I’m A Trend Setter!

Look what I saw today.   A CNN news article entitled, “13 of Europe’s Hidden Hot Spots.”  Guess where one of those hotspots are?  Yep, Ikaria!  I think they were reading my blog.   Here’s what they said.

Ikaria, Greece

Thanks to its remote placement six hours by ferry from Athens, the island of Ikaria has all the beauty of the Aegean Islands, without the crowds. Perhaps it’s the fresh air, crystal waters, and abundant food, but Ikarians mysteriously live long (and full) lives. They are four times more likely to pass their 90th birthdays than Americans, despite eating heaps of fried fish and rich dips, not to mention smoking and drinking wine by the carafe-load.

Check into the six-level Cavos Bay Hotel, where every pared-down room overlooks the sea. Don’t bother bringing a watch; nothing happens “on time” here. So go for a leisurely swim at Seychelles Beach and stroll along the ancient stone walls that date back to the 5th century B.C.

The truth is, the ferry ride is 9-11 hours, depending on which boat you take.  And many people do live past the age of 100!  A few years ago the island was named as one of the three Blue Zone’s of the world–a place where people live longer and are healthier than anywhere else.  Interestingly enough, the kids have asked me on more than one occasion, how Ikaria could be a Blue Zone location if the people drink and smoke as much as they do! 

You can read more about the Hidden Hot Spots of Europe and the Blue Zones through the links below.




Exploring Ikaria

Seychelles Beach, Ikaria, Greece

Every beach in Ikaria seems to be different.  Each one has it’s own unique beauty.  The one above is Seychelles (say-HELL-ees) and is reminiscent of a beach in the Caribbean.  It’s hard for me to even say this, because every I feel like I’ve said this before, but this is probably the most beautiful beach on the island.  The water is crystal clear–and I mean, as clear as if you were looking through a piece of glass–and the hues of blue matched the blues that I’ve only seen in one other place–the blues of the Bermuda.  The rocks and pebbles are all white, which offsets the sea and the sky, and the first glance of the beach is breathtaking.

The kids and I have been just living a “normal” life for the past two weeks–a life that I might go so far as saying that some might consider boring.  We wake up when we wake up, eat, walk to the bakery to buy our bread, do work around the house (school work or house work), go for a swim, visit a relative, and some nights we even stayed home.   I thought it was time for us to take a day trip, so on Monday we drove the 45 minutes to the south side of the island to visit this secluded little beach.  In order to get there we had to drive up and over the mountain, and then through the only tunnel on the island.  I’ll add that the tunnel probably houses the “widest” road on the island, and although the kids didn’t like it very much because it was reinforced with brick or cement and you could see all of the chisel marks on the stone, it might be the only spot on the island where I felt “safe” driving.  It was the only place where I didn’t feel like I could “fall” to my death with just one small quick jerk of the steering wheel.  Once we parked the car, we had to walk down a mountain side, climb over big boulders and pass prickly plants to get there.  The kids of course scrambled right down the mountain, passing two other groups of people on the way down, leaving me behind!

On the drive to Seychelles we passed Koskina Castle, and it reminded me that I never shared about that adventure.  As you can see, the “castle” (and I use that word lightly) is perched on the very top of a mountain and served as a lookout point to protect the locals from pirates and enemies.  As we looked at it from the road below on Monday, we had forgotten just how high up it was!

Castle of Koskina, atop a mountain peak.

Back in July, my cousin Sophia and I had discussed going there with the kids but we weren’t able to make it happen until after Dianna arrived.  The drive there was actually relatively easy, until the last 10 minutes or so.  The road became extremely narrow and steep the closer  we drove to the summit, and at one point we actually had to make a three point turn in order to navigate the hair pin curve to the top.  That, however, wasn’t nearly as precarious as making our way to the castle by foot.

Hiking to reach Koskina Castle

The adults spaced ourselves between the seven kids, with the hopes of protecting them from a fall.  The kids, on the other hand, weren’t scared at all.  They scrambled up the mountain side, just like the Ikarian goats. When we reached the top,  we found a small church (another church dedicated to Saint George, patron saint of the military), a few broken down walls from the castle, and a stunning panoramic view.   Sophia and her husband had been to the castle a few years prior and said that the church had recently been restored.  However, on this visit, we saw something quite different.  The door to the church wasn’t latched shut, and apparently had become a home and bathroom for all of the mountain’s goats.  There was literally a carpet of goat pellets, inches deep, covering the floor.  It was sad to see that they had put all of that work, time, and money into restoring a treasure from the 10th century, only to have it “vandalized” by animals.

Agios Georgios, at Koskina Castle, Ikaria, Greece

Inside Agios Georgios

Zach, Peter, Eleni, Elias, Zach, Rea, and Antoni

It was a hot day–one that the air was so still it made it hard to breathe.  There was no escape from the sun, except for inside the “Goat Poop” church, and an occasional breeze that made us all sigh with relief.   Looking around, we could see the seas on the north and the south side of the island and all roads approaching the castle.  We had parked one of the cars by the hair pin turn that required the three point turn, and from were we now stood, the car looked like a child’s toy.  It was obvious the location was chosen for it’s vantage point.  However, we decided it would be a better to enjoy the view on a cooler, more breezy, day!

An Amazing Morning

We just returned from the most wonderful 4+ hours with my cousin Roula.  I have so much to do now, but all I want to do is write down my thoughts so that I can capture this feeling.

Well I wrote those two sentences 32 hours ago, and I never did get that post written.  Since then I have made fig jam, spaghetti sauce, tzatziki sauce, zucchini bread, as well as two lunches, one breakfast, and two dinners!  Let’s just say I haven’t had much time to “capture” that wonderful feeling.  But now I will try now!

First let me explain how I became “Betty Crocker.”  I have come to find out that the people of the Karavostamo just pass food around from one house to another.  Wherever I have gone, people have given me food–vegetables from their garden, eggs from their chickens, or fruit from their trees.  Over the past few days my kitchen was stocked with fresh figs (some of which I dried and some of which I made jam), tomatoes (which I’ve eaten and turned into spaghetti sauce), zucchini (as mentioned before became zucchini bread), and cucumbers (which some suggested I make tzatziki sauce).  Elias told me today that it’s like we live on a farm because I make just about everything we have eaten!  I have been trying to use up what we have so that it doesn’t go bad, and then I take it to someone as a gift.  However, my plan backfires, because every time I end up returning with something else.  Today I delivered zucchini bread and tzatziki sauce and came home with 1/2 of a watermelon, a bag of tomatoes, prickly pear fruit, and a bag of cookies!  At this rate, I am never going to get out of the kitchen!

Yesterday, our wonderful morning yielded fresh oregano to dry, a huge bag of cucumbers, a few zucchini, fresh eggs, and more figs–when all I set out to do was collect oregano.  I had asked my cousin Roula to show me where to gather oregano, and she was more than willing to show me.  She told me to come to her house around 10 am with the kids, and we would go up to the mountain to the pevka.  Many people have told us about how beautiful the pine forest is and what a wonderful place it is to walk around.  The day before Dianna left, the two of us walked up the mountain for about 45 minutes and reached the edge of the forest.  She said it was like walking into OZ…all of a sudden you go from the dry, hot, barren landscape into a cool, shaded, green forest…it was like entering another world.  I was very excited to be going back to the pevka and to be taking the kids along.

We parked the car where Dianna and I had finished our walk, and with our plastic bags in hand, we set off to collect.  Roula showed me the oregano, and we found  a lot of large, fresh bunches to pick from.  As we snapped the stems and the scent reminiscent of lamb roasting in the oven reached our noses, the kids gathered pine cones and sticks.  We had nowhere to go in particular so we just meandered along the roads and took in the sights.  We came across a large chicken coop which was protected by a noisy goose, who was more than happy to spread his wings and puff his chest in order to show us he was in charge.  There were goats in fenced off areas, and Elias told me, once again, how much he wants a pet goat!  We ate some figs from a tree we stumbled upon, and we saw where the men make charcoal from the trees.  We came to the edge of the pevka and saw the most beautiful view of villages in the mountains and the port town of Evdilos below.

After walking for an hour and a half or more Roula suggested we leave and head to her brother’s house for coffee.  Her brother Yiannis, and his wife, Mariana, have twin girls who are 9, and Roula wanted to introduce the children.  The twins, Avgi and Lemonia, were quiet at first, but then their Thea Roula suggested they show my kids the basketball hoop they have.  They headed to the basketball hoop and ended up in a chicken coop!  Yiannis and his family have always lived in Athens and spent their summers in Ikaria.  This year they will spend the entire year here, and the girls will go to school with Zach and Rea.  Because they are staying a year Yiannis has expanded his “farming,” as it’s very economical at a time like this in Greece.  The chickens were right next to the basketball hoop, and they were much more interesting than a ball.  They watched Yiannis feed the chickens, saw where they lay their eggs, and even got to “pet” one as Yiannis held it.

The kids were given a “task.”  The twins know a bit of English but not a lot.  My kids know some Greek, but not a lot.  Thea Roula suggested the children find five objects that my kids could identify in English and the girls would identify in Greek.  They sat at a table with juice, cookies, and a notebook.  The adults went to another table where we sat, overlooking yet another beautiful view.  I listened and realized that I am really beginning to understand a lot more of what is being said  (but I still can’t speak it very well).  I would understand so much more if they just spoke slower.  Imagine pushing a bike along a road that has a downward slope.  At first you feel like you have control of the weight of the bike, but slowly, it begins to pick up speed and your feet are having to move quicker so that you don’t lose control.  Suddenly it gets away from you and the bike continues down the hill at a rapid rate and you’re chasing after it, knowing that you’ve totally lost control!  That’s how I feel when I listen.  At first I can follow along, and then I hear a word that I think I should know, but I have to pause and search my memory to find it.  By the time my focus returns to the conversation I hear two or three more words that I need to translate, and then, all of a sudden, I am lost….the words keep spewing out of their mouth and I have no idea what was said beyond the second sentence!

Well the conversations at Yiannis and Marina’s house went very well, because I was able to ask them to slow down.  I tried to talk and when I struggled with something, Roula and Marina were able to help me.  It was relaxing, and it really was enjoyable.  At times they had short conversations among themselves, and I thought about how wonderful it is to be able to sit for an hour and enjoy the company of others, without feeling rushed or interrupted.  It’s the culture here.  I have stopped to visit people in the middle of the afternoon, in the evening, and even at midnight, and I’ve always felt welcome.  Everyone is more than happy to sit and talk and share a story, as being with others takes precedence over everything else.

Cousins and new-found friends.

Four and a half hours later, we dropped off Roula and returned to the house.  I was filled, from head to toe, with one of the best feelings that I have had since I have been here.  I was relaxed.  The kids thoroughly enjoyed the pevka and playing with their “new” cousins.  They were happy.  And that makes me happy.  The only thing that was missing was Chris.

And just in case you don’t know what “Prickly Pear Fruit” is, here is a photo.  You carefully pick the yellow fruit, peel the skin and thorns away, and are left with a very seedy and juicy fruit.

Pan-Ikarian Kids Olympics

We accomplished a first this weekend.  We attended a two day event alone, as a family, with no friends or relatives to act as a translator for us!  And we fared quite well with only one “error.”  I must admit I was nervous to attend alone, and I did casually mention it to Roula and Stella, in hopes that they would join us, but they both had plans.  So, I put on my big girl panties and did exactly what I hope my children will do this coming year–take a chance.  I took the kids to the “Kids Olympics” in hopes of fitting in and belonging to the community.

When you read “Kids Olympics” you’ve probably already conjured up an image in your mind of what took place.  Hundreds of kids of all ages participated in various events, such as track and field and swimming, at a state of the art athletic complex.  Well if you did, you got one piece correct.  The children completed in track and field and swimming events.  However, the field was not so “state of the art,” nor was the pool of Olympic quality; and instead of hundreds of kids there were far fewer.  On the first day I counted sixty.

At 6 pm we arrived at the dirt field, which was lined with chalk to look a lot like a regulation track at a high school in America, to register the children.  The beach was in the background, the sea winds were blowing, and I couldn’t complain at all about the venue.  They each were allowed to pick two events to participate–50 yard dash, long jump, or balla, more formally known as shot put.  All three kids picked the first two.

In good Ikarian fashion, the Annual Pan Ikarian Children’s Olympics got underway around 7:30.  Someone made a few announcements and all of the kids began to scurry around in a large group.  I shoved my kids over to the others and casually walked away in hopes they would figure it out!  I had no idea what was said, and it was hard to tell what was going on.  Elias looked at me with a look of confusion, and I ran over to him and said, “Just find someone who looks your age and do what they do!”  As it turns out they were assembling the boys into one group by height and the girls into another.  Each group made lines of three children and they linked arms by holding on to their neighbor shoulder, like they do when Greek dancing.  A young lady stood in the front of the groups and held a large Greek flag.  Then they stood there.  And stood there.  And stood there.  The adults in charge were now scurrying around checking wires and cables.  There was no sound on the PA system and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  Not surprisingly, as it turns out, the electricity went out.

The kids tired of holding linked arms, so they arms dropped and the lines began to disappear.  I saw a number of boys go over to Elias and talk to him.  He was saying something and shaking his head.  Every once in a while he’d look over to me, and I’d smile.  It seemed like he might be making a few friends.  Eventually an adult shouted something and the kids reconvened into their lines and began walking around the field.  Flag carrier first, followed by the boys, and then the girls.  Halfway around the field music boomed from the speakers.  apparently the electricity came back on.   The games had now officially begun!

As soon as the “opening ceremonies” concluded, Elias came over to me and I asked him about his conversation.  The kids were asking his name, how old he was, what year in school he would be, and if he had ever won any medals.  I guess they were sizing up the competition.

The events got underway, and they called the kids by their names and told them where to go.  We would listen for their names–ok, so it wasn’t actually their names, but the names we used–and then they would follow the other kids who went running and join them at the event.  When we registered I asked them if they wanted to be “Greek” or “American”.  They chose “Greek”, so they signed up as Elias Calaboyias, Panorea Calaboyias, and Zacharias Calaboyias.  (Sorry Chris!)   By 9:15 they had all competed in their two events, and we had no medal winners in the family.  Elias mourned the fact that there was no long distance running, because he would have had a chance in an event like that.  He’s not built to be a sprinter or a long jumper!

We piled into the car, after having a bit of fun, very proud of what we had accomplished, and filled with hope for another chance at a medal.  On Sunday afternoon we were going to meet at the harbor in the town of  Evdilos for the swimming competition.

We arrived promptly at noon, signed the children up, and waited until one o’clock for the event to start.  The swimming race was across the harbor, but the winds were fairly strong on Sunday.  I believe they were debating whether or not to hold the event.  They harbor master was there, and he jumped in the water to act as a life guard.  There were probably 25 kids there, and they raced against others their age.  Zach went first and raced against one other boy his age.  He dove in, and his goggles slid off his face.  He stopped to fix them and all hopes of a win went out the window.  We yelled at him to “just swim” which turned out to be a mistake.  With the waves and the current, and his inability to see, he ended up making a 90 degree turn about half way across the harbor (which was about 50 meters) and was heading out to sea!  The harbor master had to catch up to him and redirect him to the finish.  At a time like this, he would have appreciated lane lines.

Rea swam her little heart out, and 4 years of swim team paid off.  She won the event and earned her first gold!  Of course Elias was now set to bring home another medal for the family and stripped down to his swim team suit and put on his goggles.  They yelled “start” and he dove in.  He quickly secured second place and held that until the last 10 meters.  He was on the far end of the group of boys and they were racing to the ladder on the other side.  He had to swing right to get to there, and the boys next to him boxed him out and beat him to the finish! He came in fourth.  Sigh.

With Rea winning we had to attend the final set of events Sunday evening at the field, where they would award the medals.  We arrived and events for the teenagers were going on.  As we awaited the medal ceremony, we found the “mistake” I had mentioned earlier.  There were runners coming in from a 5000 meter race– a 5K, something Elias and I could have done!  There were only 6 runners, and we don’t believe there was an age requirement.  We were so sad, and I was sad for him, because that was something he had really wanted to do.  As we were lamenting our mistake, three other kids took to the track and started running.  It turns out there was a 100o meter race around the track he could have signed up for as well!  I suppose they mentioned the races on the first day during their announcements, or it even could have been listed on the flyer with all of the details; but when your vocabulary only spans a few hundred words many things are missed!

All in all, it was a wonderful event.  Rea received her medal, and Zach ended up getting the silver in swimming for his age group as well.  Other children now may recognize Elias when he goes to school in September, and he may make some friends out of this.  I was very proud of my kids for trying and not being shy or embarrassed.  I hope they learned that even if they don’t understand all that someone is saying, they can listen for words they recognize and use their logic to figure things out when they are alone.  And I hope they know that winning comes in many different forms, not just in the form of a medal


Until the Sun Comes Up

In my post Time, I wrote a few, brief sentences on a type of celebration in Greece called a panagiri.  These festivals (aka all night parties) are held throughout the year and often, but not always, have a religious basis.  August 15, the day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary’s ascent into heaven, is a very important religious holiday and is always followed by many, large panagiris.  Every village wants to host a celebration.  Since they all can’t celebrate on the same day (there’s not enough people to go around), they spread them out over a few days.  The village of Karavostamo hosted their panagiri last night.

All day I encouraged the kids to take a nap so that we could stay out all night and dance the night away.  Or, in the case of the kids, run around with their friends and eat ice cream and fries.  Of course that didn’t happen. There’s something about being an American child that prohibits napping. I guess they think they’ll miss something exciting or they think napping is for babies.  But I’ll tell you what, if someone tried to force me to nap every day I’d do it!  Unfortunately if they don’t nap, I can’t nap.  I mean, I try, but there is always a door opening or closing, a toilet flushing, giggling coming from the other side of the wall, or a whisper in my ear, “I can’t sleep”.

We left the house at 11:15 pm when we heard the band starting to play and headed to the dry river bed where the panagiris are held.  We joined my cousins Roula and Malcolm, Stella, and some others at a long table, covered with the white paper tablecloths that are used everywhere in this country.  They all have a thin layer of plastic on the bottom that the kids love to tear apart when the top gets wet and a blue border with a map of the island printed on the center.  (If you’ve ever been here, you know exactly what I am talking about, don’t you?)  It wasn’t long before the table was covered with beers cans, bottles of Ikarian wine, Greek salads, potatoes, bread, and lamb.  (There went all the work I did this week with my meager attempt at exercising!)  The conversations transitioned between Greek and English, and I attempted to follow them both.  There was a steady stream of people behind us, heading for the food or the dancing, and the river bed soon began to overflow with people instead of water.

By one o’clock, Elias and I started to dance.  We joined the long line of people and curled in and out of the crowds and around giant Sycamore tree in the middle of the “dance floor.”  Eventually it became too crowded to dance.  The worst time to be on the dance floor was during the Ikariotiko, the dance of the island.  In America, at Greek Food Festivals and weddings, the bands play a variety of songs for the different dances around the country.  Whenever the Ikariotiko is played the dance floor thins out and only a few are left to dance one of the most challenging dances of Greece.  Here, it is the opposite.  When an Ikarian hears the first few notes of the bouzouki calling out the Ikariotiko, everyone rushes to floor.  We tried to dance one Ikariotiko last night, but there were so many people on the dance floor that, at one point, I thought we might not make it out alive!  Our “line” got trapped between two others and we couldn’t move.  We managed to find a place to stand, up against the giant Sycamore until we spotted an opening to make our escape back to the tables.

At some point Zach went home with my cousin Stella, whose house is close by, to sleep on her couch until we were ready to head up the hill.  Elias didn’t want to go to bed, but his energy was waning, and the Coke he drank at 11:00, to keep him awake was wearing off.   Rea, however, was still going strong, running around with her friends, trying her best to communicate.  At three o’clock I decided that we should head back home.  Zach trudged up the hill, barely able to lift his feet, Elias went silently, and Rea complained the whole way up that it was “so early” and that I said we could “stay out late.”  We went to sleep with the sounds of the band drifting through our closed windows, fully cognizant of the party going on a few hundred yards below us.

And then, at 7:15 I woke up, fully cognizant of the party going on a few hundred yards below us.  So, instead of rolling over and going back to sleep, I jumped out of the bed, threw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, grabbed my camera and headed out the door.  As I walked towards the river bed, I could see the road across the other side that leads out of the village.  There were still dozens and dozens of cars and motorbikes lining the roads.  I walked a little quicker, anxious to see how many people really were still there, dancing and celebrating the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  OK.  So I guess the people who were still there weren’t thinking much about The Virgin Mary and were just having a good time with their friends.

There were still hundreds of people–some dancing, some drinking wine, some eating potatoes and salad, some smoking, and some sleeping on the rocks and in the weeds.  Below are some photos of the night/morning and two short videos–Dancing at 2 am and Dancing at 7:30 am.   Now it is 9 am and I can still hear the bouzouki.  As I sit here three thoughts come to my mind.  First, how do four musicians have the stamina to play for 10 consecutive hours? Second, I hope that someday I stay up all night and dance until the sun comes up.  And finally, I wish that my cousin Dimitri was still here in Greece.  He asked me to keep an eye out for a beautiful Ikarian woman with whom he could settle down, live in a small Greek village, and raise goats, chickens, and kids. Ok..not really….but, last night (or this morning) he probably could have found his own!

Dancing at 2 am

Dancing at 7:30 am

Samos, Greece

I’m finally finding time to sit and write about the mini vacation we took to Samos last week.  I know, you find it hard to believe I don’t have the time since I’ve written so many times about how there is “no time” here in Ikaria and there’s no rushing around.  You probably think all I do is lie on the beach every day from sun up to sun down, have a few loaves of bread, a few drinks, and socialize with people in the village.  I did.  But not anymore.  Now it’s real life.  Cooking.  Cleaning.  Laundry.  Unfortunately I haven’t found a way to escape the chains of running a household.

Chris and my father both left for America at the beginning of the week, and since Tuesday morning it’s been just me and the kids.  We spend our days doing Greek lessons, cleaning, and reorganizing.  We are trying to find the rhythm of living here on our own, and we are doing just fine.  When the kids aren’t doing chores I’ve set out, they spend a lot of time playing and running around the village. I find that I spend a lot of time in the kitchen.   I was given bags of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, eggplant and figs.  I’ve made homemade marinara sauce and zucchini bread.  I’ve prepared figs for drying, and I’ve made my own bread crumbs for a baked eggplant and tomato bake.  (I haven’t figured out what to do with the banana peppers yet, so if you have any ideas, send them my way.)

I made four loaves of zucchini bread to share with some of the relatives that have given me my bounty of vegetables.  I took the first loaf to a wonderful cousin and her husband, who I just met this year.  Roula and Malcolm live in England but will be here until the end of September.  (We took to each other right away, and I know that will be another good bye that will be difficult to say.)  When I presented her with my gift, she had no idea what it was.  It didn’t help that I called it zucchini bread, because I’ve come to find out that only Americans and Australians call that vegetable a zucchini.  In England and other parts of Europe it’s called a courgette.  After I used the greek name, kolokethi, and she realized what I said, she looked at me and said, “There’s zucchini in this cake?”  I looked at her, just as stunned, and said, “You’ve never heard of zucchini bread?”  When she said no, I couldn’t wait for her to try it!  I have the best zucchini bread recipe.  It came from my dear friend, DaiAnn.  DaiAnn is the “Martha Stewart” of Lancaster.  She probably doesn’t like it that her friends call her that, but it’s the truth.  She can bake like no one else (probably because she’s not afraid to use butter and sugar) and as a result has created a zucchini bread that tastes like a spice cake and could win the blue ribbon in any competition.  Of course Roula loved  it and she couldn’t wait to take it to her mother and siblings to taste.  I, still, couldn’t get over that they never have made zucchini bread.  They have zucchini coming out of their ears over here.  I have no idea what they do with it all!

I digress.  This post is supposed to be about our trip to Samos.  Let me start by adding to Little Things That Make Me Smile. We did find a few other “comforts” of home we missed.  One was a real basket ball court…with lines and everything.

Basketball Court at school in Samos, Greece

Basketball Court at school in Ikaria, Greece

The other, and probably the most exciting of our finds, was grass.  Real grass.  So soft.  So green.  So inviting.  It felt like we were walking on a carpet.   We took off our shoes and felt the cool grass beneath our feet.  We laid down on it, in the shade of an umbrella and looked at the sky.  We could hear the waves of the beach below us, and we talked about how much we missed grass.  Of course, the people eating their lunch right next to us, looked down from their tables and probably thought we were crazy!  The grass was at an outside eating area of a taverna.  But we didn’t mind.  We’ll never see them again, and we were enjoying the moment.

Harbor in Pythagoria, Samos, Greece

The trip was a relaxing three days of quality family time.  Samos is a neighboring island to the north and east of Ikaria and is literally a stones throw away from Turkey.  We took the 4 am ferry to get there, and as a result, spent the entire first day laying by the water or napping in our room.  We stayed in and spent one of the days touring the town of Pythagoria, where the mathematician, Pythagorus was born…you know A2+B2= C2.  (Timely that as I write this Elias is asking me for help with his summer pre-algebra math packet.) In such a small area there is so much history. We visited an aqueduct that was built in the 6th century B.C.–that’s over 2500 years ago.  The aqueduct was about a mile long and was built to bring water into the town of Pythagoria.  Construction on the tunnel started on either end and took ten years to complete.  When the two ends came together in the middle, the met at the exact same spot.  Quite and amazing feat of engineering considering all they had to work with were hammers and chisels.  We got to walk through a portion of the tunnel, and it was an extremely tight space.  It was also very cool, which was refreshing considering it was 100 degrees outside!  Later we found out that in the 7th century AD the tunnel was used to hide residents of Samos during an Arab invasion.  We couldn’t imagine living in such a small space, but when your life depends on it, you’ll do just about anything!

Kids in the Tunnel of Eupalinus, the aquaduct, and one of the greatest technological achievements of ancient times.

A bit of a squeeze getting into the aquaduct.

We found another amazing, below ground wonder close by.  On the hill is the Holy Monastery Virgin Mary Spillianis which was built in the 1600’s, after a temple, hidden in a cavern was found.  The story goes that the 16th century seaman and the residents of Pythagoria saw a light coming from the mountain each evening.  They climbed the mountain to find a cave, and 50 yards back in the cave was a very ancient icon of the Virgin Mary, which was glowing.  There are many written records of miracles that happened at the church, as a result of praying to the Virgin.  The history of the icon isn’t known, but the story is told that foreigners who were very devout sailed to Samos and secretly took the icon back to their homeland.  While they were removing it from the boat, it fell and broke into 5 pieces and floated back to Samos.  They say that the Virgin did not want to abandon Samos.  When the icon was found washed ashore, it was recovered and returned to it’s proper home.

Rea lighting a candle before heading down to the temple of the Virgin Mary.

The undated icon of the Virgin Mary that was recovered after being taken from it’s home.

The family at the Monastery of the Virgin Spillani, Samos, Greece.

Closer to the water is a castle…a real castle!  The Castle of Lykourgos was built on top of archeological ruins during the fight against the Turks in the 1800’s.  The leader of the revolution in Samos, Lykourgos Logothetis, successfully fought off the Turks, and from what I’ve read, Samos was the only island to do so.  The castle has all been restored and is a museum with ancient artifacts, including 7th century AD items found in the aquaducts, from when it was inhabited.  Next to the castle is the beautiful Church of the Transfiguration that was built by Logothetis after the victory.

As we walked around we stumbled across one excavation site after the next.  It got to the point that Zach would walk by them and comment, “Oh.  Here’s another archeological site,” and keep walking.   One of the most interesting and largest sights we saw were the Roman Baths.  We saw pieces of mosaic tiles that have survived thousands of years and were able to walk through rooms that housed large baths and small baths.  There was no information at this site and the gentleman who “manned” the gate spoke no English.   I was able to find out that if we wanted more information, the Archeolgoical Musuem a short distance away would have a pamphlet for us.  What Chris questioned was why they wouldn’t just have the pamphlets for this site, on the site, for the worker to pass out.  I had to remind him we were in Greece.  I found out later online that prior to them being baths, the area was a large gymnasium from the Hellenistic period.

Ancient Mosaic on the ground at the Archeological Site of Roman Baths in Samos, Greece. This could have been from when the site was a gymnasium, as it looks like there are warriors fighting.

The final experience in Samos that notes sharing is that we were able to attend a concert in an ancient ampitheater.  The Samos Young Artists Festival was being held the over a course of a week, and every night young musicians from various countries would perform.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but we told the kids it’d be an adventure.  The performers were from NYC and included a pianist, a cellist, and a violinist.  They played music by American composers, past and present.  I must admit I liked the pieces by Gershwin, but the more modern pieces weren’t nearly as pleasing to the ear!  This was a time that my kids never cease to amaze me.  For two hours we sat and listened as crickets chirped in the background and bats flew over the stage.  The kids didn’t complain or ask to leave once, even though it wasn’t something that they really enjoyed.  Just another “check” in the positive outcomes column, reaffirming our decision to take on this journey.

Our village of Karavostamo, as seen from the ferry, upon our return.

One Month

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I thought, “One month left before we leave our home!” and I was nervous and scared.  Now today, here we are, a month into our new life. Thirty one days, to be exact. And none of us feel that it “feels” that long that we’ve been away. We’ve come to grow very comfortable with our simple life. There’s been no rushing around, no pressure to get things done, and no errands to continuously run. You know that feeling you have when you are on vacation? The one that provides you with a sense of contentment and relaxation? The one that allows you to not feel guilty for reading a book in the middle of the day or let’s you indulge in an ice cream cone every night? The calm you feel when you wake up when you are rested and aren’t roused by the shrill of an alarm, and you know you have no where to be but the beach? That’s what it is has felt like every day for the past month. And that’s what we will feel every day for the next month. And from what I have learned, that’s what it will feel like every day for the next year.

There have been side effects of this lifestyle. Some that I love and some that I have to learn to embrace. One of my favorites has been watching my youngest, Zach, rediscover his imagination and creativity. Back at home we have always not encouraged “screen time”–television, computer, Wii, DS, etc. Despite that fact, Zach has always gravitated towards them. Maybe its because he’s the youngest and when I was busy with the other two, those devices easily kept him occupied and out of trouble. His obsession for the six months prior to leaving was Minecraft–a computer game. Since we’ve been here, he’s be detoxing! No Minecraft means that he doesn’t ask me twenty times a day if he can use the computer. I’m not saying he doesn’t miss it. I’m saying he’s doing just fine without it.

Instead of playing on the computer, he has been doing other things and is loving it! The first few weeks we were here, he played with his cousin, Antoni, day in and day out. One day they found a hole in the rocks and decided to make it into a fort. But before they could, they had to clean out all of the trash that had blown in from the sea winds. Once they started picking up trash, they wouldn’t stop! They were amazed and what they found and what treasures those things could become! A broken kite became the flag for their fort, an old fishing rod lead to a new passion, and rocks became valuable gems and crystal. For days, when we would head to the beach, Zach would grab work gloves and plastic bags so they could clean up the trash and see what they could find.

The “fishing rod” find lead to an interest in fish– both fishing and watching! He and Chris fixed the rod, and he’s taken it every where we’ve gone. When we go to a beach and he can’t fish, he snorkels. He’s has seen star fish, sea cucumbers, rock fish, and dozens of other types. He imagines that some day he’ll catch a fish that’s as big as he is! And he smiles from ear to ear when he talks about either one. Somedays we sit on the rocky beach and he collects rocks that he stacks and builds into houses and furniture. He picks up drift wood and reeds and wields them like weapons or musical instruments. And he’s becoming an expert rock skipper. Watching him in this environment has been reassurance that we are doing something right for our kids.

Zach and Antoni with their flag outside of their fort.

Zach–the fisherman and the snorkeler all in one!

Something I still need reassurance with is wearing a two piece bathing suit. Antoni’s mom, Sophia, and I, are about the only two people on the island who I saw wearing a bathing suit that covers our bellies and our rumps! Body image in Europe is completely different than in America. It doesn’t matter what size you are here, or what age you are–girls, teens, women, and yiayias all wear two piece bikinis. Right. No little skirt to cover the cellulite, and no tankini to cover the love handles. And the bikini bottoms are made with half the fabric of the ones back home. But the most interesting part for me is to watch how comfortable and confident they all are in their suits.

I had Dianna bring me over two bikini tops to wear with my skirts because I felt so uncomfortable having my whole body covered. I felt like no one noticed the women in their bikinis, but everyone noticed me in my suit. ( Well, let me clarify–all the men noticed the curvy, fit, and tan women in their barely there bikinis. But no one noticed those who probably should have been wearing more–according to our standards in America.). I’ve worn the two-piece a few times, but I just don’t like it. I wish it didn’t matter to me that my love handles hang over my skirt or that my rock hard abs are hidden by a layer of bread, beer, cheese, and ice cream. I want to sit and laugh with my friends for hours and not be constantly tugging at my suit or shifting my body to hide my “soft” parts. I’m forty-one years old, and have given birth to four children. I am who I am, and my physical appearance is a piece of who I am. I hope that by the time we leave I can take that part of the European lifestyle with me. Maybe not the three triangle bikini, but the confidence to feel great in whatever I’m wearing.

Little Things That Make Me Smile

We are visiting Samos for a few days for a little “vacation” before Chris heads back home. It’s amazing after being away from modern conveniences for four weeks how much little things can excite me!

Samos has flat, wide roads that are all paved! They even have painted yellow lines on them.

I saw two stop lights.

I went to the grocery store on the first day and Chris couldn’t get me to leave. I’m going back today just for fun!

I saw people running! Grant it they were all tourists, not Greeks, but there were lots of them! I even attempted to run! Plan on doing it again today.

I haven’t seen one goat tied to the side of the road.

They have menus at the restaurants.

Yesterday I swam in a swimming pool. A real one with chlorinated water, a ladder, and lounge chairs. I liked it so much I actually swam a few laps!

With 24 hours left here I am sure more of life’s simple pleasure await me. We’re off to see what we can find.


The First of Three

Tomorrow morning will be the first of the three hardest good-byes we will have to make.  I know, I know.  We left America four weeks ago.  Didn’t we say all of our good-byes?  Weren’t they hard?  Yes, and yes.  Leaving was heart wrenching and scary and exciting all wrapped into one.  I cried my way across Pennsylvania, New York, and the Atlantic Ocean.  But then we arrived.  And it was beautiful and fun and new.  And for the past four weeks we have also been surrounded by cousins and friends and familiar faces.  It’s been like one big giant vacation!  But tomorrow is the beginning of the end of the “vacation.”

My sister and her family leave, and we won’t see them again for an entire year. My daughter and her cousin are the best of friends, and it will break my heart to see Rea cry when she realizes what this good-bye means.  And next week Chris and my father leave.  And we won’t be leaving.  When we left our friends and family in July, we had somewhere to look forward to.  Now, we are already there.  When Dianna and Chris, and then my dad leave, we will still be here.  We aren’t going back to our comfortable beds or to see our pets.  We won’t get to stop by the store on the way home and pick up pretzels and M&M’s.  We won’t get to see our friends and tell them about what we did.  We will be alone.  And that’s a scary thought.

But then again, when the last of the three pull away, I’ll tell the kids to wipe away the tears, and I’ll put our hands together.  Then, I will tell them it’s time to embrace the adventure that lies ahead!

My sister and me on our final night together.

Around Karavostamo

As I meet people on the island, and they hear that I am staying here for a year with the kids, they always say the same thing.  “All year?  Even in the winter?”  They have me a bit nervous.  By the end of August, everyone has left for Athens or America and few people are left behind.  They say the winter is hard here and the fall brings a lot of rain.  It’s hard to believe that things can be so drastically different from what I have experienced for the past three weeks.  I haven’t seen one cloud or felt one drop of rain.  The sun always shine and the people always smile.  There are plenty of people at the beaches and the platia is always full in the evenings.  I don’t want to think about the isolation that lies ahead.  For now, I just enjoy every minute of day.

Here are a few photos of the views I see regularly in “my” village.  Some are of the harbor, some are of where we swim and where we eat; and some are of where I sit to read, add to my blog, or study Greek.  And some are of those I love!