Today was a kick-back-and-relax kind of day. We didn’t plan it this way on purpose but having this day set aside to not have to get up early, listen intently to a guide or try to absorb a ton of information on art and history was really nice. We’re on vacation after all!
Today we took a semi-private catamaran ride off the coast of Athens for a little over a 5-hour cruise. Since this trip to Greece was planned on short notice, we relied heavily on Viator.com for picking things to do. This cruise I think can be booked outside of Viator but well, I’m a fan of Viator….it’s been a good experience every time and that’s hard to do when travelling sometimes. Our captain Mike and the first mate, Aris, were absolutely fantastic hosts on the trip. Coincidentally, Mike knew the San Jose area well since he had gone to school at Stanford so we got tips on the best Greek restaurants in San Jose from a Greek man in Greece! He also approved of our favorite Greek restaurant, “Opa!”.
We were joined by a family of four from….small world, Northern California by way of Dubai where they had been living for the past two years. It was interesting to talk to them of their experiences as Americans in Dubai after talking with the woman from Dubai the day before.
Our trip took us around to a few uninhabited, small, islands where we stopped to swim and admire the view. The water was beautiful but too cold to stay in long. We were told that September is the optimal month for swimming. I found it funny that we were more buoyant in the water there in Greece than at home in Florida. I thought the ocean was the ocean and the buoyancy changed in places like the Dead Sea where it wasn’t open water. It was an odd feeling to not have to work so hard to float. I can imagine in the summer the feeling is quite nice. While we swam Mike and Aris fixed us up a huge Greek lunch complete with roasted vegetables, saganaki, grilled meats and seafood, Greek salad and pasta. It was all very good.
After a while we cruised back to the marina and were dropped back off to our hotel. We changed and went out for a walk to explore Syntagma Square, the park and some of the sites close to us there like Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Zeus the Olympian. On our way to see those sites we passed another site that was uncovered relatively recently when the city was planning to put in a new ventilation shaft for their subway. That just amazes me! We were in the oldest part of the city, where many buildings and things have been built and I would have thought people would have found most of the buried sites by now but they’re still popping up! We also saw the Greek military guard on duty at the Parliament building, something like the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or in front of the Palace in the UK….smartly dressed, no eye contact or engaging with people. They were dressed in their “winter dress” which was long-sleeved and wool, and looked like it was already too warm for April…and they weren’t allowed to switch to “summer dress” until the end of May!
Later, after we had cleaned up we took a taxi over to “Hytra” – a 1 star Michelin restaurant. If you’re not familiar with the Michelin rating, it’s kind of like a professional Zagat. Where Zagat used to hold some weight, in my mind it is closer to an elevated “Yelp” now….not that there is anything wrong with Yelp, I love Yelp! The Michelin system uses only 3 stars for rating, the rating is done secretly and stars can be removed if the food isn’t up to par at a later time. The saying I’ve heard about it is something like “if it has one star and you live nearby, you should make an effort to go. If it has two stars and you’re travelling nearby you should make every effort to go, and if the restaurant has three stars, you should plan a trip to go to that restaurant”. Michelin weighs consistency into their system as well…if a restaurant has a good night but it isn’t consistent then they don’t get a star.
Our dinner at Hytra was quite good, we ordered the Chef’s tasting menu with wine pairing (I highly recommend this experience). They called it 14 courses but they were counting the bread basket – granted the bread was flipping fantastic – and the palate cleanser bites in-between servings. There were some odd things, some interesting things and some amazing things we tried. All of the wine was incredible, we even got to taste a wine that has been mentioned in the writings of Homer and is still made today. The atmosphere was a bit modern for our taste but not bad in any way. I’d say honestly that while not all restaurants offer a tasting menu as extensive and exciting as theirs, the food was at least as good as some places I’ve eaten in the past without a star…now I’m not a professional food-critic and maybe those restaurants were having a great night…or maybe my taste buds need more refining. I’ll have to work on that 😉 At any rate, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!