Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blue Jellyfish and Fig Ice cream

Though just as dark as Bulgaria at 7:15 a.m., Greece is considerably warmer. I appreciated the gentle air as I strode out from El Greco hotel for a final lap of Thessalonikki on Friday. One month after our original visit, we were back to pick up our Bulgarian visas from the consulate. I retraced my September steps and saw the same sights - lovely markets, men selling round sesame pretzels, a young couple or two who hadn't yet called it a night. But this time I also saw something new - blue jellyfish. I looked over the edge of the cement walkway along the Aegean and there they were, rolling on the early morning waves like those huge bubbles kids make with special hoops at birthday parties.

By lunch we were official Bulgarian workers, and we had arrived in the small Vineyard town of Melnik, in the Pirin mountains. Tanya, as always, had a special meal planned, complete with a continuous stream of wine. While some wrapped up their lunches with fig ice cream and chocolate crepes, Brett and I went to explore Melnik. We followed a secret path (or at least I'd like to think so) up a hill, hoping for a big view at the top. We passed a beautiful home on the way with red pepper strings hanging from the window, just like I saw last summer in Santa Fe. Of course, the owner stored her shoes on the windowsill below the peppers, which was less common in New Mexico. A little further along, we came to some ruins and the "big deep hole" of my earlier post. I have no idea what made the hole, but I enjoyed pretending to fall down it for the camera. Finally, we emerged on a crest, but the path degenerated like crazy and the view wasn't good, so we came down. Still, it wasn't a total loss. The hole, the peppers, the shoes, it had been fun.

We headed towards the van at a mosey, stopping in at a shop selling painted icons - I would have bought one except religious figures in every icon I've seen look so sad - and admiring the stands scattered everywhere offering Melnik wine, jars of honey with walnuts and hazelnuts suspended thickly in the golden glue, homemade jam and tahini, and glossy pottery in the unique Bulgarian style - in which horizontal stained stripes are dragged in a vertical line to create little flowing arrow patterns spaced around the dish.

We paused at a water fountain where a stray dog was waiting for Brett to turn on the water for him, and next to a grape juicing machine into which a young man was dumping crates of grapes, watching the stems shoot out the far end and the juice pump up a nearby hill in a vacuum tube.

By the time we headed off to Sofia again, most of us had less money and fuller stomachs. While our time in Greece had been brief and harried, our lingering stop in Melnik was restorative.

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