Last day, but not before Sunday steak and Bloody Marys

After more than a month in Europe, our last day was energetic, as we walked up and down and all over the center of Athens. We had wanted to visit the famous flea markets off Monastiriki Square, which is accessed via the retail-packed pedestrian streets coming off Syntagma Square in from of the Parliament Building.

The retail streets display all the same wares we have seen in every Greek island, including the multi-purpose phallic bottle openers. Leather goods, t-shirts, jewelry, trinkets, better clothing and olive oil are all the same from store to store and from island to island.  I swear all these shops use the same distributor.

Not so the flea market extending from Monastiriki Square. The narrow lanes (they cannot be even considered streets) are filled with used items of every description, mostly grouped by category, such as furniture, cameras, records (yes, vinyl of every speed, including 45s), books, “art,” occasionally food and even sewing machines.

After a fine lunch of more souvlaki for me and a huge salad for Lynn, we started out on a long walk up the Acropolis the back way through the oldest neighborhood in Athens. Little whitewashed houses are perched up the hill  along winding paths and stairways so narrow only one person can walk at a time. We simply kept climbing until we reached the top, then starting working our way down, which took us back to the main ticket entrance to the Parthenon and its surrounding buildings on the top of the Acropolis. This was our way of working off lunch.

As a reward, we walked across Syntagma Square to the Hotel Grande Bretagne, which was built in the 19th century to house the British dignitaries visiting Greece. The rooms at this most elegant hotel cost no more than the Intercontinental, which itself is a relative bargain at only about $175 US a night, including taxes. But whatever the Hotel Grande Bretagne gives up in room rates, they make up at the bar.

Our Bloody Marys were priced at 16 euros, less than the 18 at the Ritz in Paris but more than the 14 they charge at Harry’s Bar in Paris and twice the price at Milk in Barcelona, which makes the best Bloody Mary in Europe. I have to say, however, that Bretagne’s Bloody Mary is at the top of the list, expertly concocted with plenty of citrus, horseradish and Worchestershire. The nicely sized drinks were accompanied by a large platter of excellent macadamia and almonds with a side of huge olives. And the view from the top floor bar of the Bretagne looks right up to the Acropolis, worth something. Altogether this hotel is an excellent place at a reasonable price for the rooms, and we plan to stay here next time we visit Athens.

We returned to our hotel in late afternoon for R & R before setting out for our final dinner. We took the free shuttle back to Syntagma and walked to nearby Ergon restaurant just two blocks down the street from the main square. Since this was Sunday, I ordered their steak, which at 16.50 euros is only 50 cents more than our Bloody Marys earlier in the day. Lynn had what was called meatballs but came out in a tube like sausage.

With a 500 ml pichet of house wine (why don’t American restaurants offer this?), our last meal in Greece was hearty, flavorful and simple, which pretty much describes Greek cuisine. From island to island, large city to little village, the menu is pretty much the same. This ain’t Nice.

But Greece is nice in a lower case. The people are universally friendly, and we have found that most all of them speak English. They seem delighted to have us here, whether it’s because they need our tourist euros or because they are genuinely happy to see Americans. The women in Greece are almost universally beautiful, and Lynn says the same about the men.

And of course, this is where western civilization started. Got to give the Greeks some credit for that.

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