Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Greece - Sounion

I have never stayed at a Greek resort, so I had no idea what to expect when D's grandmother picked the Grecotel at Cape Sounion. The location was clearly fabulous, but I had doubts about whether fancy resorts actually existed in Greece. While traveling alone, I had never spent more than 30 euros a night for a hotel room (and more frequently paid 10 euros for some distinctly questionable accommodations), so I am obviously not an expert.

I needn't have worried. We were greeted by a giant pear (which was actually part of a fruit platter, and accompanied by a bottle of wine) and robes. Apparently this is standard resort practice. Who knew?

greece - sounion - huge hotel greeting pear
{sounion - hotel greeting pear}

We spent most of our time by the saline pool but we did make it down to the beach.

greece - sounion - hotel pool
{yes, my legs are as pale in greece as they are everywhere else}

greece - sounion - beach
{palapas - or whatever they are called in greek}

It wouldn't have been our vacation without a little weirdness. We all signed up for the sunset champagne cruise, which sounds super luxe. We were a little thrown when the captain couldn't get the boat into the cove, had us clamber out on the slippery rocks in a failed attempt to board, commandeered Dustin to act as deckhand, and finally (rather inventively) solved the whole problem by having us mount a broken down jet ski, three people at a time, that he tied to an inflatable canoe with a bit of twine and proceeded to row us out to the boat.

greece - sounion - sunset cruise
{d, with the jet ski and the canoe}

We made it to the boat, clutching our champagne for dear life. And it was worth it.

greece - sounion - sunset cruise

greece - sounion - sunset cruise
{temple of poseidon}

greece - sounion - sunset cruise
{sunset cruise}

Totally different from any Greek experience in my repertoire, totally lovely. And a truly perfect way to spend the tail end of a busy trip, with a bit of relaxation after all the craziness a family trip entails.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Greece - Aegina

The poor islands got short shrift from us. They certainly don't deserve it. Greece has a plethora of islands, all lovely in their own ways. Most people who have spent some time in Greece will have a favorite island or two - personally, my knees go weak for Milos, which is stunning and usually fairly quiet. Milos is in the Cyclades, so you're looking at a 5 - 8 hour ferry ride from Athens. If you have the time, go for it. Rent a car when you get there and zip all over the small island. They have stunning beaches and white rock formations and also some old catacombs that you can crawl around in, much to my delight.

We were short on time this trip, so we opted for Aegina instead, a mere 40 minute ferry ride from the mainland. We hired a cab to drive us up to the temple of Athena and he kindly made it a bit of a tour for us, stopping at a monastery on the way down. I was wearing a dress, so I didn't enter the monastery and frankly I was a little uncomfortable even standing in front to get some pictures. Rules vary from monastery to monastery. Some won't allow women at all, some will but require various standards of dress, some will even provide cover ups. As a rule, dress modestly and bring a long skirt to wear while you walk around, to avoid any hint of disrespect.

greece - aegina - taxi
{aegina - taxi}

greece - aegina - temple of athena
{greece - aegina - temple of athena}

greece - aegina - monastary
{aegina - monastery}

greece - aegina - monastary
{aegina - monastery detail}

It was incredibly hot, so we stopped in a small cafe and drank frappes under a giant fig tree.

greece - aegina
{aegina - cafe}

greece - aegina - frappe
{aegina - frappe}

Frappes in Greece are a thing of joy. Nescafe (I was skeptical too, at first)  is whipped frantically with a bit of milk and then it all somehow coalesces into this foamy, icy deliciousness. During summer some cafes offer them as ice cream floats. Highly recommend.

If you make it to an island, you should probably gorge yourself on seafood. I never order seafood in Athens, even if I do happen to find a restaurant that serves it. Greece prides itself on fresh food, and you won't see many seafood options unless you are near a good port. In fact, most restaurants print disclosures on the menu, so there will be an asterisk next to some seafood options and it tells you that they were made from frozen seafood. I don't know if this is legally required or just niceness, but I appreciate it.

At a port, find the fish market (easily identifiable by the smell) and then choose a restaurant nearby. Choices will vary from island to island, but you'll generally find whole fried whitefish (very lightly battered, eat them like french fries, bones and all) and mussels saganaki, which is fresh mussels + cheese. Keep your mind open and ask the waiter to help you order and you won't be disappointed.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The weekend, briefly

Grocery shopping! Cleaning! Cooking actual food! Baskets and baskets and baskets of laundry! Although I actually can't take any credit for the laundry, because D did all of it. Basically, we were busy and now we can actually live like semi-civilized people again.

loose leaf tea
{loose leaf tea}

I fortified myself with tea on our balcony, which I realize looks a little bit like a rainforest from this angle. Sadly, it isn't.

balcony tea
{balcony tea}

We tended our little balcony garden, which means I randomly try things like attacking the soil with a pair of garden shears in an attempt to break it up a bit. I think that's called aerating. Otherwise I may have dead herbs next week. Pretty much 50/50.

tomato plants
{tomato plants}

But the biggest news of the weekend is that I finally got up the courage to attempt to poach an egg sans egg poacher. I know, I know. It's basically just sliding an egg into hot water and letting it sit for 4 minutes. Sometimes the simplest things seem scary. In desperation (poached eggs are one of my favorite foods), I took a deep breath, followed Deb's instructions and then proceeded to eat poached eggs for the rest of the weekend.

poached egg on black beans
{poached egg on black beans}

poached egg on toast
{poached egg on toast}

poached egg on toast
{poached egg, perfect}

I feel pretty accomplished. And full.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday flowers, welcome home edition

The laundry is not done, forcing me to wear gym clothes to work this week. The apartment is a mild to moderate disaster. There is still minimal food in the house.

But there are flowers.

peonies, etc
{peonies, etc}

Big, crumpled petal peonies. Blowsier and more show offy than garden roses, which is a bit of a feat. If they were around all year, I don't think I could handle them. But a bit of over the top exuberance is perfect, in its own season.

peonies, crumpled
{peonies, crumpled}

There is one more Greece recap for next week and then more regular posting will resume. Possibly even posts with actual recipes and photographs and everything.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Greece - Nafplio

D and I knew we had to arrange a side trip to Nafplio, which is only a couple hours outside Athens. It's an old port town, not ancient, but fabulous. Teeny little streets with beautiful balconies, some fun antique shops, and a fairly quiet port.

greece - nafplio - port
{nafplio port at sunset}

We ended up renting a car and driving. I was super nervous, because driving in Athens can be insane, so we took the metro to the airport, picked the car up there and then got right on the highway. And it was fine.

greece - driving nafplio to epidavraus
{driving, greece - not the highway}

On the smaller roads you run into some sticky passing situations. Brave drivers pass in all sorts of places that you would think impossible (i.e. blind curves, on a mountain) but we avoided this.

greece - driving nafplio to athens
{little hyundai}

Apparently, picturesque Nafplio did not get much camera time. I was too busy relaxing. D took the family out to Mycennae, which is only 30 minutes away and is a must see if you haven't been before (I have, several times). The site is ridiculously wonderful. We all went to Epidavrus, which is as stunning as I remember and they've added a cute (if overpriced) cafe.

greece - epidavraus
{theater at epidavrus}

greece - nafplio - museum at epidavraus
{museum at epidavrus}

We stayed at the Pension Andromeda, and it was a great (accidental) find. I have major issues with hotel duvet covers (I know, weird) and was so happy to walk in and find an actual blanket on our bed, in a totally modern bright orange shade.

greece - nafplio - dustin
{pension andromeda - good bedspread}

The only downside was that the little guy stepped on a sea urchin and I had no idea how to handle it (after a failed attempt at pulling the spines out with my tweezers). He was super brave, even though we ended up having to take a trip to the hospital, where we were given a prescription for antibiotics and instructed to rub warm olive oil on it. Bases covered. Was sorely tempted to take photos of us in the hospital but managed to restrain myself, out of some notion of appropriateness. The foot recovered enough for him to enjoy the old fortress the next day.

greece - nafplio - palamidi
{nafplio - palamidi}

Nafplio was a lot easier on the kid, because it's small and quiet and because it was swarming with Greek children (I'm thinking they must have been on a field trip). And it has a serious fort and some amazing gelato. Hard to beat.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Athens - summed up

Athens stuff that didn't fit in yesterday's already monstrous post ... 

Shop for: shoes and jewelery. More shoes than you can possibly imagine, changing with each season. Gorgeous. Start at Syntagma square and walk all the way down to Monastiraki, window shopping. If you are looking to spend some very serious money, head up to Kolonaki.

Order: (tough to narrow down because the food is all excellent)

gigantes (giant white beans cooked with a carrot-tomato sauce - my personal fave)
kolokithokeftedes (zucchini fritters - I have no words to describe them, really)
gyro me pita (the classic meat in a pita. Note that most restaurants don't serve this for a sit down meal because it's street food, easily eaten while walking around - please order the pork or maybe the chicken and avoid the weird processed meat version you'll find in some touristy areas. If you order and the guy pauses with the pita in his hand and asks you something, just nod. He wants to know if you want everything on it. You do.)
katifi (the shredded filo cousin to baklava, insanely delicious when it's done right, available in bakeries, when they feel like making it)

Drink: house wine (rose for summer) in a carafe, cheap. Alpha over Mythos if you're going for beer. Vergina and Keo are other excellent choices but almost never available in the city.

To get around: Walk. And walk and walk and walk. Downtown Athens is not large. Figure out where you are staying and then orient yourself based on the hills. Lykavittos is over to one side and the Acropolis is down at the other. If you get lost, look for a clear view and then aim yourself in roughly the right direction. You'll get there eventually. Take the metro at least once, because it's beautiful. If you must take a cab, make sure the meter is running (the only destination where you need to agree on a flat rate is the airport) and don't get discouraged if you get rejected by a few cabdrivers before you find one willing to take you to your destination.

P.S. I am always happy to talk about Greece. If you have any questions, any time, get in touch and I'll do my best to answer. I'm best with Athens, but I know a bit about most other places as well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Greece - Athens

Tried and tried and tried to shorten this post and failed. Sorry. Scroll down if all you want is pictures. Or see all the photos here. I'll share bits of Nafplio and Sounion later in the week.

I'm not Greek (to my everlasting disappointment) but I have roots there, of a sort. My parents lived there while my mother was pregnant with me, flew back to have me, and then returned to Athens. We lived in a suburb right outside the city, in Filothei, for those of you who might know it. We left before I was old enough to have any concrete memories.

I returned in high school, on a dorky school trip with three of my best friends (and many other people who I've forgotten). We stayed for three weeks. We learned absolutely no Greek. We got sunburned. We found a bartender in Crete who spiked our milkshakes with (a teeny tiny bit of) rum. We lacked in supervision due to a few planning snafus on the part of the program. We felt very Grown Up.

I came back in college, for my semester abroad. This time I learned enough Greek to ask directions and order food and discuss my ancestry (a truly critical matter that comes up far more often than you might think). I lived in a huge, old apartment in Kolonaki with 7 other girls, at the base of Lykavittos hill. It was a hike - my calves barely fit into my pants by the time we left, so muscle-y were they. We lived on lentil soup and cheap wine, saving money for excursions all over the country. I learned the city like the back of my hand, navigating by feel, wandering at all hours of the day and night. I sobbed into my suitcase at the airport as I waited for the flight that would take me out of the country.

Touching down a couple weeks ago felt like coming home. We arrived right after a few days of rain, so the city was at its absolute best.

We settled into our rented apartment, right on the edge of Plaka, close to Syntagma. We visited the acropolis (which is truly brutal in the heat, but lovely in this sort of moody weather) and we oohed over the New Acropolis Museum (miles better than the poor old one) and we ate.

greece - athens - acropolis
{athens, from the acropolis}

greece - athens - acropolis
{acropolis, erechtheion}

greece - athens - taverna
{taverna dinner}

The weather warmed up, quickly. We spent our days exploring the city. D took the family to Delphi, while I stayed home and indulged in a free day. Morning city walking (fast, determined, disdainful of traffic signals) with a stop at my favorite bakery and my old stomping grounds, followed by a long afternoon nap in our breezy apartment.

greece - athens - kleomenous 42
{my beloved old apartment - that's our balcony on the first (not ground) floor}

greece - athens - afternoon breeze
{curtains, breeze}

An evening out at the Dora Stratou theater, to ogle the costume collection and the dancers both.

greece - athens - dora stratou theater
{dora stratou theater}

greece - athens - dora stratou dancers
{dora stratou dancers}

Late in the evening (the sun didn't set until 9:30 or so) we'd sit on our balcony and drink beer and look at the acropolis, all lit up.

greece - athens - balcony view
{acropolis, lit}

And on our very last evening in the city, we went to the top of Lykavittos hill, to visit my favorite tiny church and to see the city.

greece - athens - lykavittos church
{lykavittos church}

greece - athens - from lykavittos
{athens from lykavittos}

The only sad bit is that D's brother, for whom the trip was designed, did not love Athens. As in, mostly hated everything about it (specifically, noise, cars and crowds), with the exception of the Acropolis. We clearly waited too long to immerse this suburban child in a city environment. I was heartbroken, but we tried to make the best of it. I mean, it's a bit like handing someone the most amazing present you can think of, beautifully gift wrapped, waiting with bated breath for the reaction and then watching them burst into sad tears when they open it. Not good. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

four (wordy) things

one.    we got home at 11 pm last night (i have never been so grateful for my own insistence on making the bed with fresh, crisp sheets before leaving on a trip) and we were both back at work at 9 am this morning. not totally happy campers. we did, however, go to an early breakfast at our favorite diner and had our favorite, incredibly tall waitress. score. there is no food in our house except some withered carrots, hence the trip to the diner. note to self - buy food on the way home tonight. or at least remember to call ahead and order something for dinner.

two.    i managed to convince myself that my seatmate was planning to blow up the plane on my flight from newark to lax. i had already been in the air for 11 hours at this point, so i wasn't exactly at my peak. spent 20 minutes debating telling someone as we idled on the runway, finally decided i could take care of it myself, spent another 20 minutes deciding on the best course of action (verdict - swift, hopefully disabling blow to the windpipe, call for reinforcements), then fell asleep on the job, due to exhaustion. turns out he was just a really, really weird guy who likes to travel with multiple laptop chargers and many old yogurt containers full of hippie food. felt guilty for wrongly suspecting a socially awkward, overly sweaty person who probably gets enough grief in life. felt slightly better finding out later that d had made the same call and also come up with a contingency plan although he was hampered by the fact that i was sitting in the middle. decided that the airport security obsession has finally broken me, despite my best efforts to stay above it.

three.   i have over 1000 blog posts in my google reader and hundreds of photos on my camera. major backlog. oh, and my real work. the stuff i actually get paid to do. don't expect to see anything substantial from me anytime soon.

four.    true blood season premiere is waiting for me on the dvr. we considered staying up last night to watch it, but some sort of sanity won out and we went to bed like good little worker bees. now it is killing me. please tell me it was good. and don't tell me anything else. also, if you aren't already watching it, i recommend it highly. and i was violently opposed to the whole concept for at least a year when it first came out. not a vampire fan. at. all.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I am here ...


Nice, right? If you're still trying to figure it out, here are some better clues.

cherry juicebox
{cherry juicebox}

flag, clouds
{flag, clouds}

I know, I know. It's kind of mean to even post these pictures. If it makes you feel any better, we're dragging an extremely reluctant twelve year old kid around with us, and he has already made us take him to McDonalds twice. IN GREECE. It's heresy. Besides being humiliating. We spent two days tempting him with some of the best food in the world and then finally gave in and told him that McDonalds does in fact have an outpost here. Thus ending the hunger strike. I watched him wolf down two cheeseburgers in less than two minutes and cried a little inside for all the souvlaki he's missing. But life goes on.

Internet is both sporadic and slow, so this will probably be it until I get back. But I realized I didn't tell you where I was going and that wasn't very nice of me. I'll have plenty of photos when I get back and I promise they won't all be of marble columns. Just most of them.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday flowers (longevity edition)

D bought me this beautiful little vase, also from Heath.* I wanted something super simple for it. A few sprigs of lavender would have been lovely, but I think I may have killed my lavender.**  But three little crespedia did the trick nicely.

crespedia, books
{crespedia, books}

I didn't even put any water in the vase. I have my fingers crossed that they'll just dry out and stay like that, because we're leaving for a couple weeks and I'd love to have them waiting for me when I return. I think they're a pretty good candidate for dried flowers, although you're probably supposed to do something more proactive, like hang them upside down for a few weeks. I'm more of the finger crossing type, really.

crespedia, bedside
{crespedia, bedside}

Oh, did you catch that? Yes, we're leaving for a couple weeks. Crazy. As you read this I am either ...

a) frantically packing and cleaning
b) waiting in airport security
c) waiting for my flight to take off
d) on a very long airplane ride

None of these are my most favorite activities (D and I have a really terrible track record when it comes to international airport security and we've both been interrogated multiple times and we've had our luggage confiscated once, despite having nothing in it but clothes), but I'm very excited to land. I'll be on vacation for two weeks (!) and I won't be posting, but you might see me pop in here from time to time with pictures, if the promised wireless internet connection in our rented apartment actually exists. You really never know.

* I swear I'm not paid by them in any way - it just happened to be a Heath heavy gifting year.
**  How can you even tell? Maybe it's just dormant? I am definitely not a plant guru. 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Stocking up ...

on summer dresses.

A quick (okay, fine - two hour) trip to Forever 21 over the long weekend yielded three dresses, not all available online, sadly. The online and in store selections are vastly different.


The store was bursting with sweet summer dress options but almost everything I tried on was too short. I have a fairly high tolerance for minis, but there are limits, people. And that limit is hit when you realize that you are risking arrest for indecent exposure if you so much as step foot outside your door. I'm not even super tall, but at 5'6 I found that most of the dresses were hitting reaaaaally high up my thigh.

These dresses have driven me to leggings. I know. The rest of you probably gave into leggings 5 years ago when they made their comeback. I purchased my first pair on Sunday. Turns out, they are just as comfortable as you've all been claiming for years. Go figure.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I guess I was a little too obvious about my love of the Heath summer appetizer set, because I received two as gifts. It really turned out to be even more fun, because I had an excuse to go visit the store myself.  I exchanged the second set for these two bowls. Normally they would have been pricier, but the larger one had a small imperfection in the glaze and it was marked down. Score.

heath serving pieces
{heath serving pieces}

I love how they all look together.

I was sorely tempted by the soup server but it's one of their standard pieces and the seasonal collection will only be available this summer, so the bowls won out. I also wasn't wild about any of the glazes that were available at this time.

soup server
{soup server - image from Heath}

Isn't the notch for your serving spoon great? And you could definitely use it for rice and grains, not just soup.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The weekend, briefly

We rounded off the end of May with one last family birthday celebration. It was a wee bit windy but we managed to let the birthday girl blow out the candles.

candles + wind
{candles + wind}

I spent some time enjoying our balcony, and the weather cooperated beautifully.

balcony garden
{balcony garden}

D's tomato plants seem very happy (I take care of / neglect the herbs and he is in charge of the tomatoes) and they have that fabulous sharp green tomato leaf smell. You know what I mean. It's truly indescribable, but it's the essence of summer.

tomato plant, thriving
{tomato plant, thriving}

I enjoyed a "milkshake". I wouldn't even put it in quotes but I get mercilessly mocked otherwise. It's milk + a frozen banana + one scoop of protein powder, pulsed in a blender until it's nice and creamy. I swear it qualifies as a milkshake, D has (bravely) tried it and assured me that it doesn't fool him for an instant. Regardless, I love it.

"milkshake" + zucchini muffin
{"milkshake" + zucchini muffin}

Not pictured: driving in memorial day weekend traffic (boo), Flight of the Conchords at the Hollywood Bowl (awesome), dinner with friends (delicious), strategic shopping trips (neutral).