Greece

KeeKee Lands in Athens, Greece …My Newest Children’s Book

KeeKee has landed in Athens, Greece! It’s the third book in my award-winning children’s picture book series KeeKee’s Big Adventures.

Athens_Book_Cover_site

I started Grape Occasions to share my love of travel, wine and spas with you. My love of travel started at a young age when my mom was a flight attendant. It opened my eyes and ears to the world, and with KeeKee’s Big Adventures, I want to do the same for children.

KeeKee is the adventurous calico kitty who travels the world in her hot air balloon. Her first stops were Paris, France and Rome, Italy. Now, Opá! It’s Athens, Greece.

Join KeeKee as she explores the sights, sounds, and tastes of one of the oldest cities in the world. Young readers will share KeeKee’s delight as she makes new friends, discovers exciting places, and immerses herself in the fascinating Greek culture. And, they’ll have fun with the kid-friendly pronunciation guide and glossary in the back of the book, along with a unique and charmingly illustrated map of Athens.

KeeKee’s Big Adventures sparks curiosity and inspires appreciation for our great big wonderful world! It’s a book you can share with your children each day or evening and take a little trip to Greece!

The books are available at local bookstores, on Amazon and on the KeeKee website. And check out our website for details about eventsfun activities for kids, and The KeeKee Club!

Wine Discoveries: Greece

A smell and sip of the Assyrtiko…a bite of the Spanakopita…the Greek music playing in the background…for a moment, I was back in the Greek Islands. Alas it was Winesdays at my Alexandria, VA Whole Foods. But for an hour, as I walked around with my grocery cart sampling the five different Greek wine varietals and food pairings, I was momentarily transported to Greece. And it was fabulous to try some new Greek wines!

 Elios Mediterranean

  • Varietal: 50% Moschofilero, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Roditis, 10% Savatino
  • Aroma: Creamy lemony almost creamsicle-like
  • Taste: Honey, vanilla, lemon with touch of oak
  • Price: $11.99
  • Thoughts: Elios name comes from Helios, the personification of the sun in Greek mythology. You can definitely pick up the Chardonnay in this wine that’s blended with the other Greek grape varietals. Nice dry white wine.

Yannis Assyrtiko Santorini

  • Varietal: 100% Assyrtiko
  • Aroma: Fresh, sand, slight smokey
  • Taste: Dry, crisp, sea salt, minerality
  • Price: $14.99
  • Thoughts: I first discovered Assyrtiko in Santorini, its native land. It’s a very interesting and unique grape and wine. Quite dry with a slight smokey aroma and taste that comes from the volcanic soil on Santorini. It grows throughout the island in these great little bushes of vines.

Foundi Naoussaia

  • Varietal: Xinomavro
  • Aroma: Bright cherry, cedar, licorice
  • Taste: Earthy, smokey, cherry
  • Price: $14.99
  • Thoughts: This was definitely a new grape varietal and wine to me.  The Xinomavro grape is indigenous to northwestern Greece. Wednesday night it was described as Greece’s Pinot Noir which is a good description.

Nostos Manousakis

  • Varietal: Syrah, Mouvedre, Grenache Rouge, Roussanne blend
  • Aroma: Jammy, smokey, sweet smell
  • Taste: Brown sugar and caramel with dark fruit
  • Price: $18.99
  • Thoughts: This wine comes from the island of Crete. Very neat wine described as Greece’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It paired perfectly with the Eggplant Moussaka…yum!

Kourtavi Mavrodaphne

  • Varietal: Mavrodaphne, Black Korinthiaki
  • Aroma & Taste: Sweet raisins and dates
  • Price: $11.99
  • Thoughts: This sweet red dessert wine comes from the foothills near Patras in the north west Peloponnese. Very Port-like but much more fruit forward.

Definitely pick up a bottle at your local Whole Foods, wine shop or order one when out at a Greek restaurant. For more information on Greek wine check out New Wines of Greece.

Yamas to Greek wine!

Athens Must GO’s Beyond the History

Beyond all the amazing history and ruins of Athens, there are more neighborhoods to explore, fabulous restaurants for delicious local cuisine, nice hotels and adventures to be had outside the city.

Neighborhoods & Restaurants

* Plaka:  The old quarter of Athens, once considered the neighborhood of the Olympic gods, is a fabulous place to enjoy a cafe’s Greek coffee or yummy Greek food at one of the many restaurants. My favorite restaurants and cafes are:

  • Arhaia Agora: We stop here for lunch outside every visit…Greek salad, tzatziki, fried zucchini. Just outside the Agora is a strip full of restaurants. Arhaia Agora is directly across from the end of the Stoa of Attalos (Musuem in the Agora).
  • Geros Toy Moria: Dine under the grapevines of this traditional taverna in Plaka built on the side of the Acropolis. The tiered steps offer great spots to enjoy their classic Greek cuisine and many nights enjoy their live local entertainment(Mnisikleous 27).
  • Psara’s Fisherman’sTaverna: Plaka’s oldest restaurant is another great spot for outdoor dining with some really good fish 16 Erechtheos).
  • Brettos: Don’t miss the oldest distillery in Athens dating back to 1909 for one of their spirits, ouzo or a local wine surrounded by their colorful floor to ceiling liquer bottles (41 Kidathineon).

* Psiri: A cool neighborhood to check out at night with lots of activity and restaurants. I really like Oineas (Esopou 9) for its eclectic decor and authentic Greek food.

* Kolonaki: The high street of Athens has great cafes and shopping. Coffee competition here is unbelievable…there are 18,000 shops in Athens, mostly mom & pops. Everyone drinks frappe and fredo so check them out. Greece’s department stores are here as well as high end retailers. Walk to the University area to enjoy the architecture.

* Piraeus Port: It’s worth a trip down to Greece’s largest  port for a leisurely lunch or dinner on the water among the yachts at Jimmy and the Fish for local seafood like their famous lobster spaghetti.

* Lycabettus Hill: This is the highest hill in Athens and worth a trip to the top for stunning views and a drink. We rode the CableWay up for a sunset cocktail. Perfect evening! There’s also a restaurant.

Hotels

Your hotel can add a nice touch to your stay in Athens.

  • St. George Lycabettus: This was the hotel I stayed in my first few visits and is my favorite! Sitting on a hill just down from Lycabettus Hill, there are fabulous views from the rooms looking out to the Parthenon.  If you don’t stay here, they also have a bar to enjoy the great views (call to ensure its open this time of year). Sensia Spa is great place for a massage.
  • Marriott: Yes its a chain but you know what you’re getting. I stayed here many times for work as it was close to our office. The great thing about the hotel is the amazing rooftop pool, restaurant and bar with stunning views of the Parthenon and Acropolis. Its hard to walk to downtown from here but there is a complimentary shuttle.
  • Fresh Hotel: This trendy hotel is in the heart of Athens. Friends have stayed here and really liked it.

Taxis: A few tips…The Athens airport is 30-40 minutes from downtown and costs about €35. Beware of the taxi drivers in town. They often try to take advantage of tourists so watch the meters. If you feel the fare is too much, ask the bellman at your hotel to confirm before you pay. Avoid taking taxis from the Acropolis…I was severely ripped off there on my first trip.

Adventures Outside Athens

* Athens Riviera: Back to the beauty of it’s 1960’s glory, the Athens Rivieria is island life only 25km from downtown Athens. It stretches from Piraeus Port to the Temple of Poseidon (really worth checking out), full of marinas, high-end resorts, beaches, shopping and nightlife.

  • Glyfada is a great upscale shopping area suburb resembling Miami’s Ocean Drive.
  • Astir Beach is a gorgeous beach club (connected to the popular and luxurious Astir Palace hotel) where you can lounge on chairs (daily rental is €15-20), enjoy lunch, a coffee or cocktail.
  • Island is a hip spot 27km from Athens in Varkiza, one of THE famous spots for drinks.

* The Cyclade Islands: If you’re making the trip to Athens for a few days, you MUST take an extra week to get out to the islands. This group of 39 islands, 24 inhabited, is a fairytale trip. We’ve been to cute quiet Kea, magical Santorini and happening fun Mykonos.

Athens and beyond…truly worth the visit for a once in a lifetime experience!

Athens…a Must See in Your Lifetime!

My first visit to this historical city in February 2007 was for work, and while I wouldn’t have ‘tourist’ time, I had to go up to the Acropolis. It was late afternoon and by the time I got there it was closed. But as I sat there on Mars Hill, where Apostle Paul first preached the gospel to Athenians, and watched the moon rise over Lycabettus Hill, I knew I’d make many more trips to this amazing city!

Mention Athens to most people and they think financial crisis, local unrest and dirty city. While the financial crisis is a reality (maybe our tourist $ can help) and currently there is protesting, dirty is not like it used to be (it’s just like any other big city but REALLY old). Athens made massive improvements for the 2004 Olympics and have continued to build on those.

Athens is a MUST see in your lifetime! There aren’t many place you can visit that are 7,000 years old! With its long and complex history leaving remains everywhere, it’s truly an outdoor museum.

As the capital of Greece, one out of every three Greeks lives here. It’s an easy city to get around and within a small area there is SO much to do and see. I highly recommend at least 2 full days here then you can head to the islands or the Athens Riviera. Stay downtown and you can walk everywhere.

My MUST GO’s list is long but doable on the two day visit…

  • The Acropolis: High on the hill in the middle of the city stands the glorious heart of Athens, The Acropolis, dating back to 5th century BC. Acropolis literally means ‘high city.’ People lived here until 510 BC when it was ruled that it should be dedicated to the gods. Then in 480 BC everything on the Acropolis was destroyed by the Persians. The years following saw Athens’ at its most powerful and great ancient architect Pericles was given a blank check to transform the Acropolis. He created four monuments including the iconic Parthenon and Temple of Athena Nike, the city’s protector. Crowing the Acropolis and visible all over town, The Parthenon is 2,500 years old! It is the largest Doric temple in Greece (100 feet x 228 feet) and took just nine years to build. Seeing it all in person is breathtaking. And its amazing to see the modern Athens sprawling around it. Be sure to wander the entire Acropolis area including the Theater of Dionysos on the side. Your €12 ticket for the Acropolis also includes the Agora.

Before or after don’t miss the new Acropolis Museum opened in June 2009. While I haven’t been yet, it looks amazing on line. It tells the complete story of life on the Athenian Acropolis and it’s surroundings and includes the display of an archeological excavation on the site of the museum itself with ruins from 4th through 7th centuries AD.

  • Filopappos Hill: Take the easy stroll to the top of Filopappos Hill for amazing views of the Parthenon, 306-degree views across Athens including all of southern Athens down to the sea. Named after Roman senator Gaius Julius Antiochus Filopappos who retired in Athens and died here in about 114 AD, there’s a marble tomb and monument too him at the top. You can also see the cave believed to be where Socrates was imprisoned and condemned to death.
  • Ancient Agora: At the base of the Acropolis sits the Ancient Agora. This was the center of public life for ancient Athenians…political, social and commercial. Agora means ‘bring together’ or ‘gather around’. Socrates preached here! It was all destroyed in 267 AD by the Herulians but much remains like the Temple of Hephaestus. Built in 449 BC, it’s the only temple in the ancient Greek world with a completely intact roof. We bought a great book in Athens, Archeological Guides: Athens, and used it as our guide. You can just imagine the activity that used to take place here as you walk among the stones looking up at the Parthenon.
  • Plaka: Outside the Agora, and partially built into the Acropolis rocks, is Plaka, the old quarter of Athens and once considered the neighborhood of the Olympic gods. I LOVE strolling through this area. You can feel the history. There are tons of restaurants, cafes for a Greek coffee or drink, and shops including the Monastiraki Square/Flea Market.  My two favorite shops are Lapis Jewelry (Paudrossou 8), where I bought many pieces of Greek designer Iosif Iosifidis’ jewelry, and Naxos House (88 Andrianou St) for awesome sundresses! A few doors down from Naxos House is The Loom (94 Andrianou St) where I picked up a great oriental rug on one of my trips.
  • Syntagma Square: Known as Constitution Square, you have to visit this center of the city to see the changing of the Evzones, a special infantry of the Greek Army, taking place every hour. They guard the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. The Evzones are famous for their skirts (400 pleats symbolizing each year of the Turkish/Ottoman occupation), pom pom shoes and elaborate changing of the guard. 11am Sunday is a full changing of the guard with band.

    While here pop into the lower level of the Monastiraki metro station to see part of the ancient city.

  • Temple of Zeus: At one time the largest temple in all of Greece, only 15 of the original 104 columns remain. Just the size of the 15 columns you see is overwhelming…its hard to imagine 104 of them! Started in the 6th century BC, it took 700 years to finally finish in 132 AD.
  • Hadrian’s Arch: This giant arch you’re likely to pass coming into downtown was built in 131 AD by the Athenians in honor of Roman Emporer Hadrian, who was a friend of the city. The Corinthian style gate marked the border between the old city and new city of Athens in the Roman period.
  • Panathenaic Stadium: Built in 329BC for the athletic competitions of Panathenaia (the major festival honoring patron goddess Athena), it was home to The Opening Ceremony for the first modern Olympic Gams in 1896.
  • Athens Walking Tours: A walking tour is a great introduction to the city. I recommend it the first thing on your first day so you get a great overview of the city. Our tour with Athens Walking Tours even took us into the Acropolis and gave us a good introduction there.

In the next post we’ll complete Athens with a look at the neighborhoods, restaurants, hotels and things to do outside the city.

Santorini Wine Discovery

While in Santorini I was thrilled to discover a new wine!  Wineries dot the island and the ‘bushes’ grow everywhere.  The dry volcanic soil produces a very unique grape. One evening during our stay, Vendema Resort’s Sommelier Vaios Panagiotoulas took us on a Greek Wine Journey in their Canava Wine Bar (a catacomb carved out of the earth) and taught us everything we needed to know.

Vaios told us Greeks were the first winemakers dating back to 6,000 B.C.  The first vines were discovered on a northeast island of Greece and then taken to Crete where it was cultivated on the Archanes winery near Knossos.  Then to Sicily, then Italy (who improved the taste), onto Spain and finally France.

There are over 300 varieties of grape in Greece in 7 wine zones. One of those zones is Santorini which produces mainly 3 white varieties: Assyrtico, Aidani and Athiri.  Because Santorini is so warm and windy, the grape vines are grown in bushes.  These basket shape bushes allow the grapes to grow inside them, protected from the wind and letting them capture the humidity in the middle of the bush at night.

We tasted 7 different wines on our journey.  The Assyrtiko grape produces a crisp, minerally wine with high acidity and high alcohol content.  Athiri is more fruity and lower acidity / alcohol content.  Aidani grape is typically sweet, fruity, fragrant with low acidity.  The blending and aging process chosen have a big impact on the final result.  I found from our tasting and since when I’ve enjoyed Assyrtiko (the main variety you find outside of Santorini), it is a dry white wine (many literally have a slight smokey smell from the volcanic soil), fresh, crisp, with sea salt and minerals. Some are more citrus in smell and taste while some tend toward apricot and honey.  The grapes also make very good dessert wines, Vinsanto I’m sure you’ve heard of.  The name means ‘wine from Santorini’.

We also visited Santo Wines Winery, the biggest producer on the island with a huge tasting room and patio with amazing views (built for big tourist groups but still worth the visit).  One wine we tasted is an exclusive wine called Nykteri, meaning ‘staying up all night,’ which is picked in the afternoon and pressed at night when its not too hot. The wine is very complex with layers of jasmine, fruit like banana/pineapple and spice.

Next time you’re out for Greek or making some at home, try a Santorini Assyrtiko.  Yassas!

For more Santorini wine pictures visit the gallery.