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GREECE Fall 1997 (4)

Athens (3)
Athens1 | Skiathos | Athens2 | Delphi | Arahova | Galaxidi |
Chrisso | Athens3 | Thessaloniki | Edessa and Naoussa

Back at the Electra Palace, Fofi checked-us into the same room. She probably suspected that I had been looking forward to watching my neighbor's rooftop morning exercise and yoga routine. Well, I'd missed it this day but we would be staying here three nights. I hoped the weather would cooperate.

(Editor's note: Don made absolutely no transition from the previous paragraph to what follows. Hmmm?)

You know there is roast chicken and there is roast chicken - but for lunch at Delphi today the plump, juicy white quarter, even with its skin removed, had flavor to spare and the simply prepared spaghetti was a perfect match. We ate lightly because we were having dinner with Costas and Angeliki.

It was a bright, sunny warm afternoon and we opted to take advantage of the roof garden and enjoy the panoramic city views while swimming and lounging.

Since Costas and Angeliki work in Piraeus, we took the metro there to meet them and then drove south along the coast together to Agios Dimitrios to the Taverna Thalia. We had never been to this area before but even at night it was possible to enjoy the picturesque drive along the seashore. Tomorrow we had plans with Joanna, another internet friend, and we would be walking along a portion of this very same route. More about that later.

This taverna was to be a unique experience because they specialize in dishes from various parts of the country with many different influences, most of which were new to us. We opted to sit outdoors in the rear garden. Costas and Angeliki discussed the evening's offerings with the waiter and ordered based on his recommendations.

After finishing the cheese pie and the onion pie, we didn't think it could get any better. The indescribably wonderful cheese was baked in a delicious dough and the sweet onion filling was presented in a filo wrap. The zucchini baked with cheese and the eggplant salad baked with a light, fresh tomato sauce along with beautiful, red ripe tomato and a special white cheese in olive oil had us waiting in anticipation for what might be next. Of course, the ever-present horiatiki filled in any gaps.

Chunks of tender pork with curry and other spices with assorted vegetables was wonderful, but the star of the evening was the baby goat, baked in parchment, with a bit of cheese and seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and herbs. We love goat and order it whenever possible. This was the best preparation we had ever had. The dessert was Ekmek-Kataifi, shredded filo with two kinds of thick cream and roasted nuts. Yes, we ate it all!

Back in the city, we took Costas and Angeliki to our rooftop and together we enjoyed the lights of the city. They invited us to attend their wedding in Corfu next August. Unfortunately for us, it will be impossible for us to be there but we have them thinking about postponing their honeymoon until we get back to Florida in November, where they've been invited to stay with us.

After breakfast and the rooftop floor show, we again walked through the throngs of shoppers to the Monastiraki station and took the metro to Piraeus where Joanna was waiting for us. We were prepared for what to expect via our pre-trip emails and beamed right in on one another at the metro entrance as we had arranged. Once again cyberspace proved to be a good matchmaker.

In daylight, and walking, we quickly became captivated by the seashore life along this promenade. We passed basketball courts filled with young people - boys and girls - in organized league play; inlets and harbors with pleasure craft of all sizes and shapes dominated the coastline. Across the road apartments, homes, businesses, tavernas and cafes enjoy this splendid setting. This suburb of Athens is an area favored by young working people and a neat place to enjoy the fresh sea air and the vibrant night life.

Our walk led to Eidipochti, 141 Alkiviadou Street for lunch. This is in the heart of a busy shopping area and a favorite of the locals. Joanna knows food, and it was our pleasure to let her make the choices. The all female staff was friendly and very attentive.

A new dish for us was the rolled filo filled with cheese and ham, shaped like a spring roll, and baked in the oven. Those disappeared rather quickly. A tirosalata was smooth with just the right amount of heat to spark the appetite. The pita topped with tomato and cheese, potato salad and horiatiki made fine accompaniments for the tiny fried fish (marides) which are popped into the mouth and eaten whole (some of us remove the heads) and the fresh, sweet grilled octopus.

Joanna is a very organized young lady and had our day together very well planned. Our next visit was to Glyfada, further down the coast. It took about a half hour by bus. By the way, buses are an excellent, easy, inexpensive and reliable way to get around the Athens area. One must have purchased a ticket before boarding, available at newspaper kiosks (periptera) or at special stands or booths found in the main squares and at some bus stops. If you have trouble ascertaining the correct bus number for your journey, just dial 185 from 07:00-21:00 any day and you will be given the required information.

Linda and I were amazed at how much Glyfada has grown in the last few years. This beautiful town has a wide main street lined with magnificently-designed boutiques offering the latest fashions in apparel and for the home. There are many restaurants and cafes both on the main and side streets and lovely residential areas.

We stopped at Joanna's favorite cafe, Venezia, for cappuccino, coke and Jello with fruit. It was a pleasant afternoon for sitting outside in a garden environment; the interior of the cafe was also attractive and inviting. Joanna told us that starting at about 21:00 this town, just like Kolonaki, fills with young people. Indeed, at 20:30, as we got on our respective buses (Joanna #A1 to Pireaus and Linda and I #2 to Athens) the first fun-seekers had begun to arrive. Joanna would be coming to Thessaloniki on business while we were there and we made plans to see each other top of page
Back in the city, we went to Delphi for a *light* dinner. A seafood and vegetable soup of natural stock and loaded with fish and veggies was perfect. Keftedes (meat balls in tomato sauce) with fried potatoes and a plate of assorted potted vegetables (eggplant, green beans, peas and spinach) and a salad finished us off.

While we were with Joanna, we had a serious conversation about where we might find *the best* galactobouriko. I must confess to being a true lover of this dessert which consists of filo pastry filled with a boiled cream and glazed with honey. The filo must be flaky, the boiled cream soft, smooth and room temperature, and the honey in the right balance. This dish should never be eaten once it has been refrigerated - that's just plain sacrilege. Take it from me - I'm a maven! Besides, if they have any left to put in the fridge it means they're not selling it fast enough, so it can't be the best.

After consulting with her family, Joanna called us at 09:00 Sunday morning, to suggest that we take the metro to Kifissia and from there a bus to Drossia, where we would find galactobouriko we'd never forget.

This suggestion sounded perfect to us. Kifissia is a gorgeous well-to-do suburb northeast of the city (about 40 minutes by metro) which we have visited many times and we had never been to Drossia about half an hour by bus #509 from Kifissia. It was a short walk through the beautiful park/gardens in the center of Kifissia to the appropriate bus stop.

The helpful passengers and the driver of the bus told us when we had reached our destination. We walked around the town looking for our piece of heaven and just could not find it. We stopped a gentleman and he told us we were standing right in front of the place! It's a completely unpretentious little shop with a few tables outside and no sign. Inside is a counter of baked goods, an ice cream counter and shelves of groceries. The galactobouriko looked spectacular, but it was now lunch time and after we were assured they'd be open when we finished, we decided to come back for dessert.

The same fellow suggested the fish taverna, Koursaros, as the place to eat. It was 14:00 when we walked through the gate into a garden patio packed with big, happy families dining together. Glancing inside we saw that it was completely full as well. Obviously this is the traditional time for Sunday dinner with the folks.

The waiter greeted us and showed us to the last garden table he had that wasn't reserved. We were very lucky, as we were about to discover. As is the custom, we went into the kitchen where a large counter-topped chest with deep, steel drawers below, contains a huge variety of fresh fish and shellfish packed in crushed ice. Sensing that we were overwhelmed by having to choose from such an enormous selection, the gentleman who had just finished ordering for his family offered his assistance. He urged us to have lianomata (tiny fish) and barbounia (red mullet) and told us exactly how much we would need of each for a nice meal. You pay by the weight, he explained. We did as he suggested and were delighted beyond words.

As does everyone who dines here, we started with the house mixed salad. The huge artistically arranged platter contained hearts of romaine, other assorted greens including dandelion, perfectly ripened, skinned tomatoes, green and black olives, radishes, hot peppers, capers and fresh dill all dressed with a tantalizing olive oil. It wasn't just gorgeous, it was right-out-of-the-garden crunchy and delicious. Excellent toasted corn bread was served with the top of page
The 600 grams of the tiny, crispy, lightly fried fish appeared next. They were so good that Linda, who does not particularly like these little guys, ate her fair share and the heaping portion quickly disappeared. All that remained were a few heads and the remains of the juicy lemons we had squeezed over all.

After a brief and welcome wait, seven beautiful barbounias made their entrance, each about six or seven inches long. Again, lightly pan fried to a delicate crispness outside with the tender white flesh within nice and moist. The helpful gentleman dropped by to check if we were pleased with his suggestions and assured us he would pass our compliments on to the owner who was his friend.

After chatting with him, we looked around for the waiter to get our check and he suddenly appeared with yet another large platter, this one of delicate fried chunks of dough (loukoumades) sitting on a bed of honey and topped with French vanilla and chocolate, chocolate-chip ice cream. We told him we hadn't ordered dessert. He said nobody does - it comes with every meal and so does a glass of Mavrodafni and a dish of chocolate-covered preserved orange slices. Way to go! But what about the galactobouriko? Never leave a job undone. We dove into the fabulous desserts and knew we'd find the solution when the time came.

No matter how full we were when we exited Koursaros, we knew that we'd be needing a snack later in the evening. We bought two pieces of galactobouriko and gently carried the box on the bus and metro and back to the hotel. The galactobouriko was excellent, it might even have been the best, but not having eaten it right out of the pan who's to know for sure? Joanna called to firm up the plans for our meeting in Thessaloniki and she gave us two more places for the future that rank high on the galactobouriko scale according to her resources.

We always enjoy a walk through the National Gardens, in the heart of the city. There are 40 acres of trees, plants, bushes and flowers from around the world. We entered from Amalias Avenue and wandered through the pathways by the duck pond, the little zoo and into the small Zappeion Park and the striking Zappeion Megaron, used as a congress and exhibition hall.

Across the street is the Panathenaikon Stadium built for the first Olympic games in modern times, 1896. Looking at this magnificent white marble, horseshoe-shaped stadium always causes a lump in my throat. It brings the feeling of the Olympic games to life - as only the original can do. We are so happy that Greece has been chosen to host the games in 2004.

It is wonderful to find new treasures and today was a beauty. We stopped at 9 Karageorgi Servias Street to look at a window filled with glorious chocolate creations. We were trying hard to fight temptation, when a lady exited the shop and told us this was the best chocolate in the world! Well, she admitted, at least it is the best in Greece. She was so enthusiastic, she took us by the hand and led us inside. To see was one thing - to smell was another. Confiserie Aristokratikon is a tradition in Athens and they have a branch in Kifissia. It is a family enterprise which was started by Panagiotis Karras. Today his grandson, George Bitsopoulos, and his wife, Despina, operate the business. In the company brochure (itself a masterpiece) George writes: "The secret of our success is not only the excellent quality and taste, but the family's faith in tradition along with well guarded recipes and our devotion to chocolate". George, we are believers, every piece we ate was one of those treasures we are always seeking.

Earlier in the day, we stopped into the Taverna Dimokritous, 23 Dimokritou in the Kolonaki area to look at the menu to see if we would try it for dinner. The owner insisted on bringing us a sampling of marinated octopus and fish and a glass of tsipouro to sip with it. We immediately made a reservation. We had a simple and delicious meal of horiatiki, dolmades, nicely spiced roasted meat balls, grilled chicken and excellent roasted potatoes.

Bus 091 leaves from Syntagma Square for the airport every 20 minutes. The fare is 200 dr. As we rode to the airport, I couldn't help but think how lucky it is for this city and the world that the 2004 Olympics was awarded to Athens. It will hasten the improvements that are desperatedly needed to the infrastructure as a result of the rapid growth of the urban population. People coming here for the first time will be rewarded with the sense of history that radiates from this city to the rest of the country. Athens has always been special to us but now we were headed to Thessaloniki, our *very* special top of page
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or JUMP to any city on the trip:
Athens1 | Skiathos | Athens2 | Delphi | Arahova | Galaxidi |
Chrisso | Athens3 | Thessaloniki | Edessa and Naoussa

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