Friday, May 23, 2014

A little bit of Greece in the Upstate

It has been close to two years since our time in Greece, but the intense sun on whitewashed brick is imprinted on my memory as if it was yesterday. Thank goodness the heat hasn’t reached us here in the Upstate just yet, and although the SC beaches are exceptional they aren’t Santorini or Paros, but the Greek tradition came to Greenville last weekend as it does once a year since 1986 in the form of the Greek Festival.

This year’s festival included a tour of the beautiful church, live Greek music, folk dancing performances, an iconography exhibit, children’s rides and shopping on the plaka. We started with Greek coffee and a frappe before strolling over to the Hellenic Center to check out the dining options. The Center was built in the early 1980s to provide facilities for the Greek Sunday school and fund-raising events, but today was a giant dining hall with an extensive menu and pastry shop. As some of the offerings were also available outside we opted to skip the moussaka and pastichio and instead head directly for the sweets. Bumping into a friend from our time in France behind the counter was certainly motivation to load up, and we came home with a tray full of baklava (with and without chocolate), kataifi (shredded dough with nuts and honey), amygthalota (almond cookies) and galaktoboureko (a baked custard dessert). I also learned my lesson not to attend the festival on the last day – they were all sold out of dipless, the crisp folds of pastry deep fried and then topped with syrup and nuts.

Then as the boys headed back to the children’s ride portion of the festival I crossed over to the Cathedral. I pass this magnificent building if not daily, then at least a couple times a week but had yet to see the interior. The St. George Greek Orthodox Parish in Greenville was established by Greek immigrants in 1936, and a church seating 260 was completed in 1942. As the community grew, so did the need for a larger church, and in 1995 the current Cathedral was completed. The tour started in the narthex, but soon we entered the nave for an informative lecture on the history and architecture of the church.

Allowed a glimpse into the sanctuary, we then descended down to the lower level. Here the history of the first church is preserved, with icons, pews and stained glass windows from the original church preserved to form a smaller church within a church – complete with sanctuary. After our gracious host finished his lecture and answered our questions, I ducked into the side room where the introductory tour to iconography was presented.

Namesake St. George, slaying the dragon

Stomach growling it was soon time to rejoin the boys, and luckily I bumped into them a short distance from the outdoor stand featuring saganaki. This flaming cheese is traditionally torched in the kitchen, not in the dining room as is often the case here in the US, but the cook managed to maintain authenticity since the “kitchen” was in plain view. Lauris got an especially close view of our appetizer as it went up in flames, and we were soon enjoying the delicious dish at a nearby table. Opa!

Next we tried a gyro, and for the record although the food can’t be compared to what we dined on in Greece, it was good and filling for an outdoor festival. Then while the boys waited on the balloon clown we tried an order of loukoumades, donuts soaked in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon.

The morning drizzle had delayed the traditional folk dance presentations, but while we waited we enjoyed the live music of Nick Trivelas and "Night in Athens.” Soon dancers had taken the floor, and both boys were entranced at the stepping and dancing taking place onstage.

It wasn’t meant for us to stick around to hear the Byzantine chanting and choir presentations this year, but we did stop by the outdoor dining tent one last time before heading home. The tiropita (feta filled filo-dough triangle) didn’t even make it to the car with Mikus working on it!


  1. Replies
    1. It was, even though the weather wasn't 100%. Thinking of you during the home stretch!

  2. It sounds like you had a great time!


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