Our Greek Odyssey

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OUR GREEK ODYSSEY
Ηελληνική μας Οδύσσεια
– story and photos by John Lamkin unless otherwise noted –

The gods were good to us. Unlike Odysseus we had an easy trip to this ancient land.

This was a working journey for my partner Susanna and me, both of us being photojournalists. It is our job to go, seek out, and report on where we’ve been so others can come and enjoy the people, culture, food and drink of these exotic places.

Athens was our first stop. It is famous for its fine museums and we experienced as many as possible. It is also known for its fantastically delicious meals, many of which we enjoyed on roof tops with a view of the Acropolis and Parthenon – at night lit up like a Hollywood spectacular. Everywhere we went in the city we were reminded of antiquity surrounded by millennia-old ruins.

In all of Greece sidewalk cafes abound, so a stop for coffee or a cold cappuccino is mandatory. I was beginning to feel Greek already. Life is slower there, even with the hustle and bustle of the city. Coffee is usually a one-hour affair at least, with talk and companionship as important as the drink. Slow down and be Greek could be a fitting slogan.

Outside of the city we went to the Athens Riviera where we visited a family-run vineyard (did a little tasting) and then had a scrumptious (as were all our meals in Greece) lunch on the water in view of the Temple of Poseidon.

From Athens we took ferries and visited four islands in the Aegean Sea. Alonissos, the Green Island, in the Northern Skopelos Group was our first. The island is covered with pine forest and rolling hills with Mediterranean style architecture. It is also green in the ecological sense since they have banned all plastic bags from the island.

Next was the first of the Cyclades Islands, Paros. In the Cyclades Group you find the traditional whitewashed architecture with blue doors and trim and bougainvillea spilling over the walls of the narrow, winding streets. We ate mouth-watering, traditional food and drank what the local people did. On Paros we got to take off our shoes and stomp grapes in the traditional fashion and we saw olive trees at least 1000 years old. We wished we had had weeks to explore each one of these wonderful Islands.

  • Curch, Ios Island, Greece
    Curch, Ios Island, Greece

Ios Island was next. In the summer and spring break the island is very crowded with young people. We arrived during September, right after the tourist season, so it was very laid back. A awe-inspiring island. We particularly enjoyed the waterfront with its small cafes, shops and hotels and the old town with its narrow, winding streets.

The last island was Milos. We got to spend an extra day here, seeing a little more than the other Islands. On Milos we stayed at a beautiful hotel overlooking a harbor full of yachts with a promenade in front with many choices of restaurants and cafes. A highlight of the visit was going to a small fishing village where the people kept their boats inside of their house — in the front room. Another memorable experience was cruising the coastline in a catarmaran when the crew anchored in a small bay and cooked us a meal, including octopus they had just caught, then led us all in traditional Greek dancing.

All these islands had a main port/waterfront, several beaches scattered around the periphery, and the traditional old town with its myriad of narrow, winding streets. We were told that the layout of these streets was to discourage invading pirates and so the women could dump boiling water on them from the balconies.

After Milos we took the ferry back to Athens and then flew to Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, a beautiful city with tree-lined streets and parks, smaller than Athens, but feeling more cosmopolitan. There we got to take a traditional cooking class and to visit the old market where we enjoyed sampling olives and cheese and had a delicious lunch of meat cooked on a spit with pita bread and tsiziki (yogurt dip with cucumber).

While in Thessaloniki we visited the Jewish Museum and saw the tragic story about what happened to about half of the city’s population during the Nazi occupation.

Our next place to explore in Halkidiki was the Petralona Caves, not too far from Thessaloniki. Here was found a skull of the oldest known human (about 300,000 years old) on the European continent, believed to be an ancestor of the Neanderthal and of modern homosapiens. It was fascinating being in this cave, with colorful stalactites and stalagmites, and walking in the footsteps of these ancient humans.

 

On to Kassandra where we visited a charming small town, had a tasting in the cellar of a wine shop that showed remnants of the original 2500 years-old winery. Then on to Nea Fokea to see the old Byzantine tower and to explore the cave where Saint Paul lived when he preached to the Greeks.

Next, the peninsula of Sithonia where we had a wine tasting at the chateau where Salvador Dali, Melina Mecouri and other dignitaries stayed (which you can rent for 10,000 Euros a night).

From Sithonia we went by boat to cruise the coast of Mount Athos peninsula where we passed many Byzantine monasteries. From there we went to see the birthplace of Aristotle. We stayed in the nearby small town at a comfortable little family B&B and had a wonderful meal at a waterfront cafe. Because it was raining the next morning we didn’t make the trek to his birthplace.

We found the Greek people to be very friendly and since most studied English in school, not knowing their language wasn’t a problem. The food is possibly the world’s most delicious and nutritious. Plus the economic situation is no problem for tourists and most Greeks take it in stride.

We would have loved to have more time in this beautiful, historic and fascinating country. I would recommend to take as much time as you can to explore Greece (slow down and BE Greek), maybe do it in several trips. But do go.

Antio sas Αντιο σας – until next time,   
John

The disclaimer, quite a bit of our food, lodging and sightseeing was taken care of by tourism departments and destination marketing organizations.

John Lamkin is a Board Member of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association, Founding Member of FWT Magazine: food wine travel, Executive Editor of Soul of Travel Magazine, Editor of Paloma Blanca Press, and The Travel, Leisure & Photo Weekly. www.TravelWritingandPhotography.com

International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association


About the Author:

John Lamkin is a Board Member of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association, Founding Member of FWT Magazine: food wine travel, Executive Editor of Soul of Travel Magazine, Editor of Paloma Blanca Press, and The Travel, Leisure & Photo Weekly.

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