We started our trip flying out of Charlotte, North Carolina heading to Athens. After 2 days of exploring the city, we traded the pavement for the sparkling, azure waters of the Aegean Sea. When we arrived at the Port of Piraeus we boarded a 148 passenger sailing yacht ready to explore the Islands of Greece. I never thought I would travel on a sailing yacht ⛵ (I don’t know how to swim and a little hesitant!); however, it was an amazing way to travel the Greek Islands. Much to my surprise I didn’t get seasick or have to use the life jacket…what a relief! Each night we would sail to a new island, in the morning we enjoyed breakfast on the ship, then explored what each island had to offer for most of the day.
Our trip was wonderful and I’m happy to share with you some of our memorable outings and the best, authentic, Greek and Turkish food I was fortunate to sample!
We arrived in Athens to an overcast sky, but within a short time, the sun gave way to a beautiful day. On our way to the hotel, the St. George Lycabettus, our 35-minute ride from the airport took us through many narrow winding hilltop roads filled with motor scooters and small cars navigating like a symphony…it was seamless! I was so pleased and surprised to see beautiful oleander flowers in every color growing on many sidewalks, lining so much of the pavement and bougainvillea hanging from balconies in rich deep fuschia pink. When I saw the beautiful, lush, lantana flowers displaying the most beautiful multi-colored blooms in massive plantings I thought I was back in North Carolina! I knew I would love Greece and it’s people!
Once we settled into our room Jack and I met our friends to explore the panoramic view from the rooftop restaurant and bar at St. George Lycabettus…it did not disappoint!!! To see the Acropolis from an unobstructed vantage point was truly breathtaking!
There are many historical and places of antiquity to see in Athens but due to having only 1 ½ days, I had to narrow it down to just a few. First I arranged a private foodie tour with a local young woman, Marina Tsikou. She was so knowledgeable not only about food but very knowledgeable about Athens and it’s history. Our first stop was to the ERGON HOUSE located in the Syntagma district. Ergon House is a very unique Hotel, a cafe along with a butcher shop, bakery, deli, and groceries all in one place. Marina’s choice of mezes (appetizers), was excellent… Dolmadakia (grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs), Bougiourdi (melted feta cheese, tomato, peppers), Melitzanosalata (eggplant), Tirokafteri (spicy feta dip), pita bread, and Pastourmadopitakia (little pies with highly seasoned, air-dried cured beef sausage known as pastourma). From Ergon House, we were off to experience authentic Greek Souvlaki at STREET SOUVLAKI (Kolokotroni 30, Athina 105 62, Greece). We were served several different types of delicious souvlaki and as is custom in Greece, French fries are served inside the pita. To make our food tour even more memorable, Marina took us to the best small patisserie in the district of Psyrri, Ta Serbetia Tou Psyrri (105 54, Eschilou 3, Athina 105 54) for delicious desserts! None of us (except Jack – celiac) was able to resist trying each selection offered to us along with trying Greek coffee. The owner brought us a large plate with several desserts, galaktoboureko, ekmek kataifi, and the ice cream is mastiha or kaimaki. Galaktoboureko is a creamy custard made from semolina, wrapped in sheets of phyllo and soaked in syrup. It is delicate and sweet. Ekmek Kataifi is a pastry made from a shredded type of phyllo dough with a lemon syrup and whipped cream topped with chopped pistachios. Lastly, we had ice cream called mastiha or kaimaki ( made from resins of the mastic tree that give it a sort of stretchiness and a cedar or pine flavor. Marina made sure to accommodate Jack as he was only able to sit by and watch us devour the scrumptious pastries. Having Celiac disease can be quite challenging when visiting abroad; however, much to his delight, she ordered ice cream for him. Marina shared with me one of her favorite Greek dishes; anything made with Avgolemono (egg and lemon sauce). She sent me the recipe of the way she likes it with chicken or pork and I’m happy to share it with all our followers. (We will be making it tonight so look for the recipe and photos tomorrow). If you will be traveling to Athens I highly recommend you contact Marina to arrange a food tour…She is the best!
Marina Tsikou, food experience designer +30 6946 907062
The next day we took a tour of the highlights of Athens: A Greek Mythology tour where we visited The Acropolis (Parthenon, Theater of Dionysus, Temple of Athena Nike, Temple of Erechtheion, Sanctuary of Asclepius), Olympian Zeus Temple, Ancient Agora, Temple of Hephaestus. We learned about Greek Gods and Heroes and discovered some of the reality behind the universal myths. We enjoyed spectacular views and discovered that I was very capable of making it to the top of the Acropolis/Parthenon without much effort. True, it was very uneven and a little slippery at times, but I was careful. Our tour guide found a nice quiet place for Jack & Steve to find shelter from the blazing sun while I journeyed to the top with my friend Heather! We took smiling selfies when we made it to the top!
Later that afternoon I headed to “The Greek Kitchen” for my much-anticipated cooking class. I must confess, taking the cooking class was the single most event I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in! I met my instructor, Vasia, a young Greek woman at the top of the stairs as she greeted us. The first order of business was a trip to the bustling central market, meat, fish, and produce where we picked up a few items for our post-tour dinner. We enjoyed the enthusiasm displayed by the vendors…each shouting out to direct you to them. I must say the fish market was an assault on my olfactory senses…actually the “aroma” blew me out of the water😂! We were all happy to head back to class and start cooking.
First, we made Tzatziki which was so easy and the best I ever tasted. I learned that the key to good Tzatziki is shredding and squeezing all the liquid out of the cucumbers. The next dish we prepared was Spiral Spanakopita with sesame seeds. Spanakopita has always been a favorite dish of mine so I was happy learning to make it in a spiral shape. All the same main ingredients: phyllo dough, spinach, and feta cheese…scrumptious! Dolmades, stuffed grape leaves, was the star of the cooking class for me. (Although in class we used fresh grape leaves, I was able to get them in a jar from California when I made them after returning home). I found the process of stuffing and rolling the grape leaves somewhat meditative…knowing that these little rolled up delights would be enjoyed by friends and family. Greek meals without an eggplant dish is unheard of…so when Vasia brought out the eggplants I couldn’t wait to hear about which eggplant dish we’d be making. Today it would be Imam Baildi from Crete aka Greek stuffed eggplants. This is a traditional Greek dish stuffed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, and feta cheese…absolutely delicious!
Vasia chose the most wonderful dessert for our class to make…Portokalopita from The Peloponnese – Greek Orange Phyllo Pie 😋😋😋 The version we made called for shredded phyllo dough instead of the more traditional phyllo sheets along with orange zest, fresh squeezed orange juice, eggs, and cinnamon. Surprisingly light, but rich and creamy. Did I mention how delicious it was? All these recipes are on the blog with many thanks to Vasia and The Greek Kitchen. Please look them up when you’re in Athens You’ll find them upstairs between the hat shop and the hardware store. Just follow the signs up to the second floor.
The Greek Kitchen
Athinas Street 36 2nd floor, 10551 Athens
http://www.greekkitchenathens.com or call +30 6993871820
I hope to return to Athens to explore more of this wonderful city. We said farewell to Athens in the morning as we set sail to the romantic, seaside city of Nafplio. Nafplio is comprised of narrow cobblestone alleys in a medieval old town once under Venetian rule and later under Ottoman rule. Venetian architecture and Ottoman structures can be found throughout the city. While shopping in one of the local boutiques, “Mitsi’s Style”, I found a pair of earrings (costume) I couldn’t resist. Mitsi, the owner was very engaging and later gave us a recommendation to an authentic Italian gelato shop in the old town.
After leaving Nafplio we sailed that evening to the island of Mykonos… a classic Greek island dotted with hundreds of whitewashed churches and 16th-century thatch-roofed windmills sitting above the town. Our next stop is Ermoupoli, Syros. We traveled to many other islands; each with their own distinctive flavor, each beautiful, and each begging for you to stay longer. We had the pleasure of wading in the beautiful Aegean Sea while in Crete, saw the donkey walk on the streets of Fira in Santorini, went to Santos Winery and enjoyed grilled octopus for lunch while sipping wine and overlooking the spectacular view of the famous caldera.
One of the most memorable places we visited was the western coast of Turkey in the cities of Kusadasi and Ephesus. Our guide, Taz, took us to many places of interest; however, the outdoor luncheon he arranged for us was outstanding! We enjoyed the hospitality of local Turkish people and delicious food, wine, coffee, and baklava at a wonderful “farm-to-table” establishment in the city of Selcuk-Zeytinkoy.
Sailing on a small ship definitely has many perks and one of the best is its “Destination Discovery Event” in Ephesus, Turkey. What an amazing, memorable event it was. After a long day of exploring the ancient outdoor museum, we headed back to the ship to rejuvenate ourselves for a very special evening. Windstar arranged for all the passengers to go back to Ephesus by motor coach and there treated us to the most wonderful moonlight dinner and concert at the Celsus Library. The evening was perfect, the picture-perfect sky, a soft breeze, and dining with our friends where once over 12,000 ancient scrolls of manuscripts were housed in niches on the wall and where the tomb of Gaius Julius Celsus is buried beneath the ground floor. What a perfect way to bring our travels to a close. I hope someday to return to Greece and Turkey…history, culture, food, and people; so much more to explore and fall in love with!