Last post from Schengen – maybe – from Athens

(written by Dave)

We decided to work on chores today, and play tomorrow before we catch the ferry to Turkey at 9PM.  This may be our last post from the Schengen region as I’m pretty sure we won’t be able to post tomorrow – next post from Turkey (wow, that’s wild!).

Anyway, we decided today to rank Schengen countries (so far) on a few things that matter to us.

For starters, coffee.  Hands down winner on coffee has to be Italy.  Great coffee on every street corner, and normally only 1 Euro for a macchiato.  We tried Greek coffee yesterday and were not overly impressed – just a wee bit thick.  France had pretty coffee but in Nice it was almost always in the 3.50 Euro range.  That’s Nice (or not nice).  Surprisingly Athens has expensive coffee as well.  Macchiatos run anywhere from 2.50 to 3.00 Euros.  This just doesn’t seem right when you consider the overall GDP here.  Much to our surprise today we found a Starbucks just around the corner from our hotel.  Starbucks coffee is almost always the same quality but here we were quite surprised to find it cheaper than some of the local joints.  Starbucks is almost always a premium price. Regardless, if you want great coffee at value for money prices, go to Italy.

Second up, we thought that we’d rank bakeries or baked goods.  Here, I’m sure that everyone is expecting France to win but I’m afraid that I have to give the nod to Greece.  There are so many bakeries here and we’ve not found anything that isn’t simply delicious.  We often don’t know what we are getting and whoever is waiting outside (guarding the bikes) is always skeptical on first sight.  But the honest truth is, everything, no matter what has been great.  Italy was no slouch but the bakeries were not as prolific.  And France was good but overall croissant consistency was sometimes a letdown if you picked the wrong bakery.  This of course is completely un-scientific but that’s my story.  [editor’s note – my nod goes to France, as the Greece pastries are often too sweet – it’s hard to get a nice flaky croissant here in Greece without something sweet spread on top of it or in it, though the cheese pies are to die for.]

Third, let’s talk wine.  We made a serious effort to get into French wines and actually found a few that we really liked.  Greek wine has been quite light and fruity, not the style we like.  Italy, ah Italy, the best thing about Italian wine was when you ordered the low end house red, you almost always got some that was very drinkable.  If budget were no limit, the French would probably win but when like us, you are drinking house red, then it is Italy again.

Lastly we’ll rank food overall (focused on dinner).  Greece has great souvlaki.  Italy has great pizza.  And French food is world famous.  The nod for me here has to go to Greece and their Gyros.  Ok, they are sort of poor man’s food but heck, we are bicycle travelers and that’s pretty much the bucket we fit into.  I almost hate to admit it but French food would have to come in third.  This is 100% subjective but I found that they used heavy sauces too often and nothing would have been considered light.  It is perhaps partly because we came to France from Asia where spice is everything and big portions of meat very uncommon.

We’ll be back in Schengen in about 90 days to see if how other countries fare.  And of course, the non-Schengen guys deserve a go as well.  Ah, the beauty of a bicycle tour – eat to ride, ride to eat.

One of the chores we had today was to find fuel for our cook stove.  This ultimately proved extremely simple, buying Benzinhi  at the ordinary grocery store around the corner.  As is often the case, figuring out what they call white gas or Shellite in a new country is difficult.  Eventually, through an internet search, I found a Greek outdoor product importer and asked him (via email).  He was kind enough to reply almost instantly.  I had to visit a couple grocery stores before I found Benzinhi and I never would have without the local advice.

So tomorrow we are planning on visiting the Acropolis museum in the city.  It is supposed to be very good.  We’ll do this in the afternoon, before returning here to load up our gear and head for the ferry – the first one takes us overnight to the Greek island of Chios and from there we catch a short ferry to Cesme, Turkey.  Nancy is still working hard to know everything possible about Turkey before we get there and I’m sure that we’ll now have no trouble getting a place to stay in Cesme – our entry point.  We should arrive there about 10AM on Saturday AM – plenty of time to try sorting out the phone before we find the hotel.  We most likely won’t post again before Turkey…  But you never know.

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6 thoughts on “Last post from Schengen – maybe – from Athens

  1. Thanks for the photo of the room. I always love to see how things are decorated/furnished. Homes are more interesting but even hotel rooms are cool to see.
    I agree with Nancy that flakiness of a croissant is THE most important quality.

    You didn’t say much about the people in France, Italy and Greece. Were they friendly? Did France live up (down) to its snooty reputation?

    Also, are you glad you did the French immersion? Was it fun or a slog? Was it worth the effort?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    • Ok… Here you go.

      You didn’t say much about the people in France, Italy and Greece. Were they friendly? – I like to think of every encounter as an advertisement for bicycle tourists and I always smile. By in large, this gets a smile from the person you are interacting with. No one country stands out as bad. Most everyone we met has been great.

      Did France live up (down) to its snooty reputation? It is amazing how much a difference it makes if you speak some French, even poorly. Making the effort seemed to breakdown the snootiest. The one exception in all three countries would have to be grocery store clerks. Smiles and native language, and pretty much anything else, it makes no difference. Some of these folks should just not be in customer facing roles.

      Also, are you glad you did the French immersion? Was it fun or a slog? Was it worth the effort? Yes, Fun and Yes. We learned that learning gets harder when you’ve stopped active learning on a daily basis. Sure, everyone is always learning but not at the pace a full-time class goes. We both are glad we did it. We only regret that to get really proficient (or at least conversant) we needed 4 more months. I’m not sure where we will use it but it was mostly fun and overall rewarding.


  2. Thanks. I read recently that it isn’t all about age. It is also about our brains getting filled up. New things and first encounters make the strongest impression on any mind. When it is new, we remember it better.

    Language is also a lot of memorization and that does get harder. Partly I think it is harder to convince ourselves of the importance. Think about how many things you memorized in school that you never use.

  3. WOW! I just went back and read your beginning blog – April 8, 2011!! So do you have any BIG anniversary Plans. One year is coming up quickly and it will be Easter, too! I remember chocolate wombats outside my door one year! Take care and look for the chocolate bunnies!! Love, Mom

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