“Greece” Means Land Of The Greeks!
Who else’s land would it be? Who could walk in their footsteps?
They Have Olive Oil! Just one of the most beautiful condiments of all time.
There was the first time a waiter drizzled olive oil onto a plate and dribbled balsamic vinegar onto it, and gave us warm bread to dip into the mix. Heaven.
Yes, Retsina does go well with that.
Planning our trip to Greece took some logistics to travel from Belgium, through Luxembourg, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, and on to Corfu.
In the 70s there was no Euro and each country had its own currency.
You used cash to navigate the local territory. Cash was still king.
We had cash in every currency we would need, as we liked out-of-the-way places, ate family food, stayed in inns, and went to bistros.
There was nothing unpleasant about the trip from the time we left our front door.
Traveling at high speeds we should be in Italy in 2 days!
Armed with our MAPS on getting into France one could only appreciate the countryside. That is if you could speak some French.
My husband could not speak a word. He was so afraid of being put to the test that I had to shadow him all day!
OK, I had to order lunch. No big deal, my background is French-Canadian, though I understand that it is not real French. I love the Francophone but they can be so cruel if you don’t even try.
Tip-toe Through Germany
We could not resist driving through a small part of Germany. We wanted to experience the autobahn…..and so we did.
On the Autobahn in Germany, there is no speed limit – unless otherwise posted.
Here we were enjoying the wind in our hair in the really fast lane.
When a car comes up behind you in Europe they flash their headlights because they want you to move over.
A good system, but nerve-racking in the fast lane of the autobahn with a Porsche looming toward you.
Never seen so many fast cars and they were all behind us! It was time to move over and slow down.
So driving at 130km/hr we saw a sign on the roadside that read 100km/hr They don’t really mean that….?
On our left there appeared die Politzei with a megaphone yelling at us to slow down (in German) and stay at 100km/hr.
They meant business…...We respectfully agreed.
The Swiss Never Change!
I almost forgot to mention Switzerland as nothing happened while we drove through that country.
Unless of course, I mention the beautiful scenery. The homes hang on hillsides in places and there are always flowers overflowing from window boxes.
The people were so nice and always smiling.
Even that guy who was pushing himself UP a hill on skis, fitted with wheels!
Ok, so he’s a ski fanatic and he does this in summer to keep himself in shape!
I could only admire this man’s ability to stay on the skis to begin with!
We made our way into Italy the next day. The real fun of this trip was our vehicle which was a Fiat X19. It had a Targa top which stored neatly.
The Fiat was tiny and very lean on gas. It was great for storage as we were traveling light.
It was a curiosity in most of these countries and people drove by in their SUVs and Mercedes and gave us a thumbs-up.
They laughed and gestured at us! I HOPE they were pointing at the car.
Italy is a most curious country. If you don’t speak their language they bend over backward to help you to be understood. This is where sign language becomes your friend.
They were so nice about this that we thought they were making up for the rigidity of the French.
Someone said that pizza was invented in the US. Have you ever eaten pizza and pasta in Italy? IF THEY didn’t invent it, they perfected it.
Europeans are known for being very finicky about fresh ingredients. Nothing fast about the food – dinner can take 3 hours and they love having you!
Every country was a gastronomic delight. This was a HighLight to travel that I never expected.
The Roads Were Perfect in Italy!
The countryside is beautiful and not much disturbed the lay of the land. If there was a valley, they built a beautiful bridge. If there was a mountain, they dug a tunnel.
I thought that Italy was known for boots, furniture, and cars. Who knew that their highway engineering was world-class?
We drove all the way to Brindisi where we would ferry across the Adriatic Sea to Greece.
Our little car was the last to be packed on the huge ferry. A few hundred cars were loaded on 4 decks, and we were squeezed into the last little space before the side of the boat came up and swallowed us.
We had dinner on the ship and booked a cabin; and slept till we arrived in Corfu.
And when the gang-plank lowered, there we were – the first to get off! And there were those same people again – waving and pointing at us. Smiling and giving a thumbs up.
We were celebrities!
Nothing Prepared Us For Greece!
In other countries, the proprietors proudly presented their children to converse with us, because they learned English in school.
In Greece, NO ONE spoke English.
However, that did not stop everyone from being so friendly, happy, and nodding all the time.
They could not wait to feed us, which was our first priority after getting off the ferry. We couldn’t read the menu so we indicated that we were hungry.
Why didn’t someone film this?
My first meal was seasoned rice wrapped in vine leaves, kind of like a cabbage roll, Greek-style. Plus, two fried eggs and coffee, its aroma wafting across the room.
We sat under sprawling canopies of tropical trees…...And this was just breakfast!
Visit the Local Restaurants:
We went to the local hot spots in Athens and weren’t disappointed as there was always a singer with his guitar or a lute.
It was nothing to attend a nightclub in a real cave-in-the-wall. The acoustics were amazing!
They smiled when we walked into the room and pointed at us and they said, “Oh, English” and sent someone we could converse with……how did they know?
A restaurant had a man playing the violin that could make you cry.
“He’s just a guy who lives around here,” the (British) owner said.
How did such talent go unnoticed?
Of course, we visited Corinth and Piraeus to satisfy my biblical education.
These places really did exist, and they had the REAL Patmos!
I ate greek salad smothered in EVOO, and grilled souvlaki on fresh bread.
It is a pure taste and we realized, we LOVED Greek food.
Crete Was Calling Us
We boarded a ferry to Crete, sailing through the night. This got us there and gave us a cabin to sleep in, at very little additional cost.
We sailed into Iraklio in the early morning and again looked for food. Iraklio is a naval base so everyone was advised to leave.
They would not allow us to take photos, so we didn’t feel welcome.
We all left, but everywhere else we were greeted with smiles and happiness.
Why didn’t everyone follow their example?
The connection between them and the world was not a language; it was the genuine warmth in their eyes.
Agios Nikolaos Prepared a Beach For Us!
We stayed in Agios Nikolaos, on the northeastern shore of Crete.
One day after a trip around the island, we stopped at a dock and dipped a cloth into the water, and proceeded to wash the dust off the Fiat.
A man was on a tall ladder nearby and insisted we stop.
He brought us a bucket of clean water because ours was salted.
We hadn’t given that a thought because the water was so clear. I could dive down to about 18 feet and we could still see the bottom beyond that.
Never have I been in such a beautiful sea.
The time spent at Agios Nikolaos was so idyllic I thought it would not matter if I stayed there forever…… You know – like Shirley Valentine.
No settlements or shops…...very few people.
The sun was so comfortable with a warm breeze all around. The sky was azure and crystal clear, and the sea air was invigorating.
You could not want in this beautiful land. WHAT would you want?
I was talking myself into staying.
With a heavy heart, we headed north for home.
Greece Touched Our Hearts!
Greece left a huge mark on us as the lessons from these people were profound.
The love and respect they held for the elderly was eye-opening.
A wizened man greeted us from the roadside. I wondered about his story for I saw the joy in his eyes. He lived a happy simple life, with the sound of the waves, he had no mortgage and was retired with his children around him.
This is what westerners aspire to!
North to Home
Returning home we took the west coast highway of Italy. In Milano, there was a worker’s rally that turned into an angry mob. Our little Fiat, small and agile, was able to scamper through some narrow streets.
Up till now I thought all Italians were friendly! Where did this fringe group come from?
We went to Paris on the way home and my French improved all the way back to Belgium.
Unpacking our treasures I produced a liter of pure Greek olive oil and a jar of Greek olives. I was inclined not to use the olive oil.
I tried to conserve it until our next trip to Greece.
We are still looking for that road everyone talks about. Legend has it that if you travel on it, you will drive through six or seven different countries in one day in Europe.
Where is that road? If you know, please leave a comment.
Next Time: Gourmet Food For My Soul!