To start the year 2024 off the right way, I decided to check a childhood dream off my bucket list. Growing up, two of my favorite TV shows were Hercule and Xena. As a result, I became fascinated with Greek Mythology and culture. Prior to last year, most of my travels were through National Parks within the United States along the occasional foray into Canada and the Caribbean. In 2023, I was able to visit Italy, Switzerland, France, and Germany. To kick off 2024, I booked a flight and headed towards Greece. My first stop on this adventure was the city of Athens. I was picked up from the airport by my cab and brought to my hotel. Located at the edge of the Athenian Central Market; I was in the perfect spot to explore the city from. The first surprise I was greeted with happened as I stepped out into my room’s balcony. After a long day of travel, I was simply looking for fresh air but was instead greeted with a terrific view of the iconic Pantheon. After taking in the view, it was time to take in the culture of Athens. I walked into the Athenian Central Markt, 5 minutes from my hotel, on a search for food and found a hidden gem tucked away in an alley called Cinque Wine Bar. Here, I enjoyed their cheese charcuterie board that was made up of a collection of Greek cheeses collected from several of the country's region's and paired it with a locally produced red wine. The staff here was incredibly helpful, patient, and willing to give a breakdown of how to best pair each cheese with a great wine to compliment it. The fish roe bruschetta was a great cherry on top of an awesome meal. Among the first things I noticed in Athens is how incredible the service was. Without exception, each cab driver, waiter, and shop owner seemed determined to provide the best possible experience to me with impeccable service and endless patience answering all questions I had about their menu.
After dinner, I began exploring the market. This was a series of interconnected alleyways that were filled with a variety of shops ranging from tourist souvenirs to clothing. For me, the highlight was the food. Among my favorite ways to explore a new city is through its food. I am constantly on a mission to try the food the city is known for, especially if it is something that I had never tried before. Whether it was the gelato, spinach pies, or Greek coffee; I was never disappointed. The Athenian Market was such a delight that I found myself back here the very next night for another great meal. This time it was a Greek restaurant called Thes. This establishment that offered both traditional Greek cuisine as well as fusion options. I started off the meal with the seabass carpaccio before moving on to a muscle and clam Greek spagatenni. I then finished off the meal with a Greek style coffee and an amazing local dessert called a gianniotiko. Not only was the food incredible, but the wait staff was extremely friendly and provided excellent recommendations. The lights and music on the streets greatly added to the ambiance of the meal as well.
During my time in Athens, I spent my days exploring the ancient temples, sites, and ruins of the city. The first stop along my tour was the Athenian Olympic Stadium; the site of the first modern Olympics. From here, I walked past the remains of the Temple of Zeus. During the height of its glory, this was considered one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Unfortunately, the city had endured a multitude of invasions and destruction in the time since, so all that remains of the Temple of Zeus now are a loan accessory temple, foundational blocks, and a few remaining columns. By contrast, the Temple of Hephaestus, located near the Central Athenian Market, is among the most complete remaining temples within the city from Ancient Greece. This was also my final stop before ascending to the top of the Acropolis and visiting the city’s most iconic landmark: The Pantheon. After a short walk from the market, I was able to check another item off the bucket list by spending the afternoon wandering around the Acropolis and exploring the Pantheon and other ancient temples at this iconic location. Growing up, I've always been a fan of Greek mythology so getting the opportunity to explore the birthplace of these stories was incredible. Not only does the Acropolis offer an up close and personal view of one of the ancient world’s most iconic locations but the elevated views also give an incredible perspective of Athens. The entire city can be seen spreading out in all directions towards the Aegean Sea and Port of Athens.
As I was descending back into the Central Market later that afternoon, I was able to check another unexpected item off my bucket list. I wandered into a section of the market known as Little Kook, the Athenian Christmas Market. Since I arrived in Athens after New Year's, I did not even think to look for a Christmas market in Athens. However, as I was wandering throughout the Athenian central market, I stumbled across this hidden gem. Although it was hidden, it was impossible to miss by simply glancing down an alleyway. The light display here was incredible, as was the hot chocolate and traditional Bavarian food they served in this Athenian Christmas market.
As the night moved closer, the Athenian nightlife came alive. The vibe within the city reminded me partially of a tamer version of New Orleans. The nightlife here was composed of a series of smaller bars and clubs that were located along a few of the alley ways within the market. Each club catered to a specific genre of music, allowing visitors to hop from club to club until they discover the music that matched their vibe. Whether you are in the mood for Latin, traditional Greek, or American classic rock; you could find a club within the market that suites your taste. The nightlife within Athens seems to last into the early hours of the morning. Even when I was back in my hotel later that evening, I could still hear the music on the air until the early hours of the morning. As the sun was rising, it was time for me to begin the next part of my adventure. I boarded by cab and took off towards the port of Athens where my ferry was waiting to take me to the island of Santorini.
I took the ferry over from Athens to Santorini and spent a few days exploring this iconic island. I arrived during the off-season which has its upsides and downsides. Although a large portion of the businesses were closed during the off-season; the views remain intact, and I felt like I had much of the island to myself to explore. While there are still other tourists on the island, it is a tiny fraction of what this island is accustomed to during its peak season. This provided a great opportunity to capture incredible photos around the island, including the iconic blue domes of Oia.
As with Athens, among the highlights of my trip was exploring the culture of Santorini through its food. One of my favorite restaurants that I visited on this island was found in the town of Fira, the largest town on the island. I wandered down an alley and found a restaurant called La Scala. I was able to enjoy dinner with an incredible sunset view. The meal started with shrimp with ouzo and ended with grilled octopus. Santorini is known for its seafood and its reputation is well warranted, the seafood was incredibly fresh and well prepared, and the service was top notch. The entire experience was brought together magically with an ocean view overlooking the central volcanic island that was accentuated by the vibrantly colored sunset.
The next day was spent wandering through the alleyways of various towns around Santorini, taking in their signature white buildings that were capped with blue domes, as well as the narrow alleys that were filled with flowers, adding a vibrant feel to the island. The black and red sand beaches of this island were also a treat to enjoy. While having the island to myself was a great experience, I look forward to returning to this island one day in the future during its peak season to experience that side of this region as well. But that is a story for another day…