Category Archives: Greece

How We Discipline the Kids While Traveling

Anyone who has met a two-year old or a four-year old knows that there are times when things break down. Sometimes parents can isolate it to either hunger or sleepiness. However, there are plenty of instances when Ava and Kayan act up because they’re testing their boundaries and our sanity. Just because we are traveling does not mean the kids get a pass at discipline. Sandeep and I have gone back and forth with how to encourage good behavior. We haven’t wanted to go down the smacking route, although that is perfectly acceptable almost anywhere in the world except America. Reasoning with a toddler seems silly. After figuring out that many of these breakdowns were the result of over stimulation, we’ve come down to disciplining the kids through reflective time outs.

Here is Ava in her time out on a Greek beach. She was being naughty by insisting on throwing things around our restaurant table. We gave her five minutes of silence and contemplation.

This was Kayan today at a vineyard in Franschoek. He refused to stop trying to jump into a water fountain. Of course a two year old loves to play in water, but it became a safety issue so he got a few minutes to himself.

Kids, like adults, need time to reflect. Sometimes all they need is to be removed from the scene and from their parents for a few minutes. In New York City, time out was usually against a stark white wall. We’re not really sure if Ava and Kayan process the tapestries that serve as their new time out spots, but it sure makes it easier for us as parents to discipline them on the road. In Greece we ate our calamari while Ava decompressed. She returned to the table and finished her meal with no more incident. Today we enjoyed our wine and burger parings while Kayan decided it was best to stay dry. He spent the rest of the time pouring juice back and forth from the bottle to his cup. That’s the type of liquid play we’re fine with.

We’re not sure where time out will be when we return home. They certainly wont be over turquoise waters or dramatic mountains. On the other hand, if Ava and Kayan know that a stark white wall is all that awaits them, perhaps they wont get into any trouble.



Filed under Africa, Greece, Travel With Kids

Our Money Gets Stolen and Other Crimes

You may be familiar with The King of Paranoia and the Queen of Rationalization. Let me tell you a little more about the Queen of Rationalization. I have never been vigilant. I dropped my wallet getting out of my car in college. Luckily, I lived in Minnesota, where everyone’s kindness is above average, and a good neighbor rang my doorbell with wallet in hand. On another Boston trip I left my laptop at airport security and happily boarded my flight home. A month before leaving New York, my wallet was lifted straight out of my wide open bag on the subway. I didn’t even notice until I got home. That’s me. Ultra-responsible with most things in life, but oblivious with others.

Here is another situation for which I can thank my character flaw. On our last day in Athens, while packing, I noticed two things missing. The first was may camera case, which had the equivalent of $50 (no camera). The second was 12 crisp $100 notes taken from my wallet. Whoever swiped the money was kind enough to leave one Benjamin. The scariest part is that my wallet was always in our rental apartments. Sandeep carries around the cash we needed and I kept the stack of U.S. Dollars stored for later conversion. I never bothered to check the contents of my wallet because I figured there were always safe in our apartments. We have had cleaning people and babysitters, so someone we had trusted effectively robbed us. My mistake was that the wallet was loosely tucked under a pile of clothes or thrown into a suitcase rather than locked away or truly hidden. I was obviously upset about the situation (Sandeep was, to put it mildly, livid) but more than the money, we felt violated that it had been stolen from a place we called home.

Until our midnight cycling in Athens, we had never once felt unsafe during our trip. So far we have been to places that are conventionally considered safe. We are now in Africa, first Namibia and then South Africa, followed by Rio de Janeiro. These places have reputations for things more serious than pick pocketing and petty crime. In a way, if I needed a wake up call to swing me over to paranoia, Athens was the perfect time for it to happen.

We drove around Windhoek on our first night here in search of dinner at what was described as “a local African restaurant”. The more we searched for this elusive spot, the deeper we went into deserted streets. The only place we felt comfortable stopping for directions was at a Hilton. There, the valet gave us a long lecture about car jacking, not driving to areas we don’t know, and only visiting restaurants where a valet is on hand to guard the car. The old me would have brushed this off as crazy talk but the new me directed us straight to one of the better spots in town, where a valet gave us the peace we needed to enjoy an amazing Portuguese dinner.

We are not happy about the loss of money. I am also annoyed that I lost a great camera case. But since I never listened to the King of Paranoia when he told me to take better care of my stuff, this was the lesson I needed to prepare me for the rest of our journey.

Now I check my bags every few minutes. I have a constant eye on the kids. I hide everything in places only a mouse would find. My $1,250 lesson in vigilance has made me the Princess of Paranoia, at least for the next few months. Plus, I don’t know that I can ever fully let go of the Queen of Rationalization role.


Filed under Africa, Greece

Our Visit Around Athens

Even  though we never made it to the Parthenon, we did a lot during our few days in Athens. We missed our Vouliagmeni sunsets so headed up to the highest point in Athens, Lykavittos Hill, located a few blocks from our apartment in Kolonaki, and watched the Parthenon welcome the night from afar (again).

The hill has a tiny church, Agios George, that overlooks the city.

In general, we have been very surprised by the quiet air in Athens. The largest crowd we saw was during our bike ride. Despite walking all over the city, we have yet to see a single protest. What we have noticed is that many stores are shut down, barricaded or have For Rent signs plastered on them. We have also seen anarchy graffiti everywhere. This is no doubt due to the Greek crisis. Despite this, the one place a visitor can count on finding company is a coffee house. No matter the time of day, there are always people sipping espresso, drinking frappes and reading papers. Notice how everyone is sitting against the wall so that they can do their share of people watching.

The city’s museums are working on reduced schedules as they can no longer afford to keep their staff full time. One thing that continues is the hourly changing of the guards at the parliament building.

Church also goes on and we paid a visit to Agios Dionnysios, dedicated to the first bishop of Athens. Kayan took church music as his cue to sing Katy Perry’s California Girls at the top of his lungs. Just when he belted out, “Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top,” we cowered out.

Athens is going through a hard time. People told us to be careful where we walked, watch our stuff and not to stay out late in unknown areas. Crime has been an issue since the Olympics but, in the wake of the crisis, has escalated. Despite the caution and quiet atmosphere, we enjoyed Athens. We also feel oddly good that we did our part to stimulate the Greek economy.  Our average meal in Greece has been 30 Euros ($37), far higher than any other country we have visited on our trip, including our standard spots in New York City. The three Luke girls leave happy.

And the three Luke boys are ready to protect us in the wilds of Namibia.


Filed under Greece, Religion

The Faces of the Parthenon in Athens

The Parthenon, the roughly 2,500 year old temple dedicated to the Greek Goddess Athena, dominates the Athens skyline from atop the Acropolis. The Acropolis has done duty as a church and later a mosque under Ottoman rule. The Ottomans used the structure to store ammunition, which ended up exploding a significant portion of the structure. The Parthenon has also sustained its share of earthquakes. Despite all of this, it stands firmly over sprawling Athens. It feels as if we have spent our days in Athens circling the temple. Every time we see it, we feel a different side of its personality.

It showed us hope at 1AM when we were lost on our cycles.

It seems elusive when we see it down the street of our apartment in Kolonaki.

From the foot of the Acropolis it is domineering.

We have yet to actually visit the Parthenon. Whenever Ava sees it she says, “Look, the building without a roof again.” There are several cranes scattered around the grounds working on restoration projects. “Maybe we should come back after they’ve fixed it.” With that rationalization we may just wait until we visit Greece next to see it’s most popular structure.


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Free Day of Midnight Cycling Around Athens

Where possible, Sandeep and I enjoy participating in organized sporting events. Sandeep ran a 12k in Kuala Lumpur and we both did a 5k in Goa. These events take us through locations we wouldn’t see on our own and give us a chance to get social with locals.

Last night we participated in Free Day, a weekly cycling event that takes place around Athens every Friday. The event started out with a few friends that thought cycling around the city would be a good way to end the week. Their friends joined and they created a Facebook page. Now the event can attract up to 5,000 riders on a busy weekend. We couldn’t find much information about the event in English. All we knew was that, at 9:30, the group gathers at a location disclosed the night before and cycles until about 3 the morning. It sounded like a great way to be social, get some exercise and explore. Somehow we had imagined a pub crawl-like event, except on bikes. We were off.

We rented a bike from Athens by Bike, and met several hundred other riders at our designated point in Thesseion. People seemed relaxed. The average age was around ours, most riders were in casual gear and the majority had mountain bikes. A few riders had stereos blasting Black Eyed Peas and U2. It was a fun vibe. The most entertainment came from watching the riders spewing animated Greek profanity at every motorist that dared to block our way. The first two hours took us through the streets of the city and then up a grueling (for me) gradual incline to the base of a mountain.

The crowd started thinning and we realized we were trailing the pack. Fellow riders told us the incline from then on was steep and would last about an hour. I could tell Sandeep was excited to do it, but also knew that if I put the little energy I had left into the climb I may not have the ability to make it back home (the kids were in the hands of a capable babysitter in case you’re wondering).

We decided to turn back and brave our way home without the other riders. You may have already read what we’ve said about Greek drivers. We were not to excited at the thought of being at their mercy on highway roads at in the middle of the night. The few lone people we asked for directions looked at us as if we were crazy. They’d say, “City center? Too far!” as they gestured hopelessly in some general direction. We didn’t look like stupid tourists to them. We looked like stupid people. It wasn’t until about 1 AM that we saw the Parthenon in the distance, literally a beacon of light mounted atop the Acropolis. We knew we were heading in the right direction, but still needed to find out way home. As Sandeep dismounted to ask for directions at a large square, he said, “By the way, remember Omonia? That one area of Athens I said we should avoid? The one with open drug dealing and prostitution? This is it.” Great. Just where I want to be at 1:30 on a Saturday morning.

At 2 AM, when we finally were finally back in our neighborhood we made our first intelligent made our first intelligent move of the night. We found a bar around the corner from our apartment and hydrated.

Perhaps we didn’t show our smartest side last night. We should have researched the intensity of the ride more, or at least kept a map with us in the event we needed to turn back. However, Free Day Athens is a great concept. If we lived here we would participate regularly, map in hand of course. It’s a great way to get social and pump up the adrenalin on a Friday night. Despite being out until 3AM, we didn’t wake up with hangovers. Just sore a**es.


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Leaving Our Beach Dreams in Vouliagmeni

We love our beach vacations. When Kayan was only eight weeks old, we packed him up and took the family to the Dominican Republic for a long weekend. Every time we see open water, we dream about living a beach life. We long to wake up to blue waters, eat fresh seafood and live in flip flops. The reality is that, before this journey, we were never able to do this for more than a week at a time. Our month in Vouliagmeni, Greece has been our chance to live our beach life fantasy. When we leave on Friday there will be many things to miss.

We’ll miss the changing colors of the ocean, where we spent hours picking up shells and tormenting starfish.

We’ll miss the brilliant sunsets off our terrace.

We’ll even miss the perfectly manicured streets lined with orange, fig and olive trees.

Our month in Vouliagmeni has been the slowest part of our journey. We have had minimal external stimulus here, which took some adjusting after the excitement of Istanbul. Vouliagmeni programmed us to a leisurely pace of life that we will not experience for a very long time.


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Turkish or Greek Coffee?

We went into Turkey expecting to love Turkish coffee. What we learned is that it’s easy to go wrong with its preparation. Some establishments burn the brew and others are too hasty in its preparation, churning out a watery drink over a grimy base. Good Turkish coffee is robust and smooth, never bitter, have a frothy head and an ever so faint grainy texture. As we spend more time in Istanbul, we understood Turkish coffee and where to score a perfect cup.

Turkey, after Yemen, was one of the first countries to truly adopt a coffee culture. The Ottoman Governor of Yemen introduced the drink back home to Suleiman the Magnificent in 1543. Soon, coffee became integral to Turkish life. Throughout the day, Turkish coffee houses serve the concoction in colorful 3 ounce ceramic glasses. Turkish coffee preparation and consumption is a slow affair, so it naturally leads to a social element as well.

When we came to Greece, we saw what we thought was Turkish coffee. The only recognizable difference is that the Greeks serve it in white porcelain cups.

It turns out that is the only difference. For a long time, Turkish coffee was referred to as Turkish coffee even in Greece. However, when Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, the irate Greek government was against the use of  Turkish terms. Greek coffee was born. Coffee becomes Turkish, or Greek, coffee due to its preparation, not bean variety. Most coffee is made by running hot water or steam through ground beans. Turkish coffee uses superfine grounds to avoid the filtering process. Grounds are essentially boiled and dissolved into the brew. Beware, though, not all the grounds disappear, leaving a thick base. The solution for the inedible leftovers? Fortune telling.

If you want to try your hand at Turkish, I mean Greek, coffee, you can follow the step by step instructions here.

While Greek coffee may be Turkish coffee, the Greeks do have their own unique coffee culture. It is one that revolves around frappe. In the late 1950s, a Greek representative of Nestle improvised a cold brew of coffee, water and ice. After vigorous shaking, it resulted in a super frothy foam. Today, in most parts of Greece, it is more common to see people gathered over frappes than Greek coffee.

The relaxation with which Turkish coffee is enjoyed is not lost on Greek frappes. Unlike a Starbucks pick-up, frappe consumption in Greece is a leisurely affair. The rule of thumb is one sip every ten minutes. Any faster and the barista will be offended. With Greek waters as the setting, why would you hurry anyway?

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Reflecting on Memorial Day From Greece

Despite being citizens of a country that has been at war for over a decade, we embarrassingly never really stopped to think of what the Memorial Day weekend truly signifies. For our family, it signaled the start of summer, quieter weekends in Manhattan and a cue to dust off our bikes.

Over the past seven months, in almost every country we have been, we have seen reminders of war and of those that have given their lives during service or lost their lives caught in the middle. When we were in India we also learned more about the roles our family has played in war and defense.

Sandeep’s grandfather was in the Indian Army and served in places such as Penang and Burma. In his honor, we visited the Penang War Museum. Our starkest learning was that living and dining quarters were divided on nationality. The British had real bathrooms and things got progressively worse the further east or south one hailed.

We also stopped by the World War II Cemetery outside Yangon, close to where Sandeep’s grandfather almost lost his life fleeing air raids towards the end of the war. We read the names of his battalion members who had fallen that day.

My grandfather retired as Commodore of the Indian Navy. In his earlier years he captained mine sweeping expeditions. After his formal retirement, he served as the naval point for RAW, India’s external intelligence agency.

Both our grandfathers participated in wars though luckily both lived well past their duties. If they were alive, would they have war lessons to impart on their great-grandchildren? Being defenders and ultimately men of peace, we’d like to think they would support us in how we are raising our children to promote peace.

We are trying to raise kids who make every effort to understand other people’s points of view. It’s hard enough to understand people when they speak the same language and follow the same customs. Try understanding someone when they speak a foreign tongue and act in seemingly strange ways. We want Ava and Kayan to be comfortable in these situations. Our babysitter in Thailand spoke no English and our babysitter in Greece speaks only Greek. The kids have been to pre-school in India where their classmates only spoke Malayalam. Not only did the kids keep an open mind and figure out a way to find friendships in these situations, they actually form bonds that last after the goodbyes.

We are also trying to raise kids who don’t pass judgement on nationality, religion or orientation. We have successfully confused our kids into not being able to answer the question “Where are you from?” When asked this the other day, Ava answered, “Vouliagmeni“. We’re thrilled. It shouldn’t matter where you are from. Our geographical boundaries are increasingly porous, our environment interlinked and our social, political and economic decisions have contagion effects that Ava and Kayan’s great-grandfathers never experienced.

We never lose wonder at watching our kids adapt to and navigate our world. The very fact that we, as parents, think that personal differences are something to be acknowledged and actively respected tells me that we are more judgmental than our children. Our kids, being at an age when they are so young and so innocent, just accept differences. Any questions are out of curiosity and not judgement. The reality of age is that these traits will not last forever. However, as the world gets closer, hopefully Ava and Kayan’s generation is encouraged to be more comfortable with personal differences than the generations before. It is an idealistic view but what better day to have this hope than today.


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Company on a Private Greek Beach

Our social life has been somewhat anticlimactic after Istanbul, where it seemed we met up with people from all phases of our lives. For over two weeks in Greece, Sandeep and I have only had each other for intellectual English conversation. We could have made more friends if we tried harder. However, between Vouliagmeni’s weekend-only population and our inclination to hang out on the beach most days, we just haven’t made the connections we did in other places.

Luckily my cousin, Keri, who was one of our Istanbul guests, came to Greece for Ava’s birthday. She missed the actual birthday by a day so we had no choice but to celebrate again.

This time we upped the stakes on our beach location. Not just any one of the gorgeous Greek beaches around Vouliagmeni would do. We wanted to scout out a private beach. The west coast of Attica has a road that hugs the coast like a smooth black ribbon laid against the turquoise waters. Most Athenians stay to this side of the peninsula given the easy access. That was all the excuse we needed to rent a car and check out the east coast.

It turns out there is a reason people don’t flock to the east coast beaches. They are hard to find and harder to reach. We had to turn off the highway and brave small gravel roads in hopes of finding a sandy stretch. Sandeep’s resilient driving, my gut driven navigation skills and Keri’s ability to entertain the kids in the back seat proved to be a winning combination. Our private beach came complete with a backdrop of a white and blue church perched over the water.

The combination of company and privacy made this one of our favorite days in Greece. This starfish that Kayan found probably could have done without the company though.

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Homemade Food Makes Us Say More Moussaka

We’ve been cooking in a lot in Greece. We don’t have much reason to eat out. Our apartment has a gorgeous terrace with views that beat anything available in town. We like variety and there are only a handful of restaurants within walking distance. Moreover, I like to cook (and the family swears they like my cooking) and our kitchen gives us the flexibility to churn out anything from Thai to Middle Eastern.

Despite our active kitchen, we haven’t cooked any Greek food. The souvlaki at Zaxos, the local spot in town, is tender and perfectly salty. The fish and seafood at the seaside restaurant where we celebrated Ava’s birthday yesterday is always fresh. However, the one thing that we haven’t been satisfied with is restaurant moussaka. Moussaka is supposed to be a quintessential Greek dish of layered meat, eggplant and béchamel sauce. We figured that any restaurant worth their name would know how to make a mean moussaka. It turns out that Greeks know this is not true. Moussaka recipes are family heirlooms and each house prides itself on doing it the right way. Therefore, most Greeks wouldn’t even think of ordering Moussaka when they go out. I suppose it’s like chicken curry for Indians.

Just when I thought our choices were to either master our own Moussaka or go without, we scored Moussaka from a Greek grandmother. The owner of our rental apartment is a free-spirited and generous host. She wanted us so have a real Greek meal and arranged for her mother to make us the dish. What homemade moussaka lacks in looks is more than made up for in smell and taste.

Grandma’s moussaka tasted nothing like the luke warm and dense dish we got at the local taverna. Our dinner tonight was a combination of perfectly seasoned meat, silky eggplant and a creamy sauce, with the flavors of each layer evident in the next.

We really don’t get many opportunities on our journey to have homemade local food. There is something special about food made in small batches, especially with a family recipe. You can almost taste the care. Now we know not to order moussaka in Greece. We also have a new mission to find loving grandmothers wherever we go.

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