“You need a taxi?”
Why yes, we did. How wonderful to be offered a ride as soon as we stepped off the ferry into Piraeus! We followed the man offering the lift past the clearly marked taxi stand to his car. He eagerly helped us load our luggage into the trunk. We, having been burned in Piraeus last year by a driver who never turned on the meter, were savvy, and reminded him to turn on his when he didn’t immediately do so.
“It’s a flat rate. Twenty seven euros,” he said.
“But last year it only cost us 12 euros to get here from the city centre,” I told him.
“No no no no no no, it’s four euros each extra because I helped with your luggage and there’s this fee and that fee…”
“That’s okay,” the Beast said very calmly. “We’ll just get out.”
“FINE I WILL TURN ON THE METER.”
We then found ourselves terrified in the back seat of a car going extremely fast. When we pulled up to the Hotel Grande Bretagne, he said it would be 20 euros even though the meter said 16. “I need a receipt,” I told him.
I don’t know how he did it but he produced one that said 19.60.
I was furious. But at least we were about to check into a luxury hotel and finally have long, hot showers in actual showers and be allowed to flush toilet paper.
And speaking of check in, I had a plan. Because we are repeat customers, we always get sent up to the sixth floor for a private check in complete with complementary glasses of Veuve Clicquot where we’re upgraded to a lovely room, always 616, with a big balcony and butler service. This is why I always book the cheapest room. Because the upgrade is now expected. Once I was sipping my Champagne, I was going to dial up my sass, push my luck, and ask for a bigger room because for our last two nights, I wanted to go out with a bang.
At the main desk, we found out we had indeed been upgraded. I was waiting to be rushed up to the sixth floor to complete our business while I sipped on the Veuve but before I knew it we had our room keys: for 717.
It was the same tiny room, just one floor up, and without the big balcony.
That’s when the devil inside of me came out. The Beast watched in shock and horror as I purposefully banged my knees on everything because the room was so small; as I cursed our taxi driver; as I said I couldn’t live like this–in a luxury hotel–because I felt like a sardine in a tin can, like a trapped animal.
It must’ve been close to 10 at night and we hadn’t eaten. But I walked down a floor to the butler’s office to straighten things out. There was no one there. So I went back downstairs to the same woman who checked us in to complain about my upgrade (I was not of sound mind) and said “Listen we are very grateful but it has been a long day so how much will it cost me to have a bigger room?” They were booked almost to capacity. There was one large suite available, however. The price? An extra 540 euros a night.
The devil inside of me actually considered it.
We walked to Heteroclito, a wine bar very close by, in silence–except for one disclaimer from me: “I WILL EXPLAIN MY POOR BEHAVIOUR ONCE I HAVE A GLASS OF WINE IN FRONT OF ME.”
The place was bustling with actual Athenians–young people, old people, all of whom looked like they belonged in a Socialist fashion magazine spread. We got the last table outside and ordered a flight of three Cretan whites along with a plate of ham and cheese.
I explained how my plan to sweet talk my way into a bigger room had been thwarted after being ripped off, again, by a taxi driver in Piraeus and apologized for having a devil inside of me.
“You scared me,” the Beast said. “You know we basically just sleep in the room, right?”
“That is hardly the point.”
“Did you notice that the Greek Marc Jacobs is sitting across from us?”
“Oh my god I was going to make the same joke but only something about it being the Greek Robert Downey Jr. or the Greek Francesco Clemente!”
“That’s why we belong together.” He paused. “Do you know what’s especially funny is if you’d waited a second, we could’ve just figured out where the actual taxi stand was.”
Yes, it’s just hilarious.
We slept like babies in our tiny baby’s room under luxury linens and the devil inside of me was exorcised come morning (especially once we’d had a coffee up here.)
The Beast really wanted to visit the Byzantine museum again. I really wanted to visit the Acropolis museum again. So we decided to go our separate ways and meet outside my museum at 11:00 a.m.
We travel extremely well together. (That I ended up with someone who enjoys ancient ruins and fresco painting as much–if not more–than I do, and who loves spotting celebrity lookalikes when travelling, still astonishes me.) But after being attached to each other’s hip for 12 straight days, the couple of hours apart was nice.
When I spotted the Beast in the crowd walking towards me, I smiled so big my face hurt. We caught each other up on our solo excursions while we waited to secure our Acropolis tickets. We saved 20 euros because the tickets are reduced starting Nov. 1 and for a brief moment I thought: I should’ve paid for that upgrade with all the money I’m saving.
We walked through the theatre of Dionysus, where tragedy and comedy were essentially born some 2,500 years ago. We winded up the path and passed through the Propylaia to reach the Acropolis, circled around the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the base of the Athena Promochos on which once stood a 9-m tall statue of the goddess made by Pheidias that could be seen as far away as Cape Sounion, and on our way out, crooned our necks to see the jewellery-like box Temple of Athena Nike.
Afterwards we stopped for gyros at Bairaktaris Taverna and then toured the Agora and its museum. It was nice to get up close and personal with the Temple of Hephaestus, which is remarkably well preserved thanks in large part to it being turned into a Christian church very early on.
We wandered through the Plaka. The Beast bought an Alpha beer T-shirt and a bright blue “Greece” tank top for when he pumps iron. I looked into jewellery store windows, as I always do, scanning for the ring of my dreams. It’s something that looks like it was dug up from an ancient Greek tomb and put into a museum display case. Whenever we wander through ruins I instruct the Beast to keep his eyes open because you just never know, maybe we’ll find the ring in the rubble. And whenever we peek into a museum gift shop, I wonder why they don’t just reproduce the ancient finds. They’re so beautiful.
This year, I found the ring. It was made by a man named Lucas. He told us that there used to be some 70 jewellery makers crafting museum reproductions. Now, there are about fivet. He’s able to make about 20 pieces of jewellery a year. He modelled mine, a very simple gold ring with delicate filigree work and a sapphire at its centre, after one on display in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. It was found in Thebes and dates to about 550 BC.
By the time we got back to the hotel in order to freshen up for dinner, we’d walked close to 30,000 steps that day, a new record.
I had a bath, feeling very pleased with myself for not paying for the bigger room because it gave me all that extra money to buy the ring, while the Beast posed in his new tank top.
Too tired to choose a restaurant, and not being terribly hungry after our gyro lunch, we walked back to Heteroclito. We ordered a bottle of Limnio, an ancient Greek red varietal that I’ve been eager to try (it was lovely), a cheese plate, a dakos salad, and more of that ham, which we found out was named “Montreal” to pay homage to the restaurant Joe Beef.
We ate and drank and laughed and walked back to our room at midnight.
In bed, I thought again about the money I spent on a piece of jewellery and now felt a great deal of anxiety. The Beast, who encouraged me to buy it from the get go, reminded me that I’ve been looking for it for so long.
I told him that when I first tried it on, my eyes welled up with tears, which shocked me a little. I told him that the way the colour of the sapphire changes in the light reminded me of the seas we so love to swim in here. In Idra, we’d float on our backs, look at each other and the water around us, and say: “It’s like we’re swimming in the heart of the sapphire!” I told him every time I look at the ring, I’ll think of that, of him. I’ll never forget those moments.