When you haven’t taken a real vacation in half a decade, deciding where to go is a big decision. That’s why former Lucky Peach executive editor Rachel Khong—who was looking for a place that was interesting enough to keep her entertained but also allowed for some much-deserved relaxation—chose Greece.
Khong recently finished a five-year run at Lucky Peach. She’d been on board since the second issue and is now figuring out her next move while she gears up to promote her debut novel Goodbye, Vitamin and a sort-of cookbook that she wrote for Lucky Peach titled All About Eggs, which is—you guessed it—all about eggs. She recently spent two weeks in Athens, Sifnos, Folégandros, and Santorini trying to live like the Greeks do: moving slowly, taking everything as it comes (including a ferry strike), and eating enough Greek salads to last a lifetime.
What did you love most about Greece?
My boyfriend and I kept saying that we wanted to go somewhere old-timey, and Greece obviously qualified. So I really loved going to see the ruins, which is one of thetouristy things to do, but still amazing. I also just loved being there because it was my first real vacation in five years, which was pretty special. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of traveling but it’s always been for work. When you travel for work, it’s always kind of stressful wondering if you’re getting enough for the story, so I always feel like I’m not completely enjoying a place, I’m not totally allowed to just be there. So it just felt really nice to not have to worry about that.
What were some of the old-timey things you saw?
Seeing the Acropolis in Athens was really cool, but in Santorini there was this Bronze Age ruin called Akrotiri, and it was from a civilization that had lived there in the 1600s BCE. The town was essentially wiped out by a volcano that had erupted, but it was all preserved so you could see down to where the main street would have been or where the market was. They actually found this market area where there were these big ceramics that merchants would sell things from, sort of like in bulk.
Did you hit the beaches?
I feel like I’m not really a lying-on-the-beach person, but the beaches in Greece are just so beautiful and different than other beaches. Every beach on each of the islands had its own charm, and everywhere the water was so clear and perfect for swimming. We saw an amazing sunset from a beach in Sifnos. In Santorini, there are beaches with different colored sand from volcanic eruptions, so there’s a red beach and black beach and white beach. They’re stunning. Also, on our last day in Folégandros, we went to three different beaches that were only accessible by boat. Some guy just picks you up and drops you off at a beach and then you’re essentially stranded there until the next boat comes.
Where did you eat?
We went to one place that was really amazing in this little village in Folégandros called Ano Meria. I think that I saw more donkeys than people there, and it was this place called Irene’s. It was sort of a little grocery store and there was a grandmother who cooks the food, and she just sits you down and asks, “What would you like to eat?” There’s no menu, so we asked what she had and she just listed things off. We had a Greek salad, of course, but what we had read about was a dish called matsata. It’s a super-rustic handmade pasta that’s served with a ragout that has huge hunks of meat. Her version was with rabbit, and it was tomatoey and oily (in a good way), and it was topped with a salty feta-type cheese.
In Athens I loved this place called Diporto. It’s a sort of working man’s café. It’s right near the market so everything the owner gets is really fresh. The food was amazing and so flavorful. It’s run by this one curmudgeonly guy who stands over a few pots and essentially those are the options for the day. He just opens all of the pot lids, you peer inside, and point to what you want. We had these amazing grilled anchovies, and a simple chickpea stew that was the most chickpea-y chickpeas I’ve ever had. His Greek salad was the best of the trip: It was super simple and didn’t have cheese on it. It was just cucumbers, onions, tomato, little peppers, and small shriveled olives. The space was lined with barrels of homemade wine, and he sits you down, brings out all of the food that you ordered, and then brings you a little pitcher straight from the barrel. It’s his own retsina. Greece is the kind of place where you just have to get the really rustic meal and you have to drink the wine from the barrel. With that style of dining there’s a lot of variation, and it’s so interesting and fun to not be choosy and to just surrender and have everything decided for you. That’s exciting when you’re traveling.
Do you feel like you were successfully able to really enjoy your vacation?
I definitely think that I was able to get into the spirit of island life and was able to relax. We had originally planned to be in Folégandros for three nights and were planning to take the ferry to Santorini. But when we went to buy our ferry tickets the day before we left, the woman at the ticket counter told us that there was a ferry strike and that there weren’t any ferries running for two days. So we had to decide whether to leave Folégandros a day early or stay there an extra day. That was terrifying for my boyfriend, who loves to plan everything. So we left the ticket office and went to this café where we had been going every night to play backgammon and drink huge mugs of Alfa beer, and we just decided that it was more in the island spirit to stay an extra day. Being there just forced us to be chill about everything, like “Yeah, this boat, your only way out of this island, will come when it comes! You just have to wait for it!”