The sun was shining, no more minuscule clouds to offer a bit of shade, but a lovely palette of midday colours, so vivid in my memory now…in Pelion Greece
Summer 2020, a bit of an oxymoron if the circumstances in which we all found ourselves are considered. Being locked down in Athens had the feeling of a techno track being paused, while the light installation was still on. Working, staying in the nest, following the rules and dreaming of the possibilities of the summer ahead. “At least we’ll go out when it’s May” declared the optimistic ones. May came and May left, and suddenly it became clear that the pandemic was here to stay and that the Greek summer that we had been expecting to redeem us from the disastrous effects of Covid-19, was going to have certain restrictions.
Numb and shocked by the world’s vast developments of the virus, but also exhausted by the working season, which for many had remained intense and very stressful, the people had to adjust and figure out ways to avoid the paraphernalia of this newfound germ phobia, and manage to recharge for the upsetting future dangling at the end of the summer tide. In this part of the world, travelling abroad was out of the question and for the majority even touring the Aegean Sea was out of the question as well. The moment the borders were open, some very courageous Europeans and Americans descended on the islands spreading panic and corona hits, while the natives fled to the mainland. Holiday homes were reopened and families were reunited.
August found me unemployed, until September at least, on a very tight budget and really stressed to be in the capital waiting for the next rise of the people infected, since the borders were now open. After careful considerations and calculations, I decided to go back home for the summer. Seven years since the last time I had spent a summer in my native town, I found myself on a bus to Volos, carrying just a few clothes and my laptop.
There’s a certain sentiment immersing in the guts when returning to the homeland after a very long time. It had been six months since I last saw my parents, and almost a year since I had been home. I took the last bus, trying to avoid the supposed crowds of tourists heading to Mount Pelion, and when I saw the city of Volos, at 02:00 am in the morning, lighten up around the “arms” of the mountain I couldn’t help but smile.
This lay off could have been ten days, but it weighed more on three weeks. When I first arrived, the heat had already soaked into the very fabric of the city. The cement was broiling and the humidity made the atmosphere a bit cloying. But what is summer without this daunting sensation of being in the oven? First I made it from the bus to the bar. No better way to start your vacation than sipping two vodka cranberries to get the juices flowing. Filippou Café Classique –aka the family business- was quiet, and the bartender, my father and best friend, made sure I felt welcomed by drinking some tsipouro with me. There was no plan for the rest of my time there. A liberating exhale kicked out all the bad vibes of the capital and the pandemic and all the stress that had been building up for almost a year. A change of tempo, the bio rhythm of the town worked its wonders fast.
My mother was excited and quite moved, since she hadn’t seen me for some time. Then and there, I decided that no matter what, this summer I would spend with my family and old friends, the remaining ones. So I didn’t waste my time and the next day I grabbed my dad’s car keys, ensconced my mom in the passenger seat, and a packet of bread stuffed with cheese and olives, were placed in the back seat. We started our road trip.
First stop Kalifteri: situated on the shores of the Pagasetic Gulf just 30’ minutes from the city center. The ride is delightful, although the turns are not everybody’s cup of tea. Going through Agria I had a chance to take a glimpse of what did not prevail against the vicious touch of the fall of the junta. What would be a picturesque little port had gradually been transformed into another typical ‘70s construction party. But still, the few neoclassical buildings and the magnificent view of the sea may also be a bit tempting, especially if you are arriving from a jungle of cement.
Kalifteri, at the eastern part of the gulf is surrounded by olive trees. Just like the rest of the ride there. Green houses, some old towers, new villas, olive trees and villages full of life. Parking was not a problem as per usual and we took the little path leading to the beach. The olive trees are literally hanging over the beachside, so finding some shade was not a problem. We always chose the eastern part of the beach for more privacy and calmness; there is a beach bar –water sports available- and a hotel on the other side, just in case we ever find ourselves in need of civilization. The water was warm and clear, it reminded me of my childhood years swimming with my sister until my lips turned blue. Somehow that’s what I needed, to stay in the water until my lips turned blue. Four hours later, having eaten the otherworldly cheese bread from Petra bakery we rode the car home, craving for some of my mother’s moussaka.
The next few days flew by, leisurely, sleepless in the heat of Thessaly. Relentless 40 degrees C and 90% humidity made an appearance along with my menstrual situation, keeping me at home and reading, while my parents came and went, working, cooking, talking and being overly excited not to be by themselves. I just sat on the bergera for days, drinking espressos and devouring Ernesto Sabato’s On heroes and tombs. The nights would find me fed and listening to my mother tell me her stories, the narration of a reality not only geographically irrelevant but also pragmatically surreal, shedding some light on the life during lock down with her -35-years-long-husband, my father.
By the time I had recovered my strength, the family had received an invitation. Saved by the bell by some good friends of the family, we were offered a country house in Horto to spend a week. Horto is located in the southern part of Mount Pelion in the Pagasetic Gulf. 46 km from Volos and quite an easy ride by car it was a lovely surprise. I had never stayed there in the past and I really didn’t know what to expect, besides the traditional architecture of the area and the beach. We made it to a beautiful cottage 5 meters walking distance from the beach and quite secluded, surrounded by a majestic garden. Myrtle trees, lemon trees, bushes of all sorts and a vegetable garden.
The moment we arrived time seemed to stop. The lull movement of the leaves and the serenity of the village were overwhelming. The village is small and you can walk right through it, which was very satisfying, especially for someone who spends 345 days going around on public transport. Sea wise there were a couple of small beaches, right where the village promenade ended. We picked our spot under a plane tree, we were content to spend the rest of the holidays there. We didn’t feel in the mood for exploring, but the idea that there is a vast array of beaches overseeing the Aegean (30’ by car) or the gulf (accessible even on foot), was there giving us “options”. Right across from the plane tree that we camped the beach chairs, the green mountains surrounded the grand blue of the gulf and little sailing boats of all sorts moved around like in a 19th century seascape. The small island of Galatas, reposed across the village, hosts a byzantine monastery a sublime sample of architecture, containing interesting byzantine art. It’s all about knowing your options.
In the ensuing days, getting rested and mellowed down by the therapeutic properties of the sea, we were ready to welcome my sister. Coming home after a whole nine months from Berlin, she was as freaked out as I was when I stepped foot in Volos. The atmosphere of the cottage and the mountain vibes kicked in soon and the gang was complete. Endless hours of storytelling, sharing the situations; the all apocalyptic corona experience spilled on the wooden monastery table. How did it feel, how was it processed by four adults in different cities and life circumstances. Long talks were followed by long silences and Goethe’s Elective affinities.
The third last day arrived and melancholic as we were, we decided to get a bit energized and go on a hike. Although there is a path through the forest to the next closest village, we decided to follow the asphalt road swirling by the sea, so to explore some of the beaches laying beside it. And, strolling under the olive trees, gazing at the grand blue mattress of sea, colored in different shades of azure and flirting with some random clouds, we did. Vathia Spilia beach, on the way to Milina, took us by surprise. Green clear waters – you could see the bottom of the sea even from the top of the road where we were situated, big rusty rocks, and of course olive trees almost touching the water. People could be seen from where we were standing, spread at the longitude of the petite littoral. We made to Milina in around 30’ minutes. We walked the promenade, stared at the people who were enjoying the morning coffee and took the road back. The sun was shining, no more minuscule clouds to offer a bit of shade, but a lovely palette of midday colors, so vivid in my memory now.
The last day spent at the cottage approached and we were heartbroken. The magnificent aura of Horto had enchanted us. The nature’s placidity and the feeling of home that we created for one another had healed some of the previous year’s wounds. We had a lovely last swim at the beach, sat under the plane tree and headed to Martha’s. A traditional taverna, planted at the other side of the village, almost floating on the water. The décor is friendly and simple, tending towards the modern-rustic taverna, another oxymoron. The lighting subtle and warm, leaving some space for the view, as well as the nonexistent music, that gave the sea sounds a chance to sing to us. The food was beyond our greatest dreams. Seafood and grilled meats, fried fish and all sorts of vegetable balls, fresh salads and excellent service all packed into an appealing price. The last meal was composed of tomato balls with tzatziki, dakos salad, French fries, fried anchovies and shrimp pasta, followed by mini ice creams compliments of the house.
The next day we woke up full – of food and contentment- we loaded the car, grabbed a coffee from Martha’s and headed home. On the way, we were all quiet, trying to maintain the stillness as we gradually entered back to civilization. Some jazz was playing on the radio and I remember seeing the pine forest that was once burned to the ground, now being green again. Little pine trees and bushes. More than ten years later, but still hopeful; nothing dreadful lasts forever and mama earth is always giving life, even when life has been diminished to just coal.
The Decameron (/dɪˈkæmərən/; Italian: Decameron[deˈkaːmeron, dekameˈrɔn, -ˈron] or Decamerone[dekameˈroːne]), subtitled Prince Galehaut (Old Italian: Prencipe Galeotto[ˈprentʃipe ɡaleˈɔtto, ˈprɛn-]) and sometimes nicknamed l’Umana commedia (“the Human comedy”), is a collection of novellas by the 14th-century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375).
In Italy during the time of the Black Death, a group of seven young women and three young men flee from plague-ridden Florence to a deserted villa in the countryside of Fiesole for two weeks. To pass the evenings, each member of the party tells a story each night, except for one day per week for chores, and the holy days during which they do no work at all, resulting in ten nights of storytelling over the course of two weeks. Thus, by the end of the fortnight they have told 100 stories.
Read more travel stories by Maria Filippou.