Athens: The gods of Olympus did not think much about celiacs…
On Friday, 17th February, our agent in Greece called me to confirm our meeting with the customer, on Monday in Athens, so I did not have much time to prepare the trip. In addition, when I received the flight tickets – via Zurich with Swiss Air – I saw that I would not stay more than 24 hours in Athens, so I decided to not lose time preparing this trip and just printing the gluten-free travel card in Greek, send it to our agent together with the list of other foods that give me allergy – fish, kiwi, banana, melon, watermelon and apple – and do not prepare anything else.
I left home on Monday at 4am with a gluten-free sandwich, gluten free bread-sticks and a pack of gluten-free cookies in my briefcase. I met my workmate at the airport and we went straight to the security check. After passing it, we went to the Pans & Company to buy his breakfast. Even though it was 5am in the morning, we ate a ham sandwich each. I woke up 10 minutes earlier to prepare mine, as I did not know that at the Barcelona’s airport Pans & Company they have gluten-free menu.
Although the flight travel agency that books our flights always informs the airlines about my allergies – in the photo of the second flight ticket reservation you can see “Gluten Free Food Confirmed” – sometimes it is still a problem to prepare a gluten free menu combined with other allergies. For short flights this is not a big issue, but when it comes to long flights… the trip can be horrible… In another post I will tell you the bad experience I had with Fly Emirates going to South Africa.
On the flight from Barcelona to Zurich they offered an appetizer that I wasn’t able to eat. It was not a problem because I had breakfast few minutes before, but when the hostesses passed by offering the Swiss Air chocolates, my interest increased. The response from the stewardess when I asked if the chocolates contain gluten was perfect as she told me she would bring me the box to check the ingredients. We looked at it together and there was nothing indicated. In theory, if there are no indications, the product should be gluten free (do you agree?), but since I had the meeting a few hours later, I did not want to take any risk. During the second flight, where the gluten-free meal was confirmed, they offered sandwiches and when the stewardess came to me, I told her that I ordered a gluten free inflight meal and she brought me an “Allergy friendly Quinoa Salad”. Although I would have preferred the sandwich, the salad was ok…
When we landed in Athens, Nikos (our agent in Greece) was already there, waiting for us. We spent most of the way to the company talking about the gluten-free diet and the other allergies I have. After the meeting he wanted to take us to eat in a typical Greek restaurant. After giving them an overview of what celiac disease is, what is gluten, what is cross-contamination, what happens to me when I eat gluten and what products and ingredients may contain it, they talked to each other and decided where we could eat gluten free in Athens. Once this important topic was closed, we focused on the key points to be treated during the meeting that we would have to defend our project.
We left at 5.30pm, pleased because it was a successful meeting and, at the same time, starving because we didn’t eat anything in hours. Besides, what we ate in the morning was not a feast haha!
It took us only 20 minutes to arrive at the Kalívia Thorikoú restaurant in Attiki. It was a tiny restaurant, with wooden tables and matching chairs with wicker seating. On arrival, the waiter/cook came to our table and offered us the menu in Greek. That gentleman did not speak English… here is the importance of always carrying the gluten-free travel card in the language of the country. Seeing that I didn’t have any chance of communicating with the waiter, I asked Nikos to explain him to consider also cross-contamination when recommending dishes to me. I also gave him the gluten-free travel card in Greek to read. After answering a couple of questions to the waiter about what I could eat and how he should cook it, Nikos ordered the starters to share: a portion of feta cheese with oil and spices; a Greek salad and a Greek yogurt with garlic and pieces of raw onion and gherkin on which I dipped the gluten-free bread sticks I had brought. Everything really good! Proactively, Nikos invited me to be the first to get served, to avoid contaminating the dishes with their gluten full bread.
As main course, they ordered lamb chops that, according to them, are very typical in Greece. We ordered a beef steak of almost half a kilo each. We needed to recover energy, and usually lamb chops have little meat, especially if they bring you ribs.
After dinner we checked in to the hotel and, after leaving the bags, we went for a walk through surroundings of the Acropolis. The night had already fallen, so we could only see the Parthenon, illuminated from the far. After two hours we returned to the hotel, exhausted.
The next day, at 4.30 a.m. we took the taxi back to the airport… At the hotel they offered coffee and cake but, as expected, there was nothing gluten free, so I had to wait to get to the airport. Besides, I was not too hungry at that time… unfortunately when we arrived at the Athens airport, half of the shops and bars were closed for refurbishment, so I did not find anything gluten free for me. Though was not the best to eat, during the flight to Zurich the stewardess brought me a gluten-free and lactose-free yogurt. In Zurich we had a stop-over of 4 hours, so for sure I could find something better to eat.
What do you do 4 hours of stopover at an airport? Walk, shopping and eating … you cannot do much more… so that’s what we did! In fact, after walking around the airport a couple of times and going into shock when we saw a Victorinox knife shop where they told us it was allowed to get in the plane with a blade of less than 4cm – hello?? They make you leave the electric brush because they say that if you remove the head it can become a sharp weapon, but they let you into the plane with a 4cm knife… sometimes I do not understand anything! – we decided to go to the information point to ask if they had identified any restaurant valid for me. They did not have this information… great! They called a couple of restaurants that answered they couldn’t offer a gluten free menu. Finally the information girl recommended me to go for a salad to a restaurant nearby. No way! I did not want salad…
Considering that the possibilities of eating something good were very low, I proposed to my colleague to go to a good looking restaurant that we didn’t check by because on the blackboard they only advertised pastry. The restaurant is called Chale Suisse. As I already assumed I couldn’t eat anything, at least, we would go to a restaurant where he could eat well. To my surprise, once seated and with the menu on my hands I saw that they had a legend indicating some allergens. Problem solved! I ordered some “rösti” potatoes with fried egg and boiled ham that tasted to glory. That was a good breakfast!
The 4 hours of stopover passed by faster than we expected and, during the second flight, instead of the quiche with vegetables that served everyone, I got a gluten free chocolate muffin which was very good as well.
Once back in Barcelona, sleeping schedules and meals returned to my regular ones but, hey!, the final balance of the trip was very positive. Of course, I would have liked to stay longer in Athens… but this is a good excuse to go back!
You can see the photos of the trip here.
BY CLICKING ON THE GLUTEN FREE RESTAURANTS MAP YOU WILL SEE ALL THE RESTAURANTS WE TALKED ABOUT LOCATED IN THE MAP:
BELOW YOU WILL FIND THE CELIAC TRAVEL CARD:
I would like to be able to give you more information about other gluten free restaurants in Athens, but I couldn’t find any! You will have to use the celiac travel card.
P.S.: Please keep in mind that in this blog I share my trips, anecdotes and experiences about gluten free travel around the world. It is possible that, in any of my trips, I go to some restaurant not trained by the associations where the risk of being contaminated with gluten exists.
I kindly ask you to also take into account that the list of references can change. Please, always double check before eating in the restaurants we recommend.
Thank you very much!
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