Lots of famous Greeks hail from the Mediterranean’s 5th largest island: writer/philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek, painter Domenico Theotokopoulos (El Greco), Greece’s premier statesman Eleftherios Venizelos, King Minos, and of course Zorba himself.

Crete is a beautiful, fascinating place.  We first visited in 2011, spending a week on the beach with a 20 month old Michael. It was the ten year anniversary of 9/11, which ended up being insignificant.  However, Tripoli had just fallen to rebel fighters and Gadaffi was in hiding.  The large NATO base on Crete had several fighter jets a day taking off and heading to Libya, a short 600 miles away.  Little Michael was thrilled to have so much plane action while he played in the sand.

Crete separates the Aegean from the Sea of Libya.  It was once the center of the Minoans, the earliest known civilization in Europe, who inhabited the island from about 2700 – 1400 BC.  King Minos was its ancient king, who ruled from his palace at Knossos, the (amazingly preserved) ruins of which lie in the central northern coast of the island. Minos is most infamous for demanding Athenian youths to feed to the Minotaur in the Labyrinth.  The Minotaur was half bull and half man, who met his end at the hands of Theseus.  It has been questioned if Minos was a real person instead of a mythological character, but there’s no real conclusive evidence.  “Minos” may have been a title like Caesar or Pharoah.

The Minoan civilization was discovered very recently — early 20th century.  They had a large navy and established a great deal of trade throughout the Aegean into the Cyclades islands, Egypt, Cyprus and Anatolia.  The civilization’s best art is preserved on Santorini before the volcano destroyed the island.  The Minoan civilization declined between 1400 and 1100 BC when the Myceneans came into power and took over the Minoans sea-based empire.

What makes Crete so nifty, in our opinion, is that it has its own culture.  It’s definitely Greek, but with an intensified spirit evidenced in its history and its food and drink. Just looking at the lists of famous Cretans tells you so.  The Cretan resistance in World War II performed an astounding number of feats, including the capture of a German general from right in the center of the Nazi occupation.  The famous Churchill quote, which goes something like, “we used to say Greeks fought like heroes, now let it be known that heroes fight like Greeks,” came from the Cretan warrior spirit known for generations, but shown to the modern world in the Second World War.

As an aside, if you’d like to learn more about the Cretan strength, endurance and nutrition, pick up a copy of Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall.

In addition to its razor-sharp mountains and numerous gorges, Crete boasts some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean.  In January, we planned a trip there with our dear friends and Denver neighbors, the Lundstroms.  They arrived just as school ended in Athens and that night, we loaded 8 people and our car (packed with paddle boards and other beach equipment) onto the overnight ferry, arriving in Chania at 6 am on Saturday.

img_9756The owners of the house we rented were incredibly gracious and allowed us to check in (very) early: 7:30 am.  They met us there with warm bougatsa, fresh fruit and a shot of raki. Raki is tough any time, but 7 am sends you to the moon. I don’t remember why we didn’t nap that day … but instead we picked up Russell’s rental car, shopped for groceries, played ping pong, swam in the pool and headed to the Chania harbor that evening.  Chania is Crete’s second largest city.  It’s a lovely town with old Venetian walls and a beautiful lighthouse in the harbor.

img_7239We looked forward to their visit for months. Michael and Peter were thrilled to have friends from home and it was fun to see them pair off in different combinations for the week. Peter has always adored Max, the elder statesman of the kid group, and Sam and Michael are in the same grade and have an easy friendship.  This time, Michael and Max spent time together talking about & watching the World Cup, and one day Sam and Peter hunted for all kinds of sea creatures.  We had dog paddle races, surfed on the paddleboards on a windy afternoon, snorkled, boogie boarded, flossed, swam a lot and tried to make goats faint. Sam kept a list of all the different animals & creatures we saw.  One day, Lundstroms went to Knossos to see the palace and Fefeses hiked in a small gorge.  We got rained out; they didn’t … and were happy for the cloud cover.  That night we enjoyed homemade spaghetti thanks to Russell and a bottle of red wine thanks to our sweet hosts.

The palace of Knossos was the largest of its time and was the seat of power for the Minoan civilization. The main building covered three acres and when you include the out-buildings, it totals five acres. The palace had bathrooms, a drainage system, an enormous center staircase, a cult ritual room, 16 storage rooms and a theater for 400. 

img_9781Sam had a great idea to try different beaches and then on our last day go back to our favorite one.  In all, I think we did four different beaches in 6 days.  Midweek, we caravaned over the mountains to Elafonisi beach, ranked in the top ten worldwide.  Elafonisi has pink sand, black rocks, and bright blue shallow water.  Demetri and Max nicknamed it “Gucci Beach” because it was so … fancy. We swam and boarded and snorkeled for hours.  The beach we went back to was Stavros, famed for being the location shoot for Zorba the Greek, starring Anthony Quinn. We also swam at Marathi Beach and Loutraki Beach.  We ate lots of souvlaki and watermelon and consumed our fair share of apricots, cherries, coffee, raki, Pringles and cold Greek beer.  Demetri, Russell and Max had two sessions of “Death by Pushups” and “Death by Squats.”  Apparently neither was as fun as it sounds.

Our week together went too fast but it was so awesome. We ferried back to Athens Groundhog-Day style, arriving again at 6 am. The kids played with the castles and knights on the patio until it was time for them to depart.  I’m sure they arrived back in Germany with a lot of extra sand in their bag.



Greek life, Travels

May-hem, in the best way

The past 6 weeks have flown by frighteningly fast.  My friend Julie told me a new word to describe the end of the school year: May-hem.  We have a little June-hem in Athens as schools don’t let out until around mid-month.

We’ve had a fun, if fast, month and a half though.  At the end of Race2Adventure,  Carter and Mike joined Demetri for the Formula 1 race in Barcelona.  Later in May, Demetri headed to Nice for one of his top three bucket list items: a Formula 1 race in Monte Carlo.  He snuck onto a yacht and met a cornerback for the Chiefs.  Then he headed to Italy, toured 2 ferrari factories, bought some fantastic balsamic vinegar in Modena and watched wheels of parmigianno-reggiano get shined in Parma, where they play classical music so the cows don’t get stressed. The following weekend, Thodoris and Vassilis joined him in Mugello, Italy — hometown track for Valentino Rossi – for the MotoGP race.  They won a ride in the safety car and got to see the track.  While the dads and uncles were enjoying Bologna and Florence and a massive bistecca fiorentino, Anna and the kids and I spent the weekend together, first at Zappeio and the National Garden in downtown Athens, and then at a playground in Faliro right next to a burger place.  We had lots of ice cream that weekend … and met Captain America.

And, best of all, our friends who promised to visit have started to arrive. Mark and Christina came for a few days before their Mediterranean cruise, bringing a Costco double-pack of Cholula sauce for Demetri.  Then, Mike, Lori and Josh came to Athens for a few days pre-island tour.  We flossed at the Acropolis and SUPed along the Athens Riveria, and I had a run/walk partner for 4 mornings.  Then Jane, Kim, Nikki and Lucas also spent time in Athens before their week-long catamaran cruise in the islands. Today, Russell, Christine, Max and Sam come in by way of Germany, and we’ll all head to Crete for a week of paddleboarding and beach time.  And at the end of the month, Allison, Haley, Reeves and Ryan are coming for 4 days before their Italian holiday.

In between all that, Peter played a sheep in the year end school play, Michael performed a traditional Greek dance in the end of year school play and he was elected MVP for the basketball team yesterday. We had fun birthday parties for our classmates, a lovely fish lunch with Michael’s friend Tasos and his family: Katerina, Makis and brother Ares; lunch was a gorgeous halibut that Tasos’ Makis caught the previous afternoon.  There were two Naxos cheese and wine parties and a park play date with our fun, awesome neighbors Panayoti, Irini and little Anna, and Lionel Messi appeared on a bag of potato chips.

Last ride on the school bus tomorrow. Bring on summer.  Bittersweet for sure.

Photo collage of the May-June whirlwind below.


Greek life

Give me a word … any word …

Demetri says every Greek American family can pick one specific part from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and say, ‘yep, that’s us.’  My title today is a line from it … when Kostas, the dad, is driving carpool and impressing the other children with how any word has its root in Greek. If you remember the movie, the kids think they’ve got him when they ask him for the roots of ‘kimono’ and he tells them it’s a robe that people wear in the winter because, hello,  it’s based on the Greek word for winter: χειμωνασ.  Toula, the daughter, was dying of embarrassment in the backseat.

Several months ago, Papou told me about an economist or professor who gave a speech in the 1950s in English but using only Greek words.  A month or so later at a 2nd grade Laser Tag party, a dad told me the same thing … but he did one better by googling it and pulling it up for me.

The economist who gave this (and another) speech was Xenophon Zolotas. The prefix xeno- means foreign, so I’d like to think he was destined to bring the Greek language to the mainstream modern word.  Zolotas is one of the best jewelry stores in all of Greece, but that probably has nothing to do with what I’m writing about.  Anyway, Zolotas was the head of the bank of Greece right after World War II and then again for 12 years before the junta took power.  In 1989, Zolotas was appointed a non-party prime minister, as the elections that year failed to give majority to either of the prominent political parties.  He died at 100 years old and swam every day of his life.

Zolotas gave two speeches demonstrating the contributions of the Greek language to the English vocabulary.  At the time of his address, Greece had just emerged from an awful civil war. Zolotas’ intention was to use these speeches to enlighten the spirit, substance and grandeur of Greek Culture. Have a look:

September 1957

I always wished to address this Assembly in Greek, but realized that it would have been indeed “Greek” to all present in this room. I found out, however, that I could make my address in Greek which would still be English to everybody. With your permission, Mr. Chairman, l shall do it now, using with the exception of articles and prepositions, only Greek words.


I eulogize the archons of the Panethnic Numismatic Thesaurus and the Ecumenical Trapeza for the orthodoxy of their axioms, methods and policies, although there is an episode of cacophony of the Trapeza with Hellas. With enthusiasm we dialogue and synagonize at the synods of our didymous organizations in which polymorphous economic ideas and dogmas are analyzed and synthesized. Our critical problems such as the numismatic plethora generate some agony and melancholy. This phenomenon is characteristic of our epoch.

But, to my thesis, we have the dynamism to program therapeutic practices as a prophylaxis from chaos and catastrophe. In parallel, a Panethnic unhypocritical economic synergy and harmonization in a democratic climate is basic. I apologize for my eccentric monologue. I emphasize my euharistia to you, Kyrie to the eugenic arid generous American Ethnos and to the organizes and protagonists of his Amphictyony and the gastronomic symposia.


It is Zeus’ anathema on our epoch (for the dynamism of our economies) and the heresy of our economic method and policies that we should agonize the Skylla of nomismatic plethora and the Charybdis of economic anaemia. It is not my idiosyncracy to be ironic or sarcastic but my diagnosis would be that politicians are rather cryptoplethorists. Although they emphatically stigmatize nomismatic plethora, they energize it through their tactics and practices. Our policies should be based more on economic and less on political criteria. Our gnomon has to be a metron between economic,strategic and philanthropic scopes. Political magic has always been anti-economic.

In an epoch characterized by monopolies, oligopolies, monopolistic antagonism and polymorphous inelasticities, our policies have to be more orthological, but this should not be metamorphosed into plethorophobia, which is endemic among academic economists. Nomi smatic symmetry should not antagonize economic acme. A greater harmonization between the practices of the economic and nomismatic archons is basic. Parallel to this,we have to synchronize and harmonize more and more our economic and nomismatic policies panethnically. These scopes are more practicable now, when the prognostics of the political and economic barometer are halcyonic. The history of our didimus organization on this sphere has been didactic and their gnostic practices will always be a tonic to the polyonymous and idiomorphous ethnical economies. The genesis of the programmed organization will dynamize these policies.

Therefore, i sympathize, although not without criticism one or two themes with the apostles and the hierarchy of our organs in their zeal to program orthodox economic and nomismatic policies, although I have some logomachy with them.I apologize for having tyranized you with my Hellenic phraseology. In my epilogue, i emphasize my eulogy to the philoxenous aytoc htons of this cosmopolitan metropolis and my encomium to you, Kyrie stenographers.

Maybe good ole Kostas was onto something.

The word “ΓΛΩΣΣΑ” in the photo above, means ‘languages.’  Schools also use it to describe language arts activities, i.e., reading, writing, spelling.