From the airport to the centre I took the bus 95 which was supposed to arruve in Syntagma square, but the driver stopped somewhere else and invited us to continue with underground because the square was closed. As soon as I got out of Syntagma tube station I found myself in a square full of tents and placards. I did not have an idea yet of how central Syntagma square was, when I realised that people protested setting tents just in front of parlament, I had a satisfied grin on my face thinking: I am in the country where democracy was born. I could not think something different as in Italy police would probably not approve even a sit in in front of parlament for longer than a few hours. So seing these guys and girls and their mottos there, was a nice surprise.
Dolmades - vine leaves stuffed with rice and then rolled. Usually served cold as appetizers (I requested mine heated, and the request was not seemingly odd). Simple in appearance, this dish requires numerous cooking operations in order to achieve the hint of lemon flavor that is so important. It is sometimes served hot with an avgolemono sauce on top.(a thicker version of the soup, but more lemon flavoured)
Tiropites -Triangles of paper thin glazed phyllo pastry filled with feta cheese and served hot, containing, egg, butter, with an unforgettable flavor to whet the appetite.
Spanokopites - Baked spinach and feta cheese puffs in buttered phyllo pastry, with egg, onion, butter, olive oil, bread crumbs.
Tzataziki - A yogurt, cucumber and garlic dip to be served chilled on its own or with pita. Great on a gyro. In fact, a gyro is not a gyro without.
Avgolemono soup - A chicken soup containing a liberal amount of lemon juice and rice. Wonderful.
MAIN COURSES ...
Roast Lamb - Lamb prepared in the traditional Greek way with garlic and oregano.
Moussaka - A baked delicacy prepared with sliced eggplant, lean ground beef, onions, tomatoes, butter, eggs, milk, cheese and seasonings. The national dish of Greece.
Roast Chicken - Greek style, with garlic and oregano.
Gyro - Thin slices of barbecued meat specially seasoned with herbs and spices, served with tomatoes and onions on pita bread, and topped with tzadziki. Best off of a rotisserie. Served as a wrap alone, or as part of a platter.
Pastitsio - A Greek "lasagna" combining macaroni, ground meat, cheese and covered with béchamel sauce.(my favourite)
Greek salad - A tomato and cucumber salad seasoned with onion, olive oil, vinegar, and big chunks of fete cheese and oregano. Traditionally, there is no lettuce in a Greek Salad! (we ate Greek salad everyday)
Philifi- Fluffy rice simmered in butter, spices and rich chicken stock. Perfect with all dinner dishes.
Every year on Clean Monday, the Greek people, young and old alike, can be seen out in the countrysides, flying kites! Now, what does this have to do with the beginning of Lent? That's a good question that research must be done in order to answer! Check back later and I might have found the answer as I am fascinated by this myself, just never thought about it much! Isn't it interesting, how so much of our different cultural traditions have been happening for so long, that we have lost the original intent and meaning. How many of these traditions do you have in your country?
The easiest 'Clean Monday' tradition to explain is the custom of eating certain foods. It is well known that during the 40 days preceeding Easter, many Christians eliminate meat and oil from their diets. So, it doesn't seem strange that on the first day of this long fast, sea foods, among which are squid, octopus, oysters and other mussels and a special fish egg dip called 'tarama,' but excluding the actual fish as fish is not eaten! In addition, various assortments of pickles and unleavened bread should be eaten. On Clean Monday, it is thus the day that traditionally we 'clean out' our cupboards of any foods that should not be eaten during these 40 days.
Anyone who has ever visited Athens, especially in the Autumn?, will have seen demonstrations in the central streets. I must qualify this statement by saying that this has just been my personal impression, that many of these demonstrations take place more often in the Autumn months...no professional research or statistics have been consulted; this fact may be infact close to the truth for several reason: people are back from their summer holidays, and wish to extend it; popular 'revolutionary' holidays occur during this time; October 28th-When the Greeks said NO to Mussilini; November 17th; when the University Students said NO to the Junta...whatever...it may be...rising costs of living with no increase in salaries...it doesn't take much for the Greek citizens to take to the streets with their complaints! After all, Greece is the home of Democracy! At the same time, don't forget the the Greeks also invented the words "anarchy,' and 'chaos!'
Back to the pigeons! Is it only a coincidence that this group of feathery friends have congegrated in the platia just across from the City Hall of Athens??? Are they waiting for the Mayor to announce that the budget has been increased for stale bread for all pigeons? Or has she announced 'Let them eat Cake???'
Whatever the reason, pigeons like the centre platias of Athens. Watch you step! and don't walk under their perches without your hat.
Melomakarona - Honey coaches sprinkled with a spice-nut mixture
Koulouria - (Also called Koulourakia) - Breaded butter cookies with a light sugar glaze. Perfect with coffee.
Baklava - Paper thin layers of nut filled glazed phyllo sheets of pastry soaked in pure honey make this the best known of pastry desserts. Every country in the Near East claims baklava is its own. (very sweet)
Kourabiedes - Sugar covered crescent shaped cakes that melt in one's mouth. They are served at weddings, at Christmas, and on special occasions, such as namedays and holidays.(these are great)
Diples - Honey rolls so thin and flaky that they crumble when they are bitten. In Greece this delicacy is often cooked and sold at the panigiria or fairs where arts and crafts from every region are proudly displayed for sale.
Kataifi - A delicious pastry made of shredded phyllo rolled with nuts and honey and sprinkled with syrup. Found throughout the Mediterranean.
Loukoumades - Feathery light honey tokens or sweet fritters deep fried to a golden brown and dipped in boiling honey.
Greek Style - This is a thick, powdered coffee that is made in a brickee (or brika), which is traditionally a small brass pot with a long handle. This is not instant coffee, and even though powdered, the coffee used does 'not' dissolve. The grounds settle to the bottom of the cup. Once served, do not stir.
When you order Greek coffee, you must specify plain, sweet or medium-sweet
(sketo, glyko or metrio in Greek, respectively).
It is the custom that everyone who goes to the church on Holy Saturday night should hold his candle.
The godmothers and godfathers always buy these candles for the children they have cristened and children love them. Many of them have toys on them as well.
You will find them sold everywhere, and there is not a single person who goes to Church that Holy night without carrying his or her candle.
Athenians take their coffee culture seriously and the city's cafes are busy round the clock. Traditional Greek coffee (cafe elliniko), small, black and bitter, can be ordered without sugar (sketo), moderately sweet (metrio) or extra sweet (glyko). It comes with a cold glass of water.
The younger generation prefers the long, cool frappe coffee. It's made with instant Nescafe mixed with water, ice, milk and lots of sugar. For many greeks it's a way of life. And personally I love it a lot...
In Athens, a coffee break can easily slide into an ouzo session. A round of mezze can morph into a midnight feast. The night is still young at 1am, when people of all ages start drifting between bars.
Closing time is when the last customer decides to go – and it doesn’t matter if it’s a school night. I don’t know many other cities that operate on such a happy-go-lucky time zone. If you’re nocturnal, Athens is nirvana.
Every year on Clean Monday, the Greek people, young and old alike, can be seen out in the countrysides, flying kites! Now, what does this have to do with the beginning of Lent? That's a good question that research must be done in order to answer! Check back later and I might have found the answer as I am fascinated by this myself, just never thought about it much! Isn't it interesting, how so many of our different cultural traditions have been happening for so long, that we have lost the original intent and meaning? How many of these traditions do you have in your country?
The easiest 'Clean Monday' tradition to explain is the custom of eating certain foods. It is well known that during the 40 days preceeding Easter, many Christians eliminate meat and oil from their diets. So, it doesn't seem strange that on the first day of this long fast, that certain foods should be eaten, among which are squid, octopus, oysters and other mussels and a special fish egg dip called 'tarama,' but excluding the actual fish as fish is not eaten! In addition, various assortments of pickles and unleavened bread should be eaten. On Clean Monday, it is thus the day that traditionally we 'clean out' our cupboards of any foods that should not be eaten during these 40 days.
You may also see the changing of the Guard (Evzones) in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Evzones is the name of several historical elite light infantry and mountain units of the Greek Army. Today, it refers to the members of the Proedriki Froura (Presidential Guard), an elite ceremonial unit that guards the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier the Hellenic Parliament and the Presidential Mansion.
Their proven valour and peculiar dress turned them into a popular image for the Greek soldier, especially among foreigners.
Here are some useful words and phrases that may be helful to you in Greece, although you'll find that nearly everyone there speaks English pretty well. It's nice to show them we aren't a bunch of ignorant English-speakers afterall ;) Impress them a little
Kalimera (KALEE-MERA)- Good morning
Kali-spera (KALEE-SPERA)- Good afternoon
Kalinichta (KALEE-NEECHTA)- Good night
Efharisto (EF-HAR-ISTO)- Thank you
Parakalo (PAR-AH-KAL-OH)- Please/you're welcome
Neh (NEY)- Yes
Ochi (OH-HEE)- No
Seegnome (SEEG-NO-MEE)- Excuse me
I-me xortofagos (EE-MEH-HORTO-FAGOS)- I am vegetarian
Dhen katalaveno (TEN-KATA-LAVENO)- I don't understand
Yassas (YASS-USS)- Hello/Goodbye (plural, formal)
Yassous (YASS-OOSE)-Hello/Goodbye (singular, informal)
Poli kala (POE LEE KAH-LAH) - Very well
Gala (GAH-LAH) - milk
Chai (CHEYE)- tea
Hellas (HELL-US)- Greece
Hellenika (HELL-EN-EEKA)- Greek
Pooennay (POO EE-NAY) - Where is...
Posso kani (POE-SO KAN-EE)- How much does this cost?
Olla (OH-LAH)- everything
Entaxi (EN TAX-EE) - Okay
Anglika (ANN-LEE-KA) - English
Xronia Polla (KRON-YA PO-LA) - Happy Birthday
Me lene.... (MEH LEH-NEH) - My name is...
Milate anglika? (MEE-LAT-EH AN-LEE-KA) - Do you speak English?
Ti ora ine? (TEE ORA EE-NEH) - What time is it?
This pretty much sums up my knowledge of the Greek language. I hope it will come of some use to someone!
Here are some important holidays in Greece that affect service.
January 1: New Year's Day
January 6: Epiphany
January 20: Eythimios
January 26: Xenofontas
March 25: Independence Day
May 1: Flower Festival & Labor Day
August 15: Assumption Day
October 28: Ohi Day
December 25: Christmas Day
The Greek calender also has "name days." Every day of the year is dedicated to a Christian saint, forexample January 7 is the day of Saint John the Baptist and it is the name day for all greek people named Yannis.
In Greece, when a friend of your's has his or her name day you would normally call them up and say "Xronia Polla" which means in English 'Many Years' and it is a wish for good health and prosperity.
Cake in Greece are very good but some are also VERY sweet as they are made with a lot of honey. Keep this in mind if you dont have a so called "sweet tooth"....
I like baklava that is one of these made with honey but I like best Kalitsounia, a Crete specialty made with a shortcrust pastry and kind of ricotta cheese inside with cinnamon on it.... to die for.
Look at my Crete Local custom tips for Kalitsounia recipe.
Greek coffee is easy to make. First, measure the required cups of water into the briki. The measure used should be one of the cups that the coffee is going to be served in. It is advisable not to make more than 3-4 small cups of coffee at a time.
Greek coffee can be made in four different ways. It can be sketos (without sugar, strong and bitter), metrios (medium, usually with one teaspoonful of sugar), glykys or vari glykos (almost honey-sweet) and glykys vrastos - sweet but boiled more then once so it loses most of its froth. Depending on which type of Greek Coffee you like, measure and add into the briki the coffee, a teaspoonful of coffee per cup, and the sugar. For a medium coffee the best balance is to add the same amount of sugar as coffee. Put the briki on a low heat and stir its contents a little, until the coffee is diluted in the water. Hold the briki by the handle all the time as it boils so quickly and spills everywhere. Watch it starting to rise with a bubbly foam. Let it rise - and don't panic! - until it reaches the lips of the briki and then immediately withdraw from the heat. Once the coffee has been made, let it stand for one minute to allow the coffee grounds to settle at the bottom of the briki. Pour a little in each cup, to distribute the froth in all the cups. Then proceed and just fill them up to the brim.
Greek coffee is never stirred once it has been made and served and is drunk slowly. Serve it together with a glass of cold water.
I've included this shot of our hotel entrance (Cypria Hotel) on the customs page, only because we had a difficult time finding the hotel at first.
In Canada, we are used to huge signage, and more accurately defined retail spaces, but in this part of Athens, space is at a premium, therefore not wasted by all things trivial. The first time we walked past, there was a 'small' van parked out front, so our eyes swept right past. After circling the block, the van had disappeared, and the hotel had reappeared. Just like magic !!
Not a big deal, and the walk around the block helped to orient ourselves for our next adventure. (but we were hot, Ma was cranky, and the back packs were heavy with Vin Santo wine)