Author Archives: Skipping Stars Productions LLC

About Skipping Stars Productions LLC

Skipping Stars Productions LLC is an activities, educational, events and fundraising organization serving communities, neighborhoods and individuals in and around Chandler, Gilbert and Queen Creek, AZ.

Milan’s Trip to Greece – near the city of Thessaloniki

Dino in the cityWe have been having busy, running, fun from 8 in the morning until midnight every night in and out of city. Our apartment is about 25 minutes from the city and parking is impossible. So we park the car on the outskirts and take the bus or walk into the city. The bus is always an adventure every time you get on it here. When you get on the bus in the morning heading into the city, you are in the midst of the heaviest bus traffic. There is a constant stream of buses passing through each bus stop and with 6 or 7 of us, we have to wait until we can find a bus that can fit all of us at once. When it pulls up you look inside and it really doesn’t seem possible that you can fit. The capacity of each bus is probably 200 with sitting and standing. The actual amount of people on each bus easily exceeds 350! You are pressed against each person on all sides, each fighting to find something to grab a hold of to steady yourself as the bus wildly flings itself through the city streets. Now the bus is an unfortunate place for short people. You get a face full of armpit no matter what you do. It seems that everyone in this country smells the same. It must be the food and spices and all the onions we eat, but it seems that there is no American brand deodorant up to the task to remain faithful all day.

Yesterday we went to the Greek Starbucks called Migel, which is right next to the American Starbucks. Since I am un-fan of Starbucks I was tickled to see that it was completely desolate and the Greek Starbucks Migel was full beyond capacity. There are hundreds of Migel chains in Greece and the owner is one of the few Greeks prospering and thriving during these times. It is a new chain that really has taken off in the last few years. He has a total system to his franchise and artsy look that is consistent. Also his prices are great. He only charges 2 Euro for almost any coffee, from cappuccino, to espresso, to Frappe to Fredo, while Starbucks charges 4 to 5 Euro. That is 6.50 to 7 dollars! The employees are expertly trained and have to go to Migel school for a few weeks before they can work there. They always have 3 to 4 coffee hosts walking around outside among the seats and tables welcoming customers and asking if there is anything they can do to make the coffee experience any better. John was trying to take pictures of the scene yesterday and one of the hosts stopped him and said it was against company policy to allow anyone to take pictures and ordered him to put his phone away. A few minutes later, another host asked me if I was enjoying my coffee and if there was anything he could do for me. I said, “yes, you can let us take pictures” He said no, it was company policy. I said, “well, I think you are making a mistake, because, as Americans we wanted to take a picture of the empty Starbucks next to the thriving Migel’s and post it on Facebook for all of our friends to see” I told him his policy was eliminating free advertisement. He quickly changed his mind and said we could take pictures. In fact he said he would take our picture for us, and so we got a few of the other hosts in our picture with us. Good times!

The girls are totally enthralled with city life here. They love the masses of people walking around shopping, talking on their cell phones, laughing in groups of friends. They love the thousands of boutiques everywhere you look with motivated sales people wanting to help you with anything you desire. They love seeing the latest fashions we don’t have in Arizona and the creative displays and decor. Anytime we ask the girls what they want to do today, they all say in unity, “SHOPPING!”. We have literally walked over 15 miles in shopping in just 2 days.

Not everyone in Greece has the entrepreneurial spirit though. We were in a clothing store called “Anel” last night around 8 O’clock and the girls had a few things in their hands and the clerk, said she was closing now and asked us to put our things down and leave. We questioned her thinking we misunderstood, but NO! she was emphatic and told us to leave at once. Also, there is a mall here that rents stores that are very expensive. Stores have been closing down and the mall is left with unrented stores. The owners of the mall in their business brilliance have decided to charge a few Euros for parking to offset the loss of rent. This has of course resulted in less people going to the mall and therefore more stores shutting down and therefore more rent loss. We are trying to figure out how the Greek business mind works.

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Surveying this Greek world

View from uncle’s balcony. Been MIA cuz only have wifi for a few seconds. Girls have become shopping fanatics and have started an addiction to drinking coffee sitting cafes surveying this Greek world.

Greek city


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Thessaloniki arches

Greek - Thessaloniki arches

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Milan’s trip to Greece – Our day today!

Milan's near TehessalonikiStaying for the night in a village on beach near thessaloniki. It is amazingly beautiful here!! We are so happy! Feeling very blessed!

Our lunch this afternoon. Delicious! Might have been best meal yet!

Milan's lunch

Lunch. Gavros are small delicious fried fish where you eat bones and all.

Milan's Gavros lunch

Found in Voulas hair this afternoon after she had a screaming fit.

Milan's hair bug

Agiokampos Greece.

Milan's Agiokampos Greece 2Milan's Agiokampos Greece

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Outdoor Market and Cherry Pie – Milan family in Greece

Every Saturday morning in Voula’s neighborhood they have an outdoor market. Clothes shoes, fruits and vegies, all kind of meat, eggs, fish, plants, olives, things for the kitchen, beauty supplies, accessories, and much more are all for sale at very inexpensive prices at these markets. The atmosphere is filled withMilan - Dino at market local farmers, and small business owners, calling out their prices and what they have to offer. It is where you can buy a T-shirt made in China that says, “Model Express Fun Times with Heaven Reality Now”, a pair of sunglasses, nail polish, fresh organic strawberries, a flashlight, octopus, and potatoes all in one place at bargain prices. We think the t-shirts get made somewhere in China where they have an english dictionary and they randomly choose words to put on the t-shirts, and then send them to the gypsies in Greece, who come the markets and sell them. We find it all very entertaining.

Milan trying on clothesThe girls really enjoyed seeing all the fashionable clothes and wanted it all. They were buying pants for $7 and skirts for $10. The only issue was a fitting room. The way they try clothes here at these markets, is you go behind the booth where you are not in plain view, stand in a cardboard box, take your shoes off, and try the pants on over whatever you are wearing and hope they fit. Dafni did this a few times and so did Dimitra. It worked out ok, with only one mishap. Dafni bought a pair of pants that are a little too small for her and a little too big for Dimitra AND it still had the magnetic tag drilled thru the pants. Voula said they were probably stolen from a shop and that is why. So now we have hot $7 pants that don’t fit and have a plug. Voula said she will exchange them next week. Look out Gypsies, here comes VOULA!

After the market, we packed up. Voula got some fishing poles and we went to Kosta’s business to pick him up. We were headed 20 miles away to the beach in Agiokampos where Voula has a friend also named Voula, who owns a hotel on the beach. Kosta gave a us a little tour of his business when we arrived. He and his brother own a scaffolding business that is hired to put up scaffolding on buildings when people are constructing. He has some property with a lot of equipment, an office in a trailor, some other outbuildings and a miniature church. The church is like a cathedral that is about 10 feet by 10 feet, equipped with a full 360 radius of icons of all the saints of their family, an alter with candles to light, and a dome with an ornate painting of Jesus above your head as you stand in the middle. In the back of Kosta’s property is a full fledged mini farm. He has 5 guard dogs which he told us are Greek breed dogs and they all have 6 toes. He has several egg laying chickens, one very studly rooster, serveral rabbits raised for stew, and a beautiful very well kept garden, brimming with tomato plants, zucchini, cucumber, eggplant, a full range of herbs and spices. It was very interesting and really enjoyed seeing it all.

We drove thru miles of farmland and rolling hills of fruit orchards before we arrived at the beach and Voula’s friend Voula’s hotel. It is the middle of cherry harvest right now and this family that owns the hotel also owns a cherry orchard. John, Dino and Kosta went to the orchard to watch them harvest the cherries. Every where we turned at this hotel were buckets and bowls of delicious tree ripe, organic cherries. It was cherry heaven! I mentioned to the VoulasMilan - Elli's cherry pie that we should make cherry pie. They were immediately interested and wanted to know what cherry pie was. Within minutes Hotel Voula, collected cherry pitting supplies, gloves, bobby pins for our pitting tool and put the other Voula, me and the kids to work pitting a mountain of cherries. She grabbed a piece of paper, Dimitra and Dafni and was off to the store to buy ingredients. After some thought and no sign of a pie pan anywhere, only casserole dishes, I ditched the plan of a cherry pie and was thinking cobbler. It just so happened I had a giant container of oatmeal brought from the states so I could make my aunt some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

After we got the ingredients together, my friend Voula and I got to the task of making cobbler in the kitchenette of our hotel room using the miniature oven I thought mistakenly was the microwave. As we mixed everything around and did our best, Voula and looked at each other laughing and said , “now, why are we cooking this?” I told her I was sorry I mentioned the cherry pie and got her into this mess. As I looked at the foreign symbols on the oven trying to figure out how to set it at 350 and what that is in celsius, I had a minor panic attack, thinking of how my American pride of the land known for Cheverlet and cherry pie was most definitely in jeopardy, and this cobbler masquerading as cherry pie might not turn out. I think the oven is a convection oven and the cobbler was going into a very thick metal pan. I prayed the bottom of the cobbler would brown. I really began to worry when 20 minutes into the baking we started smelling something that smelled like dirty feet. I kept accusing the poor kids of having smelly feet, when Voula informed me it was just the butter! So I don’t know what the deal is with the butter here, but it obviously is much richer than our butter, if it smells like cheese when baked. The pressure mounted when the upstairs balcony was filled with guests including a famous Greek soccer player all anticipating the famous American dessert. Opa!

My friend Voula, is so sweet. She kept reassuring me every time she went in to check on the cobbler, that it smelled delicious. I had hopes. Finally after a dinner of Hotel Voula’s delicious homemade pizza at 11pm, we dished up dessert. Before I tried my piece I heard murmurs of approval coming from the balcony. Yea! success! It seemed like everyone enjoyed it. Actually when I tasted it I thought it was the best cherry cobbler I have every had. I don’t think it had to do with me though. I think it was mostly because of the fresh tree ripe, organic cherries, and the cheesy, feet smelling butter. In fact as I write this, I think I could have another piece!

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Dafinis’ 12th Greek Birthday cake

Dafinis birthdayDafnis birthday cake personally made by the chef at the restaurant for dafni. He said ,”i make for Dafni from the bottom of my heart, so she remember her 12th birthday in Greece” so sweet! It was delicious homemade ice cream cake!

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Day 4 – Milan Family – Horse Attack from the Back!

Day 4 - grey horseI have to warn you about this next post. It is not uplifting or joyful. It’s actually a little sad, a descriptive tale of extreme horse drama and trauma here in the land where horsemanship was birthed. Pelion is a mountain region that is famous for indigenous Arravani gaited horses, and where Jason and Achilles were sent to learn horsemanship from the centaurs (mythological creatures, half man and half horse). A Horse ranch advertised a wonderful trail ride in the mountains and along the beach. As we researched, we found the owner of the place was the president of the trail ride association of Greece. Riding on the beach with ancient native horses from the very land where natural horsemanship began, was a dream and deep desire of my heart. Today is also Dafni’s 12 birthday and she is an extreme horse lover, so we arranged for a 6-7 hour trail ride including a picnic lunch. We were VERY excited.

As we drove to the horse ranch, we saw a wolf-like looking dog sneak across the road deviously looking in both directions. He had snuck into a neighbors farm and killed and stole a hen and was carrying it in his mouth. I pointed at him and said, “look! the thief!” We were all feeling sorry for the farmer who lost his hen. Little did we know this moment was a prophetic fore shadowing of the next several hours.

Day 4 - dinoWe arrived at the horse ranch and the owner and a guide named Elena greeted us warmly. They had probably 30 to 40 horse there, mostly Greek breeds. There were a lot of stallions and babies and pregnant mares. After a while they told us which horses we would be riding. Dino and John got the two horses they described as peaceful and mild, which began to start some questions in my mind about the other horses. John’s horse was a grey Arravani named Vaiyo. Dino’s horse’s name was Beauty. Dalia got a Arravani Arabian mix named Koula, and Dafni got a Greek pinto named Billy. Dimitra’s horse was white and looked a lot like her horse Carmella back home. Her horse’s name was Jasmine. They told us that she had Parreli training and was an excellent endurance horse. It was Elena, the guide’s horse and she said she needed a light hand on her mouth. Perfect for Dimitra. They asked me if I wanted to ride a stallion. I thought they were kidding, but in case not, I said emphatically NO! I got Lico, another beautiful white horse the same Greek breed as Dimitras but cannot remember what that is. His name means ‘wolf’. AND wolf he WAS!

All the horses behaved wonderfully tacking up and stood very calm for a long time. I talked with Elena about different kinds of horse training. She said she was a huge fan of Clinton Anderson and natural horsemanship. So I thought that we were all on the same page. I asked her if Lico had a soft mouth and she said, “NO, I needed to hold him”. She also said to not let him go in the front because he will run. Stupidly I figured that meant a Greek translation of ‘hurry’. So, they were actually serious about the stallion because Elena shows up to the group mounted on a black Arravani stallion ready to rumble! I questioned her about the safety with all these mares and she said, “no problem!” It started to feel like a perfect storm Day 4 - Triple Dbrewing.

So right out of the ranch it started to not feel right. Elena darts off with my three girls and John and Lico is running after them, while Dino is left alone in the back, with his pregnant slow mare. So I catch up and tell them to wait. She asks why. I say, “because my son is left alone and his horse can’t see us and it’s not safe”. She sort of shrugs, like “crazy mother”. So John goes back for Dino and the owner John and Dino, bring up the rear. So everything is going ok for a while, except that John, Dino, and the owner are way back and all the girls with Elena are trotting fast and bumpy, and we are all trying to figure out how these rare Greek horses are gaited. Me and Dimitra are in Super English saddles. Mine doesn’t even have a dip to it. It’s like I’m sitting on a flat board that taunts me, “you can’t stay on here, you’re going off!”. I have tennis shoes on and large English Day 4 - Dstirrups and all I can think is, “Lord, don’t let my foot slip, don’t let my foot slip”. I am rehashing every grotesque story I have heard of people’s feet slipping through the stirrup and getting drug on the ground for miles until they have no face left.

So we get close to the beach and I can start to see it through the trees, and my heart is pounding as I am nearly living out my dream. We approach the beach and we are all together and Lico’s hoofs just barely touch the sand and BOOM! off he goes like a bullet with me flying in and out of my 2 by 4 of a saddle. i am screaming at the top of my lungs! “STOP! WHOA! STOP IN THE NAME OF JESUS!” no stop, I tried Greek, “STAMATE” Still nothing. I am pulling the reins as hard as i can, I am jerking back the reins POP, POP, POP! still nothing. We are blazing at a dead run down the beach and now I know that all three of the girls are running right behind me, screaming and crying in hysterics. So I started to think straight for a minute. I told myself, “ok, Elli, just relax, sit this, and do a one rein stop” so I started yelling at the girls, “ONE REIN STOP!!!!” my horse was trying to turn left back onto a path towards the mountains, so I do a right one rein stop and this horse is pulling against my right rein with everything he had. UGH! That rotten Lico! So I am grabbing practically down to his bit and yank with all my might and fight this horse for what feels like an eternity and finally I get him to slam hard right into the sea. Meanwhile the girls have turned left and are headed for the ranch at a dead run. I had no control over this horse, so I couldn’t run after them. Then I looked over and see the most horrible and disturbing and frightful scene. Elena’s stallion is attacking Dalia and her horse in full blown frontal rear charge, the stallions front hooves even with Dalia’s head and baring his teeth in full aggression. I jump off of Lico, and try to grab the stallion, but Elena is now off of him trying to pull him off. The stallion has his front feet caught in Dalia’s reins and is now trying to mount her horse and still baring his teeth at Dalia who is only inches from his gaping mouth! I was hysterical, and totally helpless. Dalia is screaming and flinging her elbows at the stallion’s head and then covering her own head and then punching at the stallion. Her poor little horse equally trying to defend herself, kicking at the stallion and biting at him. Finally, Dalia’s horse Koula gets loose and runs down the road after the other two horses and Lico with no rider joins them.

I look back and the owner is zoned out talking on his phone and doing nothing. Elena is yelling at him on the walkie talkie to come quickly. John and Dino have 2 pokey horses that even though John is kicking his horse desperately, his horse will only walk slowly down the beach. Elena still cannot get control of her horse and THANK GOD did not let go! Now the three girls have vanished from sight and I have no horse to go after them. Finally the owner gets his horse into a gallop and goes down the road to find them. In a few minutes I tell Elena to walkie talkie them and see if he found them. So she says, “he found them, they are ok, but Dimitra fell off”. So I get on the walkie talkie and Dalia is crying and yelling and trying to tell me what happened but saying Dimitra is ok. So after a long walk we get the girls who are quite shaken up. They tell us what happened to them. They were all running down the path towards the ranch. Dalia had lost her reins and was holding onto the saddle to stay on getting whipped in the face by olive branches as the horses started running through an olive grove. Dafni said, she was behind Dimitra and saw her roll right off and land in the dirt as her horse raced away. Dafni said she tried the one rein stop a billion times but her horse pulled the other direction and would not stop or even slow down. Dimitra said she was totally off balance in her english saddle and was praying and her foot slipped through the stirrup on the side she was going off. She said she was holding onto the horses neck and knew her foot was through the stirrup and she was falling off, but then all of a sudden she just remembers being on the ground looking up at a bunch of horse hoofs hoping they wouldn’t trample her. Meanwhile Dafni said she yelled out “Jesus! Help us!” and she and Dalia’s horse suddenly stopped and they jumped off, and then their horses ran off without them.

All I can say, is the massive amount of desperate prayers going out from me, John and the girls brought all the angels to attention and miraculously no one was hurt. Even though Dimitra’s foot was stuck in the stirrup and she fell off a horse running at top speed, she only has one tiny bruise on her hip. Even though Dalia was attacked by a psychopathic highly testosteroned stallion fed on mountain herb, lost her reins, has only had 5 lessons, and her horse was running for her life, she stayed on until her horse miraculously halted briefly. And even though Dafni ran through a thick forest of olive trees at high speeds on Billy the wild, hard mouthed, Greek Pinto. No one is hurt! Thank you! Lord! I was so angry with the crazy people! Who would ride a stallion with children riding mares that is aggressive and so out of control? Why was the owner so lackadaisical? Didn’t he realize he was super stupid and had the lamest horses in the world that won’t even obey an emergency one rein stop!!!

Here is the thing that totally astounds me. Knowing how to ride a horse and horses that willingly obey the rider because they respectfully look to the rider as their leader is the gospel of ancient Greek horsemanship. Greece had exported this concept all over the world. The Americans have resurrected this ancient way of natural horsemanship and marketed it and sold it to where it is the dominant way to ride in the united states. But now here, in 2013, in Greece, these horses, are ridden through coercive and abusive means to the point where a bit in their mount is useless and the very roots of this horsemanship are lost.

As we drove away from there back to our beautiful apartment set along the calm peaceful seaside with the crystal clear blue water, I kept thinking of the wolf-like dog that stole the hen. I thought about how my horse that had started all the trauma was named Lico which means wolf. I felt like that limp hen his mouth was my beautiful daydream of riding ancient rare Greek horses along the very beaches where horsemanship began.

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The Milan Family – Day 3 Greece

Day 3 - viewThis day was beyond words or descriptions, utterly heavenly and blessed. But before I get to the good part first I must describe the downside of the day. It most definitely was the drive. Normally I would LOVE driving thru the quaint beautiful little mountain and seaside villages and seeing all the beautiful green lush landscape, waterfalls, and amazing vistas. However, all this bliss was interrupted by children’s car ride shenanigans. Dimitra spent a majority of the ride in ignore mode with both hands covering her ears. Dafni flipped back and forth between yelling at the little ones and begging us to sit in the front. Dalia, felt that she was being perfect and it was aaaaaallllllll Dino who was making the noise and arguments. Dino said contrary to my comment that it takes two, “It does NOT take 2 to fight, it only takes one, because one person can kick, bite and scratch themselves” then Dalia says, “yeah that is only when they have an evil spirit” WHAT! Where did these kids get all this? John pulled the car over at least 7 times, holding his forehead with ALL ten digits at once. I know he is frustrated when this happens. So I told them, “lets play the alphabet game”. We looked outside the car and had to find something that started with A. We must be in jet lag because I think it took us a full 15 minutes to think of AUTOMOBILE. So when we get to N, and got stuck, Dino says, “N is for NO sign of N’s”. Finally the game ended at X, when Dalia and Dino erupted into an argument on whether we were on X or W. So much for a game to keep them occupied. You would think Arizona children who live their life in a car could handle.

So,…. after 2 hours of windy roads and getting lost, and many of John’s uphill stick shift traumas, and several close calls with miniature semi trucks barreling around single lane hair-pin curves, we finally arrived at a beautiful beach called Pappa Nero. We stayed all of 10 minutes, because Dimitra was convinced there was a better beach just around the corner. This beach had large waves and tiny rocks that slammed into your feet as you tried to stand inDay 3 - view 2 the waves. It was like a tortuous Chinese foot massage with no escape. The water was amazingly clear and azure blue like a picture in a magazine, but you really couldn’t enjoy it much from the rock pummel you endure just trying to get in the water. (the good part is coming)

So back in the car, big sigh! up some more windy hills and down some more windy hills looking for Dimitra’s perfect beach. After asking a million directions, we finally get near a place we saw on the map with a little symbol of an umbrella which means ‘resort’, called Damouchari, nearly named after her. We drove until the Day 3 - kidslittle road ended, and parked. We would have to walk the rest of the way. We trekked down a small stony path thru some olive groves, and down some more trails and paths until we came to this hidden village nestled along a cove in the rocks by a historic castle. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. There were like 4 or 5 restaurants, little shops and houses. The water was like a perfect swimming pool, calm and clear enough that 30 feet deep water looked like 5. I nearly cried from beauty overwhelment. All the shop owners and restaurant owners were super friendly and welcoming like they knew what a jewel they had and couldn’t wait to share it with us. We walked around and explored and Dino saw his first naked bather. He worked really hard to ignore her and act normal. Then we went to one of the beaches that had little tide pools filled with fish and critters for the kids to poke and try to catch.

We all swam in the cool clear water that felt exhilarating. It was truly an amazing place. Just when I didn’t think it was possible to be anymore blessed, I Day 3 dogsaw this dog walking along the beach that is the exact image of my most favorite dog I ever had, Gracey. She was a lab/chow mix, who lived with us for 16 years. We had to put her down about 5 years ago. I couldn’t believe it. It was like Gracey slipped out of doggy heaven to come spend an afternoon with us on the beach. This dog was super friendly to us too and wanted to be around us. It was such a blessing for our family to see this dog. If it wasn’t pregnant, I would have thought it was actually my dog. It even behaved like her and had her mannerisms. AMAZING!

We finished the afternoon with another great meal in our little paradise. We ate little fishes caught fresh in the sea, calamari, (of course) fried zucchini, and greek salad. This Greek meal would not be complete with out some kind of critter coming to beg for food. This time it was a white tom cat. He had a rough night sporting many injuries, from a chewed up foot, scratched up neck and bit off ear. Maybe he had a fight with himself, like Dino Day 3 - Elli with catsays. Anyway, he was oblivious to the fact that I do not care for cats, especially nasty, dinged up tom cats. He kept coming to me, paw on my knee with the puss in boots look, saying, “pssst, you got some feeshes for me”.

This day was one of those days you don’t ever forget. We are so thankful.

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The Perfect Beach Day and the Perfect Dinner in the Pelion Region with the Milan Family

6.1.13 Milan Family trip to GreeceAs our last day in Pelion region we wanted to spend the day at a perfect beach. We looked on the map and looked at some pictures on the internet and decided to go to Kastri. It was only about 20 minutes from our hotel up some windy hills and then back down some windy hills. We drove down this narrow one lane road through some houses and pulled up to a parking lot for 3 cars and come to the beach. I was hoping for a little beach side taverna too so we wouldn’t have to leave to eat. We got out of car and walked to the beach and surveyed and I could hardly believe what I was seeing. It was like 100’s better than the pictures show! Kastri is an amazing breathtaking beach only existing in Utopia somewhere. A large cove nestled between two rocky cliffs that hold historic red roof tiled mediterranean villas. The water was like a swimming pool, clear and clean and calm and lit up by the sun like glowing sapphire. The beach was sandy and not rocky and the water was soft powdery sand as far as you could walk or swim. The water stayed shallow up to your waste for at least 50 feet out. The temperature of the water was exhilerating. At first I thought it was too cold, but after I sat in the sun tanning for a while and committed in my heart to dive in, the water was completely refreshing and energizing. I swam out a ways with my googles and by the time I swam back my skin was almost numb with coldness but on the inside I felt warm and like how you feel after a great workout. When I got out of the water I felt like I could run 10 miles, I had so much energy. The cold water didn’t bother the kids all day. They were running in and out, splashing around. The day was heavenly! We didn’t want to leave.

The sand was perfect sand for building sand castles because it was so fine it held the water like cement. The kids and John had a sand castle contest and they nominated me to be the judge. The kids concentrated on their castles for at least an hour while I sat under the palm frond shade shelter reading my book. Sigh!!! Days like this don’t come too often in your life, when all conditions are absolutely perfect. To complete the perfect beach day there was a little taverna just feet from the edge of the sand, and of course, the food was beyond amazing! We ordered calamari, greek salad, grilled vegetables, yogurt cucumber salad french fries and beef patties. The beef patties are home made like a meatloaf with all kinds of herbs and spices. The grilled vegetables came looking kind of brown and limp and disappointing. I made myself and all the kids try them and I have never tasted eggplant, zuccinni, and long green peppers so delicious. They were full of flavors like grilled infused garlic with a slight tanginess of balsamic. The calamari was the best calamari we have had on this trip so far.

After lunch we all played on the beach for a few more hours. This time of year in Greece is perfect. The weather is very warm, like upper 80’s but not so hot that you are uncomfortable. The beaches are nearly empty and all the tourist areas are sparse so the you get the best service and are very appreciated by the business owners. They make you always feel special and welcome.

After our perfect day at the beach we headed 2 hours away to my very good friend Voula’s house. I went to high school with Voula in Thessaloniki and we had many adventures in our youth. Voula and her husband Kosta and their 2 boys live in a town called Larissa home of the best Souvlaki in the world. Souvlaki is a shish kabob of grilled marinated pork. There is this one restaurant that we have been going to for 10 years now with Voula that is famous for their souvlaki. He has 5 restaurants in this region and is growing. He keeps all his recipes a secret including his marinade. There are all kinds of rumors going around about what he puts in his marinade. Some people say the souvlakis soak in kiwi juice, others say, it is the tears of elves living deep in the mountain forests,. (no just kidding, don’t believe that one!)

I was very excited to hear we were going to this restaurant for dinner with some of Voula’s friends who have teenage girls Dafni and Dimitra’s age. When I say dinner, that means you leave the house at 10pm and walk 15 minutes to the souvlaki restaurant and sit and have a beer while you wait for friends to come and ordering. you eat around 11pm or so, a giant feast of a pyramid of souvlaki kabobs, salads, french fries, and bread. As soon as i tasted the souvlaki it brought back all the times I hadn’t eaten this with Voula and Kosta. All the great memories and laughs all complied into this first delicious bite of tender, flavorful grilled pork that will make you cry. It was even better than I remember it. My only regret is that at 11pm at night my appetite was not big enough to support the feast in front of me. But believe me, I did the very best I could!

The restaurant is surrounded by a park full of Greek teen agers walking around “hanging out” while the parents all sit and eat with friends. The restaurants were all full with people, laughing, drinking, eating, enjoying each other. This is one my most favorite aspects of Greece and the Greeks life style. My kids, with Voula’s boys, and the other teen age girls all went walking around the park in a pack soaking in the life that it here. It was a wonderful experience of Greek culture for my kids to see and participate in. I am so happy they have the opportunity to see Greece this way in a simple agricultural town, having dinner with Greek teenagers exchanging stories about school and friends, far away from the tourist places, and hotels. It was a perfect night to end a perfect day, enjoying our friends who we love dearly, meeting new friends. Voula and Kosta are a perfect example of warm, generous Greek hospitality who live to show you a good time and fill your glass with Greek beer, and your plate with the very best of Greek food! Thank you! Voula and Kosta for being YOU! — with Kostas Vrakas and Savoula Mavropoulou.

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Day 2 Greece – Milan Family Trip

This morning began absolutely glorious! We slept solid through the night without any sleeping aids, only good ole’ fashioned sleep deprivation. The clean mountain air was crisp and cool and the sun was bright. I felt like a brand new human! John was already up and motivated and out the door walking the streets of the village in hunt of some bougatsta. What is bougatsta? you ask. It is the breakfast of champions! ….well actually it is the breakfast of chubby Greeks. My favorite! It is a light buttery pastry filled with warm custard creme, sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon. John was waiting 8 years now to eat one. He arrived at the apartment with 5 bougatstas and 2 coffees. My hero! As we ate, the kids all made various approving eating sounds like, mmmnnnn, awwwwww, ohhhhhh! john told us about his trip to the pastry shop. He said he was trying to tell the bougatsta lady that he hadn’t eaten bougatsta in 8 years and it was his favorite. As he tried to speak Greek to her, he actually said, “8 year old bougatsta, NO! I love you! bougatsta!” He said the lady just looked at him weird trying to figure him out. Did he really love her, ?

Together, John and I both taking turns behind the wheel, we managed to get the van wedged out of its parking spot and made our way down the road to the ancient city of Delphi. We hiked up the many hills at Delphi and saw all the ruins and temples to ancient gods. It was interesting. The kids enjoyed standing at the top of the amphitheater while I talked in a normal voice at the bottom. There also was a field trip of Greek children there from school who were more interested in Dalia and Dino than what their teacher had to say about the ruins and ancient Greek history. Every time they passed us they would say in a chorus, “hello!” Dalia would giggle and say, “yassas!” this game went on all morning, until they got into their van and Dalia courageously yelled out to them a final “Yassas!”
The next 4 hours was a van ride to Pelio, with many windy roads through mountains so the kids could not play on their ipads or they would get sick. So that left them with nothing to do except irritate adults. We played musical chairs constantly switching around who sat next to who, and who took turns sitting in front with us. Dino kept getting himself into trouble and sat most of the time right behind me. Finally the seating arrangement that worked with the least amount of arguments and irritations was Dalia sat in front, Dimitra and Dafni sat in the middle section of the van and Dino sat in the back section. We had peace and quiet until Dimitra (13 years old) who was sitting in Dino’s seat right behind me, decided to become 4 years old again and tickle and poke Dafni, while Dafni yelled and squealed STOP! So Dino had the funniest line of the day, “I think that seat behind mama has a spirit of childness in it” So now we tell Dino to stop acting ‘childness’ he caught from the chair.

We had a great afternoon at the beach and we LOVE our little apartment here in Pelio with great wifi. Dalia’s afternoon did not shape up to be too good for Day 2her, though. She stepped on a bee and squished it between her last two toes. She was very brave though and barely cried and went right back to exploring the beach, this time wearing her flip-flops. For dinner we ate at the restaurant right here near the apartment. The chef special was spaghetti Bolognese. So we ordered that and also calamari, greek salad, and french fries. The spaghetti was heavenly and every Milan was having food ecstasy except Dalia. When we popped a giant piece of fried calamari freshly caught in the very sea we sat by, never frozen, we all were going to new levels of heavenly food realms. John especially sat in a stiffened state, frozen in time, both hands firmly planted on the table, eyes closed, head tipped back. I said, “are you ok?”…….silence…..more silence, me and all the kids looking around at each trying to see if anyone knew what happened to John, finally he speaks! “I waited 8 years to experience this, I might cry”. John loves his calamaries and has become a connoisseur trying them in every American restaurant chasing that elusive taste he has only found in this small mediterranean country. It is really simple though. Fresh, wild calamari caught daily in the sea only feet from the the restaurant that serves them. Truly only something one can find here in this beautiful country. But clearly Dalia was not experiencing any of this delight while eating her food. She sat glum and sullen pushing her Bolognese around around on her fork, making faces at her calamari. We asked her what was wrong, she said, “my spaghetti smells like diarrhea and when I tasted the calamari’s skin it tasted like rubbery”. Poor Dalia experienced every Milan in unison protesting her remarks and telling her their own version of what they thought the food tasted like, to which she just said, “I can’t eat diarrhea!” So the moral of the story is this: Delicious bougatsta and 4 hours of road food junk has a toll to pay; “sudden onset of ‘childness’, causing fresh healthy food tasting like diarrhea”. BEWARE!

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