Each summer, my family and I travel to Serbia to visit our relatives in Belgrade and Leskovac, the former a vibrant capital city and the latter a charming town rooted in tradition. We take the opportunity of spending time abroad to experience a new culture as well. The summer of 2008, we realized our ardent wish to explore the quaint peninsular country Greece (Hellas).
After landing in the bustling airport in Belgrade, Serbia, we took off, leaving behind the tiny red roofs that dotted the horizon. The journey was half the excitement of the entire trip. Traveling by car through Serbia, Macedonia, and finally Greece, we would be completely immersed in the activity of the road before us –- an endless expanse of hills and mountains that molded the sky into complementary ridges.
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Macedonia is unmistakable for its neighbors on the Balkan Peninsula. Nestled between Serbia and Greece, it had artfully imposed itself on our humble journey; every corner we rounded brushed against the vast, mountainous landscape, dappled with deep green vegetation. The roadway clung to the foothills like a slender ribbon slipping from its overstretched embrace. As we navigated the remaining kilometers of roadway, we stumbled upon the colorful coastline of Chalkidiki, the first of Greece’s three fingers poking the Aegean Sea.
The hotel where we stayed, Macedonian Sun, was composed of several cascading buildings guiding visitors to the beach. During our stay, we also encountered some unexpected guests: a pair of spirited peacocks! Immediately, we knew this place would surely have character. We watched one peacock’s amusing pursuit of the other as he flaunted his shimmery blue tail. But we didn’t stay for long; we had come to enjoy the beach, after all!
It was easy to “linger” a half hour or so by the picturesque church or mythical stone archway on the way to the beach; it was like venturing into an outdoor museum. The aroma of spearmint and basil crept coyly from an herbal garden that lined the path on one side. Trees and other greenery dominated the other, opening up onto a sandy shoreline.
“Ko hoÄ‡e da se igra paddle ball protiv mene?” I challenged in a blend of Serbian and English. “Who wants to play paddle ball against me?” My sister and I raced to our makeshift court, hopping around on the hot sand.
As evening approached, we decided to explore the surrounding city life of Hanioti. We stumbled into a seemingly unimpressive shop and were surprised by the unusual items on sale, ranging from a collection of various spices to traditional footwear, to a small wooden slingshot. We also caught a match of the Grecian soccer team on TV and snapped a picture with a local in traditional wear. No single moment captured the full excitement and amazement we felt merely strolling the streets of Hanioti. Of all the trinkets and souvenirs abounding in the shops that whirled around me, I had the best of all: I had breathed in the crisp air of the sea, felt the warmth of the dimpled sand, and sensed the energy of a culture both new and wonderful.
In the end, our trip wasn’t about adventure. We spent the summer relishing the simplicity of walking to the beach every day, spending time together, and enjoying a little competitive paddle ball. Best of all, we effortlessly took part in a different way of life and experienced a culture that naturally became a part of our stay. And that same predilection for a truly relaxing vacation continues to draw me back to that distinctive little landmass projecting into the sea.
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