My recent jaunt to Greece was easily one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.
Partly because it wasn’t, in any way, work-related. And mostly because I went with great girlfriends who really know how to relax and eat well.
There were so many great memories of Greece, from looking around the cute shops in Old Town to cramming all four of us on a queen-sized bed in our apartment in Athens. There were restaurants that served food I’ll always crave and beaches that rivaled any I’ve seen before.
Greece, you exceeded my expectations.
And it was just what I needed, too, a relaxing vacation halfway around the world with friends who loved to eat as much as I do.
It was hard to narrow down just 10 moments — and I was only there for a week! — but here goes:
You can’t visit Athens without making the trek to the Acropolis. This area holds a group of important — and Instagram-worthy — monuments situated on a 200-foot-high rock that overlooks all of Athens. There’s the famous Parthenon and Temple of Athena – and thousands of visitors who make the trek every month to see these historic sites. While these ruins are being restores — I find that to be a bit oxymoronic, but whatever — and there are usually throngs of people crowding the sites, cameras and iPhones in hand, it’s still a marvel to see. A must, for sure.
2. Old Town, Crete
Old Town was, hands down, my favorite part of the trip. This charismatic and utterly charming village, complete with colorful Venetian-style buildings and cascading bougainvillea everywhere, was the perfect place for us to unwind. There are beaches within walking distance, the historic harbor to explore, and tons of shops and restaurants to frequent.
Yeah, it’s a bit touristy — after all, this is one of the most beautiful urban districts in all of Crete, but it’s so picturesque and quaint, you almost forget you’re surrounded by visitors.
3. Balos Lagoon
On our second day in Crete, we hopped on a bus, then a ferry, to check out this well-photographed lagoon in Cape Gramvousa. It’s spacious and gorgeous, with a shallow sandbar (with warmer water) for frolicking and a larger bay with turquoise water that’s impossible to describe. The pink sand, made from crushed seashells, was just the sweet topping on an already perfect beach.
4. The food
Honestly, I could have devoted all 10 moments to the food in Greece. (And I seriously thought about it.) But I decided to cheat and say everything we ate in Greece made this list.
We had spicy meatballs, savory spanakopita, cheap gyros filled with fries. We had freshly squeezed juices and Greek yogurt topped with fruits. We even had great sugar donuts from a street cart in Athens.
The food here is tasty, flavorful and unique to its location in the Mediterranean. We had fresh fish prepared simply with olive oil, garlic and butter. We had local cheeses made from goats and sheep. We had olives grown right in the area. If you love food, put Greece on your must-visit list.
5. The standout panna cotta
I know, I know. I said food was its own category on this list. But I had to set aside the one dish that surpassed all others — and that was this panna cotta from Βυρίνης in Athens.
Yes, this is an Italian dish. Why not choose something Greek? Well, because this was easily the best panna cotta — and perhaps the best dish on the trip — I’ve ever eaten. That good.
Silky, smooth, light — it was the perfect dessert. We searched other places panna cotta and we never found one as good as this. (Maybe I’ll have to do more research — in Italy!)
6. Fish pedicure
I had done this in Beppu City, Japan last year, but it was still a thrill to do it here in Crete. And it was even better doing it with my girlfriend, Grace, who had never experienced it before. (Her reaction to getting her food cleaned by fish was priceless. Video to come!) Not to mention, my feet never looked or felt better!
7. WiFi everywhere
I didn’t know what to expect in terms of WiFi in Greece. I’ve had trouble finding free WiFi spots in Japan and other parts of Europe. Turns out, Greece is all about the free WiFi. We got access codes from every shop and restaurant we visited — and all of our hotel rooms came equipped with WiFi. Which was great for us. We were able to post our selfies in no time!
8. The hike up Gramvousa
We didn’t expect to hike on our trip, but it happened. And though we were totally unprepared for a trek up this rocky mountain — we all were wearing some form of slippers — we all appreciated the bit of exercise and the views from the top.
We landed at Gramvousa en route to Balos Lagoon, disembarked the ferry and climbed to the top of this hill, which had stunning views of the cape and the ocean. And it didn’t take long at all, about 10 or 15 minutes, to get to the top. Well worth the sweat.
See that on the potatoes? That’s called staka (remember it), a type of roux used in Creta cuisine. It’s made from goat’s milk cream and, when it’s used as butter, tastes a lot like cheese. It is simply amazing. I will dream about this for the rest of my life.
10. Experiencing all this with my friends
I didn’t know what to expect, not having traveled with this group before. But it was, by far, one of the best travel experiences I’ve have ever had. And it was because of this group.
They were easy to be around, game to do anything, and viewed eating as part of the tourist experience. (In fact, it was like it was our duty to eat as much as possible, like we were single-handedly trying to revive the country’s economy.) We all were on the same wavelength when it came to traveling: try everything but relax, too. Great philosophy — for travel and for life.
Special thanks to Lan Chung, who planned the entire trip and even had handouts for us to read on the plane; Rona Bennett, for turning 40 and giving us a great excuse to travel all the way to Greece; and Grace Lo, who provided the right amount of support and enthusiasm that made every moment of this trip special. You guys rock!