After spending 3 weeks in Greece, I realized what I most love about traveling are the people I meet. Starting a conversation with a stranger has become second nature to me. Speaking five languages helps a lot. The other night, as we walked back to our wonderful stone house in Emporeios, on the island of Kalymnos, we passed a wonderful garden with a small path leading up to Harry’s Paradise restaurant. There was a man and a woman sitting together at a table drinking wine and talking. I said something in Greek and they invited us to sit down at the table.
Dimetrious spoke English like an American, since he had cousins who visited from New Jersey and New York.. He knew all the American slang, the east coast expressions and he was a wine connoisseur. He followed international news everyday, road a BMW motorcycle, was born here and had never traveled out of Greece. We found out later he was the software engineer for the government on Kalymnos.
The woman, Endokia was a tennis champion, had just torn a ligament in her right knee, owned the restaurant, and Harry’s Paradise hotel and had a wonderful smile. We shared tasty Greek red wine and great conversation with them. Harry, Endokia’s father had gone to America in the 70’s and returned in1992 when he was 42 to Emporeois and started Harry’s, using his adopted American name. Before we left they invited us to dine with them Friday night and we found out they were married and had a 7 year old son.
When we showed up for dinner, there were 3 bottles of select Greek red wine on the table and their German friend Fritz, who had known Harry, the restauranteur. He became more and more annoying as the evening went on. He represented the German military in NATO, organized yachting tours in greece, built a home in north eastern Poland since he didn’t like Germany and met women on inter dating sites, calling them hot chicks. Without knowing we were Jewish, he complained about a Jew who had ruined a business deal and now he would never do business if a Jew was involved. A tiny bit of anti semitism from a 66 year old German named Fritz. And a delicious dinner cooked by Endokia.
One of the most popular online sites for Greek accommodations is booking.com, an unfortunate option for small businesses since they pay a 15% commission. But that was how we found the wonderful stone house in the fishing village of Emporeois. Surrounded by olive trees and chickens with a view of the sea,, Stavro, our host at Villa Polymnia, brought us fresh eggs from his chickens, thyme from the mountains and cured olives from his trees. By the time we left, we heard his life story. He was a merchant marine before he married, reminiscing over the beautiful girls he had known in Vera Cruz and other ports of call. Now he had a wife and 2 daughters,and was a bit sad about not having a son. Since his family lived in Pothia, the main town during the school week and he lived in the countryside, our company was appreciated.
Arriving in Kalymnos, we discovered it was one of the best places for climbing and this was the week climbers from all over the world descended on the island. Luckily our village was too far from everything including tourists. With help from Stavro, we got a rental car, hard to come by because of the festival and explored as many remote beaches and villages during our short 3.5 day stay on the island.
Antypalea is a lesser known island located somewhere between the Dodecanese and the Cyclades. Many years ago I traveled too many hours to the Greek islands by boat, this trip we flew. In less than 1 hour we were in the middle of the Aegean on an island that had one village up on the mountain with 1000 inhabitants after all the tourists left. Barren of trees and mountainous with goats and sheep and more goats, the yogurt was thick and fattening, the honey was harvested by the villagers and there were 2 bakeries where a fresh loaf of hand made bread was 1 euro. Antypalea looked a bit like Santorini but was still authentic and welcoming.
We befriended our Bulgarian manager Dimitra, at our comfortable 2 bedroom, 2 bath suite above the beach. She cooked us a breakfast one day, fried donuts and Bulgarian crepes stuffed with a fresh ricotta like cheese. She introduced us to Maroula, one of the best chefs on the island where we had unforgettable delicious meals almost every night. When I asked Dimitra about her life in Bulgaria,I found out she was a badminton champion for the country and finished university with a degree in gymnastics and coaching. Why was she in Greece? Because of the corruption and lack of opportunity in Bulgaria, she left and has a much better life here. She has found jobs for many friends and family on Antypalea during the tourist season and then they return back to Bulgaria for winter. Her six year old son now lives with her full time and goes to Greek school on Astypalea. Her mother, who looks older than her years, spends spring and summers helping her with the hotel. There are twenty Bulgarians who live on the island. We met three of them
The first night we arrived in Astypalea, we were eating at a Taverna on the beach near our hotel and a man and woman walked by our table, speaking a language I couldn’t place. So I asked them what language they were speaking. The woman, attractive and sophisticated replied,Turkish. The man, middle aged, worldly with an air of self assurance, asked where we were from. We replied Seattle. When he said he lived and worked in Seattle and had a condo in Belltown, we were stunned. He was a computer engineer and I asked if he worked for Amazon. Answering no, he said he worked for a small software company, F5 networks, a stock I had owned for a long time.
Another special person we met was an lovely Italian woman, Patrizia, who decided to take her first solo trip without her husband. She worked for a travel company so she took care of all the arrangements. We were sunning on a lovely remote beach, with a total of 5 people including us. She had been stung by a bee or wasp on her buttocks and asked me to look to see if the stinger was out. We began a conversation that lasted 3 hours and then dinner that night. My friend who I was traveling with disappeared, preferring to climb some small hills nearby. She took hikes almost every day of the trip.
Some days she was able to drag me up a hill or down rocky paths to lovely beaches. I interacted with interesting people and pulled her into our conversations. Our clothing and style of dress were extreme opposites but we survived our differences and enjoyed our travels.