Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center: Athens’ new gem

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center

Sometime in mid-June I noticed an event keep popping on my Facebook feed: the opening of Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center aka SNFCC. SNFCC is located in Kallithea, a coastal suburb of Athens in an area that used to be a racetrack until 2004. The area now houses the new Greek National Opera and National Library of Greece buildings as well as a beautiful park. Ten years ago, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation announced its plans to fund the development of this cultural center.

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Culture Center

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center is designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop helmed by renowned architect Renzo Piano. Design began in 2008 and construction in 2012. The center was completed in June and  opened to the public along with various activities. One of these activities was free guided tours inside the buildings of the Greek National Opera and National Library of Greece, which were very popular and more than often “sold out”. I was delighted when I managed to secure 2 spots on one of these tours for me and my husband. So without further ado here are our photos and experience from the guided tour.

Greek National Opera

As you can see in the first photo and subsequent ones, both buildings are very similar. Their common traits are glass, wood and open space. Inside the Opera building we got the opportunity to get backstage and check out rehearsal rooms for ballet, choir and orchestra and of course the main stage. This is the most beautiful stage I’ve ever seen as it is very modern and minimal! Also loved the fact that the chairs are covered by red velvet-like fabric. This is also the stage where Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America gave a speech on November 16th, while visiting Athens!

inside the Opera building Stavros Niarchos Foundation Culture Center inside the Opera building Stavros Niarchos Foundation Culture Center

You can find more details about the Opera building at SNCFF’s website.

National Library of Greece

inside the Library building Stavros Niarchos Foundation Culture Center

Now on to the building that is going to house National Library’s collection of books which currently is split in 3 different locations in Athens. I have to admit that I was less impressed by this building compared to the Opera one, probably because it’s currently empty. The library’s ground floor is going to host a lending library, while the other floors will be accessible to researchers. During the guided tour we walked through the various levels, visited the reading rooms as well as the storage area where rare books and first editions are going to be placed.

You can find more details about the Library building at SNFCC’s website.

The Park

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Culture Center

The last part of the tour was getting to the top of the Opera building, an area which is also accessible from the Park. It’s the perfect spot to see the entire park as well as Athens. When you walk to the top you can also see towards the sea and Piraeus. The park features a wide range of trees, plants, water fountains, paths, playgrounds and open spaces (including a labyrinth). The larger open space was used for open air cinema screenings and concerts during the summer.  A few days after the tour I returned to the park to watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a movie I must admit that I’d never seen!

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Culture Center Stavros Niarchos Foundation Culture Center

The pièce de résistance of the park though, has to be the canal especially at night. It provides the perfect reflection pool for both buildings making them look very amazing. It is also very photogenic and Instagram friendly!

So, that pretty sums up my experience in Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center I guess. You can find more information about the SNFCC and its current activities on their website.

For my Athenian readers, have you visited SNFCC? What do you think about it?
For my international readers, next time you visit Athens definitely add SNFCC in your list!

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Kritamon wine bar/restaurant, Chania

Kritamon, Chania

Named after a plant that grows in the sand and is used in salads, Kritamon is located in Kondylaki street in Chania’s old town. It is a wine bar/ restaurant with an adjacent organic store, with clean and minimal design. To be honest, the design caught my attention as we passed by and prompted me to check out their menu as well. We already had lunch that day, so we made a mental note and decided to return the next one.

Kritamon, Chania

And that’s what we did! On our last day in Chania, after walking one last time around the city, we made our way to Kritamon and sat on a table in the back porch. As you can see from my photos the place is very chill and serene.

Related: 2 Days in Chania

octopus salad, Kritamon Chania Phyllo dough pies with avocado, Kritamon Chania

We started off our lunch with a green salad with octopus and gruel followed by small pies with phyllo dough filled with avocado and accompanied by tomato marmalade. These where delicious and would like to try and recreate them at home (but I’m sure I won’t be that successful)! For main course my husband got a risotto with mushrooms and I got salmon with almond crust accompanied by grated carrot and zucchini.

Risotto Kritamon, Chania Salmon with almond crust Kritamon Chania

Needless to say we were stuffed, but content! My husband proclaimed that it was the best risotto he had tried in a long time. Before leaving we were offered sweet white wine and a small pot of yogurt with caramel.

Essential Information: Kritamon Wine Bar can be found at Kondylaki str 38-40, Chania. More information can be found on their Facebook page.

Next time you visit Chania do check out Kritamon! I will do the same!

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2 Days in Chania, Crete

2 days in Chania, CreteThe last weekend of September my husband and I spent a weekend in Chania, Crete for a wedding. It was the perfect opportunity to explore the city yet again, on season this time! The city was full of people; locals and visitors alike but less busy than it would be in August. The weather was pleasant (and breezy) making it ideal for long walks.

frangipani at Etz Hayyim synagogue Chania

During our previous visit in January we had covered many of the city’s important sites such as the old town, the old port, Eleftherios’ Venizelos tomb and house. This time we aimed at visiting the Etz Hayyim Synagogue which dates back to the 15th century but was destroyed over time and was rebuilt some 20 years ago. Photography inside is not allowed but I captured this beautiful frangipani (aka plumeria) flower in the synagogue’s garden. In fact, I was very excited to find out that these trees bloom in Crete and not only in tropical places like Hawaii!! We also visited Chania’s Cathedral and the Catholic Church of Chania all pictured above.

Chania old port, Crete

Other places we checked out this time was the Central Market and the city’s Public Garden. The latter was just opposite our hotel and includes a petting zoo which the famous Cretan goats called Kri Kri. These can be found in the wild in Samaria gorge. What I like the most in Chania though, is walking around the Old Town, which is full of picturesque corners, like this blush pink staircase pictured above!

Oh yes and my outfit happened to match the said staircase! For the record I’m wearing a Zara tank top (have it in grey as well and loving it), an old Guess vest and a lovely layered necklace from Swarovski (c/o).

bougatsa in Iordanis, Chania

Culinary wise, we asked around for restaurant AND dessert recommendations for Chania. The first tip we got was to visit Iordanis for bougatsa. Bougatsa is a pie made with phyllo dough and is filled with either cheese or patisserie cream and is sprinkled with sugar. Iordanis is famous for the cheese filled bougatsa and although it’s a small, no frills eatery, it is full of people!

Cheesecake in Koukouvagia, Chania

The next dessert recommendation was Koukouvagia (means Owl), a cafe located next to Venizelos’ tomb which provides an amazing view over Chania. I tried their cheesecake which was very fresh and delicious (and huge)! On our last day, we checked out a restaurant called Kritamon that I had spotted the day before while walking around the old city. We were so delighted by this place, that it deserves a post of its own which will follow shortly!

Zara top Guess vest at La Maison Ottomane Chania

And because September is still considered as summer in Greece, we made sure to check a couple of Chania’s ice cream parlors. On Chalidon street near Chania Archaeological Museum you’ll find Peiragmeno (ice cream pictured above) and Delizia Gelato Italiano.

I’m leaving you with more photos from our weekend in Chania!

Let me know have you visited Chania? If not make sure you pin this post for future use!

Related: Exploring Chania

Chania old port

 

Peloponnese Road Trip: Ancient Olympia & Vytina

Peloponnese Road Trip: Ancient Olympia & Vytina

Ancient Olympia in Peloponnese has got to be my favorite archaeological site and I’m happy that I’ve included it in the road trip. A modern day village is built in the area, which mainly caters to the visitors of the site. We reached the area late in the afternoon after visiting Koroni and Methoni as I described in my previous blog post. I had booked a room for the night at Arty Grand Hotel in Drouvo village next to Olympia. We had a pleasant stay there and took advantage of the hotel’s pool (and pool café)!

Day 6: Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia, Peloponnese, Greece

Ancient Olympia, Peloponnese, Greece

The next morning after breakfast we packed our luggage and headed to Ancient Olympia’s archaeological site. The birthplace of the Olympic Games is actually both a sports and religious complex. The main features are the stadium and training facilities, most prominently the Palestra where I took a ton of photos. The temples of Zeus and Hera played an important role in antiquity. The former one housed a gold and ivory statue of Zeus, which was one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World (and unfortunately no longer in existence).

Ancient Olympia, Peloponnese, Greece Ancient Olympia, Peloponnese, Greece

The site’s location couldn’t be better, as it is built next to the rivers Alfeios and Kladeos, making the area very fertile and full of trees. Spring is probably the best time of the year to visit, as it will be full of blooming trees, but late summer was nice as well. Just make sure to visit early in the morning, as it can get hot. We spent around three hours exploring the ruins and the museum before taking the road back to Athens.

Day 6: Vytina

Lagadia, Peloponnese, Greece

On our way back to Athens we took a scenic route that passes through the mountainous part of Arcadia. This area is popular for fall/winter excursions and I can easily guess why: the scenery is amazing. And it will be even more amazing in the fall (mid to late October). We briefly stopped to take a picture of Lagadia (one of the region’s well known villages) before stopping in Vytina for lunch.

We took our time exploring Vytina’s central square and dined at Klimataria restaurant. The indoor part of the restaurant is very cozy with a touch of folklore! After lunch we stopped at the shops along the main road in order to get mountain tea (a herb that grows in the mountains and aids digestion) and fir honey which is dark colored and richer than the typical thyme honey that is widely available.

White and purple dahlia in Vytina, Peloponnese, Greece Fantasy Sandals

So this sums up our 6-day trip in the Peloponnese which included both relaxation in Elafonisos as well as exploring new places (or revisiting in my case) in Mani and Messini peninsulas!

If you missed them, here is Part I: Elafonisos and Mani and Part II: Kalamata, Koroni and Methoni.

Have you visited Peloponnese? If not, it is an area of Greece that you should add to your list as it’s full of beauty, history and beautiful beaches!

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Peloponnese Road Trip: Kalamata, Koroni & Methoni

Peloponnese Rpad Trip: Kalamata, Koroni &Methoni

Continuing on our Peloponnese road trip, we reached Kalamata late in the afternoon. It was cloudy and damp from the rain, so we retreated to our hotel before venturing out for an evening stroll. In hindsight I should have added an extra day  on our trip in order to explore the city more, because we liked it very much!

Day 4&5: Kalamata

Kalamata, a coastal city, is located on the Messinian gulf between the and its history is traced back to the antiquity (was called Farai back then, while Messini was the region’s prominent city). The name of the city is probably familiar to you if you like olives! Kalamata olives, which are twice as large as other varieties, are very famous indeed and have a protected designation of origin in the EU.

Three places to check out in Kalamata are:

  1. The long promenade with hotels, restaurants and cafes which is nice for an afternoon walk. For ice cream/crepes/waffles and the lot I suggest Athanasiou café/bakery.
  2. The Railway Park spanning from the port all the way up to the city’s central square. It used to be Kalamata’s terminal train station, but that line is now defunct and the area is transformed into a park, with old trains on display.
  3. Kalamata’s central square which is huge! We visited on Thursday night and it was full of people who either strolled (as we did) or frequented one of the square’s many cafes.

Kalamata's central square, Greece

The next morning, before departing, we strolled along the promenade once more so as to take pictures of some cool old houses that I’ve spotted the day before!

If you visit Kalamata and you’re looking for a hotel, then I definitely recommend Elektra Hotel and Spa. It is located next to the city’s port (don’t worry it’s quiet) and it’s a 5’ minute walk to the promenade and 10’ walk to the city center. It’s a very neat and clean hotel and the breakfast options were endless.

Day 5: Koroni -Methoni

Koroni, Peloponnese, Greece

Leaving Kalamata  we headed south and visited the coastal villages of Koroni and Methoni which both have Venetian built castles.

Koroni's Castle Peloponnese, Greece

In Koroni, we spent our time exploring the village, which is built on a hillside. We spotted cute houses and lots of flowers but didn’t make it to the castle though.

Methoni Castle. Peloponnese, Greece

Our next stop was Methoni, where our visit was all about exploring the castle, which for me is the most interesting castle in Peloponnese.  I particularly liked the walk towards the small fort that it’s located outside the main castle and you get there via a stone bridge (pictured in the first photo of the post). It’s probably the most picturesque part of the city which is very Instagram and Pinterest worthy!!

Methoni Castle, Peloponnese, Greece

After the exploration, we had lunch at Kastro restaurant just outside Methoni’s castle and then drove north towards Ancient Olympia.

Have you ever visited this area of the Peloponnese?

P.S. Read Part 1 of our road trip where we explored Mani peninsula of Peloponnese.

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Peloponnese Road Trip: Elafonisos & Mani Peninsula

Peloponese Road Trip: Elafonisos & Mani

I love a good road trip and it’s been a while that I actually took one! During our summer vacations, my husband and I revisited Elafonisos island and road tripped in the Peloponnese. The whole trip lasted 6 days, 3 spent in Elafonisos and the rest 3 covering various places of interest in the Peloponnese. I will split my posts about the trip into 3 parts so I can add as much information and of course photos to each post. So let’s crack on with Part 1.

Days 1-3: Elafonisos

Elafonisos was charming as always with those crystal clear waters and the sandy beaches, which I took advantage of, a lot! I spent hours reading my book under the umbrella, taking dips in the sea and even got some tan! P.S. note how my bikini matches the sea color!!

This year the island was busier, being (still) August and all that, but not asphyxiating. We got to visit some of our favorite restaurants from last year, like Kouzini.  New discoveries were made as well, such add  Aronis fish tavern in the south west part of the village and Thalassa café bar, where we ate a delicious crepe with Nutella and ice cream!

Related: The Essential Guide to Elafonisos

Day 4: Mani Peninsula

After 3 days of relaxation in Elafonisos, we drove to Kalamata passing by (and stopping at) the Mani peninsula. This area of the Peloponnese has a rich history since the Paleolithic era. It was a semi-autonomous region during the Ottoman rule and the Greek Independence War was first declared here in 1821. In late 19th and early 20th century the villages of Mani where almost abandoned as a few roads existed back then and connection with the rest of the Peloponnese was poor.

Nowadays though, the road conditions have very much improved and the villages are inhabited again making Mani a prime travel destination from April to October. Notable places to visit in the peninsula are Gytheio, Areopoli, Diros caves, the abandoned village of Vathia, Gerolimenas, Stoupa and Kardamyli. Of course we didn’t have time to cover all these places, so we only made 3 stops on our way to Kalamata.

Our first stop was Gytheio, a coastal town, where we spent some time on the promenade and around the port. Then we took the road to Areopoli, which admittedly is a gem and it’s probably my favorite stop in this road trip. Areopoli’s old town has pedestrian streets and it’s full of Mani’s characteristic architecture: stone made castle houses. It has picturesque cafes and restaurants and I couldn’t resist snapping off colorful doors because apparently #ihaveathingwithdoors!

Stoupa, Mani, Peloponnese, Greece

On our way to Kalamata, we made a brief stop in Oitilo (which was super quiet as it was 3pm) and one for late lunch in Stoupa. The weather turned cloudy by the time we got there. As you can see in the photo above the cove was very moody, but people  were still swimming and lounging around. Stoupa can be described as a “resort town”, as it has lots of hotels and rooms to let, plus a sandy beach! We wanted to explore Kardamyli too, but it was raining by the time we got there, so we skipped it and drove straight to Kalamata, where we spent the night!

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Summer in Athens

summer in Athens

So, August is here and Athenians are fleeing the city like mice, escaping to the countryside and the islands. I will too, leave in a few days for vacations, as it is getting very hot in here! During June and July I spent almost every weekend by swimming and sun tanning (a bit) in Varkiza beach (one of Athens’ coastal suburbs). It’s the best time of the year to explore what the southern suburbs have to offer (food wise), which actually translates to many visits in Waffle House Vouliagmeni!

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Our friends from Crete visited us in early July and it was the a nice opportunity to do a little bit of shopping and sightseeing around Athens’ city center. We visited the Acropolis museum, walked around Plaka and dined at Rock ‘n’ Balls in Agias Eirinis square.

Pasta in Peccati di Gola, Glyfada

I discovered (actually my husband noticed it) a new ice cream parlor (and patisserie) in Athens called Balader. It’s centrally located in Kapnikareas square on Athens most popular shopping street; Ermou. A review post is on the works, so I won’t say more! Those past months, I also revisited some older favorites like Mama Roux in Aiolou street and Peccati di Gola (an Italian restaurant) in Glyfada. Last but not least, I checked out the new National Opera and National Library buildings, which Stavros Niarchos Cultural Foundation build in Palaio Faliro. The buildings are surrounded by a beautiful park full of local flora, which is ideal for walks and picnics.

So enjoy a mish-mash on how I spent my summer in Athens. Now excuse me I have some bags to pack for my out of town vacations!

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The Essential Guide to Naxos

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I’m continuing my guides to the Cyclades, bringing you tips about things to see and do in Naxos, which is the largest island of the Cyclades archipelago. The island has a lot to offer: beaches, archaeological sites, picturesque villages and of course delicious food! So, here we go!

Beaches in Naxos

Plaka beach, Naxos, Greece

What I loved in Naxos was the long sandy beaches. The water was crystal clear and inviting, albeit cold. In a nutshell the ones I liked the most are the following:

Plaka – long beach with sand dunes, not very crowded

Pyrgaki – this beach is on the South West part of the island, it is long too and it is not crowded at all

Agia Anna + Agios Prokopios – these beaches are side by side. Beautiful water, but they are a bit crowded (Ag. Prokopios is better in my opinion)

All these are located in the west and south west coast of the island. The east coast has smaller, lesser known and more “raw” beaches like Moutsouna.

Sightseeing in Naxos

Portara, Naxos, Cyclades, Greece

Naxos is rich in marble, so from the ancient times, people used it to make temples, statues etc. The first thing you’ll see as the ship approaches Naxos, is a big marble door, which is called  Portara, on the north side of the port. It was the entrance of a temple dedicated to God Apollo.

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Apart from the door, there are many archaeological sites throughout the island. You can visit the temple dedicated to Goddess Dimitra (the Goddess of earth) and check out two sites where large scale male statue (called Kouroi) were found. You can see a Kouros near the village Apollon in the Northeastern part of the island and a couple of them in the site of Flerio, which is near the village of Melanes.

Koronos, Naxos, Cyclades, Greece

On the road from Koronos (a very picturesque village) to Moutsouna (one of the beaches I mentioned above) you will come across an abandoned emery mine and the cable cars (more like baskets) that people used to transfer emery from the mine down to Moutsouna port.

Villages to visit in Naxos

Next to the beaches and the archaeological sites, the island has many picturesque villages you can visit in Naxos. First off, there is the main town (and port), also known as Chora. Next up is the fishing village of Apollonas in the north east.

Koronos and Apeiranthos are two mainland villages, which are very beautiful and unique. The latter is my favorite one in the island and the one I’ve photographed the most!

Where to Eat in Naxos

Waffle at Waffle House, Cyclades, Greece

Maro tavern  is located in the town of Naxos and is ideal for meat lovers.

Meze2  or Meze Meze in two locations: Naxos town (Chora) and Plaka beach. This restaurant is ideal for both fish and meat lovers (I tried fish mainly).

Koronos, Naxos, Cyclades, Greece

Platanos tavern is located in the village of Apeiranthos (or Aperathos) and has very tasty food.

Platsa tavern (Matina+Stavros) is located in the village of Koronos. It is a family run tavern, which I totally recommend.

Waffle House, which is my favorite place in the whole wide world! You will find it both in Naxos town and Plaka Beach.

Practical information about Naxos

Apeiranthos, Naxos, Cyclades, Greece

Naxos has a daily flight and ferry connection to Athens (Piraeus). Ferry trip time ranges from 3 to 6 hours depending on the type of ferry you are going to choose. You will find more information about ferry trips in the website Open Seas.

Related: The Essential Info Guide to getting around the Greek Islands

Naxos is ideal for island hopping as well: Amorgos and Paros are nearby as are the Small Cyclades (Schinousa, Donousa, Iraklia, Koufonisia). It has also ferry connections to Mykonos and Santorini.

Accomodation wise, Agia Anna and Agios Prokopios are your best bets. You will find hotels and rooms to let in the beach of Agios Georgios which is next to Naxos town (Chora) and Plaka beach.

Have you visited Naxos? If not, here’s another island for your list!

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Babaji, Indian Restaurant, Athens

Kashmir chicken at Babaji Indian restaurant Athens

Indian cuisine lovers, there’s a restaurant in Athens you should visit! I was introduced to Babaji about six months ago on a lunch break with two colleagues. I’d already tried out another Indian restaurant a few blocks down and I was eager to explore this one too. I loved all of the dishes we tried out and especially the Chicken Kashmir (with litchi fruit, pictured above) and the Sweet Pulao (basmati rice with saffron, pictured below left). So I returned once more with my husband to try out more!

Of course we ordered Chicken Kashmir once more as well as Lamb Korma(pictured below). We topped off our order with Paratha bread (delicious) and a Green Salad. Everything was very yummy and I should add that every main dish is accompanied with a rice bowl, so you don’t have to order extra! What I also love in Babaji is that the food isn’t over the top spicy and I enjoy it without the urgent need of water!

DSC02010 salad at Babaji Indian restaurant Athens

Essential Information: Babaji is conveniently located in 11 Nikis street, a block down from Syntagma square, so it’s very central! It’s mostly ideal for lunch breaks during the week, but I like to visit it on weekends as well. The do not take reservations, but do offer delivery service! More information can be found on their website.

 

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Afternoon Walk in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki seaside promenade and hotel Macedonia

Last week I spent a day in Thessaloniki for work and although I didn’t have time to see much of the city and explore new places (*ahem* food related), I did take a long walk along the seaside promenade that I gushed about on my guide to Thessaloniki. Unlike October when the weather was cold and rainy, the weather was warm and partly sunny which made it ideal for an afternoon/sunset walk.

Andromeda hotel, Thessaloniki

The starting point was City Hotel near Aristotelous square, where my colleagues and I stayed for the night and walked up to Fokas’ garden (which is part of the New seaside promenade redesign), covering almost 6km (return walk included). Being a photography sucker I stopped every now and then to snap pictures of beautiful buildings (the one you see up there is Hotel Andromeda) and of course the promenade and the view towards the port. Of course I could not not snap a photo with the Umbrellas’ sculpture included. This sculpture, created by George Zoggolopoulos, has to be Thessaloniki’s most Instagrammable location, much like the Urban Light sculpture in LACMA, Los Angeles.

The walk ended with dinner in Aristotelous square (nothing to write home about so I’ll spare the details) and cocktails (it’s been a while) in a cafe/bar called Saxofono by the seaside promenade (one of the many along the way). I got a cocktail called Toblerone which was nice but expected more of a chocolate-y taste and my colleague got an Apple Martini.

If you plan on visiting Thessaloniki then I have a very handy guide which covers everything from sightseeing to nearby excursions and of course a separate foodie guide, because the options in this city are endless!

Have you visited Thessaloniki? If not, what are you waiting for?

Thessaloniki Port at dusk cocktails at Saxofono bar, Thessaloniki

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