Tag Archives: greece

World Cooking – Greece

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Greece
Progress: 44/193

Well, the time has finally come for me to make some Greek food. It was probably the biggest thing that I fell for during my time in Athens and there has been a real agony of choice when it came to picking something to make. This is, after all, one of the big cuisine nations that I have been spreading out during my world cooking challenge and no matter what I picked I know that my Greek colleague at work say I missed something perfect.

When you think of Mediterranean cuisine, then you will either be thinking of Greek or Southern Italian food. At the foundation of so many Greek foods is olive oil thanks to the abundance of olive trees which, in myth, where the offering of Athena in order to gain patronage of the city of Athens. Many of the best olive oils in the world come from Greece and they know how to use it to make sweet dishes, savoury dishes or just find a way to enjoy it with some vinegar and bread.

Alongside the olive oil you get many different ingredients depending on where in Greece you are looking. Thanks to the exportation moussaka and gyros most of us will probably closely associate lamb with Greek food. We also tend to think of filo pasty (like with spanakopita), feta cheese, an assortment of dips (many of which shared with other nations that used to form the Ottoman empire) and liberal portions of oregano. All this adds up to a cuisine that is amazing to eat, but difficult to isolate major dishes from without going stereotypical.

Main: Kleftiko & Greek Salad

Since we had company staying this week, I felt the need to go a bit big and thought that kleftifko would make for a cool showstopper of a main meal. Also, I had an amazing pork kleftiko whilst in Athens so wants to try and make it myself, but with the more traditional lamb meat. Now, I know that traditionally this is cooked in a package made from parchment paper, but I found a really great recipe that meant I could slow cook it and have it as a treat when I got back for a long walk in the local meadows.

I could make a Grecian main dish without making my own hash of a Greek salad, now could I. My main issue with Greek salad is the typically large amounts of raw onion, so I decided to go without it. In the end, the kleftiko is the main dish here and this salad was just a nice extra which made use of some Minoan olive oil that my mum brought back from a recent holiday.

Given the eight hours of slow cooking and that I was cooking for company, I am happy to report that this kleftiko went down really well. Thanks to the slow cooker, you could smell the garlic and herbs of the cooking lamb at the bottom of the stairwell (keep in mind, I live on the third floor). The sprinkle of feta on top really added to this dish and I ate my share very quickly. Leftover lamb and potatoes were fried up the next day and put in a delicious wrap with some of the Greek salad that we didn’t finish.

Dessert: Portokalopita

For dessert I wanted to make something I had never tried before. My Greek colleague sent me a recipe for some biscuits that he brought into the office and, using that same site, I found this recipe for Portokalopita – or Orange Cake. In lieu of flour, this recipe uses crushed pieces of dried out filo and the whole thing is flavoured with a homemade orange-cinnamon syrup.

Needless to say, this may be one of the nicest desserts that I have ever made for this challenge and I already have some demand to make more of it in the near future. Thanks to the abundance of syrup, this is an incredibly moist cake without being at all cloying. It’s also one of those rare cakes that is sweet enough that a small amount (not pictured) is enough to satisfy your sweet tooth. I want to see if there are similar cakes out there using different flavours (lemon, rose, pistachio etc) because it feels like this could be a good base recipe to have some fun with.

Speaking of fun, man, doing the research and cooking of these Greek foods has been some of the most fun that I have had doing this list for a while. It’s a trip to Asian cuisine next time. The hub has picked Pakistan, so let’s see what I end up making.

The Great EU Quest: Greece – Last Day

Right, final day in Greece with a flight that was supposed to leave at 21:05 (it didn’t). Whilst this isn’t a complete final day, it did give me enough time to get in a few more things before heading back to the UK. But that couldn’t start until we’d had more xynotyro for breakfast and cleaned the apartment prior to checking out.

Having left our bags concealed under the stairs of the apartment building (don’t worry they were fine) we proceeded to the first stop of the day – the National Gardens. In a city like Athens that is surrounded by so many areas of green, any sort of park int he middle of the city is going to slightly pale in comparison – especially when they have such a substantial pigeon population.

You know what I’m being a bit overly critical here. I’ve seen it described int he literature that these gardens act as a bit of an oasis for Athenians in the centre of the city; something that I can really see. There are lovely areas lined with palm trees, a fairly picturesque pond for the local duck population and a pool that absolutely packed with turtles (or terrapins, I’m not entirely sure what these would have qualified as).

Then there is the animal and bird section, which is essentially a petting zoo where the flying bird enclosures don’t appear to be in use anymore and the main attraction is a large pen containing goats and a few rabbits. There was also a pen with a single sheep in it who, at least to me, looked a bit lonely. So, um, that was a bit of a weird section.

We took some time here to have some Coke Zero (because Eastern European Coke Zero is delicious and so much nicer than the UK equivalent) and polish off a pack of oregano crisps. All while enjoying the waning sunshine and the occasional sunshower.

It was here that I remembered that there were some nearby ruins on Amalia Street that we had passed on multiple occasions and never taken the time to check out. Well today was the day – turns out they were a section of a really well preserved bathhouse that were uncovered when they working out where to put a ventilation grate in for one of the Athens metro lines.

Just looking at this cannot help but make you wonder how many ruins there are under the city of Athens that may never be uncovered because of modern constructions. Bit of a weird thought that underneath some of the swankier Athenian hotels might be the remains of an ancient taverna, school or brothel. For obvious reasons I hope for the last one.

We bid a cursory hello to the statue of Byron and walked down some citrus tree lines streets (all still green and immature so was not able to work out what type of citrus fruit they would end up becoming) to the Museum of Cycladic Art. I’ve been wanting to go here anyway, but our trip to the National Archaeological Museum really put this visit to the top of pile.

The museum itself is in an old town house not too far away from the foot of Mount Lycabettus and is a lot bigger than it would first appear. With a 7€ ticket you get access to four floors of their permanent collection, with each floor being quite different.

The first of the four floors is the aforementioned Cycladic Art – i.e. artefacts from the Cyclades Islands of Greece. This was my favourite of the four exhibitions and featured so many of the human statues that I had fallen for a few days ago in the archaeological museum. What this museum did better, was explain a lot of the history of these statues and give greater context to how these started out and how they would develop.

The remaining floors dealt with Ancient Minoan and Mycenaen artefacts, Ancient Cypriot artefacts and the lives and rites of passage for an average Greek citizen. If you ever find yourself in Athens, I would really recommend this museum. They have so many interesting and different items on display, plus they have videos demonstrating how certain items were produced (the red figure vase one being especially illuminating) and how people used to live. Actually found this to be far more interesting, varied and educational than the Acropolis museum.

Now, with this museum done there was one thing that we hadn’t been able to find whilst in Greece – actual wrapped gyros. Since we hadn’t really eaten breakfast or lunch by this point, this would serve as perfect holdover until we reached the airport. Not kidding, we roamed a few streets before actually finding what we were looking for. They were 2.10€ each and exactly what we had hoped for.

So that’s it (apart from the McGreek we had at the airport, because dinner was needed and we won’t be getting home until gone midnight). That was my week in Athens. It took a lot of willpower to not call this series of posts “Peter’s Odyssey” because that would be way too cheesy even for me. As I write this I am on the flight home sat behind a baby hoping beyond hope that it neither begins to cry nor spits up on my like with Ben Stiller’s character in Meet the Parents (edit: it cried a lot, but at least I had a good set of ear buds to drown it out)

Just as an aside to end on. Every now and then an album or song somehow ends up becoming tied to a particular holiday, for example my trip to Australia became liked to Gemini by Wild Nothing. For this holiday I found myself having two songs by Andrew Bird acting as the backdrop: ‘Sovay’ and ‘Tables and Chairs’ so I’ve embedded the latter of these below. Enjoy.

The Great EU Quest: Greece – Sounion

So, at the end of our first full day we got some supplies to make sandwiches for the long train trip to Meteora. We also purchased some sour cherry juice (which I am now addicted to) and…

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Xynotyro
Progress: 755/1001

Right so, I got this right away because I figured it would be better to be safe. Food thing too as I don’t think I have seen this in any other supermarkets or restaurant menus in the last few days. So yes, super glad that I got this the moment I saw it – and that I know enough about the Greek alphabet to have spotted it in the fridge.

We finally cracked this cheese open to have for breakfast with some crispbread things. This is probably not how you are meant to have it, although the cover does mention the idea of including it in an omelette… at least that’s what I think it says.

As cheeses go, xynotyro really lives up its name of “sour cheese”. The texture is hard and crumbly and the main taste and smell of the cheese is a sour one. In many ways this cheese has a similar flavour profile to yoghurt and has just a hint of feta (the latter which may be due to being made of sheep’s milk). I quite liked having this on the crispbread and may have it again tomorrow, although I think this would be best sprinkled on some salad or over pasta.

At least today we actually scheduled in something for breakfast, eh.

Right so on the agenda today was a trip to Sounion and the archaeological sites that can be found there. In the past this was a critically important place in the regions defence, which is why temples and a fortress were built in this area. To get there we took a bus from Athens that, because of traffic, took about 2 hours to reach.

When we left Athens (and for the majority of the trip) it was warm, the sun was shining and the sea was a beautiful shade of blue – this changed as we were pulling into Sounion. For the first time since I’ve been in Greece, I was feeling a bit cold and you could feel a drop of rain every now and then.

Another thing that really struck me on the way to Sounion was the huge number of unfinished and abandoned buildings. It’s really sad and was almost like driving through modern day ruins before reaching the ancient ones.

On the final approach to the bus stop it is pretty difficult to not see the temple of Poseidon that stands prominently overlooking the sea and the surrounding bay. It’s even more impressive up close and, interestingly had the same architect as the incredibly intact temple to Hephaestus in Athens’ ancient agora.

At this same archaeological site you can also find remnants of the fortress walls which surrounds the entire cliff area, but most of the people who came here seemed to be really focused mainly on the temple before leaving to go elsewhere.

After finishing our walk around the temple and the fortress walls we had lunch in the nearby restaurant where the hub was finally able to have gyros. I, of course, followed suit because gyros really are the best. This restaurant also seemed to have a resident stray cat who wasn’t too proud to (vocally) beg for food. It makes me wonder just how often people actually give in and him some of their meal.

From here we walked down the road to the other main ruins in the area; a former temple to Athena that is not pretty much levelled. What was cool about this is that literally no one else (not even a staff member) was there – so it was like we had the entire ruins to ourselves. It meant that we were able to step into them and get a proper close at everything that was left.

Since we had some time before the bus left we climbed down to the beach, the decent being a cakewalk compared to some of those at Hymettus just a few days ago. It’s a real pity that it had suddenly gotten so cloudy as this would have made for some great pictures because of the caves nearby.

We also scrambled up the nearby rocky outcrop where they found a bunch of ancient graves. It’s a really pity that pretty much all her interesting findings from here and the rest of Sounion have been removed (a lot of them we actually saw a few days ago in the National Archaeological Museum), but given the sea air and the high winds I can understand why they have been safely tucked away elsewhere.

Then that was it for Sounion. Originally we had planned this to be a half day exclusion, but due to the heavy traffic this ended up taking most of the day. Given that this was the last full day and that we didn’t really have time fit something else in, we opted to go to the nearby supermarket to get some work treats and then return to the apartment and pack before heading out for dinner.

Based on the recommendation of the woman who runs the apartments, we went to a nearby restaurant called the Black Cat (which is down the road from the Black Sheep, where we had kleftiko not too long ago). We sat outside which allowed us to see a resident black cat… as well as five other cats that seem to patrol and get food from this block.

To start we shared some fried aubergine (which was basically tempura style) and some courgette-feta-herb balls – both of which are I mount the best appetisers that we’ve had on this holiday. We also had the Black Cat Salad to share, which was a mix of cabbage, bell pepper, chile, smoked paprika and vinegar – it smelt really good.

For a main we had the ‘Greek Style Burgers’, which where essentially lamb koftas served with fries. Good thing we saved the free bread it go with it. It was a really nice meal and probably the last time I’ll be able to enjoy the Grecian phenomenon known as free dessert with the bill.

So that’s it for the final full day. We fly out late tomorrow, which means that we will be able to mop up a few final things before heading back to the UK. Not looking forward to getting home at midnight British time though!

The Great EU Quest: Greece – Lost Day Regained

Today’s post is a bit of a difficult one to start writing as, for this first section, I’m still in the middle of it.

I wanted to be able to recount a fascinating day at Delphi. How that, even with just over five hours sleep because of the ballet ending super late, we still mustered up the energy to see the sites in between a six hour round trip. What we were not to know, unless we googled something oddly specific, is that all the archaeological sites in Delphi were closed as part of a strike that was announced a few days ago.

Tour groups were there looking bewildered and a number of visitors, including us, opted to get an early bus back. I know there’s hiking here and that there’s probably a way we could have made the most out of being £60 out of pocket. But we came for the history and it’s sad that, because of the cost, this is a whole bunch of cool things that we are going to be missing out on.

A notice in the bus station desk selling tickets to Delphi would have been nice. We could have swapped some days around so we weren’t majorly out of pocket PLUS it would have  saved us the heartbreak. So it goes. I guess I’m still in shock.

— 12 Hours Later —

Right so it’s the end of the day and it feels like both myself and the hub have really run the gamut of emotions since we left Delphi early. Managed to get a few laughs from listening to an episode or two of The Big Ones before grabbing a quick nap on the way back.

We decided to head back to the apartment and regroup… after lunch at local burger chain Goody Burger. By this time it was gone two in the afternoon and my early morning sandwich (ham, burger and coleslaw – I literally grabbed this at random form a pile) was a distant memory. One thing I’ve learnt is that the Greeks do excellent fries and the burger wasn’t half bad either.

Now, whilst we were determined that this wasn’t going to turn into a “lost day” the strike by the department of culture staff meant that pretty much all our alternative activity ideas were potentially off-limits (yes, apparently this strike was nationwide… and still there was no hint that something as major as the Acropolis could be closed today).

With that in mind we decided to do something a bit more chill – take the funicular railway up Mount Lycabettus and have some drinks whilst waiting for the sun to set. A lot of uphill walking, too many flights of stairs and a railway ride later and we were at the top looking over Athens and taking a lot of panoramic shots.

We walked down from the main observation deck and took a seat next to the path in order to secure ourselves a dynamite view of the upcoming sunset. We must have been up there chatting and swigging our Coke Zeros for about two hours before the sun started making it’s descent.

It’s been years since I’ve actually done something with the end purpose to be there watching the sunset (it might even be as far back as when we were in Kyoto and visited Fushimi Inari Taisha), but today felt like the sort of day that could do with ending on a high.

Being an iPhone photographer who now relies one is husbands phone for decent quality, there was no way that I could take a picture that could do proper justice to what the view was like – especially as the lenses in my sunglasses really made it look like the sky was more on fire than it actually was. Still I did my best and took a whole lot of photos.

We decided to wait until both the sun had set and the evening lights of the Parthenon had come on before making our descent down the winding mountain path. This meant a whole lot more pictures needed to be taken to try and show the juxtaposing brightly lit Parthenon with the fading red of the sunset – again these pictures didn’t come out the best, but it’s something I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

As we were coming down the mountain we were met with the smell of grilled meat, so obviously dinner was on our mind. After pacing the streets trying to find the perfect place we ended up finding Kalamaki Kolonaki… which is near where the endless stairs up the the funicular railway began.

My husbands search for gyros has to go on for another day, but the food here was more than good enough to satisfy. We kept it simple with appetisers by having just some tzatziki and pita bread. For my main I order four skewers from the menu (two pork, one beef and one chicken) whilst the hub ordered himself a lamb kebab, which came with couscous, salad and some spiced yoghurt.

The last few hours of today really helped to lift the spirits after an incredibly crap beginning. Could we have done more with the trip to Delphi than just head back on the next bus? Maybe, but the time between the buses was 5 and a half hours… and I’m not sure what we’d have done to fill the time with all the historical stuff closed for the day. At least we ended the day on some sort of high – hopefully we’ll be able to carry this feeling into tomorrow, which is our final full day in Greece.

The Great EU Quest: Greece – An Athenian Anniversary

Well it’s a happy anniversary to myself and the hub as today marks three years since we got married. How it’s already been three years just boggles the mind. Similarly, I can’t believe that it’s already been two years since I was last in New York. Anyway.

Our anniversary got off to a bit of a sketchy start as we ventured across the city to purchase our bus tickets to Delphi. The coach station is in an interesting part of the city full of auto mechanics and a lot of graffiti (more so than the rest of the city which, to be frank, has a massive graffiti problem). Early start tomorrow, we must need our heads examined.

It was a hasty exit from this area of town so that we could get on with our day proper – which really began with breakfast from a bakery near Monastiraki station. As you can see from the picture, looks very much like that Georgian cheese bread boat that I made a few months ago, but with fresh olives, feta and mixed bell peppers. This was exactly what we needed. Very delicious. Also, we got an interesting bit of street theatre as we ate, the arrest and escorting away of a couple of drug dealers from the square. A bit different from the Saturday morning cartoons of my childhood.

Now the main point of day was to mop up the rest of the sites form the bumper Athens archaeological sites ticket that we began using a few days ago – starting with Hadrian’s Library. Much like the TARDIS, this site is a lot bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside.

There are parts of this site that are remarkably well preserved, to the point that with the guidance form the signs you can actually see what this was – with a bit of imagination that is. Some of the original mosaics still remain as do the outlines for the reading rooms and the actual steps. This visit also marked the unofficial restarting of Tortoisewatch with one of them making a hell of a racket as he speedily made his way across a corrugated iron roof.

From here we walked through the Athens flea market in order to get to Keramikos – one of two sites on the ticket that has an accompanying museum. This huge area is pretty much the remnants of part of a giant cemetery. It formed part of the Sacred Way – a kilometre long stretch of statues and tombs dedicated to those that could afford them. There is still so much of this left to be discovered, but that’s underneath already built on parts of Athens – so who knows if we’ll ever see some of these original sections ever again.

This area is pretty expansive (with two more tortoise residents), but all of the interesting ornamentation have been placed in the museum for protections, with copies now populating the outside. The centrepiece of the museum is an incredibly impressive marble bulk that would have once adorned the top of someone’s tomb. It also contains some other remarkably well preserved grave decorations that are worth checking out.

Our final destination from the ticket was the Ancient Agora which, with two notable exceptions, has been completely levelled. The first exception to this rule are three large statues of Tritons (think large male water spirits) that greet you as you enter.

These, however, pale in comparison to the Ancient Agora’s crowing glory: the temple of Hephaestus. This is the best preserved Greek style in Greece and really does give you pause as to what the Parthenon could have looked like had it not been partially blown up. Sadly you cannot walk through the temple, but all of the original insides were removed when it was converted to a Christian church to St George.

We made a stop by the Agora’s museum, which explained how successive invasions and cultures lead to the growth and the eventual destruction of the Ancient Agora. It’s also at this pint where I learned that Geometric isn’t just a type of pattern, but also a period of history where these types of patterns were first being exploited. Feels like I really am learning a lot this week.

Due to our late breakfast, we skipped lunch in order to visit the National Archaeological Museum. I know this doesn’t appear to be the prevailing opinion on Trip Advisor, but I found this to be far more interesting and varied than the Acropolis museum. Sure it isn’t as swanky, but they sure do cram a lot in here.

In total we probably spent about three hours in here. We might have been able to spend a bit longer, but our feet really started to hurt and our concentration was beginning to lapse after looking at ancient sites all day.

I think more than anything else on his trip, the time scales involved with some of the exhibits were truly sobering. Just to give two examples, you have a large bronze statue of a boy on a horse that’s two millennia old… and a wooden statue of woman at work that is four millennia old. These are just two of the many notable things here.

The prehistoric areas provided an insight into the various cultures in the area that started to emerge before what we now know as Greek culture started. Because of the interesting style of their statues, I really took a shining towards the Cycladic stuff.

Of course, being a Greek archaeological museum, there was a wealth of vases and statues – most of the museums being devoted to those two things – the huge bronze statue of Zeus (or Poseidon, it’s disputed) being a real highlight. So was the temporary exhibition on the depiction of beauty through the ages, where they made a recreation of perfume based on ancient instructions (it smelt like rosewater).

 

As we had plans this evening we went for an early dinner at a place around the corner called The Black Sheep. To start there was a dish of some par of breaded and fried cheese served with honey, sesame and nigella seeds. We also had kataffi pastry nests filled with smoked aubergine and walnuts – a real highlight.

For the main was pork kleftiko – think chunks of pork, sweet onion, bell pepper and feta wrapped in parchment paper and cooked to the point that the pork is so tender that it can be difficult to get a whole piece on the fork. It was so good, especially as the leftover juices made for something good to dip the fries in.

That rounds off most of the day, except for what we got up to in the evening. However, this post is becoming incredibly long and this provides me with a good spot to stop for now and pick up the rest later. As of writing this I am about an hour into a coach ride to Delphi having gotten 5 and a half hours sleep. I think it’s time for a nap.

The Great EU Quest: Greece – Mount Hymettus

Right so I’m going to start off today’s post with a bit of a lessons learned from today: do not go for a big hike up a mountain without having breakfast or bringing along some sort of snack. We were fine, but it’s a pretty dumb thing to do.

Anyway, let’s get started with day three of my time in Athens.

—-

After yesterday’s early start I think we both felt that a lie in was in order – or at least waking up with the alarm at 9:30. Since we had nothing in the fridge at the apartment we talked about how we would need to breakfast and some sort of packed lunch as today was get day that we were going to do a big hike up Mount Hymettus (as you can gather, this didn’t happen as the end of the bus line was a cemetery with marry a bakery in sight).

Mount Hymettus is more like a small range or giant ridge than an actual mountain. It’s one of those things that you can see from most places in Athens, crowned with a mass of transmitters and radio antennae. Since we’re here in Athens for quite a long time, and there are a lot of mountains in the area, we set aside a day for hiking – this mountain being picked because of its relationship with a remaining food list item.

Before making for the mountain proper, we were going to pay a visit to Kaisariani Monastery – another Orthodox monastery but, unlike those we saw at Meteora, this is no longer occupied by anyone other than cats. To get to the monastery itself you need to make a 30 minute mini-hike from the cemetery at the end of the bus line and make a partial beeline through the Kaisariani Aesthetic Forest.

The build is in a similar style to those we saw yesterday, just on a smaller and less gravity-defying scale. From the outside the church is beautiful to look at; in the inside it is even better.

The frescos inside, like those at Meteora, are so well preserved. However, since this is no longer occupied, there were no restrictions on the number of photos I could take… so I may have gone a little bit barmy. Then again, I took many pictures of the church from numerous angles so it might have just been Kaisariani affecting me.

After this began, what would end up being about 4-5 hours on the mountain itself. The aim was for us to follow a trail known as the Botanical Trail which was meant to take us up the mountain at a leisurely-medium pace whilst seeing some monuments and a lot of cute signs telling you what the different plants were. Let’s just say that we lost that trail after about 45 minutes, cut to us clambering up steep sections on all fours.

The hike up was, although tiring, such great fun. The variation in plant life was so interesting, especially how it changed as we got further and further up. The coolest part however were the number of hissing tortoises that we came across – seven in total and each time I heard them hiss it made me think I’d come across an angry snake.

The big win from this hike, other than the knowledge that we climbed up 700m of a mountain, was the sheer wealth of views that we got of Athens from way up high. Every time we got a new view, we played a game of ‘find the Acropolis’ – even as the view widened to the point that we could see the sea.

We decided to make our descent at this point because it felt like we were reaching the point of diminishing returns. We hiked to know that we could and to get an awesome view. Now, little did we know that we would get kinda lost on the descent. On the way up we spied a less steep route that would’ve taken us ages, so we thought that would make for the perfect path for the way down – turns out this path was the victim of some sort of landslide and we ended up having to find a safe route down ourselves (luckily previous hikers had sprayed paint on safe trails so we managed to find our way down).

The moment we got off the mountain we realised that we’d basically ended up at nearly the other end of the ridge… so we needed to cross a freeway (which was scarier than all the times I nearly slipped and fell down that mountain) and find a bus stop that would take us back into central Athens where we would finally get food.

FOOD! Turns out pie can make you happy, especially when you have it with some peach iced tea and the pie is chock-full of feta cheese. It really helped us to feel human, as did resting in the apartment for an hour before heading out for dinner.

Being the wonderful husband that he is, I was led to a speciality food store that my husband was sure would do the Greek honey that I needed for my food list. Sadly they did not. A bit of googling and a short ride on the metro helped us reach another specially store called Yolani’s that not only did my honey, but also the Corinthian vinegar that I needed. So watch this space for future posts about those when I get back from Greece.

To finish the day we had dinner at The Greco’s Project where our eyes were a lot larger than our stomach. We shared starters of zucchini fries and a Greek sausage (like the one we’d had on Day 1), had a Greek salad to share and then a souvlaki plate. As nice as the food was, I was thankful of the 20 minute walk home so that I would be less bloated when I got back in to write about my day.

So that’s it for Day 3. Tomorrow we will be mopping up some ancient sites that we missed out on and celebrating our 3 year wedding anniversary by seeing a ballet! Not bad if I say so myself.

The Great EU Quest: Greece – Meteora

There aren’t many things that I would do a ten hour round trip for. Especially when it only means three and a half hours to be able to appreciate a place. However, this is exactly what we did today in order to see the precariously perched monasteries of Meteora.

So long and so infrequent are the trains between Athens and Kalabaka that you really have to make sure you book a seat and make it there on time – otherwise that’s your day gone. The train left at 8:20 from a platform that was only announced about 2-3 minutes before the train came in, so you can imagine me in a slight panic trying to work out where the hell to go.

This also meant us having to be up and out of the apartment by 7:20. Breakfast was some sandwiches I made the night before containing mortadella and some unidentified cheese that bore more than a passing resemblance to Gouda. Keep in mind that yesterday was a Sunday and that very few grocery stores are open – so we got what we got and it helped us last until the train back.

Despite being 5 hours long I must say that the trip pretty much flew by. Watching Frenzy for two of those hours definitely helped, but so did staring out at the passing scenery – something I find myself doing as I write up this blog post on the train back to Athens.

For the most part the train goes through the Greek countryside with views of rolling fields and tall mountains of all shapes and sizes being on offer if you sit on the correct side of the train. As you get closer to Kalabaka and the Thessaly Valley the more farmland you see with cotton as far as the eyes can see. I know I’ve seen cotton fields in Gone With the Wind and in a Geography textbook about lake shrinkage in Russia, but in person they look like something from a Doctor Seuss book.

At about 13:30 we arrived what Kalabaka and loaded up into a small (air-conditioned, yay) minibus for our three and a half tour around Meteora. From the station you can actually see one of the many monasteries resting atop one of the many huge rock formations that are unique to this area. According to myth, these stone structures are petrified Titans having lost in battle against Zeus and his Olympians – something that only endears me to this area all the more.

As you go up the winding roads to Meteora proper is is seemingly impossible to stop somewhere without finding an excellent opportunity for a photo (trees willing that is). The huge rock formations are, in places, pock marked by caves – which originally provided schedule to hundreds of Christian hermits prior to the establishment of the first monastery.

In total there are six monasteries open to the public, with each one closing on a different day of the week for the purposes of upkeep. We purposely chose to do this tour on the Monday because it meant the oldest and largest of them would be open – which is the place that we visited first.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 82/100Sight: Meteora
Location: Kalabaka, Greece
Position: #119

The Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoro is over 600 years old and towers above all the other monasteries in the area. Despite being the size of a small village, very few monks reside there anymore due to the tourists (tourists that they need if they are to keep it open, as it is the tourist money that now pays for upkeep). This was the first of two monasteries we were going to see today and despite having an hour here, we could have had a lot longer.

The views from the wooden balconies were spectacular and started theme of myself and the hub wanting to get back into a game like Skyrim. The wide panorama photographs really do not do justice to what you can see from there.

Inside the monastery itself there are a number of rooms set up to be mini-museums as well as a church and an ossuary. The walls and ceiling of the church itself, the first Greek Orthodox building I’ve ever been inside, were covered in frescos. Thanks to the painting method, these frescos look like they cook have been painted 5-6 years ago rather than 5-600. The only damage having been done by the Turks when the Ottomans took over Greece and scratched off a number of saints’ faces with their swords.

From here we were driven to a number of photo points in Meteora. The first, showing the landscape that Game of Thrones used to depict the Vale in Season 2 (the monasteries were removed digitally as they wanted no part in an X-rated TV show).

We were then taken to an outcrop that is a popular spot to take wedding photos. It looks a lot narrower than it is and did allow for some exceptional pictures of the area – even if I was a bit scared at first to make it onto the rocks, let alone towards the edge. I was fine though and found my inner mountain goat to be alive and well.

A few more photo stops later we got to the second monastery – which is now a nunnery because all the monks have left. The Roussanou nunnery (named after the founding monk who was either Russian or a redhead or both) is quite young for this area… having been founded in 1545. It’s a lot smaller in size, but still has a lot of stone stairs in order to get up there.

Everything about this monastery feels a lot quainter, down to the ticket office being operated by an actual orthodox nun. With this smaller size came the problem of other tour groups. When we got there an Italian school group took up all the room in the, admittedly small, church and in the way out not only did we have them to contend with but also a huge tour group coming in the opposite direction. I’m go glad that I was able to get the pictures I could when I did.

Then that was it for Meteora. The time passed in a flash and yet I feel that we saw an awful lot in the time we had allotted. It was back to Kalabaka in order to buy a late lunch/dinner for the way home. Also a final photograph so I could remember what I saw when the train pulled in.

Dinner was a big slice of spanakopita (Greek spinach pie) and chocolate cigars. Writing this has helped me to kill the first hour and a half of this journey and now, as long as my iPad battery holds up, I’ll be indulging in a second movie now that the sun has set over the Greek mountains.

The Great EU Quest: Greece – The Acropolis!

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 20/28

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am finally crossing off Greece from the list of EU countries to visit. This really feels like the last truly major country to tick off the list and what a better way to cross it off officially than by visiting one of the major ancient wonders… more on that later.

Country: Greece
Year first visited: 2018

Getting to the apartment last night was a bit of a misadventure as a mixture of plane delays and broken ticket machines meant that we didn’t get in until gone 11. Thankfully the bed was comfortable and our temporary digs are exactly what we hoped for. It’s also cool that each apartment takes a name from a Greek god, ours being Dionysus.

Due to our late arrival, we didn’t get up until about 9 (which for me on a holiday is rather late) and we made the decision to skip breakfast in order to get a start on the day. Of course the hundreds of local Athenians we came across doing a cancer run got a better start on the day than us. Oh well.

Since our apartment is about 30 minutes walk from the Acropolis we opted to walk there so that we could start to get to know Athens just that bit better. On the way we passed an interesting landmark: the stadium that hosted the visit modern Olympic Games in 1896. Pretty cool to come across this just as an extra site! I had to photograph it later in the evening due to the sun being right overhead.

A short hop from there was the first (of many) ancient sites of the day: the Olympieion. Back in the day this was a tall temple to Zeus, but now all that remains is 15 standing columns and 1 collapsed one. It really worked to see this first thing as we could still marvel at the height and not be spoilt by what is to come.

The Olympieion area also features Hadrian’s Gate which marks the then boundary between Ancient Greek Athens and Roman Athens. It’s amazing just how intact this particular gate. Also, if you stand in the right place, it provides a perfect frame for the Acropolis in the distance – our next destination.

We got a tip online that if you want shorter queues to get into the Acropolis area not only should you pre-buy your tickets online, but go to the South-Eastern entrance. Most people tend to go to the western entrance as it is the more direct route to the Acropolis itself, but with the entrance we chose there was plenty of shrines and other ruins to see on our way up.

The big one to see is the theatre of Dionysus, whose area spans a lot more than you would first think. The ruins of the theatre is a real mixed bag. Some of it is amazingly preserved whereas others are completely missing. Still, it gave us a cool chance to take a seat in a proper Ancient Greek theatre – something that we will be doing again in a few days time… where I hopefully won’t regret not packing a cushion.

After weaving in and around a number of ruins it was time for us to hit the big ticket item itself: the Acropolis itself.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 81/100Sight: Acropolis
Location: Athens, Greece
Position: #28

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the Acropolis is the whole area at the top of rocky outcrop. The major part of this is the Parthenon, but other ruins (including the incredibly well preserved ‘Old Temple’ to Athena) can be found up here. Also feral cats, but those really are everywhere in Athens.

The weird thing about seeing the Parthenon for the first time is just how hard it is to process what you are being confronted with. Most of the times you see it in pictures you are seeing a zoom in from a nearby hill or the picture is being taken at a distance from a helicopter. Up close, it’s just difficult to parse the scale of the whole thing.

To allow the brain it’s time to process (and to get out of the way of some big tour groups) we went down to the ‘Old Temple’ to Athena (so-called because it predates he Parthenon as a place to worship Athena). It’s a bit of a marvel that is incredibly well preserved and has some interesting building quirks. This is a place that had to be built around a crack in the floor said to be where Poseidon struck the ground with his trident, the original olive tree as planted by Athena, the burial place of a mythic king and a substantial slope.

After this we still couldn’t quite process the Parthenon… so we climbed up a platform on the eastern edge of the Acropolis to take in some great views of the city (including a bird’s eye view of the Olympieion). I think it was the point where we turned around to face the Parthenon once again that it really hit us that we were here.

The Parthenon itself is truly vast. I can only imagine how it would have been to see this before most of it was devoured by the explosion in the 1600s. It will also be interesting to see how it will end up looking after the restoration work has been completed – although this really does feel like a project that will never be truly finished.

We ended up walking around the Parthenon itself two times to try and soaking he ambience as well as we could. It also afforded me the perfect opportunity to take a bunch of photos before we made our way back down the slope. I cannot over emphasise the number of great views that you get from up in the Acropolis – I can only imagine what it must be like to be there when it’s all lit up at night.

After finishing our descent it really was time for some lunch, and what could be more Greek than gyros! I feel that there is this big list of Greek food that I want it try authentic versions of whilst I am here – gyros being the top of that list equal to some proper feta cheese. We appeared to be the only people eating a meal of this size, but then again we had missed breakfast and (more importantly) who cares.

Next to the Acropolis’ slopes is the Acropolis museum – a newly built museum that houses all the findings from the Acropolis area as well as a lot of the original sculptures. However, before getting into that, we went around a temporary exhibition about Emperor Qianlong from China. This did serve as a bit of a palate cleanser for what was to come.

Sadly there is no camera policy in the vast majority of the Acropolis museum, so I’ll be brief. The sheer number of recovered statues and relics is truly overwhelming. There is so much that it makes you wonder just how much did not survive. Some of the best pieces are actually pre-Parthenon pieces that survived a massive act of arson by the Persian army. Some of these pieces still have visible paint on them!

The elephant in the room if the Acropolis museum are the missing marble pieces that are currently sat in the British museum. Being a Brit, it’s interesting to hear the Greek side of the story – especially as they characterise Elgin as essentially being an upper class pirate. Who knows if this will ever be fully resolved to the satisfaction of both sides.

It was pretty late in the afternoon when we left the museum, so we had to prioritise some sites from our Archaeological Sites of Athens ticket (with the rest to be done in a few days). We made our way down a lovely promenade and some really touristy ships to the Roman Agora.

There isn’t too much to this as most of the area compared to everything we’d seen previously, but it still had some columns and a gate intact. Also, and most interesting of all, the old observatory is nearly perfectly preserved. It really does help if a building has been buried for a long time.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Salep Ice Cream
Progress: 753/1001

We had a bit of a walk between the Roman Agora and our final site of the day. A walk which took us down some busy shopping streets and gave us the chance to cross off some ice cream. Salep ice cream has a number of names, which has made the hunt confusing. The Turks call it dondurma and the Greeks call it kaimaki. If I did not know this piece of information, I would never have found it today. The key feature of this ice cream is texture, which is like regular ice cream infused with an almost marshmallow-like stretch and chew. I really did like this ice cream and it makes me want to see if they have different flavours elsewhere.

So we ended the day at the Lykeion, which was the most far flung of the sites on our ticket. It is also the flattest as pretty much nothing behind the foundations have survived to this day. We didn’t get a whole lot of time here as it was 20 minutes before closing, but we probably got as much out of it as we could. Still interesting to beamong history, even if it wasn’t entirely visible.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Loukanika
Progress: 754/1001

For dinner, I found a place just around the corner from the apartment called Katsourbos. It was pretty high on Tripadvisor and apparently specialised in Cretan food. I guess that this sausage, which is meant to found all over Greece, can also be found there. Now, I have had a lot of different sausages for this food list, but this Greek sausage (smoked and flavoured with honey, herbs and citrus) is truly something else. Sure is nicer than both of the sausages from the French box and it gives the Cumberland sausage a run for its money. Something tells me this will not be the only time I eat this before I leave Greece.

My main was liver with skin-on fries and a honey-balsamic sauce. I didn’t get this for the liver, I got this because the sauce sounded really interesting. Man, this really was a great sauce. I hope that I’ll find a recipe to replicate this as it feels like of those that could go well with a lot of different foods.

I probably should have finished writing up hours ago as it is an early start tomorrow. How early, well we need to incorporate a 5 hour train ride. Wish me luck!

Around The World in 100 Films – Start Point

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 22/100

Time for me to open up the second of my three film bucket list items with a rather arbitrary goal of seeing films from 100 different nations. Unlike the Oscar list item this is something that can be permanently crossed off unless I suddenly get the urge to add another batch of countries to keep this going.

Now, I have decided to count countries as long as I watched the film after I put this onto my bucket list which was (yes I made a note) on August 5th 2013. This means that some countries (e.g. Finland, South Africa, China and Israel) are not on the list yet despite me having seen them in the past. I figured using this cut off point would serve as a way to make this more challenging whilst also keeping Burkina Faso (still stoked about that one).

Whilst I was preparing this list I saw there were 21 countries on the list and instantly envisioned doing a really cool triangle number diagram as you can see below:WorldCinemaTriangleNotice the problem? Well in making that list I had forgotten that I saw a Polish film at the end of January which means poor Hungary (my most recent nation) has to lay on the outskirts since I decided to do this in order of seeing them. My inner math-geek is not impressed with this. It was later pointed out to me that a film I thought was Australian was from New Zealand, now my inner flag-geek is unhappy too.

Still 22 countries down, 78 to go. Not a bad place to start with, although there are not many of the big film nations left which will make this interesting.

Any film suggestions for yet unwatched countries will be VERY much appreciated. Bear in mind re-watches are not allowed here so films like Tsotsi, Drifting Clouds and Waltz With Bashir will not count.

  1. Germany – Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)
  2. U.S.A. – Robocop
  3. Netherlands – De Vierde Man(The Fourth Man)
  4. Czech Republic – Kolja (Kolya)
  5. Italy – La Strada
  6. Burkina Faso – Sarraounia
  7. Argentina – El Secreto De Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes)
  8. Japan – Zatoichi Monogatari (The Story of Zatoichi)
  9. Brazil  – Cidade De Deus (City of God)
  10. Denmark – Melancholia
  11. United Kingdom – Blowup
  12. Norway – Flåklypa Grand Prix (Pinchcliffe Grand Prix)
  13. France – La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game)
  14. New Zealand – The Piano
  15. Poland – Popiól i diament (Ashes and Diamonds)
  16. Spain – El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive)
  17. Sweden – Viskningar och Rop (Cries and Whispers)
  18. Belgium – Ernest & Célestine
  19. Greece – Kynodontas (Dogtooth)
  20. Canada – The Sweet Hereafter
  21. Algeria – Z
  22. Hungary – A torinói ló(The Turin Horse)