When most people think of Ancient Greece, they conjure up a civilization whose zenith dates back to the 4th Century B.C. when Greek culture and political advancement were pre-eminent in the Mediterranean. So when during a recent trip to the island of Rhodes I heard about a bakery in a small rural village making breads and cakes mentioned even earlier in The Iliad, Homer’s epic poem about the Trojan War, I had to go there. This was an allusion to history even sweeter than any trip to the Acropolis.

And it is just that preservation of history that so appealed to the nine owners of the Appolonia Bakery, winnowed down from the 40 women who originally gathered in 2000 wanting to do something for their community. But the history they wanted to preserve at that moment was of a more recent vintage — that of the recipes handed down for generations for traditional foods prepared by their grandmothers and other community elders. All the cookies, breadsticks, cakes, muffins, pretzels and other baked goods are made from recipes culled from native villagers — and long-ago memories.

But transcribing recipes, none of which could be found in any cookbook, from those that fed a family into those that served a community, was no easy task and was mainly accomplished through trial and error. Even more of a problem was the issue of accountability: because the ingredients were never written down, accurate measurements weren’t available. The recipes did not come with instructions on how to assemble. A handful of flour had to be translated into a cup, a touch of honey became 2 T, a sprinkling of water had to be quantified into something — anything — measurable.

Preparing cakes for church social

And there were other growing pains, as well! Human frailties occur at any age and when two women had recipes for the same baked goods, the co-op was forced to take part of one and part of another to come up with something that appealed to all and superseded the jealousies that might have ensued.

In a few instances, a proprietary attitude prevented some from sharing their recipes. They baked the bread or cake in secret, refusing to disclose all the ingredients. Eventually, the petty jealousies and individual resentments passed and all the recipes are now written down and available to all nine owners — but they themselves zealously guard them from the general public. Still, other hurdles arose. By the very nature of old-time recipes, the tasks are very labor-intensive and are not subject to wonders of modern technology.

For instance, the bread requires an overnight process involving the mixing of flour with a hand-made yeast concoction that acts as a natural preservative. The next day the loaves are put under four blankets — literally heavy wool blankets that clearly once adorned someone’s bed — to create the right amount of heat for them to rise before baking. Another specialty is melekouni, a sweet pastry made from sesame, honey and spices that is a time-honored part of Greek wedding celebrations and especially revered in Homer’s texts — that probably can’t be said of Little Debbie’s Tasty Kakes
But the honey relies on a local bee supply, the sesame is hand-washed and dried on-site, and the pastries hand-rolled, using a secret process handed down from generation to generation to make sure the honey is sufficiently carmelized. Just pressing the mixture into their individual shapes is a manually intense project. There are no mechanized advantages to be found. Cuisinarts had no place in Greek mythology. The Merry Bakers also concoct a famous Greek dessert called spoon sweet flavored with lemon, strawberries, oranges and other fruits grown in their home gardens. But those are not the only home-grown ingredients — the bakers add fresh-picked rose petals from bushes around town. They just bring the ingredients from home as needed. Saves on shopping and storage space.

And that’s not all. The ladies of Appolonia also make liqueurs from Souma, a grape similar to that used for Ouzo to which they add their own flavors, such as orange, lemon, and pomegranate. They heat it on the porch in the sun for a month before bottling. Adds a whole new dimension to aged wine. Did I mention that the loom in the front of the shop is used to make custom-made rugs?

Assorted Bakery Products

It took three years before the bakery started turning a profit. At that point, sales had expanded as far as Scotland after a tourist came by in 2007 and was so impressed he began importing the products to his own wholesale food business in the Emerald Isle. A little closer to home, demand from people in Rhodes Town inspired them to open a shop in the main town in 2008, which also is doing well. Their notoriety is growing, bakery manager Katerina Palazi wistfully acknowledged. Greek journalists are coming to do stories; they take pictures: “We’re not used to such intrusions. We have too much work to do,” she complained. I cringed a bit as I tried to hide my note pad and waved away my travel- writing husband wielding his camera.

There are about 120 communities throughout Greece that are promoting local products such as traditional clothes, ceramics, and other handcrafts all representative of their individual villages, but the Appolonia Bake Shop is the first and only in the Dodecanese island group, comprised of 12 islands including Rhodes, that is preserving historical recipes. They make a total of about 25 products — breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, olive oil, zouma. Most popular are the breads, sesame seed cookies and mellikouni. They have standing orders from local churches for breads and cakes, mellikouni for weddings, cookies for Christmas and Easter and spoon treats for other special occasions. On the walls pictures of local and national politicians mix with pictures of grandchildren.

Drying sesame seeds in the sun

The women are in perpetual motion in and out of the small bakery, covering and uncovering the breads, drying the sesame seeds on the porch, boiling the rose petals, churning the liqueurs, taking cakes in and out of the oven — and, oh yes, waiting on customers. No wonder they don’t have time for journalists.

Irini Platsi, proprietor of the Rhodes Town store, points out that most products last for three months without preservatives; and because of the special yeast in the breads, those last for three weeks. “People really like buying home-made products made with all-natural ingredients,” she enthuses. The fact that they have an historic back story is just a bonus. I could feel the pride in her voice. These women have done something many thought would never work; they love the products they produce and are thriving on their success because it reflects upon the village as well, which – like it or not — is beginning to garner its own 15 minutes of fame.

They not only bake from scratch but they weave

I don’t think, with the possible exception of the nightlife of Amsterdam, that I’ve ever had so much fun researching a travel story: sampling a sweet syrupy concoction that tantalizes the taste buds whether flowing over ice cream or indulged in straight from the jar; tasting the crunchy slightly sweet Biscotti-like substance that blossoms, especially when dipped in milk or coffee; delighting in a thick brown bread that when slathered with butter or honey could potentially serve as a whole meal. You know the old Trojan War-related homage: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts? Well, when laden down with items from the Appolonia bakery, you will instead be welcomed with open arms…and mouths. And despite the recent journalistic intrusion, the bakery still does not have a website of its own. Homer would be proud!

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Upon traveling to Greece, you will be seeing an entirely new culture. You will witness things that here in America would seem absolutely ridiculous. At around three o’clock in the afternoon in Greece, everything is quiet because everyone goes home to eat a big lunch and then take a nap. But when nighttime arrives, it comes alive again. Mary Pappas, the Greek restaurant owner of the Athens Market Taverna in downtown San Diego says that, “Greeks work to live, they don’t live to work.”

Greece is an amazing place for all ages, but teenagers will be able to experience things that will remain in their memory for years to come. Athens is an excellent place to start out. Teens can easily get around because of the subway system known as the Metro. It is everything the New York subway isn’t: safe, clean, and easy to follow.
Make sure to pay a visit to the Acropolis, but don’t stay too long because it is hot over the summer and the ruins lose their excitement quickly. Near the Acropolis is a shopping haven known as the Plaka. Items are moderately priced and can be negotiated down even further, so you will find some great bargains and be able to play a game with the shop owners (teenage girls especially can get the lowest prices from the Greek men who own the shops).

A five to ten minute walk from the Plaka is the Monastiraki, which is a complete cultural experience. The Monastiraki is an authentic Greek market where the locals go to get their food and other necessities. There are entire skinned pigs hanging upside down, whole plucked chickens, cow parts, fish, and inevitably flies. The smell is atrocious but don’t shy away because something like this can never be seen in America.

The nightlife in Athens will spark any teenager’s interest. There are places called Discos that have music and dancing all night long. Mary Pappas says that “Athens is alive twenty-four hours a day”, so one can always get the true taste of the city. The drinking age is eighteen in Greece, and they never ask anyone’s age, so even those younger than eighteen can have a drink if desired. If you are going to try an alcoholic beverage in Greece, try the Ouzo because it is liquor specific to the country and tastes like black licorice.

Coffee drinkers will love a frappe, which is coffee, water, milk and sugar whipped together, and then poured over ice in a glass. The top becomes frothy and people typically drink the frappe through a straw. Gyros (pronounced yur-ohs) are a popular dish consisting of pita bread filled with a choice of lamb, pork or chicken, a cucumber-yogurt sauce called tzaziki, and believe it or not, a few French fries. Some gyros come with tomatoes and onions in them as well. There are stands everywhere on the street corners, and the dirtier the place looks, the better the gyros are. Gyros are known as the fast food of Greece, and they are also considered to be peasant food, so they are cheap but still taste amazing.

One travel package example from “Poway Travel/Pro Travel”, located in Poway and San Diego is called “Classical Greece”. It is $2,371 per person including air travel for a total of nine days in the month of June. With this package, you fly into Athens, then go to Delphi, Olympia, Nauplia, and then return back to Athens. The price includes all hotels, seven breakfasts, and four dinners, which is convenient for teenagers since everything is planned out already.

To get a taste of more of the local scene, Mary Pappas says to “Go into the villages and see how the real Greeks live. Go to the tavernas and little cafes to experience the Greeks unaffected by the tourism.” These villages are everywhere, but can be found in abundance on the island of Crete and in the Peloponnese. Pappas says that you will always find “Greek men sitting in the coffee houses playing backgammon and card games similar to bridge, drinking coffee all day long.” Teens can join in and play if they know how, or there are plenty of Greek boys willing to teach the American girls.

Greek dancing occurs everywhere in Greece, and the American teenagers do not need to know what they are doing to participate and have a great time. The Greeks are in a circle holding hands and dancing around, and after five minutes teens will pick up the pattern of steps.
You cannot travel to Greece without visiting a few of the islands. Santorini is a unique island because it is on top of a cliff, and the only way to get to the top is by a bus ride winding all the way up inches from the cliffs, a tram, or for a complete cultural experience, a donkey. Santorini has a half-moon shape because thousands of years ago, a volcano erupted on the island tossing half of it into the sea. The volcano is still active today. This is one of the possible locations for the lost city of Atlantis.

Mykonos, Hydra, and Rhodes are other interesting islands to visit. However, do not stay more than a day because the islands are small and the things to do run out fast. These islands are rocky and do not have great beaches. For the pristine beaches, islands such as Crete and Cephalonia have beautiful ones with warm, turquoise water. You are able to tell who the fellow Americans are because they are the ones with their bathing suit tops on. Teens can stay at these islands for longer because they are larger and have more attractions.
Teenagers can easily get around to visit many islands on a cruise. The travel package “Aegean Discovery” is $2,521 per person for nine days and includes air travel. The trip starts in Athens, includes a one-night stay in Athens, and then a cruise ship leaves right from Athens to go to the islands of Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes, Patmos, and Kusadasi. The cruise ship then returns back to Athens and the package includes two more nights there. Cruises are a smart way to travel, especially for a group of teens, because they can leave all of their luggage on the ship while touring the islands.

Teenagers visiting Greece will no doubt have an unforgettable experience while submerged in another type of culture. Greece offers a mix of history, shopping, partying, touring and tanning; all things that will provide for a great summer vacation.

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As a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, I have had the good fortune of studying in Dublin Ireland for the past two years, with the added bonus of traveling throughout Europe. Recently several friends and I traveled from Spain via the Trans Mediterranean ferry to Patras, Greece, a journey of seventeen hours. We slept on the roof of the boat with our sleeping bags and the backpacks as pillows. At Patras we ate some burgers and took the next train to Athens. We arrived about nine in the evening, and went to a cheap hotel in front of the Train Station, booked our room, and went back to the train station to inquire about the Istanbul train. The clerk told us that the last one before an impending train strike would depart soon, that same night. We were really tired after the ferry ride, but if we didn’t catch that train we would be stranded in Athens for most of our brief holiday. So we left Athens that night.

We lost our hotel money and took the twenty four hours trainride to Istanbul. We went to our little train beds and slept without waking up until we arrived at the Greco-Turquish frontier, where we spent a couple of hours till the Turkish train came to take us to Istanbul. The border police asked for our passports and 10 Euros to get the Visa to enter the country. We finally arrived in the evening at Istanbul, after a three-day, non-stop journey. We were really tired and dirty! One tiny guy approached us outside the Train Station and offered us a really nice hotel, cheap, in the Sultanhmet area, the city centre. A hot shower and good dinner were very welcome!

Istanbul is an amazing city. Chaotic, full of black and yellow cabs sailing through the maze of the street canals, women walking beside you with their bodies full covered in long black veils, contrasted with the other woman walking beside you showing their pierced-bellies and make up,, streets craftsmen sell their rings and collars sitting at the edge of a last model sale car agency. But fortunately it doesn’t loose it’s essence. Big ancient bazaar stores selling any type of species and herbal teas, miracle medicines and fruits and cheeses just like The Egyptian Bazaar, or if you want to buy first quality rugs, cushions, candles, any hand made craft you have The Graand Bazaar were bargaining is the only way to get a proper price. The experience of bargaining was not the same as in Morocco, but Enrico and Victoria were pretty excited and they even got the best deals. The city is divided by the Bosforo´s River in two main parts, the European, where the Sultanhmet area is, and the Asian part, more of the outskirts of the city.
We spent the first two days exploring the European side, since there is where you have the main attractions like the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia. The last one was built as a church during the Eastern Roman Empire, but later during the Turquish “Reconquista” Revolt was transformed into a Mosque to finally be used as a museum, where you have to pay fifteen euros for the fee, comparing with other museums and places in the rest of the European capitals its not expensive, but with fifteen euros in Istanbul you eat in a very nice roof of a hotel looking at the Bosforo´s giving the back to the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque was the Sultan Hamet answer to the Aya Sofia, built two hundred years before. This was the first time that I’ve been inside a mosque, since in Morocco non Muslim people is forbidden to go inside of one. Men pray in the front of the mosque while the women hide themselves covering with black curtains at the back of the mosque, they are not allowed to pray with their husbands and sons. The mosques are full covered with rugs, so you have to take off your shoes and women, even tourist, have to wear a veil to cover their shoulders and part of the face. Great feeling when I touch the rugs with my bare feets. Architectonically speaking the city is beautiful, colour wooded houses, many of them almost falling from one side just like the one in Tim Burton’s Big Fish, nice seat-on-the-floor cafes where you can drink a tea and smoke fruit tobacco with a narguil, the view of loads of mosques with big towers and the chants of the calls for pray that makes you goose bump.
The Asian side is more of a real turquish experience, far away from multinational companies and hordes of tourists struggling to get inside the Aya Sofia. We’ve crossed the river walking by the bridge looking at fishermen throwing their canes as far as possible, and little kids selling fake black market watches. We’ve wondered about for a couple of hours till we stop for a quick lunch looking at some little boys happily jumping to the River from rocks, hurrying up to jump again. We took a ferry bus to another part of the city which is connected by many ferry-bus lines costing only one million turquish lira (one euro) for journeys of no more than forty minutes. We saw many street vendors, some mosques and the best views of the European side.

After the best four days of the holidays we took a bus south of Turkey, a little town we used as camping to wonder around the Trojan ruins. The town was called Cannakale, very quiet with a nice boardwalk bordering the sea. We met an Australian traveller at the bus who was on the way, he told us that after Turkey he was going to Jordan, Lebanon, Beirut, Israel and Egypt, I was really jealous. We shared a couple of beers with this guy, he was in Cannakale to see the rests of a battle field in an island and hour from the town, where thousand of Australians died in the second world war fighting for the English Crown. But we went to see the ruins of the lost city of Troy, I didn’t dig them, there’s nuthin´ to see and in the beginning of the ruins a local artist built a wooden horse, the one that Homer wrote about carrying hidden Greeks to burn the city, so what you imagine of Troy, the only thing you want to see, though its a fairy tale, they built it at the beginning of the ruins! The rest is only stones covered in dust and sun.

We left Cannakale for a five hour south midnight express bus trip to see the big ruins of Ephesus, considered to be one of the most important ruins in Europe Asia, nothing to envy the ones in Rome and Athens. Unfortunately the entrance fee was very expensive, we had to save some money for the rest of the holidays, so we decided to go to the paradise beach town of Cesme, where we had a nice salad lunch with a very funny Greek young doctor that travelled with a Swedish passport, waiting for the ferry to take us to Chios, a Greek island. We said goodbye to him and spent the night in Chios, probably the worst night of the trip, where we couldn’t sleep ´cause of the broken air conditionate, we had to open the windows and the noise of bikes and cars in the streets was so loud that we couldn’t stick an eye. The next morning, after a very long wait including a hopeless search for a Seven Up because I had an incredible pain in my stomach and Enrico sleeping like a homeless in a bench, we took the ferry to Mykonos, first stop on the Greek Cyclades Islands.
When you hear people talking non stop about the Greek islands, chances are they’re talking about the Cyclades. Mykonos was a very nice surprise, the ferry left us in the new port and we took a shuttle to the centre. We walked around with our backpacks looking for a place to crush, but everything was very expensive, so the three of us bought a twenty five euro tent and went to one of the campings, which was my first and only experience sleeping in a tent in Europe. It was a great decision, we saved some money and we enjoyed it. The camping was well equipped, and had a beautiful white sand beach with clear pale blue water. The town of Mykonos was just like I imagine, whitewashed houses, souvenirs shops, international cuisine restaurants with multilingual menus, great sea food, Greek music coming out from local houses with colourful flowers embellishing them. It was full of young people, mainly Italians, partying in the many night clubs. We spent a couple of days there relaxing from nine in the morning in the beach, and late afternoon walking around the town to see some sights.
We were planning to go to Los, another island, but we couldn’t get a ticket so we decided to go to Paros, bigger but similar than Mykonos, again more beach and long walks during the sunset. We spent two more days there and left for the last island, Santorini. Also called Thera, Santorini is volcanic form island with black pebbled beaches. Whitewashed towns balanced on high hills, stone streets, crafts shop and the sunset from the western town of Ia. The most famous island in Greece really mobbed during the days we spent there.
We took the last ferry to Athens and spent the last day of the holidays in the Greek capital. Beautiful city, big avenues, clean and noisy, old neighbours with lively streets full of tiny restaurants and street sellers, the Pantheon, amazing, best ruins that I’ve visited in Europe, got the classic photo where I stand in front of it with the hands on my waist. We saw the sunset from one of the hills that surround the city. We said goodbye to Enrico, so hard after living with him during twenty months, with Victoria we took the plane to London to connect for the last time with Dublin.”

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Tourism overseas is at an all time low. With the economic decline felt all over the world and the fear of terrorism threatening our travels, no one is venturing outside of the States. This is a big mistake. Never have I experienced such hospitality and gratitude in a foreign tourist city as I have this year in Athens.

I have recently traveled to Greece where this summer the Olympics are going to return to their birthplace. There is much anticipation for the long awaited games, but for now it is the calm before the storm. Normally this time of year there are queues lined up for miles to all the ancient attractions. This year it is different.

11eec4840My two traveling companions and myself climbed to the top of the ancient Acropolis where the Parthenon and many other ruins still remain after two thousand years. In the past this is where the line would start its mile long procession, but not this sunny afternoon. We had failed to heed our guidebooks’ warnings and arrived midday on a Monday. This is right when the crowds would be at their peak, but we found no line at all. We paid our 6 euros (student price) and walked right through the gate. There were
approximately 40 other tourists scouring the ruins along with us. This time pictures did not have to wait until a 50-plus-person tour group moved onto
the next temple. With less Americans traveling to these ruins, you have the opportunity to meet the locals and dive into their culture.

11f07ebe0In Greece the locals are more than nice. They are helpful, patient, curious and generous. While in Athens, we had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of many of the locals. Stavros, a young Greek man, found us struggling with a map and offered to take us to our destination. This one offer of kindness turned into two days of exploring restaurants and bars only the locals frequent. On most trips I’ve been on we naturally gravitate towards Canadians or Americans because that is who we are familiar and comfortable with. We encountered very few of our countrymen during this trip. Instead we were able to meet more of the locals. When anyone asks me what my favorite part of my trip was I always say the people.

11f2a06b0The Euro has gone up, making it slightly more expensive for Americans to travel to Europe, but with the price of food and accommodations so low, it more than makes up for the rising Euro. A hotel on the island of Naxos, in the Aegean Sea, advertised a three-person room on the Agios Georgios Beach with amenities boasting a veranda, TV, hairdryer, plenty of room and an adorable ensemble of ocean blue furniture. All of this was 45 euros or 15 euros apiece. For only three extra euros you could have a breakfast that consisted of a hard boiled egg, four pieces of sesame bread, butter, jam, English tea, orange juice, teacake and a biscuit, all brought up to your terrace. Talk about hospitality. They even threw in a few little perks like transportation to and from the port and free Internet use. For three young, female backpackers free rides and Internet are like free nose jobs to aspiring actresses.

Since there aren’t as many tourists traveling this year the locals gave us a lot of attention. Everyone wants you to come and eat at their restaurant, sleep at their hotel or dance in their bar. You may have heard of free wine tasting to promote a winery, but have you ever heard of free wine with your dinner? Some waiters are grateful that you stepped in to sample their cuisine. Others are desperate to get you into their restaurant. Both offer free wine. In Greece you have to pay for the water that you order, but the wine is complimentary. You can save yourself about 18 euros a meal by accepting this offer of free wine. Sometimes it even comes with dessert.

11f473ab0These incentives should persuade you to take that well-deserved vacation in Europe. Statistics say that only one in 8 million will die in an airline accident, and only one in 9 million will die in a terrorist attack. The locals are not interested in harassing or harming you. In fact they did not even talk about the war with us. Do not let rumors and exaggerated stories scare you away from your dream vacation in Europe. If you are still hesitant to buy those plane tickets to Europe (Greece), don’t be. This is the best year to travel.