THE HONEY BADGER ODYSSEY
A Greek Epic
“Go on with the spirit that fears nothing"
When we landed in Athens, I couldn't be in a more 2017 mindset.
We had just stepped off of an Emirates flight where we were treated to all of the luxuries of modern-day, business class travel.
Our in-flight entertainment consisted of large TV screens with live TV and noise canceling headphones to make all of the other cabin noise disappear. The food was exceptional for a flight and since we were flying overnight, our chairs reclined to be fully-flat beds. To enhance the feel of nighttime the ceiling of the aircraft was outfitted with
L.E.D. lights to give the illusion of faint stars twinkling in the night sky.
This is NOT how Odysseus traveled.
As we departed the plane, Zachariah our driver was waiting for us. A young 20-something Greek man who looked like any other guy his age in 2017. He spoke perfect English.As we drove along the very well maintained highway into the city of Athens, I was wondering if I would get caught up in the excitement and majestic-ness of being in the birthplace of democracy, or if all of that would fall flat and feel white-washed by modern day civilization.Along the highway between the airport and downtown Athens there was graffiti everywhere - hmm, just like the ride to NYC from JFK I thought.
When we got a little closer, we pulled off the highway and began to see stacks and stacks of local businesses with small apartments piled on top of them.
Foreign feeling? Yes. Epic? No. Not yet.As we got into the city center of Athens, amidst the speeding scooters and small European cars zipping folks around to-and-from their busy days, we saw our first historic site:
the Panathenaic Stadium the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble.
And that was cool... But not as cool as when we turned another small windy street, and we looked up to see the Acropolis.
In Athens, the Acropolis is visible from almost every part of the city... we even had a view from our hotel room, and for anyone in the area, it's a background to Greece's rich heritage. The site did indeed exalt our spirits.
After check-in at Hotel Herodion, Anastacia and I went for a walk-about.
We followed Athens' small windy cobblestone trails up and down in search of whatever there was to see.
Before dinner, we swung back by the hotel to refresh and grab a cocktail.
The rooftop bar at Herodian is elevated and has a brilliant view of the Acropolis as well as a 360 view of downtown Athens.
The majority of the businesses at the base of the Acropolis all cater to the tourists.
And for the most-part, we avoided the tourist traps, but for dinner, we fell for a cute little spot named "Daphne's"
(DAPHNE'S RESTAURANT - ΕΣΤΙΑΤΟΡΙΟ ΔΑΦΝΕΣ).
I have to admit, the restaurant was Uber-cute. It had indoor/outdoor seating and large tree trunks grew right through the structure.
Our waiter was genuinely a very nice man with a quirky sense of humor.
In the downstairs, inside section of the restaurant, the owner was sitting behind a big desk counting euros and scribbling numbers into his books.
This would be our first real meal in Greece.
I was hungry and excited.
We ordered spanikopita to share.
Anastacia ordered chicken souvlaki and I ordered the fish.
We ordered a bottle of local red wine to share.
The wine was great! -- the rest of the food... Oy.
The bread that came out first was hot... more than oven hot, more like overly nuked hot. "Mmm, oven fresh" I thought... but then when I grabbed a bun--it was hard as a rock!
The spanakopita was so crispy that I had to cut it with a knife! "What is going on" I thought? The food seemed like it was heated up and not fresh at all.
"Hmm. Ok, well maybe the entrees will be good."
Because the spanakopita wasn't great, I didn't finish it. I figured I'd save room for the entree.
Our overly enthusiastic waiter came over and said: "Noooo! You must finish your plate! This is what we do in Greece!"
"Oh boy. Ok", I thought, it's only another few bites, so to be polite, I ate it.
And then my entree came out. It was a full fish.
The fish looked fine and I was ready to dig in.
The waiter asked me if I'd like him to fillet the fish - I said, "no, it's fine the way it is", but something must have been lost in translation as he whisked my plate away with enthusiasm.
I could see him at a workstation not far away filleting my fish.
"Wow! That's super nice of him." I thought.
So here we go. My first bite of fresh, local, Greek fish annnd... "WTF! Awful!!"
The fish was dry and flavorless.
I figured, ok, I'll give it another bite.
Could my American tastebuds have been ruined? Am I spoiled by the richness of the food made my New York City chefs?
Well, in some respects maybe, but this fish was just bad.
I could have caught the fish and cooked it myself and it would have been much better.
At this point it's important that I point out that this was the ONLY bad meal of the trip.
Everything else that I ate my entire time in Greece between 9 different islands and regions has been between very good and delicious.
So this restaurant, was unfortunately a one-off.
It's what you should expect if you eat at a restaurant in Times Square.
And the restaurants at the base of the Acropolis, albeit Greek, are essentially, "Times Square".
Now that I have my "one bad food experience" behind me, we can move on.
We wandered the streets of Athens passing various pubs, nightclubs, restaurants and the like in search of a little tiki cocktail bar Anastacia had read about, eventually we found it! "Ipitou the Bar" on Ipitou street.
The names of the cocktails on the menu were in English but the descriptions were in Greek, so we ordered based on drink name.
There were two older gentlemen sitting at the outdoor section of the bar smoking cigars. Both men were in their late 50s with full heads of gray hair.
Ioannis: taller and thinner, and George: a little shorter with a t-shirt and a scarf around his neck.
Anastacia told them that she liked the smell of their cigars. Greek hospitality kicked in quickly and Ioannis offered us a cigar.
Anastacia declined, but I thought it would be rude to pass, and so I accepted.It was a nice Cuban.We struck up conversation with the gentlemen and they were happy to speak to us in their broken English.Ioannis told us that he owns the jewelry shop right above the bar and George owns a coffee/dessert shop named "Chatzis" not far away.
We bought the men drinks to say thanks, but our glasses emptied quickly and so they bought a round.It was almost 11pm and George stepped away to make a phone call to his wife. His wife closes the restaurant every night, and he opens it in the morning. Well, we were all grateful for the call because - it turns out - he had asked his wife to send over the left over desserts from the restaurant!
Baklava! Lots of it showed up.
More drinks showed up!
Matt Smith and Joe showed up!
What a fun night and a great first day in Athens.
"A guest never forgets the host who has treated him kindly." - Homer
Several weeks prior to our trip, the airline canceled our flight from Athens to Lefkada.
So instead of trying to make some odd-ball flight connections, Stacia, Joe, and I had decided instead to drive from Athens to Lefkada. Anastacia remembers visiting when she was younger and recalled the roads being in poor condition so she thought it would be best if we had a driver take us instead of attempting to drive ourselves.
We figured this would be a good way to see the Greek countryside. (Side note: The roads are actually all really nice now... must be why Greece is in debt!)
So before we hit the road we decided to grab some coffee and snacks from our new buddy's shop Chatzis. (We hinted the night before that we might swing by).
Our plan: swing by real quick, grab food and go. 45 minutes later - the food kept coming!
When we first walked into Chatzis, we immediately ran into our friend George from the night before.
He insisted that we have a seat and he prepped his nicest table in the back for us.
George told us that the restaurant had been in his family over a hundred years.
He pointed to old photos on the wall and explained that the family owns a total of 4 "Chatzis".
Joe and I ordered Greek coffee (ellinikós kafés) and Anastacia ordered a tea.
The coffee came out in a traditional Greek copper kettle (called a briki - see above) along with a marshmallow and a shot of bright red rose liquor.
Along with our drinks, our generous host had treat after treat sent over to the table.
We had Baklava, philo pastries, Galaktoboureko (a custard) and half a dozen other delicious Greek treats that were all amazing. I honestly didn't know what almost half of them were, but they were certainly delicious.
The deserts were fresh and not overly sweet - and they just kept coming. I got the feeling right away that I would not be coming home any thinner from this trip.
Whilst chowing down, Ionnes, the jeweler showed up! Apparently George called him and told him we were there, so he came to visit with us!
We had no idea that this quick breakfast stop was going to be such a production - If we had, we would have gotten there much sooner.
We had to be back at the hotel for our pickup at 11am but also didn't want to be rude, so we asked for to-go boxes and expressed our gratitude.
George only charged us for the coffee that we drank.
All of the treats were on him!
What a nice man, and what a wonderful country!
We made it back to the hotel just in time to hop in the van for the 4.5 hour ride to Lefkada
The driver, Politos, a 40~ Greek man who was quite friendly but spoke very little English.
I was happy that we did the drive (instead of a flight) since we got to enjoy the views of Greece's countryside.
About halfway between Athens and Lefkada is Corinth. Our driver stopped so that we could see the Corinth Canal - the canal that connects the Saronic Gulf with the Gulf of Corinth. The Isthmus of Corinth is the name of the connecting bridge.
Somewhere around 4:30/5 in the evening we arrived in Lefkada - our starting and ending point for the charter.
(Lefkada is also known as Lefkas.)
We were now on the Ionian side of Greece as the Ionian islands lie off of Greece's western coast.
In Lefkada, we checked in to our hotel "The Aigli" - a boutique hotel and rum/wine bar."Aigli" means "glamour, light, fame, magnificence". And a number of nymphs in Greek mythology were given this moniker.
The estate itself consists of only 5 or 6 rooms total. The rooms make up the perimeter of the main courtyard. It's cozy, quaint, and clean. And there's music playing in the courtyard most of the night.
The owners of The Aigil must be Cubanophiles - they sport Cuban flags all around and they have a seven-page list of rums! At night, Cuban singer Tony Marquez sings and plays the bongo drums... and yes, at some point you'll hear "Guantanamera" - maybe more than once.
Mattina, was our waitress during our visit. She was a college student -- very attentive. The leathery French man who runs the rum bar spent time chatting with us while smoking his Cuban cigars.
Turns out, he was a big fan of Joe... Big fan!
(Much more so than the pregnant dog that we'll talk about later).
After getting checked in we headed toward the marina to get the lay of the land. The first bar at the marina was a pirate themed bar! Shiver Me Timbers! Must have been put there just for me!
According to mythology, Lefkada was given to Penelope's father as a wedding gift from Odysseus' father.
To me, it felt a little bit like Key West used to -- Don't get me wrong: thats not a bad thing at all. What I mean is - Lefkada has a lot going on for a small little resort village.
There are some really nice restaurants, annnnd there are a few "umpsha-umpsha" clubs (you know the type where you'd find the Jersey Shore crowd hanging out). There's the marina where the charter boats are, and there is beautiful scenery everywhere.
At this point, the group of Honey Badgers who had made it to Lefkas were:
Duber, 'Stacia, Gordon, Joe, and Matt Smith.
GREEK WINE - FROM THE SOURCE
Where there is no wine there is no love.
Greek playwright, (c. 480-406 BC)
We had a full day to explore the beautiful island and Anastacia arranged a fantastic wine and lunch tour for us.
Our guide, Eleni met us in the town square. Eleni is a 20-something girl who runs her own tour company called "Lefkada Food Tours." Originally from Lefkada, she knows the island well. Eleni loaded us up in to a bus that took us half way up and around the island in to the beautiful Lefkada hills to the town of Vasiliki where we found the Lefkas Earth Winery (Lefkaditiki Gi Winery).
While there, the wine makers were in the process of fermenting the red grapes as well as bottling the Rosé.
Most of the grapes that go to this winery come from a collective of farmers on Lefkada, however they do grow some of their own grapes in the vineyard on the property. (As seen in the photo above)
The tasting itself took place in an earthy, stone cellar with a museum-like collection of antique wine making materials on display.
We tried their many different varietals.
I personally have a hard time not enjoying any wine when "experiencing it" at its place of birth! So we grabbed plenty of wine to go for the boat.
On our way back into town, Eleni gave us the option to throw in an additional tour: an olive oil tasting. Why not! We took her up on it and ended up at the Olive Museum at Syvros.
The olive oil tasting was in an old factory, built in the 1800s, belonging to one of the biggest and oldest families on the island.
After the tasting, it was of course time for lunch... OF COURSE!
Eleni took us to Maraboo Beach where she's in cahoots with the owner of the relatively new beach restaurant.
The owner was happy to host us as he's looking to build a reputation with tourists.
Marabou Beach (the restaurant) is butted right up to a nice sand beach and is covered in thatch roofing.
The lunch consisted of a 10 course lunch/dinner!
Okay, maybe not 10 courses, but the food just kept coming!
We had appetizer after appetizer and each appetizer was big enough to be an entrée!
Spanakopita came out, then salad, then prawns in quinoa, then the main course and then, of course, dessert.
Wow. Stuffed! The food was all delicious, and I was starting to notice a strong trend with the Greeks and food.
The Mediterranean diet, by the way... NOT A THING!
We marinated for a while, our stomachs - digesting, as we enjoyed the view of the beach.
Later on, we knew there was no room in our bellies for dinner, so instead we wandered until we found a neat little wine bar/restaurant called Thymari.
Thymari is a hidden little spot that looks like someone's backyard on a side street.
We ordered a cheese plate and a bottle of wine.
I was relieved to see that the amount of food in front of us was, for once,
Apparently the cat thought of Gordon as somewhat of a therapist as it continued to meow loudly to him (and only him).
Unfortunately the cat had Gordon all wrong.
Joe, a witness to Gordon's cat psychology attests:
'I don't want to hear about your problems!'"
Some came from Turkey, some came from Spain, some from The Netherlands, and some even came from Texas!
Flights were canceled. Bizarre layovers and connections were made.
But eventually, one way or another, all of the Honey Badgers found their way to Lefkada.
Proof that we can get stung - but we just get right back up again!
With the whole crew on the island - it was time to check out the boats from the charter companies and provision for the journey ahead.
Lefkada's marina is home to many different charter companies.
You've got your usual suspects: Moorings and Sunsail (who we all know are the same company), but there were also a few other random Greek charter companies.
The Honey Badger boat came from Kavas Yacht Charter. We wanted to give back to the Greek economy since we were sailing their islands. To us it made sense to give the money locally to the smaller mom and pop Greek shops.
I still feel good about that decision.
Kavas is a very small operation, staffed by maybe 3 people max. Minas is the head honcho. Kostas is the hands-on boat guy. And then there's the pregnant dog.
Entering the charter office: Anastacia walked in, I walked in, Matt Smith walked in (and took a seat on the couch)...
Sitting right next to Matt on the couch was a pregnant dog. The dog paid no attention to any of us... until Joe walked in. The second Joe walked in to the office the pregnant dog flew off the couch and started barking incessantly at Joe in a maniacal "yap-yap-yap".
That dog hated Joe! Absolutely hated him!
I could almost hear the dog saying: "YOU'RE THE FATHER! YOU'RE THE FATHER!" with each bark.
Once our boat was checked out and provisioned we had a big group dinner planned. Anastacia arranged for a big bus to take us to the Vliho Yacht Club (primarily a British owned and run place).
At dinner we introduced each crew member and what each crew member was the "god of..."
It's Greece! Everyone's a god of something right?!