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Archive for the ‘Greece’ Category

Stoa of Attalos, Athens

Things I really liked about our trip to Athens:

  1. I never had to ask for tap water in restaurants. Servers immediately put out carafes of water and glasses when you sit down.
  2. The Acropolis. Sure it’s full of tourists, but that’s because it’s worth seeing. Even covered in scaffolding and missing the cool parts, the Parthenon‘s symmetry and size are beautiful. And if you go on Sundays during the winter, it’s free admission.
  3. The festive atmosphere in the Gazi district on a Saturday night. It’s like being back in college – everyone’s headed to the Gazi for a party night.
  4. The Athens metro system. It’s clean and fast and – at .80 euros a ride – cheap. Come to think of it, transport generally was inexpensive.
  5. The Art Hotel. It’s close to the Omonia metro stop; the rooms are clean and comfortable; and the staff really really want to be helpful. I’ve never gotten so much reliable and interesting local advice from a hotel, ever. And did I mention the free coffee and tea all day? And the wi-fi? And we paid 80 euros a night.

Things that were eh about our trip to Athens:

  1. The weather. In January, it’s 50 degrees F on a good day. And it turns out that there’s not much cafe culture going on when it’s 50 degrees. Our slogan for the weekend was “this would be really nice if the weather were warm.”
  2. The National Archaeological Museum. I’ll admit this is probably just me. There were just so many antiquities jumbled in there that I lost track of what made one marble statue different from another. I’m just hopeless without an audiotour. And the giftshop in the basement looks so sleek and modern that I can’t help but wonder why the Museum didn’t spend that money sprucing up the exhibition rooms, rather than on the gift shop/cafe. OK, I’m kidding. I know exactly why they made that decision.
  3. Pireaus Port. That’s one seriously ugly port town. I guess that’s the price you pay when a gazillion massive ferries chug in and out of the harbor every day.
  4. Greek coffee. Greek coffee is served with the coffee grinds in the cup. I’m not skilled enough to avoid drinking the grinds when I take a sip.
  5. The Freaking Lack of Water at the EasyJet terminal at the Athens airport. You can’t bring water through security, of course, and you can’t buy any water once you’re past security. And then you’re on the four-hour flight back to London; £1.50 buys you a minibar-sized bottle of water; and the airline ran out of bottles of water halfway through the flight. The dehydration was torture.

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Mamacas Taverna exterior

The vast majority of restaurants in Athens seem to be tavernas, the Greek version of the bistro. Of course, like bistros, not all tavernas are born equal. Some are fancy and expensive, and others are almost-literally holes in the wall. And you can count on Jon and me to have tried a range of them.I liked the divey places best, mostly because you can count on the same basic dishes at all tavernas (pita, tzatziki, Greek salad, grilled fish, fava bean in some shape or form), and overall, I didn’t see a big difference in the quality of food at cheapo places verus expensive ones.

We had dinner one night at a trendy taverna in the Gazi district (which is where Chelsea meets Adams Morgan) called Mamacas. The place is no secret, having both a New York Times and Times of London writeup to its name. I loved the all-white decor and fairy lights, and the service was friendly and helpful despite its trendiness.food at Mamacas taverna

And guess what we ate at Mamacas? From left to right: fava bean puree, grilled flatbreads, and Greek salad. The first batch of grilled breads was outstanding – hot from the oven – but the second batch took half an hour to arrive at our table and was cold and stale. And at 3.60 euros per basket, it cost at least two times more than what it does at regular tavernas. (more…)

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Crayfish in tomato broth at Varoulko restaurant, Athens

There are three restaurants in Athens with a Michelin star, and based on my reading, only one of them, Varoulko, sounded like it served Greek food – or at least non-French food. So that’s where Jon and I headed one night.

Three things we learned from eating at Varoulko:

1. Greeks eat late. Not Spanish late, but late such that nobody shows up at a restaurant until 10 pm, at earliest, so don’t be the losers (us) who show up at 9:30 pm wondering why the restaurant is totally empty.

2. Tip is included in menu prices (though you should add a little extra if you’re happy with service). Don’t be the clueless, seemingly-deep-pocketed tourists (us) and assume you’re still supposed to add a 15-20% tip.

3. At Varoulko, there’s no physical menu, but it turns out you’re still ordering a la carte. Basically, you’re at a restaurant where everything offered verbally by your waiter is the special of the day, and you won’t know how much anything costs unless you ask. Having never encountered this system before at a restaurant (and we’ve eaten our share of meals out), Jon and I assumed that in the absence of any menu, we were working on a prix fixe tasting menu basis. So when our waiter described a soup and four other courses, Jon and I imagined small, tasting menu-sized portions. (more…)

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Sesame-covered peanuts in Greece

I love sesame candy, and I love nuts. So imagine my excitement when, walking by the Athens covered market, I spotted sesame-covered peanuts for sale! Eureka! I’ve been munching on these guys all day, and I’m sure I’ll have to pick up another bag before leaving Athens tomorrow evening.

Sesame twists in Greece

I also couldn’t resist snacking on these hot sesame twists sold in front of Monastiraki metro station. They’re sweet, nutty and bready. Think Auntie Anne’s sesame pretzel, but without all the salty, slimy butter product.Thanassis souvlaki

And of course I’ve been eating more souvlaki. While Monastiraki is a rather touristy area, Thanassis souvlaki was packed this afternoon with Greek families out to enjoy a sunny Sunday, so I’m not surprised that the sandwich was worth the long wait in line.

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Souvlaki at Lefteris

After checking into our Athens hotel at 2 pm today, Jon and I were in desperate need of lunch. Cue the nearby (divey) souvlaki place, Lefteris. Clearly it’s destiny when your hotel happens to be three blocks from a souvlaki stand that gets rave reviews from local bloggers and Michelin-starred chefs alike.

Grill guys at Lefteris

Jon and I order two souvlaki and pay our 3.20 euros for both (!). Within two minutes of our handing over the cash, the grill guys have slipped sizzling skewers of ground pork into hot, grilled flatbreads, dumped on onions, tomatoes and ground red pepper, and presented the souvlaki to us in handy paper cones.

Jon and I then do what everyone else is doing and eat our souvlaki standing at a narrow counter about two feet away from the grill.

The meat is so moist and tender, and the flatbread so chewy, soft and decadently oily, that we immediately order two more souvlaki. And despite the fact that it’s late in the afternoon, we’re standing at the counter with a guy dressed in a suit and three other youngish guys dressed in flannel work shirts.

I like the mix of peeps; I like the food; and I definitely like the prices.Lefteris’s address: Satovriandhou, 20, cross street Sokratous, not far from the Omonia metro stop.

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