HERAKLION – With over 5000 years of history, Crete is where the National Hellenic Student Association (NHSA) of North America’s Annual Beach Clean-up took place July 22-24, giving the opportunity to 25 Greek-Americans/Greek-Canadians to serve their community and learn about the famous Cretan diet.
The beach clean-up has been generously sponsored by The Hellenic Initiative since 2018 and has been hosted in collaboration with Ethelon. This year, the Municipality of Heraklion, through its “Heraklion Flavors” initiative, and NHSA also partnered to host the beach clean-up and offer participants a range of culinary experiences, made possible in part by the Pancretan Bank. Additional support was provided by Yia Mas and Greece Media among others.
The event began July 22 with a traditional dinner at the Kafeneion of Kagiampi, as young professionals from the U.S. and Canada tasted skioufichta (traditional Cretan pasta), salads with fresh vegetables from the cook’s garden, and Cretan apaki (traditional cooked pork). The night ended with raki, smiles and a good sleep in rooms that Iraklion Hotel and Galaxy Hotel provided.
On Saturday morning, everyone was transported by buses sponsored by ACTTA to the beach near the Pancretan Stadium. Unfortunately, due to the direction of the wind, the waves at this beach always push ashore plastics and other trash that slowly accumulate on the sand. In their effort to find food, seagulls and other birds often consume those plastics, choke and perish.
NHSA Greek-American/Canadian volunteers, along with Cretan-American locals and iSea representatives collected more than 120 kilos of trash. And while all 30 volunteers were busy picking up trash, Eco-Diving, a local diving team with another 5 volunteers offered to clean the water; they returned back with two large tires.
All volunteers were given sandwiches made with fresh bread sponsored by Kritikos Fournos and soft drinks made from Cretan Herbs sponsored by the award-winning restaurant Peskesi. In the afternoon, participants explored the city of Heraklion and prepared for Saturday night’s reception sponsored by Cretan Malia Park, a five-star hotel located 45 minutes outside of Heraklion. At Cretan Malia Park, Aris Kefalogiannis, the former CEO of Gaea Products and an olive oil connoisseur conducted an interactive olive oil tasting seminar filled with culinary surprises and fun facts.
“It’s important to educate people and especially young people on Greece’s golden liquid. The Olive Oil Bar offers exactly that, an unforgettable olive oil tasting experience, and I hope that each NHSA member learned something they can pass on once they return home,” said Kefalogiannis.
A five-course meal followed, accompanied by wine tastings from Wines of Crete. Traditional pies, salads with legumes, lamb and stuffed flowers (kolokithanthous) were some of the Cretan dishes served and paired with wines.
While everyone was savoring the food, Nektaria Kokkinaki, a local Cretan chef, was also in attendance at the reception and spoke about the most important ingredient in cooking, love.
At the end, each NHSA member had learned something new, tasted something different and made a new friend.
“This is what NHSA is about… celebrating and experiencing Greek culture, serving our community, embracing Greek history, and always doing it with a smile,” said Konstantine Ouranitsas, NHSA chairman.
The last day, everyone gathered at Phyllosophies, a bakery that focuses on the art of phyllo making, for a sponsored breakfast. Many chose the mouthwatering Cretan bougatsa with either cream or mizithra cheese sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.
Lunch followed at Koukouvagia sponsored by the Agronutritional Corporation Region of Crete who made sure participants tasted Cretan cheeses, anthogala, dolmades, and many more local delicacies.
In the afternoon, everyone parted ways… some took the flights sponsored by Sky Airlines and others opted for the boat sponsored by ANEK Lines. Both groups left with a sense of fulfillment, pride for their country and its culture. There is no place that has Crete’s filoxenia (hospitality), flavors and filotimo (love for one another, for life, for kindness).
More information about NHSA is available online: https://www.nhsaofamerica.org/.