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Cats of Greece

Enzo

I’ve never really been a cat person. My mother didn’t like cats because they walked all over counters and tables and my brother is allergic, so there were no cats in our house other than the kitten I hid for a couple of days in my closet when I was six.

Enzo, of course, changed things when he took up residence in the DelSo last year. He is the sweetest cat ever – unless you’re a mouse, in which case he will catch you and proceed to torment you until you squeak for mercy. That kind of makes him a perfect house cat, though, doesn’t it?

I had been told that there are cats everywhere in Greece, but nothing really prepared me for the presence of beautiful cats and kittens most everywhere we wandered. They frequented the same tavernas and cafes we did and, in general, seemed to come and go wherever they pleased.

“My” Paros cat

There was one cat that became “mine” for the duration of our stay on Paros. He seemed to have a fondness for the narrow street near our AirBnB and after noticing him the first morning, I came to expect to see him daily. One morning he wasn’t there when I left for my early walk and I was very relieved to see him in his spot upon my return.

Here are some of my other favorite felines.

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Going to the bathroom in Greece

Before I came to Greece I imagined it, in all honesty, as kind of dirty. I don’t know why that was my impression, but I kind of pictured it as sort of casually maintained. Maybe it comes from being raised by a German who presented my brother and I with our own shoe shining kits when we were in primary school. Who knows?

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The cleanliness of Greece puts America to shame. Streets and sidewalks are regularly swept and even mopped. There isn’t garbage or trash strewn about and things are just plain tidy. But, the bathroom customs are a tad different, in case you are as unaware as I was until recently…

In Greece, toilet paper is not deposited in the bowl when one is finished with it. Instead, there are closed bins next to toilet in which you toss your used tissue. Kind of gross, in a way, but practical because the waste pipes are apparently much smaller than those in the States. I certainly didn’t want to be responsible for backing up a toilet and it became increasingly more routine for me to abide by the local customs as the days went on.

Picture for a moment what you might encounter in a public restroom in the States, maybe in a restaurant. Often something essential is missing – toilet paper, hand soap, or perhaps the means to dry your hands. Or perhaps the stall is simply filthy with the smell of urine, or worse, assaulting your senses when you enter the bathroom. In Greece, on three islands and in Athens, that was a situation I never encountered. Not once.

Now, take this to another level and consider the state of the bathrooms you may have needed to make use of at a beach…In my experience, they are generally pretty damn gross. Take that dirty, smelly situation as described above and add sand to it. A lot of sand. Everywhere. Now, look at the photo below. That is a bathroom at a beach taverna where we enjoyed lunch in between naps on the sun beds and swims in the Mediterranean. Immaculate.

Here’s another example from the Blue Star Ferry between Paros and Athens. While there was a stall out of order, there were plentiful options of which to make use, the bowls, sinks and floors were clean and there were real glass mirrors and hand dryers that functioned. Amazing.

We can learn more than a couple of things from the Greeks – their deftness with phyllo and the use of oregano when cooking and how to create a beautiful, unique village despite every house being painted white. Maybe we could just start, though, with bathroom maintenance?

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If I told you I missed you, I was lying

Wait. Maybe that sounds harsher than I intended. It wasn’t actually a lie when I said it, more of an attempt to say the “right” thing. Because when we travel away from our family and friends and lover, we’re expected to tell them we miss them, aren’t we? It provides some sort of consolation in our absence and verbally demonstrates the importance one places on their presence in your life. It’s what people do.

But…

The truth is, that when I’m away, I’m gone. I’m in some other place, hearing languages I don’t know, smelling scents that make me turn my head to locate the source, seeing things I’ve never before imagined and tasting foods that literally make me moan. I’m walking roads made of marble, swimming in remarkably warm and blue waters, and feeling the sun on my back and the wind in my face.

I’m absorbing as much as I can of the place where I am so I can carry it home. Where I will share it, with those that I love who were not with me for this most recent adventure. So, when I say “I miss you,” what I’m really saying is “I’m sorry you’re not physically part of this marvelous experience, but, I am. Completely.”

Love, Silvia

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The perfection of Paros

I’m not sure how we got so lucky with this trip. I mean, the weather has been unrelentingly sunny and hot, the food fantastic, our accommodations comfortable and the transportation between islands pretty much flawless. What more can one ask?

Since we are now on our final island before our return to Athens, then home, I feel like I can make a comparison between the three we have visited, as limited as that may be. Naxos was lovely and our apartment was very well located. I love the streets of the old city and the views from our rooftop. The activities we did there were pretty chill, a hike of sorts and a bike ride that some may refer to in the future as the Bataan Death Ride, but we really didn’t do too much beyond walk, eat and drink. Perfect start to any holiday as far as I’m concerned.

Mykonos was definitely an experience. We stayed in a lovely hotel, lounged by the pool and had a terrific dinner on our one night on the island. While I’m happy we went and got to see a small part of the island, I think it’s safe to say that I don’t feel a pressing need to go there again. The beautiful and rich people can enjoy it, because I’d much rather spend more time in Paros.

Paros is simply lovely. It isn’t as hilly along the port as the other two islands and I can almost imagine actually taking a run here, if I were an early morning runner, that is. The beach we went to yesterday was great and a deal (10 euro for two sun beds and an umbrella) compared to Mykonos where the same set up would have cost 26 euro. The buses are frequent and cheap and will get us where we want to go today – the beach again, followed by the Byzantine Trail for a hike. Our airbnb experience last night, a farm to table meal, was fantastic (more details to follow) and the bakery around the corner is completely responsible for my rounded belly courtesy of their delicious pastry.

This island is chill and gorgeous and I’m hoping to make it back here for a longer length of time. My dream would be to house sit for a couple of months and really explore this place. Retirement is in my sights and I’m getting some really good ideas about how I’d like to spend it – and where.

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Mykonos moments

When I was planning this trip to Greece, a challenging task because there are so many options and I knew nothing, I struggled to choose between Mykonos and Santorini as our indulgent (read: expensive) island. Ultimately I went with Mykonos because I thought that party atmosphere was more appropriate than a romantic setting when traveling withy son. Perhaps, Santorini will be a future excursion with a travel partner to whom I didn’t give birth.

The ferry from Naxos took nearly two hours, a bit longer than the official ferry schedule claims. We were on a small boat, but the trip was much more comfortable in significantly calmer waters. Upon arrival in the old port, we found our way to a water taxi (4 euro r/t) and made it to Mykonos Town in less than 15 minutes.

Our hotel, Ilio Maris, was a short walk through narrow and winding streets followed by long hill. The sidewalks are pretty much nonexistent, but the traffic is so heavy that no one is moving particularly fast and it was daylight. The hotel itself is very, very nice. Simple, clean, with terrific amenities including a pool and an extensive buffet breakfast included. And the view – panoramic and gorgeous. It was, by far, the most expensive (~$250) accommodations of our trip, but I rationalized that it included breakfast and I’ve spent that same amount for a night in NYC. Carpe diem.

We spent the afternoon relaxing and napping by the pool and sipping glasses of cold white wine. And water, lots of water. In the evening, we walked down to a recommended restaurant, Kounelas Fish Tavern, where we very much enjoyed a couple of small plates including grilled octopus with fava bean purée and a shrimp dish with tomato sauce, feta and bell peppers, along with more tasty white wine. With the flavor of the complimentary shot of liqueur on my lips, we made for the nearby port to capture the evening’s sunset.

Both of us were feeling pretty giggly from the wine and were happy enough to walk around people watching. We grabbed some gelato and wandered taking in the shops, smells and apparent wealth of many of whom we encountered. The people here are beautiful, but not necessarily without effort, and my son sagely noted, “Mykonos, I see what you’re all about.” After an hour or so, we agreed we were content to return to our room for the night, where I promptly passed out fell asleep.

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Missing Naxos

It’s that time of the evening again. The sun has set, with me as its sole witness on our rooftop deck, and I’m alternating between cold white wine and cold water. I don’t really need dinner after another late lunch, but some ice cream might be nice and, since it’s our final night on this island, I probably should indulge myself. F*ck it. I don’t know when I’ll be fortunate enough to return to this, my first Greek island, and I think I want to spend a little more time wandering the maze of streets and, perhaps, say goodbye to the cats and views which have left me utterly charmed.

I miss Naxos already.

And I haven’t even left yet.

We arrived on a day when it seemed the island was trying to keep us offshore, as the wind blew with 50 mph gusts and the ferry workers practically shoved us off the ramp and it’s barely contained bucking. It was intense. Since that day, though, Naxos has softened and accepted our presence with grace. The skies have been blue and the water is warm and the food has been fantastic. We’ve hiked and biked and paddle boarded and swam and the sun has been kind and only slightly burned us. I’m thinking of the redness on my shoulders as a means of taking a little bit of Mediterranean sunshine back home with me. I’m ok with it.

I’ll miss the sounds of sweeping brooms and the water hoses perpetually battling with the sandy soil and the dust it leaves on every single surface. I hope to always remember the noises of the birds and crickets and church bells. I’m certain I’ve never eaten as many tomatoes or capers or olives and I know, that when I eat those things in the future again, they will remind me of my time here. Just like the gelato I’m about to go into town to enjoy.

Thanks, Naxos. It’s been wonderful.

Next stop: Mykonos.

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Eating Athens

In Athens our only organized activity  was a 3.5 hours food tour we booked through Airbnb Experiences. (Remember I did another one of these in Galway earlier this year?) if you’re traveling I recommend taking a look at Airbnb’s site and checking out what might be available at your destination. These excursions, classes and activities seem to be much smaller scale tours than some of the more commercial ones. For instance, our tour was 6 + our guide, Marina, and her assistant, Maria, which made navigating Athens’ busy streets easier than it might have been with a larger, more cumbersome group.

We met at Monastiraki station near the Plaka and once introductions were made, we went directly to a spot, Creme Royale, for traditional pies, with both savory and sweet on our menu. If you immediately think round pies, you’re wrong, because these were rectangular for the most part and served in a slice rather than a wedge. As Marina gave the staff notice that we had arrived, we remained outside a large window captivated by the grace and skill in which the baker manipulated the dough, stretching it to a remarkable thinness which required a rolling pin, but also a couple of vigorous tosses in the air akin to the actions of a pizza maker. When the dough was to his satisfaction in terms of both thinness and layers, he cut it into a wide swathe, topped it with filling, folded it unto itself and sealed it closed.

We were able to taste five – one of savory cheese, a spanikopita style with spinach and feta, a pork and beef, and one that was filled with a sweetened custard, my favorite. Additionally, we were provided with a different styled which was round and filled with meat and a sauce which was reminiscent of American bar-b-q. Remains were packaged to either be divided amongst the tour goers or given to the homeless along our way, the unanimously agreed upon perfect solution.

Next up was a walk through the old fish and meat market. This was absolutely remarkable. The fish was so marvelously fresh that even on a very hot day (90+ F), there was minimal fish smell. The vendors were friendly and humorously aggressive about selling their products and the stalls were clean and surprisingly lacking in cats because cats are everywhere. How they keep them out of the open air, but covered, market is a mystery. After touring the central area of the market, we did a broader loop and covered the part of the old market where the meat vendors ply their wares. In this area of the market vendors were provided with butcher blocks on which to chop and the cleavers were put to good use as customers requested particular cuts of beef, lamb, chicken and pork. Also available were some more exotic meats such as rabbit and water buffalo. Again, there was surprisingly little aroma, which was a bit of a relief to me.

Naturally, our next stop was for cheese, cold cuts and yogurt at a small place called Zarkadian. Beyond the deli display cases there was seating and we were made quite comfortable with water, red and white wine, ouzo and a Greek style of grappa. Anise is not my thing and I was a little afraid of the grappa, so I stuck with wine as I enjoyed the bountiful Greek salad, array of cheeses and sliced meats including both water buffalo and camel. Yes, camel and no, I’m not sure if it was one or two hump camel. It was dried, and the texture was between a prosciutto and a jerky with a flavor I can only describe as different. The fruit topped yogurt was the perfect aperitif after indulging in a taste of almost everything so generously presented.

Feeling temporarily satiated from our consumption, we made our way to Mokka for coffee. Here I had my first Greek style coffee. Served in a long handled copper pot which is poured tableside into your cup, my coffee was bracing, yet smooth. It turns out the Greeks have their own obsession with coffee and there were many varieties from which to choose. With caffeine now coursing through our veins, we leisurely walked to our lunch destination Tis Theatrou to steki for “tapas style food.” Or maybe better read as “an incredible spread of numerous small dishes made with a variety of ingredients.”

We arrived and were seated at a large table outdoors with a view of a crumbling, yet still distinguished building. As Marina explained, countless buildings were torn down as Athens expanded and lifestyles changed in modern times. It wasn’t until the latter half of the last century when buildings were retained rather than destroyed for the sake of new construction. Now it seems the buildings are left to deteriorate or, on rare occasion, be rehabilitated. Our luncheon was extravagant in variety but simple in flavors – olive oil, oregano and basil played starring roles, as did tomatoes, beans, eggplant and yogurt. It was divine.

The remains of our feast.

There was still one final stop, Serbetia tou Psyrri, for desserts. In my world, there’s always a little room left for something sweet and we were at the right spot. This family operated bakery had a display of fantastic looking cakes and baked goods and we were lucky enough to taste 3, along with a sampling of ice cream. I was pretty much in a food coma at that point, but the delicacy of the pastry and the limited amount of sweetener, be it sugar or honey, helped me to thoroughly enjoy each bite.

I can’t recommend Marina’s Taste of Athens tour enough. It was an excellent value at approximately $65 per person and it is a great way to discover the cuisine of Greece with a guide who is knowledgeable, personable and enthusiastically proud of her home.

Also – I took most of my photos with my Nikon and they won’t be available until I’m home. I imagine I’ll do a number of posts that are just photo-centric at that point, so come back to DelSo again if you’re interested!

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