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Sunday, June 22


Greece was planned around the same time as Sardinia. Why two trips in short period? As of April, we’ve learned of some developments that will affect us and our lives after July. June marks our 3 years in Germany and an end for the husband’s delegation. He started looking for new jobs last September but nothing firmed up until April. Details aside he was offered an opportunity in the US in April and our move is coming up. When he received the verbal offer, we planned both. Greece was high on his list due to the history, ruins, and geography (for me, the food!).

This is a long post, so have your coffee, wine, ouzo in hand.

The flight options were 3am or 6am departure and of course I chose the ungodly hour of 3am. He tried to get some sleep that night and I stayed up, like a mad person. With a flight and a transfer we arrived in Athens at 10am. The first stop was lunch, although not at 10!

Paradosiako is in an unassuming neighborhood and popular with the locals. Unfortunately the locals don’t arrive until 1pm, for lunch, and we were early! At 12:30 the host offered us to stay but clarified she had few dishes that were ready; the chefs and freshly made foods would be ready after 1. Lesson learned Greeks (like the Spaniards and Italians) eat lunch after 1. She recommended Stifado (braised beef) with potatoes and stuffed zucchini flowers. Beef was falling off the bone and delightful. The potatoes were mashed. Zucchini flowers were filled with rice and dill. I believe the flowers were boiled in water briefly while the rice and dill cooked separately then the flowers were filled and pan fried. Although we’ve both eaten zucchini flowers (mostly unfilled but few times filled with ricotta cheese and fried), these were surprisingly delicious. One of us still had a little room for something else so we ordered grilled calamari. It came flavored with salt, pepper, olive oil and oregano. We agreed it was the best grilled calamari ever because it tasted like coconut meat. I would’ve never described perfectly grilled calamari as coconut meat but it was that good. Lunch at Paradosiako was relaxed and homey tasting.

Due to lack of sleep we went back to the hotel for a nap. Post nap, we’d planned to walk around the city and browse the city sights however we ran into a walking tour group in front of the Acropolis gates. Thankfully we were able to join the group that was starting when we arrived. We had a guide named George who showed us few city sights by foot. We enjoy these because it’s a great way to get a glimpse of a city. And thankfully George is an archaeologist and very knowledgeable, making this a successful walking tour!

For dinner we ventured out to Piraeus by train, port of Athens. This is one of the ports many ferries depart for the islands. I had few restaurants on the list in the area and Kapetanios won because of its proximity to the train station. There’s a bus that goes to the restaurant but we didn’t know which bus so we walked. It’s a long walk so before going, find out the bus number. The restaurant is tucked away on a side street and hard to find without a GPS. The menu is simple- fresh fish caught that morning along with some mezze (starters or side dishes). Each table picks their fish of choice and orders few accompaniments. The options for that day were red snapper, bourbani (red mullet), sea bream, shrimp, and octopus. We picked sea bream; the man helping us suggested the best one (for size) to share. We also ordered greek salad, fava (bean) puree and house wine. The puree arrived, topped with olive oil, diced white onions and parsley and bread on the house. The bread (served on the house) is grilled and topped with olive oil and spices, nice touch. The fava was creamy, smooth and tasted like green fava beans. We devoured it, fast. Then came the greek salad with tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, onions and olives sitting under a piece of feta, all dressed with olive oil and lemon vinaigrette. The salad was a large portion, good to share and satisfying. And finally the sea bream. Grilled, seasoned with salt, served with lemons, and olive oil vinaigrette. We had never tasted sea bream before, the fish was grilled perfectly and meaty in texture; outstanding. Word of caution to the faint of heart, Greek fish are served whole with head and bones. That’s the best way to serve because have you eaten those fish cheeks?

For dessert, ice cream is served, on the house, a practice for many restaurants post meal. Kapetanios is a family owned, out of the way and probably rarely sees tourists; I am thankful because they offer friendly service and food that shines in its simplicity.

The next day we toured inside the sights: Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Archaeological Museum and Acropolis Museum. Prior to the trip we’d downloaded Rick Steves’ guides. We didn’t use his guide for the city tour because of previous night’s walk. For Acropolis, Ancient Agora and Archaeological Museum, Rick was so helpful. We are on first name basis. We really enjoyed his guides (in Paris also) because they’re informative and entertaining. Without the guide it would be a tour of bunch of rocks and ruins, not exciting. The Archaeological museum has thousands of pieces and without a guide it would be overwhelming; Rick and his audio partner cover the key pieces in the museum.

Amidst the sights we found a short window for lunch at Kostas. It’s a classic souvlaki joint that’s been around long time and offers couple items: souvlaki, kalamaki (souvlaki served without pita) and few Greek beers rounds out the menu. We ordered two and two beers. The location is small with few bar stools inside and 2 benches on the sidewalk. Arriving early enough, 1 to snatch a bench outside is key because at 1:30 they had a long line. The pork souvlaki is marinated and grilled to order, served in a pita with tomato, onion, parsley and tasty tzatziki. Kostas is small and can be overlooked but the people behind the counter are professionals in souvlaki making and serve great food.

I had more restaurants to try in Athens and a short 2 day stay wasn’t enough to cover them all so my solution was to visit two places for one meal. Our dinner was at To Steki tou Illia. Steki is known for one thing and one thing only, lamb chops. The guests order by the grams; we ordered 300 grams along with a side of tzatziki and horta (wild greens). The chops are thinly sliced, grilled, seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano and swimming in olive oil. They were grilled to correct doneness and delectable; since the chops are fatty, the juices are evenly distributed in the meat. Tzatziki was made with yogurt, garlic and cucumber with 2:1:1 ratio, respectively. Garlicky and cucumbery and very, very good. Horta, wild greens, sautéed in olive oil, served at room temperature were fine but undersalted and not memorable. If you want lamb chops, Steki is a must.

Then onto the second dinner at Oineas. Upon the server’s recommendation I ordered moussaka and the husband ordered stockfish with skordalia. We shared a Greek salad. The salad had sweet tomatoes with peppers, cucumbers, olives, feta and an addition of capers, fresh oregano leaves. The salad was appetizing however I believe capers didn’t add to or subtract from the dish. The oregano leaves were whole and overpowering for the vegetables. The moussaka was bad because it tasted premade; the meat was dry and lacked sauce, the top was gelatinous and weird consistency, and the key component of moussaka, eggplant, was scarce. Surprisingly the husband thought the moussaka was good. The stockfish was battered and fried. It tasted (previously) frozen and the batter was standard. The skordalia wasn’t better. The on house dessert was fresh fruits, redeeming but not much. This is a surprise because Oineas is highly rated online. I believe it’s enjoying the ‘oldest restaurant wave’ and serving average food; the husband is nicer and thinks they had a bad night.

Navigating Athens metro is easy and recommended (over taxi) because tickets are inexpensive; 4 euros/person for day tickets. The trains look like NYC subway trains. Most importantly they are punctual.

With a planned schedule, 2 whole days in Athens is plenty of time. Even though we didn’t visit various Athens’ neighborhoods, we were satisfied with our time.

The next morning we traveled by train to Piraeus Port and boarded our 7:40 ferry. Our stop was to the island of Naxos. We arrived at 11:40 because the ferry was delayed due to long weekend. On the boat, the food options are minimal sandwiches and drinks. It was peak lunch time, in our bellies, so we stopped in Kali Kardia in the port city of Hora (Chora, Naxos city). I’d found the place from a search of goat meat in Naxos and read rave reviews. It is situated on a strip of tourist trap restaurants. The host suggested organic chicken and lamb from the family farm. I asked about goat and he didn’t have any that day but repeated all the available meat was organic from the farm. I wondered if organic and farm were buzz words to attract tourists? We ordered Greek salad, sea bream and later grilled sardines. The salad was light and the sea bream was grilled nicely. However it didn’t taste as incredible as at Kapetanios. I did not care for the grilled sardines because they tasted bitter or off while the husband on found them to be fine. They served coconut cake on the house. The cake was divine and more than made up for the off tasting sardines.

To get to Katerina Hotel in Agios Prokopios from Hora we rented a scooter. The distance is 6 kilometers and on the scooter it is 20 minute ride. The scenery is surreal as the road parallels the sea. The hotel is in prime location, minutes from the shore. It’s called a hotel but designed like an apartment with each room equipped with a kitchenette and adjoining balcony. The hosts are a young couple that is helpful and sweet; they have a small baby and live in the apartment suite above the reception.

We attempted a soak in the water and didn’t last long due to cool water temperature. I was jealous of those people that were able to stay in so we attempted one more time without luck. Instead we sat and read on the beach chairs. (European beaches offer beach chairs and umbrellas, at an average (5 euros/chair) price.)

That night we drove to Gorgona Restaurant in Agia Anna which is family owned. Most of the prepared foods are in the deli case including a large variety of dips (hummus, eggplant salad), casseroles (moussaka, pastisio), and sides (horta, cucumber salad). There are raw meats (lamb, pork, burgers, sausages) and fishes that can be selected to grilled to order. We ordered tzatziki, eggplant salad, lamb souvlaki, and moussaka. The moussaka was exactly how I expected eggplant/meat casserole dish to taste, traditional and comforting. The tomato sauce was cooked with the meat enhancing the flavor. Both the eggplant salad, like a dip of mashed eggplant with peppers and carrots, creamy in taste and tzatziki (garlicky and homemade) were close seconds. The lamb souvlaki was served with fries and also good. For food made by Yia-Yia (Greek grandma), this is the place to go. And watching the sunset is an added bonus.

The next day we drove inland to Hailki (Chalki, Khalki) through the hilly mountains of Naxos. The village is small with few shops and restaurants. The textile shops are worth a stop and a splurge if you’re in the mood. The village was mentioned in NYtimes in March yielding a bump in tourism. Driving through the area was an enjoyable experience. The land is arid with bushes of olive trees all around while herds of sheep and goats graze the land. The scenery is charming with small towns dotted with blue roofs and doors.

Then we headed to Alyko Beach for lunch and to catch some waves. But first lunch! (you see how most of our travels revolve around meals?) As a eatery on my list I had Faros Restaurant near the beach. Thankfully we were lucky to find it on the main road from Halki. With few tables taken by tourists, we reviewed the daily menu and sat down. There is a regular menu and daily specials board. We ordered eggplant saganaki, baked butter beans and goat in parchment. Goat in parchment, what?, said both of us. (Wasn’t fish the only thing that can be cooked in parchment I wondered.) We love goat so when we saw it, it was a must. The menu clearly states few items are fresh while few are frozen. i.e. goat is fresh while the lamb, rabbit and squid are frozen. This is the type of place I appreciate because of their full disclosure and honesty. The saganaki was eggplant baked in tomato sauce and topped with a cheese that was salty, melty and yummy. (Kalofagas tells me it was Kefalograviera- yum!) The beans were slow braised in tomato sauce and dill. The goat was falling off the bone tender and served with oven fried potatoes. Sadly goat lacked salt, herbs or spices but the potatoes were cooked in olive oil, oregano and crispy on the outside. We are biased towards Faros for its view and overall food even though the goat could’ve been better.

We asked the server about the beach, sandy or pebbly, beach chairs and umbrellas and she smiled. She said the beach at Alyko is pebbly and doesn’t offer beach chairs for relaxing. What a disappointment because the water was a gorgeous turquoise blue and tempting for a swim. A few hours at the beach near our hotel with a book and a dip in water we were content. The water in July, we presume, is warmer and swimmable. In June we both had goose bumps going in and when we were inside the water. It’s a risk that I wanted to take because I couldn’t resist swimming in clear water.

That evening’s dinner was at Elliniko in Hora. It’s an organic restaurant that sources locally when possible. Score! It is highly rated on the internet guides so I’d recommend making reservations for a table. Like Gorgona, they have a deli case with daily specials as well as meats and fish cooked to order. We ordered stuffed peppers, Dorado (fish), Naxos sausage and Lamb chop. The banana peppers were stuffed with cheese, served with tomato sauce and unique in taste. The handpicked (by husband) Dorado was grilled and served with olive oil sauce, boiled potatoes and Greek ratatouille (eggplant, zucchini slow cooked in tomato sauce). The fish was fresh and the sauce was a great accompaniment. The sausage and chops had the same sides. The sausage was full of herbs and spices, memorable while the chops were okay. The boiled potatoes balanced the slightly salty ratatouille.

Naxos is the largest island in Cyclades in Aegean Sea. It is quieter of the islands because its economy doesn’t rely on mass tourism. (Mykonos is known for the parties!) It is also the most self sustaining with agricultural products so the Naxans aren’t worried about minimal tourism. The island and its villages are small enough to enjoy good food and relaxation away from the tourists.

We needed it because the next morning our ferry departed for Santorini. Albeit delayed we finally arrived an hour later than planned. Arriving to the island, the layers of rock formation the island is built on is visible and breathtaking. Santorini’s age is visible from the layers of rocks.

The port is on the coast at the bottom of the mountain while the major towns are atop. The terrain is rocky due to the volcanic eruption that formed the island. Driving from the port (there isn’t anything to see or do here, except tourist trap restaurants and bike/car rental companies) to Fira is a curvy, careful maneuver and not for all. Climbing with a motorcycle would be a challenge and discouraged. Local bus services offer tourists an alternative to the upper mainland.

We stopped in Fira for lunch at Lucky’s before heading to our hotel near Oia (northern coast). Lucky’s is a souvlaki joint that makes, souvlaki, falafel and gyros. The owner is welcoming and funny. He suggested I order a falafel while the husband got the gyro (meat cooked on a rotating spit). Both are filled in a pita with lettuce, onion, tomato, yogurt sauce, and fries. We were impressed with the taste of each and therefore ordered a chicken souvlaki. The chicken was tender because it was marinated in olive oil/lemon juice but wasn’t as tasty as the gyro. For a quick lunch stop, Lucky’s is great.

Oia is recommended by all guidebooks, travel agents and internet sites because it is on the northwestern coastal hillside with terraced homes, blue dome rooftops, churches and sea in the background. The sunset in Oia is priceless. This makes Oia a hotbed for tourist bugs, like us. It is one of the most visited islands and has throngs of tourists everywhere. Sightseeing in Oia was taxing. (The parking lot behind the bus stop in Oia is good to get a quieter seat for the sunset.)

We reserved dinner at Roka because Sunday nights are peak for locals going out. (It is hard to find Roka if you’re not looking for it so follow the signs.) When we arrived at 8:45, the entire restaurant was full. We were having a hard time deciding between the seafood so the server said octopus and squid are always frozen so if you want fresh seafood/fish, get mussels, sardines and catch of the day. Good tip! We ordered fava, Greek salad, baked sardines, and mussels. The flavor for fava was spot on; I was disappointed in its pureed (over blended) texture. The salad was very good with sweet, local tomatoes and a creamier rather than crumbly feta. If the Greek salad with few ingredients is this good in Greece, why isn’t it elsewhere? Oh right, because the importance of fresh ingredients is under appreciated. Both the mussels (cooked in tomato/chicken broth) and sardines were pleasant. Roka offers great food and service.

We headed to Megalochori for wine tasting; we learned Santorini wine is getting media press thus the revival of wineries. We wandered through the old town with short walls and locked doors. We ended up at Gavalas winery for a tasting. The tour and tasting are informative and worth visiting. The Assyrtiko grapes have been in Santorini since byzantine, documented, times.

We traveled to the southern tip of Santorini; the distance is relatively close because the entire island isn’t big. There’s a lighthouse that overlooks the sea and a man that was selling cherries. His marketing line was “Cherry, very good. Cherry, very good.” It was comical but we felt bad he was out in the heat trying to make money so we bought his very good cherries. On our way to one of the beaches we saw Giorgaros Restaurant, one on my list. It’s 100 meters from the lighthouse, overlooking the sea and a church. We ordered two fishes from the catch of the day (they take you to the fridge with containers of freshly caught fish); one of them was rock fish. Also, Greek salad and tomato keftedes. The salad was typical but the tomato keftedes were good. The taste was of fermented batter, unlike a tomato fritter I’ve ever tasted; the fritters were a little greasy but the flavor was good enough to overlook the greasiness. The fish were the best choice we made; simply seasoned, grilled and superb. The servers are the daughters of the parents that work in the kitchen and the dad (or an uncle) fish in the morning. For fresh fish, this is the place to go.

Santorini beaches vary from red beach to black sand beach; both pebbly yet have clear waters for swimming. The actual beach at Red beach is difficult to get to with few hills and climbs. Perissa has volcanic sand and long shoreline for beach enthusiasts. The water temperature was cool so we stayed on the chairs with our books. Since it was a holiday, many locals were at the beach with the families, a welcome change from Oia.

Our ferry, Helenic Seaways, to the last destination departed that evening. The ferry was timely and quicker in speed. It arrived on time and departed promptly. And the coolest thing was driving so fast and leaving other ferries behind, in the sea-dust. We arrived in Heraklion, Crete and rented our last car of the trip. Our stay in Agia Pelagia was 30 minutes from the port city. Agia Pelagia is a coastal village built into the Cliffside. There are many restaurants, apartments, hotels there and Diana Apartments is one of them. Each room is set up with a balcony and kitchenette. Our room had a larger than normal twin bed and another twin bed. The view from the balcony is unforgettable. The bed and shower however are forgettable, unfortunately. The bed was uncomfortable and the water from the shower felt like water sprinkler. Diana Apartments’ view of the sea trumps the two negative features.

The host recommended Mouragio Restaurarant on the main strip at the beach shore. We were greeted by Stella and her son that run the front of the house. For dinner we ordered tomato/zucchini stuffed balls, mousakka, tzatziki, horta and beef with onions. The stuffed balls were tomato or zucchini shredded, breaded and fried into fritters. I don’t know if this sounds freaking delicious or terribly boring on words but it was one of the best fritters we’ve eaten. I don’t think I would’ve imagined eating tomato fritters in Crete but we were thankful we did. The beef was slow braised with white onions, hearty because the sweet onions gave it dimension. Horta were sautéed in olive oil and served with lemon juice. Stella said the wild greens grown in Crete are different from other islands; I agree because they were lighter in taste and reminded me of Spinach sautéed in olive oil. Tzatziki and moussaka were fine. They serve watermelon and a homemade dessert on the house.

Crete is one of the largest islands in Greece. Like Santorini Crete is mountainous with towns and cities built on coastal tops or valleys. Since we had all day, we drove to Panormos- inlet and secret cove from the tourists. There aren’t signs of the beach on the main highway so it is easy to overlook. The water is clear and the shore was filled with seaweed sponges. (We repeatedly saw souvenir shops selling bath-scrubs and sponges and wondered why, now we had an answer.) We loved swimming in the warm waters of Crete, so much so we spent our entire day in Crete on this beach. The water temperature was nice, swimming was pleasant and the beach was quieter. In comparison, the water in Naxos was bluer and cleaner and by no means sea sponges are dirty but it was a funny, tickly feeling to stand on in Cretan waters.

We lunched at the tavern at the beach and ate well. The eggplant dip (baba ganoush) were so good, I could’ve licked the plate and the tzatziki was fine. The husband ordered the daily special of rabbit (our server said the boss’ neighbor shoots rabbits for the restaurant. Thanks for letting us know!). The stew was rich but the meat was overcooked. If in Crete, Panormos is the destination to be a beach bum.

That evening we went back to Mouragio. We ordered mezze to share. It included the fritters, fava, beet salad, lamb chops and keftedes (ground meat balls). The fava was made with chickpeas and great. The beet salad was boiled beets, marinated in olive oil and vinegar and served with raw garlic. The beets were fine but the husband wasn’t a fan of raw garlic because the sharp garlic was overwhelming. Lamb chops were grilled flawlessly; I thought they were breaded and fried but the husband disagreed, whatever the case, they were very tasty. Keftedes were made with pork and herbs; good but overdone. If served with lemon, drizzle the juice on the keftedes. This is a great restaurant amongst a row of (possibly) average restaurants.

Since Crete is a large island it deserves more than one day and on my list to revisit. Greece has a large mainland and many small and large islands; its culture, food and sights reflected this in the different places. We had a fantastic time in Greece and would love to revisit the country.

Few important notes, many people asked us about safety in Greece, especially Athens. Not once in our stay did we feel unsafe; this isn’t a general statement for all cases, obviously, but Athens isn’t as unsafe as many believe. I warn of using caution but that should apply in any foreign city/state, regardless of their economic situation. June is the beginning of their summer season so it is highly advisable to book ferries in advance; not only does this secure seats but this saves from the hassle of booking them at each departure. (We were lucky to get seats but in future I’d book in advance.) Our GPS had a hard time determining our destinations because of the different alphabet; ensure you note the English and Greek addresses for all sights and restaurants.

If you’re still reading this, book a trip to Greece because you deserve it.


  1. oh. my. god! I had to go back and read twice. First the pictures, then the descriptions. Fabulous reporting. I just ate, and am again...hungry. I'm glad you enjoyed your visit! It sounded like a lovely getaway.