Our flight arrived in Athens, which first appeared to be like any city, but she was soon revealed as a unique integration of modern buildings and ancient ruins. The Acropolis sits on a plateau above the city on display for the world to see. I was entranced by Athens’ history and beauty by day, but I was in awe of Athens’ culture at night when the city truly comes to life. At the port of Mikrolimano, Greek for “small harbor”, we dined at 10pm, the normal dinner hour in Europe, and ate calamari, Greek salad, and sea bass, accompanied by white wine and ouzo. The restaurant’s kitchen had an assortment of seafood; whole fish on ice and octopus hanging in the window, but it was located across the street from the dining room which was on the water, so every course came with a balancing act as the waiter struggled to make his way across the street.
Next, we hit the road for the village of Valtesiniko in the Pindus Mountain range of the Peloponnese, where my great grandfather was born over 100 years ago. Visiting my distant cousins in Valtesiniko was especially important and was a core reason for our Greek vacation. The town is tucked away on a mountainside, making it hard to find and access. Our trip included a long detour around a major rockslide, numerous route discussions with the locals and reading of road signs in Greek. The first days on the road gave us many laughs as we tried to read signs, but eventually we were able to navigate our way from town to town, and finally made it to Valtesiniko.
Though Valtesiniko had advanced to cell phones, electricity, running water and roads fit for cars (not just donkeys) it still has its old village qualities. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch, but unlike Athens, there was no English. Universal hand gestures and pointing were used to order, but after little success the waitress called in her teenage daughter, who was learning English in school, to interpret. We ended up with a great meal and an even better experience. Our return to Athens went smoothly as we anticipated the biggest celebration in the Greek Orthodox Church, Easter.
People were racing around to begin the night’s festivities for Greek Easter. The locals attend midnight mass, and then emerge in a procession with lit candles to the town square, signifying the resurrection of Jesus Christ. From our hotel rooftop, we could see parades of people walking with their lit candles. The night horizon was lit with fireworks from every church in Athens with the Parthenon ruins behind. On Easter day, families gathered to roast lamb, drink ouzo, sing songs and dance.
The trip had been more fun, interesting, and educational than I could ever have imagined. We toured ancient ruins and visited the towns of our ancestors, and though a clothesline of drying-out octopus in restaurant windows was different, we experienced Greek culture first hand. Greece was a trip I will never forget.
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