From Athens to Koumani

Woke up in Athens and lingered over breakfast at our hotel (and fought unsuccessfully with trying to upload photos onto the blog).  It was hard to leave our breakfast spot – again, we were at the rooftop café of our hotel, looking out over the church square and up at the Acropolis.  Athens is an interesting city – a little gritty, very busy (even though most of the shops seem to be closed most of the time), not especially beautiful most of the time.  But then you’ll stumble on a spectacular view, or a hidden garden, or a tiny church (I’m talking churches not much bigger than my living room), and it seems pretty great.

Took the metro (hot and incredibly crowded with commuters) to the airport, where we spent an inordinate amount of time, first finding our rental car person and then the car itself.  Once we finally made it through that experience – ending up with a little pink (pink!) car – we started our drive down to Koumani.

The beginning of the drive was fairly unattractive – warehouses and small businesses for miles and miles.  Things improved after the first half an hour: we had views of the sea, and then great mountains appeared all around us.  We stopped at a rest stop – The Country Burger – that had a view out over the mountains and a valley like no rest stop I’ve seen since we traveled many years ago in Montana.  The entire drive down to the farm from there was extremely scenic – mountains and agricultural land.  It’s largely dusty and dry, with the silver of olive tree leaves hazy against the golden hillsides.

Prescott called George – our neighbor and tour guide – from Sparta, and he met us at the Avin gas station outside of Koumani.  We also met Litza, who grew up in Virginia and acted as translator for a little while (thank goodness, because George speaks only a little more English than we speak Greek, and that’s not saying much).  She and George showed us around Dimitri’s house – an ideal place to stay in a tiny village, surrounded by olive groves.  We spent the afternoon relaxing – reading, napping, and doing some much-needed hand-washing.

At about 8:30pm, we heard a knock on our door.  There stood an older woman who welcomed us and then said a lot of things in Greek that we couldn’t understand.  We eventually figured out that she wanted us to go with her – but we were supposed to meet George for dinner at 8:50 (the Greeks eat incredibly late).  After a good deal of non-communication, we decided to let ourselves be kidnapped and followed her in the direction of George’s house.  George saved the day – he took us to the house of someone else who could do some translating, and we discovered that the woman, Stavoula, is “like a sister” to Dimitri (our Greek-American host).  George and Stavoula had an amusing fight over whether we were going to go to Stavoula’s house or to dinner with George in the village.  George won.

At the taverna in Koumani, we met Peter, young Peter, Rita, Jimmy, and Nick, George’s brother.  George ordered dinner for us – Greek salad, French fries, and a really yummy version of bruschetta.  The highlight of the meal was dessert, a small bowl of dried cherries that had been soaked in a ginger-sugar syrup (called a “sweet spoon”).  We felt a little uncomfortable at dinner because we can’t talk with George, and it’s awkward to have conversations and leave one person out.  We still haven’t solved that problem – we need to learn more Greek in a hurry, but our brains are like little language sieves.

The walk home from dinner was spectacular – the moon is nearly full, and it lit our way along the dusty road.  I had trouble sleeping – the heat and I don’t agree when it’s bedtime – so I sat out on the balcony and stared at the moon over the hills.  If you’re going to have insomnia, this is a good place for it.

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