Tag Archives: athens

Athens Food Tour

Kay and I had never been on a food tour before Athens, but this was hands down my best decision of the trip.

I wasn’t even thinking about food tours, but I stumbled upon the site Culinary Backstreets while searching for Greek celiac restaurant cards. I realized that they offered food tours, so I emailed them shortly before we left to check if it’s OK to handle a gluten-free diet. They responded quickly with a positive answer, so I booked a tour for us that Wednesday evening, with not too much notice for our Saturday food tour.

The information email said to come with comfortable walking clothes, shoes, and an appetite. I’m always a little nervous about food with my diet and low blood sugar, so I still ate a small cereal bar before we left our place just in case there would be issues finding me gluten free options on the tour. You need to be prepared as a celiac. Kay on the other hand, ate nothing before we left.

When we met up with our guide and fellow food tourers on Saturday at 9:30am. The guide was actually a few minutes late because he was picking up some special gluten-free items for me. I really appreciated that he made the extra effort to pick up alternative options for me on such short notice. He only really had Friday and Saturday morning to prepare for a gluten-free eater!

First stop was breakfast:

Greek rice pudding with cinnamon, Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts and baklava, which unfortunately did have gluten in it. What can you do? When the guide explained the “bite of shame” which is the leftover piece that everyone is too ashamed to take, I pressured them to eat the gluten for me.

In the past, I would take the bite of shame without any shame! I also used the excuse in the tour if something was gluten free that I should take the bite of shame for that item because I can’t eat the other things. It works to my advantage sometimes. 😉

If I couldn’t have the baklava, I was going to go crazy on the other two. The Greek yogurt and honey was SUMPTUOUS. Om nom nom.

The rice pudding was also so delicious. I am such a fan of cinnamon in the morning. The only thing missing at this first place was coffee.

On the way to the second place, our guide stopped at a local bread stand where he explained how lots of Greek can grab a quick morning bite similar to New Yorkers and their bagels. I couldn’t eat this one either, but Kay could enjoy his pretzel.

The second place ended up being a donut place, at which point my hopes started to dampen a bit. I was worried that the whole food tour would be like this.

Look at those donuts… covered in honey. They look so yummy! So gluten-y as well. 🙁

My hopes were lifted though, when the guide gave me a special gluten free cookie from the bakery he’d stopped at earlier that morning. It didn’t look as yummy as the donuts, but I was happy to be included still.

Kay also assured me that the donuts were actually not nearly as sweet as they looked and that compared to our pre-gluten donut escapades in the US, I was not missing out.

Our next stop was a local feta shop:

My excitement perked up. Dairy is on the table again thanks to a recent food test, so I’m all about the cheese again! 🙂

(Photo by Lund Brynilsen)

Who wouldn’t be excited to eat fresh feta made by little old Greek men? Look at that pro!

We tried two kinds, soft and hard. Kay preferred the soft kind, which is almost never exported from Greece, but the hard kind was also extremely tasty.

After our cheese, our guide took us on a tour through the meat and fish markets:

I’ve been to fresh food markets in halls in cities before, but I have never really been to a meat market like this. It was quite an experience: Loud, smelly, a little abrasive and the threat of blood and animal parts flying through the air. I am not sure we would have ventured in on our own, but I’m glad we did.

All around the meat hall, the place was packed with butchers chopping meat and shouting to potential customers. The butchers used wooden blocks, which surprised Kay because they are banned for hygiene reasons in Switzerland.

The butchers also didn’t have much protective gear. Most wore their own clothes and did not use gloves. Some were smoking or drinking takeaway coffee while they worked.

After we passed through the fish hall where we all tried not to get our feet too wet, we arrived at a little tiny hole-in-the-wall place.

I liked this place if not just for the Ouzo at 11 in the morning. 🙂 One of the other girls on the trip did not drink alcohol, so guess who landed the extra “shot of shame” here?

(Photo by Lund Brynilsen)

Here, the guide also slipped the cook some special gluten free bread for me, which you’ll see in some other photos further on. For gluten free, it was a surprisingly nice, normal bread. At first I was wary because I did not believe that it could really be gluten free, but I had no reactions to it later on, so it was the real deal.

I had a different plate from the others here as well. I think they had some meatball type thing which had gluten, so I got seared shrimp instead. My favorite part again was actually the fried cheese.

Finally, on to the coffee place Mokka! It was almost noon and Kay and I had not had any coffee before we left, so I was really looking forward to this!

The English couple on the trip explained that they had already ordered Greek coffee and were told not to stir it, which they hadn’t understood. They stirred and drank and had a horrible experience because Greek coffee is like Turkish coffee, as we found out.

You need to let the coffee sediment sink to the bottom after brewing, so you sweeten the coffee while cooking and then let the whole thing settle and absolutely do not stir or you will get a mouth full of grinds!

Kay makes Turkish coffee at home sometimes. It’s one of the only coffees that we drink sweet with a bit of sugar and kardamom. So I knew that I would be a fan of Greek coffee!

The brewing process, which admittedly is a bit different than how we make our Turkish coffee on the stove:

The brewing tins look the same though:

And the result is a nice, subtly sweet cup of mocha. 🙂

After coffee we walked to Kotzia square by the city hall of Athens where they hold a local food market in the springtime.

Our guide explained that the market is not open like this year round or even all summer. In the summer, it gets far too hot, so everyone leaves and heads to the islands to cool off.

Here we sampled fresh olives and a special kind of black one without salt. They were wonderful! I’m a big olive fan as well.

So much fresh produce for cheap prices. I wish I could do some weekly shopping here!

(Photo by Lund Brynilsen)

The strawberries also smelled heavenly, even if the guide said that they do not taste that great.

Next we landed at a popular local restaurant.

This place was packed. Even with the guide bringing us there, we figured that it must be nice if the locals are going. We tried to come back for dinner here on our last evening and were disappointed to find that it was closed. A Greek pair tried the same thing though, and they were also disappointed to find the restaurant not open.

Here they served tapas-like food with cheese and meat.

This time we finally had some meat!

On the plate in the bottom of the photo was a special cut of camel, which we had never had before. I thought it tasted fine. You are supposed to take the salty edging off and leave it behind before eating.

On the way to the next place, we passed by a spice market.

When we searched for the previous restaurant again, we came through the spice streets again while they were closed and you could still really smell all the strong spices in the street.

The guide also explained a bit about how the city developed without some good city planning, so some of the streets and buildings are very narrow or very strange shapes.

The second to last place was more fast food style. Time for some souvlaki!

No… the gyro below was not for me, but look how tasty with the fries it looks! Mmmm.

I had my safe bread again, but could eat the souvlaki normally with tzatziki. We were warned not to eat too much here before our big meal at the end.

Funny thing… the guide gets feedback from the restaurant owners and the person who owns this place asked, “Your customers, don’t they like my food? Why don’t they ever finish it? What’s wrong?” and the guide had to explain how it is for a food tour and that people are saving space. Everybody is worried about not being able to try everything with all the delicious food stops!

Finally at the last stop, which was the entrance to some kind of inside tunnel mall. The guide explained how lots of places like this developed when the city needed more space and less streets and walkways.

(Photo by Lund Brynilsen)

We definitely never would have come in here to this restaurant. The entrance was a little dark and scary. I am positive that we would not have ventured in here. We would have missed out!

(Photo by Lund Brynilsen)

Here we had a wide array of fish that Kay and I would probably also be intimidated to try. It was great having a guide just order whatever and tell you to try it. 🙂

We also had potato salad and bread.

The others could try the batter-fried calamari while I had the grilled octopus below. The guide said he actually prefers it below rather than deep fried.

Some white fish… fish galore!

And good old grilled feta and tomatoes. Oh my, yes please.

At the “last supper” we could finally stuff ourselves the rest of the way. Kay had been trying not to eat all the gluten-y bites of shame that nobody else wanted and without as much bread as the others, I was also still fairly hungry. We definitely left feeling very full!

I don’t think I can recommend this food tour enough. I felt really well taken care of with my celiac disease. Exceptions cannot be made for everything, but they were very accommodating and I still tried such a wide array of food. Kay of course got to try everything. He found the price a little expensive, but I thought it was fair for a 5.5h guided tour to all these special places. Having a guide speak Greek with the restaurant staff was also really helpful for me and I loved not having to worry about my food choices that day.

I will definitely be looking into tours in other cities that we visit. Have you been on a food tour while traveling?

Gluten Free Athens

Eating gluten-free in Greece was a little more tricky than some other countries, partly because the Greek alphabet is intimidating and makes navigating generally harder, and partly because there is still not that strong of knowledge about celiac disease. Often people do not know what gluten is or what it is found in or there is just not a large enough market to offer gluten free food.

I had my restaurant cards in Greek ready, which definitely came in handy sometimes and I also knew more or less which foods to avoid and to always ask for no bread AND no pita even with salads.

Kay really wanted authentic Greek food, which is always one of our problems with gluten free food abroad. Usually global, non-local restaurants come up in my searches rather than authentic, local gluten free options. It’s easy to make GF Mexican or Thai food anywhere, but it is not easy to make all local cuisines gluten free. The same was true for Greece. I didn’t find any “traditional Greek gluten-free restaurants” and mostly I want to go to establishments that have knowledge of celiacs and gluten, even if it is backwards to go for often non-authentic global food.

The first night we ate at Pure Bliss:

Pure Bliss was more asian fusion, but Kay agreed to go here because most of the nearby restaurants to our place were closed for labor day on the Friday we arrived.

My meal was fine and filling and they even had some dessert options for me as well, which I always take as a bonus in the celiac department. I was also ecstatic to be eating outside in the evening after the horrible weather in Zurich lately.

Had we not booked a food tour for Saturday morning, I would have tried to stop at a local market to bring things back to the flat. There were limited openings on Friday, but it would have been possible. Because we were on the food tour though, I did not have to worry about the hardest meal of the day on Saturday.

After our gianormous food tour was over, which I will write about in a separate post, we stopped for some iced coffee on the way to the Acropolis.

We had eaten sooo much the entire day of the food tour that we were not actually that hungry at dinner time. We ended up going to Makalo and I ordered a salad. There they made sure to check with me about what they put in the salad dressing. My order called for soy sauce in the dressing and I am glad that they knew to ask me about it, because I don’t usually expect soy sauce in salad dressing.

After dinner that night we stopped for some gelato because it was warm and summery and… why not? 🙂

The last morning on Sunday was where we ran into problems. None of the restaurants on my list were open for breakfast and so we walked around looking for a place while we were both hangry. This is never, ever a good time on the trip.

Kay was frustrated because all the places we passed that were open were only offering toast or eggs. Normally I would stick to eggs, but lately they have been giving me terrible stomach pains, which I don’t really want to give myself on a trip abroad, so I was out of luck. As usual, it’s frustrating for Kay because he could eat anywhere that’s serving food.

We finally found a place with the help of my Greek restaurant card that had the kitchen open already and offered things like salads. Surprisingly I ended up choosing a filling mushroom risotto. You end up eating strange things for breakfast with food intolerance!

Kay didn’t feel like going to any more of my non-Greek gluten-free restaurants for dinner, but after our food tour we were feeling a little more confident about what I could find to eat.

We settled on a place for dinner that served us steak, fries and a few sides. Wine too! 😉

The chef also asked here about everything that was OK for me to eat including spices and oil. Below was our decadent Greek salad.

Tzatziki. You can bet we ate that up!

The fries and steak were not totally amazing, but they hit the spot and filled us up plenty. If there is one thing I love about Athens, it is how friendly the people are. They just want to fill you up. It’s a great change compared to the unfriendly waiters in Zurich who make you feel like a burden for dining in their restaurants.

After dinner we went for a frozen Greek yogurt with fresh fruit on top from an ice cream place.

I could eat this all day as well.

So, if you are planning on going to Greece as a celiac, make sure you prepare those restaurant cards, bring some snacks and come prepared to eat lots of delicious dairy and meat!

Athens, Greece

What a wonderful weekend this was. Exactly one month ago, we left for Athens on Swiss labor day and I found myself daydreaming about this lovely weekend for the rest of the month. Take me back, if not for the food alone!

I felt like it was a bit of a romantic trip because it was in Athens that Kay met our friend Laura who introduced us in 2007. Kay had been visiting Athens by himself and had no idea that he would come back eight years later with his wife because of a chance encounter on that trip.

When we left on Friday morning, it was pouring in Switzerland with a terrible forecast for the weekend, so we were overjoyed to be greeted with blazing sunshine and cool ocean breezes!

Of course, because it was labor day, the public transportation system was on strike, so when we arrived, we needed to take a bus from the airport instead of the metro. No biggie. I dozed on the bus as per usual in moving vehicles.

Most places were closed on labor day, which did not surprise us in the end, so I’m happier that we decided to fly that morning instead of the night before.

We could still walk around the Acropolis a bit on the first day, although we could not go inside and up to see the Parthenon. It looked so majestic from down below.

Kay also humored the five year old in me by buying me an overpriced cold lemon ice reserved for the tourists. Mmmm.

We stayed in an AirBnb very central to Syntagma. Kay was impressed with the location because it made getting around on foot very easy. Since the metro was on strike when we arrived, we ended up walking around most of the time and only bought a ticket at the end to go to the airport.

The second day of our trip it was a little more overcast, but that was fine because I’d booked a food tour which lasted most of the day. When it was over, we headed back to the Acropolis to go inside this time.

Even with a bit of cloud, it was still very warm. We had temperatures around 26-28º that weekend and I was even able to wear just a sweater to dinner in the evening.

The views over the city were beautiful. Athens is such an expansive city.

Also, I am still all about the selfies with the Mr. on our weekend trips. I sent this to a friend who was visiting rainy Paris for the weekend and she was so jealous that I was sleeveless!

To me, visiting the Parthenon is a bit like seeing one of the wonders of the world. It is an amazing structure to behold with all its history. I love to imagine what it was like in the ancient world and what kind of people lived in Athens at that time.

We did hear some murmurings of “slave labour” from a nearby tour guide. That’s always a topic that pops up in my thoughts when we visit monumental feats like this. I just imagine how it would absolutely impossible and unpayable to create such a structure in today’s world. That’s why you don’t see anyone building new pyramids, Parthenons or Colosseums.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be one of the free men or slaves helping to build this?

Soaking up that sun!

I loved all the tree lined paths around the sites in Athens. The foliage was so delicate and charming.

We shared a midnight stroll after dinner to walk by the acropolis in the night and take in the city sounds.

The next day we visited the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

We wanted to go to the Acropolis museum too, but when we realized that it wasn’t included in our Acropolis ticket, we ended up leaving instead of standing in line again and went instead to the Agora to enjoy more of the outdoor weather and those gorgeous tree-lined paths.

I could stare at this view all day!

 Temple of Hephaestus below.

Enjoying the last rays by the Syntagma square fountain.

There was so much sun, we actually burned a little bit on the last day. Kay has more sensitive skin and he burned his head and neck, while I crisped one shoulder up a little too much. Luckily mine was fine the next day, but Kay was a little pink for a few days.

It actually reminded me of our original trip to Paris where I burned after telling Kay that I never burn, I just tan, and how he teases me mercilessly for having a “piggie nose” ever since then.

There was definitely something a bit magical about Athens. I feel like part of our story began there because if it weren’t for his trip there, Kay never would have met my friend. It just makes us very happy that we did meet. 🙂

Have you got a magical spot like this that reminds you how lucky you are to know your partner?

Weekend Trips Continued

Like I mentioned in March, we had several short trips planned this year, which is only growing as the year progresses. I am on fire with the cheap airfare.


(Picture via Flickr Creative Commons)

This year Swiss labor day falls on a Friday, so I really wanted to take a long weekend somewhere. For a long time, I only found flights for 400CHF or more, but finally a few weeks before the weekend, I caught tickets to Athens for a good price. I’m really looking forward to visiting Greece for the first time this weekend! Kay has already been before, it’s where he met my design friend who introduced us, but I’m looking forward to a relaxed weekend exploring this old city!


(Picture via Flickr Creative Commons)

The same day I found tickets to Athens, I found tickets for another long weekend in May to Helsinki. We always get Pentecost Monday off, so we’ll head north that weekend for another long trip. We’ve already been to Sweden, Norway and Denmark, so this rounds out our Scandinavian countries.

Now we’ll just need to visit Iceland and see the northern lights somewhere at some point.


(Picture via Flickr Creative Commons)

Keeping an eye out for weekend trips for our birthday weekends, I decided to go ahead and book tickets to Luxembourg for my birthday weekend. We don’t have any public holidays then, but the flights are early and Luxembourg is small enough that I think we will see enough.

I’m not sure why, but I was always sort of interested to visit Luxembourg because it’s one of those really small European countries nearby. Usually the tickets flying there are 450-500, but I actually found them for around 200, so I figured it was worth going.



(Picture via Flickr Creative Commons)

Porto is another city that Kay has had on his list for ages for whatever reason, but the tickets are usually always almost 500CHF. I’ve been checking since January and finally found a weekend this year where the tickets are 250 and we are both here, so off we go!

Our calendar is starting to fill up and I’ve realised that we haven’t even booked any “real” holidays yet. I need to make sure we have enough money for that too with all this weekend traveling! We are also starting to be pros at weekend travel and have really streamlined our packing.

Now, off to Athens today!