I’ve added a new word to my Greek vocabulary this summer. Apergia. It means “strike”. Since arriving in May there have been new strikes announced almost every day. They’re short – 24 to 48 hours – and don’t generally impact us, travelers with minimal obligations. We don’t need lawyers (anymore, anyway) or dentists and we haven’t had to visit any government offices. But that’s not to say that we haven’t been affected. The Tuesday market that takes place a few blocks away from us was quiet a few weeks ago when the laiki workers went on strike just a few hours before I’d made a date to go with someone in my building. A few days earlier a ferry strike meant that we left a day earlier than planned, and last week a train strike meant that we left a day later. There are a series of metro strikes planned over the next few days, so we’ll walk and take the bus, or I’ll sit at my desk and write more. I won’t lie and say it’s not annoying, but we adjust.
Memoirs about Greece tend to fall into the realm of the mythical – people getting in touch with their inner Zorba. This tends to happen on some sunny Greek island, usually involving an old Greek man or woman with a few wise and snappy axioms that sound better in Greek than English. Some cloudy glasses of ouzo are ingested, some grilled octopus too, the writer then has a love affair with that hot guy on a scooter. Life lessons are learned! And the reader rolls their eyes.
But I know I fall into that trap of documentation too. (See the past 5 “Greece updates”. I’m sure a few of you wanted to throw a glass of cloudy ouzo at me while you sat at your computer at work.) But after reading articles about tourism rates in decline I wouldn’t mind concentrating on the good parts of Greece for a bit. I’ll get back to complaining about another apergia soon enough.
We spent a few days based in Larissa, the capital of the Thessaly region of Greece. It’s mainly known for being a transportation hub, but we were there to visit our friend Tassos. Because we were visiting him, we didn’t do much background research, and had convinced ourselves that a trip to Larissa would be a good break from Athens’ heat. That’s when we found out that Larissa is known to be the hottest part of Greece. Whoops. But, as usual, we adjusted.
Part of Larissa’s appeal is that it’s close to many beautiful things. On Saturday we explored the Pelion Peninsula, driving through twisty roads on Mount Pelion in search of Milopotamos Beach, a gorgeous beach with cool Aegean water. Mythologically speaking, Mount Pelion was the home of the Centaur (those half men/half horse creatures), and while we didn’t find any roaming around, we did see dolphins jumping in the sea. I’d never seen a dolphin before outside of Marineland.
We visited a small mountain town, Milies, that’s typical of towns in Pelion, all cobblestone paths for donkeys and slate roof houses. The church in Milies is intense. The small stone building built in 1741 looks unassuming from the outside, but inside every available space is covered with murals. They were painted over 33 years by one anonymous monk intent on capturing the circle of life in paint in the church. An old man took interest in the 3 of us and pointed out some details we missed at first, like Bezelbub as a hideous monster swallowing sinners whole or lost souls flailing in a river of blood. There was a zodiac painted on the wall too. It was beautiful and creepy all at the same time.
We also happened to be in the area for the annual Cherry Festival. Larissa is an agricultural area, and we passed many fields of cotton and wheat and fruit trees – apples, apricots, cherries. The town of Metaxohori has a cherry festival every year, and on Sunday, after a strenuous day at the beach we visited the town to check it out. We bought cherry preserves and they shoved containers of cherries for us to take too. We rinsed them off with mountain stream water, sat in the town square and drank Greek coffee, ate the cherries, and also grabbed a slice of warm halvas farsalon. This particular type of halva is specific to the region, slightly gelatinous, buttery, with a burnt sugar top and studded with whole almonds.
Finally, we also explored Meteora, another area close to Larissa. Meteora is known for its monasteries which are built at the top of spectacular cliffs. Monks built the monasteries in the 14th century as a refuge from Turkish invaders. They used to be hauled up in baskets and nets, but now there are paths to walk on, and paved roads along the mountains for the tour buses carting in the tourists. The rocks are eerie and beautiful, and it’s easy to see why a monk would chose the cliffs as a place to lay low for awhile.
So, beaches, dolphins, cherries, mountain villages, and more. I can definitely adjust to that.