nina on the go

Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

a great reason to party...friends, fantasy, a finite life

This weekend I was again reminded how short life can be...how heartbreakingly sad. I feel a combination of incredible despair for friends of mine, but at the same time a heart full of warmth because my home was filled with wonderful lovely people on Friday night. It was a good reason to party...


advent, the anniversary of my time living in Germany, and the acknowledgement of older and new souls who have enriched, enveloped and energized my time in this new place.


My dad opened the world of travel up for me, but it was my mother who showed me the bliss of a packed kitchen full of friends, a table full of simple, tasty food, and memories made on a cozy (often wine-fueled), laughter-rich evening of just being together.


I love throwing a party...and in the weeks before Christmas is my all-time favourite time for one! The first thing I make sure to have is a pot of mulled wine on the stove. The scent of cloves, cinnamon, oranges blending with red wine and a hint of sugar, wafting through the hallways to greet guests just makes me happy (and them too hopefully).


Now, I am not a great cook, that's for sure. Honestly, I'm quite lazy, but I do love planning what kind of simple, good food I can make, which drinks to have on offer, and how I will decorate so that people feel welcome and cozy. I mean, is there anything more cozy than a basket full of baguette and platters of Italian cheese and salamis?


It doesn't always work out, but I try to make sure that there is more than enough, which is something I also have from my mom. My brother and I loved her parties because there would always be days of leftovers afterwards.


For this year's advent party, I had chosen an Italian theme because....well, why not? There is a wonderful little Italian supermarket close to where I work. On one evening last week I went in to pick up Italian sausages, Salsiccia, along with great big slabs of Pecorino and Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto and Truffle Salami. A bonus of party-throwing in Germany is that food and drink is much less expensive than in Canada.


This is an easy, very tasty fingerfood recipe for the slow cooker...a great contraption for serving warm food over a few hours:

Italian Sausage with Peppers & Onions

Cut sausages in half, brown in oil on all sides, remove from saucepan
Add sliced bell peppers, garlic and onions and cook for a few minutes
Transfer everything to the slow cooker, add a can of diced tomatoes, salt and pepper
Cook on low for 5 hours
Keep in the slow cooker and let guests help themselves

Serve with mini ciabatta buns toasted in the oven, and napkins


Then I basically filled every available surface with dips, crackers, tartellettes, mini quiche, olives, Grissini, and other such simple good things, so that guests can continuously nibble and munch to their hearts content.


One thing I just learned is that drink options are very much appreciated...two types of beer, two kinds of red wine, and of course, non-alcoholic beverages are important. Going with the Italian theme, I bought Italian sodas when I saw them on sale...but mostly I just found them pretty.


There is a great German word, which is wished upon others a lot during the advent weeks...that Christmastime be 'besinnlich'. The best translation is a mashup of 'tranquil' and 'comtemplative'.


I won't be home for Christmas this year, but I incorporated some items from my mother (who passed away 11 years ago) into my decorating plans, to bring the feeling of 'home' home. Pine branches filled her handpainted milkcans, large and small, stuffed into pails and spread out on windowsills. Simple, smelly, sublime.


Sometimes there are special treats that arrive hand delivered, such as homemade desserts made by a friend, or a yummy gin from a special place picked out just for yours truly. 


When the last guests have left, I love to quietly clean up, even in the wee hours. It's peaceful work...having time to reflect on the conversations, the catching up, the stories...and being thankful.

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Friday, November 30, 2018

greek island paradise - part I: mykonos & delos

 

Mykonos...the perfect isle


If you like nightlife, boutique shopping, and gorgeous white-washed houses, then the Town of Mykonos should be on your bucket list.


But I loved Mykonos because of its disorienting, car-free, narrow lanes, (so narrow that two tourists passing in the night need to yield to each other), its cubed houses draped in blooms, and its old fishing houses standing proudly in the sea, being rhythmically caressed (hammered?) by the waves.

Mirador Windmill

From the port of Mykonos, up on a hill towards the right, you will see swarms of tourists among a row of antique windmills (the famous Káto Mili). But, if you want a windmill to yourself I suggest venturing in the other direction, all the way through town and up the other hill, to Mirador, a run-down windmill, providing a gorgeous view of the town and sea below...it's an isolated gem in my opinion.

Church of Paraportiani

One of the most photographed churches in the world is the Church of Paraportiani, situated very close the sea's edge, in the oldest part of Mykonos Town. Stemming out of the 1400's, it consists of 5 seperate churches which have been joined together...though the entire building seems relatively small by European standards. The church's whiteness against the blue of sky and sea is just plum beautiful.


Wandering through the old Kástro neigbourhood you will stop every 5 seconds to take a photo (I bet ya!). What fascinated me was thinking about how this place used to be, before the mega party scene and Louis Vuitton. Apparently, this was a humble, out-of-the-way fishing village, whose confusing, narrow lanes bewildered the few pirates who actually made land here.

St. Nikolas Greek Orthodox Church

Many of the oldest houses in Alefkandra, or Little Venice, just steps from Kastro, are now hip, not-inexpensive taverns, where we also took a break, had a beer, and watched the waves leap onto the terraces and startle the tourists.

View of Káto Mili from a Little Venice tavern

Mykonos has incredible beaches, but we preferred to explore the town and take in the interesting architecture, the blooms, the coloured balconies, and the narrow lanes.



As you leave Mykonos Town for one of the other islands, as we did to head to Delos for the morning, you will no doubt stop to admire the small Agios Nikolaos Church at the Old Port. Amid bobbing (or retired), wooden fishing boats called 'kaiki', the blue dome and cross will be a beacon of Greece for you...a point of home whenever you get lost meandering through the labyrinthian alleyways of Mykonos.

Agios Nikolaos Church by the Old Port

Delos...the sacred isle


One of the absolute highlights of my Greek Isle trip, and which I was so excited about, was Delos. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis (although that might have been just a great marketing ploy back in the pre-Roman days, according to our tourguide), and one of the best preserved sites of ancient Greek civilisation.


From Mykonos' Old Port it's just a short ferry ride, and makes an easy, unforgettable half-day experience. Delos has been an uninhabited island for centuries, because of its sacredness. There are only a few guards living on the island with their families. Interestingly, our tour guide was one of the archeologists who lived and excavated the island decades ago. She spoke with such a passion for the history of this place that is was worth every penny of the tour price.


Delos has a very long and complicated history. It has changed hands many times since the first indications of civilisation in the 3rd millenium BC. Already before the 8th century BC someone had deemed it the birthplace of Zeus and Leto's twin children, Apollo and Artemis. Legend has it that Hera, Zeus's wife, shunned Leto from giving birth on any land mass and therefore Delos, as being not attached to the ocean floor, was the only place Leto could find to deliver the twins.

Terrace of the Lions

It has been almost always a religious pilgrammage destination, at times the largest slave trader, was the site of numerous brutal Athenian purifications, and after 146 BC was Greece's most important trading centre, with over 30 000 inhabitants.

The magnificent Terrace of the Lions (600 BC), whose original statues are in the island's museum, stand watch along the Sacred Way.

House of Dionysus

From the ancient port, the right-hand side of the excavated town comprises the residential quarter. One of the incredible homes is that of a 2nd century, wealthy family whose courtyard is lined with a mosaic floor depicting Dionysus riding a panther...an amazing piece of art to see.


There are too many impressive sites and stories to explain here, but one aspect of walking in these ancient footsteps was coming across the most beautiful headless statues, mostly in former homes of the well-to-do. Apparently, headless statues were often built with fairly generic, toga-draped bodies for the commissioned heads of heros or well-known people or just plain-old rich folk to rest atop of...and for some reason I found them all very beautiful.



Delos, if you go:

- Book ferry tickets online, or for the same price at the old port of Mykonos Town.
- I highly recommend a guided tour of Delos (ferry and entrance fee are included) because of the many interesting stories of individual families who lived there, the complex history, the ancient symbols and carvings which are pointed out which you would surely miss, and of course, the mythology of the many temples.
- Be wary of snakes when walking around Delos on your own. I wanted to trek up to the Temple of Artemis but the tourguide mentioned the snakes and I decided against it....went into the museum instead.
- Bring water and food along. There is one cafeteria on the island, by the museum, which isn't cheap...of course.

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