Sun, Sea and Spanakopita
Last week I travelled to my fatherland (I say fatherland as it is my father who is from Greece, not my mother, thus fatherland not motherland…) completely ALONE to join my parents and siblings on our yearly visit to see our Greek relatives.
I have travelled abroad alone before but this time I really noticed what a joy it was to wander around the airport in one’s own time without the incessant demands of a hungry, energetic, male Greek shopaholic in tow.
After a bumpy flight I landed at 4am in Athens, home to the Acropolis, the Hellenic Parliament and my 87-year-old Yiayia.
Having arrived earlier in the day, my parents were there to greet me and we drove the short journey back to my Yiayia’s house, with my father moaning about the unreliability of the hire car all the way. A few hours later (and seriously sleep deprived), we were back on the road again, doing the relative rounds and trying our best to politely refuse increasingly aggressive invitations to stay and eat.
Eventually, we managed to escape into the mountains like the Von Trapp family and made our way to Palaia Epidavros Town in the Peloponnese, a southern Region of Greece, home to the city of Sparta and where the Greek War of Independence first began.
Weaving our way up the windy roads we finally reached our sanctuary: InnisFree Villa – a beautiful bungalow with a private swimming pool, nestled amongst the olive trees. My heart was warmed to its deepest embers by the sight of this idyllic setting.
Before we had a chance to rest, the sound of screeching tyres hailed the arrival of my uncle who had kindly driven my Yiayia up from Athens to join us for a few days. Stumbling out of the vehicle, she looked worryingly dazed so while my mother ushered her into the villa, the rest of us donned our swimsuits and dived into our little piece of heaven.
Of course the peace and tranquillity wasn’t to last, and after hanging out the wet towels I was stung on the thumb by an overly curious Queen bee.
Pandemonium ensued with my mum desperately searching the depths of the suitcases for her special antiseptic/ anti-insect/ anti-sting cream and my Yiayia reciting the lords prayer over my head (to dispel the evil eye), while I hopped around with my sister clutching a piece of ice to my thumb. Meanwhile my father and brother had tracked down the venomous bee and declared it to be dying before my uncle put it out of its misery by executing it with his Grecian sandal.
The rest of the holiday was slightly smoother. One highlight was a trip to the magnificent Epidaurus (Epidavros) Theatre, designed by Polykleitos the Younger in the 4th century BC. The original 34 rows were extended in Roman times by another 21 rows and boy did I have severe leg ache after making my way to the top and back down again.
The theatre is still in use and performances are held on Friday’s and Saturdays. Even though it was a Thursday, we were lucky enough to catch an impromptu performance by a Chinese tourist who wailed her way through a little song. There were a few claps.
Our last night in the Peloponnese was spent in the trendy seaport town of Nafplio, a 30 minute drive from our villa. The town was originally the capital of Greece, from the start of the Greek Revolution in 1821 until 1834 when King Otto decided to move the capital to Athens.
Nafplio boasts stunning views of the surrounding bay and mountains and the pretty café-lined promenade off of the main Snytagma Square is the perfect viewing-spot of the Bourtzi – a fortified islet, which can be reached by boat from the harbour.
Views of the spectacular Palamidi Fortress which sits above and dominates the city can also be seen from the square. The fortress was built by the Venetians in 1714 and has become one of Greece’s greatest attractions.
Nafplio is also the place where my parents spent much of their honeymoon, and where they were arrested by local police who thought that they were motorbike thieves (the Greek police are known for their unique take on the law).
The story goes that after being driven to the police station and placed in separate rooms, my mother protested her innocence by yelling out that she was a civilised British citizen and could these savages unhand her. She was of course in shock, but not in as much shock as when my father sauntered into the room with a group of police all patting him on the back, and told her they were free to go.
It turned out that my father’s uncle was the chief of police.
Of course there are many other places of interest in the Peloponnese including the wonder that is the Corinth Canal, a 3.9 mile stretch of water that separates the Peloponnesian peninsular from the Greek mainland.
Unfortunately, after the two day theatre and fortress trip Yiayia was wiped out for the rest of her stay and we didn’t quite manage to fit in any more expeditions to the back and beyond of the Peloponnese.
After less than a week I had to travel back alone to dreary England (damn restrictive holiday leave!) while my family continued their journey through the land of the golden apple and onto Pelion.
I’ll admit I cried buckets on the way to the airport, at the airport, on the plane, on the coach and when unpacking my suitcase, as after all, nothing beats a family holiday!
Still, I comforted myself by eating the entire Tsoureki Bread that I had bought as a gift for my Greek man.
I’ll just have to buy some more next time…