My Big Fat Greek Staycation

Lately, I’ve been restless. Vancouver Island is incredibly beautiful, but every now and then wanderlust kicks in and I want to hop on a plane and see new sights. In fact, a few weeks ago I’d booked a flight to San Francisco. My boyfriend, Doug, and I were planning a wonderful road trip down California’s iconic Route 1 to Monterey and Big Sur.

But like Lennon said, life’s what happens when you’re making other plans. I had a minor cystic fibrosis exacerbation, and we both decided it would be best to call off the trip for the time being. Meanwhile, I was still restless!

“Let’s go out for dinner,” Doug said last night. We ended up at Ithaka Greek Restaurant on Cook Street. It was just the change of scenery we both needed.

The walls are cobalt blue and strung with glittering lights, and the Adamopoulos family welcomed us in with such warmth, I felt myself swept into another world. Within moments, brothers Andreas and Dimitri Adamopoulos broke into a spontaneous Zorba the Greek dance, after which Andreas pulled a bouzouki off the wall and began to play.

Shortly after, Andreas smashed a plate in the traditional celebratory Greek style, much to my delight. Greek plate smashing is an expression of revelry, but I’ve read that its origins may have come from ancient feasts, during which ceramic vessels were smashed in honor of the dead—the theory being that controlled loss helps us to make peace with life’s many uncontrollable losses. For my part, I felt both joy and release when that plate was smashed. To life, magical and unfathomable, with all its confounding miseries and miracles! Opa!

Lest you think the restaurant’s appeal is all about the entertainment, let me tell you a bit about the food. No wait, let me show you.

Vegetarian platter at Ithaka Restaurant, Victoria BC.

Yum. The vegetarian platter with a chicken skewer (flying vegetable).

The picture’s a bit blurry, but that’s because we were in a blurry haste to devour all this food! Dolmades, spanikopita, yeegandes, tzatzki, and other yumminess. And I was too excited about the ekmek—an Athenian dessert involving rusks soaked in spiced syrup and a layer of vanilla custard, topped with whipped cream, roasted almonds, and chocolate syrup—to take a picture. The recipes have all been handed down from generations of “yai-yais” (Greek grandmothers), say owners Maria and Thomas Adamopoulos.

For a moment, it was easy to believe we’d wandered into Nafpaktos, the Adamopoulos’ scenic hometown in Greece. In case you’re curious, here’s what Nafpaktos looks like (video by Dimitri Adamopoulos).

Can’t you just feel that sunshine and smell the breeze off the Gulf of Corinth?

Of course, it’s hard to think of Greece right now without being concerned for the country, which struggles to accommodate tens of thousands of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, as they seek sanctuary in Europe. From my comfortable home on Vancouver Island, I read news stories about the area and wish I could help. A friend of mine spent the winter cooking for refugees on Lesvos, and I so admire her for it. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to travel to beautiful Greece, both to take in the sights, and volunteer to help out. But it seems that, for now, I’m meant to stay put.

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Bloom where you’re planted, they say. And I’m so fortunate to be planted here in Victoria among the tall trees, flowering bushes, beautiful beaches, teeming tide pools, amazing eateries, bookstores, and cultural happenings. To say nothing of the freedom of having one’s basic needs met—something I take for granted all too often.

Sometimes, you can travel a great distance simply by wandering to a new place in your neighbourhood. So, thanks for my Big Fat Greek Staycation, Ithaka Greek Restaurant. I’ll be back.

Oh, and Big Sur? I haven’t forgotten about you. I’m going to meet you one day soon.