Sicily – It’s all about the food – search for the spleen sandwich part 2. 

Dean and I have hit the beautiful and bustling city of Palermo. We are with Marco our guide from Streaty Food Tours http://www.streaty.com/ the morning after our arrival.

Marco mentions the spleen sandwich in his preamble so we know we have come to the right place and the time has almost arrived.


(Photo taken on the tour by Dean)

As we wind through the streets of the historic Vucciria market, Marco is cracking jokes with both the locals and tour group. It is obvious he is on familiar ground and enjoys his work with a passion.

Starting with the Arancine (ends with an e in Palermo and o in Catania and the subject of passionate feuds between the cities), the warm up acts to the spleen sarnie prove to be interesting and tasty.

To give us all the courage to taste without hesitation we enjoyed a drink at the famous old pub ‘The Azzura’ before the main event. A boisterous bar full of regulars high on life and other libations during the day it becomes the place for students to gather at night.

But on to the star of the show and we are warmly greeted by Basili who has been selling spleen on bread for the last 65 years.


Calf’s spleen boiled and then cooked in lard, the ‘Pane ca meusa’ is tasty and chewy with the flavour and texture of mushroomy beef.

The famous Palermo snack proves a winner with Dean and me. We both could have easily devoured more.


We finish the tour with a gelato on brioche, satisfied we had conquered the spleen and been treated to a tasty introduction to the offerings of Palermo.

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Sicily – it’s all about the food – search for a spleen sandwich part 1

In my last post I wrote about my charmed life in Greece.

Well the privileged existence continues in Sicily via a nine day trip with a long time friend from Australia.

Our first stop is Catania, a city with a long and volatile history, a mountain volcano and impressive baroque architecture.

It has been put to me that my photographs while living in Europe mainly depict me eating or drinking.
For me the food of a city is what traveling is all about. Italy never disappoints.

On the second day in Catania we enjoyed a walking street food tour, sampling the gastronomic delights while soaking up the city’s past.
Our guide was Vasilis, a Romanian born in the Soviet Union who developed a passion for the place after living there for 25 years with his Sicilian wife.

Starting with tasty Pecorino cheese after a stroll through the boisterous fish markets we were primed for a tasty feast over the next few hours.

(Sardines at the markets)

I had read about the spleen sandwich being a Sicilian delicacy which had me intrigued and slightly nervous about giving it a try.

Arancini was up next, this one with a meaty sauce ragu in the middle, nice!

The food that followed included cipollina (pastry stuffed with onion cheese and ham), granita and drinks of seltz (a curious mixture of salt and lemon drink).


(Seltz)

Halfway through the tour I asked about the famous spleen sandwich only to be told that it is a Palermo delicacy. Vasilis displayed his parochial Catanian side by describing it as “ok but not to my taste.”

So while the sandwich will have to wait until the Palermo we did manage to try a plate of horse, accurately described by mate Dean as salty but sweet.


(Plate of horse)

Aside from the food tour we managed to enjoy Catania’s iconic ‘Pasta alla Norma’ named in honour of composer Vincenzo Bellini, maccheroncini, fried eggplant, tomato sauce and ricotta.


(Pasta alla Norma)

So we move on with the aforementioned organ sanger in our sights.

My next vent will be after Palermo hopefully with spleen conquered.

Cheers and Yiassas and Ciao

Stu

I think I have become ‘that’ person: Mykonos.

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There was always someone that triggered life envy.

They had the perfect job, were permanently happy and went on the best holidays.

Sitting in ‘Little Venice” in Mykonos overlooking the Aegean under a clear blue sky drinking a morning coffee it hit me that the ‘someone’ is now me. It’s my turn.

Circumstances arose 12 months ago that lead me to temporarily giving up the daily work grind.

We made the jump over to the beautiful country of Greece and  I now work sporadically.

In short doing what I love doing in temporary bursts.

Greece is a beautiful country full of spirited people and wonderful food. Despite the finanacial crisis there are plenty of good times to go with the difficult.

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Talking of financial crisis, on the surface an economic slowdown is not evident here on the island of Mykonos.

Even in May, very much the start of the tourist season here, the place is buzzing with activity. I can only imagine how busy it gets by July/August.

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I anticipated an island full of bars and nightclubs, (a situation that I would have enjoyed back in the day), but have been more impressed by the charm and sparkling whitle/blue architecture.

Sure there are spruikers everywhere preying on the naive  tourist.

On the other hand there is pleasure in wandering the narrow alleyways of the old town in anticipation of what might be around the corner.

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While certain restaurants in Mykonos appear unaffordable, it is possible, if you pick the right taverna, to sit on the waterfront eating fresh well cooked seafood accompanied by a glass or two of assyrtiko at a modest price.

I can’t think of a better foodie experience than indulging at sunset.

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There have been slight pangs of guilt about my current situation.

I tell myself it has been a long time coming and in two years I will be back in the grind.

Until then……

Yiassas and cheers.

Stu

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Interesting views of Athens

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My second visit to the Benaki Museum Annexe was for another photography exhibition, ‘Athena  Thea’ or Athens Views.

The gallery in the arty precinct of Kerameikos is a really good space with a cafe that serves  food and coffee that is worth a visit  in its own right.

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Athena Thea is a project by Ianna Andreais who invited inhabitants of central Athens to photograph the view from their window with at least part of the window in the shot.

The invitations and submissions were managed via Facebook.

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The views are many and varied, (submissions from 500 people are on display) and portray a different city to the general tourist, couple of days in the capital before hopping over to an island, impression.

This is a gritty Athens that throbs with life while enticing you with her  charms and daring  you off the beaten track to explore.

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The exhibition is at the Benaki Annexe 138 Pireos St and runs until 29 January 2017.

Well worth a visit if you are in town.

Cheers and Yiassas

Stu

Twitter @discomclennan

Attica Rhinos continue their winning charge

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By Stuart McLennan Twitter @discomclennan

The Attica Rhinos remain unbeaten after two rounds of the Greek rugby league championship defeating the Patras Panthers 52-4 in Athens on Saturday night.

In an entertaining display in damp conditions at Agios Kosmas, the Rhinos scored nine tries to one continuing their good form from pre-season.

With a glut of possession in the first half, due to unforced Patras errors, Attica jumped to the lead early when speedy back Andreas Shakaj crossed the line in the third minute.

Both Shakaj and Panagiotis Kanellakis were at their best in the first half grabbing a double each before the break.

Kanellakis was playing his first game of the season after being drafted in to the army in May and only being able to attend training for the first lime last Thursday. He returns to the army this week.

Rhinos halfback George Stilianos employed a smart kicking game that troubled the opposition under lights in wet conditions.

With the scoreline 30-4 at the break the game was all but over but to the the credit of Patras they improved their performance in the second stanza reducing errors and tightening up their defence.

Fullback Mohammed Arikat was dangerous every time he touched the ball for Patras making a number of incisive runs before incurring a knee injury just before full

Greek national team front rower Kostas Georgogalas was unable to make the trip from Patras due to family olive harvesting commitments.

Rhinos captain Johny Nake successfully returned from injury, controlling the ruck, scoring two individual tries and saving a couple of tries with last ditch efforts.

Nake felt that he had “held back a bit” after returning from a broken jaw but was happy with the team’s performance. The Rhinos hooker also coaches the team and is reaping the benefits of recent RLEF coach education.

Patra captain Christos Aznaouridis was proud of the efforts of his team who were playing only their second game of league after switching from rugby union this season.

“We know what is required and we get the process right at training but it is different in a match situation.

“We made too many errors tonight but each game is a learning experience for us.”

The match featured a couple of impressive debuts.

Rhinos forward Ioannis Zevgolis played his first game of rugby league at age 38.

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The first female rugby league match official in Greece, Zoe Valassa, completed her first game as a touch judge.

Rhodes Knights vs Aris Eagles on 10 December in Rhodes will complete the second round.
Attica Rhinos 52  (Shakaj 3’ 14’; Kanellakis 13’ 26’; Nake 18’ 39’; Xygkas 48’ 50’; Malai 54’ tries, Stilianos 8 goals)
Patras Panthers 4 ( Karaiskakis 17’ try)

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Backpacking memories at the Benaki.

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On the advice of  the excellent online site ‘Why Athens’ we headed across to the other side of Athens on the weekend to an exhibition by Greek photographer Constantinos Pittas.

Entitled ‘Images of another Europe 1985-89’ it was always going to interest this ageing punter being one of the many thousands of young backpackers who spent time in here in Europe in the 80s.

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Pittas had the aim of photographing people either side of the iron curtain to show that everyday life was similar no matter where you lived.

He had no formal training. In most cases the  small camera was hidden and the subjects had no idea they were being photographed.

Pittas visited 17 countries across Europe to acquire the images, sleeping in his car and camping.

The images of Berlin struck a chord with me as I vividly remember the crossover through Checkpoint Charlie to East Berlin.

It was daunting for a naive young Australian and strikingly contrasted in terms of mood and atmosphere.

Being the 1980s alcohol seemed to flow everywhere.

On the west side celebrations abounded while in the east perhaps it was a coping mechanism.

Anyway the wall has gone, times have changed and we have moved on. Or have we?

An interesting and thought provoking exhibition at the Benaki Museum Annex in Athens.

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It’s all Greek to Georgie- A weekend in Rhodes

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The Greek holiday island of Rhodes has thrown up another stunner. Apparently it is sunny here 300 days of the year.

Greece rugby league head coach Steve Georgallis is sitting at the officials table at Karakonero Stadium while the Rhodes 8s tournament is being contested. Teams involved are from Athens, Patra, Rhodes, Turkey and Australia. The team of Greek Australians will eventually win the final against Turkey.

‘Georgie’ has taken on the role of timekeeper, scoreboard attendant, results scribe and any other vacant job that needs to be managed on the sidelines at a rugby league tournament.

His Dad Leo, who emigrated to Sydney from the island of Tilos in 1959, is at the back of the grandstand taking it all in. More than once he brings his son a cup of coffee to keep him going.

In between games a number of people stroll over to say yasou and chat to the affable coach.

“This is what I love,” says Georgallis with a broad grin. “This is rugby league in its purest form. It not about money and status. Just camaraderie and a shared love for the game.

“When I came into first grade in the late 1980s in Sydney everyone was a part-time professional and had other jobs. Georgallis was a PE teacher and it is clear he looks back on those times with fondness and nostalgia.

“In those days all the players knew each other and you would play it tough on the field but then have a beer with the opposition after the game. That doesn’t happen anymore.”

While on official duties, the astute coach is also identifying players with his assistant Jim Pizanias for the squad of nineteen to play an international match against Turkey the following night.

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Georgallis has been coach of the Greek team since 2002.

Starting out playing with teams of all heritage players selected mainly from competitions in Australia, rugby league in Greece evolved to having its own domestic competition in 2013.

While there has been a recent split with two leagues operating, there is strong optimism for this competition. It is overseen by the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) who have been assisting with coaching and officials development

“I can see a real improvement in the local players since I was here a couple of years ago and that is a credit to the work of the volunteers in this country.

“No one gets paid a cent here. The Australians came over on the back of fundraising nights and the local Greek players paid their own airfares to Rhodes.

“This weekend is only possible due to the generosity of the local municipal council here who are providing accommodation and transport.”

When the squad of 19 is chosen on Saturday morning 12 players from the Greek domestic competition are in the side.

“If a couple of these kids here in Greece were transported to Australia and placed in junior development systems I know they would become top line players.

“Our team is a balance of Australian players who have been playing the game all their life and can provide some direction and leadership to local players who have talent and passion but have only being playing the game for a short time.

“We picked a kid from an Athens club, the Attica Rhinos who has been playing the game for less than 6 months and now he is playing for his country!”

The theme of the pre-game dressing room speech from the coach was pride in your country. The chests of the players visibly swell as the words cut through the nervous silence.

The first half of the game is full of niggle and aggression as you would expect with the history of these two proud countries. A brawl breaks out and a Turkish player is sent from the field leaving Turkey to battle it out with 12 men on the pitch.

At halftime up 26-0 the usually laid back and friendly Georgallis becomes stern and agitated. Discipline, don’t get involved with niggling tactics and respect the referee was the gist of his tirade.

The team responds by focussing on playing good entertaining rugby league and runs out winners 86-0.

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Turkey coach Julien Treu is surprisingly philosophical post game. “This is our first international. We have only been official for 4 months. We will learn from the result and we will learn from the send off. It is a starting point.”

The only Australian based Turkish player is dummy half Effem Coskun who plays with the Bankstown Giants in the police competition. “I was in Turkey for a 2 week holiday and they contacted me about going to Rhodes. I thought this sounds fun but when I was out there and I heard the anthems it really hit me that I was playing for my country.”

The weekend of rugby league finishes on Sunday with the first game of the 2016-17 Greek domestic season between the Rhodes Knights and Patras Panthers who have switched from rugby union this season. Patras are decked out in Panthers playing gear that Georgallis was able to secure for them as Penrith’s 2016 NSW Cup coach.

Patras go down 56-0 to last years premiers Rhodes but Georgie says they have plenty of potential. “With the right leadership and guidance they can be a strong team.”

At the end of the weekend Georgallis who is staying on a bit longer comes out to the airport to have a final drink and say goodbye. Not because it is his duty. It is obvious he just loves being around the players.

“My dad came out to Australia from Greece when he was 18 and made a life there. I am doing this to pay him back, pay Greece back and to pay rugby league back.

“See that young kid there from Attica Rhinos? He hasn’t had the Greek team polo shirt off his back since we gave it to him. That’s what I love about rugby league!”

Twitter @Discomclennan

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Three days of castles, towers and clear blue Mediterranean Sea

IMG_0562.JPG(Village of Limeni)

Recently we jumped in to the car and headed out of Athens for a lazy few days in the Peloppenese region.

First stop was Nafplio, a seaport town that was actually the capital of the first Hellenic Republic and Kingdom of Greece between 1821 and 1834.

Nafplio has the look and feel of old Europe and is a nice place to stroll along the cobbled streets.

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We stayed in a very comfortable and guest friendly hotel( Hotel Perivoli) in a village just outside of Nafplio.

Set on a hill amongst the orange orchards, the hotel boasted a very nice pool which Scamper and I appreciated.

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Nafplio is overlooked by the fortress of Palamadi. We drove most of the way rather then climb the rumoured 999 steps to reach it.

As expected some very nice views.

img_0523From Nafplio it was on to Limeni in the Mani region ( by the way the word maniac originates from the people of Mani) so it was a place of interest for someone like me.

Limeni is a beautiful seaside village surround by rocky mountainous terrain.

The sea has the sparkling blue appeal that makes villages such as this so attractive.

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We stayed in an apartment overlooking the village called the Vasilios Apartments Hotel. Another winner with cracking breakfasts and a great view from our room.

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We spent a day touring the Mani region and exploring the towers the region is famous for.

The towers first appearing in the 13th century are an expression of the “fighting spirit” the area is famous for and  a result of segregation of the population in to clans or families.

Sitting by the water in the sunset with a cool drink I could have stayed for days, months, years even.

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They don’t understand me at the local cafe

 

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Unfortunately I don’t speak Greek, a situation I hope to remedy over the next 3 years.

When I take the dog for a walk and the obligatory  espresso freddo  we communicate via the English language. Much appreciated by me!

What confuses shop keepers and cafe owners is what the hell am I doing hanging around  in Athens during the summer  holiday period.

Conversations usually go this way:

What are you doing here in Athens?

My wife has a job here and we will be here for at least 3 years.

But why would you do that?

Because it is exciting and a new experience for us to live here.

Ok. When are you going to an island?

I am not sure. We have just arrived in Athens and  my wife has just started and it is the busiest time of year for her?

Are you going tomorrow?  Which island will you go to?

You get the gist. There was a two week period in August when I think we were  close to the only people left in this city.

We haven’t been to an island yet. (Last time we were in Greece we did have a weekend break in Santorini – brilliant!).

We will do it soon. I am confident. In the meantime we have been exploring the coast on the mainland close to Athens.

Here are some highlights.

IMG_0311.JPGLake  Vouliagmeni  (sunken lake) in the heart of the Athenian Riviera, 20km south of the city, is a warm water lake and a therapeutic spa. It has a load of seats with umbrellas around the edge and boasts food and drink table service. Small fish bite at your feet while  you are swimming removing the dead skin cells. An interesting experience.

img_0423On a recent weekend we  hired a car and ventured further. This time to Cape Sounion, 69km south-southeast of Athens.Weirdly we didn’t end up swimming this time, just couldn’t find a beach that suited, but we came across some stunning scenery , views of the Aegean and the Temple of Poseidon ruins pictured.

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I have left the best for last as far as the perfect Sunday outing. Last weekend we went to Porto Germeno, 48km northwest of Athens, a coastal settlement surrounded by forested mountains.

A relaxing swim in the strikingly blue sea and a pleasant Greek seafood lunch at a beachside taverna. Hard to beat.

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img_0425We have just purchased a car. More day trips are on the cards and island holidays in the planning. I promise!

Cheers and Yiassas

 

A trip to the barber made my mind up.

image.jpeg(Photo courtesy Lord of the Blades Facebook page)

The return of the old school barber has been bubbling for the last few years. First it was hipsters with Ned Kelly style beards. Now males everywhere are ditching the unisex hairdresser for an environment where men can be blokes and still receive a quality service.

The shop where you can crack jokes that push political correctness boundaries, talk sport, politics and anything else that comes to mind has become fashionable again worldwide.

I am a fan of the old school barber and I am glad that Athens has embraced the revival.  It is a place where men can get some intense care for their beards and hair and pretend that they are not bothered about appearance.

Curiously 60s to 80s rock is the soundtrack of choice for these establishments both here  in Athens and back in Australia. I have heard everything from the Doors to Bon Jovi as the number 2 razor buzzes around my head.

The  scene is set for a good half hour or so of laughs and music except for one slightly important issue. In Athens I can’t understand what the barbers or the customers are  saying or for that matter are chuckling about.

Is it me they are poking fun at? Probably not but you never know.

I am pretty sure this is not the case as the Greeks I have met have been friendly and respectful.

I am desperate to know what they are saying  though so now the Greek language lessons are an immediate priority.

I want to genuinely laugh along with the rest of the guys!

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(Photo courtesy of the Lord of the Blades -my local barber – Facebook page)

Cheers and Giassas

Stu

Five things I have learned living in Athens

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1. It is all about the people

Despite the much reported financial crisis and high unemployment in Greece the people of Athens really do  care about each other.

Whether it is money problems, poor health or other stresses people are willing to give a coin, lend a hand or offer sage advice when called upon.

Athenians love spending  time with each other and their enthusiasm for socialising doesn’t seem to have been dampened by the weak economy.

Revellers head out to eat and party at about the same time I am thinking about bed.

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2. Athens has gone to the dogs

Dogs are very much loved and respected in Athens. Street dogs are fat, happy and well cared for.

The local government here regularly rounds them up, tags them and provides free vet services.

Pets have free access to a a lot of venues and my dog Scamper has never been fussed over as much as she has in Athens

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3. Football fans have real passion

Athens has three major football teams, Olympiacos, AEK and Panathinaikos. The rivalry between the clubs is fierce. So heated that games have been played in empty stadiums with fans locked out due what has been deemed to unruly behaviour.

Graffiti for Panithanaikos FC and their supporter group Gate 13 is visible on walls everywhere I look.

I am genuinely intrigued about the match atmosphere and supporter passion. Hope to be at a game soon.

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4. Cold coffee is the best

After visiting Athens last year in April I was determined not to join the entire population of Athens and become a frappe fanatic.

After a few unsatisfying hot coffees in 36 degree heat I gave an “Espresso Freddo” a go and haven’t  looked back.

Definitely the go in summer I am now not sure if I will return to ordering a macchiato or cappuccino at least until the weather gets cold.

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5. Get out of Athens in August

Athens  literally dies in August which can be great for a newcomer getting around what is normally a busy city.

Problem is everything closes down. Shopkeepers, service providers and anyone else that you can think of all head to the islands to escape the heat and questions about ” why you are still in Athens.”

Next August even if I don’t get to an island  I will make sure I am cooling off in water somewhere outside of this city.

Cheers and Giassas

Stu

 

 

Athens – the first week

I arrived in Athens a week ago with my wife and family so it is time to start the blog.

We are here for at least 3 years and I couldn’t be happier about it.

My passions are sport and food with a bit of music so I am thinking that is what I will write about.

So far we have moved in to a nice apartment in Paleo Psychiko which is a quiet leafy suburb in the northern suburbs of Athens.

I have made myself familiar at the local shops using my almost non-existent Greek language  skills, relying on the  owners’ English  skills.

I have found the cafe where I  think will spend a lot of time with our dog Scamper who arrives tonight hopefully OK after a long arduous flight.

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I was also impressed  with the local butcher’s paper bags – yeah I know small things and no I don’t know what it says.

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So last night we went to an embassy function at a very cool bar with a food truck inside called 48 Urban Garden.

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On the way I literally stumbled across the home ground of the Panathinaikos football club. The ground looks eery and intimidating but I can’t wait to get to a game and feel the experience.

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Impressions so far- the Greeks have been incredibly friendly and welcoming and the food is sensational.

Priorities for me are seeking work and learning as much of the language as I can in a short space of time. Meanwhile I am enjoying the ride.

Cheers and Giassas

Stu