Aug. 15, 2017

Ελλάδα ~ τόπο μου

We are home.  In the sense of longing for a place for over two years, looking at photos from past visits and thinking of the feeling of being there once again, we have finally returned.

Stepping down onto the tarmac I could feel the warm caress of the breeze on my skin, a welcome relief after two weeks of English weather.  It didn't take long until we had collected our bags and finished the process of renting a car, and we were off, on the road to the village.   After waking at 3:30 am, an ungodly hour, we had headed to the airport without a coffee until we arrived at the airport, wanting to ensure we did not miss our flight.   A direct flight from Manchester UK to Kalamata, Greece, it was full of British folks who were heading off on their vacation.  They are fortunate to be able to travel within Europe for a 'song' and we also partook of the inexpensive flight, to jump from the first leg of our journey to the second.
 
Initially having planned to land in the North of Greece and venture South, stopping in Meteora for some sightseeing, we changed our plans and decided it was time for some real relaxation after having trekked for over 700 miles in England and taken over 140,000 steps.   My dedicated husband stuck it out and shuttled us around so that I could visit churches and cemeteries and uncover my British roots.  Now in Greece, we would experience life for a brief time, the way his family has lived it for hundreds of years.
 
He had been drowsy during the flight, and seated across the aisle, there wasn't much chatting we could do, so he closed his eyes.  I listened to my music and watched the Russian phoenetics and Italian lyrics go by, but part of me wondered if he was also not feeling happy, perhaps not just tired but possibly a little bit frustrated with the hectic pace of the airport rush, and likely a feeling of guilt after having accidentally knocked my cherished cup of coffee over and all over my white linen pants.  I really wanted to finish that cup of coffee badly.   I let him sleep since I knew that he'd have to once again get behind the wheel of our rental car and drive the 2 hours via the mountain route from Kalamata to Sparta and beyond, into the village.   Only 40km but a 2 hour drive due to the winding roads going up one face and down another.  This time, instead of a small European SUV, we are in a compact little VW, and a 5 speed shift gets us zooming up the steep inclines and down the slopes and around the hairpin turns, some of them harrowingly close to the edge.
 
Here now, it is apparent, that the glory of Greece is inherent in her majestic mountainsides, and this pass is through some of the most stunning gorges, traversing under sheer cliffs of rock jutting on 45 degree angles out of the earth.  One can almost envision the upheaval of terra, when these mountains were born, they appear so raw and untamed, and you know that you are in the cradle of civilization.    At one point, we passed through a tunnel that had been hewn by hand out of the rock, right on the edge of the cliff, only one lane wide.   Around a few other corners, we encountered lush pine forests and olive groves clinging to the sides of the foothills.
It is a perfectly sunny day, severe clear as they call it, and the sun glints off the backs of the olive tree leaves, their shiny silver colour standing out against the red earth.  Cicadas brush their songs out, competing to be the loudest.  The sound reminds us that it is indeed hot, as the cicadas seem to function as nature's thermometer, the hotter it is, the louder they are.  The sound alone makes us FEEL hot.
 
The village of Tripi is high on the mountainside just on the approach to Mystra, leading to Magoula and then Sparti.   In keeping with our English Heritage tour, this was perfect, as it is the town that Aris's maternal Grandfather was born in, Nikolaos Kouvelos (Νικολαος κυβελος in Greek letters).   We were so thankful to sink our teeth into a true Xoriatiki salad, the ripe red tomatoes and chunk of feta cheese drowned in olive oil and oregano, fresh cucumber and onions ~ there were a few good salads in England but none could hold a candle to a true Greek 'village salad'.   A couple of souvlakia soon followed and also a plate of vlita, which is similar to horta dandelions but more leafy.  This is real and unadorned food, no need for sauces but with an array of flavour that could be nothing but Greek.   Our taste buds were more than ready.
 
After our respite, on we went, this time not planning to stop until we reached Petrina.  I fell blissfully asleep for this last 45 minutes of our drive and awoke just as the car slowed to make the turn off the main highway and begin the ascent into the first village on the route.
 
How thrilled Mitera was when we arrived, "καλοστα μου!!" she exclaimed, just as I knew she would.  She encircled us with her warm hugs and kisses and next we were greeting Patera.   "Είσαι καλα?", I asked him and he nodded his head in affirmation.   He looks different, full of energy, a spark in his eye.   I beat my chest and commented that the mountain air agrees with him and he grinned.    Then down the steps we flew to say hello to our favourite Thea, Maria.   Maria and Theo Louie are in the house next door, and it's always a pleasure to see them.   This time, they have family visiting, their son and his family, and their daughter and her family, and all of their children.   They are glowing with having a house full of 6 teenage girls and one boy!    All beautiful children, with classic Greek features and every girl has a gorgeous mane of wavy locks.    And even though we are 50 plus, Aris's parents are equally as delighted that we are now here with them.
 
I fell onto our bed and with the fan blowing over me, and Aris's voice wafting through from the porch as he spoke with his Father, I slept for almost two hours, the morning commute had taken the life out of me.
 
Venturing to the kitchen, I found the Corningware percolator and began brewing a fresh pot of Greek coffee, our favourite brand "Παπαγαλος" with the parrot on the front.   Topped up with the local condensed milk, I sipped the coffee out on the porch, listening to the conversation, picking up a few Greek words here and there, and watching the sun go down on the mountains in the distance.    The cicadas are silent now, it is dark, and we are invited inside to partake of a specially prepared dinner.   It was already in the oven when we got there, but we had already eaten, so it remained in the oven on a low heat for another few hours, cooking to perfection.  Roast Lamb, potatoes, zucchini, and chickory greens.    I am pleasantly but not overly full, completely satisfied.  For the first time in 13 days, we are home, eating a delicious home cooked meal, probably the best one we have had in our time away so far, and I look at my husband, finally at ease, his green eyes now bright, his sparkling humour in top form, and his skin already a couple of shades darker.  He is home.