For those of you who haven't joined us before, welcome. Through our blog, we hope you have all the fun of the trip--with none of the travel hassles, packing, physical ailments, or expense. We're thrilled to have you on board.
So here we are in Athens, Greece. We are doing this part of the trip ourselves (the itinerary map is below--Athens, Delphi, and Santorini) and then will catch the Tauck "Turkey, Land of Contrasts" tour starting in Istanbul.
An influx of Sephardim (Mediterranean Jews) moved to Greece at the time of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. Approximately 5,000 Jews remain in Greece today. Other significant Jewish communities throughout Greece (historically) included-- but are not limited to-- Corfu, Crete, and Salonika. The museum did a nice job of capturing the historical arc of the Jewish community here with many ritual items as well as a thorough treatment of the resistance effort during WWII. The Jewish tour also included a visit to Beth Shalom-- another synagogue-- this one built in the 1930s. We were surprised that the synagogue completely withstood the destruction inflicted on other Jewish communities during the war. One sidebar: Both the synagogues we visited were traditional, meaning they are not part of the World Union for Progressive Jewry (a burgeoning sister movement to the Reform Movement in North America). Additionally, we learned that in traditional Sephardic worship, the women sit upstairs whereas in Romaniot worship, they sit on the other side of a latticed wall. The last component of the Jewish tour was a visit to the Holocaust monument--dedicated by Elie Wiesel. Set in a garden, the monument included seven different stone pieces shaped like a broken Star of David. This is to represent that Jews have been scattered, but still have a central place. Each piece has carvings of locations within Greece where Jews played an important role-- whether as a community or in a battle.
the Stoa (a column-lined shopping mall, much like that found in St. Mark's Square in Venice; note though that the columns are not original and reconstruction was funded by the Rockefellers),
the Temple of Hephaestus, blacksmith (and sword maker) of the Gods (and, actually, the best preserved temple in Athens),
the Tower of the Winds, a unique 8-sided building that also functioned as a sun dial and water clock,
and the Museum of Kerameikos (with some impressive 2,500 year old sarcophagi).
We also stepped into a store that sells 160 kinds of Greek wines and has them displayed quite impressively!
And, of course, lunch! We stopped for cool drinks (it was 35C-- equivalent to mid 80s and very sunny) at an outdoor cafe (in a string of same that went several blocks)-- overlooking the ruins of the Greek agora on one side with an ongoing excavation (partially staffed by American students) on the other -- with the Acropolis overhead. We had a thoroughly traditional and fresh (not what you would except from a tourist restaurant) lunch-- Greek salad, tzatiki, fried zucchini, chicken souvlaki, and meatball (which was actually like a very delicious grilled burger made with ingredients we would put in meat loaf!).
All of this was led by our superb guide Laura Giannola.
We then went back to the hotel and rested up...for dinner!
We walked to a place called Το μυρμήγκι και το κρίκετ, or, in English, The Ant and the Cricket. It is a popular spot both with tourists and with locals. It features all kinds of authentic Greek dishes. When we sat down they brought us each a shot glass of ouzo and a bowl of mixed olives! (Those were free, but the bread was E1.50!). Someone really enjoyed her drink!!!
We started with some fried Gruyere coated with sesame seeds and honey. Sounds strange, but sooo delicious. Also a plate of marinated fava beans with some hummus-like moosh. Tres bien! Then Wendy had moussaka (had to try it!). It was not at all like what it is in the States; more like a shepherd's pie.
...but the accompanying "greens" were quite gross.
The funny thing was we were eating the olives and the bread and our hands were getting greasy from the oil, but there were no napkins (or silverware). When the waiter came to take our order, he showed us that they were in a drawer in the table!!! Guess everyone is supposed to know you should take your own.
They had desserts, but we opted to go to a pastry store we had passed on the way to the restaurant. There we each bought one small piece of baklava (pistachio for Wendy, chocolate for Wayne). Again, this was not like the thick, heavy pieces we get at home. Each of these was no bigger than the top joint of your thumb, and just hundreds of ultra-thin layers of flavor and honey. Yes, to die for!