Saturday, April 19, 2008

Small Town Warmth


There is a sense of calm and peacefulness in these little villages, far from the distractions of internet and world politics. Up here, little seems to matter and life appears to be simple. What is it like to live your life running a small café in these mountain areas, when a quarter of the year is spent with no guests? At the head of the path lives a family with 3 children; they have a small flock of sheep and an assortment of chickens and goats. Children like kids anywhere were playing happily, chatting while they rode their bikes in circles on the patch of concrete in front of their home. “Who do they pretend to be?” I wondered. The father, who we had seen sitting on the front patio of the restaurant for 2 days now, was engaged in a loud argument with a woman, we assumed was the wife. We would not survive such an existence for more than a few weeks, would we? The woman who runs one of the two village restaurants told us her mother was from this village, and her father from Macedonia. She has been here for 4 years with her husband, who works as the cook. In his black plastic frame glasses and tshirt that read “Facebook Addict”, he looked like a software engineer from Silicon Valley. Do people here aspire to be somewhere else, or something else?

We took a 3 mile hike along the Vikos Gorge, the turquoise river ran below the trail and in some spots we could see spring water bubbling out from under the rocky cliffs. Wildflowers were blooming everywhere and the cliffsides were green with spring grass. The sun was warm and the air humid; after about an hour we decided we needed to head back and proceeded onward driving back down the coast. First, though, we took a short drive to the Albanian border. Many police cars and vans were patrolling the highway and we reached the agricultural and passport control area within 20 minutes. Not knowing anything about Albania, we didn’t dare to venture across.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent driving south along the coastal area and through many small towns. This part of the country is agricultural and not very wealthy. They reminded us of small towns in China with run down buildings and machinery sitting in the driveways. We stopped at a roadside stand to buy fresh oranges which were hanging in bags from the stalls. The owner refused to give me a price per kg, indicating that my 5E was fine. He gave me no change and I began to think I had gotten cheated but there was not much I could do about it. It was worth it though as the oranges were sun ripened, and when peeled, the sweet juices ran down our hands. Our second stop was for strawberries. Again, the woman refused to give me a price per basket and indicated my 5E was fine; I really should have stopped showing 5 dollar bills! This time I refused, fool me once shame on me, fool me twice, shame on you! I continued to ask for a price or change. Along came a group of older Greek men, checking the quality of the berries. I stood there intending to see what they would pay but the woman keep shooing me off. She tried to give me 1E and clearly wanted me to leave. This made me more suspicious until I finally gave her back her berries and asked for my money back, refusing to be her victim! So much for roadside stands.

We crossed the suspension bridge across the Gulf of Corinth and entered the town of Patras, a port city that was bustling with young people. We did not have a reservation and were again worried about not finding a place, given our prior experience. We drove around town, and saw a hotel sign. How fortunate we were to find a decent hotel room in the central part of the town at a reasonable price. It was a block from a promenade where hundreds of young people were sitting at outside cafes drinking; the bars were booming with music. So this is what young people do at night! They drink but don’t eat; the restaurants are frequented by older adults. We managed to find a small Italian restaurant and enjoyed a wonderful meal of braised lamb and tiramisu.

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