Through a train strike, distractingly delicious white wine, and climbing 48 floors in one day: beer in Athens and Santorini.
My travel planning is simple: find a beer destination, then find an Airbnb nearby. In Greece, this worked beautifully in Athens. Not so much in Santorini.
It was only after I booked my accommodation that I realized how far it was from the Acropolis- the only other place I planned to see on my two day visit to Athens. Thirty minutes by train. I worried briefly about figuring out the trains (Athens does not have Lyft or Uber; details below about specific train stations) – but it turned out to be the best choice for a beer traveler like me. In spite of a transit strike.
The Local Pub is an English-style bar (meaning dark wood, real ale in casks, and football on the telly) with a lovely outdoor beer garden. Not only were there many good local brews served on engine, but just the week before the tiny pub had opened a brewery next to it called Anastaeiou ((Ζυθοποιία Αναστασίου). I thought the beer was fine, but I kept going back to the rye pale ale made by Satyr Brews.
I opened a dialogue with the bar keep by handing over my US beer gift: Cambridge Brewing Company’s Flower Child. (Good choice, as they already had empty Tree House and Alchemist cans behind the bar.) They told me about their sister pub called the Lazy Bulldog which is on the way to the Acropolis, and also about a food festival- Athenians are very enthusiastic about their town, and it’s infectious.
I assumed I would not be able to find the festival (there was a lot of “keep walking past the red sign and take the third…”) so I stopped listening. But the next day I ended up stumbling right into it. Havana Club Rum- distributed to 185 countries but not the US- was the official sponsor. I had already been thinking that Athens reminded me of Havana, so it was a bit eerie.
I spent the rest of the day on foot. It was hot and I had been walking a lot- I passed one of many outdoor seating areas and ordered the local white wine and chatted with another beer-loving Athens newbie from Slovakia-via-London. I clued him in to The Local, where he showed up later- I found myself a drinking companion.
After my proud work figuring out the trains, it turned out there was a strike on the day I was to leave and I had to figure out how to get a cab from my residential neighborhood to the airport. (by residential I mean- no English.)
And here is my favorite story of Athens, and of traveling on my own for that matter. At the end of my block was a small store that I hoped would call me a cab. But as I approached, the sunny porch next door caught my eye. Not a restaurant exactly, but not a house either. A few old men were sitting at tables chatting, reading the paper, and playing games- and my inner old man was drawn to them. (I am catching up to him. I first became aware of him when I was six years old; he doesn’t age, but I do! Damn- we are almost peers.)
Do you know this kind of old man? He may not have all of his teeth and his clothes may not match, but he sits up straight, is groomed, and clearly cares about his appearance in the sense that everything is tucked in. He is respectful (if curious) towards a solo foreign woman. He may attempt to flirt, but if it actually went somewhere he would be mortified. (Or grateful? I’ve never tried to find out.) These are my peeps!
Inside was a hurried, friendly man in a long white apron, a boy-child trying to help him, and a refrigerator. No oven. No microwave. Not even a cooktop. But a sink full of glasses. I asked him to call a taxi to the airport, and – um – may I have a beer? It was 10:30 in the morning.
A beer was delivered. Readers- when people ask what my favorite beer is, I can’t give an answer because to me it’s about context. And this was definitely one of the best beers I’ve had, even though the taste of the beer itself was not memorable. Ordering the taxi was clearly a project. I was in no hurry- I read my clothbound Treasure Island, and faced the road from the deck sitting at one of the square tables, sun on my face, lilac-scented breeze swishing my short hair around. More old men joined the porch- they all knew each other and were speaking Greek- dotted with the English word “taxi”. Through their joint efforts, and the passing of a portable landline phone around several times, it was explained that a cab would arrive shortly. I raised my beer glass, and everyone responded in kind: we drank together. When the cab arrived, my new crew on the porch clapped and waved (would we meet somewhere, someday, to play bocce with grappa-spiked coffee?) they said “bon voyage” and “have a nice trip” (and a lot in Greek I did not understand.)
I am so glad there was a train strike.
In between Athens and Santorini, I spent a week on Crete for a friend’s milestone birthday (see previous post). When I reserved the ferry from Crete to Santorini, I sprung for the extra 10 Euro for business class. Do this- I had the floor to myself and a waiter who catered only to me! I could crawl all over the exterior decks like everyone else- but I also had views on both sides of the sea, plenty of room for my bags and a comfy sofa to spread out on. For three hours.
I did not really plan my arrival- I assumed I could get a cab and head towards my lodging. But the chaos of the port has its own system. Someone (actually- several people) approach and will ask if you need a cab; then you follow one, wait in line to pay, wait in another line for a little bus, (“I thought I was getting a private car that would take me directly to my place?” Suddenly no English.) Then get dropped off last.
No matter- I still had an hour to kill before checking in. Which is how I stumbled upon Artemis, a fantastic winery and restaurant, because I needed a place to plant myself while I waited for the 2:00 check in for my Airbnb. It was noon, and Artemis does not open until 1:00. It had a shady spot to sit outside, which I planned to do until they opened. But a nice man, a server called Fortis, saw my suitcase and apologized for not being open for food- would I like a glass of wine?
Oh. Yes. Please.
This fortuitous find ended up being the center of my trip- where I would dine, take my friend for a birthday cooking class and dinner, and head back again for more wine.
The map did not reveal something important about my Airbnb: it was half way up a cliff. After two glasses of wine and some roasted sesame crusted warm local cheese, a tour of the winery, and securing a dinner reservation and cooking class for the next day, I dragged my suitcase up the hill to my abode. It was so steep that at times I was reaching for the wall in front of me- which was actually the road.
At the bottom of the cliff was Santorini Brewing Company- the reason for my location selection. But it turns out you can’t really hang out there. In fact you can’t even get a full beer- it’s three tastes and you’re out. I had read this but I did not believe it. Believe it.
I stopped to rest a few times on my way up the hill. And had to rest for a while after reaching my cute place before leaving it again. But I was determined, so I washed my face and went back out (sans suitcase, which changed everything) and followed a zig-zaggy labyrinth of stairs up up and up. To a bar overlooking the sea.
In the morning I checked my device- I had climbed 48 floors the day before.
On Santorini, I did visit infamous northern town of Oia, and it was – too beautiful. I saw someone actually washing a white roof, a gazillion selfie sticks, and overheard servers’ disgusted comments about tourists- which I agreed with. I did not see anyone who seemed to actually live there. Visually stunning, but just too much. Glitter. Gold. Neon white. Turn it off!
I preferred Pyrgos, the island’s highest village. Where I wandered around, up and down different paths, few people around (but a priest in long robes!) and stopped by the terraced restaurant on top for a Santorini Brewing Company beer. I knew I was going the right way, because I followed the signs:
As I made my way back down I found a shady patio, and again ordered a Santorini Brewing beer- this time the Crazy Donkey IPA. I think it’s their best beer, but it only comes in giant bottles. Fortunately my walk home was all down hill.
Athens- From the airport to The Local Pub is a quick walk from the Agia Paraskevi Metro stop (blue line from airport; and blue line in the other direction from the Acropolis) NB: The Local Pub is closed on Mondays.
Next post: What Austrian beery thing does Havana, Santorini, and Ulan Bator have in common?