One of our friends retired in June and celebrated by traveling to Greece with a group of friends. They had a fantastic trip, enjoying the beautiful islands, language, culture, history, people, beaches, food, and drink (not necessarily in that order!) that Greece had to offer.
We’re still looking forward to our first trip there, but, in the meantime, we’ll live vicariously through our friends and still be able to get a taste of Greek food and culture at the 64th Annual Portland Greek Festival, and we can’t wait. The hosts are so nice: they clearly love to celebrate, their festival is a ton of fun, and their food is amazing!
This year’s festival will take place from October 2-4 at NE Portland’s Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, a beautiful domed building with lots of ornate decorations and paintings, beautiful stained glass, and the smell of incense filling the vestibule. Part of the festival’s purpose is to educate the community about the church, and so they have priests there to talk to visitors and they also do free tours of the building.
Greek immigrants first settled in Portland in the 1800s. Their descendants share their culture with the 15,000 or so visitors that attend the festival every year. Greek music plays constantly, and the festival hosts an imports area, cooking demonstrations, and many dance exhibitions throughout the weekend. I love seeing the traditional costumes and the children dancing. The younger ones are still just learning, but are so sweet to watch, and many of the older kids are very good dancers. Some bleacher seating is offered near the main stage. Since the seats often fill quickly, plan ahead if you want to sit down to watch the dancing. There isn’t really a lot of seating anywhere at the festival except in the catered dinner area. There, everyone gets a seat. Otherwise, it’s just a few scattered tables.
But the main reason I go to the Greek Festival is the food. Oh, the food. I think my blood sugar probably goes up just walking through the pastry section. One of my favorite treats at the festival is loukoumades. They’re kind of like little donut holes covered in sweet, sweet honey and doused with cinnamon to cut the sweetness just enough. I begin drooling over those things when the Greek Festival signs start going up in September! They’re made fresh all weekend long. Tip: a small order is too much for one person!
Pasta flora, kataifi, diples, paximadia, and more pastries are also available. Don’t know what any of that means? Don’t worry — they’ve got a cheat sheet! And of course, we can’t forget to pick up some of Jeff’s favorite, baklava, with its buttery layers of phyllo dough mixed with gooey nuts, cinnamon, and honey.
Those who prefer savory treats will also not be disappointed. There’s hummus and pita bread, steaming spanakopita, beautiful Greek salads with huge hunks of feta cheese, olive and cheese samplers, and lots of lamb — served up on a stick, in a sandwich, or on a platter. You can even watch whole lambs being roasted on the spit. Now that’s not something you see every day!
And if you need an adult beverage to wash it all down, take your talents (food vendors don’t accept cash, you’ve got to go to the moneylenders booth to get these tokens first) over to the Taverna beer garden. They’ve thought of everything!
Portland’s Greek Festival is one of the country’s largest, and it’s a fun fall activity that Portlanders have been enjoying for 63 years (it’s the second longest running festival in the city after the Rose Festival). If you’re in the area, put it on your calendar. And if you’re not from the area, October’s a nice time to visit! Plan a trip! The loukoumades will be waiting for you, piping hot!
Enjoy your next travel adventure, whether it’s for a week or a weekend!
Retirement photo credit: Joan Holstrom