You can imagine how exhausted we were by the time we set out in search of dinner. I'd planned a gourmet excursion to the best (and only) reviewed restaurant in the region, a restaurant recommended by every one of my guidebooks. However, you know what happens to those best-laid plans. On the evening before we left New York, I received an email response to my reservation request, saying the restaurant, Gastra, was "closed for the summer holidays." Thwarted, we were left to muddle something out from the rest.
Back on the mainland, we wandered the lake's edge, too hungry and exhausted to make a decision or do anything other than squabble as we critiqued awnings and stretched our necks to gape at every plate we passed. Hawkers at each restaurant along the strip babbled in Greek, hustling clientele off the streets and steering them to tables in their outdoor terraces. Our heads shook constantly to deflect their clamoring as we perused menus, pacing the road and declining invitation after invitation. We lingered by a neon ferris wheel that twirled at the edge of a fly-by-night fair squatting in a lot across from the lake.
I finally consulted the least reliable of my guidebooks (the only one that offered any food recommendations in Ioannina other than the closed Gastra) and finally, exasperated, offered Ben two restaurant choices. He sent us to Phillipa's.
Harsh overhead lights flooded the outdoor patio in a sickly yellow glare. As with every other restaurant we passed, only about two of the other tables were filled. We immediately ordered a bottle of the house Retsina (only 3.5 euros!) from our waiter, a sightly overweight and distracted man pushing middle-age.
I choose fried zucchini and tatziki for our appetizers (delicious! outstanding, both of them! but they served us only bland white bread with our dip, no pita. This seemed the case with every restaurant thereafter as well), then flipped through my guide book again for a menu recommendation for Ben (the pork Phillipa's) which he took. I decided upon the chicken casserole with potatoes and cheese.
Ben's meat on a stick ~ unimpressive, he reported.
My cheesy chicken thing ~ lumpy and equally unimpressive. The chicken was overcooked, the potatoes undercooked. And I think they used Velveeta.
Afterwords, drunk on cheap Retsina, I looked up and took this picture.
I just love the pointless photos I take when I'm drunk. I could have shown you the excellent (and far more photogenic) restaurant bathroom and illustrated how we had a cross an actual street to get there. I could have snapped a photo of the (fascinating) golden dog that sat staring at us while we finished our wine or the way the island lights winked at us across the lake. Had I even aimed lower, I could have shown you the thick trail of ants marching up the trunk of this tree. But no, I looked up and thought, "How pretty! These are not like New York leaves," which was the alcohol talking, of course, because in the light of sobriety, these leaves look about like any other.
Despite mediocre entrees, dinner was uneventful until we started looking for the check. Ben spied our waiter lumbering across the dining area. "I'll flag him down," Ben said, turning sideways in his seat.
However, Waiter broke from the main corridor and strode over to a motorbike instead, a motorbike parked on the edge of the narrow sidewalk just outside the terrace entrance. We watched as Waiter dug through a bag hanging from the bike. Ben stayed sideways in his seat, poised to get the man's attention when he came up for air.
Even as we watched, our waiter produced a shiny black helmet from the bag, which we thought odd. Perhaps he was lending his bike to someone? Or had stored something precious in his hat? Ben and I stared as the waiter pulled the helmet low over his head, straddled the motorbike, revved his engine and puttered off down the road.
We've not had that sort of thing happen in New York City, I must admit. If a waiter's shift ended, well he hands you over to the next guy. Waiters don't usually just scoot off on a bike mid-dinner. At a loss, we waited for a while to see if someone would come over, but none of the staff took any interest in us, our empty glasses and plates or the credit card Ben clutched in his fingers. After some time, we gave up on the Moto-waiter's return and Ben set out in search of someone to pay, finally slipping his card into the hand of a very confused woman who appeared to work in the restaurant (her job seemed to be standing around giggling with the Moto-waiter and her friends) and couldn't manage a word of English. I worried as she wandered off with his card, but it returned to us once again in the hands of a much older woman who tried to chat us up in Greek (but to no avail, of course).
After our semi-satisfying dinner, we backtracked to a quaint bar draped over the water's edge. We settled on cushions and ordered ouzo, a delicious mojito and a Coke Light. We weren't expecting a crowd, but were still surprised to find only one other table occupied even here. With our ouzo came a plate of tomatoes, ham and olives. I distractedly nibbled an olive as we relaxed and inhaled the fresh scent of the lake rolling over us. I was beyond jetlag, beyond wine and roadmaps and spiders. I thought nothing of bees. It was one of those moments.
On our way back, we lost ourselves again in the streets of the Kastro. What a wonderful thing, to lose yourself in an ancient place. What a strange sensation to roam among silent ruins under the light of a full Grecian moon. Only the clop of our footsteps echoed in the night. Perhaps the wine accentuated the haunting beauty of time-slicked rubble. Sure that he'd found our way, Ben accidentally led us along the edge of the torture grounds and through several deep and winding alleys we'd not traversed before. An especially decrepit entryway drew me inside. My feet glided across smooth cobblestones as I crept into a stone tunnel and faded into the darkness before Ben called me back. If ever a place was haunted, it was those ruins.