All posts by mulholland

The Great EU Quest: Greece – An Athenian Anniversary

Well it’s a happy anniversary to myself and the hub as today marks three years since we got married. How it’s already been three years just boggles the mind. Similarly, I can’t believe that it’s already been two years since I was last in New York. Anyway.

Our anniversary got off to a bit of a sketchy start as we ventured across the city to purchase our bus tickets to Delphi. The coach station is in an interesting part of the city full of auto mechanics and a lot of graffiti (more so than the rest of the city which, to be frank, has a massive graffiti problem). Early start tomorrow, we must need our heads examined.

It was a hasty exit from this area of town so that we could get on with our day proper – which really began with breakfast from a bakery near Monastiraki station. As you can see from the picture, looks very much like that Georgian cheese bread boat that I made a few months ago, but with fresh olives, feta and mixed bell peppers. This was exactly what we needed. Very delicious. Also, we got an interesting bit of street theatre as we ate, the arrest and escorting away of a couple of drug dealers from the square. A bit different from the Saturday morning cartoons of my childhood.

Now the main point of day was to mop up the rest of the sites form the bumper Athens archaeological sites ticket that we began using a few days ago – starting with Hadrian’s Library. Much like the TARDIS, this site is a lot bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside.

There are parts of this site that are remarkably well preserved, to the point that with the guidance form the signs you can actually see what this was – with a bit of imagination that is. Some of the original mosaics still remain as do the outlines for the reading rooms and the actual steps. This visit also marked the unofficial restarting of Tortoisewatch with one of them making a hell of a racket as he speedily made his way across a corrugated iron roof.

From here we walked through the Athens flea market in order to get to Keramikos – one of two sites on the ticket that has an accompanying museum. This huge area is pretty much the remnants of part of a giant cemetery. It formed part of the Sacred Way – a kilometre long stretch of statues and tombs dedicated to those that could afford them. There is still so much of this left to be discovered, but that’s underneath already built on parts of Athens – so who knows if we’ll ever see some of these original sections ever again.

This area is pretty expansive (with two more tortoise residents), but all of the interesting ornamentation have been placed in the museum for protections, with copies now populating the outside. The centrepiece of the museum is an incredibly impressive marble bulk that would have once adorned the top of someone’s tomb. It also contains some other remarkably well preserved grave decorations that are worth checking out.

Our final destination from the ticket was the Ancient Agora which, with two notable exceptions, has been completely levelled. The first exception to this rule are three large statues of Tritons (think large male water spirits) that greet you as you enter.

These, however, pale in comparison to the Ancient Agora’s crowing glory: the temple of Hephaestus. This is the best preserved Greek style in Greece and really does give you pause as to what the Parthenon could have looked like had it not been partially blown up. Sadly you cannot walk through the temple, but all of the original insides were removed when it was converted to a Christian church to St George.

We made a stop by the Agora’s museum, which explained how successive invasions and cultures lead to the growth and the eventual destruction of the Ancient Agora. It’s also at this pint where I learned that Geometric isn’t just a type of pattern, but also a period of history where these types of patterns were first being exploited. Feels like I really am learning a lot this week.

Due to our late breakfast, we skipped lunch in order to visit the National Archaeological Museum. I know this doesn’t appear to be the prevailing opinion on Trip Advisor, but I found this to be far more interesting and varied than the Acropolis museum. Sure it isn’t as swanky, but they sure do cram a lot in here.

In total we probably spent about three hours in here. We might have been able to spend a bit longer, but our feet really started to hurt and our concentration was beginning to lapse after looking at ancient sites all day.

I think more than anything else on his trip, the time scales involved with some of the exhibits were truly sobering. Just to give two examples, you have a large bronze statue of a boy on a horse that’s two millennia old… and a wooden statue of woman at work that is four millennia old. These are just two of the many notable things here.

The prehistoric areas provided an insight into the various cultures in the area that started to emerge before what we now know as Greek culture started. Because of the interesting style of their statues, I really took a shining towards the Cycladic stuff.

Of course, being a Greek archaeological museum, there was a wealth of vases and statues – most of the museums being devoted to those two things – the huge bronze statue of Zeus (or Poseidon, it’s disputed) being a real highlight. So was the temporary exhibition on the depiction of beauty through the ages, where they made a recreation of perfume based on ancient instructions (it smelt like rosewater).


As we had plans this evening we went for an early dinner at a place around the corner called The Black Sheep. To start there was a dish of some par of breaded and fried cheese served with honey, sesame and nigella seeds. We also had kataffi pastry nests filled with smoked aubergine and walnuts – a real highlight.

For the main was pork kleftiko – think chunks of pork, sweet onion, bell pepper and feta wrapped in parchment paper and cooked to the point that the pork is so tender that it can be difficult to get a whole piece on the fork. It was so good, especially as the leftover juices made for something good to dip the fries in.

That rounds off most of the day, except for what we got up to in the evening. However, this post is becoming incredibly long and this provides me with a good spot to stop for now and pick up the rest later. As of writing this I am about an hour into a coach ride to Delphi having gotten 5 and a half hours sleep. I think it’s time for a nap.


The Great EU Quest: Greece – Mount Hymettus

Right so I’m going to start off today’s post with a bit of a lessons learned from today: do not go for a big hike up a mountain without having breakfast or bringing along some sort of snack. We were fine, but it’s a pretty dumb thing to do.

Anyway, let’s get started with day three of my time in Athens.


After yesterday’s early start I think we both felt that a lie in was in order – or at least waking up with the alarm at 9:30. Since we had nothing in the fridge at the apartment we talked about how we would need to breakfast and some sort of packed lunch as today was get day that we were going to do a big hike up Mount Hymettus (as you can gather, this didn’t happen as the end of the bus line was a cemetery with marry a bakery in sight).

Mount Hymettus is more like a small range or giant ridge than an actual mountain. It’s one of those things that you can see from most places in Athens, crowned with a mass of transmitters and radio antennae. Since we’re here in Athens for quite a long time, and there are a lot of mountains in the area, we set aside a day for hiking – this mountain being picked because of its relationship with a remaining food list item.

Before making for the mountain proper, we were going to pay a visit to Kaisariani Monastery – another Orthodox monastery but, unlike those we saw at Meteora, this is no longer occupied by anyone other than cats. To get to the monastery itself you need to make a 30 minute mini-hike from the cemetery at the end of the bus line and make a partial beeline through the Kaisariani Aesthetic Forest.

The build is in a similar style to those we saw yesterday, just on a smaller and less gravity-defying scale. From the outside the church is beautiful to look at; in the inside it is even better.

The frescos inside, like those at Meteora, are so well preserved. However, since this is no longer occupied, there were no restrictions on the number of photos I could take… so I may have gone a little bit barmy. Then again, I took many pictures of the church from numerous angles so it might have just been Kaisariani affecting me.

After this began, what would end up being about 4-5 hours on the mountain itself. The aim was for us to follow a trail known as the Botanical Trail which was meant to take us up the mountain at a leisurely-medium pace whilst seeing some monuments and a lot of cute signs telling you what the different plants were. Let’s just say that we lost that trail after about 45 minutes, cut to us clambering up steep sections on all fours.

The hike up was, although tiring, such great fun. The variation in plant life was so interesting, especially how it changed as we got further and further up. The coolest part however were the number of hissing tortoises that we came across – seven in total and each time I heard them hiss it made me think I’d come across an angry snake.

The big win from this hike, other than the knowledge that we climbed up 700m of a mountain, was the sheer wealth of views that we got of Athens from way up high. Every time we got a new view, we played a game of ‘find the Acropolis’ – even as the view widened to the point that we could see the sea.

We decided to make our descent at this point because it felt like we were reaching the point of diminishing returns. We hiked to know that we could and to get an awesome view. Now, little did we know that we would get kinda lost on the descent. On the way up we spied a less steep route that would’ve taken us ages, so we thought that would make for the perfect path for the way down – turns out this path was the victim of some sort of landslide and we ended up having to find a safe route down ourselves (luckily previous hikers had sprayed paint on safe trails so we managed to find our way down).

The moment we got off the mountain we realised that we’d basically ended up at nearly the other end of the ridge… so we needed to cross a freeway (which was scarier than all the times I nearly slipped and fell down that mountain) and find a bus stop that would take us back into central Athens where we would finally get food.

FOOD! Turns out pie can make you happy, especially when you have it with some peach iced tea and the pie is chock-full of feta cheese. It really helped us to feel human, as did resting in the apartment for an hour before heading out for dinner.

Being the wonderful husband that he is, I was led to a speciality food store that my husband was sure would do the Greek honey that I needed for my food list. Sadly they did not. A bit of googling and a short ride on the metro helped us reach another specially store called Yolani’s that not only did my honey, but also the Corinthian vinegar that I needed. So watch this space for future posts about those when I get back from Greece.

To finish the day we had dinner at The Greco’s Project where our eyes were a lot larger than our stomach. We shared starters of zucchini fries and a Greek sausage (like the one we’d had on Day 1), had a Greek salad to share and then a souvlaki plate. As nice as the food was, I was thankful of the 20 minute walk home so that I would be less bloated when I got back in to write about my day.

So that’s it for Day 3. Tomorrow we will be mopping up some ancient sites that we missed out on and celebrating our 3 year wedding anniversary by seeing a ballet! Not bad if I say so myself.

XL Popcorn – Glory

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 715/1007Title: Glory
Director: Edward Zwick
Year: 1989
Country: USA

When I saw that there was an American film about the Civil War called Glory that needed to be watched for the 1001 list I made the, not unfounded, assumption that this would be some three hour epic. And so I have pretty much avoided this film for a while, but thought it might make for a good time sink for this trip to Greece. Turns out that it’s just over two hours, which ended up being an ideal length for the rail trip back form Meteora.

The term ‘important’ is banded about a lot in the world of cinema. However, Glory feels like one of those films that deserves such an adjective. Why? Well, because it depicts the 54th battalion – the first all non-white battalion to fight in the American Civil War – from their conception to their disastrous battle at Fort Wagner. As a Brit I had made the somewhat naive assumption that, given that this was a war for America’s survival, people might have been able to put aside racism in order to battle for the Union. Shows what I know, doesn’t it.

This was always going to be a difficult topic to deal with given the attitudes back then and the attitudes in more modern times, but they broach it with an earnestness that does the film credit. It should also be noted that the cinematography and art departments did a fantastic job in bringing this film to life. Where the music was overly sweeping or the speeches overly inspirational, the world around them remained grounded in trenchfooted reality.

There is some debate online about the casting of Matthew Broderick in the lead role as Colonel Shaw. However, given his rank and what he managed to achieve, this is still a well-connected man who was given an incredibly high office at the age of 23. I actually like that Broderick’s portrayal depicted him as unsure and as a person who makes bad judgements. Whilst Shaw has been mythologised since his death at 25, it’s worth remembering the letters we have of his… which do tally up with Broderick.

In contrast, there is no real debate over the casting of Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes, Andre Braugher and Denzel Washington (in the role that gave him the first of his two Oscars). In fact the ensemble cast of the 54th battalion give a wholly strong performance as this first volunteer regiment of black men who answered a call that most whites were too racist or politically motivated to make.

Whilst Glory does go waist deep into the swamp of sentimentality on a number of occasions, there is a lot to appreciate here. You’ll just have to brace yourself for the manipulative score.

The Great EU Quest: Greece – Meteora

There aren’t many things that I would do a ten hour round trip for. Especially when it only means three and a half hours to be able to appreciate a place. However, this is exactly what we did today in order to see the precariously perched monasteries of Meteora.

So long and so infrequent are the trains between Athens and Kalabaka that you really have to make sure you book a seat and make it there on time – otherwise that’s your day gone. The train left at 8:20 from a platform that was only announced about 2-3 minutes before the train came in, so you can imagine me in a slight panic trying to work out where the hell to go.

This also meant us having to be up and out of the apartment by 7:20. Breakfast was some sandwiches I made the night before containing mortadella and some unidentified cheese that bore more than a passing resemblance to Gouda. Keep in mind that yesterday was a Sunday and that very few grocery stores are open – so we got what we got and it helped us last until the train back.

Despite being 5 hours long I must say that the trip pretty much flew by. Watching Frenzy for two of those hours definitely helped, but so did staring out at the passing scenery – something I find myself doing as I write up this blog post on the train back to Athens.

For the most part the train goes through the Greek countryside with views of rolling fields and tall mountains of all shapes and sizes being on offer if you sit on the correct side of the train. As you get closer to Kalabaka and the Thessaly Valley the more farmland you see with cotton as far as the eyes can see. I know I’ve seen cotton fields in Gone With the Wind and in a Geography textbook about lake shrinkage in Russia, but in person they look like something from a Doctor Seuss book.

At about 13:30 we arrived what Kalabaka and loaded up into a small (air-conditioned, yay) minibus for our three and a half tour around Meteora. From the station you can actually see one of the many monasteries resting atop one of the many huge rock formations that are unique to this area. According to myth, these stone structures are petrified Titans having lost in battle against Zeus and his Olympians – something that only endears me to this area all the more.

As you go up the winding roads to Meteora proper is is seemingly impossible to stop somewhere without finding an excellent opportunity for a photo (trees willing that is). The huge rock formations are, in places, pock marked by caves – which originally provided schedule to hundreds of Christian hermits prior to the establishment of the first monastery.

In total there are six monasteries open to the public, with each one closing on a different day of the week for the purposes of upkeep. We purposely chose to do this tour on the Monday because it meant the oldest and largest of them would be open – which is the place that we visited first.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 82/100Sight: Meteora
Location: Kalabaka, Greece
Position: #119

The Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoro is over 600 years old and towers above all the other monasteries in the area. Despite being the size of a small village, very few monks reside there anymore due to the tourists (tourists that they need if they are to keep it open, as it is the tourist money that now pays for upkeep). This was the first of two monasteries we were going to see today and despite having an hour here, we could have had a lot longer.

The views from the wooden balconies were spectacular and started theme of myself and the hub wanting to get back into a game like Skyrim. The wide panorama photographs really do not do justice to what you can see from there.

Inside the monastery itself there are a number of rooms set up to be mini-museums as well as a church and an ossuary. The walls and ceiling of the church itself, the first Greek Orthodox building I’ve ever been inside, were covered in frescos. Thanks to the painting method, these frescos look like they cook have been painted 5-6 years ago rather than 5-600. The only damage having been done by the Turks when the Ottomans took over Greece and scratched off a number of saints’ faces with their swords.

From here we were driven to a number of photo points in Meteora. The first, showing the landscape that Game of Thrones used to depict the Vale in Season 2 (the monasteries were removed digitally as they wanted no part in an X-rated TV show).

We were then taken to an outcrop that is a popular spot to take wedding photos. It looks a lot narrower than it is and did allow for some exceptional pictures of the area – even if I was a bit scared at first to make it onto the rocks, let alone towards the edge. I was fine though and found my inner mountain goat to be alive and well.

A few more photo stops later we got to the second monastery – which is now a nunnery because all the monks have left. The Roussanou nunnery (named after the founding monk who was either Russian or a redhead or both) is quite young for this area… having been founded in 1545. It’s a lot smaller in size, but still has a lot of stone stairs in order to get up there.

Everything about this monastery feels a lot quainter, down to the ticket office being operated by an actual orthodox nun. With this smaller size came the problem of other tour groups. When we got there an Italian school group took up all the room in the, admittedly small, church and in the way out not only did we have them to contend with but also a huge tour group coming in the opposite direction. I’m go glad that I was able to get the pictures I could when I did.

Then that was it for Meteora. The time passed in a flash and yet I feel that we saw an awful lot in the time we had allotted. It was back to Kalabaka in order to buy a late lunch/dinner for the way home. Also a final photograph so I could remember what I saw when the train pulled in.

Dinner was a big slice of spanakopita (Greek spinach pie) and chocolate cigars. Writing this has helped me to kill the first hour and a half of this journey and now, as long as my iPad battery holds up, I’ll be indulging in a second movie now that the sun has set over the Greek mountains.

XL Popcorn – Frenzy

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 714/1007Title: Frenzy
Director: Alfred Hithcock
Year: 1972
Country: UK

The idea of doing a day trip that is 5 hours in each direction really is an insane one. I’ll be going more into that in a future post as, since I prefer to do these things chronologically, I’ll be posting about the film I watched on the way up.

It’s been a good while since I last watched a film by Alfred Hitchcock, and especially one that is as late in his career as Frenzy (which would probably be Marnie). The later films of Alfred Hitchcock are a real mixed bag, but that’s as you would likely expect from an extremely prolific director within the final era of his career. I’m happy to report that, with Frenzy, this is definitely not another Topaz (boy how that film did bore me).

Previously with Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets I saw the horror of a mass shooter out onto screen for the first time, with Hitchcock’s Frenzy we see an interesting early take on the psychosexual serial killer. It’s worth remembering that this film is from the early 1970’s when watching this – some of the comments made by the men within this film aren’t just misogynistic but (in the case of policeman joking with a barmaid about rape before being murdered being a silver lining) are downright despicable.

Right, with that out of the way lets get to the meat of the film. A serial killer is on the loose in London – who rapes women then strangles them to death with his necktie. It’s a horrible way to go, and it’s not comfortable viewing when we see this crime being committed – let alone the three other times that we see the victims once they have been murdered.

The film itself follows two main threads: the perpetrator himself as he commits the crimes from the shadows (the titular frenzy) and that of a man who ends up being fingered for the crimes because of his association with certain victims and because he himself is no saint. There is palpable tension multiple times in this film – most notably the sequence where the killer goes in search of an item of jewellery that would incriminate him.

Frenzy is one of those films that serves as a reminder that even when a director has nearly been making movies for 50 years, you shouldn’t make the mistake of discounting them completely. I mean, here is a film about some of the most disgusting crimes out there… and yet Hitchcock is able to weave in some proper laughs. This is mainly done during the exposition scenes where the police inspector shares details of the case with his wife whilst dealing with her new found love of (rather suspect) continental cuisine.

With his cache, Hitchcock was also able to recruit excellent actors for the two leading roles. The accused man is sympathetic (whilst still an insufferable jerk) and the psychopath shows a incredibly faceted outgoing personality that can change on a dime. Another example of why he was not a director you could properly fob off.

Given the nudity and the sexual violence this may not have been the best film to watch on a train… so I guess that would be a bit of advice from me to you oh dear reader. Watch a film like this in an appropriate venue, which doesn’t include a Greek train going through beautiful countryside.

The Great EU Quest: Greece – The Acropolis!

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 20/28

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am finally crossing off Greece from the list of EU countries to visit. This really feels like the last truly major country to tick off the list and what a better way to cross it off officially than by visiting one of the major ancient wonders… more on that later.

Country: Greece
Year first visited: 2018

Getting to the apartment last night was a bit of a misadventure as a mixture of plane delays and broken ticket machines meant that we didn’t get in until gone 11. Thankfully the bed was comfortable and our temporary digs are exactly what we hoped for. It’s also cool that each apartment takes a name from a Greek god, ours being Dionysus.

Due to our late arrival, we didn’t get up until about 9 (which for me on a holiday is rather late) and we made the decision to skip breakfast in order to get a start on the day. Of course the hundreds of local Athenians we came across doing a cancer run got a better start on the day than us. Oh well.

Since our apartment is about 30 minutes walk from the Acropolis we opted to walk there so that we could start to get to know Athens just that bit better. On the way we passed an interesting landmark: the stadium that hosted the visit modern Olympic Games in 1896. Pretty cool to come across this just as an extra site! I had to photograph it later in the evening due to the sun being right overhead.

A short hop from there was the first (of many) ancient sites of the day: the Olympieion. Back in the day this was a tall temple to Zeus, but now all that remains is 15 standing columns and 1 collapsed one. It really worked to see this first thing as we could still marvel at the height and not be spoilt by what is to come.

The Olympieion area also features Hadrian’s Gate which marks the then boundary between Ancient Greek Athens and Roman Athens. It’s amazing just how intact this particular gate. Also, if you stand in the right place, it provides a perfect frame for the Acropolis in the distance – our next destination.

We got a tip online that if you want shorter queues to get into the Acropolis area not only should you pre-buy your tickets online, but go to the South-Eastern entrance. Most people tend to go to the western entrance as it is the more direct route to the Acropolis itself, but with the entrance we chose there was plenty of shrines and other ruins to see on our way up.

The big one to see is the theatre of Dionysus, whose area spans a lot more than you would first think. The ruins of the theatre is a real mixed bag. Some of it is amazingly preserved whereas others are completely missing. Still, it gave us a cool chance to take a seat in a proper Ancient Greek theatre – something that we will be doing again in a few days time… where I hopefully won’t regret not packing a cushion.

After weaving in and around a number of ruins it was time for us to hit the big ticket item itself: the Acropolis itself.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 81/100Sight: Acropolis
Location: Athens, Greece
Position: #28

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the Acropolis is the whole area at the top of rocky outcrop. The major part of this is the Parthenon, but other ruins (including the incredibly well preserved ‘Old Temple’ to Athena) can be found up here. Also feral cats, but those really are everywhere in Athens.

The weird thing about seeing the Parthenon for the first time is just how hard it is to process what you are being confronted with. Most of the times you see it in pictures you are seeing a zoom in from a nearby hill or the picture is being taken at a distance from a helicopter. Up close, it’s just difficult to parse the scale of the whole thing.

To allow the brain it’s time to process (and to get out of the way of some big tour groups) we went down to the ‘Old Temple’ to Athena (so-called because it predates he Parthenon as a place to worship Athena). It’s a bit of a marvel that is incredibly well preserved and has some interesting building quirks. This is a place that had to be built around a crack in the floor said to be where Poseidon struck the ground with his trident, the original olive tree as planted by Athena, the burial place of a mythic king and a substantial slope.

After this we still couldn’t quite process the Parthenon… so we climbed up a platform on the eastern edge of the Acropolis to take in some great views of the city (including a bird’s eye view of the Olympieion). I think it was the point where we turned around to face the Parthenon once again that it really hit us that we were here.

The Parthenon itself is truly vast. I can only imagine how it would have been to see this before most of it was devoured by the explosion in the 1600s. It will also be interesting to see how it will end up looking after the restoration work has been completed – although this really does feel like a project that will never be truly finished.

We ended up walking around the Parthenon itself two times to try and soaking he ambience as well as we could. It also afforded me the perfect opportunity to take a bunch of photos before we made our way back down the slope. I cannot over emphasise the number of great views that you get from up in the Acropolis – I can only imagine what it must be like to be there when it’s all lit up at night.

After finishing our descent it really was time for some lunch, and what could be more Greek than gyros! I feel that there is this big list of Greek food that I want it try authentic versions of whilst I am here – gyros being the top of that list equal to some proper feta cheese. We appeared to be the only people eating a meal of this size, but then again we had missed breakfast and (more importantly) who cares.

Next to the Acropolis’ slopes is the Acropolis museum – a newly built museum that houses all the findings from the Acropolis area as well as a lot of the original sculptures. However, before getting into that, we went around a temporary exhibition about Emperor Qianlong from China. This did serve as a bit of a palate cleanser for what was to come.

Sadly there is no camera policy in the vast majority of the Acropolis museum, so I’ll be brief. The sheer number of recovered statues and relics is truly overwhelming. There is so much that it makes you wonder just how much did not survive. Some of the best pieces are actually pre-Parthenon pieces that survived a massive act of arson by the Persian army. Some of these pieces still have visible paint on them!

The elephant in the room if the Acropolis museum are the missing marble pieces that are currently sat in the British museum. Being a Brit, it’s interesting to hear the Greek side of the story – especially as they characterise Elgin as essentially being an upper class pirate. Who knows if this will ever be fully resolved to the satisfaction of both sides.

It was pretty late in the afternoon when we left the museum, so we had to prioritise some sites from our Archaeological Sites of Athens ticket (with the rest to be done in a few days). We made our way down a lovely promenade and some really touristy ships to the Roman Agora.

There isn’t too much to this as most of the area compared to everything we’d seen previously, but it still had some columns and a gate intact. Also, and most interesting of all, the old observatory is nearly perfectly preserved. It really does help if a building has been buried for a long time.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Salep Ice Cream
Progress: 753/1001

We had a bit of a walk between the Roman Agora and our final site of the day. A walk which took us down some busy shopping streets and gave us the chance to cross off some ice cream. Salep ice cream has a number of names, which has made the hunt confusing. The Turks call it dondurma and the Greeks call it kaimaki. If I did not know this piece of information, I would never have found it today. The key feature of this ice cream is texture, which is like regular ice cream infused with an almost marshmallow-like stretch and chew. I really did like this ice cream and it makes me want to see if they have different flavours elsewhere.

So we ended the day at the Lykeion, which was the most far flung of the sites on our ticket. It is also the flattest as pretty much nothing behind the foundations have survived to this day. We didn’t get a whole lot of time here as it was 20 minutes before closing, but we probably got as much out of it as we could. Still interesting to beamong history, even if it wasn’t entirely visible.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Loukanika
Progress: 754/1001

For dinner, I found a place just around the corner from the apartment called Katsourbos. It was pretty high on Tripadvisor and apparently specialised in Cretan food. I guess that this sausage, which is meant to found all over Greece, can also be found there. Now, I have had a lot of different sausages for this food list, but this Greek sausage (smoked and flavoured with honey, herbs and citrus) is truly something else. Sure is nicer than both of the sausages from the French box and it gives the Cumberland sausage a run for its money. Something tells me this will not be the only time I eat this before I leave Greece.

My main was liver with skin-on fries and a honey-balsamic sauce. I didn’t get this for the liver, I got this because the sauce sounded really interesting. Man, this really was a great sauce. I hope that I’ll find a recipe to replicate this as it feels like of those that could go well with a lot of different foods.

I probably should have finished writing up hours ago as it is an early start tomorrow. How early, well we need to incorporate a 5 hour train ride. Wish me luck!

XL Popcorn – The Bad and the Beautiful

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 713/1007Title: The Bad and the Beautiful
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Year: 1952
Country: USA

The flight time between London and Athens is a bit over three and a half hours. When flying with a budget airline like easyJet, aside fro, the delays and the legroom shortage, I am usually fine for 1-2 hours, but this flight gave me pause to do something that I should have done a long time ago. You see, I’ve had my iPad 2 for 5-6 years (it’s where the initial list for this blog was written on) and never even thought about taking it with my on a plane to watch a movie, and so here we are with a film that I have been wanting to watch for a good long time.

Directed by Vincente Minelli, The Bad and the Beautiful is one of those classic golden age Hollywood films about the sacrifices people make in order to make it big. It’s presented in the form of three flashbacks, as three people who found success after being wronged by a once successful movie mogul tell their stories as to why they would never work with him ever again. These three are united by their distaste for movie mogul Jonathan Shields (played by an excellent Kirk Douglas), all for incredibly good reasons.

The film itself is set up as a short anthology series with Douglas’ Shields and the common thread. We get to see Shields at his rise, his heights and at his decline and how these different situations have led to his using of the director, the star and the writer. It’s not like he uses and disposes of them once he’s done, in all three situations it is the wronged people’s decision to walk away because he crossed the line that he shouldn’t have crossed.

I may be biased because films about old Hollywood really are my bread and butter, but I thought this film was excellent. The way that we watch Shields’s career path and the different lengths he goes to in order to get what he wants helps to keep the film interesting. However, and I am going to give him this, he had no inclination of sending the writer’s wife (a wonderfully flighty Gloria Grahame) to her death – but the way he concealed his, indirect, involvement did speak to his character.

It’s excellent performances from the all the principle cast and some classically beautiful Hollywood melodrama direction that really made The Bad and the Beautiful a winner for me. Sure films about people gathered in a room recounting how someone has wronged them is hardly groundbreaking, but it helps when it’s very well executed. A perfect plane movie.

🎻♫♪ – Salome by Richard Strauss

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
 49/501Title: Salome
Composer: Richard Strauss
Nationality: German

I posted a near identical picture to today way back in December for my post about the ballet Sleeping Beauty. That was an evening that was enjoyed so much, to the point of immediately looking on the website of the English National Opera to see if there was another production that caught our eye – which is how we ended up with tickets to see their version of Salome. 

This is being posted nearly half a year since that production ended, so review of this particular version are easily Googleable. I think that a lot of what I saw can be easily summarised by Tatianna from RuPaul’s Drag Race“choices”.

What unfolded over an hour and fifty minutes was a baffling series of choices in an effort to modernise this opera. The fact that Salome is a story of necrophilia and incest means that there is no real need to bring the subject matter up to date in order to facilitate a reaction. Still, this did make for a different form of entertainment than I expected (such as marvelling at the gigantic purple headless horse having it’s knitted entrails pulled out) there were some things that I felt cheated out of – such as a good interpretation of the infamous ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ (because twerking has no place in opera!).

Anyway, let’s divorce this interpretation from the music. The orchestra were fantastic and most of the vocal performances were excellent – which means I can actually talk about this on a purely musical level as I have done with the likes of Porgy & Bess and The Nutcracker.

The orchestra required to pull off Salome is huge and has provided me with an opportunity to see the triangle in action. There are a large number of recurring motifs throughout the opera, but for the most part the music really helps to heighten the feelings of discomfort at what you are seeing unfold.

A lot of the music that what we hear is dissonant and, at times, unnerving. Even the Arabesque ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ is ominous and brought to mind The Rite of Spring (despite the twerking). It’s a brilliant score and, on the night, was well executed.

The story of Salome itself is utterly bizarre and I wish that the staging had allowed me to appreciate it all the more. I mean is it too much to ask for a model head to be used for the severed head of the prophet Jochanaan instead of a plastic bag filled with (what I assume is) pink slime.

Good Eatin’ – Grilled Dover Sole

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Dover Sole
Progress: 753/1001

Now that food items are becoming rare enough that I am only able to find them once a month or so, the ones in London with heftier price tags are becoming more and more enchanting. Especially when they’re actually cooked for me, which means I don’t have to fret about over-cooking or misusing them.

A number of restaurants in London’s Chinatown offer Dover sole (which I later found out is just the common sole – the name Dover becoming attached as the UK was the top supplier at some point) is pretty numerous. However, at £33 a plate, I have always put this off in favour of eating dim sum or some barbecue pork. Today was not that day.

The moment the sole arrived at our table, I knew that the training I had gotten from eating whole barramundi and silver pomfret was going to bear fruit. It also helps that Dover sole is perfect to be served grilled whole as the fillets slip off the bone with just a little bit of pressure from the rim of a spoon. The only issue was where to put the spine.

What can I say about the flesh, other than it was flaky, sweet and absolutely delicious. It was so good with the ginger, spring onion, soy sauce and mushrooms – the latter being incredible umami bombs when eaten with the fish. There was also a satisfying crisp crunch to the skin, which I only really started appreciating since I started eating special fish for this list.

I’m looking forward to trying more fish in restaurants, but I don’t know how many more I’ll be finding in the UK. Hopefully I will be able to find one or two in Greece next week… but seeing how I wasn’t able to find anything in Freiburg I’ll have to play it by ear.

Acclaimed Albums – Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 172/250Title: Nebraska
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Year: 1982
Position: #131

Between the increasingly packed trains cutting down on my reading time and a new subscription to Stitcher Premium (where I have been devouring the archive episodes of Dr Gameshow) there has been little time left for list albums. Doesn’t help that I am very particular about the types of albums that I like to listen to when I work, which is a long way of saying that my album listening has really begun to slow down.

The main thing on the work menu today was writing documentation, which means podcasts are completely out the window and I could pick something bloggy to listen to. Rather than continue my run of listening to the oldest thing left, I thought it would be good to listen to something relatively more recent – and so I’ve ended up with Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen.

This is the third of four Springsteen albums for the Top 250 and I’ll wager it is the most depressing (and possibly most evocative) of the albums. This doesn’t have a big single like ‘Born To Run’ or ‘Dancing In The Dark’, but that’s kinda the point of Nebraska.

This album is predicated on telling the stories of ordinary people who live humdrum lives or are in less than ideal circumstances. Focuses of the songs include a man about to face the electric chair (‘Nebraska’, a man facing 99 years in prison (‘Johnny 99’) and someone driving through the night to see his sweetheart (‘Open All Night’).

The whole album is mostly a sombre affair, even the jaunty tiffs on ‘Johnny 99’ hide something fairly macabre. Considering the music that Springsteen is famous for producing, Nebraska is a pretty severe left turn. It’s also an incredibly admirable one.

I don’t know if it’s my own maturation since starting this blog, my growing familiarity with Springsteen’s music or this album in particular – but I think Nebraska would be my favourite Bruce Springsteen album so far. The change in direction and mood work so well as does the sparseness of the arrangements (which is typically just a vocal track, a guitar and maybe a harmonica). Whilst I do love some lush production values, this album really is an example of how to do more with less.

His final album on the list (Born in the USA) will be back to Springsteen giving me the music that his is most famous for. It’s also the album that I am going into with the most prior knowledge… so it’ll be interesting to see how it stacks up against Nebraska.