Greece

4th of July Party & Hospitality

We originally booked two nights at Edgefield hoping they’d host a concert that weekend. Unfortunately no such show materialized. We decided to stay for our anniversary and cancel the additional night, but we weren’t able to find an RV park on the coast with availability for the Fourth of July. We had no place to go…

I texted a friend from high school who lives in Portland and asked if she might host us for a night. With carefree abandon and copious enthusiasm she graciously agreed to provide us shelter for the night. Further, she’d throw a party and prepare succulent dishes to share with her us and her friends, and if we were lucky we’d be able to see the fireworks from her deck.

We looked forward to meeting Celena and her family and friends. After our morning of golf we gingerly maneuvered ourselves out of the Edgefield parking lot and drove the mere 20 minutes from Edgefield to Celena’s home in the Sandy neighborhood of Northeast Portland.

Navigating the narrow and winding streets of Sandy we parked and found Celena outside her beautiful 1917 home inviting more neighbors to her party. It wasn’t 30 seconds later we seated in the terraced yard with cold and frosty beerverage in hand.

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The weather cleared up in the early evening just as the guests were arriving, each bringing a dish more delicious than the last. The appetizers were punctuated with a twist on the French ’75 – the America ’76! It was a combination of gin, brandy, and champagne with fresh strawberries and perhaps other things. Whatever it was, it was as tasty and dangerous as the country it celebrated and complemented well the smoked pulled pork, and Celena’s transcendent marinated, slow cooked, and then grilled chicken (that apparently took 2 days to make).

 

After dinner began the traditional neighborhood fireworks for the kids followed by glimpses in the distance of Portland’s downtown fireworks as darkness encroached. We didn’t need the downtown show as the neighborhood show of mortars and rockets assualted our senses into the night. It was a grand 4th-of-July with an old friend and some new friends as well. Thanks Celena! Happy Birthday ‘Merica!

 

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2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for my blog: Sabbatikos. Click here to see the complete report. I hope to be updating this blog in 2016 with trips to Portugal, Amsterdam, and the Oregon Dunes.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,700 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 45 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Feral Cats of Greece

We were quickly struck by the number of feral cats we saw upon arrival in Greece. Initially we assumed the problem was confided to Athens, but as we moved across the Sporades, even the unpopulated islands, we still saw feral cats.

Generally the cats are docile and endearing, often hanging around a taverna looking for a handout from empathic Americans. We were very popular with this. But you clearly saw that many had diseases, none of them are spayed or neutered, and as a result you have sickly little mothers barely a year old themselves nursing the next feral generation.

The issue has garnered international attention, especially now that Greece is part of the UE and more information can be found at Advocacy for Animals and The Greek Animal Welfare Fund and Greek Animal Rescue.

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Grecian Meals

I loved the food across Greece. It is so much better than the Americanized Greek food we commonly see here. What makes a great Greek meal? Add one part atmospheric Greek taverna (preferably by beach), two parts wait for the sun to go down so and it cools off enough to have an appetite, combine fresh ingredients, a sense of culinary adventure, chilled wine (red or white), cold beer, and a little ouzo.

These are some images from some of our favorite meals.

Breakfast usually consisted of yogurt and honey with fruit (the honey in Greece is unbelievably flavorful) or open face omelets.

Yogurt and honey with fruit and fig

Yogurt and honey with fruit and fig

Greek Omelet

Greek Omelet

Lunch was often gyros which we didn’t eat nearly enough of.

Gyros

Gyros

Pork Gyros

Pork Gyros

Chicken gyros

Chicken gyros

Meals always started with fresh ingredients:

Garlic on sale from back of truck in Skiathos

Garlic on sale from back of truck in Skiathos

Fresh fish for sale from back of van in Skiathos

Fresh fish for sale from back of van in Skiathos

Fresh fish for sale

Fresh fish for sale

Fresh fish for sale

Fresh fish for sale

Before dinner happy hour would usually be on our boat or in a taverna with beer or wine and snacks

Mythos - Hellenic Beer

Mythos – Hellenic Beer

Mythos - Hellenic Beer

Mythos – Hellenic Beer

Skopelos cheese pie

Skopelos cheese pie

Pita cheese pie

Pita cheese pie

Meals often started with appetizers such as saganaki or fried eggplant

Eggplant sald
Eggplant salad
Vegetable croquettes
Vegetable croquettes
Fried eggplant
Fried eggplant
Fried eggplant
Fried eggplant
Eggplant and feta salad
Eggplant and feta salad
Toasted bread and oil
Toasted bread and oil
Fried zucchini
Fried zucchini
Tzatziki and olives
Tzatziki and olives
Saganaki - grilled or fried cheese
Saganaki – grilled or fried cheese
Fried eggplant
Fried eggplant

The Greek salad is a staple of every meal and always a cool crisp salty favorite

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

Feta & Olives, Greek Salad

Feta & Olives, Greek Salad

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

Greek salad

Greek salad

Greek salad

Greek salad

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

The octopus was aways fresh and delicious

Fresh caught octopus

Fresh caught octopus

Octopus salad

Octopus salad

Grilled octopus

Grilled octopus

Octopus salad in oil

Octopus salad in oil

Octopus salad in oil

Octopus salad in oil

The seafood was always fresh as well, but fish tended to be very expensive so we stuck with squid or prawns which were more affordable. Once we had bream, a rather bland whitefish.

Fresh fish

Fresh fish

Fresh fish

Fresh fish

Grilled Bream

Grilled Bream

Fresh Prawns

Fresh Prawns

Fresh prawns

Fresh prawns

Prawn salad

Prawn salad

Anchovies in oil

Anchovies in oil

Fried squid

Fried squid

Fried squid

Fried squid

The chicken souvlaki was another staple of each meal. At the BLO Taverna on Skopelos they had this incredible bacon wrapped souvlaki.

Chicken souvlaki with bacon and lemon

Chicken souvlaki with bacon and lemon

Chicken souvlaki

Chicken souvlaki

For dinner main courses we tended to share a variety of dishes to get tastes and flavors of the taverna and Greece.

Chickpea salad

Chickpea salad

Gnoci in browned butter

Gnoci in browned butter

Homemade tagliatelle with shrimp

Homemade tagliatelle with shrimp

Seared tuna

Seared tuna

Tuna salad

Tuna salad

Lamb in tomato sauce

Lamb in tomato sauce

Moussaka

Moussaka

Lamb in tomato sauce

Lamb in tomato sauce

Moussaka

Moussaka

Stuffed eggplant

Stuffed eggplant

Stuffed cabbage

Stuffed cabbage

Lamb with potatoes

Lamb with potatoes

Spaghetti carbonara

Spaghetti carbonara

Stewed veggies and cheese

Stewed veggies and cheese

Meatballs

Meatballs

Stuffed peppers

Stuffed peppers

Moussaka

Moussaka

Now that I’m back in Seattle I want to return to Panos Kleftiko and order more authentic items from their menu.

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Changing of the Evzone Guards

Sunday June 23rd was our last day in Athens. We started our day by visiting Syntagma Square, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Greek Parliament. We wanted to see the famous changing of the Evzone Guards that stand outside the Tomb and the Parliament.

The uniforms of the elite Evzone Guards may look a little silly to us, but they are steeped in history, tradition, and symbolism. For example, the “pom-pons” date all the way back to the ancient Mycenaeans. And the skirts of the guards have 400 pleats – one for each year of the Ottoman Empire’s occupation.

We arrived in time to see the crossing of the guards at 10:30am and then took our place on the side of the square to witness the more elaborate pomp and circumstance of the 11am changing of the guards (complete with a marching band). Then we got a photo opportunity with the guards who, like their British counterparts, aren’t allowed to move or show emotion while standing guard and must remain completely serious.

The ceremonies start precisely 5 minutes before the bottom of the hour (cross of the guards) or top of the hour (changing of the guards) and based around a high stepping slow motion march that keeps very precise time. Each ceremony miraculously completed exactly at the bottom and top of the hour. It was good that the ceremony was only 5 minutes long because it was a smoldering day (97 degrees in Athens). After the changing of the guard we headed to the Acropolis Museum to spend our afternoon with air conditioned relics indoors.

Evzone Guard

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Acropolis and The Plaka

Before and after our trip to the Sporades we spent our time in Athens on and around the Acropolis and The Plaka. Athens is remarkably easy and walkable if you can handle the heat (it was 97 degrees there the day we left).

From the rooftop deck of the Hotel Attalos in the Monastiraki area of Athens we had a stellar view of the Acropolis and easy walking access to The Plaka (a collection of small, mostly touristy) shops, boutiques, and restaurants. To beat the crowds we rose early and walked up to the top of the Acropolis to beat the throng of humanity from the tour groups and cruise ships that arrive shortly thereafter.

We saw the Parthenon, the Temple of Athenia Nike, Erechtheion, and the amphitheaters Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Theater of Dionysus before a stumbling into the beautiful neighborhood of Anafiotika before returning to the Plaka for some ice cold Mythos and more great Greek food in the tavernas tucked into the hills around the Acropolis.

Acropolis & Parthenon from Garden Bar on roof of Hotel Attalos

Acropolis & Parthenon from Garden Bar on roof of Hotel Attalos

Acropolis & Parthenon at night from Garden Bar on roof of Hotel Attalos

Acropolis & Parthenon at night from Garden Bar on roof of Hotel Attalos

Be warned...you may be getting this as your Xmas card this year

Be warned…you may be getting this as your Xmas card this year

The caryatids of the Erechtheion supporting function as columns supporting the roof structure

The caryatids of the Erechtheion function as columns supporting the roof structure

View of Athens from Acropolis

View of Athens from Acropolis

Parthenon

Parthenon

Clara & Erechtheion

Clara & Erechtheion

Theater of Dionysus from Acropolis

Theater of Dionysus from Acropolis

Theater of Dionysus

Theater of Dionysus

Theater of Dionysus

Theater of Dionysus

Neighborhood of Anafiotika

Neighborhood of Anafiotika

Neighborhood of Anafiotika

Neighborhood of Anafiotika

Neighborhood of Anafiotika

Neighborhood of Anafiotika

Neighborhood of Anafiotika

Neighborhood of Anafiotika

Neighborhood of Anafiotika

Neighborhood of Anafiotika

Sign to Acropolis for wayward tourists walking the neighborhood of Anafiotika

Sign to Acropolis for wayward tourists walking the neighborhood of Anafiotika

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Ferry, Bus, Subway to Athens

Saturday was a long day of travel to Athens by ferry, bus, and subway to our hotel in Athens. It took about 12 hours and it still cost me nearly as much as the 40 minute plane ride to Athens. But we did get to see a bit of the Greek countryside. Greece is beautiful and my conclusion from the 12 hour trip is that I’m no longer concerned about the world supply of olives and olive oil. I think we’ll be just fine.
We left Skiathos on the ferry to Volos about 11:15. The ferry takes about 3 hours to reach the mainland port of Volos.
About 1/2 hour into the ferry ride there was an announcement for any doctors on board. I egged on my father and Tom to respond, which they did. “Its either a heart attack or a woman going into labor”, said Tom. “Let’s hope its not the latter”. Well…it was. A woman’s water had broken and she was going into labor. She was on her way to Volos from Skiathos because the umbilical cord was wrapped around her baby’s neck and she needed to travel there for a c-section, but her water broke too soon. However, as this was her first baby the labor wasn’t active and her contractions where still 10 minutes apart by the time she boarded the ambulance on the other side.
We arrived in Volos and walked to the bus station (although we sent our bags along in a taxi). We missed the 3pm express bus so had to take the 4:30 local (4.5 hours long) for 27 Euro each. We were dropped at a subway station about 6 stops away from our hotel. It all worked out and we were happy to be back in Athens and at the Attalos Hotel for a few days in Athens before heading to Paris.

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The bus ride was long but on a very modern and nice bus. But it was enough for Clara to get a little punchy with her paprika Pringles.
Once in Athens we went out on a Saturday night on a full moon and had dinner. Athens and the Plaka was hopping! Very intense number of people out. Great people watching and meal.

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Much to our Sunday morning regret we finished our meal with our first (and last) glass of grappa in Greece. It tasted good going down but combined with our sea legs it made our Sunday morning get off to a slow start.

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Return to Skiathos Town

On Friday we spent our last day on the boat swimming and sunning ourselves on the beach of Troulos Bay before heading back to Skiathos Town to return our boat. It was a short trip but gave us time to think about all the great experiences we’ve had over the past two weeks sailing in the Sporades.

We had one last nice meal at a great little seafood restaurant in Skiathos Town and walked the streets on the solstice until late into the night.

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To the people of the Sporades thank you for taking care of us on our trip. And to all the stray cats – even the surly ones – we hope you all find loving homes, and if not, may you find a little piece of fish or squid passed to you under the table by sympathetic tourists.

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Koukounaries Beach and Trolous Bay

We anchored at famous Koukounaries Bay. Its said to be the nicest beach in Greece, but also voted one of the top 7 beaches in the world. The sand is like gold flecked talcum powder – very fine sand but with flecks that sparkle gold in the sun. Its a shallow gradual beach so the water is warm. It fronts a lagoon with a wildlife sanctuary behind it.
We went ashore and although we were early in the season the beach was still pretty busy. Tawny, Clara and I bought an umbrella and 3 chairs to rent in front of Kahlua Taverna and sat in the sun, swam, read, drank beers, ate lunch, relaxed, and enjoyed the people watching. Unlike the rest of the Sporades reachable by boat filled with French and Germans, this beach reached by plane and ferry seemed to have been populated by Russian tour packages.

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In the afternoon tour boats from Skiathos Town started coming in and the beach filled in by the hundreds. Although we were enjoying the people watching others wanted to head to a little bay around the corner for the night. So we went back to the boat and navigated the dangerous shoal Vrak Marines to Troulos Beach and found ourselves the only boats (except for 1 Greek fishing boat) in the bay. We could still see the mega-yacht Al Mirqab. It was our warmest swimming area yet. Clara went ashore and tried a paddle board (but it was really an unstable surf board so the very nice beach rental people refused to take payment for it.)

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We went ashore that night for dinner at Troulos Taverna. Food was good and we had breem (a delicate white fish) for the first time. The taverna had a cute little kitten that Clara was very smitten with. As the evening wore on and the wine and ouzo was poured it deteriorated into dancing with the wait staff. A fine evening.

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Mega-Yacht Al Mirqab

Thursday, about 5 am, the wind starting blowing hard and shifted direction blowing us into the rocks. The anchors were holding but our stern ties became useless. We worried that our anchors may get tangled since we were rafted together and had 3 anchors out. By 6am we were looking for an exit strategy. We got the boats and shore lines untangled and by 7am or so we were headed to Skiathos and famous Koukounaries Bay. Its been said this is the nicest beach in Greece, but also voted one of the top 7 beaches in the world. The sand is said to be like gold flecked talcum powder.
As we approached I thought I saw a ship in the area we were heading. I bet it was a luxury private yacht and was right. It was the ship Al Mirqab the 10th largest private ship in the world owned by the Prime Minister of Qatar. It has its own Wikipedia entry. Its a beautiful looking yacht if you can get past the enormous wealth it represents. It cost some 700 Million British Pounds (that’s just over $1 Billion!)
Unbelievable amount of toys they put out for their guests (ski boat, parasail, water polo floating court, 6 skidoos (in the water and more inside the yacht, kyaks, etc.) The back of the yacht included 2 escalators to bring you back up to the lido deck from the waterline. It dominated the space but provided an interesting discussion for us.

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