Category Archives: Greece

Ava Turns Four on a Greek Beach

We’ve set high bars for birthdays on this trip. In January, I celebrated at my boarding school in Kodaikanal. In February, Kayan turned two on a beach in Goa. In April, we feasted on Sandeep’s baklava cake in Istanbul. Finally, today was Ava’s turn.

As we put Ava to bed tonight she said, “This was such a special day, you cannot even believe.” So what did we do to ring in Ava’s fourth year? We started off playing at a local playground, where she told Kayan exactly how to use the sea-saw.

The kids made sand birthday cakes on the beach.

We stuffed ourselves on calamari, grilled octopus, and barbounia.

The best past of today is that we sang happy birthday several times. The world is so connected now and, with media such as Skype, Ava got to celebrate with friends and family from around the world.

Those that know our family knows we aren’t into gifts. Turns out that’s just fine for a four year old. Ava’s gifts today were shells, ocean air, sunshine, good food and lots of love. That’s a great way to celebrate any year of life.


Filed under Greece

Watching Our Baby Grow Up

I’ll never forget what happened on May 23, 2008 at 3:11 in the morning. Ava arrived in the world and looked at me with an intensity that I think stopped my heart. I actually did pass out.

These past four years we have watched our still intense daughter grow into a confident, defiant and loving girl. Sometimes we don’t realize how quickly she’s maturing. Our conversation this evening tells me that even Ava has sensed this denial.

Ava: So Mama. Tomorrow I am going to be four and I won’t be your baby anymore.

Diya: What do you mean? Even when you are four, you will still be my baby. You’ll always be my baby.

Ava: But Mama. When I grow up I am going to be a nurse. I can’t always be your baby.

Diya: You can be a nurse and my baby.

Ava: You can’t tell other people that I am your baby when I’m grown up. Otherwise what will all the other nurses think?

Conversations like this make us foresee Ava as a teenager with more clarity than we can bear. They also make us so thankful to have this concentrated time to learn more about each other, to explore our world and grow together.

Ava has already mapped out every detail of her birthday tomorrow. She has directed the exact measurements and color of her cake and even decided exactly where to cut it. We have each been told what to wear. We’ll let you know how it goes, but we’re adamant that at the end of the day she’ll still be our baby.


Filed under Greece

Opening our Wallets in Greece

Until this month we had stuck to the itinerary we mapped out in October 2011, when we set of on our around the world journey. In April we realized that our fantasy of driving through Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan was much more complicated than just renting a car. The logistics and visa requirements to execute the road trip were more than Sandeep and I wanted to navigate. We needed an alternative.

At first we wanted to stay away from Europe, thinking the cost of living would be too high to maintain the relatively extravagant (as compared to New York City) lifestyles we’ve become used to on our trip. Despite this, we ended up in Greece because it was a unique opportunity to live in a crisis that will likely change the world and, very naively, we thought that prices would fall as the crisis got worse.

I just wrote a piece for Huffington Post about why domestic prices in Greece remain high. To add some additional perspective, here are a couple of insights into how wide we’re opening our wallets.

We had to send a fax to our booking agent in Namibia yesterday. The two page message cost us 33 Euros ($42). This is the receipt for our dinner in Vari, probably the best value for money we’ve had so far at a restaurant in Greece.

Notice the 23% tax on every menu item, including food and wine. As with many establishments in Greece, this Vari restaurant is absorbing the cost of the tax hikes so as not to increase menu prices and lose demand. Sadly, despite their best efforts, the restaurant was still relatively empty when we were there.

The Greeks are struggling and, like the owner of the Vari restaurant, are doing everything they can to stay afloat. We came here thinking we would find a few bargains but, after seeing the hardship that many people in Greece are facing, we’re willingly stretching our wallet as far as it will go to eat out and purchase local goods and services.


Filed under Greece

Yiamas to Facebook

Facebook is living through its first day as a publicly traded stock and I wanted to reflect on the non-monetary value that the social network has brought to our journey.

I was relatively late to join Facebook. I hated the idea of being found so easily and I had no clue why anyone would want to know what I was up to every minute. However, my entire high school reunion was planned on Facebook, so I either had to join or be stuck in the 90s. Over the years, Facebook and I grew into a comfortable relationship. I am not embarrassed to admit that this journey even made me dependent on Facebook. Without Facebook, we would have had a very different travel experience.

Without Facebook, we would not have been as connected

We realize that we aren’t doing the best job of individually keeping in touch with friends and family. This blog is our way to let you know what going on in our lives. It’s a larger task to find out what is happening in yours. Facebook fills us in. Five minutes a day tells us who is running a marathon, who is pregnant, who cooked a soufflé for the first time, and who just got at dog. Ava and Kayan also see pictures of their friends, leading Ava to say things like, “Oh, that’s Max. I almost forgot his style.”

Without Facebook, we would not have a network of traveling families

The Facebook Families on the Move Group has been a source of information and inspiration. This group has helped us out with travel planning, answered questions on malaria, hooked us up with play dates and been an source of support for a life on the road. We have not met most of these families but, thanks to Facebook, have formed life long friendships with like minded people. If you want to get to know some of these families, check out our monthly writing projects.

Without Facebook, we would have missed out on experiences

When we post an update on our destinations, we get suggestions from friends or local connections. The power of Facebook helped us employ an wonderful African refugee as our nanny in Istanbul. Thanks to Facebook, we created an instant network in every place we went. Groups such as I Love Chiang Mai and Istanbul Moms were instrumental in making us feel at home in each of our new locations.

Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected. For this family they have succeeded. Yiamas (cheers in Greek) to Facebook today.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Greece, Traveling Family Writing Projects

One Million Legged People in Namibia

A major reason we embarked on this journey was to instill in Ava and Kayan the same respect for other cultures and curiosity about our world that Sandeep and I value. We have been so focused on exposing our kids to the world that we haven’t really thought that about how they are processing all of this.

Today’s conversation with Ava made us consider how she and Kayan are digesting this experience. I was walking on the beach in flip-flops and the inevitable happened – they eventually tore at the toe. On our awkward wobble back home, Ava asked, “Mama, I like those shoes. Can you keep the good one and buy just one that works?” I responded that shoes are sold in twos because most people have two feet. She considered this and said, “But why not a million feet?” I asked her if she had ever seen a person with a million feet. Her reply was, “Not yet, but maybe I’ll see one in Namibia.”

Sandeep and I have ongoing discussions on our Africa plans. We continue to oscillate between paranoia and rationalization and the kids have inevitably heard more than we know. I don’t know what images they have conjured in their heads about the wilds, but I’d love to know what it is that we said that made it possible for Ava to conceive of a million legged person.

This seems like a good occasion to share Ava’s most recent self portraits. It’s not a million legs, but there is imagination in there for sure.



Filed under Africa, Greece

Highway Altars in Greece

We were warned about erratic Greek drivers even before we got to Greece. When we rented a car, our apartment owner’s last words were, “be careful on the roads.” After driving in India, Sandeep felt that he could tackle anything. We persevered and had a great time driving along the Attica coast, even if we were the slowest car on a highway of whizzing Smart Cars and Lamborghinis that all seemed to be in a dangerous race.

The windy highway is sandwiched between mountains on one side and turquoise waters on the other. A few minutes into our drive we started noticing little altars on the road side. They reminded us a lot of the spirit houses in Thailand. We knew that the deeply Christian country (Greece is one of the few European countries that has a state religion) probably didn’t believe in spirit houses.

At first we thought these were small alters where drivers could stop and offer a brief prayer for safe journeys.

However, they seemed randomly scattered along the coast and more prevalent along blind curves – not the ideal place to stop a car.

What we learnt is that these little alters are either memorials for traffic victims or altars of thanks from near victims. Most of these highway altars are understated. Many are small whitewashed stone structures perched on painted oil drums. They have various offerings in them – flowers, candles, even bottles of wine.

During the drive, we thought these alters were tranquil and beautiful, especially the ones set against the backdrop of sea. Perhaps that is because we learnt of their background after we returned the rental car. Next time we are behind the wheel we’ll likely see them as a sign of caution on a street that otherwise seems open and free.

Here is some driving advice from Matt Barrett, the man behind Athens Survival Guide. His website is our online guide for everything Athens. “Driving in mainland Greece and on the Greek islands is a pleasure for those who know how to drive and especially those who know how to drive defensively. Driving in Athens is different. The most important thing to know is that following the rules is seen as a weakness of character by many Greek men who drive with the patience and consideration of a 13 year old drug addict in need of a fix.”

Leave a Comment

Filed under Greece, Religion

Poseidon Blesses the Oceans Around Sounio

It’s hard to determine what is more useful to Athenians – olive trees or the sea. Both are everywhere in Greece. However, thousands of years ago, Athenians made their choice clear. In a battle over who would become patron of Athens, Athena offered the people an olive tree and Poseidon offered them ocean water. Athenians valued the olive tree’s wood, oil and food, but didn’t see much use for salt water. They chose Athena as their patron.

Although Poseidon was second to Athena, his importance as Greek god of the sea cannot be underestimated. He was credited for creating new islands and determining the temper of the ocean. The whims of his trident could either bring a ship back to harbor safely or cause fatality. To this day, the Greeks revere their oceans, as a source of food, a means of transport and their solution for leisure.

Today we decided to pay homage to Poseidon by visiting his temple at Sounio, on the tip of the Attica peninsula. We rented a car and made a day of enjoying the sea. Our first stop was an isolated strip of beach around the small coastal town of Saronida. The western Attica coast is full of sandy beaches and little coves and it only takes a bit of exploring to find a spot that is free of other beach bums.

A small marina was around the cove and the kids enjoyed playing the role of captain, as if guiding their little row-boat home.

The coast is dotted with little chapels. This particular one was locked, but the owner-less scooter outside provided plenty of fun for the kids as Sandeep and I sat back and watched the waters.

The Temple of Poseidon at Sounio juts out into the ocean, as if about to collapse into the very domain that Poseidon ruled. Its marble columns dates back to about 400 B.C. What’s left today is the platform and a line of massive white columns on two sides. I suspect that an olive tree in front of the temple. If so, I’d be highly annoyed if I were Poseidon. He had to play second fiddle to Athena due to the olive tree incident and today an olive tree stands at the foot of his shrine.

Our day ended watching sunset over Sounio, perhaps just as Poseidon did after ensuring the seas were just as he wished them to be. This evening the waters were clear and calm, but the skies were murky. Poseidon really should have been in better coordination with Zeus, god of the skies, to provide us the setting for a better picture.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Greece

Good Meat and Cheap Wine in a Vari Grill House

We finally trekked out of Vouliagmeni (or what we now refer to as Poshland, Greece) to neighboring Vari. Pictures of Vari’s psistarias, or grill houses, so tempted carnivorous Sandeep that we made it a priority to head there early into our stay. Before our journey, I was vegetarian and I avoided wine unless I knew it was good. Our evening in Vari shows how much things have changed since we hit the road.

Vari is affectionately referred to as “cholesterol valley” due to its devotion to meat. The main road is lined with psistarias each spinning whole lambs in the windows. The smell of meat permeates the air in a way that has you wondering whether the smell will wash off. We settled on a casual looking spot that had a few TVs blaring the Euroleague Final Four. At the sight of the empty dining hall, I lamented about the state of the debt crisis. Sandeep reminded me that it was only 7 P.M.  and the Greeks dine late. I took the quiet as an opportunity to befriend the chef and take pictures of the kitchen. The kids took it as a signal to run around an pull the salt shakers off all the tables.

The wine list was longer than the food menu which was all about salad, tzaziki and lamb. At 3 euros for a half liter of house wine, we didn’t debate the wine menu. Crises or not, Greece is expensive and we are taking bargains wherever we find them.

Our waiter gave us a hearty welcome with a complimentary sampler of organ meat wrapped in intestines. “This is what all the Greeks come here for. You must try it!”

Sandeep balked. I picked. Ava chose to demurely ignore the dish. Kayan wholeheartedly ate the entire plate – kidneys, liver and intestinal packaging. It just goes to show that parents should encourage kids to try everything. You never know what will be a hit.

Our main dishes were lamb chops and roast lamb. What arrived at our table as piles of meat left as a cleanly picked graveyard. Certain lamb in Greece graze on thyme fields, thereby marinating as they grow. Morbid in some ways, but delicious in others. Perhaps that is why our lamb tasted so good, even though the waiter assured us that it was cooked in nothing but salt and pepper. In any event, I am blaming the thyme on by all out binging.

There are only a handful of traditional psistarias left in Athens. The grills need space and smoke outlets, so they are not common in populated areas. Athenians therefore head to Vari on weekends for their cholesterol fix. It was 9 P.M. by the time we left, and I was happy to see that, while our heads were in our lamb, the restaurant picked up steam. The tables were full and the wine flowing.

Our excursion to Vari came to 58 euros ($75), including our round trip cab ride. The quality of the meat was on par with some of the best steak houses in New York and the house wine was a perfect complement to the earthy lamb. Personal growth comes in various ways. Tonight, I celebrated making a great meal of meat and cheap wine. We also celebrated Kayan’s new found love for organ meat. Hermes, the Greek god of many trades, including an odd combination of animal husbandry and feasting, would have been proud.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Food, Greece

Celebrating the Olympic Flame Lighting in Greece

Ancient Olympia hosted the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. to honor Zeus, the king of Greek gods. The games were presided over by a flame that represented the endeavor of perfection. Using the rays of the sun and some good Greek olive oil, the 2012 Olympic Flame was lit today in Ancient Olympia. It will spend 8 days touring Greece before being taken to the U.K. for this year’s ceremonies.

In celebration of the event, our family did a little Olympic competition of our own. Ava and Kayan competed in a toddler triathlon. Their first stage was swimming. We spent a few hours at a remote beach, where Kayan encouraged Ava to jump higher over each wave and Ava edged Kayan to go deeper into the water. It was Kayan who won out as Ava’s desire to protect her hair was her downfall.

The second stage was running, where they raced each other for 3 kilometers back to our neighborhood. Kayan’s little legs combined with salt water filled diaper proved to be no match for Ava’s determined strides.

The final stage involved climbing up the steep hill to our building and then to the our second floor apartment. Ava ultimately won the battle, for no other reason than she elbowed her way through the apartment door in search of a brush. Instead of laurel wreaths or medals, the kids’ rewards were pine cones. They were happy with the competition and the reward, which just goes to show that they are true professionals and it is the spirit of the games that matters.

We will be in Africa during the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremonies. We’re not yet sure how we will be celebrating. 100 meter lion sprint or 50 meter shark freestyle?


Filed under Greece, Health

Relaxing on Greek Beaches

Sometimes we just relax.

As you can see, Taniya and my sunglasses did make their way to Greece.

On our day of relaxation we thanked Pasithea, the Greek goddess of rest. Pasithea was very aptly married to Hypnos, the god of sleep. I wonder how they got anything done. Pasithea must have a spell over us today, as our inclination to relax on the turquoise waters outside our door was so strong we didn’t manage to do anything else.


Filed under Greece