We had the pleasure of visiting two different cities in Greece: Athens and Chania, located on the island of Crete. And after having the opportunity to see two different Greek communities, I’m seriously in love with the place and the people.
First stop was Athens, where we would have the amazing opportunity to see the acropolis. It was so unreal walking up the stairs, knowing that I would soon be in the same place where world-changing legends were formed.
And not realizing that the acropolis was literally on top of a hill, I was quite surprised at the absolutely incredible views of Athens.
It was just unfathomable. There were thousands of modern houses, stores, shops, etc, and situated right in the middle of them were these thousands of year old ruins. It was the ultimate fusion of reality and history. Just incredible.
As as we were standing on the acropolis, the agora (marketplace) was pointed out to us. It remains largely intact due to the fact that when the Turks invaded, they did not use it as a gun-powder storehouse (like they did on top of the acropolis.) The agora would have been the commercial center of the city: a market full of an array of goods.
And on the right, the Areopagus rock (where the little people are standing) is quite famous for several reasons. The most fascinating of these was the fact that Paul, in Acts, gave one of his famous speeches on or near this rock. As stated in the New Testament:
“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”
Acts 17:22-25 22
I mean SERIOUSLY, how amazing in that? I was standing in the very place where Paul gave his message to the Athenians, telling them that the God of the universe created everything, does not live in man-made temples, and gave every human life.
And I turned around, and saw the Parthenon Like, no big deal, that has just been there (in some form or another) since 438 BC. Incredible.
And our tour guide was fantastic with getting us there super early, before any other tourists had arrived. I was able to have “my moment” with this incredible building.
And then I looked at this sign and was again reminded that I’M LOOKING AT THE PARTHENON.
After we meandered around the grounds for a bit, Jessica and I decided to get our typical picture together, and off to lunch we went.
One of the reasons that I was so excited about this trip was because of the “Deluxe Greek Lunch” that was mentioned in the pamphlet we received. I could hardly contain myself waiting for Greek cuisine, something that I’ve heard people raving over since I arrived in Florence.
We pulled up to the 5 star Metropolitan Hotel and were treated to fantastic Greek specialties.
Like, the BEST GREEK SALAD I HAVE EVER EATEN,
And we enjoyed the Greek version of shepherd’s pie called moussaka. You can find a traditional recipe here. The dish is comprised of ground meat (lamb or beef), topped with eggplant, spices, and bechamel sauce. It’s pretty much, well, amazing.
I mean, I went back for more, if that tells you anything.
And we also sampled a Greek specialty known as cheese pie, tiropitakia, layers of seasoned cheese topped with phyllo dough. A recipe is available here.
After we had consumed more calories than I had eaten the day before, we hopped back on the tour bus in route to Cape Sounion, where the temple of Poseidon stood.
And it, too, was incredible. The temple, which dates back to 700 BC was erected to honor Poseidon, the god of the sea.
And our Greek tour guide gave us all the details that we needed to know.
And, well, I forgot most of them.
But what I didn’t forget was the vision of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding that kept popping up in my head.
You know the scene where the girls are in the car with their friends and the dad took them to school and he goes on and on about the meaning of words, how they are ALL from Greek origins?
I literally heard this come out of her mouth.
Many times. For many different words.
I thought that I was being Greek Punked, and I loved it.
And, I now know the meaning of acropolis.
Polis means top, peak, or high
Acro means city
Put it together and it means city on an high hill.
She didn’t squirt me with Windex though. I was a bit disappointed by that.
But anyway, the temple was breathtaking.
It was unreal to think that those pillars had been there (again, in some form or another) for several thousand years.
And it sat so impressively on the hill. Lord Bryan, the romantic English poet was so moved by the presence of the sunset here, that he left his inscription on the temple during one of his visits.
We were warned not to fall of the cliff, as did Ageus, the king of Athens, did when he committed suicide there.
And now, in his honor, the sea is named the Agean Sea.
Oh the things you learn when you are on a cruise.
And as we returned to the ship, we were greeted by trash cans decorated with tour bus stickers.
And I liked it, because it was colorful and pretty representative of our tours on Royal Caribbean Get your sticker, stand in line, get on the bus, and stay with your leader. It was like kindergarten, only they didn’t give you animal crackers.
Which, personally, was kind of a bummer.
And our other Greek experience took place on the magical island of Crete, bursting with beautiful scenery, botanical gardens, and a plethora of Greek hospitality.
To start this off right, I would just like to mention that Crete was unbelievable. It was gorgeous and to be quite honest, I can’t wait to go back.
Our tour took us to the top of a beautiful mountainous region where the owner of the Botanical Gardens was waiting to explain the Cretan diet for us and let us taste a few of their local specialties.
This was simply fascinating We learned that the Cretan diet is based on three things: olive oil, vegetables, and fruit. And olive oil, they use ALOT of it. A typical 5 person family uses about a liter (1 bottle) EACH DAY. They eat meat only 1-2 a week, so they get all of their good fats from the olive oil. 70% of Cretan’s diet comes from olive oil. And apparently it works. Cretans are the longest thriving people in Europe. It is extremely common in the villages to find people in their 100s, and still active.
We sampled sheep’s milk cheese, seasoned with mint and herbs.
We also tried their homemade rustic bread with….olive oil! (of course)
We were then given a demonstration on a typical Cretan vegetable bake.
Beautiful colors and all of the produce is seasonal and local.
And then he poured 1/2 a bottle of olive oil into that roasting pan.
To survive, Cretans used to eat what they found from the earth because there were no other options. This lifestyle was never forgotten and has actually benefited them quite well. When cooking vegetables, they do not remove the stems, the keep the leaves, and even cook with rinds.
The lifestyle truly inspired me, and even prodded my nutrition research paper which is titled Big Fat Lier and The Ideal Diet (Which you are more than welcome to read.)
And yes, he even made us homemade Tzatziki. And I was mezmorized (and wondered where I had been all of my life).
Homeade Greek Tzatziki
- 4.25 cups full-fat yogurt (1 Kilo)
- 1 full cucumber, shredded (and juice squeeze out)
- 2 garlic cloves, shredded (more if you like it with a kick)
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- Salt to taste
We were also able to sample a medley of bitter “Horta” greens, which had been soaked in, you guess it, olive oil.
The owner told us the secret to Cretan nutrition: Don’t stress, use your imagination, and take a walk to collect your food.
It’s simple, they live long because of their lifestyle, not just what they consume. Sometimes, like the French paradox, it’s HOW you consume something, not what you consume.
And after we were introduced to the beautiful Cretan lifestyle, we were given a tour of the botanical gardens, which boast of many different plants from all over the world.
And below, I found the Stevia plant, which is recently conjuring up quite a bit of press in the states. It is a sweet plant that is used as a natural sugar alternative. It was such a blessing to see it in the wild.
Loved this sign. It’s so true.
Above, I called this the lime that no one is friends with.
The most interesting find of the day was the Buddhas’s Hand plant. I was so entranced by it’s shape, that I only skimmed the board with it’s information. I know that it is used as insect repellent, and the fruit is cut into sections (or fingers, if you will)
After the tour, beautifully ripe produce was available to us from their gardens.
The Persimmon, a sweet tomato-like fruit, had an absolutely fabulous taste and apparently boasts of many medicinal benefits.
And we were also given cucumber that had been lightly salted. Incredible.
After we were all in a fresh-food daze, we hopped back into the bus and were taken to the port town of Chania, where the market called my name.
I walked around for about an hour by myself, just taking in all of the olives, spices, and oils. It was incredible.
And there it was again, the ever famous moussaka that I had met the day before.
Oh moussaka, I love you.
And I got to sample some of Jessica’s spanikopita, which is SO much better when you actually get it in Greece.
And it’s warm.
And I must stop now, it’s getting to hard.
Oh, the separation anxiety.
And if the day couldn’t get any better, I finally found some English gum.
Greece, if it had JUST been for the gum, I would have really liked you.
But combined with your food, your friendly people, and your incredible lifestyle.
I REALLY LOVE YOU.
Ciao for now.