1. Making dolmas and spanakopita with Athens Cooking Classes
Evangeline, a local chef at Davalos on Adrianou St. in downtown Athens, led my group through a course for cooking some Greek dishes. In front of us was fresh dill, mint and a carafe of golden olive oil encircled by bowls of lemons, bell peppers, and potatoes. We peeled, chopped, mixed, and wrapped and a couple hours later were eating our flaky and savory Spanakopita and flavorful dolmas. It was one of my favorite evenings in Greece.
2. Meteora’s stone pillars rising from the Thessaly Plain
I passed a variety of landscapes driving north from Athens to Meteora. Craggy hills gave way to gentle valleys leading to the Thessaly Plain. About mid-day, through a thin veil of clouds, towering structures appeared in the distance. Within minutes, Meteora’s weathered sandstone pillars came into full view.
3. Tsipouro and organic wine at Tsilili Winery in Raxa Trikala
Makis Tsilili proudly explained his family’s tradition of wine making and distilling. It was steamy and noisy inside his Tsipouro distillery room. In Makis’ wine cellar, our group tasted a delicious lineup of organic red and white wines. Shots of Tsipouro ensued, including the delicious Dark Cave variety. Aged in oak, this grape pomace brandy has a deep, smoky flavor.
4. Athens’ Plaka neighborhood
Plaka is a maze of steep lanes and colorful, shuttered pastel buildings. Lying on the northeast slope of the Acropolis, this neighborhood is in the heart of Athens. Multi-leveled café terraces and tacky souvenir shops share the stage. Pulling up a chair at a café on Adrinou St., sipping on a frappe and watching the world go by is a must. Bonus points for making friends with the ever present, and much loved, street dogs and cats.
5. Restaurant Meteora
Restaurant Meteora has been serving up family recipes since 1925. Meteora’s sandstone pillars dominate the restaurant’s patio view. Vintage photos, beer bottles, pitchers, lamps and dishes adorn the wooden interior. Massive pots of slow cooking home-style stews occupy their small kitchen. Saganaki, a salty fried hard cheese, is excellent here. Their grilled, herb crusted lamb chops have my mouth watering even now.
6. Holy Spirit Pillar with Visit Meteora
“Here,” my guide Kostas said, handing me a pomegranate from a bush. “We will eat one on the top.” Kostas then led me through a narrow chasm along one of Meteora’s many trails. After clambering up a pebbly stone slab we came to a turquoise painted iron door in the cliff. Inside, Kostas lit candles. The tiny white-washed cave lit up and Virgin Mary icons came alive in a flickering glow.
7. Dinner at Oroscopo in Athens
Oroscopo had been recommended by a fellow guest at the Divani Caravel Hotel. Only two minutes away on foot, I headed over. Even on a Monday night the place was buzzing. Soon I had a Mythos beer and warm, crusty bread. A complimentary leek soup arrived next. My main course of tagliatelle with Ionian sea bass, leeks and wine saffron sauce was aromatic and balanced. A selection of small cakes arrived later, also complimentary.
8. Real life 300 in Thermopylae
This pit stop on our journey from Athens to Meteora was a fascinating surprise. 300 isn’t only a movie; the Spartan’s legendary defense against the Persians actually happened. Today things look a bit different. Valleys have widened and the visitor’s center is a few miles from the battle site. A roadside statue of Leonidas, spear in hand, is pure awesome. An inscription below him reads “Come and take,” Leonidas’ response to Xerxes request for Spartan weapons.
9. Monastiraki market and antique shops in Athens
Early one morning I wandered from Syntagma Square to the Temple of Hephaeustus. Athens’ streets bustled and colorful graffiti contrasted with crumbling ruins. Unplanned, I came upon Ermou St. and its funky antique shops. Random junk and vintage items occupied sidewalks and tables. Up Asomaton St. I saw an open air flea market. Handmade jewelry, old cameras, and paintings lined either side. I bought a pair of silver earrings from a woman smoking a hand rolled cigarette. Scruffy street dogs scurried here and there. The Acropolis, brilliant and white, towered above.
10. Meteora’s Monasteries
Built mostly in the 14th century these Athonian-style compounds are bucket list material. Walking up a stone staircase towards the Gran Meteoron Monastery I took in the layered scene of rock, moss and sky. In the museum, an illustrated poster of a Nazi soldier being hurled from a cliff top monastery caught my eye. Outside, I was transfixed by a panorama of surrounding pillars and valleys hundreds of feet below.
11. Touring Athens
From metro station excavations to the Acropolis, Athens is full of ancient history. Spending a day with Hermes from Athens Walking Tours gave me unexpected (and comedic) insight into what makes this city so special. Pictured here, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. This theatre has hosted performances since its construction in 161 AD.
12. Lover’s Rock
180 degrees of cliffs, monasteries, forest and mountains sprawled out before me. Fingers of cloud crept through the rock pillars. Veils of mist added to the scenery’s depth. For a few moments I had the stage to myself.