So About Greek Food...

Prior to traveling abroad, I didn't realize how much of impact it would have on my perspective of food. Not only the taste, but also the experience. It is still amazing to me how the style of food and ingredients change so dramatically depending on what part of the world you are eating in. Culture is a wonderful thing and experiencing these differences has enlightened both my life and my palate. 

With that being said, I still doubt that I qualify as a "foodie", but ever since having perfectly cooked duck in Paris, Florentine steak in Tuscany, or melt-in-your-mouth lamb shanks in Greece, I can't help but have a new appreciation for what I eat. On our most recent trip to Greece, we had so many new culinary experiences at different restaurants. Below were our favorites. I hope you enjoy!

 

Liondi: This touristy restaurant in central Athens is located right outside the perimeter of the Acropolis. If it wasn't for a TripAdvisor find, reinforced by a recommendation from our apartment host, we probably would have looked for something more "off the beaten path". It is neighbored by many other outdoor eateries that are commonly found near major attractions in European cities. They are usually known for these prime locations, but generally have what I would call "standard" quality food. This was not the case for Liondi. Having just set our bags down after landing in Athens, we went directly to lunch. We all ordered tall local lagers called "Mythos" (except for Kailah, who was toting that baby bump), which were especially refreshing in the 90 degree summer day. For food, we ordered family style, sharing everything. We had souvlaki, stuffed peppers, mushrooms, octopus, calamari and on and on. Everything was absolutely delicious. For classic Athenian fare, I would go back to touristy Liondi in a second. 

Aegean Restaurant: This was another TripAdvisor "find" backed by a local recommendation. Upon arriving at our caldera side hotel (Zenith Blue), we prodded our host for where we should eat. It just so happened that his recommendation was the place we had made reservations for. A five minute walk lead us to one of the best restaurant views in the world and absolutely the best lamb shank I have ever had. The air was warm, the sun was setting, the beer was cold and the food was fantastic. If you stay in Imerovigli, this place is a no-brainer. 

 

Candouni: I always try and ask the locals where we should eat and am definitely not afraid to cancel a reservation to switch gears and eat somewhere that is recommended to us. This is exactly what happened with Candouni. We were riding in our hotel shuttle after arriving in Santorini, when we slowed down and picked up a woman carrying four grocery bags. She was a friend of the driver and needed a lift. We got chatting with her and she told us about her friends restaurant that had great food and live music on Tuesdays. Since it was Monday, that was pretty much all I needed to give it a shot the following evening. When we got to the hotel, I asked the owner to make reservations for us the following night (Tuesday) and go figure, he too was a friend of the restaurant owner. It turned out to be an amazing experience. We sat outside in the warm evening air, with ivy covering the trellis overhead, and live Greek music being playing in the background. The service, meals and wine were absolutely superb. One specific detail that stood out to me was the Meze. In Greece, Meze is a group of small plates served before a meal. We ordered a house selection for the entire table and all of us got to sample the cheeses, dipping sauces, breads, olives and other small dishes. This was an amazing way to finish out a relaxing day on the beautiful island. 

 

Lets Eat: How did we discover this on our second to last day? This place was simple. They served fantastic gyros for $6. Chicken, or lamb, stuffed with tzatziki sauce, veggies and french fries. I could have eaten lunch here every day, but despite finding it in the waning hours of our trip, we still managed to go for two rounds at this little eatery. 

 

Oroscopo: We're walking around Athens on our last night of the trip in search of food. I had this restaurant that I found on TripAdvisor called Oroscopo in my mind, but I wasn't sure we'd find it. If we did find it, I doubted there would be a table open for six people. By the time we were in its vicinity (based on my phone's GPS), we were really starting to get hungry and I decided it was best to end the wild goose chase and sit down anywhere to eat. Then we came upon a square with several restaurants, so I told the ladies to walk to the right and see if they could find anything, and the two of us guys would check the left. That's when Oroscopo literally fell right into my lap. I asked the host if he had a table and as fate would have it, he did. To make a long story short, the food was amazing (as I'm sure you expected), the service went above and beyond and the value was tremendous. In addition to our meals, we were treated to fresh breads, delicious soups and decadent desserts, which were all completely "on the house". On top of that, after "the moms" and I drowned our second carafe of wine, the waiter offered to bring us a third free of charge. We thanked him, but waved the white flag, as we had struggled to finish the previous carafe. So what did he do? Marches right into the kitchen and comes back with six shot glasses, a bottle of limoncello and a bottle of a clear liquor! Needless to say, it was a joyous walk back to the hotel. If you visit Athens, go to Oroscopo - they will not disappoint!

Journey through the Cyclades

While we had an amazing time exploring the Athenian streets and architecture of ancient Greece, we were ready for some relaxation in the sun. Our destination was the furthest island in the Cyclades archipelago, which goes by the name of Santorini. Most people know this gorgeous island by its famous, blue-topped, white washed churches and jaw dropping views. In addition, most visitors also find it interesting to learn that these beautiful panoramas were actually developed when this now crescent shaped island, was once a sizable volcano. In 1646 BC, the mountain erupted and collapsed, creating the ringed caldera that we are familiar with today. 

Our journey began in the port of Athens on a 7:25 AM Blue Star Delos Ferry, which would take about 7 hours of elapsed time to meet our destination. Sounds like a long, uncomfortable "ferry" ride, right? Fortunately for us, this was much more like a cruise ship than a ferry boat. In addition, we booked a stateroom for the ride down, so that we could get some rest, just in case our antics kept us up too late in Athens the night before. The stateroom came with 4 beds, a full bath (with shower) and access to the ships business lounge seats/service. Since we booked the entire room with our party, we got a reduced rate and only paid around $12 extra per person over economy. We had 6 of us travelling, so we grabbed a couple of economy seats and all sat together in business class, which made this a very comfortable ride. The crew had no issue with this fare discrepancy, since we had the state room. Be advised, these rooms need to be booked months in advance during high season. 

Throughout the day, we lounged around on padded chairs in front the of the ships floor-to-ceiling windows and ordered cappuccinos, espressos, danishes and sandwiches (which we were surprised to find weren't over priced). There were a couple of restaurants on board, in addition to the service provided at our seats. Even a boutique shop opened up a couple hours into the voyage. Between Piraeus Port (Athens) and Santorini, we stopped at the islands of Paros and Naxos (more on Naxos in a future post, as we stopped on the way back). It was a nice break in the relaxation to head out onto the open deck and watch the boat taxi into the different islands. There were some beautiful photo opportunities with each port, as the sun shone into the blue water and reflected off the white buildings. The ports lacked the ugliness we might find from an industrial port, as the majority of them are used for tourism nowadays. This is, of course, with the exception of the fisherman supplying the restaurants with fresh fare. Even after 7 hours, arriving into the "new" port of Santorini seemed to come too soon. But as we looked up the switch back roads to those fairy tale towns hanging out on the cliffs, we knew it it was time for our journey to continue. 

More on Santorini coming soon!

Why you shouldn't vacation in Greece

If you don't enjoy fresh sea bass, slow roasted lamb shank, fried calamari with pesto, or overflowing souvlaki wraps, Greece may not be for you. If you don't think walking onto your balcony every morning to a warm breeze and jaw dropping views of the Santorini caldera is for you, then you may not appreciate Greece. And lastly, if a long day soaking up the island sun on the deep blue Aegean Sea while sipping wine and sailing into a sunset doesn't ring your bell, you may want to choose another country. 

Alright, alright I'm obviously being sarcastic. As you can tell from my descriptions, Greece was a sensory overload of the find-est kind! We had so many unique experiences. We hiked the acropolis in Athens, ate at MANY fantastic restaurants, stayed on the rim of the famous Santorini caldera, sailed the Aegean on a catamaran and sat down to a Greek wine pairing. To keep things somewhat brief, but provide other prospective travelers with some insight to our experiences, I'm going to highlight our favorites in different posts over the next few weeks. If you are interested in any further details, please don't hesitate to contact us via the contact form on the website. Also, if you would like to know more about our original plan of attack, simply follow this link and read more about the trip plan. 

Athens Acropolis:

The Acropolis was definitely a highlight of our two days in Athens. We booked a guide ahead of time through Get Your Guide. While I'm not a huge fan of guided tours (probably because I like the freedom to roam about), this turned out to be a great decision. By hiring a guide, we were able to skip the ticket line (over an hour wait in the 95 degree heat), ask questions of our English speaking guide and also take in a plethora of facts from our guide that we normally wouldn't have had access to. One watch out that I want to point out is that the Acropolis hike requires a steep climb and many stairs. During the summer months, the temperature hovers in the mid to high 90's. So please realize that it will require this level of fitness for 1.5 hours. It is also smart to make sure that your group is well hydrated and supplied with water bottles beforehand (there is a bathroom and more water at the top). OK, back to the experience. For those that don't know, the Acropolis is actually the entire hill that the age old Greek buildings sit upon in Athens. The famous Parthenon, is the iconic temple that people see in pictures, with its beautiful columns standing tall against the Athenian skyline. Many people get this confused and call the Parthenon "the Acropolis", when they are actually different. We began our hike at the base of the hill, at a Greek yogurt shop called A Fresko. We snagged some beforehand for breakfast and it was fantastic. Kailah and I both got plain, with honey, walnuts and pineapple. The others chose between yogurt, pastries and smoothies. Delicious all around. To begin the tour, we guiltily walked past the long queue line and straight through the front gates to the historic site. As we ascended, our guide stopped periodically in the shade to provide details of what we were looking at. It was amazing to see concert halls, a theater and even a hospital, built thousands of years ago - all while traveling the same road that ancient Athenians once did. As we crested the hill, we were met with a dense group of tourists, who were all lounging on the stone stairs leading up to the Parthenon. The final ascent was breathtaking, as you could see Athens sprawled out magnificently in all directions. The view from there was the highlight of the tour. It is breathtaking. The kind of view that you hike for over an hour in 95+ degree heat for. If you go to Athens, make this part of your itinerary. You will not regret it. Our tour ended with a few parting notes on the buildings atop the Acropolis, inclusive of the Parthenon, Temple of Athena and the Propylaia. At that point it was time for lunch at Sfika - a gastropub off the beaten path, which features classic Greek food. But, we'll make time for food in later posts :). 

 

More on Athens and the beautiful Greek Isles coming soon!

 

Europe 2017: Greece

We’re officially all booked! Greek islands here we come for some fun in the sun! August 11th we’ll be hopping on an Air Canada jet (after a short commuter flight up to Montreal) to take us down to Athens for a couple days before spending the balance of our trip on the island of Santorini. We’re also very excited to have more travelers accompanying us this time, as Kailah’s parents and my Mother and Aunt will be joining us. For these four, it will be their first time over the big pond and we’re excited to be able to share it with them.

Athens:

            Our flight leaves Montreal in the late afternoon on Friday the 11th and arrives in Athens a little before lunch time on Saturday. We don’t have any concrete plans for the balance of the day, except to explore the touristy areas of central Athens and seek out some authentic Greek food and wine. I’ll be making a few restaurant reservations given the busy time of year (and the fact that we need six person tables), but I like to keep the arrival day open, since we may be a little tired from the journey over.

            Sunday is our second and final day in Athens. We’re going to try and beat the mobs of tourists by hitting the Acropolis museum and other ancient sites early. This high season is not something we are used to and will not be friendly for sightseeing, so we are going to do our best to avoid long lines. Once we’ve had our fill of the beautiful history of this part of the world, we’ll use the balance of the day to explore (and spoil ourselves in more local cuisine).

Santorini:

We have 7:30 AM ferry tickets to Santorini on Monday. We are embarking on another early morning, so that we can get to our base island at a reasonable time. The trip will take around 7 hours, as the boat weaves its way down and around the Greek islands to our destination. However, this is not your average “ferry” as we might think of in most locations. With its restaurants, bars, cabins and lounges, it reminds me more of a cruise ship. We chose this mode of transportation as it will allow us to relax in the open air (you are restricted to being inside on the faster ferries and they still take 4.5+ hours) and is reasonably priced. We considered flying, but didn’t want to miss out on the views and given the time of year, flights were more than double the cost. In addition to two economy tickets on the ferry, I booked a 4 person cabin, in case anyone has too much wine the night before in Athens and will be in need of a nap :).

In Santorini, we’re going to slow down and relax. We’re staying at a hotel right on the edge of the caldera. A caldera is a volcano, which has collapsed due to an empty magma chamber caving in during an eruption. In our case, the rim of the collapsed volcano is what we know today as the island of Santorini. Our stay will give us magnificent private views of the Aegean Sea, so we can sip our frappes in the morning and wines in the evening with a breathtaking backdrop. At this point, I think everyone can sense the level of motivation we are shooting for :). But given our goals of extreme relaxation, we also intend to partake in a few touristy events to include an ATV tour of the island, a wine tour and a trip to the beach.

Finally, once it’s time to leave our perch in the sun, we’re going to depart early on Saturday and stopover on the island of Naxos for lunch and some shopping. We're using this opportunity to stretch our legs, but also see an additional island while we're in Greece. Needless to say, this stop will stamp the end of our journey, as we reluctantly head for the airport and a plane pointed back to the states.