This is lunch on my friends balcony and her view. She lives in a modern 1800 sq flat right near the beach. She raises her four children and her husband works as a PE coach. They eat fresh organic fruit and vegies and fresh fish caught in the sea they look out at every morning. Very nice life!
Milan Family trip to Greece 2013
Last night we had a really nice time with friends and family here in Thessaloniki. John and I were finishing a painting we were creating for a church community. They just moved into a new building they renovated, and have a really great space right in the center of an artist community. We are pleased and honored that one of our paintings will have a place on their wall.
After the meeting a few of us went out to a nearby eclectic restaurant that specializes in fine beers from all around Europe and exotic home-made sausage. They had 2 menus. One for food and one for beer. John thought momentarily as he gazed at the beer menu that he was teleported to heaven. The restaurant was decorated in what looked to me like a combination of Persian/Bohemian decor utilizing every thing pertaining to beer as visual aesthetic. Thirteen of us sat outside the restaurant on the sidewalk at three different tables joined together. One was Barbie pink. John sat with the beer menu dicing through it, weighing his options, thinking it through, as if he were making a life decision. We all ordered our beer. I ordered a Czechoslovakian beer Gunilla recommended. John still couldn’t decide. Then the waiter came to the table with a giant board of homemade sausage. It was piled in a heap, every color shape and size, with twine and string hanging off the ends. You could smell the sausage even uncooked and it was amazing!
All of us said, no we were passing on the sausage and only having a beer. then a couple from the group folded and broke down and ordered a spicy sausage. The kids split a spaghetti and meatballs and chicken breast fillet with potatoes. We all tried the spicy sausage trying to figure out exactly how spicy it was. It was quite the debate. My girls definitely thought it was spicy as they were desperate to cool their mouth on yucky beer! John still could not decide on which beer to choose. He tasted everyone’s beer at the table and FINALLY decided on something red. I think he could have stayed there all week trying beers. The kids food came and smelled and looked great. I tried Dafni’s spaghetti and it might have been the best spaghetti I have ever tasted. Seriously, it was so different, cheesy, kind of malt tangy, and very full flavored, and perfect amount of saltiness. Sooooo good! I never tried it, but as I heard from the end of the table, Dino and Dalia’s chicken was also good. After this we ordered the “black” sausage. At first I was a little worried about it, but then I heard someone say “beef”. When it came and I tasted the black sausages I was transported! It was by farrrrrrrrrrr, no contest, not even remotely close to any other sausage I have ever tasted, amazingly, incredibly, intensely good. I didn’t even know sausage could taste that like. I can’t even describe the flavor. It was like dense ribeye steak, infused with all kinds of spices and flavors, like cumin, garlic,……. oh forget it, there is no way, I could figure out what spices tasted like what I tasted. But I wish some how I could remember that flavor forever.
It was a really fun night at a quirky restaurant in the city with some really great people all with a sense of humor. I am thankful for the experience.
Yesterday, after another delicious Greek meal with Niko and Popi we went to get coffee. The place we sat at for coffee had an atrium with a pond in it. I am pretty sure the pond, with beautiful lilies, carp, frogs and turtles was there for an aesthetic reason, not for children’s science projects. Our kids along with several other kids were all playing along side the pond. The play slowly escalated over time into full fledged turtle and frog hunting, shoes off, pants rolled to their knees and slugging through, who knows what, to find critters. They all had plastic cups and were catching little tadpoles and baby fish. I didn’t stop them because Niko and Popi seemed to think it wasn’t a big deal. I was thinking that if this was the States the owner or manager of the cafe would be ready to throw us out. When we left and began to walk home, Dino let us know that his shoes had gotten completely soaked in pond water and the sole inserts were rolling up on him when he walked. I didn’t bother to deal with it or take it too serious until tonight when we started smelling something wretchedly foul we discovered were his feet. He wore his pond wetted shoes all day and no matter how many times we washed his feet with every detergent and soap available the horrible smell wouldn’t leave him!
Today we went to a store called JUMBO. My friend Voula told my kids about this place a week ago and the store has plagued us every since. Every time we drive by one, the kids scream JUMBO! Of course the signage is giant, larger than life florescent bubble letters that every child can spot from miles away. JUMBO is if ToysRUs, IKEA, Claires, and Walmart all got married and had a baby together. You enter the store in one tiny door and then you wind thru all these isles of endless things go down a ramp lined with more things to the bottom floor more winding around through all their manipulations until you finally get to the cashier and out the tiny exit door, miles away from the entrance door. Forget building codes and fire safety, they will absolutely not allow you to leave through the entrance or enter through the exit. You are forced by JUMBO security to traverse their maze of colorful nick nacks and exit through the exit. We know all of this because John tried it.
He lost us and knew we were probably near the end of the maze and he was at the beginning. He thought he would just exit through the entrance and walk a few steps outside and slip through the exit. NO WAY! He tried and a lady jumped him and hit an alarm. All the sirens went off and John tried to explain but the lady wasn’t having it and she was waving and talking very strongly to him. John said he remained very calm and just looked at her until she pushed another button and turned the alarms off. When John found us and told us the story I shuddered to think of him getting hauled off to Greek jail because he tried to exit through the entrance at JUMBO. How could you even explain that to people? Its all good in the end, if its not good then its not the end. Between the 6 of us, we purchased a 30 cent fly swatter, a mask and snokel, a bathing suit, a pair of flip flops, stickers, a couple of journals with nonsense words from English speaking Chinese manufacturers, 2 spray bottles, and a couple of t-shirts. Dafni bought me a t-shirt that says, “My nick name, watch out my blog”. Because every time the kids do something naughty or crazy, I tell them, look out I’m putting that on Facebook! Dino is at the point that right after he does something or says something weird he says, “OK, fine put that on facebook, I don’t even care”. Poor kid!
We 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.
Our lunch this afternoon. Delicious! Might have been best meal yet!
Lunch. Gavros are small delicious fried fish where you eat bones and all.
Found in Voulas hair this afternoon after she had a screaming fit.
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 with 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.
The 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 Voulas 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!
Dafnis 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!
I 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.
We 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 brewing.
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 stirrups 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.