Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Kind of Travel We Can Only Dream Of

We venture up the mountain of Mystenga in a car and soon realize we are a bull trying to maneuver through the pen and gate made for a small pig. I pull off the cobbled street made more for hiking than driving. The pull-off is another side street, but I intend to turn around and head back down the mountain. As I shift into reverse, I can't keep the clutch and acceleration pedal on the same beat and the car dies. First time.

I back up into another thin slice of the world with an outrageous angle. The car dies. Second time.

I'm stuck between the stones of two ancient buildings and a big wood utility pole. Tony gets out of the car to supervise the next turn. The car dies. Third time.

"Inch forward. Plenty of room. Now watch the corner."

I maneuver within inches of leaving a Grecian dent in our rental car.

As we head straight down the mountain, we pass the butcher shop. We are so close to its doorway in these mini-streets, it feels like I'm going through the Wendy's drive through to pick up a frosty.

"Yassah! Do you know where the bakery is?" I call to the men practically sitting next to me. They wave and motion for the butcher. He comes forth and directs us to the street right in front of us.

"Efaristo!" I drive forward. As we pass the blocked street, knowing we won't venture this way with the car, we continue down the road and hug the car next to a wall.

We start our mountain-goat walk up a steep slope of a stone-layed street which opens to a cafe, a restaurant, and a bakery, which only has two sesame seed rings left and four loaves of bread, and a baker so amiable I want to embrace him.

We were hoping to purchase enough bakery items to hold us over until dinner, but now after purchasing only the sesame rings, we hope for better sustenance. We step back into the shaded square and size up the possibility of the cafe. Four tables beckon like rocking chairs next to a fire. One table is filled with four Greeks who have just finished their lunch. We worry the cafe is closed.

"May we eat here?" we ask.

We don't speak Greek and no one speaks English, but it appears we have been invited to choose a table. We ask to see a menu. We then know who the owner and cook is because she starts laughing and evidently understands the word menu. She shakes her head no and gestures to herself, as if to say, "I am the menu!"

The Greeks invite us to see what is left on their table. Fresh tomatoes and fried zucchini puffs. It looks delicious. We take a seat. She calls for her granddaughter who speaks English, and she comes to see what we would like to order. They stand together. Tony starts to ask menu questions, but the back and forth translation is too complicated and tense.  I interrupt, "Tell the cook we will eat whatever she makes for us." This is met with great approval and the grandma bustles off to cook. Just for us.

I take inventory of our placid surroundings. A small, shaded cafe at the top of a hill. A tucked into the hillside village.  A woman who will bring forth a scrumptious meal. Mediterranean weather, olive trees, a view of the sea, all in one glorious afternoon. Grandly contented, I sigh and say to Tony, "This is the kind of travel we could only dream of."

For those of us with eager palettes: the stuffed tomato was the perfect infusion of fruit, oil, and spices. It's the kind of flavor that makes one return to distant islands.

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