May 25, 2018

Greek Islands – Sunset in Santorini

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When my family and I visited the Greek Islands last summer, specifically the island of Santorini, there was one place the locals kept referring us to, Oia. According to the Greeks, this small town has the best sunset view on the island; I was instantly intrigued. What photographer would pass up the opportunity to snap some pics? Furthermore, what traveler would pass up an adventure? None that I know off. So, we were off. Since we were staying in Fira, the main city on the island, it was only a twenty-five minute drive to this picturesque village, making it a wonderful little day trip.

With my mother driving, me navigating the map, my sister snacking in the backseat, and my noni (that’s Italian for grandmother) complaining she had to pee, the ride there couldn’t have been more entertaining. Three generations of Reale women trekking through the island’s grasslands, with a winding dirt path as our compass, it’s lucky we didn’t kill each other or even better, end up at sea.

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As we entered the village, there was a small parking lot as well as a few paved streets that several cars parked along. The parking lot is not overly large, so I recommend heading into town earlier rather than later, undoubtedly you’re not the only person interested in this small town’s charm, and especially at sunset. As we walked up through the town’s narrow streets, it became clear this was a walking town. It looks small because the streets are so slim and clustered together, but in actuality, it was a decent walk from one side to the other. Amazingly, Oia is filled with cafés, galleries, boutiques, restaurants and souvenir shops, yet it still maintains a quaint calm environment. Its houses and buildings are mainly painted in white and blue, but there are the occasional pale pinks and yellows. The center square is rather small, but it houses a rather large church, and as you walk across the square, away from the church, you approach a beautiful Cliffside. From here, you can see the volcano as well as the island of Thirasia.

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During our stay in Fira, we visited Oia twice. Both times, our goal was to eat at places that had balcony seating and a clear view of the skyline. With people standing on the stairs to our restaurant, patiently positioning their cameras, and tourists and locals alike waiting for the sun to set, it felt like the entire town was holding their breath in anticipation. Once the sun started to set, the cameras started flashing and most people eating took a moment from dinner to take some of their own pictures, including me of course!

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On both nights the sunset was gorgeous, and totally worth the trip out.

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The skyline was splashed in yellow, orange, red, blue, purple, making it look like a painting rather than real life.

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The second night we ate dinner there, we met a couple that loved staying in Oia as much as we loved visiting. Since we were visiting in June, I was expecting every town on the island to be overflowing with tourists, but amazingly the couple reassured us that it had been a relaxing get-away, and oddly quiet. If I ever get the luxury/ privilege of revisiting this fantastic island, I wouldn’t hesitate to book a hotel here for a few nights.

Greek Islands – Damn these Greeks sure know how to Eat

Lamb, Rice and Veggies

 

Coming from a big Italian family, I definitely know how to eat. Growing up, my mother would cook dinners suitable for a small army, even though there were only four of us. And around the holidays, forget it; we’d have lasagna, meatballs, pork, and gravy as leftovers for weeks. With my mother being such a wonderful cook, I learned to appreciate food at an early age, and it’s one of the first things I love to do when I reach a new place.

Personally, I feel like you haven’t really seen a country or city in its entirety until you’ve tried the food. Food defines particular regions and their traditions, making it essential to understanding the culture. When I visited Greece for the first time last June, I realized that like Italians, the Greeks love to eat. Although both Italian and Greek cuisines share a similar Mediterranean flare, they’re very different.

The Greeks predominantly use vegetables, olive oil, meat, breads, olives, cheese and yogurt in their traditional dishes. Some of the more famous foods originating in this country are the pita chips with hummus, the Greek salad, lentil soup, grape leaves, and feta cheese with olives.

 

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Some of my personal favorites were the spanakopita, which is a pastry crust stuffed with spinach, feta cheese, and onions. It is delicious both hot and cold, and I pretty much ate a piece a day during my trip. Another favorite of mine was the Moussaka, which was a ground beef and eggplant casserole; very popular among the locals. The gyro is an obvious pick, and although you can get these at your local pizza joint in town, the gyros in Greece are absolutely wonderful. And finally Gemista, which is backed stuffed vegetables; in most cases it is a pepper hallowed out and filled with ground beef and rice (as shown in the picture below).

 

Here are some more yummy dishes, I was lucky enough to try while there:

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And with food this good, why stop yourself from trying dessert? I’m sure as hell not one of those girls that passes up a piece of chocolate cake; the diet can start again tomorrow. The most popular sweets I came across on the islands of Mykonos and Santorini were various types of cookies, pies, baklava, and crepes. Almost everything was drizzled with honey and nuts, giving it a natural sweetness. The crepes, in my opinion, were the most delicious, because you could fill it with whatever you wanted: fluff, nutella, coconut, hazelnut, caramel etc.

 

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Like many European countries, after dinner the Greeks like to take a shot, usually it is of ouzo. I’m not entirely sure how or why the locals like this alcoholic beverage, considering it reminded me of lighter fluid, but nonetheless it is very popular. It is typically served with a glass of water, and is known for being ‘deadly’. If you’re anything like me, and want to experience everything a particular place has to offer, hold your nose, suck it up and enjoy!

Santorini, Greece – My Date with a Donkey

My little friend

Of all the adventurous things to do in Santorini, taking a donkey ride down the side of the volcano was one of the best. Donkey’s, mules, and horses are part of what give the Greek islands their charm. What used to be the main form of transportation from the old harbor to the town of Fira, is now a cultural pastime.

My fellow travel mates and I were lucky to stay in a gorgeous hotel at the very top of Fira, and so it was only a short jaunt over to the holding area that kept the donkeys. Naturally, we smelled them before we actually saw them. Once we came through the clearing, I was amazed at how many donkeys were actually standing in front of me.

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We approached one of the older men feeding the donkeys and yelling in Greek. He said we had two choices: one, was to ride the donkey down and then take the cable car back up or two, take the cable car down and ride the donkey back up. There was a group standing behind us, so we decided to join them, and head down the cliff-side on donkeys. We paid the man five euro each, and then he told us to pick out a donkey.

This one instantly caught my eye. What a cutie! For some reason, I always thought donkeys were like camels and that they spit, kicked and bit (shows you how much I know about animals), but I was pleasantly surprised at how friendly he was.

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After I managed to situate myself on top of my new donkey friend, the old man tied all of the animals to one another, forming a line. My sister was in front of me and my mother was behind me. When our line started to move, I could feel my donkey’s hooves slip on the slanted cobblestone walkway, and I had a brief moment where I thought I was going over the side of this very beautiful cliff. What a way to go eh? Luckily, my new little friend caught his balance, and trotted the rest of the way down perfectly.

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With the mid-day sun tanning my back and the magnificent mountains and ocean glistening in front of me, it was as close to perfection as you could get.

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During our final days on the Islands, I found out that the donkeys are used in traditional Greek weddings; the bride will ride a well-dressed donkey to the church, reception and then home. As adorable and stylish as this ride may be – Just a guess but I do not think it would be a big hit in Boston for my wedding.

Although I’ll be wearing my white dress in the good old USA, it won’t be my last visit to Santorini, and definitely not my last donkey ride.

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