Friday, August 24, 2007

Our Roving Correspondent

Phil Grayson is stopping through Magdalena en route to Poland from his last job in Istanbul. I am hoping he will be posting himself soon from Poland, with his own password, but he has given me several travel essays to entertain you meanwhile. Here is the first.

It’s Vrahati Time!

A ways west of Athens is Corinth, and a ways west of Corinth is Vrahati. A little Peloponnesian village on the coast of the Gulf of Corinth, Vrahati has everything you could want in a vacation spot, beautiful vistas, perfect, warm, crystal clear water, loud nightclubs, and umbrellas and lounge chairs set up all along the beach, free for anyone to use, built on the assumption that if you swim and sit out in the boiling Greek summer long enough you’ll pop in to get a soda or beer or something from the cafĂ© behind you. It has Greek girls, tall and dark and having smoked themselves into a beach-ready thinness, it has cheap wine, great food, and friendly people. Everything, with the exception of hotels.
As far as I could discern, there is one four-star hotel somewhere in Vrahati unseen by me, nothing at all below that, and with beach-camping forbidden by Greek law, it puts the frugal yet law-abiding traveler in a bit of a bind.
As a result, Vrahati is mainly a destination for Greeks, who keep their summerhouses there. This makes it a nice refuge from the tourist traps and conmen of Athens, an escape from post-Olympics inflation, and generally a nice, laid-back way to take in the ease and love of life that you came to Greece for.
One glorious manifestation of this is the siesta. Wake up at dawn, eat breakfast for a few hours, sit around having coffee, shooting the breeze, maybe go for a dip to beat the midday heat, have lunch for a few hours, then crawl into a cool dark room and sleep through the prohibitive heat of the afternoon. The siesta chases off the heat stroke, digests the pig or two you’ve eaten at lunch, and, when everything in town closes down until 4 or 5 in the afternoon, enforces leisure and patience, at least until your body falls (as it will easily fall) into the proper rhythm. The best thing about the siesta, though, is the nighttime. Rolling out of bed around Quittin’ Time, USA has a way of making a man willing and able to stay out all night, wreaking all manner of havoc on the good people of Vrahati, his own body, and the laws of both god and man. And that, my friend, is what vacation is all about. Just ask the bars that open, open!, at 1 am.
All of which brings us back to our original problem, the terrible dearth of hotels. One can nap the afternoon away on the beach, somehow as long as you’re running the risk of skin cancer it doesn’t count as camping, but sooner or later a man has to sleep. Really sleep. On a bed.
Of course, you could bus it back to Corinth and environs, plenty of reasonable accommodations there. Otherwise you could head on further down the coast to any of the other perfect beaches that fill the peninsula, some even with sand in place of the smooth stones that make the beach in Vrahati and most of the rest of Peloponnesia. But those both sound an awful lot like giving up, letting this cold world get the best of you once again, surrendering this little slice of heaven to a bunch of rich foreigners (at least they would be foreigners in America), admitting defeat. And there’s no reason for that when you’re one of the only foreigners in town and the Greek habit of being incredibly hospitable fits together so well with the American habit of abusing the hospitality of others. I discovered this on accident one night, trying desperately, Greek-English dictionary furiously churning, to convince a group of Greek girls to let me sleep with them. Something must have been lost in translation, but I spent the rest of the week napping on the beach and sleeping on their couch. So I implore you, good reader, pack your sunscreen and your puppy dog eyes, and hit up the unsuspecting little town of Vrahati, Greece.

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