Methoni — The Overlooked Upper Road (Πάνω Δρόμος)

Methoni, the town where I grew up, has grown into a primo vacay destination. So much so, that I’ve overlooked some pics I took of places because, frankly, there were just too many to choose from.

Take the above, for example. Zoom on in and you’ll see a cute menu catered for tourists. It’s mostly a local winter or low- and off-season staple. Then again, off-season is the time to go. Even pre-season of May-June is great. My favourite time is post-season of mid-September to early November, where you can enjoy all the amenities at bargain prices and temperate weather (as opposedto the 52-degree Celsius feel of Juky and August. The water will have few swimmers and you’ll be sure to eat without a reservation. Even though most restaurants are closed in the winter, pre- and post-season finds almost all of them open. And you’ll be treated like a king.

Although he deserves a separate article, and will get one soon, Andreas runs a great place. The owner of an organic olive orchard, Andreas Diles has the liveliest place away from the beach. In the evening, the main Methoni street, made of mostly cobblestone, is closed to traffic. Mind you, there are only two streets long enough to traverse the whole town. This is the “upper” street where the “market” is. In relaxing wooden chairs and old-school tables, Andreas and his wife, introduced as a chef from Poland, offer sumptuous nouveau-Greek cuisine. Or is it fusion. You have the old favourites your Greek grandm used to make but with an Eastern European twist. I never knew how many different versions and name ratatouille really had. When asked if this was ratatouille, Andreas says “I can’t say if is, since our version is a lot better”. It’s this proud spirit and Andreas’s constant interaction with the tourists taht makes this an unbelievable dining experience.

With its colourful non-matching chairs, “το καφέ της Φιλιως” or Filio’s Cafe, is a hit with the locals. A traditional coffee shop in the morning (above), quiet WiFi and contemplation spot in the afternoon (although the owner will try to outdo herself to make sure you’re continuously comfortable), and bar at night, there’s always something going on here. This is a surprising hotspot to meet people.

There you go. And not a beach in sight. It’s about a 10-minute leisurely walk away.

Greece Summer Memories — From the Simple to the Rotund 

With September here and summer coming to an end, it’s time to share some memorable moments from the past couple of months. I apologize beforehand for possible repeated images.

The sunset above will be missed. Nothing like a sunset overlooking the rocky reefs on the eastern side of Methoni. This pinkish colour means a warm day for tomorrow. It’d be a hotter prediction if it were more orange.

There’s nothing as romantic as a sunset in Methoni. The tourists have it on their bucket list and the locals as part of their summer routine.

This is the road in the daytime. Picturesque and unadvertised. Perhaps it’s better to keep it that way.

The churchbell rings every half hour in Methoni from 6 A.M. to midnight. When someone associated with the village dies, the bells toll. They have variations depending on the circumstance. Most of all, it unites the locals. Although church attendance is slowly declining, everyone wants to keep their church looking great.

There’s nothing like fresh fish. And in places like Methoni, they’re served the same day they’re caught. I even ordered in advance.

The sweets are also very tasty. From delicious gelato/ice cream to traditional kataifi, it just tastes lighter and more authentic.

Then there’s the opulent nouveau-grec cuisine. Here I’m having grilled salmon with only salt, pepper, and a little lemon. Delicious. Again, because almost everything isn’t made before you order, it’s easy to have it your way.

This is main street in Methoni,. In the evening, it is totally closed to traffic. The tables move forward to also inhabit the street.

If you blink, you’ll miss this bohemian enclave in Psirri in Athens. It is very commonplace in Greece, especially in bigger towns and in cities, for a place to transform from a cafe and brunch spot in the day to a restaurant in the evening to a bar at night.

I’ll miss this type of antithesis. This is usually the norm in Greece— opulent rotund lush bordering with downtrodden marginalization. Sad. But hopeful as well.

This dichotomy above is near tourist central in Athens. I took the picture at Monastiraki and the picture is of Psirri. Yes, it gets confusing. But like Manhattan, it becomes second nature after a few visits.

I’ll miss that rare late-August thunderstorm. It clears the humidity and freshens everything.

I’ll miss colourful urinals.

I’ll miss views of the Acropolis.

I’ll miss shy newbie servers.

Most of all I’ll miss the beach…

…with all its splendor. Human or otherwise!!!

Morning Swim 

Perhaps it’s my age,  but the morning swim that was unattractive and that seemed unattainable, has now become commonplace or even habitual. Yes, the morning swim. When the fishing boats are still warm in the engine. The last chance to see a fisherman carrying his biggest fish of the morning, leaning to the opposite side as it droops down.  

Then there’s the serenity in the air and the calmness of the waves.  There’s the yachts in the distance and the smaller fishing boats closer by. The mountain appears clearer than ever. You get to the umbrellas in front of the hotel and try to fully wake up. It’s still 9 AM and the girls taking orders won’t be there for another 90 minutes. 

I take out Charles Bukowski’s “South of No North” and feel better; not only because the book matches with the onlooking mountains,  but because they are both classics that will always overlook and guide. The pages are fresh and the short story flows smoothly and clearly. 

There are a few people on the chairs,  mostly hotel patrons.  English, Italian, and American. Odd finding Americans, but they’re slowly discovering new  “virgin territory”, as they say. It’s families or older couples.  That’s who I go swimming with. The very same people I chose to avoid. 

This becomes the scene by 10 o’clock or so. 

I go into the water. It feels like frozen tundra once it hits my private parts. I fear cardiac arrest before taking the plunge. It’s fucking cold. I take the plunge as 2 young boys look at me. I stay in for 5 minutes and run out and stay in the sun to dry. This cold water warm sun thing must be healthy,  I tell myself. 

I get up, have a coffee, and watch the day mature. 

Deximi for Souvenir Shopping 

https://www.facebook.com/Deximi.methoni/

If for nothing else, souvenir shops are known for their lack of customer service and laissez faire attitude. 

There is a better option. At the south end of Methoni, where the 2 main roads meet, across the free parking for the visitors of the castle, is your best bet for souvenir shopping. There are numerous choices of keepsakes, ranging from handsome fridge magnets to custom-made cups. I got my cup less than 24 hours after ordering it. 

Dimosthenes is always at your service and stays open up to 10.30 PM to serve you better. He is fluent in both English and Greek and patiently and all your questions follower with an array of options that may be suitable for you. There is also that lack of pressure we all hate. 

Here’s some contact info. Go visit him at https://www.facebook.com/Deximi.methoni/

Ostria Cafe — By the Mediterranean 

Art imitates life and life copies,  or assumes, art. When watching television became too much, the owner took a hatchet to it.  No improvisation. No thought. Just reaction. And it’s so glamorous that the hatchet will be a permanent wall fixture. 

I’m guessing the above sign is referring to Greek director Theo Angelopoulos’ great film  “The Beekeeper”. You need to look for it and make the connection,  but you know there’s something there that needs to be alluded to when the hatchet meets the sign. A double epiphany perhaps. Hope and fear, as the TV represents the film and the fear, while the hatchet kills life, whether bad or good. Then there is the renaissance, the post-nirvana existence of what is hopefully peace of mind, catharsis, and epiphany. In the least, let’s hope for empowerment. 

This is also the best place in Methoni to get a morning coffee. They’re all made well. And the wind just blows enough to make sure the coolness is retained.  

Sit down and wait for friends and acquaintances to show up. Talk in Greek,  French, or English, to the owner, Corenne.  Give your order to the lovely Greek-Romanian girls. 

Before you know it, it’ll be time for a swim, the beach being about about 100m.  away.

From the Hotel Bar 

The beach was, again, full. The afternoon started with a second coffee. This time it was a cold frappe treated by one of the many ex-schoolmates I had. He owns a hotel atop the mountain called La Sapienza.

It was an unforeseen random powwow. It was heaven under the shade and wind of the trees.  The 35 degree heat was down about 10 degrees. The umbrellas were full. Three young ladies walked up to order. They were in very skimpy bikinis. There came two older topless women. You can hear the locker room banter coming from all over the cantine.  

Next stop was was the Methoni Beach Hotel. I took a dip and the lovely girl serving me invited me to go to the bar where I’d have Wi-Fi.  And here I am. 

Yes, another uneventful day.

When the Sky Turns Orange 

There are many nooks and crannies to see a sunset from in Methoni. In late-August, the sun goes down a bit before 8.30 and can be seen in the western part of town, which is about a 5-minute walk up the hill from the main beach. 

All sorts of people gather there. It’s a popular spot for locals to walk their dogs. It’s very well-known by visitors. For Elena and Spiro, it’s one of the few opportunities they have for quality time together.  With Elena’s busy summer work schedule, it’s hard to speak out from her husband after a busy day. And what more legitimate an excuse than seeing the sunset and going to Kathy’s to unwind. 

With the summer tourist bustle, there aren’t many places to spend time together unseen. But they go to the empty rundown shack that serves as their summer 60-minute pleasure dome. 

A Brief Stint at Zanzibar Beach 

Sundays are usually the busiest days at the beach. No umbrellas in front of the hotel. No room anywhere to sit down comfortably.  I had to get out of town and drive 3 km to Zanzibar Beach in Lambes. 

There were no umbrellas as I parked my car in the mostly makeshift parking lot.  I looked around and saw a one-chaired umbrella.  There was a in the sun tanning. I asked if anyone was sitting at the umbrella in front of her and she told me her family had gone to their rooms to take a nap. She said I can sit but she’d be bad company till she finished tanning. 

It turned out she was from Minnesota. Not too many tourists come in these parts from the United States that are not of Greek ancestry. Katia was pure Midwestern stock. Most of her family either form Wisconsin or Minnesota.  They had that healthy Packers vs. Vikings rivalry. You know,  that and apple pie. 

Katia allowed me to take the pics of her I’ve published here. She didn’t allow face shots. 

The beach was too crowded with people making noise and I left after 30 minutes. Katia loved it and didn’t understand why I was leaving. She went back to tanning.

Zanzibar is a great place to go to in the morning and,  during high season, a nice place to have a drink at night. 

It also serves very good food and drinks. 

Great Seafood at Akrogiali in Methoni

Acrogiali fish tavern is sort of located on the water. With the receeding shore line, there are light waves hitting one side of the restaurant. From table 19, we only had a gate and a few feet of height separating us from the water. The restaurant was still not full at 9.30. 

There was no lobster on the menu, but there was crab. The suggested mix was spaghetti. Not being one to want to break into crusteceans to get a paltry piece of meat out of it, I opted for the grilled porgy.

I ordered a side of oven-baked potatoes. I’m sure they’d have been delicious if not over-lemoned. But maybe that was just my fear of getting acid stomach. The bland long thin beans were very good, but overcooked. 

We started off with the grilled octopus. Perfect. Delicious. Just salt and pepper to season. Adding lemon is a must. This was unadulterated octopus. Fat and all. Perhaps the best I’ve ever had. The big portion was reasonably priced, as was everything else on the menu. 

The porgy was one of the best I’ve had. The best thing here is the freshness of the day. For best results, order the type of fish you want the day before. The wait staff is exemplary and the atmosphere is exquisite.