Paximada is a promontory on the South Euboia. At this point the seasonal summer north wind meltemi, μελτέμι, exceeds 100 km/hour. The sea becomes rough and dynamic, you feel sand and rock dust on your teeth, you can’t walk vertically, the air is full of music of spheres, finally, meltemi can just take you like a sand grain and throw into the sea. This almost happened to me once, but I grabbed the air with my terrified hands, and that was what saved me from the falling from the rock. Victim of the small stones shrapnel, I got red bruises on my legs… What an adventure!
How did I start my everlasting discovery of Greece? By chance.
In 2003, I came to Athens for one year as a scholarship holder (thank you, IKY!) and as a doctorate candidate in order to work in the libraries and to gather material for my thesis that I was writing in Ukraine. The monthly amount was 500 euros, and most people told me that was a very good money. At the beginning, I had no studio, no hotel room reservation, of course. Such things were unthinkable that time for me, who was going to visit Europe for the first time and who only had 50 euros which my mother gave me in case I need money if my scholarship is not paid quickly by the IKY.
I only had come contacts, and, thanks to them, one Athenian family offered me shelter for a couple of weeks until the moment I find something to rent. But in one or in two weeks, Sophia, her husband Sakis, and the rest of her family proposed me not to leave their house but to stay as long as I need. The whole year. For free. And they would feed me. I asked but could I pay at least for water or electricity. – No, that’s too little money. And we need millions, – answered Sophia, then working at the National Bank of Greece.
Here’s my benefactors’ portraits made 5 years later, in 2009. We went together to the village Loukas on Peloponnese, place where Sakis grew up.
This unexpected confidence, friendliness and generosity of the Greek people that I did not know at all and who did not know me became the source and the possibility of my escapades from Athens, of my discoveries of the Greek islands, like Crete, for example, and all those lands that I saw not only during my stay in 2003-2004, but also afterwards, because when one throws the ball, it never stops.
We took two ferry tickets to Rethymnon just before the departure from Piraeus and spent the whole night on the ship, me trying to sleep in my sleeping bag, he not feeling at ease to do the same. The moment of arrival was almost mystic: that was our very first trip not only to Crete, but also to Greece and to… Europe. It was still very dark, and the dark land of the Minoans was slightly approaching, it was hard to distinguish it from the dark sea. There were only the port lights and very intense aromas, a mixture of the ground, rain, sea salt, and sophisticated odors of the Cretan winter flora. We touched the land of Ariadne, inhaling this fantastic air. Slowly, step by step, we reached the center of Rethymnon and found one open fournos, where we took two Greek coffees and two tyropitas.
At dawn, life of this small town started to move slowly. We did not have any hotel or room for rent reservation. We arrived just like this, unprepared. Me, who by this moment could already link a couple of Greek words; he, speaking funny English. We bought a local newspaper with the local accommodation announcements, studied it for a while and started to call the owners. I felt very nervous and very unsure about our success, about my newly born Greek language, but we managed to find an apartment right in the old center of Rethymnon.
The owner’s name was Chrisoula, she told us on the phone that she would pick us up (we were at the telephone box at the old port). If you’ve ever been to Rethymnon, you probably know its traditional architecture, so we rented an apartment in a traditional house for 15 euros per night. However, it was freezing cold inside, so Chrisoula proposed us to occupy also another room, the one with heating, no additional fees. So we slept in the warm one and ate and watched TV in the cold one.
Chrisoula brought us a precious present: home-made tsikoudia. And after our supper, we drank some of this hot drink and went out for a walk, into – already and again – the dark town with its narrow romantic streets… And that was the best moment… we were laughing, we felt warm, happy like two lost, a little drunk souls, anonyms in an unknown town, on the land – huge island – breathing a powerful mythical aura.
Once upon a time, I came to Sougia just for one night. That was one of the most ridiculous and funniest trips like those when you come somewhere and can’t stop laughing. Because of a kind of absurdity which is difficult to explain. Sougia, that’s roughly a few houses and a beach between the rocks, on the southern Crete. The tiny village where I came by bus from Chania in the afternoon and understood straight away upon my arrival that there was nothing to do. But that’s a nice place for doing nothing.
There were a few Greeks at the bus stop, who hoped for some tourists. I asked how much would be your room. 11 euros, one said. Ok, let’s go. It was 50 meters from the sea, in the building the first floor of which occupied the local police office.
The room of an hermit like me was very small, but I only needed a bed.
I had some time before sunset for a walk towards the ancient Lissos, not enough though to reach it and to come back.
Better to come here early in the morning. The next day, I had to return with the first bus to Chania…
Once upon a time, we decided to climb the mount Ochi (1.398 m) on the Euboia island. In summer. In one day, and to come back the same day. We were young and brave.
The way to the Ochi seemed to be short and easy when we contemplated it from below trying to guess which path and road we will follow. However, the optics of this area deteriorates the real condition of things and makes them seem closer. In fact, our ascension turned out to be higher and rather difficult. Quite difficult in the middle of our trail, and very difficult after we returned home.
No verdure covers the mountain. There are plenty of sources and small waterfalls at the bottom of the Ochi, and this is what makes the villages just above our city K. so attractive: they’re plunged into freshness and shadows. But after you leave behind you the last house of such a village, you cannot hope for a shadowy naturally green shelter anymore. Still, as we started our journey early in the morning, the sun was not burning until we reached the eastern slopes of the mountain.
At one spot, there was a bench of ancient roman columns of green marble called cipollino. There were mines in this area and for some reason the columns were left on the mountain without having been transferred down to the city of K.
The way to the summit was torny and painful. Per aspera ad astra… at some point the path met the road, oh, this could be a royal road to the sky, but the sun was already strong, and there was no shadow, and there was very little water left. I was not sure I would be able to climb the highest spot of the Ochi; if we were out of water, I would become exactly like this wild place – dried out and lifeless. We made a stop and had our lunch in a tube under the road, the only cool place, the only shadow on our way. The other end of the tube had a wonderful view to the eastern slopes of the mountain and to the sea.
There was only one hope: a bit higher, in a so called katafygio, in a hut for the rare tourists, we had to find some water. The hut was closed, we were the only two souls – and bodies suffering from thirst! – and there was water!!! Vrisi! How grateful I was…
We continued a bit later, after a good break. The top of the mount was still far, we passed by the tiny church of the Prophet Elias – the churches dedicated to Elias are mostly built in Greece high in the mountains. Later it was a legendary drakospito on our path, and that was it, that was almost the very top of the Ochi. The best location ever, the best panorama of the Cycladic and other islands, and an unexpectedly wonderful internet connection that was not working down in the city.
We had wine, we had lamb meat; the air was fresh and so cool up there. We needed nothing except return home that very day. We had so few time to enjoy the heights.
The way back and down was even more difficult. Once or twice we lost our way and gods bless me because I insisted on looking for the marked path which we lost, when A. proposed to take any of the old goat paths and go straightly down through the torny bushes which no one knows where they lead and how they end.
Those people in the villages above K. who saw us in the morning were extremely surprised to see us again and especially to hear that we climbed the Ochi, that we did it, and that now we were on our way home. In one day! It’s surely not a Greek way.
A. insisted that we go first to the sea to swim a bit because the sea it’s thalassotherapy you know and after that we will feel much better, no fatigue and no pain, relax you know, and that we go home only after this quick therapeutic bath. That was quite a crazy idea but I obeyed. I doubt we felt better afterwards. We came back on our last legs around midnight, and the next day we literally could not move our legs. Deep, huge muscle soreness did not allow us to leave our house the whole day after our adventure. The day after – same shit! We merely walked inside our apartment, and our motions looked too much like those of zombies… For around two weeks we were suffering from this terrible delayed onset muscle soreness…
– ‘Οχη? – No, thanks! ‘Οχι! Never ever again 🙂
There was the Analog before the Digital era. And there was our Crimea before the russians’ invasion.
Here’s me in Tauris at the very beginning of the XXI century.
Cape Aja, a unique, sublime rocky place. And deadly, because the rocks fall from time to time and sometimes crazy people staying in tents there under the rocks die. Aja Cape is on the shores of the Pontus Euxinus. Closed territory since 2014, exactly as it was during the soviet period.
Yes, we did all this way up… We still do it sometimes, but not in the Crimea. In Greece.
By the shores of a pretty little island that we call Yste, an island bathing in the waters of the Aegean, there were many sea turtles this summer. One just had to be a quiet swimmer or even an attentive walker.
They were eleven. Early in the morning, we went to the seaside. Early in the morning, the sea was calm, it was like a mirror, and if you looked all around you paying special attention to the blue and turquoise surface of the waters, you could see something.
You suddenly noticed a small head in the water, it looked like a very small human head, but while you tried to understand what was going on, the head felt that someone was watching it and disappeared… in order to appear a little further and a little bit later.
They were all different, slow and fast at the same time, curious and cautious, green or like sand, brown or nearly black. The turtle shells were incrusted with shells, forming always a new design. Followed by an escort of gray and green little fishes, the turtles were at grass, searching food in the rocks, at the bottom of the sea and on its surface.