Showing posts with label Greek villages. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greek villages. Show all posts

Monday, January 6, 2020

In Greece January 6 ~ 'The Festival of Light'

'Kali Kronia!'  (Happy New Year!) 'Kronia Polli!'  (Many Years!) 'Kalimera!' (Good Moring!)

Agios Nikolaos - January 6, 2020

We were stopped often as we made our way down the main street of our Greek village this morning. We called out greetings, received greetings, shook hands, and kissed cheeks as we passed friends and neighbors who were gathering at harborside.

We were blessed with blue sky and sunshine
It seemed as if the whole village - from those whose family roots are generations deep to those new seedling expats in the area -- had turned out for the annual Blessing of the Waters.

This day, the sixth day of January, is commonly known in the Christian world as Epiphany or Three Kings Day.  In Greece it is a feast day (a national holiday, to be sure) called the 'festival of light' (ton foton in Greek) and the day that marks the official end to the Christmas holidays.

The papas and his processional
In the Greek Orthodox Church, Epiphany is celebrated as the revelation of Christ as the messiah and second person of the trinity, at his baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, according to the Athens Centre. (Athens Centre offers classes in Modern Greek, poetry, art, and cultural events.)

Blessings are being offered in Greek
As part of the traditional celebration, the village papas (priest) offers a 'Blessing of the Waters.

In our fishing village, Agios Nikolaos, overlooking the Messinian Bay, the blessing is an event that can't be missed. Speaking of blessings, this year we were blessed by having some of the nicest weather that we've ever experienced at this celebration. In previous year's we've nearly frozen or been drenched with rain during the brief late morning ceremony.

Time to toss the Cross

We heard the church bells announcing this special day in the early morning hours. Their ringing echoed up the hillside to our Stone House on the Hill. They rang again later in the morning calling worshippers to the church. The third time their joyous clanging filled the air was as the papas and his procession brought the cross from the church to the harbor's edge.

One diver braves the cold water this year

Reciting a blessing he tossed the cross into the harbor and pulled it back, then he repeated his actions a second time. Meanwhile one young man brave enough to dive into the water to retrieve the cross, had stripped to his swim trunks and was ready to go in. ( In previous years several young men have braved the temperatures.)

Retrieving the Cross

The third toss - the crescendo of the blessing -- was made, the young swimmer jumped in, the crowd cheered as he retrieved the cross and swam to the papas to receive his blessing.

Refreshments are served!

Then it was time for refreshments. Platters of baked goods were brought out from nearby restaurants and tavernas.  The long tables at harborside, where the fishermen usually prepare, display and sell their daily catch, were turned into serving tables. Beverages ranged from tea to Metaxa, Greek brandy.

Agios Nikolaos on the Messinian Bay
It was over in just a few minutes, far less time than it took people to arrive and gather for it. But such a significant event that people here (like villages, towns and city's throughout the country), took a break in their day to bless the water. It is this type of celebration and these age-old traditions, that we adore about our Greek village life.

We thank you for being with us again this week and our fingers are crossed that Feedburner sends this post to your inbox as it did last week.  We appreciate the time you spend with us and again our wishes for a Happy New Year and happy adventures.  We will be back next week if all goes as planned from the tropical shores of Hawaii. Stay tuned - you never know what adventures we might have there.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

A Greek-Style Village Christmas

Living differently, as I refer to this expat life of ours in Greece's Peloponnese, means that holidays are also celebrated differently.

Christmas Morning downtown Agios Nikolaos

Christmas in our village of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) is a laid-back sort of day, a delightful contrast to the rather fast-paced, often-stressed way we approached it in our Seattle suburb life.

Decorations here are minimal and retail outlets are few which means a dash for a last minute gift would take us to a hardware store, a meat store, a nursery, two gas stations or two grocery stores.

Decorations at Elli's - a favorite village restaurant of ours

There's a single light display draped over the main street into town. It spells out, Kronia Polla, meaning 'Good Year' (an all-occasion phrase in Greece, as it seems as it is used as greeting at every holiday but only displayed at Christmas).

Kala Christougenna, (Merry Christmas) has so many letters it would be too long to drape over that main street of ours; it is a narrow one that winds between the storefronts and harbor.

We do get a double-day holiday here because Dec. 26th, Boxing Day to our many British ex pat friends, is the Synaxis of the Mother of God in the Greek Orthodox religion.

Nine nations represented at our Christmas lunch

Both days were picture perfect. . .blue sky, sunshine, and just cool enough to need a jacket or sweater. 

Christmas cooking was limited to a dish to contribute to a buffet Christmas lunch at a neighbor's home. The group was comprised of expats all of whom live within a couple kilometers of us. We were the only Americans and our small gathering represented nine countries. And what a feast! It might be the best Christmas dinner we've ever eaten!

Boxing Day toast in Hades - Agios Nikolaos
Boxing Day was toasted with a group of our British expat friends at our local taverna, Hades.

Fig tree and ladder - village garden Christmas morning

We hope that whatever holiday you might be celebrating, if any at all, you are enjoying this week as much as we are in our Greek village.

Thank you so much for the time you've spent reading TravelnWrite this year and for recommending it to others.  Learning that you've sharing our tales is one of the greatest compliments we could have. (And thanks for your continued patience as we try to correct our defective email distribution service).  My one New Year's resolution is to rehab the blog with a distribution system that works! 

Happy New Year to you from The Scout and The Scribe! We'll be back in 2020 with more tales of travel and expat life for you ~ 

Linking soon with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Monemvasia ~ The Spirit of Place

'Spirit of Place' (or soul) refers to the unique, distinctive and cherished aspects of a place.
-- Wikipedia

On a hauntingly still November night, we spoke in hushed voices as we made our way along the twisting, dimly lit stone pathways that serve as streets here.  Our footsteps, our words, our mere breathing seemed to amplify and bounce off the stone walls and walkways. Homes were shuttered and most businesses had closed for the season so there really was no one to disturb as we made our way through the darkened village. 

Cruise ships were no longer stopping for brief visits and bus loads of tourists that can fill the tiny streets were finished for the season. The village was settling in for a winter's hibernation. We were among maybe a handful of tourists who'd opted for a late autumn visit. As we made our way down to the seaside and back the only sounds were an occasional stray cat's cry or the rustle of drying leaves. After the sun had set, following the village's maize of uneven pathways, and stairs became a game of discovery as we'd turn a corner and find ourselves in a small plateia, plaza, or sometimes at the entry of someone's private home. . .never quite the place we thought we'd be.

On this dark autumn evening we were walking through history and surrounded by what Lawrence Durrell would likely call, 'the spirit of place'. We were in Monemvasia, a centuries-old village in the Greek Peloponnese.

Monemvasia, Greek Peloponnese

Referred to as Greece’s 'Gibralter' by some, its name, Monemvasia (mah-nem-VAH-sia) means 'single passage' and dates back to a time of Venetian occupation here. The Venetians are credited with building a single paved walkway to the landmass that is said to have broken from the mainland during an earthquake back in 375 A.D.  They called it 'Napoli de Malvasia', the French named it 'Malvoise' and English writers have referred to it as 'Malmsey'.  By whatever name, it is one of our favorite ‘finds’ in the Peloponnese and a favorite road trip destination.

Today a paved road on a 200-meter-long causeway leads to its entry gates. You can park along the causeway or back in Gefira (Yefira) or New Monemvasia on the mainland.  Visitor accommodations can be found there or within the walled city itself, often referred to as the Kastro, or castle.

Monemvasia from the sea

We opted to stay in the old town and couldn't help but get caught up in its history which is as much a zig-zag affair as the twists and turns of its pathways.

brief history (I'm leaving out many details): Founded by the Byzantines in the 6th Century, it remained under their rule for 700 years until the Franks came along and took over. Then another round of battle and the Byzantines got it back. In 1419 the Venetians came along and later sold it to the Ottomans in 1715 but then came the Russian-Turkish War in the 1700's. . . and finally. . .in the summer of 1821 it became part of the Greek State.

In more modern history it played a role in World War II with the New Zealand 6 Brigade successfully evacuating from there and the Germans using it as a place for injured soldiers to recover.

Donkeys and humans with hand-carts make deliveries here
To visit this wonderful old walled city, you do need to be able to walk - and walk on uneven surfaces.  In fact walking is a reason to visit the city that was built on two levels; the lower level on which we stayed and explored and the upper level at the very top,  known as the Fortress of Goulas, where there are ruins of homes and cisterns and a still-standing St. Sophia, Byzantine Church. 

The upper level has been under restoration since our first visit some four years ago. It has recently opened to visitors, but hadn't at the time of our visit.

Traveling through the lower village you will be sharing the right of way with burros and humans with hand carts who transport products and goods  through its narrow passageways.

Stray cats charmed the few remaining tourists
Even with the upper level not open during our visit, we were able to burn some calories as we explored its winding routes. One route lead high above the village, not quite to the fortress level but high enough to afford us some spectacular views  none-the-less.

A passageway in Monemvasia

With its expansive views of the sea and protected location we could understand why so many wanted to claim it as their own through the centuries.

View from above the village
Heading out in a different direction and angle we followed a path and stairway combination that lead us to the water's edge.

Seaside in Monemvasia

“It is a pity indeed to travel and not get this essential sense of landscape values. You do not need a sixth sense for it. It is there if you just close your eyes and breathe softly through your nose; you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. 'I am watching you -- are you watching yourself in me?' Most travelers hurry too much...the great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open, and not too much factual information. To tune in, without reverence, idly -- but with real inward attention. It is to be had for the can extract the essence of a place once you know how. If you just get as still as a needle, you'll be there.”
Lawrence Durrell, Spirit of Place: Mediterranean Writings edited by A.G.Thomas

PicMonkey Collage
Our accommodations

While many hotels were closing for the season, The Scout, had done his research and found us this stand-alone suite right in the heart of town for a mere 45-euros a night. We had a restaurant right across the street, and two coffee shops a quick walk away.

Monemvasia, Peloponnese

We marveled at the mix of old and new. Our suite offered Wi-Fi and modern amenities yet we were in an ancient building. The remains of some buildings in the village look as if they'll barely stand another second, yet we know they'll likely be around much longer than we will.  The oldest church in the village, St. Paul's, was built in 956 and houses its museum (well worth a visit!).

Modern restaurants and stores fill ancient structures
On the day we sipped coffee on this roof-top, the wind was brisk but the views were spectacular.

PicMonkey Collage
Hidden treasures around every corner in Monemvasia

If you go:
Monemvasia is about 190 miles from Athens, or a five hour drive.  From our home (an hour south of Kalamata), we made the near 80 mile drive in just under three hours. Roads in the Peloponnese are pretty much two-lane non-divided highways so driving times take a bit longer than you might expect.

Greek KTEL buses travel daily from Athens Kifissos bus station to Monemvasia via the cities of Sparti or Molai, and the trip will take about five hours. To get to the Kifissos bus station take bus 51 from Omonia or X95 from the Athens Airport.

Map picture

That's it from The Stone House on the Hill this week. We love having you join us on our part-time ex pat adventures in Greece and greatly appreciate the time you spend with us. Hope you'll be back again next week and until then our wishes for safe and happy travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
Photo Friday
Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Greece ~ Getting “Stoned” at The Stone House on the Hill

If you set out to explore Greece it won’t take long before you realize the country isn’t all  whitewashed walls and blue accents as the tourist brochures might like you to believe.

Mykonos blue and white church
03332_mani_&pelo_inset_encartaIn Greece’s Peloponnese, where we’ve chosen to make our home a portion of each year, the architectural style of buildings and homes are rather stark in comparison; built of gray or tan stone and brightened only with colorful shutters and doors and garden blooms.

Admittedly there are some villages in the Peloponnese where you’ll find a mix of the two styles, such as in Kyparissi, the village we visited a few weeks ago. (If you missed that post, you can find it here)

PicMonkey Collage
Kyparissi - a mix of two architectural styles
But in our area on the west coast of the region’s ‘middle finger’ we are definitely cast in stone.  So much stone, that you could almost start taking its stately beauty for granted. Whether old or new construction, stone is the predominant building material. 

PicMonkey Collage
Old and new stonework - Trahilia
Cast in Stone

Tracing the origins of the use of stone in Greek architecture leads back to Egypt (the place considered ‘home of stone architecture’ by some historical accounts) and dates from 650 BCE onwards as that was the time of renewed contacts and trade links between Greece, the Middle East and Egypt. Greek designers and masons became familiar with Egypt’s buildings and construction techniques, and the rest, as they say, is history.

PicMonkey Collage
Hidden art in the stone
Getting “Stoned” at The Stone House on the Hill

We had the opportunity two weeks ago to watch stone masons – they are artisans really – at work when they tackled a couple of projects for us at The Stone House on the Hill. It gave us an opportunity to renew our awe of anything constructed of stone. The projects, so small in comparison to constructing homes or buildings, still required so much hard labor that we were in awe of what our two craftsmen accomplished in our gardens in a period of three days.

P1000397We needed to raise the wall behind our house where the sloping garden’s dirt was being washed away by the rain and watering.


We wanted, for cosmetic purposes, to resurface our entryway wall and the wall that borders our side yard.

It took a small crane to unload the materials which included concrete and stones:

The materials are delivered in heavy duty delivery truck
Then materials needed to be hauled down our ‘StairMaster-eat-your-heart-out’ stairway and put into place. That’s The Scout helping haul stones while the masons went to work:

The stonework begins
And when the work began, there was no stopping them. . .

PicMonkey Collage
Stonework is a precise art of cutting and measurement
For hours each day it continued with hammers pounding, saws buzzing, the sun blazing overhead. . .

PicMonkey Collage
Measuring, cutting, fitting and filling in - all part of the stonemason's skills
Three days later it was done. . .the before and after photos below illustrate that Greece’s timeless artistry in stone continues thanks to present-day masons.

PicMonkey Collage
Before on left - unfinished surface; finished project on the right
PicMonkey Collage
Before on left, funished on the right

“It’s beyond me. Everything seems to have a soul – wood, stones, the wine we drink and the earth we tread on. Everything, boss, yes, everything.”

-- Alexis Zorba, Zorba the Greek

Stones with soul
That’s our report this week from The Stone House on the Hill. Thanks for being with us and hope you enjoyed watching our artisans at work.

A warm welcome to our new readers! And what a surprise it has been to learn that several of you reading the blog are fellow ex pats living not far from us here in The Mani.  Thank you for writing and letting us know. We’ve look forward to meeting you. 

And to all of you out there, safe travels and please come back again and join us for more Greek tales next week.

We are linking up this week with our fellow bloggers at:
Mosaic Monday – 
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Kyparissi ~ One of Greece's Most Beautiful Villages

So picturesque is the village of Kyparissi that it has been included in the coffee table book, "The Most Beautiful Villages of Greece". . . yet, it might be one of the least visited destinations in Greece.
Parilia - from main the dock

Its relative inaccessibility is to blame (or thank) for the lack of tourists - for the time being. Unless you have your own private yacht or water taxi, the only way to get there is over a road one travel guide describes as 'one of the most frightening roads in Greece'.

A narrow route leads to this Greek treasure in the Peloponnese

The narrow winding road (with a few guardrails here and there) clinging to the face of the Parnonas Mountain range is currently the only land route into the village. Work that was started 20 years ago on another - reportedly less harrowing route, along the coast from the north -- has an estimated completion date of sometime later this year, 2016.

"Poppy" parked in the municipal lot across from the church

Thus in addition to being beautiful, the village remains refreshingly untainted by hordes of tourists.  There are just enough hotels and restaurants to make it welcoming but not enough to make it overrun with visitors.

Kyparissi from the road that leads to it

Our first spring road trip from our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Peloponnese two weeks ago was to Kyparissi, (kip-ah-ree-see), about 3.5 hours drive to our east. Kyparissi is Greek for Cyprus and we were told the town's named for those tall, stately Mediterranean Cyprus trees so prevalent throughout  the Peloponnese. For you history buffs, it's the ancient sanctuary of Asclepius and was once called Kyfanta. Today's Kyparissi is made up of three villages, Vrissi, is the highest and you squeeze between its whitewashed buildings on the road leading to the two that share its crescent-shaped beachfront, Parilia, on the south and Metropolis to the north.

Greek breakfast buffet - most were homemade taste treats

The Scout had done his research and found us a family-owned 10-room hotel Paraliako, not far from the beach in Parilia. For 45-euros a night or about $50 US (as it is still low season) we had a room with a large deck and view of the water and it came with a huge buffet breakfast for two. Greek breakfast offerings range from fresh tomatoes and cucumbers to in season and canned fruits, yogurt, honey, jam, pastries, pies (filled with spinach and feta), hard-boiled eggs and cereals usually round out the choices.

Beach linking Pailia with Metropotis

Our hotel was located footsteps from a corner café that drew both coffee and wine drinkers, To Kafe tis Maritsela and by walking around the corner and just a bit further, we were at the beach.  We dined our first night at Trocantero, a restaurant, just across the street from the beach; a place owned and operated by Panagiotis "Bill" Volis who returned to this, his ancestral village, from Montréal where he's lived much of his life.

Another beach - this between Cavo Kortia and town

On the morning after we arrived, we set out early to avoid the ever-increasing spring-time heat in Greece and walked to the far end of the bay where crews are laying a final layer of asphalt on the new road.  It was on the walk we visited Cavo Kortia, a hotel/restaurant combination that drew us back for dinner that night and may be the place we stay next time we visit (although it would be difficult not to stay with Stella Vasiliou at her Paraliako again). 

View from Cavo Kortia restaurant toward town

Cavo Kortia, about a half hour walk from the center of town or a short 2-kilometer drive offers large, posh, spacious rooms - double the size we had in town - and this time of year the rate was 40-euro a night.  The owner was out working on a minor construction project when we stopped to inquire about the restaurant hours.  He insisted we sit down, enjoy the view and he served us coffee (which came with a plate of cookies) - and of course at no charge.  Yes, this is still unspoiled Greece!

The new road from Leonidion will pass Cavo  Kortia

Like so many areas of the Peloponnese the surrounding hillsides are laced with hiking trails. In recent years rock climbing has been drawing more and more outdoor sport enthusiasts to the town and a few years ago it celebrated its first Climbing Festival. Cliffs like the ones pictured below call out to climbers.
There are organized walking tours available - but we were quite able to cover a lot of ground without anyone showing us which way to walk.  A local resident, James Foot, an accomplished water color artist, often conducts week-long watercolor workshops. Those 'shoppers-off-all-things' among you might want to find another destination as the town has only a 'super market' that most would call a small grocery store and an even smaller store, a pantapoleon, which is Greek for a small store that sells everything -- everything but touristy kitsch and souvenirs, that is!
Two nights were just about right for the length of the stay, this time of year.  If we'd wanted some beach time, we'd have needed another night.
If you go:
Don't mix up Kyparissi in Laconia on the eastern 'finger' of the Peloponnese, with the town of Kyparrisia, which is on the west coast of the western most finger.
Paraliako, operated by Stella and Voula Vasiliou,, or Cavo Kortia,,

Again thanks for joining us on the road in Greece. We've got more tales so hope you'll be back with us as we explore more Greek villages. Thanks for all the comments you've been leaving for us and safe travels to you!
This week we are linking with these fine bloggers:


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