Please note: I was lucky to receive a copy of Nuclear Family from Henry Holt but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Preparing to go
I am an obsessive person. Sometimes this manifests itself in productive ways – I am incredibly detail oriented at work. I research every city I travel to within an inch of its life. I always know how to get home. Sometimes it is less productive. I get extremely addicted to iPhone games. I find it hard to forget about mistakes I’ve made. I over analyze offhand comments made to me.
In preparation for our trip to Greece, I combined two of my current obsessions: travel and reading. I did some research and found three books set in Greece, two of which I read before leaving (A Separation by Katie Kitamura and Running by Cara Hoffman) and one of which I brought with me (Outline by Rachel Cusk). But it’s me – I couldn’t just leave it at that. I packed 5 other books as well. I carefully selected a group of paperbacks that would suit any mood I had while travelling.
Despite this careful preparation and planning, I was thrown off my charted reading course before I even left the apartment. I had my backpack on, suitcase by my side, and hand on the doorknob when the doorbell rung. It was none other than a delivery man with a package from the lovely people at Henry Holt containing a few books including Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel. I threw caution to the wind and chucked Nuclear Family in my bag. (I know, adding a seventh book to my suitcase is my version of throwing caution to the wind. That’s just who I am.) And with that, I was off.
Athens was where we began our trip and Nuclear Family was where I began my adventure. This was unforeseeably perfect – Nuclear Family is a hilarious epistolary novel. Through a series of letters addressed to a main character who we never hear from directly, we learn about the deterioration of her parent’s marriage, the scandalous escapades of her younger sister, the failed exploits of her own love life, and so much more. We hear from her parents, her sister, her father’s new wife, her grandmother, as well as the exercise machine in her father’s office, her boyfriend’s dog who knows that he does not deserve her, and more. It’s the kind of funny that will make you laugh out loud when you least expect it. And it is the perfect book to read while travelling with your family because it mocks all the crazy things families do to one another while simultaneously paying homage to why we love one another so much. A 9 day trip with your mom and younger brother will do exactly that. I handed this book to my mom immediately after finishing it and she loved it too. Approved by both NYC book girl and her mom.
We had less than two full days in Athens so we dove in head first. We had a wonderful tour guide who explained the layout of the city as we zooped along. Highlights of this first day include the Panathenaic Stadium – a site that is essential to the history of the Olympic Games. They have a small museum inside the stadium that has all of the Olympic torches inside – we had a great time looking at all of these. The next highlight is absolutely the Acropolis Museum which is maybe the most beautifully designed museum I have ever been in. If you are in Athens, this is a must see. It is absolutely insane that most of the complete pieces of the Parthenon are in the British Museum, but don’t get me started on this subject. Because I’ll give you an earful.
We finished our first day by heading up to the Acropolis. It is stunning that the structures up there have existed for thousands of years. The history is palpable as you walk among it. The Parthenon is breathtaking, but my favorite site was the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which is a stone theater on the slope of the Acropolis. It is still used today and you can bet that the next time I find myself in Athens, I will be seeing an opera there. We finished our night with a lovely dinner at Dionysus Restaurant, which boasts terrific views of the Acropolis at night.
The next morning we were up early and off to the Temple of Poseidon which is south of the city at Cape Sounion. It is about an hour and a half drive out of Athens, but the road runs down the shore so the drive was one of our favorite sites. The Temple sits on cliffs overlooking the water and has amazing sunset views, but we were not able to stay for those because we were headed back into the city for lunch and our flight to Crete.
On our way to Crete, the biggest island of Greece, I started Outline by Rachel Cusk. It is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. Like Nuclear Family, we rarely hear from the narrator herself but instead learn about her through her reflection – in the conversations she has with others. This book is also set in Athens and its surrounding neighborhoods, so my reading of it was certainly enhanced by having just been in that same place, walking the same streets and eating the same foods. This book is the perfect example of a book being not about the plot but about the style of the writing. It meanders in the most wonderful way.
Crete was full of the kindest people we met along the way. We stayed in Elounda, a small town on the north side of the island. Our first day there, we simply vegged out, which was much needed after the two intense adventure days in Athens. We went to the beach, swam in the pool, and watched The Devil Wears Prada, which is a family favorite. And I read. A lot.
On the second day, we were to a small island off the coast of Elounda called Spinalonga. A brief ferry takes you to a now uninhabited island that was once an army fort and then a leper colony. The history of the island is bizarre but the views are beautiful and we had a great time exploring. And felt grateful when we left that none of us suffered from leprosy because for a long time the fate of the inhabitants of that island was simply bleak.
That night, I began my reread of From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. This was one of my favorite books as a kid, and in honor of its 50th anniversary and this New Yorker article, I was inspired to revisit it. I just love this book. I love it just as much now as I did when I was 10. I definitely see myself in Claudia. She is a girl with a plan. She loves to learn – she plans lessons for them during their week of living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And she loves a good mystery.
There’s something grounding about rereading something you love. I find myself remembering the person I was when I first read it. In the way that some associate songs they were listening to with certain eras of their lives, I associate what I was reading. And there’s something beautiful about doing it when travelling in a new place. Melding both new adventures with old values.
P.S. the drivers in Crete are crazy and it’s great. Everyone passes everyone else whenever they feel the need to. It would be dangerous if they weren’t all such great drivers.
Everyone we met who lived in Crete told us how jealous they were that we were going to Santorini and they were so right. We took the ferry over to Santorini (which is maybe the most comfortable means of travel I’ve ever experienced). We were staying in Oia, which is on the easternmost part of the island. Our hotel was right at the start of the main pedestrian walkway, which was the perfect place to be.
Santorini is the most beautiful place I have ever been fullstop. I am in love with this city, with the people in it, and with the sea surrounding it.
I spent the first day tearing my way through Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. Dark Matter is a dark, scientific thriller. I thought the writing left a bit to be desired by the story was excellent. The concept was thrilling and terrifying because it seemed possible, in some scary version of our reality. This book is dying to be a movie with some really wonderful and really attractive lead actor. If you have any ideas, let me know. I’ve been brainstorming for the past few days.
And I haven’t even mentioned the best part of Santorini yet. There is this bookstore called Atlantis Books in Oia that is maybe the greatest bookstore I’ve ever been in. They have a little bit of everything: fiction, philosophy, children’s books, rare books, books in many different languages, staff suggestions, etc. It’s managed and curated by Craig, one of the stores original founders. If you go to Santorini, do not miss this store. I picked up a number of things but the most exciting were: a birthday present from my mom – a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ledger in which he himself went through and recorded all of his memories from the year he was born on. It is just the coolest thing I have ever owned. The others were recommendations from Craig: Stoner by John Williams, which Craig said “just might be a perfect novel,” and A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes, which “might come in handy later in my life.” I cannot speak highly enough of Atlantis Books or the people inside. I’ll be saving my pennies in the hopes of returning one day. There is just no feeling like buying the right book in the right place.
Throughout the trip, I was making my way through The Luminaries. I’m about a third of the way through this very long novel, so I don’t feel truly prepared to write about it yet. I’m enjoying it so far (I’m a fan of historical fiction), but I’m not totally hooked, hence the meandering my way through it.
On my brother’s birthday, we went to the Dominaie Sigalas vineyard for a wonderful lunch and wine tasting. A beautiful setting AND there was a litter of baby kittens that were extremely interested in us (potentially because my brother kept slipping them food under the table but also many just because they loved us. The world will never know.) We ate incredible food in Santorini; one of the highlights was definitely his birthday dinner at a restaurant in Oia called Floga. Some of the most delicious and creative dishes I’ve ever seen.
On Friday, I started Viriginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. I love Mrs. Dalloway and I knew it was time I picked up Woolf again. She absolutely delivered. This book has such beautiful prose. Woolf masters the balance between movement and stasis both in her character’s physical presence and in their mental state. I simply loved this book.
On our final day in Santorini, we went out on a boat and explored the red sand beach, the white sand beaches, and the harbor of Thira. We swam and ate and swam some more. It was the most amazing way to spend the last day. (I got incredibly sunburned but didn’t notice until we were back on land which honestly was lucky because it didn’t allow my sunburn to rain on my parade until later that night).
I feel so lucky to have spent 9 days in one of the most beautiful places in the world with two of the people I love most. (In a twist of fate, my dad was unable to join us because he qualified for the British Senior Open – GO DAD – which was the same week.) Greece has my heart.