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I love Mexican and Tex-Mex food. I grew up in the US, where it’s one of the most popular cuisines. But in Greece, Mexican food (which is almost always Tex-Mex actually) is viewed with suspicion. There are a few “gourmet Mexican” restaurants in Athens and its suburbs, like this one, but most Mexican places cater to tourists from western Europe, not to Mexicans.   In the larger supermarkets in Athens and the other cities, you can find El Paso taco sauce, tortillas, and canned jalapenos, and I’ve even found really good specialty salsa in Athens.

Here on the island… nothing.  Not only is there no Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant, but there are no Mexican ingredients in the markets here.  I just wanted a burrito, for goodness sake.

Luckily, I had brought a jar of jalapenos from Athens.  I used wheat flour, baking powder, salt, olive oil, canned red beans (dried are not sold on the island), white rice, tomatoes, onions, parsley (cilantro is not sold here either), half of a fresh peach, powdered lime juice (limes are available but extremely overpriced), garlic, cumin, nonfat plain Greek yogurt, and milk to make lunch today:

– wheat flour tortillas (they came out shaped like amoebas, but they tasted terrific)
– red beans
– dry Mexican rice
– peach pico de gallo
– plain yogurt

Ta da!!  (you have to imagine the yogurt, I couldn’t fit it in the frame.)

Mexican lunch!

If I lived in the US, this meal would have taken about 5 minutes, instead of 3 hours, and I could have had refried beans, some kind of cheese (feta didn’t really seem to go…), and real sour cream. All things I probably don’t really need to be eating, now that I think of it.

It was so much better than it would have been if I had used purchased stuff in the US. Even – dare I say it – than if I had gone to a Tex-Mex restaurant in the part of the US where I grew up (nowhere near Mexico!).

I’m starting to learn that most “international” foods are created out of pretty simple ingredients. I’ll never be able to make some things here, but with patience and ingenuity (remember my nonexistent cooking equipment?) many things I had pretty much given up on can be made right at home on this little speck.

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Lunch with a view

Somewhere around 5am this morning I woke up when my husband came to bed. He was not very good company yesterday after Greece lost 0-2 to South Korea in the World Cup. I saw bits of the game and it looked like they weren’t playing very well. Worthy of a comment, but not much more, in my opinion, but my poor dear was pretty upset about it and ended up with a headache that got worse and worse. He took some headache medicine containing caffeine, and thus the 5am bedtime.

So while he slept away the morning, I cooked. I made homemade fat-free tzatziki, homemade almost fat-free hummus, and homemade pita bread. It was my first time making pita bread, and it was a success. Since my main goal is to save money, and this made enough food for two people for an entire day, I tallied up the whole thing and it came to just about €1.70 including some carrots, not including water.

Lunch

This is pretty much what my life looks like these days. I spend about 2 hours every day reading recipes online, trying to find things I can make with what I already have on hand, or with things that I can buy very cheaply, another 4 to 6 hours cooking every day, plenty of time cleaning (mainly the kitchen) and doing laundry, and the rest of my time I spend at the beach or walking around the island alone, with my husband, or with friends.

It’s not a particularly modern lifestyle, but it suits me since it’s only for two more weeks. After that, everything changes dramatically and I will be in a city of 6 million people and it will be hot and I will be exhausted and cranky. I’m enjoying this while it lasts.

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Since I’ve been to about sixteen thousand “destinations” in Greece, I thought I’d make a regular blog feature out of writing little travel articles about places I’ve been, with photos and recommendations. Who knows, maybe they’ll encourage someone to come check them out 🙂

Today: Milos, a medium-sized island in the Cycladic archipelago (the same one that includes Santorini and Mykonos), which is not very touristy (although it is very busy indeed in August) and is downright frighteningly beautiful.

Why should I go?

Milos is unspoiled, just as beautiful if not more so than the completely spoiled Santorini, has some of the nicest beaches in the country, has an excellent archaeological museum, several good archaeological sites, and a charming capital that’s perfect for wandering.

How do I get there?

Milos has an airport that gets flights from Athens, usually about once per day (Olympic Air).  There are usually several highspeed and slow ferries per day in the summer, and at least one per day in the winter.  All the boats leave from Peiraias harbor.

Where should I stay?

There are three main places to stay:  the port town of Adamantas, the capital town of Plaka and its neighboring Tripiti, and the beach town of Pollonia.  I’d recommend either of the first two, especially Plaka.  Pollonia is far away from everything and although there is a nice beach there, it’s not as beautiful as several of the other beaches.

Adamantas

The port town has lots of restaurants, hotels, cafes, and shops.  Almost all ships dock here, the airport is nearby, and there are taxi stands and buses here in town.  This is probably the easiest place to stay, but it’s not the most beautiful.

Plaka

Plaka is where the archaeological museum, the Early Christian catacombs, the site of Ancient Milos, and lots of good restaurants and shops are located.  It’s also the most beautiful village on the island.  My recommendation for a place to eat is Archontoula, near the bus turn-around.

A street in Plaka.

An old Plaka house.

Archaeological Sites

The most important one, and the one you just can’t miss if you go to Milos, is the Bronze Age site of Phylakopi.   Built of volcanic stone, Phylakopi was the ancient center of obsidian production.  Obsidian (volcanic glass) was the best available material for cutting, so was sold all over the ancient Mediterranean world.  This allowed Phylakopi to develop into an important trading center, and the Archaeological Museum in Plaka has lots of examples of obsidian cutting tools, pottery, figurines, and other finds from the site.  It’s located near the beautiful Papafranga beach, so a visit to the one can easily include the other.

Phylakopi looking toward the sea.

A wall of volcanic stone.

Other important sites include the ancient theater of Milos (below Plaka) and the Early Christian catacombs (nearby).

Museums

There are three museums on the island but I’ve only been to two of them.  I didn’t go to the Ecclesiastical Museum as that’s not really my thing.  The Archaeological Museum in Plaka, though small, is one of the best local museums in the entire country (thanks to the finds from Phylakopi).  In case you’re wondering, it has a plaster cast of the statue of Aphrodite found on the island (the Venus di Milo) which is in the Louvre.

The Milos Minerological Museum in Adamantas is wonderful.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from this museum but it was a great surprise.  There are great teaching exhibitions on the life of miners and on the minerals themselves (the island, being volcanic, is full of them).  When I visited, there was also a great temporary exhibition on shells of the Mediterranean, which is now closed; and there’s a tiny bookstore that has some good stuff in it.

Rock formation in Milos.

Beaches

Milos’ biggest tourist draw is the beaches; they are beautiful… I’m not much of a beach person myself, but I’ll just post some photos from Papafranga to give you an idea.

Rock channel at Papafranga with hidden beach.

The water at Papafranga.

A popular way to get to many of the more remote beaches is by going on a one-day boat trip around the island, which stops at the really spectacular beaches.  This is possible in the summer in good weather (low wind).

When should I go?

The best time to go is May, June, September, and October, which holds true for most of the islands, because in the winter months, many of the hotels and rooms to rent are closed; and in July and August, prices are much, much higher for everything, and there are too many people around.

How much will it cost?

In May, June, September, or October, from Athens, ferry tickets about €15 per person, hotel about €35 for a double room, food about €20 for a restaurant meal for two people.   Four nights on the island, including hotel and ferry tickets and food, for two people, about €300 if you throw a few gyros in there and don’t eat at fancy restaurants twice a day.

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The coldest spot on the island in winter, with a constant howling wind.

This little rock that we live on has an official population of 600, but there are only 31 students in the schools (one elementary school with doubled grades:  1st & 2nd, 3rd & 4th) and a combined middle/high school), and there are usually only about 300-350 people actually living here year round.  In January, that number goes down to about 100.  In August, the number is probably closer to 600 or more, but if you add the tourists, it reaches the inconceivably greater number of 15,000 people.

What is it like to live on an island with 100 people, in the coldest, windiest, rainiest month of the year?   The island doesn’t get snow or ice, and the temperature never drops below 45 F, but it gets battered by unrelenting winds and a suffocating humidity that makes mold grow on your shoes and destroys half of what’s in your pantry.  There’s not much sunlight, since the days are short in winter.  But the weather is only a sort of backdrop to everyday life.

With only 100 people, 31 of whom are schoolkids and 18 of whom are teachers (the balance is made up of the kids parents and grandparents, plus a few necessary services, like the island doctor, the island police officer, the island pharmacist, the island electricity company rep, and the island port authority man), the community pulls tightly around itself and everywhere you go, you’re greeted warmly.  Restaurants are mostly closed, but if you want to eat out, you can call them up and request what you’d like them to cook for you and your friends.

Pot-luck became a way of life for us.  It seemed like every night we were cooking for each other and eating together, enjoying the warm intellectual community that comes from having fully 1/5 of the population made up of educators.

There’s only one ATM (and no bank) on the island, and when it ran out of money or malfunctioned, we bought our groceries on credit.  We watched weather reports with real interest, because if the winds were high, the twice-weekly ferries could easily be cancelled, with no replacement, meaning that we were even more cut off than usual.  This happened frequently.

We went for long, long walks on beautiful hiking (donkey) trails to remote beaches, although it was too cold to swim.
The island is at its greenest in the winter, because in the summer the lack of rain and the unrelenting sunlight turns all this beautiful green to straw-yellow and brown.  All those thousands and thousands of tourists who come here in the summer see the island at its least beautiful, which makes it feel like a secret paradise for those of us who know it year-round.

I will admit, there is a fair amount of TV watching and internet surfing here as well.  Sometimes it’s just too windy and wet to do much of anything outdoors.  Doing laundry is a nightmare:  we have a washing machine but, like most Greek families, no clothes dryer.  We rely on good weather to dry our clothes.  In the summer, clothes drying on a line in Greece will be done in 10 minutes, but in the winter on the island, it can take days and days.

With almost nothing open, there is nowhere to spend money.  The only non-food/toiletry/pharmacy purchases we made on the island over the entire period from November to April were a set of three nesting bowls, two mugs, and … no, that’s it.

Although we started swimming in March (well, my husband did – I started in May), and now in June everything is open, my favorite time on the island is December, January, and February, because of the natural beauty, the quiet and solitude, and the sense of community.  I don’t even want to see the island in July and August, when the tourists come.

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Where we live

Our house

The front of our house

This is where we live.  This little tiny cottage on a little tiny island in the Aegean.  That’s our laundry up on the line above the house.  It’s very small, even smaller than you think, and for two people it’s… challenging, but we love it.  It’s surrounded by beautiful gardens, too, and we love our neighbors.

The view from our house

And when you step outside our house, this is our view – the sea is only steps away, and that is rocky beach right in front.  We don’t swim there, though, as there are better (sandy) beaches a short walk away to the right of the photo.  In the winter, you could stare at this street for hours and never see a soul.

Our village

And this is our village.  In the winter, we were maybe 10 or 15 people living here, but in the summer (starting in June) it fills up, peaking in August when it’s packed with people.  The mountains behind the village have lots of great hiking trails.  There are hotels and a few restaurants here, as it’s mainly a tourist village.  We aren’t involved with the tourist economy at all, but we benefit from it when the mini-market opens up in June and when there are cafes and restaurants open (some open as early as Easter but most around the end of May).  Until the end of May, our village is extremely quiet.

That’s where we live 🙂

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