When You’re Here, You’re Family

This blog entry about the events of Friday, September 10, 2004 was originally posted on September 13, 2006.

DAY 17:  I noticed a big impressive schooner named Galileo docked in the port that morning when one of the ferries was coming in.  I went to check it out and shoot a picture when I ran into Oula, the woman who had touted me two evenings prior when I had landed in Naxos, and gave me the room I was staying at in her house in Naxos Town.

“[I am late for the ferry arrival,]” she told me, knowing that family came before her job touting people off the ships for a place to stay.  “[I had to bring my daughter to school.  In Greece, today is the first day of school.]”  While back in America the 11th of September would be remembered for something else, in Greece kids went back to their classrooms.

I DON’T KNOW what it is about the American chain restaurant The Olive Garden that sets itself up to be made fun of all the time; from stand-up comedians to the movie Old School, The Olive Garden always seems to be harmlessly ridiculed.  Maybe it’s because in one TV commercial, an Italian-American guy raves about how he always brings his visiting Italian grandmother from the old country to The Olive Garden, because “When you’re here, you’re family.”  My friends in the New York area laugh because only a fool would bring a grandmother visiting from Italy to the American franchised, Tuscan-themed Olive Garden, when there are so many other authentic Italian restaurants around.  We taunt the slogan “When you’re here, you’re family” in a stereotypical Italian-American accent before bringing up the fact that you can get unlimited salad and breadsticks for just $5.99.

The Olive Garden’s slogan doesn’t just apply to Italian restaurants, but many other family-oriented cultures around the world — especially the Greek one.  From my wanderings in Greece thus far, I’d seen that when you’re here, you’re in a family; a majority of hotels, pensions, restaurants, and shops were family-run — establishments are proudly handed down from generation to generation.  Families are an integral part of Greek life — anyone who’s seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding knows that it can also sometimes get overbearing to the point of annoyance.

But I digress.  The island of Naxos, the biggest of the Cyclades archipelago, is no exception to the Greek culture of family.  Unlike the tourist-frequented islands of Mykonos and Santorini, Naxos still retains an old, authentic country charm despite the increasing number of tourists.  Mass tourism is fairly new; it was only about ten years ago that people started coming to Naxos to get away from the louder scenes of the other islands, and the resulting development has transformed Naxos Town and its surrounding crystaline beaches.

Away from the coast it is a different scene; cows moo, goats baa, and tractors make whatever onomatopoeic sounds that tractors make.  Naxos is also very mountainous in its central region, with Mt. Zeus standing tall in the middle at about 1000m high.  Quiet villages still thrive in the mountainous area — quiet, except for the hour that a day-tour bus stops in — and they are places to explore and see Greek life.

The easiest way to get around Naxos is to rent your own car, ATV, or dune buggy for the day, or in my case, a motor scooter.  Confident that I could handle one again — it’s like riding a bike — I rented one for 24 hours to zip around the mountains.  Cruising out of Naxos Town, I didn’t regret my decision to do so; the initial expansive views blew my mind so much that I had to stop on the side of the road every so often to just take it all in.  Tall, brown mountains sloped down to brown rolling hills, farmlands, and groves of olive trees — the entire central region of Naxos is one big olive garden — although I didn’t see any


salad and breadsticks.

HALKI IS ONE TOWN of significance because one family, the Vallindras family, has made a name for itself producing a drink known as Citron.  Citron is a hard liquor that isn’t easy to come by; it’s only made and sold on the island of Naxos by only two competing families.  Since 1896, the Vallindras family has taken the leaves of the locally-grown citron fruit and distilled it using an old-fashioned distiller, still in use to this day.  (Literally, they had just used it that day for a new batch.)  The essence of the citron leaves is blended with alcohol, and then natural colors are added to distinguish each batch’s strengths and texture:  green, the lighter, sweeter one with 30% alc/vol; clear, the regular one with 40%; and yellow, the full-bodied cognac-like one with 40%.  Now in its fifth generation, the Vallindras family business would live on with curious future generations.

While wandering Halki, I saw that one of the other proudly-produced goods was handwoven fabrics, and I stopped in one shop to take a look.  Inside was a friendly old woman named Maria who had used an old weaving machine for forty-two years to make tablecloths, placemats, bookmarks, bags, and the like.  We had some small talk.

“I am from New York,” I told her.

“[Ah, New York!  My daughter is in New York!]” she replied with a bit of excitement.

“Where in New York?”

“In Queens.”

“Ah, Astoria.  Very Greek,” I told her under assumption.

“No, Bayside.”

She showed me around her store in hopes of a sale — I was nice and bought two handwoven bookmarks — and reminded me what the day was.  “[So bad.  Five years in New York.]”  On the wall, there was a changing-image poster of the Twin Towers, one in the daytime, one at night.  I had almost forgotten about Nine Eleven with the sensory overload I had from the Naxos mountain scenery.  “America is good,” she told me.  “But Bush is bad.  And Bin Laden, and Blair.”  Despite US foreign policy, she was proud of America because that is where her daughter and grandchildren were.  I saw pictures of them on the wall, near the Statue of Liberty and at a baseball game, evidence that Greek families extended outside the home country.  I’m told there are 10 million people in Greece — and 10 million Greek people abroad.

LEAVING HALKI, I continued to cruise around central Naxos in my scooter up hills and down hills on the curvy mountain roads, passing through villages and stopping by the many churches scattered throughout the island, and the occasional windmill.  I checked out the Dimitri Temple, the old marble quarry, and did a short hike up to the Cave of Zeus, where Zeus supposedly got his thunderbolts, just under the ominous Mt. Zeus, whose peak was shrouded by clouds.  (I might have trekked up to the top, but the trail from the cave wasn’t maintained and Chuck Taylor was no match for the King of the Greek Gods.)  I took a breather in the quiet mountain village of Apiranthos, a sleepy old town of old Greek men and family-run restaurants.  Taverna Platanos served me my fill of local Naxos kefalofiri cheese and of course, olives from the olive garden.  While I might have not been family, I saw that they had plenty of family to go around for themselves anyway — on the wall were pictures of its many, many members (picture above).

RIDING OUT WEST into the sunset, I arrived back in Naxos Town and had dinner at my usual place, Dolphins.  “Mamma” happily served me this time (grilled octopus) while the charming old Gregory was busy making new patrons feel like family by striking up conversations, patting them on the back and their cheeks all grandfatherly-like.

“Very bad weather,” he told me when he got around to me, nixing any possible fishing the following morning.  “[But] come back tomorrow for coffee.”  I had breakfast there the following morning, and he served me a complimentary glass of wine to go with my omelette.  I also got to meet one of other waiters there, not surprisingly, Gregory’s nephew Giorgo.

“The coffee’s from me,” Giorgo said with a smile, thanking me for my continued patronage.  Hey, it may have not been


salad and breadsticks, but really, nothing says “you’re family” like free coffee and wine in the morning.

Next entry: The Legend of Vasillis

Previous entry: Wanted: Poseidon Adventure

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “When You're Here, You're Family”

  • HERE’S ONE MORE FOR NOW… Hope to get at least one more in before
    heading off to Germany…


    Posted by Erik TGT

  • First! Hahah Erik doesn’t count!

    Posted by Janice  on  09/13  at  01:13 AM

  • look at that gigantic word you used!! I would say that is breathtaking

    And - damn fedex.com - made me NOT first behind Erik. Grr.

    Posted by tallgirl

  • Wake up and smell the coffee…..and the wine! Sounds like breakfast to me!

    Posted by Janice  on  09/13  at  01:17 AM

  • Oh - here’s a question: why is the whitewash so prevalent? Is there a
    reason for it, or is it just because? Same with the blue doors??

    Posted by tallgirl

  • “onomatopoeic”

    lol wtf is that? shit let me get a phd before i read the next entry!!

    Posted by scott  on  09/13  at  02:43 AM

  • I wish I would have rented a scooter in Naxos now. We took a bus
    somewhere, and wandered around some beaches.. I really need to get over
    my fear of driving motorbikes. But thanks for bringing back all the good
    Naxos/Greece memories for me!

    Posted by sara  on  09/13  at  03:13 AM

  • SCOTT - phd is not needed…just years of growing with Levar Burton on
    Reading Rainbow

    Posted by markyt  on  09/13  at  04:02 AM

  • HELLO AGAIN. Sorry, no new entry just yet; “The Legend of Vasillis” is
    taking me much longer to write since it’s going to be about twice as
    long. I have a 6-hour ferry ride ahead of me when I’ll work on it.
    Hopefully I’ll get to post it when I arrive in Athens, but no promises.
    I’m about to go on a whirlwind journey from Naxos to Athens to Rome to
    Munich over the next 24 hours, so I apologize if I can’t get to an
    internet cafe. Stay tuned!

    TALLGIRL: Just because.

    SCOTT: Markyt is right; seriously, I only know that word because of song
    they did on Reading Rainbow in the 80s.

    Posted by Erik TGT

  • How did that 5th generation work out for you?

    Posted by Chez Lounge

  • Dude…
    it’s unlimited salad, breadsticks, AND SOUP.

    Love how your pics always makes us feel like we’re there too.

    Posted by Ali  on  09/13  at  04:52 PM

  • A different side of Greece(no beaches). Great entry.

    Posted by Dan 3  on  09/13  at  05:14 PM

  • vino and omelettes, you can’t get that at ihop.

    Posted by T  on  09/13  at  06:51 PM

  • CHEZ LOUNGE: Let’s just say I’m not involved in producing any sixth

    ALI: Soup too? Maybe that’s why the guy in the commercial bring his
    grandmother there…

    DAN3: What? People go to Greece for the BEACH?! Crazy… Just kidding…
    a day at the beach is coming up…

    Posted by Erik TGT

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This blog post is one of twenty-five travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Tomatoes, Grease & Beer" (originally hosted by Blogger.com), which chronicled a trip to Spain's wild Tomatina festival, Greece's awe-inspiring islands, and Munich's world-renowned Oktoberfest in August/September 2006.

Next entry:
The Legend of Vasillis

Previous entry:
Wanted: Poseidon Adventure


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