Visiting Athens, Greece

Athens, Greece is one of the oldest cities in the world.  It is the birthplace of democracy and home of Athena.  Prior to visiting, I didn’t think much about Athens.  I know of the economic turmoil that plagues Greece, and of the recent riots in the downtown area.  I know that Tony visited Athens in high school as part of his Greek studies.  I know that I like Greek food.   But Athens is way more than all of these things.  Nothing could have prepared me for how much I would fall in love with this incredible place.

Upon arrival, we were greeted with the most pleasant weather.  The entire trip, it was 65 degrees F (about 18 C) and sunny.  The temperature made it perfect for exploring by foot.  Our first night, we ventured around the down town area and ate a quick dinner at Feyrouz, an authentic Lebanese restaurant.  The owner’s son served us and our interaction with him set the tone for the trip – everyone in Athen’s is so incredibly nice.

I couldn’t tell you what we ate, but I can report that it was fast, cheap and delicious.

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First view of Athens

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Feyroux

The next morning we ventured off to the National Library to start our free walking tour.  Tony and I have taken a lot of free walking tours and we both agreed that this was by far the best.  Our guide was Alex and he is an actual anthropologist.  The tour was informative and interesting because Alex was passionate about his home town and the history of Athens.  For example, we learned:

  • Athens is named after Athena – she gave the Greeks the olive tree which provides food, oil and wood
  • Owls can be found in much of the architecture and artwork in Athens – it is the bird of Athena
  • Owls are native to Athens, and their usage is also symbolic – Athens spawned many intellectuals, and since owls can see in the night, it is representative of intellects being able to see and think clearly during difficult times
  • The anatomy of the marble statues was finally explained – the big heads and chest represent logic and ethics, while small genitalia represents addiction
  • Before they were round, ancient coins were shaped to be miniature animals (i.e. cow) as that is what used to be traded for goods
  • Given the history held in Athens, archeologists have to accompany most construction efforts, and many projects are delayed due to ancient discoveries

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Owls everywhere

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National Library

The following day, we visited the Parthenon and took a cooking class.  The Parthenon was one of the most magical places I have ever been, even rivaling my beloved Eiffel Tower.  It was so surreal to be walking on rocks that hosted footsteps from 2500 years prior.  It was difficult to truly comprehend the work that went into these buildings, the time taken, the tools used.  We spent a lot of time here, but the hours spent left me wanting to stay even longer.

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Matilda wasn’t as impressed as we were

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In our cooking class, I learned how to make one of my all time favorite food items – tsatsiki.  The class was held at the Greek Kitchen and even though I hate cooking, I really enjoyed eating what we made.  Especially that incredible tsatsiki, yum.  The only downside was all the onions used.  My friend and I had burning eyes almost the entire class.  🙁

The last thing I want to highlight about Athens is the juxtaposition of the old and the new.  Given that Parthenon sits on top of the city, it was almost always in the background of the graffiti art that covered the city.

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Meandering through thousands of years of history, great food and kind people made Athens one of my favorite cities.  It is worth the visit and the history lesson.

Until next time, αντιο σας!

The Hunt for Delicious Seafood (and Beer) in New England

As shared in my previous blog, the first half of our Boston trip was not exactly smooth.  That included no seafood for me, which made me very cranky.  However we still had another 5 days to spend in the area, and our next stop was to my husband’s best friend’s house.

Tony’s childhood friend, Brian, and his wife, Sam, live in Newburyport, Massachusettes.  Their home is one of the cutest I have ever seen, looking like it belongs in a home decor magazine.  Each room showcases a bit of New England flavor, from the nautical curtains to the posters of cities in Maine.

Arriving at their home was an extra special occasion, as their daughter was born only 3 weeks before Matilda.  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect if we had planned it.  It was adorable to watch these future best friends interact with each other.  It was even better to see the two new dads and lifelong besties in action with their baby girls.

Besties for life

Da Bears

Our time with Brian and Sam was wonderful and relaxing.  We finally had the opportunity to do some of the things we had attempted with my family.  This included eating oysters and lobster, and drinking quality New England beer.   It also included doing some Halloween-type things given the proximity to the holiday.

On Friday night, we hit up two different seafood restaurants.  We started off at Sea Level Oyster Bar for the delicious oysters.  I seriously ate about 12 on my own.  It had been such a long time since I’d enjoyed quality oysters and I relished every briny, tangy slurp.  I wanted to keep ordering more but Tony quickly reminded me of the price tag so I slowed down.

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After our oysters, we drove to New Hampshire for dinner.  That is one thing I always find so cool about New England – you drive for 20 minutes and you’re in another state.

We were introduced to Petey’s, a divey-looking seaside restaurant.  The decor and look of the restaurant almost gave it more credibility in terms of the food we were about to eat.  It was right by the sea, and the outlet focused more on the quality of food than the decoration.  It’s exactly the type of place you know will satisfy your taste buds.

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LAAAAAABSTAAAAAA – Finally!!!

Tony ordered a stuffed lobster and I ordered the “lazy man” lobster (no shell).  I was trying to feed Matilda while enjoying the food.  It was just as amazing as I had hoped.  We coupled the dinner with pumpkin beers (cinnamon rim even!) and went to bed that night with full and happy bellies.

Saturday was our last full day before flying back to Zurich, and we took the opportunity to really celebrate Halloween.  We started off at a pumpkin patch where we captured the most adorable photos of the baby girls with pumpkins.  There were also fresh and warm cinnamon sugar donuts to be tried, and I almost passed out from the delicious taste.

We then drove to Salem, the city best known for the witch trials in the late 1600s.  The Salem Witch trials have a lot of controversy and intrigue attached to them.  Salem as a city itself had a spooky sense about it, with magic stores, fortune tellers, and stores dedicated to witchy-ness on every street.

I made a stop over to the cemetery and saw headstones dating back to the early 1700s.  The cemetery also had a section bricked off and dedicated to those that were hanged in the witch trials.  Everything about it felt eerie.

Part of the memorial for those killed in the witch trials

Salem also hosts a small and delicious brewery called Notch Brewing.  The bar is held in an old warehouse garage, and the beers are all German or Czech inspired.  It was surprisingly child-friendly, but they made sure to post plenty of signs about “no running” or “minding your children”.  I guess it’s a good thing Matilda can’t walk.

Matilda knows the value of a good bar

We ended up leaving Boston extremely happy and satisfied.  We spent time with my family and great friends, and enjoyed some delicious seafood and beer.  I hope our next visit to New England is sooner rather than later.

 

 

National Lampoon’s Boston Vacation

When my father suggested a Scarpaci family vacation, we jumped at the opportunity.  Our last vacation together was 10 years earlier in Cancun.  Back then there were no husbands, no babies.  Our only requirement was to pick a city with direct flights from Zurich.  With that in mind, it didn’t take my family long to narrow it down to Boston.

The planning leading up to the trip was very exciting.  We rented a gorgeous home in the North End for us to stay in together.  A calendar of events was planned, including walking the Freedom Trail, eating at Union Oyster House, and touring Fenway Park.  I couldn’t wait for all of us to be together.

Our first clue things might go wrong was when my mother was alerted that the rental house was sold.  This meant it was no longer available to us.  With only two months before the trip, she scrambled to secure another location.  We lucked out with one in Brookline, but it caused unecessary stress.

Our flight from Zurich was uneventful, and when we arrived to the house my parents were already there.  We had a great reunion with Matilda, with lots of cuddles and kisses.  My siblings arrived later that evening, and we spent the next day catching up on sleep and stories.

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Grandpa

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Uncle Ton

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Grandma

Sunday was the day of anniversary celebrations.  My parents had recently hit their 40th year together, and we surprised them at my Uncle’s home in Warwick, Rhode Island with food, a photographer and presents.  The day was perfect and beautiful, and our very talented photographer, Corey Favino, captured some incredibly special moments of our family.

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Unfortunately, that is where the good times ended and the National Lampoon style events began.

Monday’s schedule included walking the Freedom Trail and dinner at an Italian restaurant in the North End.  However, Sunday night, my nephew, mother, and brother’s girlfriend all woke up vomiting.  Most of us were none the wiser until the next day, but the sickness quickly made its way through the entire household.  By Sunday night, even Matilda was pooping herself so bad that it was coming out of her diaper.  Thank goodness there were 4 bathrooms in the house otherwise I don’t know what we would’ve done.  Needless to say the Freedom Trail and Italian dinner were cancelled.

On Tuesday, some of the family members were still sick, so about 2/3 of us felt well enough to attend the Fenway Park tour my mother had booked in advance.  As we walked to the park, we began to feel the effects of Hurricane Jose, who was making his way up the East Coast.  Winds and rain started off slow, but picked up speed and strength throughout the park tour.  By the time the tour ended, we were soaked, and the walk back didn’t help.

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Fog in the background which turned into rain

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Inside the park where it was dry

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Tuesday evening, we had reservations at Union Oyster House.  Opened in 1826, this is the oldest restaurant in America.  We went our separate ways the next day, so while the restaurant is touristy, it was a great place to end our trip together.  Given the size of our party and 2 babies, our reservation was made months in advance, and yet upon being taken to our table, they tried to split us up.  It kicked off a poor experience from the beginning as we forced our way into a small table just so we could sit together.  We didn’t eat much or stay long and before we knew it, the night was over.

We said our good-byes the next morning, laughing at the mishaps but also disappointed the trip hadn’t gone more smoothly.  All things considered, though, the most important thing is that we were together, and we arrived and departed safely.  Even through the crappy parts, we had fun, and thankfully we will be together again at Christmas.  I am sure we will spend plenty of time discussing our National Lampoon vacation.  🙂

For Tony and I, however, the vacation did not end there.  Next up, I’ll share how we finally got to indulge in lobsters and oysters, and how Matilda finally met her best friend.