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.

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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.

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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.

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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.).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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