Greece Pt 1: Vasta

Friday, July 20, 2012
My Mom and I woke up at the ass crack of dawn to pack up and head to breakfast on the rooftop. We left our big bags with the bell hop for 2 euros a day {there was no way all of our bags would fit in our cousin’s car}

The breakfast buffet was amazing at the Royal Olympic Hotel. They had a nice spread of different Greek cheese and meats; fresh baguettes with jams. Fruit, fresh breakfast cakes+ pastries, eggs, cheese broiled tomatoes and mushrooms, sausage and my mom and my favorite fresh creamy Greek Yogurt with honey {I added Nutella too, they love their Nutella} and fresh cheese pies!

 {Banquette, Mushrooms, Broiled tomatoes, Cheese pies and Sausage}
{Fresh OJ, Greek Coffee, Cheeses+Meats, Greek yogurt, Honey, Dates}
My Mom and I were in complete heaven with the food. We  had to restrain ourselves and remember that we would get this breakfast 3 more times when we got back from Vasta.  Even though we were in a rush to finish and get down to the lobby in time for pickup; we enjoyed our breakfast with great food and a great view. This was the moment that everything sunk in for me.  It made me actually realize where I was and what it meant to my Mom and I. This was going to be a great trip!
{Can’t get enough of the view}

After breakfast, we headed to the lobby to meet our cousins.  The afternoon before they had emailed us saying they would be at the hotel at 7am to pick us up.  Stavroula and Evanthia had previously shown us a picture of them before we had left so we knew what they looked like.  Like clockwork, Demitri came in and greeted us with open arms.  I couldn’t hide the excitement on my face.  We grabbed our luggage and walked outside to meet Rena. {my actual blood cousin, Demitri is her husband} I was so happy and gave her a big hug.  The car got loaded up and we were on our way to VASTA!


My Mom and I were such tourists and were snapping pictures of the terrain left and right from the car.  Demitiri asked us basic information about ourselves and translated in Greek to Rena. 
{Beautiful drive with mountains all around}

After chatting for awhile, Demitri said that Rena had had a  music plan for us.  He popped in a CD and said that we would first experience Greek Island music from the Island of Crete.  Even though we had no clue what was being said, we loved it.


Along the way, they would stop the car and show us neat sights.  For instance an old castle that you could see from the road and he would touch on the history.  

At the halfway point we stopped at a beautiful rest stop.  This rest stop was ten times better than any rest stop I had ever seen.  This was all apart of Rena’s “master plan.” We sat down and Rena ordered us some Greek snacks she wanted us to try.  She came back with a donut type pastry which was out this world.  We sat next to this wall of windows that overlooked the mountains.  It was absolutely amazing.  Then she pulled out little airplane bottles of Ouzo; basically really strong Greek Liquor.  We all took the shot and I was astounded at how strong it was.  In Greece, people down this stuff all the time! 

After chatting for awhile {well us talking in English to Demitri and then him translating in Greek to Rena} we went outside to the balcony to take some pictures.

{Rena, Me, Demitri}
We hit the road again and this time it was time for some inland Greek music.  My Mom and I were just so touched that Rena had put in so much effort to make every second of our time with her amazing and entertaining. We passed a huge cluster of windmills on top of some of the hills.  I had seen windmills before, but for some reason seeing what seemed to be hundreds of them on top of these hills looked beautiful.  This lead my Mom and Demitri into a collaborative long conversation about electrical engineering {Which my mom and him both are}
{Windmills}
As we neared the base of the mountain where Vasta was, Demtri pointed out Megalopoli, where our cousin and Rena’s brother Stavros lives and works in the coal mines. {about 40 mins from Vasta} Demitri also told us the tale about how about 5 years ago there were raging forest fires that destroyed much of this area and almost demolish Vasta! But officials were able to contain the fire in time. 



We started the trek up the mountains and we really started to get an sense of rural life on mainland Greece.  The little village houses were adorable and the views just amazing. {I know I am using this phrase a lot!} 


The roads got narrower and narrower as we went up the mountain.  It seemed like we had been clibmbing forever when we reached the town right below Vasta.   I thought our car was not going to make it through! We continually weaved in and out between buildings and houses. It was nuts. Of course my Mom and I were gasping and holding on to dear life. 


Finally, we stopped right before the entrance to Vasta to take in the view and some photo opportunities.  This is the exact spot that some of those old photos my Mom had found at my Grandparents’ house that I showed you {here}.  Pretty cool huh?! From what we were told it was tradition for the people to gather here with chairs and watch the sunset. {Including my Great Grandfather!}

{Beautiful View of Vasta}



{Up close of Vasta- My family house is right next to that wall of stone to the top right}
I almost broke down with emotion when I first saw this. My Mom and I were finally here; the place where my family came from.  

We climbed back in the car and headed into the Vasta town square, which is nothing more than a little cafe, hotel, church and bell tower; but beautiful.





 Once again we piled back into the car and weaved in between houses to get to the family house. We pulled up next to an alley of houses and parked the car.


We walked down the path to a pair of doors. Words cannot describe how excited I was to meet Great Aunt Nicoletta and to see the house.  When the door opened I gasped at how awesome it was. An old village house with a little courtyard and a perfect view.

Great Aunt Nicoletta came out to greet up with open arms. We sat and chatted for a while as Rena brought out Greek chocolates and candies for us to much on which were delicious!

My Mom then broke out the presents we had brought for them from the states.  In Greek culture giving lots of gifts is common.  We had brought chocolates from the little Greek candy shop in downtown Frederick “The Candy Kitchen” for Dimitri.  My Mom had actually learned that one of the owners of the shop had a store in Hagerstown, MD and knew my Great Grandfather! {I am guessing the candy shop was close to my Great Grandfather’s shoe shop!} How cool! We had a pretty coral scarf for Rena and we had the old pictures in My Greek Introduction post professionally copied for Great Aunt Nicoletta.  I really think Nicoletta was astonished by the photos and happy. She recognized many of the family in the photos.



Next Rena started cooking lunch, and pulled out a grill for the steaks.Her and Dimitri gathered some firewood for the grill and started it up.  


Meanwhile Great Aunt Nicoletta went down a few steps to feed her adult goats! The goats had a small grassy area but mainly lived underneath the house.  Great Aunt Nicoletta gave me some dates to feed the goats.





While Rena cooked, Demitri pointed us in the direction of where the chicken house was.  We started to walk around the edge of the housing areas and were amazed by the views.  I have never seen greens so green in my life.


Not far into our journey, we heard someone yell at us in Greek and looked to our left to see an elderly woman, dressed in full on old time Greek clothing with goats all around and pointing a stick at us.  Although we couldn’t understand her, we could tell it was something along the lines of “Who are you get the hell away.”  Thinking we were trespassing my Mom and I scurried back to Demitri who was relaxing on the porch and told him the story.

Demitri insisted that we were not trespassing and lead us back to where the woman was.  He spoke something to her in Greek and we walked on.  He had said that the woman was very confused as who we were, and thought we were mexicans because of my Mom’s huge hat.  I LOLed, I hate my Mom’s huge hat.

We walked down a steep hill filled with rocks and I almost fell multiple times.  I couldn’t believe almost 90 year old Great Aunt Nicoletta does this twice a day! we reached a little metal hut and a cute hound dog came out to great Dimitri.






The doggie was hopping around with one paw held up, obviously hurt.  Dimitri was concerned and inspected it but found no wound or sign of a broken bone.  Stavroula and Evanthia had warned us to not pet her dogs;  that they were strictly security dogs and would not know us.  It took everything I had to not approach the dog.

Supposedly the dog is there on the side of the hill all day keeping foxes away then protects the house outside at night.

We approached this very old small building that was the chicken coup and watched all the chickens for a while before heading back.



 When we got back to the house, lunch was ready.  Dimitri had us go down into the cellar with him to grab some of Stavros’ homemade wine from the barrel for lunch.  We got to taste test before walking back upstairs.  We also learned that Stavros makes his own Raki {Greek Liquor} and honey! The smell walking into the house was amazing.  Rena had a feast laid out on the table of fresh baked bread, feta, cheese pies, dolmades {rice and meat wrapped in grape leaves}, steak, fresh greens from the garden, lettuce and a noodle pie.  Everything was amazing and we stuffed ourselves. This homemade Greek meal was one of the best meals I have had in my life.

After lunch,  the family wanted to take their daily nap.  In Greek culture it is common for the people to take a midday nap around 3pm -5pm.  My Mom and I being too excited decided to wonder around the village and explore.  We started down the road that we had drove up and saw wonderful views. Here are a plethora of pictures from our little adventure.

 {Old outside oven}
{Path leading to my Great Grandfather’s house}

 {Another church}

 {Roof}

 {Mountain Spring}

 

At one point, we saw an old, abandoned looking house, and heard bells, we looked closer and noticed two white goats just chilling on the porch with leashes and bells.  The goats looks like they were guarding the house and we named them guard goats.  We got a kick out of this.

 {Goats just chillin} 
When we returned to the house everyone was getting up and explained that Rena’s brother Stavros was on his way from Megalopli to meet us and then we would go to the famous Church of St. Theodora. I was super excited to meet another member of my family.  We all sat and chatted for awhile while we waited for Stavros.  

When he arrived, we all hopped in two cars {minus Great Aunt Nicoletta} and made the journey back down 
mountain to St. Theodora. As we started to pull away a Shepard with a heard of hundreds of goats came running down the hillside.  It was like just out of a movie. 

When we arrived I was amazed! This place was cooler than the pictures I had seen.  

Here is the tale: 

In the 10th century {over a thousand years ago}, the village of Vasta was attacked and Theodora was determined to help protect her village; but not allowed because she was a Woman. So she dressed up as a male solider and fought.  She was killed and as she died she said, “Let my body become a church, my hair a forest of trees, and my blood a spring to water them.” The villagers of Vasta built a church at her grave site to honor her.  Soon after a river re-routed and flowed underneath the church and mysterious trees started sprouting out of the top of the church’s roof.  The roots of the church where nowhere to be found; not visible inside or outside of the church. 

{Me, Mom, Rena and Stavros}
 {Church of St. Theodora}
{Inside the little chapel}
{Stavros showing us 1,000 year old frescos!}


It started to get dark so we headed back. My Mom and I were surprised when we stopped a few minutes later.  We got out at what looked like restaurant, but pretty empty with the exception of what looked like the owners.  Stavros walked over and talked with them and it was easy to tell that he knew them.  We followed Stavros and the gang and he gave us a little tour of the land which was used as a working mill in addition to a restaurant.

After the mini tour we went inside the restaurant and it was completely empty.  Dimitri translated what Stavros was saying to us.  That this restaurant only is open on Sundays because buses and buses full of people come from all over Greece every Sunday to a service that is held at the grounds of the Church of St. Theodora and this being the only restaurant nearby gets ALL of the business after the church service, and didn’t need to be open any other day of the week.  But Stavros worked his magic and were seated.  The waiter brought out a big pitcher of wine and homemade bread and olive oils for dipping.  Soon after a big bowl of greek salad for us to eat family style.  Finally a big plate of cheeses, different types of meats and cheese+ spinach pies came out in the same family style manner.  I was in heaven, I am not a big fan of meat but this was amazing.. little sausage size pieces of meat. Some sweet some spicy and some smoky. Pig, Lamb, Chicken and Beef. It was great! By this time is was completely dark outside and we headed back to the house for real this time.  We said our goodbyes to Stavros and we all gathered into the kitchen and watched a greek game show with Aunt Nicoletta for awhile before my Mom and I hit the hay. 


We got to stay in Aunt Nicoletta’s room, which we felt super bad about, while she slept on a cot in the bathroom hallway.  I went out on her bedroom balcony and the view of the stars was a view I have never seen before.  Stars for miles and miles, without lights from the city hindering its sparkle.  


My mom and I slept like babies until about 4am.  We both woke up and had to go to the bathroom so badly. We were hesitant to go, in fear that we would wake Aunt Nicoletta.  We couldn’t wait anymore and went.  Of course Aunt Nicoletta jumped and was afraid of us, it was so dark I am sure it was hard for her to see who was there.  


When I woke up I saw Great Aunt Nicoletta in the kitchen.  She made me some fresh Greek coffee and brought me some fresh pastries.  Slowly the others came out and joined us.  


After breakfast, my mom went and packed up. When we came outside we saw Great Aunt Nicoletta feeding the baby goats.  It was the cutest thing ever. She then let me feed them with the bottle.


Rena then asked if we wanted to come with her to feed the chickens and we of course accepted.  We walked down the steep hill the same as we did the morning before.  Rena took us inside of the house which with the very little bit of english she knew, said that the building that the chickens were in was actually Aunt Katherine’s old house. Aunt Katherine had come to America years after Great Granddaddy but had left her land to the family. When it started to crumble they turned it into the chicken house.  Rena took us inside and it was pretty cool.  She then collected all of the eggs and said they get about three dozen a day!  She then took us around back to another vegetable garden and picked some of the fresh veggies.







We hiked back to the house and before we said our goodbyes gathered on the balcony and took some group photos. We took one last look at the beautiful view from the balcony and Dimitri pointed out that we could see the ocean!

We had one last surprise.  Before leaving Vasta we stopped at a famous spring.  There are fresh mountain springs all over Vasta but this one is particularly special.  No one can find the source of the spring and it is ice cold compared to the other springs.  You can fill up a bottle of water and it will remain iced cold for hours.  
We stopped at another rest stop and sat and talked for a few minutes.  Dimitri, being from the Greek Island of Crete, gave us some pointers and recommendations for when we visited there later in the trip.  They offered to buy us “Goody’s” which is a fast food chain in Greece with a Greek twist. We passed still being full from breakfast.

They dropped us off at the our hotel in Athens and we said our goodbyes and thankyous.  Words cannot explain how gracious we are for everything they had done for us.  The trip was better than I could ever imagine. My Mom and I grabbed our held bags from the front desk and we headed to our room.  We took showers and relaxed for a bit before beginning our next leg of this wonderful vacation- Athens! 
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