When I began travelling after high school, it was the first time I ever took photography seriously. I had a clunky Canon 35mm camera loaded with black and white film that I took around the country and the world alike, and I had the time of my life shooting everything from European cathedrals to iconic East Coast skylines. There was something about capturing special moments during my exploration of new cultures and terrains that I found irresistible, and the decision to keep finding new things to shoot once I got home was completely natural.
And now, John and I have just returned from a truly wonderful trip to Greece, Israel, and Italy where my love for photography was dramatically refreshed. We started the trip in Athens, Paros, and Santorini, followed by more of Greece along with Israel and Italy with Viking Cruises, and then we finished on our own again in Rome and the Amalfi Coast. It was a journey filled with intense history, amazing cuisine, and, of course, extremely beautiful sites.
One thing that set this trip apart from others was the cruise with Viking—the first cruise we’ve ever been on. We weren’t sure what to expect, but it was honestly fantastic. Waking up each morning in a totally new land to explore was a constant thrill, enhanced by stellar service and great food. The ship itself is modern and elegant, with a tasteful mid-century design all throughout the interior that makes any part of the ship a beautiful place to relax. There were a couple of days that we spent entirely at sea which were quite lovely because the ship itself was so exciting to explore. From the observation deck we could look out at the open ocean and the passing coastlines while sipping a cocktail from the bar. We lounged by the pool and read some novels in between dips in the jacuzzi. In the atrium we enjoyed an acoustic guitarist playing renditions of Simon & Garfunkel while I beat John in Scrabble every single time. At the front of the ship, the Explorer’s Lounge was easily the most stunning area to spend our time. The mid-century furniture and floor-to-ceiling glass walls created the most comfortable atmosphere. All to say, this cruise was an absolute joy—it was really such a great experience.
While I was on the cruise I found a sweet cookbook called The Kitchen Table in their gift shop featuring recipes from around the world that Viking visits. I came across this baklava recipe, which I devoured at every chance during our time in Greece, and I thought it would be special to share it with you. You can find the recipe at the end of this post.
Trying new food is probably my favorite part about travelling, and it’s one of the strongest ways in which I connect to new cultures. That being said, the list of coffee shops, bars, bakeries, and restaurants we visited is ridiculously long, but I wanted to share some highlights from Athens, Santorini, and Rome should any of you find yourselves visiting sometime soon.
Cafe Avissinia: This was such a cute cafe. The design was lovely, plus it is nestled right in the center of a vintage flea market which only added more character to this amazing spot. Plus, their freddo cappuccino is something you must try!
Grande Bretagne Rooftop Bar: This rooftop bar was magical. It is located on the very top floor of an iconic Athenian hotel, which provided one of the most amazing views of the Acropolis! The food there can be a bit pricy, so if you just want to see Athens' ancient architecture shine at night, a simple cocktail at the bar is all you need to get.
O Kostas Souvlaki: This was one of the most charming souvlaki places we encountered. It's a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and there's always a long line for the best of reasons, but it's totally worth it.
Falafellas: If you are looking for a cheap and quick eat, this is the place! They serve flavorful falafel pitas that are so huge it was almost to big for me to finish. Don't worry, I made sure to eat it all.
Melitini: This place was some of the best food we had in Greece—in fact some of the best food we've ever had. We actually had to stop ordering food here because our table wan't big enough, which is not too bad of a problem in my opinion. We had all of the greek staples here like tzatziki and greek salads, plus we had the most amazing fried potatoes covered in the best feta in the world.
Pito Gyros: When in Santorini it's always great to have a quick and easy place to eat within arm's reach. So if you are looking for something other than a sit down meal, don't look any further. This place is the king of gyros and we've never had better.
Kastro: This restaurant is all about the view. In Oia you will find a sea of restaurants that give you some of the best views in the city. This spot provided us with great food, great wine, and an unforgettable view.
Panificio Panella: This cafe was heaven. After navigating through a bunch of touristy spots, this place was a breath of fresh air. Freshly baked pastries and flavorful espresso can be found in this cafe which also doubles as a general store of sorts.
Pizzarium: I can't tell you how many people recommended this spot. John and I took quite the long walk to get here, but it was beyond worth it. I was told that their pizza topping options change almost every hour, or at least everyday, so there is always something new to try.
Da Enzo: This restaurant is a little hidden gem, tucked away from any main streets or other touristy type of places. A line usually forms about 15 minutes before they open, so if you are going to go, I recommend getting there a little early if you want to eat right away. They serve a lot of classic Italian dishes, and based on what we ordered, it all tastes incredible. John actually said that he had the best carbonara of his life there, and after taking a bite I'd have to agree.
Fatamorgana: The best gelato. This spot was recommended to me by Lily from Kale and Caramel, and Sherrie from With Food + Love, and man it did not disappoint. They have so many flavors to choose from, some of which are very traditional, while others are some of the most unique flavors I have ever heard of.
John and I are so thankful for the incredible experience that Viking Cruises provided us with during our travels with them. This trip was kindly gifted to us and for that we will be forever thankful.
Slightly adapted from The Kitchen’s Table
This recipe for traditional baklava is from The Kitchen’s Table book which is kind of like the official Viking Cruise cookbook. I made this recipe with a few minor changes. I ended up using a 9x13 inch pan, but I’m thinking it might be best to use something smaller like an 8x8 inch square pan since my nut filling didn't stretch too far. The baklava itself was delicious, although I personally thought the amount of syrup used was a bit heavy for my taste but other than that it was great!
5 oz (140 g) unsalted butter, melted
10 ½ oz (300g) whole walnuts or whole shelled pistachios
1 tsp cinnamon
1 package phyllo dough
For the syrup
8 fl oz (235 ml) water
9 ½ oz (280g) granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
4 oz (110g) honey
1 orange, zested
a few tablespoons of chopped pistachios, for garnish
Heat oven to 400°F (200°C), then over low heat gently melt the butter.
Roughly chop the walnuts or pistachios (I used a mixture of both) then add to a bowl and toss with 1 tsp of cinnamon then set aside.
Carefully unroll the phyllo dough. Make sure the layers are aligned, then either cut in half, or cut as needed to fit the size pan you are using. Cover the phyllo dough with a wet cloth to stop the layers from drying out.
Brush the bottom and sides of the pan being used with melted butter, then place 2 sheets of pastry into the tin, brushing each thoroughly with butter. Repeat this process until you have 10 sheets layered.
Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the chopped nut mixture over the 10th layer of phyllo dough, then top with 3 more sheets of pastry and brush with butter between each sheet, then sprinkle with more nuts. Repeat this process until you run out of nuts. This should give you 5 layers of nuts, and 15 layers of phyllo. Once you’ve added the last 3 layers of phyllo, add an additional 3 sheets so that the final layer has 6 sheets of buttered phyllo (so 28 sheets total—10 to begin with, then 15 between nuts, then a final 3).
*note, if using a 9x13 pan like I did, you may want to sprinkle a little more than 1/2 cup of nuts. If you take this route you'll just end up making less layers, so maybe 3 instead of 5 for example.
Brush the top layer of phyllo dough with butter and using a very sharp knife cut the baklava into either squares or diamonds that are about 2 or 3 square inches in size. Make sure to not only take your time when cutting the baklava, but also be sure to cut all the way through so that the syrup coats everything when you add it after baking.
Place in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until the baklava is golden and crisp.
While the baklava is baking, prepare the syrup. Add the sugar and the water to a saucepan and bring to a boil without stirring for about two minutes, then add the cinnamon, honey, and orange zest. Reduce the heat, and let simmer for about 20 minutes.
Remove the baklava from the oven and immediately drench with the syrup and sprinkle each slice with a few chopped pistachios. Cool completely before serving.