Plant based

Saturday Husoor got to enjoy some me-free time in his apartment for a few hours—when I told him I was going to go out to run errands he looked at his watch and then stood by the door tapping his foot until I departed—then off I went to The Berlin Mall.

The Mall of Berlin boasts the “best food court in Berlin.” Which, well, I’m not sure that’s such a great thing to boast about but OK, it was huge, anyway, and utterly packed, an inner circle of fast food places then an outer ring of more restaurant-y fast foody-y things like KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts with the tables in between the two circles. Approximately 60% of all of these were Indian curry joints with another 30% being kebab and doner places. (what’s a doner? look here) With the other 10% being weird crap.

All of the curry and doner places had massive lines so I went to one of the line-free, weird places, Vedang Plant Burger. Seemed about right, I thought. A vegan place. I got the “Chick” wrap.

They were trying to make it all be meaty sounding, chick-without-saying-chicken sorta thing. I’d had a bad experience with some fake meat burger once so I went with the fake chicken wrap. It was not at all bad. But you put enough vegan special sauce on anything and it’s gonna be edible. I’ll eat a bun with mustard on it. Whatever was inside was deep fried and crunchy—lettuce, cucumber, tomato and Bob’s your uncle.

Unfortunately the myriad crying children, including one poor guy walking his screaming tantruming child back and forth 3 inches behind my head drove me out of there before I finished.

I didn’t get a chance to try their vegan ice cream. It looked good but I’ve been fooled by appearances on more than one occasion, and not just with food.

I’m turning into Judy

As if there aren’t enough in my life, a squirrel made an appearance at the bird feeder outside Ashish’s window—on the 5th floor with no trees in the vicinity. I know. It’s me. Usually there are just pigeons, crows and an occasional blue tit.

I leapt up and shrieked, “Get the peanuts!!!”

In fairness, the German red squirrels are smaller, sweeter and much cuter than the gray devils in my yard. We named them Judy. In case they’re nonbinary.

In-flight delight

Or not. We knew before we got on the flight back to Berlin that there would be something to eat. I knew it was not going to be great but I could eat it, or at least some of it and wouldn’t arrive really hungry. So as they were passing out the “snack” which was again “pizza” I could hear the flight attendants saying “normal or vegetarian.” I knew from the flight over that one had cheese and the other just had vegetables so when she asked me I said “normal.” Welp.

I honestly had no idea what it was. At all. It was the most utterly abnormal thing, not to mention pizza, I’d ever seen, much less eaten. Ashish burst out laughing when he saw it. There was no KitKat. : (

The flight attendants on Aegean Airlines were very professional and responsive. They were completely unflapped by the late arrival of an enormous basketball team not to mention several wrong seat snafus that caused major boarding back ups. They were also all exquisitely beautiful. Well the women were. The one guy looked like Chris Elliot. But the women were young, each and every one, fully and perfectly made up, hair pulled back into chignons, wearing stockings, sleeveless dresses with scarves wrapped around their necks and high heels. I think that they should dress to look more equipped for the job they do. The guy looked like a dump. He just had on a shirt and pants—and the shirt was untucked in the back. Double standard. I know, I’m gay, I don’t care about how wonderful they looked, some guy certainly does. If they let men look like they’ve just been dumpster diving, the women should be able to do so as well. Just sayin.’

I ate this but I have no idea what it was.
There was something suggestive of a bread-like substance with a hint of what may have been tomato related.
Chris Elliot

Athens—a wrap up

I did not want to go to Athens. Not like it was hard to convince me to go but I’d been there before albeit a long time ago and, meh, it was ok. Husoor wanted to go and you know how that goes, I went. I agreed to go on the condition I didn’t have to get up at the buttcrack of dawn. And the travel then turned out to be relatively painless except for, you know, the travel part.

But Athens, oh my god, it was sooo very different. It was gorgeous, chaotic, yes, but not like New York chaotic. Clean—makes-Berlin-seem-like-a-garbage-bucket clean. And the Greeks were so very sweet. Everyone was wonderful. Everyone speaks English and it’s not that I expect them to, but it’s super helpful when the words on signs or menus are completely incomprehensible. No one was ever annoyed or in the least bit put out when I asked if they spoke English. They just do.

The Acropolis Museum on the grounds of the actual Acropolis is a spectacle. Not nearly as crowded as the Acropolis itself and far more interesting. Too much information for me to process all at once, I will have to go back, maybe with a guide, but the experience and exhibits were fabulous, well thought out and extraordinarily well organized. The UX was great.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Changing of the Guards at noon in Syntagma Square outside of parliament or the senate or some damn thing. We happened upon it right at noon. Much hoopla and hoo-hah, stamping of feet, waving of arms, straightening of tassels.

Viewer discretion is advised. In our hotel there was one of these. I have only seen something like this before once in my life. I was/am seriously confused about how it works. This one actually did not work or in any event I could not get it to work. Not that I tried too hard. Like, really? Do I want to use something that someone else, actually many other someone elses have been using, um, you know where? Isn’t it messy? Doesn’t it splash all over? And then what? You stand up to use a towel and water runs down your legs into your shoes?

After I’d tried to make it work—I wasn’t going to use it at that point, just see if there was like a jet, a gentle mist, a light spray or perhaps a pulsating fire hose—I went and washed my hands in boiling bleach.

I really, really loved Athens. I was so glad what’s-his-name talked me into going, well, forced would be a more accurate word.

We were only there for 4 nights but I left wanting more, to go back and see more of the country. My sister tells me Delphi was wonderful and the countryside was beautiful. I want that. The islands, where everyone goes, would not be my destination, too much sun, too many people (including me) and when I was there, waaaaay too many friendly/hungry/feral cats and dogs for my comfort zone.

When I was on the island of Santorini 2 decades ago, the Mediterranean in that area had been fished out, the fish processing plants there were completely closed. I hope that this has been rectified not that I really want to eat fish, I don’t but, well, the environment, the economy, I dunno, it just seemed so wrong.

There was a European basketball team on our totally packed flight back. These guys were huge. It was only a 2+hour flight but OMG they looked so uncomfortable. And I thought travel was uncomfortable for me. At least I don’t have to play basketball at the end of a trip. That would kill me.

I am back in Berlin.

Athens—the food

It’s a funny thing Greek food. I feel like in the US it generally it gets a kind of second class citizenship but in most of Europe Greek Cuisine is treated with the same respect all the other the national cuisines are except maybe French—but well, the French. But in France there are Greek restaurants, and Italian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican (you can reliably skip Mexican in Paris, is my experience), Vietnamese and any number of North African and Mediterranean food offerings. In Italy there are mostly Italian restaurants but Italian food has more variety. In Germany you’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of German restaurants but there are Greek, Turkish, Italian, French, Chinese, Vietnamese etc. In Greece, there are only Greek restaurants. (Yes, I know, a few other kinds dot the landscape but the vast majority of restaurants are Greek).

We started our four-day food tour at Karamanlidika (see website here). I found it online. And we just took a chance and just went there. It’s in a crappy neighborhood but it was an easy walk and looked just about perfect. And packed with people—you know how when you get to an empty restaurant and the waiters are standing forlornly, looking beseechingly at you and really you just want to turn around and run? (and I have been on the other side of that coin). This was not that. We cautiously entered and Maria, the manager who is now my best friend, said, “Reservation?!?” in what I thought was an aggressively unfriendly way. I timidly responded in the negative and she looked around the room as if to say Can’t you see the place is freaking packed you doofus??!! and then said, “sit here!” in a little corner next to the door on two tiny Greek thatched-seat, charmingly rustic wooden chairs. She came back a second later and escorted us to a table in a sort of hallway/alley filled with people. It was soooooo perfect. She asked where we were from when I told her Milwaukee she was like “Huh?” which is strange because Athens is all over the Milwaukee Bucks thing. (Our taxi driver on the way out told us his brother-in-law went to high school with Giannis and that Giannis is opening a Greek restaurant in Milwaukee and asked his brother-in-law to come work there—I am sure every taxi driver has some version of this). Anyway she didn’t know Milwaukee, I said Chicago and she said GUNS!!! So there’s that.

The food was great. But as we came to understand, all the Greek food is more or less the same unless you’re going upscale. I’ll get to that. What stands out here is Maria who just made the experience an absolute joy. When we left the first time I hugged her.

When we came back the second time she was on the other side of the room and saw us, stopped what she was doing and ran over and hugged us. I’ve said it before the place and people can make or break the whole deal. She more than made it.

Maria. (Not my photograph—she’s all over the internet so it turns out I’m not her only best friend).

The next night (I think) we went to some upscale place that seemed to be offering “a gourmet take on Greek food.” Yeah, no. My salad with the one layer of fried phyllo, and cheese foam boobs that were silly. Cheese foam is actually sorta frightening. Foam with a vague cheesy smell is really like something you’d find in your shoes after a long run. The “green pie,” (the menu description) was a pile of wilted greens with a more substantial phyllo crust on top of it and then decorated with a thicker version of the cheese foam, more like cheese whiz.

My entrée was called Crispy Pork and was essentially pulled pork that had been pressed into a rectangle and then fried it was not bad but not all that good. Not for “gourmet” anyway. It needed Judy’s BBQ sauce.

Greek salads. Loved them but personally I’d have preferred a little vinegar, they only use oil which is fine but, like I said, I like vinegar. I drink vinegar. Oddly we encountered very few olives. The trees were full of them, there were people collecting huge bags of them but they never found their way onto our plates. I don’t think there were more than 2 or 3 in my salads.

Luncheon beers of the third kind.

Lunches. Some souvlaki or gyros or something, our first meal after our arrival. It was fabulous. Dolmades and plakis giants, the greek beans that I love. Stuffed zucchini, I don’t know what the sauce was but I’d have a big bowl of it.

And that’s the long and short of it. Greek food from Alpha to Omega.

Athens—The Acropolis

It has been his boyhood dream to see the Acropolis. We bought tickets on line and read that the “south” (as if I ever know what direction I am heading in) entrance was less crowded. Fortunately he has better navigation skills (or at least I tell him that so I can blame him when things go wrong) so we headed off for the south entrance early in the morning. I cannot imagine what the main entrance was like.

You can just imagine how proud I was to be an American. Him shrieking into his phone. I don’t know where his wife was but I had a brief moment of sadness for her and then for the other people who were on the tour with him.

Yes, there was a lot of this. This is just how things are now and Carolyn Hax tells me I need to lower my expectations. I have. And the irony of this that I, too, am doing this same thing is not lost on me.

Despite the crowds getting in, once you were in it wasn’t all that hard to find places to be able to experience the fabulousness of it all. It was worth it. Although I would not want to see what the hell the afternoon crowd looked like. The next day would be the Acropolis museum.

Athens—Hadrian’s Library

Our first outing in Athens was casual saunter over to Hadrian’s Library which, like many ruins in these countries, is right in the middle of everything causing traffic jams, wonky sidewalk patterns, and using up space that could be condominiums or Eatalys (Eatalies?). You could see the historic value of these piles of stones right away. Also some important holes were there.

Athens—St George’s chapel

So he decides we need to walk/climb to the top of some hill on the outskirts of Athens. In the distance I can see it looming high up above the rest of the city. I seem doubtful. “There are steps!” He tells me. So we go. I’m all in for churches where I can light candles and look at religious crap. We head out, well, first out and then up on the streets of Athens. Eventually there are steps but then it becomes less like the streets of Athens more like treacherous terrain in the wild rather than steps. I worry about snakes. There are cactuses. A sure sign there are snakes.

The path becomes a little more actual path-like as we get higher but doubly treacherous as there are no barriers to prevent one from, say, free falling off the side of the hill. We were way up above Athens, it seemed a little dangerous but the view was spectacular. You could see the Acropolis. Right about at this point he informs me he cannot go further. He is acrophobic. Funny, since we can see the Acropolis. The two words are related.

I left him sit there in peace while I completed the trek to the top. St George’s chapel is about the size of my car. People were milling around outside, inside it was empty, really just a room with a hodge podge of various icons tacked carelessly to the walls and behind a pillar a lady was busy stubbing out lit candles and putting them back in the box to resell. No way I’m lighting a candle when I have actual proof they just snuff them out and resell them so that all my various graces and prayers will be snuffed out with it.

I got a good work out in though.

Off to Athens

For a little fun weekend getaway we came to Athens. It’s a 2 hour flight from Berlin and he’s been dreaming of the Acropolis since he was 4 or something. We were not expecting to get food on the flight so I bought an “egg sandwich” in the airport and tucked that into my carryon but as it turns out they were serving “Pizza with or without cheese” on the flight.

I got the one with cheese. Let’s just say that this pizza was a very, very loose idea of that concept. The Germans seem to love “whole grain” bread and so this was whole grain pizza crust in the same sense that saw dust is whole grain. I tore the crust part off and ate the vaguely cheesy, olive-y part which just wasn’t enough to hold me until dinner so I ate took out the egg sandwich and then that bread turned out to be made with the same sawdust. I picked off the egg part (they were slices of hard boiled eggs) and ate that. None of it was not what I’d call richly satisfying.

The KitKat was good.

And now Athens.