Greece, Travel and Adventure

How Big is Your Boat?

I felt a little bit like Cinderella after the ball. I woke up from my peaceful slumber in the Romanos resort king-size bed to a screeching alarm clock at 7:00 am. I ran my fingers through my hair and fumbled around the floor for my shoes in the dark room. I’m sure I woke my aunt up when I accidentally knocked my bag on the floor, but she was kind enough to pretend to sleep right through it.

It was going to be another busy day at the golf course. This would be my last Sunday with the Scholarship kids, so I wanted to make it a memorable day for them.

“Now guys,” I told them last week as they grumbled through practice, “you need to get all the practice in you can this week. Next Sunday we’re going to have a 3-hole golf tournament!”

“With prizes?” they wanted to know.

“Of course with prizes!”

I was sure I could scrounge up something

Upon my arrival at the golf course (after a pleasantly brief commute), I realized that my plans were going to be seriously fouled up. The Dunes was booked solid. All morning. There was not a single gap in the schedule for my Scholarship kids to sneak in 3 holes. Uh-oh.

Thankfully, my wonderful assistant was full of bright ideas. Fifteen-year-old Adam (Nicky’s son) was instructed to help me out and suggested we set up a few holes at the short-game area. The Dunes Course has a beautiful short-game facility behind the 9th tee box that often goes unnoticed. Most people assume it’s another golf hole! The triple-tiered green set up perfectly for a 3-hole tournament. Adam and I raced around, setting up tee boxes for the kids and pins for them to hit at. The distances were totally manageable, too.

Then came problem #2: how to get the kids out to the short-game area.

All of the buggies were being used by the rather frazzled staff. I was determined not to load them with any more work, so I told the kids, “Alright, we are going to do this the real golfer way: we’re walking!” Out I trudged, carrying my bag for the first time all summer, followed by a pack of twelve-year-olds. We hiked across the street, under the bridge, and down the ninth fairway. The kids did not really like the prospect of walking, but it gave them time to get excited about the idea of a tournament!

I sent them off the “First Tee” in groups of four and watched in amusement as they attempted to repair their ballmarks and keep score. Everything took longer than expected and the last group did not finish in time, so I told them “Great job! You are all winners!” and let them keep their scorecards as their big “prize”. It was difficult saying good-bye to some of the kids– they had been the most lovable and consistent part of my summer.

The rest of the afternoon was filled up with lessons. Renee sent several of her Greek friends my way with their families in tow. Put a golf club in the hands of a Greek and they are hooked!

I finally managed to make it home and change my clothes. Just seconds after I got out of the shower, though, I got a call from Tony inviting me back to the resort. He was going to have a little business meeting with my Aunt Renee. Would I care to join? I begged fifteen minutes to dry my hair.

Now, Tony and Georgios have quite the lineup of cars: the Mercedes van, the Mini Moke, the Mercedes convertible… But it was still quite a shock for me to see Tony pull up on a BMW motorcycle.

“Hop on!” he said, laughing as I attempted to do so in a dress and heels. We zoomed off, me clutching on for dear life (and praying that my mother would never find out). After a casual meeting with Renee, Tony went to leave.

“Are you free to do something later?” Tony asked.

“Like… what?”

“Oh, I’m not quite sure yet. We’re working on a few things.”

I shrugged and told him to call me. Renee and I set off for Da Luigi, the Italian restaurant on the premises. We joined Takis and his family for fun pizza dinner. I ended up at the “kid’s table.” It felt slightly appropriate, as I consistently felt a little “out of my league” around the resort folk. We had a lovely time chatting about Justin Beiber and Twilight (they are very big Edward Cullen fans in Greece). When all that was left was the crust, I made my way back to the adults.

“You’re welcome to spend another night with me, dear,” Aunt Renee offered.

Just as I was about to accept, my phone rang.

“Excuse me a moment!” I said, as I picked it up. “Hey Tony, what’s up?”

“I think we’re going to have a little party on our yacht tonight. Would you care to join us?”

“Yacht? Tonight? Yes!”

I had to break the news to Aunt Renee that I would not be joining her this evening, as I had an engagement on a yacht.

Tony picked me up again, this time in a normal car (or almost normal, it was still a Mercedes). We drove to the harbor in Pylos. I could have spotted our yacht from a mile away. Blue lights outlined the lower deck, shining bright against the perfectly polished surface of the vessel. I took off my heels to walk the gangplank, then spun around to admire the deck and windows.

“Take a look around,” the Captain offered, opening the cabin door. Leather couches and mahogany cabinets lined the main room. Downstairs, three bedrooms took up most of the space. I shook my head as I took in the beauty of it all. We climbed up to the top deck, where Georgios and Rima were waiting. Several other friends came and we danced and laughed late into the night. Nobody seemed to mind that we were staying in port; the lights of Pylos were a sight to see themselves.

It was nearing 2 am and the party was dying down. Another large boat, not really a yacht, but a large motorboat nevertheless, pulled into the harbor.

“Eh, Nikos!” Tony yelled to the Captain of the other vessel. They greeted one another and spoke rapidly in Greek. Greek is about 60% words and 40% hand motions. I tried to interpret Tony’s gestures and waves and determined that the Captain was inviting us aboard his ship.

“There’s a big beach party at Davari. Want to check it out?” Tony asked us. Davari beach was the “coolest” beach in the Bay. We all said “Sure!” and (quite literally) hopped aboard the new boat.

We reclined on the bench seats as Nikos sped off across the Bay. The sea spray flew from our prow as the boat skimmed across the water. I couldn’t help but look up at the night sky, dusted with a liberal amount of stars.

We arrived at Davari in a short time and pulled up to the small dock. Now, this new boat was smaller than our previous yacht, but it was still a big boat. It was incredibly humorous to pull up to this dinky dock and tie off, then step onto the boardwalk in heels and brightly patterned outfits. The rest of the partygoers had long-since stripped down to bikinis and board shorts. Many were wet from night swimming. We mingled a bit; Rima and I attempted to dance some, but the crowd didn’t catch on. I had never been to a party where I had felt so overdressed and out of place. We made the most of it, though, and jammed to some Western rock hits before heading back to port.

Tony and Georgios dropped us off back at home. Rima and I were both spent, but couldn’t help giggling at the memory of people’s expressions at Davari when we pulled up in our swanky boat. We fell asleep within minutes, dreaming of the High Seas and of home…

Greece, Travel and Adventure

Life is Tough… Except When You’re at a 5-Star Resort

I’ve got some bad news for all you followers out there… I’m home! My time in Greece came to a swift end last Wednesday when I flew from Kalamata back to Athens. Fortunately for you, I still have many, many stories to tell. So. I’m going to keep writing as if I am still experiencing the glamour and the thrill of life in Greece (while in reality I am just sitting at home, snacking on fatty American food and getting ready to head back to college). You with me?

Switching from the simple, slow life of Vervena to the world of 5-star accomodations and service was rather dramatic. I went with Aunt Renee to the Romanos hotel lobby and then escorted to her room. To be completely honest, I was dying to see the inside of the deluxe accommodations. I was not disappointed. The corner bedroom was a miniature palace, complete with a spectacular porch overlooking the sea.

“Darling, I’m going to a little party at Inbi tonight. You’re welcome to come along. I’d love to introduce you to a few of my friends,” Renee said, before I headed back over to the golf course. Inbi was one of my favorite spots at Costa Navarino. The long, marble entranceway to the restaurant transported you 3,000 miles into a chic New York City club.

“Absolutely!” I replied, thankful that I had stuffed a dress into my travel bag at the last minute. “I’ll see you then.”

The golf course was extremely busy. I went downstairs to help the boys at the Staging Area, washing buggies and giving guests cold, lavender-scented towels after their round. In the back of my mind, I wondered where I would grab a quick bite for dinner. When I’d completed a full eight hours at the course, I went to grab my bag from the locker rooms. Aunt Renee had left me a message.

“Debby, come down to the Lebanese restaurant. I’m eating with Takis and his family.”

Perfect! We gathered around the low tables and relaxed into the pillows and cushions. Takis and his wife were incredibly sweet. Their son, Jean Francois, only wanted a chocolate crepe for dinner. The rest of the family was eager to try the foreign cuisine and, once they realized that I knew the menu well, asked me to order for the table. Hummus, mutabbal, falafel, kebbe, kebab… I ordered all my personal favorites. The food was excellent, as always. We scraped every bowl clean.

The table next to us was overflowing with hookahs (or “nargiles” as they refer to them in Lebanon).

“Do you like hookah, Renee?” I asked casually. When she acknowledged that she had never tried it, I was stunned.

Renee turned to Takis, the avid smoker among us, and asked “Have you ever tried it?”

“Yes, and it was disgusting,” Takis replied.

“Disgusting!” I exclaimed. “Where did you try it? And what flavor?” I am by no means a smoker, but I am fascinated with hookah as a cultural and social medium. I also happen to think it tastes amazing.

He grumbled something about having a bad experience in Turkey with hookah. I felt obliged to change his opinion. I waved at the tall, bald man who ran the small hookah bar outside the restaurant’s doors. He acknowledged my wave and I held up one finger. He nodded, with the slightest hint of a smile. I had never realized how much he resembles the character Jafar in Disney’s Aladdin

Minutes later, he set a green glass hookah down on our table.

“How did he know what flavor?” Renee asked me, curious.

“Oh, he knows I love the grape mint. Its not on the menu,” I said cheekily, proud of my small connections.

I found it incredibly satisfying to see both Takis and Aunt Renee’s eyes light up when they tried the hookah. Success!

We moseyed on over to Inbi later on in the evening. A big-name DJ from Athens was mixing tunes and the bar was packed with hotel guests and a fair number of staff. Aunt Renee made her way over to the terraced seating where her friends were lounging on white couches and sipping passionfruit martinis. I ran into Tony and got to chatting with him. The rest of the night passed by in a blur of color and noise. Eventually, Renee made her way over to tell me that she was going back to her room. I was suddenly reminded that I was tired, as well. We exited together and I started mulling over ways to get back home at this late hour.

“How about you just come back with me?” Aunt Renee offered. “There’s plenty of room!”

So, I got to spend one day feeling completely like a guest at the hotel: arrive, play golf, eat a fancy dinner, socialize at a chic party, and sleep in a glorious king-size bed. Hmm… yes. I don’t mind this at all.

Greece, Travel and Adventure

Vervena (Part 2)

The electricity in the village had still not come back on. As the sun set in the distance, the town gossip continued to focus on the power outage as the big to-do for the evening.

“It will be back on by 10 o’clock, I promise you.”

“Do you think Mauriki has power yet? That village always gets power quicker than we do.”

“The government is behind all these problems.”

And so, everybody had their say. I was thoroughly enjoying how remote and antiquated the village felt, with no power and no news coming in. Once the sun had completed its journey across the sky (thank you, Apollo), darkness began to settle in for the evening. The temperature, already cool to begin with, dropped several degrees and I was glad to finally get some use out of the one jacket I had lugged all the way to Greece. Aunt Maria, who had joined Renee and I by now, led us back to her car to drive to one of the local tavernas. Now, there is no real need for a car in the village; Nikos walked us through every street in less than an hour. But as the hour grew later, the sheer blackness of the night made it difficult to navigate the small, steep village streets.

We arrived at one of the four local tavernas to find a grill blazing outside and a faint glow coming from the open doorway. A small plate of candles had been lit as a centerpiece at each table setting. We seated ourselves in the middle of the restaurant, as we were its only occupants, and Maria ordered us an array of Greek fare.

The first course was a series of traditional Greek appetizers. The tsatziki tasted so rich and creamy that I piled spoonfuls onto slices of hot, fresh bread. The Greek salad was a freshly grown variety of tomatoes, capers, onions, olives, cucumber, paired with some locally made feta cheese. A plate of “pita” turned out to be the most mouth-watering spanikopita (filo dough stuffed with spinach and other various greens) I have ever tasted.

Our main course came straight off the grill: lamb cutlets, blackened a bit on the bone. The meat was so lean, it could only have been a mountain sheep! Sliced potatoes rounded out the meal. We washed it all down with a red wine, made by the owner himself.

“Yiamas!” we cheered, as we clinked our small glasses together and took a sip. I am by no means a wine connoisseur, in fact, I hardly drink back home, but there is something so special about the wine here. All of the French, Italian, and Spanish people I have interacted with here have crinkled their nose at the mention of Greek wine. Apparently, it is not exactly for the refined palate. But I love the fresh, sweet taste of the local grape.

The dinner conversation flitted from Maria’s travels (she’s been everywhere from India to Peru, and she has taken here Jeep into nearly every nook and cranny of Greece), to Renee’s stalker (a street seller who kept sending her flowers!), to my summer in Costa Navarino. We laughed and continued to talk late into the night. The taverna cook came and set a plate of fresh melon on our table and we dug into it heartily, even though we were completely full already.

Halfway through our dessert plate, the lights switched on. I blinked rather remorsefully back into the modern world again. We finished our meal and headed back to Maria’s home for the night. As we exited the car, Maria told us to stop.

“Do you hear that?” she whispered loudly.

“Hear what?” I asked her. Then I heard the rustling. There, on the rooftop, the glassy eyes of several owls peered down at us.”No way!”

One of the owls, disturbed from his quiet perch, took to wing and flew off into the night sky. Absolutely beautiful.

We slept soundly in the silence of the mountain village. A small, inset window was open to the cool breeze by my head. The morning came all too soon. Through the open window, I heard the church bells ring, followed by the low intonations of the Liturgy. It was a Saint’s holiday, so many people were attending the service this morning. I wished we could have joined them, but it was time for me to get back to work.

We said our sad farewells to Aunt Maria, telling her to come visit us soon and to rest up (she’s been suffering from a serious heart condition). We traveled back down the mountain with the windows open and the sun before us. One last surprise greeted us as we entered one of the lower villages. There in a pen, amidst the sheep and goats grazing at a trough, was a young deer! That’s something I’ve never seen before.

The rest of the drive back was unremarkable, really. Aunt Renee and I just jammed to the Eagles and enjoyed the countryside. But it was an incredibly satisfying trip: I found my Greek roots in a tiny town on top of a mountain. Whether or not we are descendants of a bear, I discovered a little bit more about myself in that place.

Greece, Travel and Adventure

Vervena (Part 1)

Working at a high-end resort, it is easy to forget that the traditional Greek lifestyle does not involve ritzy hotels and upscale restaurants. The population of Greece has slowly migrated toward its major city centers (Athens, Thessaloniki, etc) and has established a more urban standard of living. Yet many of these city dwellers still travel to their ancestral villages in the mountains during the hot summer months. They return to these remote homes to relax in the cooler elevations and to take part in a smaller, more rooted community of people.

When my Aunt Renee suggested we take a trip up to Vervena, the village where my great-grandparents were born, I was thrilled at the prospect of a new adventure. We set out from the resort in the early afternoon and crisscrossed the hills into the heart of the Peloponnese. Vervena is just about 20 km south of Tripoli, but located at the very top of a range of mountains. Shortly after setting out, we saw a sign pointing to “Nestor’s Palace”.

“Want to check it out?” my Aunt asked, with a smile.

“Absolutely!!” I exclaimed.

The large metal roof that protected the excavation was visible from the Dunes Course, but I had not had a chance to come visit the site. We took a brief tour of the area, walking through the royal palace to the megaron. The outline of the ancient dais was left in the dirt, set right before a huge hearth. As we walked around the impressive central hearth, we were thrilled to see that a portion of the art decoration was still intact. There was too little time left in the day to visit the museum, unfortunately. But seeing the excavation was well worth the stop.

The narrow, winding road up to Vervena had left quite an impression on my parents during their visit, so I was prepared for the worst that Greece could offer. Apparently, I have become numb to some of the “shocking” Greek roads during my stay here: I found the drive surprisingly easy and the road well-paved!

We reached the village in the late afternoon. Aunt Maria, the second cousin of both my Aunt Renee and my father, greeted us through a screen window as we pulled up to her house at the very edge of the town. She greeted us with so much warmth and so many smiles, I felt that I had known her all of my life. We went inside to find a table set for lunch. The food was all local fare: fresh feta cheese (hands down, the best I have ever had in my life), bread, beans, and a main dish that involved chicken and handmade pasta.

We laughed and spoke in a friendly mix of Greek and English (I am fairly competent in understanding “Greek-lish” at this point). Aunt Maria had Frank Sinatra music playing, but when the tape ended, the silence was a sound all of it’s own. Our voices seemed muted in the stillness of the mountaintop. Goat bells tinkling in the wind was literally the only sound to penetrate the area. The food and the quiet were so relaxing that I started to nod off a bit.

The Aunts sent me out to the back porch to relax while they chatted some more. I dozed as the sun began to appear below the roofline of the house. The next time I opened my eyes, dark clouds had gathered on the horizon and I could hear a low rumble. I had not witnessed a drop of rain in the last few months, so it came almost as a shock to realize that a storm was brewing. I went back in as the clouds rolled in.

BOOM.

The house practically shook at the first crack of thunder. The rain followed shortly after. A steady throb pounded on the rooftop, accented by massive roars of thunder. Aunt Maria laughed heartily saying, “Mighty Zeus is angry tonight!” The thunder was unlike anything I had ever heard, echoing around the mountaintop, resounding like an old musket misfiring in a tight attic space.

We settled back down at the table to wait out the god’s fury. Aunt Maria flashed a special deck of cards before her and Aunt Renee explained, “Maria is known for her talent at reading people’s futures in the cards.”

Aunt Maria quickly chimed in, “Not Tarot. Tarot it is Satanic.” She selected the Queen of Hearts to represent Renee and then shuffled the deck. Dealing the cards out in a precise pattern, Maria began to look pensively over the fortune at hand.

“You will meet a blonde man in the future,” she told Renee, lifting up the King that had been played above the Queen of Hearts. “Someone new. He has a brother,” she continued, as another King appeared, “or another man in his life.” At this she looked up with a wry smile.

She continued with Renee’s love life, then moved on to her future job prospects. Then it was my turn. As I moved to sit across the table from Aunt Maria, a great crack of thunder made me jump out of my skin. And it also zapped the electricity. Everything went quite dark, as the sun had long since been obscured by the stormclouds. Maria moved from the table to the far corner of the room where a tray filled with candles, many mottled with old wax, sat. She lit half of them and carried the tray across the room to where we waited in the dark.

Talk about a time warp. I sat silently listening to her read my future in the cards as the thunder and rain continued to pound outside, the candles casting shadows across our faces. My fortune was rather unclear… many men were “thinking” of me, but there were no serious suitors in my near future. My career path looked rather promising, though! The monsoon rains pounded down for a little longer, then stopped, with just about an hour ‘til sunset.

“Let’s take a look around the village,” Renee suggested. We walked outside, carefully skirting the newly formed puddles, and went to the central square of the town where we met Nikos, another distant relative. He ushered us into his kitchen to sample a shot of his personal liquor, made from local berries. Nikos was a small man with a huge personality—and hardly spoke a word of English. Renee acted as Translator while Nikos told a little about our ‘family history’.

“Our village is situated in the territory of Arcadia, very close to the Laconia border. The Arcadians are the direct descendents of mighty Zeus,” Nikos explained. “Zeus caught sight of a beautiful nymph one day. Her name was Callisto and Zeus disguised himself as a swan to hide his dalliances with the fair nymph. Unfortunately, Hera, Zeus’ wife, found out about Zeus’ deviance and turned Callisto into a bear.“

“A bear?” I asked, confused by the numerous animal transformations.

“Yes, yes. She is in the stars,” Nikos nodded.

“Ursa major,” Renee confirmed.

I was still unsure where the Arcadians fit into the picture.

“Callisto’s child by Zeus was the first Arcadian.”

Renee looked confused at this point, too, “The first Arcadian was a bear cub?”

“Oxi. No,” Nikos said, as if it was all very simple. “She had a human child. He was the first Arcadian.”

Right. Pretty cool, I guess!

We continued our grand tour of the village. At one point, Nikos just stood still and pointed to several houses in a row, saying, “Bouzeos, Bouzeos, Bouzeos…” He pointed out the house that belonged to my great-grandfather and the ruins that were once the home of my great-grandmother. Renee attempted to explain the family tree; most of the family immigrated to America, while just a few stayed in Greece.

We ended up on the front side of the village, at a little café that appeared to be the evening hangout spot for the residents. The men talked over their tiny cups of Greek coffee, the women smoked and minded the children who ran up intermittently. We sat down and enjoyed the incredible view: endless hills and mountains splayed out all around us, with the sun setting directly across from our vantage point. It was a moment when everything was so very real and natural that it seemed to border on the surreal.


Greece, Travel and Adventure

Run to the Hills

I’m about to get picked up by my Aunt Renee, but I wanted to share a little of my excitement with you! We are taking a roadtrip up into the mountains of Greece today. There’s a tiny village called Vervena that sits right on a mountaintop where distant members of our Greek family still live. I am so excited to really discover my “Greek roots”.

My parents visited Vervena in May and said it was a ghost town. It’s so remote that most of the residents move down into Tripoli or Athens for the year and just return to the cool elevations during the hottest parts of the summer. Hopefully, the town will feel a little more alive now. Stay posted!

Greece, Travel and Adventure

sweet treats

I have internet for once at my apartment so I’m taking advantage of the moment and writing another entry today!

It was quite a long day at work. I got to the golf course at 8:30 this morning to make my tee time. The Czech family that I met on my bike trek yesterday wanted to play with me today before they left for home. We had a competitive foursome: the two dads kept points for combined score totals and closest to the pin while the 17-yr-old son and I drove our buggy (finally got it right!) after our stray shots. They were excellent players and the round came down to the final hole.

We lost. I’m going to work on my putting a little bit more this week.

The rest of the day was busy; I had lessons to teach and tournaments to plan. You know, the usual. [Ack! My internet died. Completing this entry on Sunday.] I had a tennis lesson at nine, with Georgios and Sophia. My game is improving slightly. Georgios attempted to teach me how to slice the ball, but I had trouble performing the shot. I think my mind refuses to let my body purposely slice a ball (For the non-golfers out there, a “slice”, in golf, is when you send the ball curving dramatically to the right. It is not really a good thing to do). I finished rather unsatisfied with my game. But we were all tired… and rather hungry. I called Rima to see if she wanted to meet us for dinner in downtown Gialova. She said she would walk right over!

Sophia picked up one of the other tennis associates and we drove to a little souvlaki place in Gialova, right on the water. Dinner was nice. Rather lowkey for a Saturday night. Sophia was all set for us to go to a beach party, but none of us could hide our yawns well enough. Rima and I said goodnight to our friends and went to the Mini-Mart to get some house necessities (i.e. toilet paper. The cleaning people didn’t leave any for us this week!). Before we even got in the door, we were distracted by the giant fridge of ice cream out front. Rima and I constantly complain about the weight we’ve gained in Greece from all the good food. But… what’s one more amazing ice cream bar?

We took our delicious purchases outside and walked down the short pier (which is basically just used for parking). The ledge was empty, so we sat down, the length of tavernas and shoreline before us. Pylos lit up in the distance to our right. A starry sky overhead. Boats floating in the water at our feet. Ice cream melting in the humid night air.

I went to take my shoes off, thinking to protect them in advance from falling off. Splash! My left shoe fell right in.

“NO!” I yelled, a little too loudly. Rima laughed and laughed. The Mediterranean hardly has any wave movement, especially at night, so the flip-flop was floating right beneath us, about 6 feet down. I peered over the edge, wondering if I could hang by my arms and grab it with my toe. I handed Rima my ice cream before I swung a foot over the side of the stony wall, seeking a foothold among the joints. Totally useless.

My next thought was to just jump in. We could see the shallow bottom, reflecting the lights from the nearby restaurants. But I didn’t want to get soaked! Hmm… how about I fish it out? I went off to find some stort of stick, and managed to acquire a piece of bamboo (probably from one of the tiki huts) about 3 feet long. I laid down on the pavement and poked at the floating shoe. I caught it for a second, then lost it… and managed to send it speeding out away from my reach. Rima was still laughing at my ridiculous situation. I looked up at her from the ledge and said, “Give me that ice cream.”

After satisfying my sweet tooth, I made several more botched attempts. When I finally managed to snag the shoe with my stick, I flung it up next to my roomie. I stayed their, splayed out on the edge of the stone pier until our laughter subsided.

“You know what I think we need?” Rima asked me.

“More ice cream to celebrate?” I suggested.

“You read my mind!” Rima smiled. I hopped up, put on my wet shoe, and took off running back to the Mini-Mart for more sweets.

We’re now considering going on an “ice-cream diet”. Sounds like a good way to enjoy these last 10 days in Greece!

Greece, Travel and Adventure

I Just Can’t Get Enough

Sometimes I think that Greeks only have one thing on their mind: the beach.

If you ask someone what they did on their day off, they’ll say: “I went to the beach.”

If you ask someone what they do with their friends, they’ll say: “Oh, we go to the beach.”

If someone asks you what your favorite part of Greece is, the appropriate response is: “Definitely the beaches.”

Yes, the sea is lovely. The water is crystal blue. The Mediterranean is usually very serene and perfect for swimming, snorkeling, kite-surfing, boating. The beaches are all natural, but there are still a vast array of beach “types”. There are family beaches, dance clubs, beach bars, quiet coves, resort beaches, rocky beaches, sandy beaches. An endless selection.

Please, do not take my mild indignance to imply that I don’t love the ocean. I’m a Florida and Cali girl. I swear that there is salt water in my veins! But I’ve seen a lot of beautiful beaches in my life. And, I have a ridiculously good tan already. I don’t need to spend my entire day off lounging at a beach. While many of my Greek friends question my sanity, I prefer to spend my days off doing activities.

And sometimes they include beaches.

This is the tale of my super-outdoorsy adventure yesterday.

I woke up early (another criminal act) and took the bus to the resort. For some reason, I just can’t get away from this place. I had a specific intention, though. I was hoping to get a spot on one of the bike tours. I had recently met Michael and Klitos, two of the guys who ran Navarino Outdoors. They lead biking and hiking tours, and rent Segways to guests. They told me that whenever they had an extra spot on a tour, I was free to join! I got to the bike station and Michael informed me that “Yes, they had one spot open!” I signed my waiver and wondered what to do for the next three hours til the tour began.

Maybe I should go to the beach?

I lounged at the resort beach, reading my Kindle (I know, I must sound like a walking advertisement for this thing, but it is seriously amazing!), until the sun began leaching away my energy. A quick jump in the sea gave me a little pep and I cleaned up for my bike ride. Back at the station, I was informed that we would be going on the Sunset Tour. Okey dokey. What does that mean?

“Well, we have to drive about 30 minutes away. Then we’ll bike down the side of a mountain.”

A mountain? Umm… did I mention that I really haven’t done much mountain biking?

“Oh, don’t worry, its a very easy ride.”

And indeed, it was. My butterflies flew away when I realized we would be riding a paved road down the side of a fairly steep cliff. The view was spectacular, as we cycled toward the sea. I think I used the pedals once; the rest of the time it was all brake. Two families from the Czech Republic had booked the tour, so the little kids rode right along with their parents. It was great fun to stop for water breaks at the most beautiful of the vistas and eat freshly picked grapes.

But that was not the entirety of our trek. We rode all the way down to the harbor, where we then boarded a boat. We sailed about 20 minutes out to a small island in the sea. There, inside a small cove, was a sandy beach. We dove off the back of the boat and swam to cool down from our bike ride. The water was crystal clear, with long sea grass growing all the way up to the shoreline.

Michael pointed to a buoy. “That buoy is attached to a sunken ship. An old Italy navy vessel that sunk during the War.”

“Wanna swim to it?” I asked Petr, the oldest boy in the Czech family. I dove in before I could hear his answer. We found the ship covered in rust and sea anemones. I wish I’d had a mask to explore the ship further.

Back onboard our small cruise boat, we ate a light snack of octopus and sardines, with tomatoes and cheese. Yumm…

The boat drove us down the coastline of the island, past a deserted monastery and a rock shaped like an elephant. A small inlet held carvings dating back several thousand years. Ancient Greek words warned of underwater rocks and pirates!

We returned to shore and drove home (it would not have been pleasant to ride back UP the way we came).

Oh yes, the Greek beaches are lovely. I just prefer the ones with pirates.

Food, Greece, Travel and Adventure

New Tastes, New Flavors

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – J.R.R Tolkien

I have found myself reflecting on this quote an awful lot this summer. Every single day brings a new experience, a new adventure. Everything is exciting and exotic! But more and more often I find myself losing my footing. I make spontaneous decisions and put myself in some precarious situations (hitchhiking, climbing up cliffs, etc.). It is easy to trust the people in my community here, because we are all essentially strangers. I go out with new people almost every night and have a wonderful time. But I’m learning how important it is to “keep your feet”, to make wise decisions in the midst of all the thrills. There are nights where I go home and curl up with a book or watch a few episodes of Mad Men. I enjoy cooking dinner at the apartment and coming up with new recipes using my extremely limited supplies. I value my roommate’s friendship and the honesty we share. Rima and I often go out together and watch each other’s backs. Greece is the place to get swept off your feet– that’s why I make sure to always wear my golf spikes…

Sunday happened to be another ridiculously fantastic day.

We had a great session with our junior golfers in the morning. The group has been growing steadily; kids often bring friends and some new families have arrived for the summer months. After a short practice session on the putting green, I sent them off hole number 10. They are getting much better at managing the course. I am particularly impressed with how well the girls are playing! It’s great to see them progress in the sport and know that golf has a future here in Greece.

After relaxing a bit over lunch (those kids are fun but they can be rather exhausting), I went down to help clean up the practice range. While I was remaking the pyramids of golf balls, I spotted two guys attempting to hit a ball out of the sand trap. It looked more like they were hoeing a garden! I went over to give them some tips and realized they were two of the resort workers who had participated in my lesson last week. I was thrilled that they had come back for more practice. Georgios and Kostas, I learned, were from the Raquet Academy. As in, they were the head pros over at the tennis courts. They said that they had been coming back to practice every day so far! This is exactly what I was hoping to accomplish with my weekly golf sessions. Georgios invited me to come for a tennis lesson and I said, “Sounds great! When should I come?”

“How about eight o’clock tonight?” he replied.

I agreed on the spot.

The rest of the day passed quickly. I was just about to head home when Petros (my boss) asked me if I would like to go see the new Bay Course. He was taking a German couple over and there was an extra spot available in the car. The Bay Course is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. course that will open the first week of October. I have been hearing about the design and the construction all summer; there is a lot of buzz about Costa Navarino’s second golf course! Of course I wanted to see it. We piled in the car and headed up the road. It is about 15 minutes away from the resort. In that time span, I learned that the German couple were not the VIP guests I expected them to be: The husband was going to be doing the golf course Slope Rating. During the next hour, as we drove down the unfinished cart paths, I received a full introduction to the world of Course Rating. It was fascinating to hear about the mathematics and science behind a golf course, while viewing one of the most magnificent landscapes every covered in green grass. The Bay Course is right on Navarino Bay, with several holes coming right down to the water’s edge. Highly reminiscent of Pebble Beach. Hopefully, I will have a chance to play the course before I head back home!

My afternoon was mostly gone by the time I returned to the Dunes Clubhouse. It was still warm so I headed up to one of the many resort pools (I’ve found four pools so far, and I still think there’s more hiding somewhere in the vastness of the resort complex). I spent several hours working on tanning my feet (if you’re a golfer, you’ll understand) and reading on my Kindle. My phone buzzed.

“Hello Debby? This is Chef Hussein. Would you like to have dinner tonight?”

“Absolutely! What time?”

“Does eleven work very good for you?” he said in his Lebanese accent.

“Sounds perfect, Hussein. I’m looking forward to it!”

Chef Hussein happens to be the Executive Chef of Nargile, the Lebanese restaurant at Costa Navarino. We had met several times– Nargile is by far my favorite restaurant around here. The waiters all know me and inform him when I’m eating dinner there. Each time he surprises me with some delicious dish: the Nargile filet, chocolate souffle, and (my absolute favorite) pumpkin kebbe. Chef Hussein makes me feel like a princess!

But first, I had to face the tennis courts. My stomach was starting to get a little tight at the thought of facing several skilled tennis pros. I told them I had played a little. And by that I meant very little. I arrived at the Romanos tennis courts just as Georgios was finishing a lesson. He smiled and waved me inside the court, yelling that I would be up in five minutes. I picked up a racket and started bouncing a ball, hoping to muster a little confidence. When it was my turn, he realized quickly that I was not an experienced player. We started close to the net. He fixed my grip and showed me where the “sweet spot” on the tennis racket was. I hit the ball better and better. We moved further apart and I got to really swing at the tennis ball. It was so refreshing to move. I’ve been working out a little bit up at the resort, but I forget how good it feels to really pour out my energy. Georgios helped me with my serve (“hit it higher, Debby. Reach!”) then we moved to full court practice. Kostas arrived, having finished up his last lesson at the Westin courts and suddenly I had two teachers sending balls my way! They turned the lights on at the courts and one of the Raquet Academy receptionists joined me on the court. Balls were flying everywhere, but we had a blast. Georgios sent us to the sidelines for a bit as he and Kostas faced off. I felt like I was watching the Wimbledon. After a short break, we continued to practice. Our tennis session lasted nearly three hours! I realized rather abruptly that I was due for dinner shortly… and I was drenched in sweat. I quickly said my Thank-yous and Goodbyes and ran off to the showers.

I arrived at Nargile right on time. Nargile is the term they use for hookah over here in Greece, so the meals always begin with a beautiful waterpipe brought out to the table. The man in charge of the hookahs, who reminds me of Aladdin’s Jafar, knows that Mint Green Grape is my absolute favorite. Chef Hussein ordered a vast array of plates to get us started: salad and falafel and hummus and kebbe… So many things to taste. I savored each dish as he told me about his special recipes and his attempts to modernize the traditional Lebanese foods.

“I make the hummus every morning myself,” he explained. “It is my secret recipe.”

For the main course, he ordered me kebab with yoghurt. I was unsure of what to expect, and I certainly wasn’t ready for the dish that was served to me. Chunks of tender lamb meat were immersed in a bowl of hot, white cream (a twist on the traditional yoghurt serving). Baked bread and spices were added to make the dish even more rich.

But nothing could compare to the dessert. He asked if I liked chocolate, and I asked him if he was crazy. Unfortunately, some things get lost in translation so I clarified, “Yes, I love chocolate.”

Out came a chocolate truffle oozing hot fudge. Creamy vanilla ice cream complemented the dish perfectly. I scraped the plate clean!

Dinner is a full experience here in Greece. My meal with Chef Hussein lasted well passed 1 o’clock in the morning. As he drove me back to my apartment, I thanked him for the delicious meal and interesting conversation.

Sports, math, kids, golf/tennis balls, hummus. The perfect equation.

Greece, Travel and Adventure

Paradise Island

I was quite refreshed on Wednesday after my waterfall adventures. I was certainly glad my batteries were fully charged when I arrived at the course and found out that we had 17 people signed up for our weekly Stableford– double the attendance from last week! The tournament was in my hands from start to finish. I printed the score cards, deliberated over the pairings, fixed up the carts (ack! buggies. I can never get that right) with their respective golf clubs, greeted the guests, then ran to the first tee to fill the role of the Starter.

Now, I’ve played in tournaments all my life. I’ve heard dozens of Starters announce, “Next on the teebox: Debby Bozeoinsdofns;d” (aka some atrocious pronunciation of my last name). But last week, my first time running the event, I completely botched it.

~

“Welcome ladies and gentleman, to our third weekly Stableford golf tournament!”

(Polite applause)

“Umm…

(Awkward pause)

“Who wants to go first?”

~

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad. But I really did forget about half the rules I was supposed to share and after the first group teed off I said, “Oops! Show each other what golf ball you’re playing…” This week, I was much more prepared. I printed Local Rules sheets and everything. We had a great group of men, women, and juniors from all over the world: Austria, Ireland, Germany, the UK, some locals and even one Greek-American! The tournament was a hit and everyone went home happy. Including myself.

The next day (Thursday), I held my first training session for the Associates. We had about twelve resort employees show up, dressed in polos and ready for their first time on the golf course. The entire raquet academy came to try it out and they told me that they were going to start the same type of program (free clinics for Associates) at the tennis facility! Always fun to start a trend.

That night, Nicky had a nice group of people up to his house for a barbeque. He currently rents a beautiful old Greek home, complete with olive trees, chickens, and a view of the sea. We cooked until late in the night and ate outside. While I was chatting with another American who is working over at the new Bay Course, my phone rang.

“Debby!” I heard Rima say. “Where are you?”

“I’m at a barbeque at my boss’ house! Why?”

“We’re coming to pick you up. We’re going to Athens tonight!” We both had the day off on Friday, so we’d been trying to plan something fun. But Athens?

“Rima… Not tonight. This dinner will probably go pretty late. And who is ‘we’?”

“Tony and Georgios! Okay we will take the boat tomorrow instead. They want to take us to the island of Kefalonia.”

I laughed and said okay, wondering what new adventures awaited us…

We got an early start the next morning. Georgios said he would pick us up at 7:00am, so Rima and I were up trying on “boat outfits” while the sun was rising. We gave up trying to find the perfect clothes (I was just happy to put my Sperry’s to good use) and finished packing just as the call came saying that they were out front. We went outside to find our first surprise of the day: a beautiful, black Mercedes Benz convertible with dark red leather seats. Talk about traveling Greece in style!

The only unfortunate bit was that it was too windy to take the boat out. But that wasn’t going to stop us from going to the island! We drove up the coast for two hours, top down, the wind whipping our hair. I really hadn’t seen much of the Peleponesse before. The landscape consisted of rolling hills covered in olive groves and forests. The sea was visible on our lefthand side for most of the journey. We stopped for Frappes in one of the little towns we drove through. The coffee shop was right next to the bank, and dozens of old men huddled together, talking quietly in the early morning air as they waited for their pension checks. Not sure they’ll be getting many more of those…

At last, we reached the ferry. After parking the car middecks, we headed up top for a sea view. The water was about as “Greek blue” as you could imagine. The ferry rolled out stark white crests from the prow and the sun’s rays played tricks on the water. Georgios and Tony made great company, too. As travel agents, they know the business world but also have excellent public relations skills. And they have lots of connections. Georgios called his friend, Spiros, who ran one of the big hotels on the island… and who also happened to be from Chicago! We made plans to meet for lunch.

Our ferry dwarfed the small port where we docked. The surrounding town was tiny, just a few houses and villas perched on the sides of the hill. The island was quite large, but still only had one main road system running along the coast. We drove north. Georgios, our driver for the trip, refused to inform us of our destination. The surprise was rather amazing, though. Melissani Lake, also known as the Cave of the Nymphs, is unlike any body of water I had ever seen. We purchased tickets above, then walked down a steep, dark tunnel. The darkness created a brilliant contrast with the crystal blue water at the end of the passage. We stepped down onto the platform and waited as one of the rowboats unloaded its passengers. We hopped on board and our steersman guided us through the underground lake. The stalagtites hanging above our heads were warped and twisted, and bats roamed the uppermost regions. The water was absolutely blue; two small silver fish swam beside our boat and I thought “what a lovely fishbowl this is for them”.

The rest of the day was spent at the beach. Not just one beach, but two amazingly scenic spots we found along the way. We met Spiros at a taverna for lunch and alternated between swimming and eating. The second beach was just past the spot where the movie Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was filmed, starring Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz. The beach was nestled in a cove between two big, tree-covered hills. The water was choppy from the wind and kept most of the locals out of the water. I’ve been growing a pair of fins during my stay here in Greece, I think. I swam out to a far buoys, grabbing the bright orange bob and to catch my breath. That was my favorite view of the day: out in the open water, far enough that the shoreline was blurry. The sky filled with speeding clouds, casting shadows across the hills (that looked more like mountains from my lowly location). I will never forget the panorama.

The drive home seemed twice as fast as before. We watched the stars come out one by one. Dinner was a late-night feast at a fish taverna close to home. We met some friends of Tony who were in town for the weekend. We laughed  and talked late into the night, before finally getting dropped off at home. Rima and I helped each other up the stairs and collapsed in our beds, still smiling deliriously. Perhaps the perfect day in Greece?

But who knows what tomorrow brings…

Greece, Travel and Adventure

Water Falls (Don’t Slip)

The golf course has sucked away a lot of my time lately. I arrive at work early in the morning to help set up the carts or prepare for an event, then stay late to help Nicky with lessons (and play a few holes with the guys in Staging). My plan to host free golf lessons for Associates of Navarino has finally been approved, so I’m investing a lot of time in promoting and planning that.

It was about time I got away from the golf course.

Last night, Rima and I walked down to the “white house”, another apartment building for summer staffers just a little ways away from our “yellow house”. The majority of white house residents are Lithuanian, so Rima feels quite at home there. We climbed the stairs to the third floor terrace to find a dozen housemates sitting around a table, laughing and talking. They invited us to join their party.

“Here! Have some pineapple!” our friend, Domas, said.

More laughter. There was one slice of pineapple left on the plate, and everybody knows that whoever eats the last bite has to buy the next one. Domas looked disappointed when we refused. Nobody offered us a drink—they were already out.

The cool thing to do around here is to roll your own cigarettes. Now, I have never smoked a cigarette in my life (and have no intention of doing so), but it is kind of interesting to watch someone prepare the tobacco and roll it in the paper so deftly. One of the guys at the golf course let me try once, and I was rather successful (well, it looked nice at least. It just didn’t function very well).

Anyways, the guys sat around smoking their homemade cigarettes and the girls lounged along the railings.

Rima asked, “Who has tomorrow day off?”

About half the guys raised their hands. Rima and I had been hoping to find a crew to go on an adventure with. We were thinking of either exploring Kalamata or boating around Pylos. The guys had an even better plan.

“Let’s go to the Kalamata waterfalls! Some guys went yesterday and the pictures are amazing.”

As soon as we looked at the pictures we were sold.

The only problem was transportation. The bus came at 8am or 1:30pm. We all agreed to set out early, but Rima and I had our doubts about the boys waking up with the sun.

Our doubts were confirmed when we got on the bus the next morning and none of them were there. We nearly got off, but at just the last minute, two Lithuanians, Martinez and Rita, jumped onboard. They told us that they were coming to the waterfalls, so we decided that a small group would be just as much fun.

The waterfalls were not exactly in Kalamata. Thankfully, the busdriver knew where to drop us off along the way. He dropped us at the side of the road and pointed to the right. We began to follow the signs down into a little village called Polylimnio. The terrain was very hilly, but the morning was still cool and the walk was lovely. About forty minutes later, after passing chickens, an old lady who cackled at us, and a man painting his fence blue, we found the path down to the waterfalls.

We began at the lowest of the pools and steadily climbed upwards, passing small rivulets and falls as we went. The water was a flat, milky green. It was absolutely surreal: there were bamboo groves and reeds and rocks smoothed by years of water flow.  At last, we reached “the big one”. It was nothing like the falls in Lake Victoria or Argentina, but it was certainly a beauty. A curtain of water rained down a 40m stretch of rock. I was the first to jump in the water. It was chilly, but felt delicious after our long walk in the sun. Water spiders glided around the surface and I splashed them out of the way as Rima and Rita eased there way in through the reeds. Martinez and I swam towards the falls and found a rickety ladder dangling into the water. I managed the ladder climb and sat down on a rock ledge about a quarter of the way up the falls. Martinez continued up the rock face. It took all of my nerve to jump from my low ledge. Martinez was much more daring, but admitted to feeling a bit fearful so high up. The milky water hid the rocks under the surface, making it all the more intimidating. We both took the plunge while the girls captured it on their cameras.

We had a lovely photo shoot in front of the falls, then settled out on the rocks to get some sun and warm up. After a few minutes, my adventurous nature prodded me to keep exploring upstream. I quickly realized that the path did not stop at this fall, but wound its way up the cliff face and beyond. Several minutes into my climb (in flip-flops and my bathing suit), I spotted Martinez on a lower path, heading in my same direction. He scrambled up to where I was and we plunged into the denser overgrowth. Another pool appeared before us, then another. At one point, the path led us right through the water, at the top of some smaller falls. We climbed up and up, until we reached a large sign naming the pool “Mavrolimnia” and describing it as “The pool that is difficult to be reached”. We smiled and congratulated ourselves on our perseverance. And kicked ourselves for not bringing cameras on this part of the trek.

We returned to the other girls no worse for the wear (minus some scrapes and stubbed toes). We sprawled out on the rocks for a while. No one was really eager to make the long walk back under the hot sun. I perched myself in a tree with my Kindle (and finished my latest book!).

At last, we packed our towels and headed away from the falls. We were almost to the main road again when we hear a loud voice shouting behind us. A truck loaded with fresh fruit was just turning the corner. We waved to the driver and he stopped to show us his wares. The watermelon looked delicious, but much too heavy, so we each took a melon instead. The cantaloupe was so fresh and the scent made our stomachs grumble. We tried to hitch a ride from the fruit man, but he shook his head. Thankfully, the bus appeared along the main road just after we arrived. We waved it down and hopped aboard.

And I still have the rest of the day off…

Time for the beach!