea so sleep won this time.