story and photos by Susanna Starr
We recently returned from a trip to Greece where we found that re-connection to our shared Western heritage. While there we found ourselves thrown back into ancient history as well as simultaneously finding ourselves in the present. The evidence of ancient history is everywhere, in the stunning Parthenon, in the archeological ruins in the middle of the city of Athens, and on virtually every island. It is in the statues, more awesome in the viewing of them up close than could ever be suggested in photos or film. They might very well leave you breathless with their beauty and detail. The fold of a cloak or garment, the stance of a young boy is a way of looking at the human figure that reveres that which is before them. The murals depicting the scenes of battle or the depiction of the goddess Athena are rendered with perfect detail.
Back in the present moment, we found ourselves in the same Mediterranean climate that really needs to be experienced to describe. When we think of the Greek islands, we usually conjure up an image of the blue waters of the Aegean sea, beaches of white, beige, or golden sands, some of beautiful rock and pebbles, coves waiting to be explored. We often think of the stark white houses built in their cubist style, clustered together on the top of hills, with their stunning views of the water. But, we’re not always aware of the unusual quality of the air.
On the Greek islands and, as well, on the Halkidiki Peninsula, I was amazed at the quality of the air which is not only clear and amazingly gentle, but is bathed with the natural perfume of herbs and flowers. Herbs grow everywhere in abundance. Maybe that’s what’s contributed to the way they prepare their food. Although there are many gourmet restaurants, the best food is what’s prepared locally. That’s because, especially on the islands and on the Halkidiki Peninsula, they’ve not been dependent on importing foreign foods that we often take for granted, but rely on what they get from the sea and what grows in their gardens or the products they get from their own goats or sheep, like amazing feta cheese and fresh yogurt. The vegetables, squash, eggplant and picture perfect tomatoes, are always freshly picked. Of course, the olive trees are everywhere as are grapevines. Olive oil and wine are a mainstay of every Greek household.
To visit the two largest cities of Greece, Athens and Thessaloniki, is important. I especially enjoyed and was impressed with their museums and markets. But a trip to Greece must include the islands, so accessible by ferry transportation, or, with time permitting, the tridents of the Halkidiki Peninsula, outside of Thessaloniki. That’s where we can not only find the sun and relaxation sought on vacation, the food and the wine, but also experience the way of life, the character of the people.
Greeks share food — it’s what they do. They also want to share what their country has to offer, not only through food and wine and hospitality, but the essence of their country, this country that’s given us the foundation for the western cultures we know, the art, the sciences, the philosophy, the theater. They enjoy a quality of life that many more industrialized countries could learn from, no matter what their economic situation might be. The spirit of who they are has endured through thousands of years of various occupations, including the Romans & the Ottoman Turks.
Now, once again, they’re a democracy, the place where that word was first used to describe a way of life for a society. No one owns firearms, there is little violence, teen-age suicide an anathema. Although everyone is brought up drinking wine, there’s virtually no alcoholism and little use of drugs….also an absence of gangs. There’s no such thing as being fearful about being out at night since so much of the population is out at the sidewalk cafes, with the evening not even starting until 9 PM.
Although there’s no doubt they have an economic crisis, we saw virtually no signs of it, with no evidence of poverty. Everyone seems to have the attitude that somehow they’ll survive so they might as well smile doing it — they have a long history of doing just that. So, you can do as they do, make frequent stops to the cafes that are everywhere, have your coffee while visiting with your friends, spending hours without looking at the time, and truly be here now, in Greece – as we did.
If You Go
Susanna Starr is a well-traveled and published travel writer, photographer, author, entrepreneur, speaker and artist. She holds a degree in philosophy from Stony Brook State University of New York. Susanna is the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association’s Regional Membership Coordinator for Oaxaca & Mexican Caribbean, Mexico and a Contributing Editor at FWT Magazine: food wine travel. Her books have achieved worldwide acclaim.