The final destination of my Grecian holiday was the oldest capital city in Europe: Athens. Although the city has an area of 412km, the historic center has been converted into a 3km pedestrian zone. I'm glad I was only in Athens for 20 hours because you can do a walking tour of that lasts 4 hours and after another 2 hours in the museum, I had seen all I wanted.
The walking tour starts at the temple of Olympian Zeus (6th c. B.C.), one of the largest in antiquity and close by Hadrian’s Arch (131 A.D.), which forms the symbolic entrance to the city. From there, walking along Dionysou Areopaghitou Street (on the south side of the Acropolis) you pass the ancient Theatre of Dionysos (5th c. B.C.) where most of the works by Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylos and Aristophanes were performed. Continuing, you will reach the ruins of the Asklepieion (5th c. B.C.) and the Stoa of Eumenes (2th c. B.C.) and from there the Odeion of Herodes Atticus, which was built in 161 A.D.
From there you climb up the sacred rock of the Acropolis, the site of some of the most important masterpieces of worldwide architecture and art, the most renowned of which is the Parthenon. Apart from this, also impressive are the Propylaea, the temple of the Athene Nike and the Erechtheion.
Coming down from the Acropolis you arrive at the Areios Pagos, the most ancient law court of the world. Opposite it is Philopappou Hill, with its beautiful cobbled little roads and the Roman monument by the same name on its top, while close by is the Pnyx, where the citizens of ancient Athens used to assemble and exert their democratic rights.
Walking farther along the pedestrian road you arrive at the Ancient Agora, which was the commercial, political and religious centre of ancient Athens. A visit to the archaeological site will give you the opportunity to become acquainted with the workings of Classical Athenian democracy.
From there, via Ermou Street, you arrive at the Kerameikos, the largest cemetery of the ancient city, with impressive tomb sculptures and stelae. The Iridanos River, sacred in antiquity, runs through the archaeological site.
Now this tour is from www.greece.athens.com or you can find it reccommended in a Rick Steve's book. Since I don't really like being on a planned schedule, I went on my own ass-backwards tour of the city, getting lost a good twenty times. I started in the Acropolis Museum because I must have missed that day in school when we learned about Greek history. I knew little of the monuments or their significance so I was in utter shock when I came face to face with 3,400 year old artifacts. Like the United States was only colonized some 400 years ago, but 3,000 years ago they were building temples and academies and a Parliment that birthed democracy. After cramming three hours and thousands of years of history into my brain, the first thing I wanted to see was the Acropolis.
Mykonos is another of the Cyclades and definitely my favorite. The island spans an area of 85.5 square kilometres and rises to an elevation of 341 metres at its highest point. Aka it is verrryyyy small, but somehow they are able to fit a pretty big city. Maybe it just seems like a big city due to the lack of roads and transportation. From the hotel, it was a steep 15 minute walk downhill into the city center. Mykonos was full of younger tourists, it is known for being the "party capital" of Greece and I got to experience the nightlife firsthand at Paradise Club. Just make sure you are aware the Pardise Beach is the crazy party beach, and SUPER Paradise Beach is the crazy GAY party beach. For gays from around the world travel to Mykonos to party with one another. This made for a very interesting time and probably is the reason that I loved Mykonos so much. Oh, and it is BEAUTIFUL!
Even though there were a number of places around the resort for fine dining, my favorite meal in Crete was in the small fishing town of Elounda, just minutes down the road from the resort. Vitromartes Taverna was literally on the water and served the best hummus, stuffed grape leaves, baba ghanoush and Greek salad that I've had. Well all of Greece had the best Greek salad I have ever had, but this was exceptional and exceptionally low priced. Greek food comes in close second to Italian as my favorite!
Okay for anyone who is thinking "all ice cream is the same," you are very wrong. 1. It absolutely is not. 2. Gelato is not ice cream.
Yes literally translated, gelato means ice cream, but it's different than ice cream. First big difference: There's less fat. Ice cream legally has a minimum of 10 percent fat, gelato is made with a greater proportion of whole milk to cream, so it contains more like five to seven percent. Gelato isn't as solid resulting in that melt-in-your-mouth sensation.
Second, ice cream makers often increase the weight of their product with water. But according to E.U. regulations, that isn't allowed—meaning gelato is higher-density, with a higher flavor-impact. That also means that if ingredients are high-quality, you can really tell.
Finally, ice cream is made for long-term storage. Gelato isn't. It's frozen quickly, in small batches, so has to be eaten fresh.
This means when you're walking around Italian cities looking for some delicious gelato, avoid the big puffy vats of gelato. Although they look pretty, they are stored longer therefore they probably aren't made from fresh ingredients.
SO...since there is a gelateria on every block (literally 4 within a 5 minute walk from me), I have made it my mission to find as many delicious flavors as I can (still a work in progress). SO far we have:
No trip to Europe is complete without a visit to my dear friend Anna in Praha. Since I have visited the city three times before, she reccommended that instead, this time we head to the mountians for a change of scenery. My weekend in the Krkonosce mountains exceded any possible expectations I had.
To start with, we stayed at her family's three story, ten bedroom mountain house. I feel bad even calling it a house because it was much more than that. As Anna's father explained to me, this "house" was built in the late 19th century by a German family. After the world war, when all of the Germans were forced out of the land, which was soon taken over by Czech and Polish territories, the house went up for sale. Around 1940, it was purchased by a group of ten scouts (I'm picturing a group of twenty-someting, outdoorsy eagle scouts - though I have no confirmation). With a ski lift built on the hill next to the house, they lived here together for a portion of their lives before they started their own families. Eventually the house was treated as a vacation home, with the families of each of the men designated to their own room. One of these men happened to be Anna's grandfather. After 50 years, the rights to the rooms were given to any ancestor of the 10 original owners. That includes thier kids, their grandkids, and now some great grandkids. I was honored to be a guest of the family and experience this cozy cottage. Half of the ground floor resembled something of a restaurant with wooded walls and tables, four of them, spread around a spacious room. The other half was previously where the animals were kept. The stone walls and floors kept it a little chilly, especially since this was where the bathrooms were. When I say bathrooms I mean holes in the ground for toilets and a hose hanging on from the ceiling for a shower. At least it had hot water, that is, after lighting a fire and waiting half an hour for the tank to heat up. All glamour aside, it was an incredibly peaceful place to get away for the weekend.
And the hiking. On Saturday morning, bright and early (9 am), we headded out the front door ready to conquer the mountian. Anna, her brother, her parents, her absolutely perfect samoyed puppy, Majla and myself. Starting through the meadow and weaving around other cottages, we eventually made it to the center city of the mountian range. Center city in this sense is a church, a pension (bed & breakfast), and a house of a gamekeeper/park officer. The first half of our journey to the top lasted two hours, mostly around hills getting to the base of the mountian. The halfway point was Jelenka, a pension/restaurace where we stopped for potato soup. The second half was alllllll uphill. Another hour along the border between Czech and Poland that continued to the peak.
"Glacial corries contrast with bare-stone ridges, large alpine meadows with timber cottages down in the valleys, the murmur of waterfalls with the mysterious silence of peat bogs, while regal Mount Sněžka, queen of the peaks, lords it over her lofty realm."
After some time admiring the view, it was time to start our descent. Now if I thought making it up was hard, the trek downhill just about killed me. Luckily we stopped halfway at another restarace for rasberry dumplings. Dough balls filled with berries, drenched in butter, topped with sugar, a side of whipped cream and a beer. Literally the perfect meal in the midst of a 15 mile hike. They were everything I wanted and more. God bless Czech cooking.
When we finally returned to the house, it was a little after 4:30pm. Our seven hour, 25km adventure concluded with showers and an 8:30pm bedtime (I wish I were joking). The next morning, after a good 13 hours of sleep, we packed up and headed back to the city. Not before stopping in Mělník for lunch on the way home.
Last week's visit to Bologna was nothing short of perfection. I took a two hour bus trip from Grosseto to Firenze and then a 35 minute train from Firenze to Bologna. I happened give myself a two hour layover in Firenze to take a stroll across the familiar city, but that's a post for another day. Once I arrived in Bologna, I was met at the train station by some friends and they took me on a tour through the city before stopping for proper pizze. We did some more sightseeing before we retreated to their home to relax. An incredible dinner of spinach & ricotta tortelli was prepared with sides of fruits and cheeses. Followed by an apple pie with gelato for dessert. Of course I had to eat well in the "foodie capital of Italy."
La dotta, la grassa e la rossa
Bologna has a well-preserved historical center (one of the largest in Italy) thanks to a careful restoration and conservation policy which began at the end of the 1970's, due to urban demolition at the end of the 19th century as well as the world wars. An important cultural and artistic center, the importance of Bologna can be attributed to its architecture (medieval towers, antique buildings, churches, the layout of the city) as well as art. Bologna is known for many things. It is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, it has more towers than any other European city (and possibly more arches), it is a central hub for European travel, it is a 2006 UNESCO "city of music," it is home to the oldest university in the world and oh yeah, food.
La Dotta (the Learned) because Bologna is home to the oldest university in continuous operation, the University of Bologna. It was founded in 1088 and today it is the leading university in Italy for Sociology,Political Science and Humanities. It is also the most international universtiy in Italy, bringing eighty thousand students to the city every year. It is easy to notice their presence at the number of bars, pubs, shops and ristorante.
La Grassa (the Fat One) because Bologna can stake a strong claim to being the heart of Italian cuisine. Ragu (bolognese sauce) was first created here. The sauce was originally used for tagliatelle pasta, another creation of Bologna. It is also the home of mortadella, toretelli and lasagne.
La Rossa (the Red) originally referred to the color of the roofs and walls in the historic center, but this nickname is also connected to the political situation in the city after World War II. Until the election of a center-right mayor in 1999, the city was renowned as a bastion of socialism and communism in particular the Italian Communist Party.