Tag Archives: Greek Debt Crisis

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

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

What Greek Debt Crisis?

The Greek god of wealth is Plutus. Zeus blinded Plutus so that he would disperse wealth without prejudice or favoritism. Despite these extreme measures, wealth distribution in Greece, accentuated by the economic crisis, is an issue that is shaking the country and reverberating around the world. We have seen one stark side of it in our new home of Vouliagmeni.

Vouliagmeni is a suburb of Athens and is the southernmost point of what is known as the Athenian Riviera. The small seaside town has one of the highest real estate prices in Greece and is where affluent Athenians have their second homes. What we didn’t realize is how affluent Athenians are and how a town that caters to the uppermost crust of society can be so isolated from a crisis that is impacting the rest of the nation.

The restaurants in Vouliagmeni were buzzing on the weekend, with groups of polo-shirt clad men and designer sunglass-clad women sipping drinks on white cushions overlooking the Mediterranean. The shabbiest car we have seen here is an Audi. It’s hard to take a picture of a luxury can without it being eclipsed by another one. Here is a red Ferrari turning a corner where a white Lamborghini was parked. I tried to get a clear shot but a group of policemen started yelling something about pictures not being allowed. It was all Greek to me, but I didn’t want to argue.

In the beach parking lot, it’s all Porsches, BMWs and Mercedes.

The only grocery store in town has prices that put Whole Foods to shame. The cheapest sit down meal is the souvlaki corner where lunch for the family came to 30 euros ($40).

The streets are lined with orange, olive and fig trees. All of them are ripe with fruit that we haven’t seen anyone daring to pick. Every time we leave the house, Ava and Kayan beg us to pick fruit. We keep telling them that it’s just for decoration. I suppose when one has so much money, why bother plucking fruit when you can buy it instead?

Vouliagmeni is an the ideal location for us. It has great beaches and a quiet vibe, but is easy access to Athens and a few other beach towns. However, we feel isolated from (what we had imagined to be) Greek culture and what is happening in the rest of the country. Then again, the town of Vouliagmeni has been very welcoming to us and giving us the opportunity to experience their side of the crisis.


Filed under Greece