Day 3, Part 1: Eating It Up

Before we left the States, we booked a food tour, so on day 3, we skipped breakfast (as recommended) and headed to the metro, stopping for an espresso (€0.80) at Coffee Island on the way. Turns out at 8:45 a.m. on a weekday, you’ll meet the morning rush—we were too timid and weren’t able to get on the first overstuffed train. Luckily, the next train came about 12 minutes later, and we were committed to getting on this time, no matter how full the compartments. We got off at the University of Athens stop (Panepistimio) and easily found the small food tour group (12 people plus the guide, Georgia). Before heading off, Georgia passed around a handout with the names and addresses of each stop, along with a note about the food we’d taste there—very handy for those of us who wanted to return to one of the stops or the areas near the stops.

We started off at a food cart near the meet-up spot and had what Georgia called “a Greek breakfast” (though she confessed a real Greek breakfast is five cups of coffee and as many cigarettes). Georgia bought and passed around half a dozen koulouri (sesame bread rings) for us to share. I didn’t expect it to have as much flavor as it did—the warm sesame seeds are quite fragrant and flavorful.

Next, we headed to Krinos to taste loukoumades (Greek doughnuts), but, first, we stopped and admired an old Greek Orthodox church. The wood craftsmanship on the windows is particularly beautiful.

The doughnuts were covered in syrup and cinnamon sugar. Perry and I both just ate one each, but there were plenty to go around, so people who wanted two were able to have them.

I picked this particular tour because it’s vegetarian-friendly (Perry’s the meat-eater in this relationship)—that said, the route did include a walk through Varvakios Agora, the central meat and fish market. Georgia checked in with me before we went through just to see if I wanted to skip this part of the tour.

It was definitely unlike anything I’d ever seen (and a bit too reminiscent of the slaughterhouse in Butchertown, a Louisville neighborhood near our own). See our Instagram @adventuresinwander to see an outtake from this part of the tour.

Afterward, we crossed the street and arrived at the fruit and vegetable market, where we tried halvah (a fudge-like chunk of sesame paste), candied nuts, and grapes.


The next stop was my favorite: we sat in the charming back room of Stou Meidani and tried several small dishes, also known as meze, family-style. The super garlicky tzatziki was the best we had the whole trip. We also tried zucchini balls (yum) and baked feta with tomatoes and peppers.


The sole meat stop came next in the Pastourma neighborhood. Pastourma is a cured meat. Perry liked his thin slice and said it was unlike anything he’d tried before (he’s had his fair share of charcuterie plates).

The herb store came next. We crushed thyme in our palms and smelled. I came away with some small-batch saffron and a complimentary recipe book.

At a small grocery store, Lesvos, we sampled two olive oils, olives, olive spread, and sun-dried tomato spread, Greek yogurt with cherry “spoon sweet” (preserves), feta with honey, and Mastic Tears, an herbal digestif.

greek grocery

I mistook an ouzo dispenser at the front of the store for a water dispenser, filled one of the paper cups, and took a big gulp, thinking I was rehydrating, before realizing my mistake. Oops.

We passed some great street art on the way to the sweet and savory pie shop, Bougatsadiko.

At the pie shop, we tried spanakopita (spinach pie) and sweet custard pie (bougatsa)—the latter was especially delicious, firm and not overly sweet. We ended up coming back to this area for our last meal in Athens.

The final stop was a souvlaki restaurant. Souvlaki is grilled meat, served either on a stick or in a pita with lettuce, tomato, tzatziki, and FRENCH FRIES! At €2.80, they make for a cheap lunch, too. I got the vegetarian version, basically a French fry pita, a meal I’d fallen for when I studied abroad my junior year—our stumble home included a stop to the gyro shop near our university flats. Sadly, at this point in the trip, I was too full to eat more than a few bites.

We thanked Georgia, handed her a tip, and made our way back to the Metro, heading to the bus terminal, where we hoped to catch the bus to Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon. Stay tuned for that adventure.

Artifacts, a Limestone Hill, and a Square: A Day in Athens

Waking refreshed, we were interested to see the complimentary breakfast spread, which ended up including dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) and other more standard fare (breads, spreads, eggs, etc.).


The driver for our airport transfer, an Athens native, suggested we check out the National Archeological Museum (instead of the Acropolis Museum) so we asked the woman at the hotel’s front desk the best way to get there: the red line from our nearest station, Sygrou-Fix, to Omonia, then a transfer to the green line, to Viktoria station (all the stations are listed in Greek and English on the maps and on station signage). The museum is a 5-minute walk from the station, and the entry fee is €10. There were so many rooms and corridors to walk through, and it wasn’t crowded. Among our favorites were the chariot remnants, the mirrors, a harness, and the Antikythera mechanism, along with some humorously positioned statues.

The cafeteria and museum are on the lower level, and you need to keep your ticket with you to get back into the museum proper after you go down. Great cafeteria with excellent prices. Sandwiches under €3, and fresh-squeezed orange juice, too. (Some of the metro stops have fresh-squeezed orange juice machines that charge €1 for a cup.) We got some beverages, including water to rehydrate.


Perry posed with a Zeus/Poseidon statue (there’s some debate over which one it is–what do you think?).

Around 2 p.m., we hopped back on the metro and headed toward Mount Lycabettus to ride the funicular (€5, one-way, €8, up and down), which runs every 30 minutes, with the last trip at 2:30 a.m. The nearest metro station is Evangelismos. On our uphill walk, we stopped at Everest, a take-away shop, and got Greek mini tortilla wraps with feta, olives, tomato, cucumber, pepper, and mayonnaise (€1.35 each). So good and easy to cart up the hill.

A note on the funicular: it’s enclosed the entire way up. I liked the novelty of it, but some people seemed disappointed that it didn’t open up to a view of the city. Also, the walk down is lovely—mostly dirt trails and trees—so I’d skip the round-trip ticket.


What a view! From the top of the Mount Lycabettus, you get a magical 360-degree view of Athens that includes the ocean, the amphitheater, the Acropolis, and the Temple of Zeus, and you can walk inside the chapel of St. George. There are also a tavern (taberna) and a fancier restaurant at the top. We had beers and beer snacks (typically complimentary with drink orders) and played a few hands of Rummy with our new souvenir playing cards that my husband bought in the shop where we caught the funicular. The tall drafts of Alfa were €6—a bit of an upcharge compared to elsewhere, ~€4.

Then we walked around Psyri, a neighborhood near Monastiraki Square, where I got a new swimsuit from H&M for Santorini. We popped into Tzatziki, a gyro shop, to try phyllo-wrapped feta with honey and sesame seeds, then waded through the sea of shops.


Around 7:30 p.m, an hour before sunset, we hunkered down at an outside table on Monasteraki Square and ordered a bottle of red wine and some sparkling water.


Perry walked over to a nearby souvenir shop and bought some postcards to write as the sun went down. The Square is an amazing place to people-watch, and it’s a great place to get place to see the juxtaposition of old and new.


Stay tuned for day 3 as we ponder venturing to the Temple of Poseidon.

Greece-ing the Wheels

The theme for second anniversaries of marriage is linen, so it seemed only fitting that my husband Perry and I head to Greece—where linen shops abound—a week after our marriage turned two. We decided on a Tripmasters package to Athens and Santorini and spent four nights in each. While we were concerned about the possibility of burdensome crowds in August, we were pleased that peak season travel was significantly less crowded than we’d anticipated (and cooler, temperature-wise, too). When you gotta go, you gotta go—and we couldn’t let the fact of August scare us away. We’re starting this blog because we couldn’t find answers to many of our questions before leaving and thought others might like a comprehensive overview that includes things like where to pay for the bus from Athens to Sounion (spoiler alert: a person comes around after you’re seated on the bus to collect money). Also, I love making itineraries, so wanted to share ours with those less inclined to make their own. We hope our observations and suggestions help you with your own trip-planning.

The Luggage

Summer birthdays may be a little sad when you’re in K-5 and don’t get a classroom party, but they’re pretty great when you’re planning on a summer vacation and loved ones decide to give you vacation-themed gifts. I’d been traveling for years with an oversized backpack I got—having done too little research, asking too few questions, and prioritizing a cheaper price tag over quality and practicality—my first year in college for my first trip to Europe. This backpack’s last trip was to China and Korea, where its heft and unwieldiness left me face-planting into a hotel wall and messing up my back pretty badly. While a herniated disc makes it easy to justify a new roller bag purchase, it took my husband’s initiative and research to make it actually happen. And so, for my 37th birthday, bag of bags, the Osprey Meridian 60L Convertible Backpack entered my life.

kristi luggage

My favorite feature (aside from the rollers) is the storage pocket at the top of the pack, perfect for toiletries and easy to access for removing said toiletries for airport security screenings. There are four interior pockets, too, so it’s easy to separate clean socks from dirty socks, etc. The detachable daypack has a frame designed for breathability, helping me avoid a sweat-soaked back on our 4-hour hike from Thira (Fira) to Oia in Santorini.

Along with the Osprey Meridian, we also took a small North Face duffel and a Dakine fanny pack. Both carry-ons fit in the overhead storage of our planes—even on the small one from Louisville to Newark.

img_1279A Note on Packing

We stayed in Meltemi Village in Perissa during our time in Santorini. I probably should have looked up the hotel’s namesake before leaving. As it turns out, the legendary Meltemi winds blow from mid-May to mid-September. My first experience with them involved scrunching up the sides of an A-line cotton dress for the entirety of our walk up the hill to the Temple of Poseidon and back down. It seems my dress was attempting to become an offering to the gods, so adamant was it to take leave of my body. Thankfully, I packed some shorts, jeans, and more structured dresses and thus was able to keep my hands free for better things—like a can of Mythos or Alfa beer—for the rest of the trip.

Things it turns out we didn’t need to pack: heeled shoes and bug-spray wipes. The latter because, surprisingly, we didn’t get bitten by any bugs. The former because the marble throughout Athens is slippery and the cobblestone uneven, so flats became my go-to—plus, in Santorini, many of the beaches and even the swimming hole at Amoudi Bay require you to climb up and over some rocks, so water shoes, hiking boots, or tennis shoes work best. We saw more than one person turn around when the trail seemed unmanageable because of the wrong shoes.

Things I was glad we packed: earplugs, a hydrating sheet mask for after the lights went out on the 9 ½ hour flight, and an e-book of Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey (“Tell me about a complicated man”). Let’s talk about that long flight and my husband’s packing strategy. If you put clothes and all the new linen blankets you end up purchasing into the duffel, it can double as a pretty comfy lap-mound upon which to sleep on that long flight.

Arriving to Athens

We purchased private airport transfers through Tripmasters before we left the States ($35 each). If you prefer, you can catch the blue line on the metro from the airport for a special €10 metro pass. Our hotel off the Sygrou-Fix subway stop was about 30 minutes from the airport (via private transfer). We landed around 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning and made our way quickly through the airport—we were in the car by 11:35 a.m. (We didn’t have any checked bags.) Our driver, holding a sign with our names, met us in the Arrivals Hall, so it was easy to locate him. He gave us a beer for the drive (our first Alfa!) and helped us with some basic Greek phrases on our way to the hotel. Kalimera: good morning/good day. Kalispera: good evening. Kalinichta: goodnight. Efharisto: thank you. Efharisto poli: thank you very much.

Day 1

We were determined not to nap, knowing it would be easier to get our bodies acclimated to the new time zone if we stuck it out until bedtime (albeit an early one). After checking in at Ilissos Hotel, we headed up to the 7th floor rooftop to get a lay of the land and immediately located the Acropolis, which we later gawked over with nightcaps after it had been lit up for the night.


And here, dear readers, is where we under-slept travelers made our first under-informed misstep: deciding, after learning from Google Maps that Brettos (pronounced Vrettos) ouzerie was only a little over a mile from our hotel, to walk by the Acropolis to Plaka, where Brettos, the oldest distillery in Athens, is located, which really meant walking up hill for a mile and half—no big deal if you’re working off a good night’s sleep, near epic tragedy if you aren’t. Okay, I’m being hyperbolic, but we did realize the next day that a metro ride would have eased our travel. The intersecting red, green, and blue lines can land you pretty much anywhere, and a five-day pass costs €9—well worth it. The pass even includes rides on the coastal tram.


The ouzo was like a new pack of batteries inserted into the struggling machines of us. Served over ice and tasting of licorice, we tasted the Ouzo Green (triple-distilled) and the Ouzo Black (quintuple-distilled).

brettos 2

With a nice buzz, we wound through the streets lined with souvenir shops and chose a family restaurant—Scholarchio Ouzeri Kouklis—for a late lunch consisting of the obligatory Greek salad, spanakopita (spinach pie), and tzatziki spread. Slightly too much food, but it turned in to our dinner as well, so oh well.

first lunch in greece

Walking “home,” we purchased the first of many vacuum-sealed packs of olives, stopped into a café for wine, a W.C., and free internet to map our way back to the hotel (at which point, sweet husband got an international plan from his carrier for the rest of the trip), spotted at least a dozen H&M bags, then stopped off at a convenient store we’d spotted near the hotel for some beers to enjoy on the hotel rooftop, where we met several fellow travelers, one Greek woman who’d been living in the States for decades and a family from Oklahoma. Beers from convenient stores and kiosks are under €1 (versus €3-7 in taverns, restaurants, and bars). Dear readers, we were in bed, exhausted, by 10 p.m. and slept gloriously, waking up well rested for day 2. Stay tuned for day 2’s itinerary, which includes a funicular ride and a chariot.