One week into the trip and I find myself short on underwear and sleep.
Actually went to dinner at a decent hour last night, 10 p.m. Somebody (read previous blog to know it's not Anna Maria, honey) wanted to go to the same place we went to the night before to get a gyro or Souvlaki sandwich.
Instead, we made a turn too early across Ermou Street and got on Metropolitan a block too early. To our very good fortune, Jimmy (everybody knows me, I am Jee-mee he proclaimed loudly) even before we got to the roadside tables set up on the street. After very little convincing, I decided this would be a good place to eat. A group from Denmark was already seated and looked to be enjoying their food, and Jimmy seemed friendly.
"This is a family place," he chimed. Somebody said we wanted to go to Plaka, but Jimmy insisted we stay there. "Plaka five times more expensive than here," he cried. "This good family place."
"I bring you water," he said, and just like that a man came running out of the inside of the establishment with a bottle of mineral water. Jimmy opened the bottle and carefully filled our glasses.
"I bring for you a nice Greek salad with prawns," he said. Now that sounded good. "You like feesh or meat?"
Somebody wasn't quite sold on the suggestion and wanted a menu, but I was intrigued. Other people who had been to Greece had told me about places like this, so I told him I like fish.
"I bring for you sea bass," he said. "Fresh, brought into the store at 3 p.m. today. Fresh not frozen."
I was sold, but somebody browsed through the menu anyway before deciding to order with me.
The salad was huge with fresh cut tomatoes and cucumbers (no lettuce in Greek salads here, or grape leaves, either), pick thick chunks of feta and light purple olives dresses lightly in oil.
I was about to complain there were no prawns when Jimmy brought out two plates, one for me and one for somebody, with three prawns the size of 8-ounce lobster tails. Outstanding.
"Slowly," he said as he made a motion as though he were moving a fork to his mouth. "Slowly."
Slowly indeed. The prawns tasted like a cross between lobster and shrimp.
I kept glancing at the people from Holland next to us, and noticed the tall girl had a coke bottle hanging from the credential card holder we all wear to signify we are part of the Olympic family of athletes, officials and media.
I asked if they spoke English, and they replied in the affirmative. I asked if she was an athlete, and she told me she fenced, doing epee and had lost her opening round match against one of the best people in the world on Sunday. I never did get her name, but her coach and press manager and I had a great conversation about where we were from. They delighted that I had covered fencing earlier that day, and they know Jed Dupree very well and said it was a shocking upset that he lost to the Algerian that morning. The press manager, Bart van de Kerkof of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Algemene Schermbond (he gave me his card, that's how I can spell it), told me that U.S. fencers will rule the Olympics in four years, and invited me to look him up if we ever visit The Netherlands (hey Lois, Europe again!).
My sea bass had come as we spoke, and somebody had his half gone by the time I stopped talking. Again Jimmy cautioned us "slowly, slowly" when he delivered the food. While the main bone was filleted, many of the tiny bones remained. The fish still tasted very good.
When we asked for the check, Jimmy said "I cannot let you leave. I must offer you watermelon," but we refused and said we needed to get going.
Shortly, he brought the check. Dinner for two, 90 euros (about $130). Not 92.50. Not 89.77. 90 on the nose. Whoa. Hold it. Time out. Somebody and I were ticked. "I knew we should have ordered from the menu," he declared.
I was not happy. We had eaten in the Plaka section the night before and did not come close to ringing up a tab like that. At first, I asked if they took Visa cards, but Jimmy said "This is a small family place, we cannot take cards." Then I told him no. I told him he said Plaka would be five times as much, that we had eaten at Plaka the night before and it was half as expensive.
"This is fresh fish, not frozen," he declared. I again told him he deceived us, that he told us Plaka was five times more, and that he was the one who was more expensive. "Fresh, not frozen," he implored. No, I did not have that much (O.K., I lied. I did. But he didn't know that). Then, a man walked over who wanted to know the problem. Jimmy explained. Jimmy was not the owner. This man was. "Fresh, not frozen," the man tried to explain about the high price of fish.
I told them I didn't have that much. The owner, biting his lip, reluctantly agreed to lower the price, to 70 Euros, about $100 U.S. Again I was not happy, but when I reached for my money, two 50 Euro bills popped up. I tucked one back and slowly counted out 20 more and paid him. Oh, and as he walked away unhappy, I told him I needed a receipt. I did tip him, however.
Today, somebody and I were on our way back from the Helliniko Complex after watching the U.S. softball team play. After giving pins to the two volunteers aboard and the driver, I noted one volunteer had an English accent. Turned out she was from London, married a Greek and had moved to Greece.
I told her what happened the night before and she said there were laws enacted against that sort of thing. The Greek volunteer wanted to know what we were talking about, and as I explained our dinner and the place to the English woman for translation, the Greek woman told me we got a good deal because fresh, not frozen, sea bass is from the sea, not a fish farm, and is very expensive.
Glad I tipped Jimmy. Fresh, not frozen.
Morning Call Sports Reporter Gary Blockus is on assignment in Athens, Greece for the 2004 Summer Olympics. Gary's Athens will be providing updated reports from the Games as well as the various sights and sounds from Athens in his daily blog.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun