Showing posts with label Cycladic islands. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cycladic islands. Show all posts

Monday, June 16, 2014

Greece: “But, what do you eat there?”

There are certain people we know who don’t share our enthusiasm for travel.  They list the logistics and planning or those unknown experiences . . .like eating  different food as reasons for not setting forth.

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Easter pastries - Greece
I can tell you – and our bathroom scales reconfirm this – we love the foods (and drinks, of course) we discover on our travels!

Some of our favorite food is Greek. We found so many culinary delights as we traveled around Greece this spring that I am serving up a two-part report; beginning this week on our food-fest there and starting with perhaps the most recognizable dishes:

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Pita Gyro: This fast food is the cheapest ‘full meal deal’ in town.  Thinly sliced lamb, beef or chicken, tomatoes, onions, French fries, yogurt with paprika (pictured above) or tzatziki, a yogurt sauce comes wrapped in hot pita.  The cost usually under $5 US.

Greek Salad: Unlike the versions we are served back home in the U.S. here the bowl is filled with chunks of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, whole olives with pits and slabs of feta, seasoned with oregano and olive oil and vinegar mixtures.  Usually in the $5 – $7 US range and enough to share between two.

loutro to kirkland 121Hummus: While we call it a dip in the U.S. it sometimes is listed under salads here – other times as a meze, or small plate. 

This traditional mixture of garlic, olive oil, garbanzo beans and tahini, is one of our favorites. In the photo to the left, the restaurant served it with sautéed onions.  Less than $5 US.

loutro to kirkland 165Two other sauce/salad/mezes: are the traditional – tzatziki, (left side of the plate) yogurt, cucumber, oft times a bit of grated carrot and varying amounts of garlic and garlic salad basically garlic and mashed potatoes mixed together and served cold or at room temperature.

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Greek meatballs rival that of their Italian neighbors.  Here, however, they aren’t served with pasta.  Instead, potatoes – slow roasted in the oven with oregano, olive oil and lemon juice – share the plate.  (And thank goodness, those baskets of bread are served as a routine part of every meal. This one came  in handy for dredging through that olive oil and lemon sauce!)

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Stuffed grape leaves – served as mezes here, are a tart lemon-flavored treat filled with rice and served at room temperature or barely warmed.  We ate many of these but I am featuring the ones served at The Nest, a restaurant (known for its traditional Greek food) tucked in the maze of the Old Town, Chora, on Ios Island

This family-owned restaurant  and the food it served, captured our hearts (and stomachs) and drew us back two of the three nights we were in town.  Among the many dishes we sampled were these grape leaves. The owner said that the leaves are grown in his cousin’s garden and each morning his mother comes in to make them ~ now who could resist that?

Note:  The opening photo is of pastries (some of you saw it on Facebook)  - a gift for Easter from Maria, the lady who runs Pension Loutro Bay, on the southern coast of Crete, where we spent the holiday this year.

Thanks for your time today – we hope you’ll be back later this week!

Linking up:
Foodie Tuesday

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Chasing Windmills ~ Finding Mykonos Magic

When Greece comes to mind don’t you immediately picture a sun-drenched island, dappled with white-washed villages under brilliant blue skies?  In my more skeptical moments I sometimes wonder if those travel magazine and tourist brochure photos that put those images in the psyche aren’t ‘doctored’ (okay, in this day and age, ‘Photoshop-ed’) to look as picture-perfect as they do. After our stop on Mykonos though, I realize there are places that are as perfect in reality as they are in the imagination. . . 

Mykonos Windmills

It was the windmills that tipped the scales in favor of Mykonos on our first trip to Greece several years ago.

Many of you know Greece landed on my travel list back at age 9 when Hayley Mills and Eli Wallace frolicked among the windmills in the Walt Disney movie “The Moonspinners”. I'd had Greece on the mind since the movie had swept me off my feet, so this Cycladic Island, known for its glitz and glamour. . .and windmills, was added to the itinerary. I got my dose of windmills but we remember that stay as windy, wet, and cold in a pricey place far removed from town.


We’d not returned again until this spring and what we found was red, white and blue magic. . .and those lovely windmills, of course.


Staying much closer to town than that first trip, we set out after dark and it felt as if an enchanted spell had been cast on the place – candles and soft lighting at the many cafes that set up on the small pedestrian ‘streets’ added to the ambiance.


Those narrow walkways, however, were just as interesting in the daytime – many so narrow you can extend your arms and touch the walls on either side of the ‘street’.


Red, white and blue. . .the vivid colors were mixed and matched in every setting imaginable.

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Restaurants and walkways were decked out in them against the near blinding-white background of the buildings.

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Red doors called out welcome.


Although the tourist brochures plant that image we described in the opening, we’ve  found that each area we’ve visited in this vast country seemed to have its own ‘trademark’ building styles and colors; the whitewashed Cubist-style buildings in the Cyclades and the Stone Tower  style in the Peloponnese, are two distinctly different examples.

Have you been to Greece? What colors or styles did you find in the area you visited? Or for those of you who live there, how would you describe your area? As always, we appreciate your time today – hope you’ll come back again soon!


Map picture

Mykonos is a hub island for ferries from Athens and those to other Cycladic Islands. It’s cruise ship/ferry port is a large modern affair just outside Mykonos Town. The island has an airport; flights are less than an hour from Athens. Easy Jet flies direct from London from May to September.

Linking Up:
Travel Photo Thursday
Travel Photo Discovery on Monday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Greece’s Tinos Island: Oh Come all the Faithful. . .

The magenta-colored carpet we were looking for was more a dirty tan.

But it was there, just as we had been told it would be. Stretching a half-mile uphill from the harbor in Tinos town – on the Cycladic Island of the same name – it provides a cushion, of sorts, for those humble pilgrims who crawl to the church at the end of this holy pathway.

Not just any church, mind you, but to the island’s centerpiece, the Holy Church of Panagia Evaggelistria of Tinos, or Our Lady of Tinos.
Panagia is the Eastern Orthodox title for the Virgin Mary. Evaggelistra, refers to the Annunciation when the angel Gabriel announced to Virgin Mary the incarnation of Christ.

More than a million faithful each year come to this island with a population of about 8,500 to seek blessings, healing, or miracles (all of which have been recorded as having been granted over the decades) from the Megalochari, (Great Grace), the unofficial name of the Holy Icon for which the church is home.

Unlike those faithful, we chose to walk to the church which gave us an opportunity to ’window shop’ at the many stores that line the route selling religious souvenirs. Others sell candles – huge candles as evidenced by their size in the photo below – to be use as offerings. They also sell ‘tamas’ metallic pieces that represent the reason for your visit. We’ve seen similar metallic pieces called ‘milagros’ or ‘miracles’ in Spanish offered at cathedrals in Mexico.

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Why this Church is Special:

It’s believed that in ancient times, a temple to the Greek god, Dionysus, once stood on the site of the present-day church; a church considered to be one of the most important orthodox shrines of pilgrimages in Greece. But somewhere along the ages, the Christians came along and turned it into a church.


What makes the story more interesting is that the Megalochari which came to Tinos during the Byzantine times, is believed to have been one of three icons painted by Saint Luke during the lifetime of the Virgin Mary. . .many believe it’s miracle-working power came directly from her blessing it.

But the icon vanished when Saracen pirates invaded and burned down the church – back in the 10th Century.

DSCF1593It wasn’t found until some 900 years later after a nun named Pelagia, had three recurring visions about its location and convinced townsfolk of where they needed to dig to find it. 

They dug, found evidence of the temple, but no icon, so they quit digging.

Then a cholera epidemic hit.

Was it cause and effect?

Whatever the case, they resumed the digging and found the Megalochari on Jan. 30, 1823.

Sister Pelagia became Saint Pelagia in 1970.

At the bottom level of the church there are three vaulted arcades where the icon was believed to have been found. It is the site of many baptisms.


The church is a financially independent charitable foundation, governed by a 10-member committee made up of nine elected directors and the Bishop of Syros-Tinos.  It is operated separate from the other Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries in Greece. It’s support comes from donations and offerings of the faithful – it is the donated works of art that fill the church’s museum and then some.

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Photos are not permitted inside the church or of the hallways that lead to offices and the church museum, or apartments (which are used – free of charge – at three-day intervals by pilgrims). So I was left to photograph the intricate mosaic that makes up the church’s courtyard.

DSCF3856We spent three nights in Tinos as a result of some of that ‘novel research’ I am always promoting. 

You know we are both fans and friends of Jeffrey Siger who spends half of each year on Mykonos writing crime novels set in Greece.  His, “Target Tinos” with a plot-line involving this church had peaked our interest in the island.

And as we pondered our ‘next stop’ while in Mykonos, he was kind enough to give us a wealth of travel tips about Tinos.

We set off for Tinos aboard a ferry from Mykonos. Water is the only way to reach this island, which in retrospect, was the most ‘Greek’ of the islands we visited. By that, I mean we encountered many who spoke as much English as we do Greek. We were fortunate to be there during the off season and in fact, were but a few staying in the multi-storied hotel we'd selected on the water front.

It was also one of the most stunning Greek islands we’ve visited. The countryside was magical ~ We’ll take you on a tour of it soon.

That’s it for today’s Travel Photo Thursday. Head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travels. And if you want to do some novel research on Greece, check out Jeff’s book:

Hope to see you back here later this week. And, as always, thanks for the time you spent with us today! 
Also linking to:
Travel Photo Monday
Monday Mosaics

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mykonos: “The Piano Bar” of Little Venice

Discovering The Montparnasse Piano Bar, one of a dozen of so chic bars that light up Little Venice from dusk-to-dawn during this island’s madcap tourist season, is one of the high points of our trip to Mykonos.

Although our time on the island was short, we managed to get in two visits to this legendary watering hole that has cultivated a loyal following among locals, tourists and ‘big names’ alike since its opening back in the early 1980’s.
Little Venice - Mykonos Island, Greece
But first a bit about Little Venice, one of the most romantic – and certainly among the most photographed – spots on Mykonos:
The 18th Century buildings with wooden balconies that make up the area served as homes of sea captains or pirates, depending on what version of the story you’re told. Some are still homes (and available to rent) and others are filled with bars and boutiques. You explore the area following a winding maze of narrow walkways as old as the buildings themselves.

It is fun to explore at any time of day, but it wasn’t until this trip that we learned how much fun it was at night.

We’d likely never have discovered ‘The Piano Bar’ had it not been for our American friend and novelist, Jeffrey Siger, who spends half his year on Mykonos – writing books.
(We’ve introduced you to him and his books in earlier posts.Click the link to see them.) Over breakfast at the hotel our first morning, he tipped us off to the bar’s seasonal reopening just the night before.

The bar – and its real life owners, longtime personal and professional partners, Nikos Hristodulakis and Jody Duncan – has appeared in the fictional crime mysteries Jeffrey writes as well as in the posts he contributes to the blog, Murder is Everywhere.


Arriving at a rather unfashionable early hour for Mykonos nightlife - 9 p.m. – we were given a warm welcome by Nikos and Jody (pictured above). With few ‘early birds’ they had time to share laughs and stories with us as though we had been regulars for years; a warmer welcome than at some places we have frequented for years.

David Dyer - pianist
The pianist, David Dyer from Colorado, who has been a springtime featured performer at the bar since 1987, began playing at 10 p.m. and had we not had an early morning outing scheduled  the next day we’d have stayed much longer listening to his repertoire.

His music was exceptional and brought us back to sit at the bar – just like regulars - the next night. The place reminded us of “Cheers” the bar featured in the U.S. television comedy (1982 -1993) where ‘everybody knows your name’.

That evening we made the acquaintance of a longtime visitor from Sussex, England who regaled us with tales of traveling in Mykonos decades ago - back when there wasn’t even a ferry dock and passengers got to shore aboard tenders.

I’ve long advocated the fun of doing ‘novel’ research for our travels. Often times visits to locations appearing in fiction stories make for some of our best travel experiences. And this bar didn't let us down.
The Scout, Nikos and Jeffrey Siger
I couldn’t decide if the artwork that fills The Piano Bar walls highlights the old wooden ceiling or vice versa. The Piano Bar which got its start at another Mykonos location moved in 1994 to the present location, that of Montparnasse, an art gallery that opened in the late 1960's and quickly became a gallery and bar.


Candle light and flowers accented the bar and lounge areas and added to the bar’s welcoming atmosphere. It is definitely worth a visit should you find yourself in Mykonos. (And travel tip: its lounge provides a great place to watch those postcard sunsets!)


While today we focused on drink, we’ll be back Tuesday serving up some photos of our food finds. Hope you’ll join us then for another taste of Greece. Until then, “Happy Travels” and a big welcome to our new subscribers! Linking up with Noel Morata's Travel Photo Monday

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ios Island: History, Homer and Easy Hikers

On the island of Ios, with its hilly, rocky landscape, a history that dates back some 500 million years and a population of less than 2,000, is where we find ourselves this week. 

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Tucked away between the more well-known Mykonos and Santorini in the white-washed Cycladic Islands of Greece, this island has an ‘in-season’ reputation of being a rocking, late night party place – a magnet for young travelers. In this off-season time it is quiet here – many stores and restaurants have yet to open  and its narrow streets are relatively empty – making it a delightful place to explore.

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The pathway to Homer's Tomb
Ios (pronounced EE-ohs) holds the distinction of  being Homer’s final resting place. His tomb is atop the wind-swept hill pictured above. He’s the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey back in the 8th Century, in case you’ve forgotten your Ancient Literature teachings. His resting place was documented by 5th Century writer  Heridotus, who traveled these lands and is considered ‘the father of history’. It is a ‘must visit’ on this island!

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From Left: Thomas, Christos, Jackie, Marlys, Michael and Joel

We decided on a whim to come here last week and where pleased to learn that travel’s serendipity was bringing two of our long-time favorite France-based bloggers, Michael and Marlys Schuermann of Easy Hiker to the island at the same time.  As an added bonus we met blogger Thomas Dowson, also from France who writes Archaeology Travel.

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For at least two years I’ve read Easy Hiker and been inspired to take so many of their recommended hikes, but never in a million years did I think I would ever do one with them. . .well, until yesterday when they invited us to join them. They were headed up that hill pictured above to visit those churches. So off we went and what a wonderful hike  climb, it was:

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Ios is known for its churches – there are 365 on this island, one for each day of the year (some speculate there are more). Half of them are open to the public but most are private chapels – as were these four – and are open by invitation only.  As the other three writers were guests of the municipality, the invitation had been extended to look inside. The pathway though is open to the public.

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It was a series of paved steps that led up the hill and not as difficult as it had looked from below.

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So we all did what any travel blogger/tourist would do: snapped photos like crazy and exclaimed over the stunning vistas:

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It was one of those travel days that we’ll file away in the extra special file because it was filled with the best that travel has to offer: new friends, old treasures and great adventures.

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In case you are wondering, we did make it to the top, this photo is of the upper most church. The final portion of the climb was over open grass and dirt. . .

Thanks again to our fellow bloggers for including us on their outing. And thanks too, to Christos, who was the Municipality’s tourism representative who led us up the hill.  (He’s 72 years old, by the way!)
Linking up today with Budget Travelers Sandbox, Travel Photo Thursday.  As always the time you spend with us is most appreciated! Hope you join us this weekend when we will be. . .(check back to find out ;-)!)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Easter comes but . . .twice . . .this year!

After meshing use of those frequent flier miles with Greek weather forecasts – and the travel plans of English friends – this spring’s Big Birthday trip is looking like reality. 

And one of the best parts of this upcoming adventure is that we will be there for Greek Orthodox Easter, May 5th. 

We’ll celebrate the holiday twice – once at home on March 31st and again five weeks later in Greece -- where this  more-important-than-Christmas celebration will undoubtedly trump those  in the Pacific Northwest. 

We were introduced to Greek Easter a few years ago on the Greek island of Mykonos. . .


It was an oft-times overcast, rainy weekend.


A time when cold, blustery winds  introduced the blue skies that made but cameo appearances. So cold, I wore the silk long johns that I (now) routinely pack for any spring or fall European trip.

But it would take more than Mother Nature’s cold shoulder to detract from the magic of being on the Greek island and watching their holiday preparations. 


On Easter Saturday while we  aimlessly strolled the narrow walkways past iconic blue shutters framed in brilliant blossoms. . .


. . .there was a crescendo of  preparations taking place. Scenes like the one at this small bakery were being played throughout the town.  Dyed eggs – blood red - were delivered by the crate while dough was kneaded and then twirled and twisted  for the  Easter biscuits.


The red color symbolizes the blood of Christ and the egg itself, rebirth.  Custom dictates it is the first food eaten after fasting (although we suspect that might not be the case these days).

Returning to our hotel, we found this basket with Easter biscuits and eggs had been placed in our room.
To eat the eggs, according to tradition, they should be cracked, big end to big end or small to small.  As the cracking takes place, one person says, “Christos Anesti!” and the other replies, “Alithos Anesti!”  (Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!)


We’ll tell you more about Greek Easter celebrations after  this year’s. We plan to be on Crete’s southern coast , most likely in Loutro, for this holiday.

Jeff SigerWant to know more about these two Easter celebrations? I’m including  this link to an excellent explanation written by novelist Jeffrey Siger    (He lives on Mykonos a good part of each year and his first four murder mysteries are set in the Cycladic Islands of which Mykonos is a part.)

And this is our contribution to Travel Photo Thursday – head to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos and tales.   If you’ve not yet ‘liked’ TravelnWrite’s Facebook page, click this link to do so! We’d appreciate it.


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