Eating Our Way Through Greece

 

I first titled this ‘Greece in a Week’ but got 1/4 way through and realized this title is more appropriate. Let me start by telling you that a week in Greece is certainly not enough. Forget the breathtaking islands or the rest of the mountainous mainland, it would be possible to stay a week in Athens alone. But, have to make the most of that minimal time off, right?

Mom and I made Greece our meet-up spot for the year, a nice flight for her and a 16 hour journey via Moscow for me (more about that in another post). While I was waiting for her, I was very pleased to find out a friend from teaching in Hungary was there with her family as well. The world is a big place but getting smaller and smaller through connections for me.

Athens

After Mom arrived, we did two food tours back to back… If you’ve done a food tour, you’re probably already laughing at us. If you haven’t done a food tour, let me explain. Generally, food tours consist of a bit of a stroll through the city with general information, information on food, and plenty to eat usually starting with appetizers/snacks moving towards main dishes and finishing with a dessert and local alcohol liberally sprinkled in. I don’t remember all of the either stop, but besides two main meals, we also had gyros and desserts and plenty of drinks. When I say stuffed, I mean I could not possibly eat anymore and left most of the final meals on my plate. Also, making the rookie mistake of wearing jeans rather than stretchy pants or a dress did not help. Mom and I rolled slowly back to the hotel fuller than ever intending. Little did we know, those tours set a theme for the week of consistently ordering too much, very tasty, food.

This is far from all the food that we had to find room for in our aching stomachs. From left, a gyro, the tomato bowl is called Dakos. It has feta cheese and a really nice crunchy bread hiding, in the same picture is smooshed fava beans sort of like hummus. Also there is some local alcohol heated and mixed with honey (ouzo I think). Below on the sand is how Greek coffee is made, I learned I hate unfiltered coffee. Finally, a meze plate with eggplant salad, fresh veggies, things rolled in grape leaves, and more with traditional meatballs and fries behind.

While our tours were lovely, they started out with a bang, literally. It hailed and rained until rivers ran down the street. We found out later that a few people had been struck by lighting at the acropolis as well as a piece of marble which fell down.

On Tuesday, we joined a tour out to Delphi. I did not enjoy this group tour, it was a massive bus of people that were all somehow meant to hear one guide who used neither a microphone nor her outside voice while relaying the likely interesting info. (If you don’t like crowds, I suggest not using GO tours) Instead, Mom and I snuck away from the group and took some pictures that I have little information about. Delphi was considered the center of the world by Ancient Greeks. It has a stadium, a temple for Apollo, and a theater among other structures that are now mainly ruins.

After Delphi, we came back to Athens to discover our favorite restaurant of the trip. When in Athens, do NOT miss eating at Liondi. Located next to Acropoli metro stop, I ate all of the three course meal Chef Stavros put down in front of us despite not feeling hungry. We also returned our final night in Greece to enjoy it one last time. The staff are amazing and treated us like friends and the food was incredible. Have you ever heard someone say “I’d read my favorite author’s grocery list”? Well, I’d drink Stavros’ dish water. Too far? Maybe. When visiting, Stavros will come out to greet you, please let me further suggest to let him choose what to cook for you. We had the same appetizers each time because they were just so delicious, plate descriptions in captions.

Santorini

After returning to our food coma, we flew to Santorini the next day. Santorini was beautiful, full of flowers blooming and jaw dropping views. It’s also over touristed and extremely crowded. In the famous shots of Santorini with the blue domes in the back are all hotels. Locals no longer call that part of the island home as it’s more profitable, not to mention private, to renovate to hotels and live somewhere quieter. Besides the twisty streets teeming with visitors, another problem here is the facet water is not drinkable. In high season, this is a huge issue in regards to trash. Santorini, Europe, Asia, 1,000 steps, or not traveling, don’t forget to clean up after yourself and all of your empty water bottles.

Santorini is known for those white building with blue dome shots. Years ago, when cholera was an epidemic, the buildings were painted white as the asbestos was though to kill the spread of the disease. Church domes were painted the famous blue so that they could easily be recognized. These days, the colors are kept up because tourists love them, and they are beautiful. There weren’t quite as many blue domes as I expected to see from pictures, getting that famous Instagram shot was a little challenging and the exact right spot and angle is needed to capture it.

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We took Santorini Highlights Tour with wine tasting from Argyros company and I highly recommend it. Kostas was an amazing tour guide and we covered nearly all of the island that day. Kostas talked about the eruption 3,000 years ago that annihilated the island, sending rocks as far away as Naxos, and breaking the once circle island into sort of a ‘C’ shape, creating the modern day caldera. Thira, Oia, Akrotiri, and Megalochori highlights were hit with beautiful views, lots of history given, and old churches seen ending with the wine tasting with a view of the caldera.

While Oia is the typical spot to watch the sunset in Santorini, it was much too crowded for our tastes. Honestly, the view from our hotel was just as good and we didn’t have to take any elbows to fight for the photos either.

From the volcanic eruption, Santorini is left with two black beaches and one red beach. We quickly visited the black stone beach, it’s still stone as it’s blocked off from the major tides and the waves have yet to break it down to sand yet.

Naxos

After Santorini, we ferried to Naxos. It was not a ferry like what most people think. This was one massive boat and there was no deck to watch the island slip away from while getting sprayed with chilly salt water. The island ferry has proper assigned seats that are surprisingly much comfier than most airlines now. So sadly we had no caldera views from the water.

Arriving in Naxos, we took a tour from Eleni at Philema food tours through the main town of Naxos including cheese tasting, a walk through the Venetian castle, dinner, a walk through a traditional store, and ending in a wine bar with a very knowledgeable owner. Eleni is a Naxan local, extremely friendly and has a desire to give you the best experience possible. We really enjoyed her tour and also that we got lucky and her friend was there to take some advertising pictures was great as well. Naxos is known for its food, specifically  cheese and it was good here. the traditional shop still has local families come and sell their products there. The wine bar was so beautiful on the inside, I’m kicking myself for not taking any photos besides the outside wine bottle.

We took another tour of the island of Naxos the next day. The island is huge and has many mountains, ruins, and hundreds of years old churches. I won’t be putting up any photos of the churches as looting/ black market selling of artifacts is a big deal currently for Naxans and I don’t want to contribute to stolen frescos or other artifacts. The  church are not much to look at outside but just a couple steps inside it’s clear to see how old they are and the artwork is incredible. Not only is a lot of black market selling going on, when a farmer finds an artifact on their property and turns it in, the Archeology Department (or society or whatever their title is) can take the land away and look for more, with no compensation. This has lead to a lot of artifacts not being turned in, left in churches, sold on the black market, or destroyed.

Besides learning about artifacts and how their discovery affects locals, we toured a Kitron distillery. Kitron is a liqueur made from the citron fruit’s rind (the fruit is like a massive lemon). The green was the sweetest and my favorite, and it got stronger going left. Visit the Vallindras Distillery in Chalki to have a taste yourself. IMG_3537.jpg

 

We also ate good in Naxos to stay true to the theme, of course. Crazy fresh octopus (hanging out on the sidewalk for a while) and equally fresh skate made us non-seafood lovers a very lovely meal at Meze Meze.

We had a gorgeous but freezing sunset at the Portara, we didn’t stick the whole thing out there as the wind was whipping through us but it was beautiful nonetheless.

Athens, again

We finished our time with an early morning view of the Acropolis. While going early in Oia was good to beat the crowd, there doesn’t seem to be a time to get ahead of the tourists to see the Parthenon. It opened at 8, we weren’t the first in line, and more poured in while we pursued and pretended we were absorbing some history. That’s just hard before coffee, alright.

This and That

Something that we saw again and again was very tiny church-like structures on the side of the road. Much like our white cross and flower tradition for accidents in Pennsylvania, the Greek construct these when something bad has happened there. They also come by and light candles inside.img_2809.jpg

You’ve probably heard of the Greek cats, which are everywhere, but Greece also has lots of dogs. The spay and neuter the strays, put a collar on, and continue to let them run through the streets. The most famous stray is a bit mean, but the second is a huge carpet and likes pets almost as much as I liked petting him. My favorite spot this trip is the last one living her best life on a rooftop with a killer view.

Out of all the places I’ve been, nowhere compares to the hospitality Greeks extend effortlessly to strangers. I felt like everyone was my family, and not the kind of family you move away from home because of (joking fam, I know ya’ll read this). It really felt like each Greek I met wanted to take care of me, I don’t know how many times I was warned to watch out for pickpockets because they genuinely wanted to help me. They were all very interested to share about their country but also here from me and what my opinion was on the food I just tried, about Hong Kong, about how I like Greece. From my experience, Greeks are open, friendly, and genuine people and it was so beautiful to spend a week learning from and eating with them, even though a week is far from enough for this wonderful country.

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