Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Who wrote all the Pis?

Posted by Andy Hockley on 22 March, 2005

Athens was stunning. It was no doubt helped by the a number of external factors not necessarily Athenian in nature (the weather, which was warm and sunny, and to me heralded spring; the fact that it was Orthodox carnival which meant a party time; and the food which due to the climate was fresh and delicious), but all the same it is a great great city. I had heard that Athens was polluted and chaotic, but (perhaps as a result of the Olympics) it wasn’t. It was pleasant and well organised and the public transport was clean and fast. We stayed on the very edge of Plaka, the old town on the hill atop which sits the Acropolis. Parts of the district are as you’d expect – touristy restaurants with menu in English German and French, but other parts, including some which are literally a stone’s throw from the Acropolis itself are quiet and peaceful and village like. To be in the very heart of this huge city, next to its biggest tourist attraction and yet find yourself in quiet narrow alleyways between run-down whitewashed houses with blue shutters is quite amazing.

As I mentioned before it is definitely now in the top 5 cities I’ve been to. I don’t think I’ve yet included a “my favourite X” list on this blog before, but that kind of anal and self-absorbed list making is what made the Internet what it is today (not the bit about it being a place full of pop-up ads and spyware, but the non-corporate bit about it being a haven for the egotistical), and so as a tip of the hat and an exaggerated genuflection towards the origin of blogging, I will present my top 5 cities of the world. I thought about inventing some scientific formula to justify the positions of these cities, based on climate, attractive architecture, friendly people, food, natural beauty, and having a quiet yet beautiful central neighbourhood where you can get away from it all. But I’d be inventing it after the fact, and in reality it’s just a bunch of subjective bollocks anyway. So, without further beating in the environs of the bush, and recognising the fact that by the time you read this it will probably have changed, here goes:

  1. Rome – the weather is perfect, the food is fantastic, the people are great. You can walk down a side street and find a small church with a Caravaggio in it. If you stand on that hilltop between the Vatican and Trastevere in the late afternoon the sun hits the rooftops and the buildings in such a way as to gladden the heart of the world’s most miserable bastard.
  2. Rio de Janeiro – Frankly it’s a rubbish city architecturally. But really, who cares? It’s always warm, they have carnival, and it has to be the most perfectly situated city in the world, the bay, the beaches, the mountains, the sea. What could be better? Plus of course there are the Cariocas themselves, good food, and the relaxed pace of life. And there’s even the barrio of Santa Theresa which can fulfil the cute neighbourhood criteria
  3. Athens – New entry at number 3. In my mind, it’s constantly 22 degrees, there are very few tourists and everyone’s friendly and hospitable. It just possible that in the depths of August with temperatures hovering around 40 and the city teeming with foreigners I might not like it quite as much. Like the others on the list, though, I suspect it’s big enough to absorb its incomers.
  4. Istanbul – When I first went it was noisy chaotic and dirty. Now it’s kept the energy but lost the unpleasant aspects. Walking around Sultanahmet in the shadow of the Blue Mosque. Wandering down to the Glden Horn, eating delicious food, having a hamam, drinking endless cups of tea at the behest of storekeepers, even though they know you’re not buying. It’s dead good.
  5. Jerusalem – It does have its drawbacks of course, such as gangs of tooled up IDF kids wandering around the old city making everyone nervous. But the old city (and to a lesser extent the run down but infinitely hospitable East Jerusalem) are great. Again, filled with tourists it may lose its appeal, but without them it is just great to wander around, getting lost. I’m less enamoured of the Western more modern bit as a city, but the people are friendly there too. Good weather too.

So there we are. The world’s top five cities. Looking at that list I can see a number of common factors. The weather is high among them. A lot of history (all bar Rio), and as I see in fact three of them are actually to some extent parts of the foundation of what I might term “my culture” (London would have made it too, were it not for the weather and the hurriedness of its citizens). Bet you’re glad you read that aren’t you?

One day on our Greek trip we took a catamaran (the Flying Dolphin) to the gorgeous island of Hydra which is about 1 ½ hours away (or 3 if you go by normal ferry). I’d never been to a Greek island before (well, I’d never been to Greece at all), and obviously I’d heard how nice they were and so on, but I thought it was mostly hype. Well, Hydra is not a famous island (it doesn’t have much in the way of beaches as far as I could see), but god it’s gorgeous. Tiny seaside town built up into the hills, crystal clear blue water, little taverna’s tucked away on flower filled side streets. Perfect for strolling around aimlessly wandering up and down the back streets and over the hills. I would have swum, but the water where we could go in was full of sea urchins. I’m told that sea urchins are an indicator of clean unpolluted water, but they’re also an indicator of getting your foot filled with tiny painful spines. So I decided against it.

I suppose I ought to do my “name 5 famous Greeks” bit, since it’s become something of a habit. So here goes. Name 5 famous Greeks. Too easy? OK, name 5 famous modern Greeks. Hah, not so easy now is it?

On that tack, why is it that we really only remember “cultural” ancient Greeks? All the famous Romans are emperors and warriors while all the famous Greeks are philosophers and mathematicians and writers. Even the famous Greek warriors are literary figures (Achilles) rather than actual documented human beings. The more I think about this the more I like them. The ancient Greeks I mean.

The food in Greece is ace. Beats Central/Eastern European cuisine into a cocked hat. It’s the vegetables, the salads, the sunniness of the food that does it. It’s a salad cuisine rather than a soup one. Not that I’ve anything against a good soup from time to time, but you can have too much of a good thing. A fresh tomato, I find, is more versatile than a dumpling. But hey, that’s just me. Managed to buy myself a box of extra virgin Cretan olive oil (or should that be Cretan extra virgin?) Yes, a box. Greece is such an advanced olive oil society that they have it in wine boxes. €12 for three litres. You can’t beat those prices.

Greek script is as good as Cyrillic, with the added caveat that at times it can feel that you are marooned in a maths textbook. The word for Spanakoptika (those kind of little greek pasties), I’m sure approximates to zero. It is something like (I’m making it up to be quite honest, before any Greek speakers get onto me) this: ΣπάηάκΩπτικά (that may not come out on your browser, but trust me it’s an equation of some sort).

My answers to the quiz above: Demis Roussos, Nana Mouskouri, Aristotle Onassis, Costa Gavras, Melina Mercouri. I would have had a couple of members of the Euro2004 winning squad, but I didn’t get to watch any of it and they all seemed to have inordinately long and difficult to remember names anyway. Charisteas? Anyway, what this proves (if we can use the verb “prove”) is that if Austria produces Nazis, Greece (since the halcyon days of Plato, Homer, Euclid, Sophocles et al) produces rubbish entertainers. And shipping magnates. Is someone who’s made a fortune on refrigerators a fridge magnate? On that note, I’ll sign off. I’ll put photos in this post when I get round to it, maybe tomorrow.

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