Around Athens in January

What a month. I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go, though it flew by a little fast for me. Some highlights from the first month of what will be, I’m sure, an ‘interesting’ year: I celebrated New Years in Greece for the first time this year, eating plenty of vasilopita (though without finding the lucky coin..), did a lot of wandering around a rainy and chilly city, and enjoyed some unseasonably warm days too. Time, though not enough, with friends and family, and an adventure to a botanic garden near Athens that I will devote a full post to later. Though things sometimes feel like they are spinning a little out of control, overall there’s a lot going well in my little microcosm – lots of be grateful for, but ready for February!

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Aunt’s incredible new year’s table

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A Christmas tree in the wild! 

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Sunset over Athens, view from Ymittos

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Kolonaki views

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Stumbled upon a procession for Epiphany.. 

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Brunch at Zampano!

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Still pinching myself that I walk past these sights everyday.. 

Vasilissis Sophias

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Snow in Athens! 

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Waking up to a snow-covered city.

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Snowman invasion in the National Gardens

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A rainy night in Monastiraki

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Summarises January pretty accurately I think

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New yummy discoveries in Koukaki – Fabrica tou Efrosinou

Women's March, Athens

Athens’ representation for the Women’s March on Washington

Women's March, Athens

Women's March, Athens

Women's March, Athens

Mets

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Adventures in cyber land at ‘Hybrids,’ Onassis Cultural Centre

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An adventure to the Attica Plant Park – stay tuned! 

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Evening Kolonaki colours

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Rain rain.. 

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Not all grey skies! 

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End of the month walk along the sea

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Alimos Bay

Sea Alimos

Happy February! 

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Around Athens in October

Although a week of this month was spent adventuring around the Peloponnese with my dad, and then the rest of the month mostly spent at my aunt’s house where my dad recuperated from the fall that cut our adventures short (he will be fine!), the changing seasons here in Athens have made for some glorious skies and scenery. Also, staying home and keeping dad company has been a good excuse for some cooking, so there are a few more food photos than usually, I apologise. Still can’t quite believe October has come and gone already, but Happy November everyone! 

 

 

 

P.S. Previous Around Athens posts from June, July, August, & September!

 

Travelogue: Pylos, Messinia

After a bird-watching and toe-dipping break at the lagoon of Voidokilia, our Easter roadtrip continued along the Western coast of the Peloponnese to the town of Pylos, previously known as Navarino. Though I knew that Navarino was the site of an important naval battle during the Greek War of Independence, but I don’t think I had ever connected that dots to realise that Navarino and Pylos are the same place. I now know better! We didn’t spend much time in the town itself, but did pass through the central square, where we stopped for cheese pies. With provisions for lunch, we drove on and up to the castle that dominates the whole area, and provides a wonderful vantage point over the bay where the battle took place – between the Ottoman navy and an alliance of British, French and Russian vessels, who had by then intervened on the side of Greece in their struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Probably the most appropriate word to describe the castle is impressive. Though not the first castle in the town, or on the specific site, the structure that we visited was built  by the Ottoman Turks in the 1500s, and then later improved upon by the French during the War. The view from the castle is commanding, as you can see, and it dominates the entrance to the bay. Inside the castle, there was also a great short film about the Battle itself, housed in one of the rooms that were used as prison cells in the 18th and 19th centuries. Fairly foreboding. We also learned that the name ‘Navarino’ likely derives from a Venetian corruption of ‘Ton Avarinon’ – Castle of the Avars, pointing to the diverse history of the Peloponnese, especially the Western and Southern coast, which saw not only Byzantine and Ottoman periods but also Venetian and Frankish.

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Pylos

Pylos, Greece

PylosLook at that sea!

Pylos

PylosAfter our short visit here, where we enjoyed the tiropitas and took in the history and the views, we continued southwards, to find some more evidence of Venetian and Frankish rule. To be continued…!

Pylos

‘Oxi Day’ 2014

The 28th of October, a national holiday in Greece, is usually a wonderful excuse for long weekend travel. This year, however, I stayed in Athens and popped down from my aunt’s house to see the parade and celebrations in the suburb of Halandri. Though I had hopes of going downtown for the city of Athens parade, I was deterred by reports of ‘draconian’ security measures, which would prevent the public getting too close to the officials who sit outside the Parliament while students march past. Also, the military parade is held in Thessaloniki, so the Athens parade was a smaller affair. 

I got enough of a taste of the holiday in Halandri though, where the municipality had organised the usual parade as well as speeches, wreath laying, and finally traditional Greek dances by local groups.

I’ve written about the holiday itself in the past – in 2011, I was on the island of Chios, while last year we watched the parade on the island of Spetses. ‘Oxi (No) Day’ celebrates Greece’s resistance to Italian occupation (hence the ‘No’), and its subsequent entry into the Second World War. The holiday is celebrated with parades where most students march uniformly, accompanied by a drum corps. When I watch the parades, I usually muse about how different my life would be if I had grown up in Greece instead of in the States. 

This year though, a classmate of mine from Edinburgh asked, ‘why do we still have student parades in Greece?,’ comparing the celebration of Oxi Day with the Norwegian Independence parade, which is a much more laid back affair and without the somewhat-militaristic undertones of rhythmic marching in matching ‘uniforms.’ A question worth asking, perhaps especially in the context of the central Athens parade where parents and other spectators are carefully kept behind barriers by the riot police. 

This parade was not terribly formal – at the end it dissolved into wandering children and families, drums being beaten just for fun by the younger kids as the older students continued to march. It was nice to see the central square of Halandri full, while also marking the transition from summer to autumn. Warm coats were out in abundance. 

The final item on the programme was a selection of traditional dances – not heavily attended but very much enjoyed! Happy Oxi Day!

Athens: Platia Agias Eirnis

Though I haven’t really mentioned it on the blog, earlier this year I started contributing some of my work to Portes Magazine, published by two Greek-American sisters I met here in Athens. The first thing I wrote for Portes was about one of my favourite areas of Athens – Agia Eirini Square. This was where my university classes were held, and even over the course of the calendar year I watched as the area became more lively and popular with young and old Athenians alike.

The square is named after the church -Agia Irini, which is itself really lovely, though nowadays most people walk past it on their way to the bars, cafes or restaurants. It is worth looking at though, even just for a moment. The land was previously occupied by one of the main churches of Athens, but that building was destroyed during the Greek Revolution, and the current church built to replace it in 1847. The style is an interesting combination of neoclassical, reflecting the new Greek state’s obsession with its ancient past and early rejection of Byzantine influence. To the casual visitor, it doesn’t seem very ‘Greek,’ but the church is actually very much of its time.

The crowds in the square are, on the other hand, timeless. Spilling out of cafes even in the colder months (I took these photos in February), the square is bustling with people at most hours of the day. While many of these cafes and bars are at the higher end of the cafe scene (Tailor Made is especially popular, with an eclectic selection of coffee, tea and liquor), they all have outdoor tables and are great for people watching. 

Though enjoying a leisurely coffee while taking in the atmosphere of the square is all well and good, there are also choices for some more substantial munchies. Greek souvlaki is famous for a reason, and this actual hole in the wall is my favourite. This is a big claim but I will go on record – I think it’s the best in Athens, and I’m not the only one, as the queue outside the door attests. The controversy of this claim, however, comes from the fact that Kostas’ souvlaki had a red, spicy sauce, in contrast to the usual tzatziki. Like any good Greek, I do love tzatziki, but this ‘secret sauce’ is in a league of its own. Yum.

Ah. Heaven. 

After a quick souvlaki, there is always room for dessert, and this place is a quick walk across the square at the corner of the square. A modern twist on traditional loukoumades – usually described in English as ‘fried dough balls’ but so much more! – this is really worth a stop. I used to say I didn’t like loukoumades – traditionally they’re covered with honey and cinnamon, neither of which I’m a major fan of. BUT as you can see from the photo below, this place has totally corrupted the classic – in a good way. They offer the plain ones of course, but also will stuff them with chocolate, banana, mastiha or other cream, cover them with whatever you want, and serve ice cream on top, in all kinds of unholy combinations. Though I have always left this place clutching my stomach and moaning ‘whyyyy did I eat all of that,’ they are really that good..

Chocolate stuffed loukoumades with praline (nutella-like) drizzle and almonds. After moaning about this, the guy working there said ‘yeah usually we do one or the other on the chocolate, not both inside and on top…’ Oh well, I take my chocolate seriously. 

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These are plain loukoumades with honey, walnuts and kazan dipi ice cream, made from the traditional sweet kazan dipi. Not pictured – the empty dish at the end. Bon Apptit and Happy Adventuring! 

On A 100 Day Challenge

So… this post is going to be something of a departure from my recent blogging style, and it will probably get a little rambly. I’ll preface it by saying thank you for following me and for ‘listening,’ as I get a bit more personal than usual.

I officially began this blog seven years ago, as I was getting ready to move to Cambridge for university, full of grand plans to document my adventures mainly for family back home. I kept it up sporadically, usually reappearing during stressful periods, like exams, to procrastinate a while, before disappearing again back into real life. At some point I also migrated my blog to WordPress, so the first few years of archives are mercifully hard to find.

When I moved to Greece after graduation, the blog remained a fairly personal way of expressing my perceptions of life here as well as my adventures. At some point, gradually over the last several years, and especially during my year in Edinburgh, in an effort to be more ‘professional’ I began to distance my own voice from my blog, letting my photos do most of the talking. I’m happy with the way things are going, but dissatisfied that I’m not pushing myself to write more. Which brings me to today.. or rather to, three days ago, when I read this blog post by Matt Trinetti, a fellow Cleveland diasporan, in which he sets a 100 day challenge to push himself beyond his comfort zone in the last 100 days of 2014.

His post is a long one, but I found it pretty inspirational and a few things specifically resonated with me. He wrote that he was feeling a little lost, as if he had lost sight of the ‘bigger picture.’  That is something I totally relate to – I objectively love where I am right now, but I have (always) had a hard time being completely present, distracted by general uncertainty or malaise. That anxiety is the direct result of uncertainty about my Future (yes, with a capital F), and though I am battling with it and winning (most of the time) there are major changes coming, including the possibility of leaving Greece.

Uncertainty, however, is combined with major excitement about where my travels (and life!) will take me. Over the next few months there will be a lot of adventures, and I want to appreciate everything. At the same time, I am really very happy where I am, and I’m undertaking this challenge to consciously remind myself to stop and look around and remember that. I know it’s going to be January in the blink of an eye, but I’m going to get the most I can out of that blink.

And so.. for the next 100 days I’m going to take a picture (with the big camera, not just the easy iPhone) of something meaningful I encounter that day, and then post weekly with those images as well as some musings. I’m not sure where I’ll end up 97 days from now, but it should be an interesting journey.
Day 1

Day One – 23 September 2014

I read Matt’s post about the 100 day challenge while drinking a usual cup of tea. When I was living in Scotland I became a chain-tea drinker (one cup after another) and as soon as the weather goes below 25 in the evenings (which it has, hooray) I am back to my old ways. One of my weirder habits is to reuse a teabag, if it creates interesting combinations. These two tasted nice together (blackcurrant and mint I think), but it was only after I drank the tea, read about the 100 day challenge and decided to take part that I looked down at my tea cup. Words to live by.

Day 2

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Day Two – 24 September 2014

Today I put this postcard (in an envelope) in the mail for my grandfather. I love old postcards – which is another story on its own – but this one jumped out at me from an antique store in June. My grandfather visited Fecamp while in Normandy during World War II, and retells the story of his first taste of Benedictine with some frequency. Not only was this card itself gorgeous, the message on the other side very sweet, but my grandfather’s Fecamp stories have made it especially significant.

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Day Three – 25 September 2014

This rainbow staircase is down the street from me, and one of the little things that makes me smile whenever I pass by. From the metro station to my house I go up the red-yellow section, but the colours of the rainbow continue as you go higher. I recently started giving English lessons to some kids that live up up & up these stairs, and on Thursday as I was thinking, ‘urgh, work, why,’ the stairs reminded me.. people are wonderful.

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Day Four – 26 September 2014

Today, it rained! That’s about all I feel I need to say, but this is a challenge after all, so I’ll expand it a little. ‘Autumn’ doesn’t really exist here in the way that I remember it from when I was growing up, but that seems really obvious. Greece and Ohio are not reaaaally that similar.. of course the weather from September to November isn’t going to be the same. Come winter, this is obviously a wonderful thing and I have zero complaints. Still, I really miss fall, and one cool day in Brooklyn at the end of August has had me craving it big time. So today, appreciating the rain and the little bit of chill it has brought to the air.