Ceramics and desserts

Sunday is a slow start by the sea. The rain has dampened our spirits and we decide that we will forgo the trip up the hill to see the fortress. It’s far too windy and the dark clouds too ominous for our liking. This ends up being a sound decision because it rains the entire day.

After breakfast at the hotel and a late morning coffee at a small cafe, we spend the next few hours wandering from shop to shop. The rain and cold don’t do us any favors and before long we are tired and ready for lunch. A taverna is pointed out to us by the shopkeeper of the olive wood store, and we trudge toward a place called Vassilis (sp).

Lunch is warm and hearty, featuring the kind of comfort food that encourages a lengthy siesta afterwards. We have stuffed vine leaves which are so very different from their American counterparts (these are drenched in sauce and not cylindrical). Thao finally gets to have stuffed tomatoes after several restaurants have denied their existence; they are almost sweet and the orzo is bursting out the sides. The piece de resistance is the moussaka, made with meat, eggplant, pasta and bechamel sauce. Thao’s eyelids are at half mast before we get the check, and we struggle to press on through the afternoon. We are operating on the assumption that most shops will close early on Sundays, but in the end this is not the case. After a hot chocolate and some time to thaw out, we crash for a late nap.

Our nap runs long and we debate the merits of heading back outside in the dreary weather. After joking about pizza delivery we bundle up and head out in search of dinner. Nafplio is built on a series of streets that run parallel to the sea and many a set of stairs that connect the streets. Choosing one of these that leads to a cute shop with bright blue shutters, we climb the stairs to peek in the windows.

What results is a surprise and a joy. A middle aged couple is in the main room of the store, and the man booms a loud response to Thao’s question: are you open? Yes, yes with a sweeping gesture to welcome us into the warm shop. The interior is an absolute riot of color: fiery reds, eye popping yellows and deepest blues. The woman sits at a table in the corner, working on small ceramic disks while a small television set plays the Greek version of Dancing with the Stars. Within several minutes of wandering through this ceramic wonderland, the man asks us if we’ve ever seen a kiln. He invites us back into his workshop and spends a great deal of time explaining his pieces in different stages of the firing process. He answers our questions with patience and good humor, providing us with bits of history and information about the origins of the clay he uses.

He fascinates us both and we talk about everything from American geography to the color of his next pitcher. His name is Panagiotis, and his wife is Maria. There in his workshop surrounded by plastic buckets of glaze and with the sound of Frank Sinatra crooning in the background, he is the vision of a humble shop owner. I ask if I can take photographs and he obliges me, saying that if someone asks he will never say no. He wraps our purchases within an inch of their lives and sends us on our way with a smile. It is easily the highlight of our day.

Our evening tops our rainy day by a long shot and we find ourselves indulging in a kebab dinner for a mere €3.80. If I must be truthful the Spanish kebab is no competition for it’s Greek cousin, which arrives with spiced French fries and tzatziki. I would sell my soul for this yogurt sauce.

Because we are devout dessert eaters, our walk home accidentally detours past a brightly lit cafe advertising loukamades on their chalkboard easel. Once again we are charmed by the shopkeeper and he delivers our treat with a flourish. These are fried balls of dough that resemble profiteroles – cooked in oil and then dressed with whatever you like. We go whole hog and traditional adding honey, cinnamon and thick ice cream. The shopkeeper went so far as to hand us a laminated copy of an award they won for homemade gelato and then offers us a spoonful of nearly every flavor. Overwhelmed and high on sugar, we stumble home to dream of sunshine, ceramics and pastry.

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