The flight into Athens Venizelos airport is always a memorable one for me. It contains a mixture of emotions, ranging from happiness and excitement, to passion and melancholy. I moved from Greece to the States when I was ten years old, but my parents made it a purpose to keep all the traditions that our culture had instilled on us, along with never losing touch of the language and my Greek roots. My love for Greece is unlike any other kind of love. A country that moves you and awakens you, especially in the summer time. A country rich in history and ancient traditions, Greece is where I left all my family and childhood friends behind and where Marco and I first became husband and wife.
We begin our stay in one of the oldest cities in the world; Athens. The first few days in Athens are always a happy blur (just like a narcotic, an overstimulation of happiness). It begins with lots of hugging and kissing and catching up with family, all while eating and drinking your weight in feta and Ouzo. After family sessions, we meet up with friends and smoothly pick up where we left off a year ago, like nothing has changed. This year we were lucky enough to attend two of my girlfriends wedding's as well, and therefore our first week flew by and was filled with late nights, feasts, laughter, drinking, and a bit of dancing. We also did not miss a chance to take our first swim in the Mediterranean Sea, making visits to Akti Vouliagmenis and Limanakia. Many travelers only make a stop in Athens city center to visit the main historical sites, but end up missing some great beaches and private coves, just half an hour outside of Athens; also known as the Athens Riviera (easily accessible with public transport).
We spent most of our time in Glyfada, a suburb of Athens where I was raised, making sure to pay a visit to the neighborhood bakery every morning to pick up some fresh tiropitas (cheese pies filled with feta or kaseri cheese) and a frapé- a classic Greek coffee drink made with Nescafe, whipped and mixed with water over ice. If countries could have a national drink, then the frapé would be Greece’s. A definite must if you are a coffee drinker. We strolled around Glyfada’s shops and cafes, and made a stop at one of our favorite tavern's O Proedros, to eat kebabs, fried zucchini, sutzuki sausage, fish roe salad and Greek salad. Here is a classic Stef’s side note and this one is especially for all you foodies out there. A Greek salad really goes by the name horiatiki and consists of only sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, green papers, red onions, olives, capers, and according to what region you are in their type of cheese, but most often big squares of feta topped with oregano, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. At nights we would meet our friends for some drinks and night swims in the calm sea waters at Vouliagmeni Nautical Club, or make our way to the center of Athens for late night strolls through the little streets and some bar hopping. Even in the face of financial crisis, Athens is trying to recreate itself and the city still bustles with life. Both ancient and modern, the center is filled with history, lively cafes, ancient landmarks, boutiques and hip hotels, outdoor cinemas, and artsy-industrial neighborhoods that merge the old with the present. We love to spend our day and nights in Athens whenever we can.
We made sure to spend an entire weekend in Anavissos (along the Athens riviera) with my uncle and aunt, at their house right off the beach, doing absolutely nothing but sitting on the balcony talking for hours, soaking in the sea, and eating my aunt’s delicious cooking. The grand finale of the weekend was getting to see my parents, after four months, when they arrived from the States. It was perfect timing, as my birthday was coming up and the greatest gift of all was being able to enjoy turning another year wiser with everyone. My birthday celebration began with friends, as midnight rolled in we splashed around in the dark waters of the Aegean at our favorite night spot, drinking white wine, blowing out a tea light candle placed on top of make-shift chocolate soft serve cake in a glass cup and 5 spoons to share (cheers to the most unique birthday cake ever). The next evening we feasted with my family at Rafale, our plates filled with salads of all sorts, fresh grilled fish with lemon, grilled octopus, squid, and shrimp. For dessert we cut up my birthday cake filled with fresh fruit, which was brought out to me by the waiters with the candles reading ’13’ instead of my true age. I guess that was meant as a compliment right? All in all, my 13th birthday was exactly what I wished for (minus the Backstreet Boys party hats which we can definitely make up for next year).
It's not only the ancient ruins, mythology, and history that attracts visitors from around the world to maker their way to Greece. But the 6,000 islands and islets (227 which are inhabited) that surround the country, are the main reason one packs their bags and dreams of a holidays in Greece. It would not be a summer unless you spend some time on a Greek Island. Like many Greeks, every year Marco and I choose a couple of different islands to visit, and this year we made our way to Kythira with my parents and family friends, and just the two of us to Amorgos for a more romantic holiday.
The island of Kythira lies opposite the south Peloponnese Peninsula and is considered one of the seven Ionian islands. Although harder to get to, either a direct flight from Athens or a road-trip down Peloponnese and a ferry ride across, being so far away from all other islands has its great advantage; less tourists. Our 30 minute flight from Athens to Kythira, brought us to this off the beaten track island, where we made sure to rent a car (the island is massive) and made our way to Palaeopoli Villas located in the village of Palaeopoli, off the small port of Avlemonas. There, we met up with our family friends who had made their way from the States to spend their summer holidays with us. The breathtaking views of the infinite sea and the ringing of the cicadas put you right at ease and made you crave a nap, but not before heading over to eat some home-cooked dishes at the tavern nearby. Two hours and full belly after, we strolled the port of Avlemonas, and took an afternoon dip, jumping off the rocks off its many coves and swimming out past the fishermen's boats. In the evening we drove down to the center of the island Chora, where we walked along the white-washed buildings, watched a traditional Kythira dance performance, shopped in the boutiques, and enjoyed a hearty meal of grilled meats and fresh salads at Zorba's.
Over the next couple of days we spent the mornings picking basil and tomatoes from the garden and cooking breakfast all together, enjoying our morning taking in the view on the veranda. We soaked in the Greek sun and Aegean saltwater at the beaches of Diakofti, Kaladi, Melidoni, and Fournoi. We drank lots of bottles of Ouzo, ate lots of Greek salads, and feasted on the famous lobster pasta at Sotiris Tavern. We spent an afternoon in Mylopotamos, one of the most idyllic Greek villages, having lunch in Platanos under massive shady trees. Almost a week later, and a lot of lazying around the incredible waters of Kythira, we spent our final day on Captain Spiros's boat, who took us around Kythira, where we swam in secret coves, hiked up rocks to find a hidden pool of crystal green water, ate limpets with lemon fresh from the sea, danced to Greek music, drank some more Ouzo, and dove into blue dark caves. How can anyone begin to describe the waters of Greece? The color is a mixture of the blue skies and turquoise stones, with depths of royal blue. The blue painted on window sills and doors, on the tables and chairs in fish taverns, and on the Greek flag. A blue that is very unique to Greece. As you dive in, the water sends chills down your body, refreshing you from the heat of the sun. You look beneath your kicking feet and see the floor of the sea, but when you dive down to touch it you realize how far away it really is. As you step out of the water the salt dries on your skin and revives your body. For us, there is nothing that can compare to the Greek waters. Sadly, as reality set in and we boarded our plane back to Athens, we were already asking each other "so what island are we going to next year?" Luckily Marco and I had one more week left in Greece, and so we hopped on a ferry from Pireaus port and made our way to the rocky island of Amorgos.
Amorgos is the farthest of the Cyclades islands, lying very close to the Dodecanese islands, about a four hour ferry ride from Athens. As you pull in to the port of Katapola you can see its tall mountains stretching up towards the sky, with the highest point reaching 800m above sea level. Disembarking a ferry in Greece is an experience in itself, and for tourists who visit its probably not the best example of “hospitable Greece” but rather a disorganized chaos. As the ramp of the boat pulls down slowly on to the pier of the island, crowds of people swarm together to make their way off the boat, dragging behind their luggages. Along with all the happy vacationers, we pushed our way out of the ferry and headed to Thomas rentals, where we proudly drove off the lot with a 50cc powered motto, and headed to our hotel with a fantastic view of Katapola (as long as you kept your head slightly to the right and made sure to cover your ears from the clanking noise of the gas station conveniently placed below). Its okay, you win some, you lose some. And in this case, we were in Amorgos, a definite win.
Not missing a beat, we slipped into our swimsuits and headed out to explore the east part of the island. For the rest of the afternoon we lounged on the giant boulders under the sun on Mourou beach, and enjoyed cold beers and fresh fried calamari at the tavern on top as an aperitif before dinner. For dinner we made our way to the center of the island, Chora, where we walked through the classic white washed streets, enjoyed a cocktail at one of the little bars, and settled for dinner at Transistoraki. If there is one restaurant we would seriously advocate for, its this one. Trust us. We ate there three times it was so delicious! Although the menu might change, our favorites had to be the delicious grilled cheese of Amorgos, fava with capers, beets salad with arugula, fresh smoked trout, and their homemade rakomelo (rakomelo is the Amorgos' traditional liquer using raki alcohol blended together with honey and cinnamon). Are you salivating yet?
The next two days were spent swimming on the beaches of Levrossos and Agia Anna, feeling the wind in our hair as we slowly rode our motto up and down the island, hiking to an abandoned ship wreck, eating, swimming, enjoying the sunsets, and then eating some more. On our final day in Amorgos we payed a visit to Panagia Hozoviotissa Monastery. With its never ending steps leading you to the top of the entrance, the monastery is situated on the cliff on the north-east side of the island. After catching our breath, we entered the small monastery, room after room, making our way to the top floor where the priest was there to greet us with a shot of rakomelo. As we drank our shot of liquor sitting in a room filled with pictures of past priests smiling down at us and a small window overlooking the endless sea, I couldn’t help but be reminded of our wedding last year, where the priest made Marco chug the red wine from the communion glass with a huge smile on his face. You see, thats the beauty of Greece. Not the alcohol consumption, but that within the disorganized mess there are always little beautiful surprises from when you least expect them, making anyone fall in love with the country.
As our time in Greece drew to an end, it felt like we were right back at the beginning again, left with a mixture of different feelings. Excitement for the next part of our journey towards India, and sadness for having to say goodbye. You would think that having to do this for the last 18 years would make it easier, but its actually quite the opposite. At least I have had my fix to hold me over until next year, when that incomparable Greek summer rolls around again.